HL Deb 01 May 1930 vol 77 cc330-6

LORD DANESFORT rose to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to a statement made on behalf of the Government on the Second Reading of the Land Drainage Bill as to the intended contribution to be made by the State towards the cost of works to be carried out under that Bill when it becomes law; to ask His Majesty's Government when a financial statement showing in detail the amount and nature of that contribution will be laid on the Table of the House; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to ask the Question which stands in my name. My reason for doing so is this. One of the gravest questions that can arise under this Bill is that of its finance. Enormous powers are given to these new catchment boards and a very large increase of power is given to the drainage boards. The exercise of those powers will involve immense expenditure which, under the Bill, can be raised only out of the rates. The Royal Commission, on whose Report this Bill is founded, recommended that the State should make a contribution to the expenses of the works to be carried out under the Bill, and that recommendation has been adopted, as I understand, by His Majesty's Government. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, told us on the Second Reading that the Government intended to propose a State contribution towards these expenses. I venture to think, and I am sure your Lordship will agree, that we should know the nature and character of that State contribution before we go into Committee on the Bill, and it is with that object, in order to have an answer that will enable us to deal with the Bill in Committee, that I have put this Question down. I beg to move.


My Lords, I think I shall be able to give the noble Lord the answer that he requires, and I think he will find it satisfactory. He has spoken of my reference on the Second Reading to certain recommendations of the Royal Commission to the effect that the catchment boards would require financial assistance from the Government. The noble Lord asks for a financial statement showing the amount and nature of the Government contribution. If he considers the matter for a moment, I think he will see that this is really quite impossible. This Bill, in proposing to set up catchment boards to control the rivers of the country, provides machinery whereby these bodies may be able to maintain and look after the rivers. The Bill confers powers upon catchment boards to execute new works and to maintain existing works. It does not, however, insist upon a catchment board executing any particular works on any particular river, and it is clear that, until a catchment board has been in operation and has surveyed the particular area for which it is responsible, it will be quite impossible to assess the work that will need to be done or the cost of that work. I think it will be seen from this that the nature and extent of any grant-in-aid from the Government would have to be considered in relation to the requirements of each catchment board and, indeed, of each scheme.

The Bill proposes that a catchment board shall finance its operations in two ways; (1) by obtaining contributions from internal drainage boards within the catchment area; and (2), by precept upon the councils of counties and county boroughs. I am afraid I am repeating certain points that I referred to on the Second Reading, but I want to make the matter as clear as I can. With regard to the first method, the contribution payable by an internal drainage board is such contribution as may be considered fair, and the question of how much could or ought to be contributed by any particular drainage board would depend very largely no doubt upon the extent to which the land in that drainage district is already rated for internal drainage purposes. Some land in internal drainage districts, as has been shown in the Report of the Royal Commission, is already rated for drainage purposes almost to a greater extent than it can possibly bear, and in such a case it would obviously be useless to demand from that area a further contribution towards the general costs of the catchment area. On the other hand, there may be internal drainage districts where the rates are low and where they could fairly make a contribution. Such considerations must obviously affect the Government contribution.

Similarly, with the second method, where contributions are payable by county and county borough councils, their ability to pay may vary very greatly. One area may have a large rateable value, due possibly to the existence of county boroughs, where a small rate in the £ would bring in a very large sum, and other areas may be in an exactly opposite position, being mainly agricultural. If I give your Lordships just two instances I think you will see what I mean. In the area controlled by the Thames Conservancy I think your Lordships will find that a rate of 0.1d. in the £ will raise sufficient money to carry out a scheme costing £100,000. With regard to a scheme executed, let us say, on the Stour, a rate of 7.1d. in the £ is required to raise the same amount of money. Such considerations as that must clearly influence the Government in assessing the contribution that it has to make. I think the noble Lord will see from this that it is quite impossible to lay down any hard and fast rule which would apply in all cases, and, as I have said, it is quite clear that, when works are proposed and a grant is applied for, each case will have to be considered on its merits.

His Majesty's Government have, however, decided that they will insert in this Bill a clause giving them statutory powers to make grants for the purpose of the construction of new works or the improvement of existing works, but not for purely maintenance works. I will read to your Lordships the clause which it is proposed to insert in the Bill. I realise that it may not be altogether intelligible at a first hearing, but your Lordships will be able to study it in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The clause is as follows:

Contributions out of public moneys towards expenses incurred by catchment boards in improvement of existing works or construction of new works.

"(1) Subject to the provisions of this section the Minister may, out of moneys provided by Parliament, make grants towards expenditure incurred by catchment boards under this Act in the improvement of existing works or the construction of new works of such amounts as the Treasury may from time to time sanction: Provided that:—

  1. (a) no grant shall be made towards expenditure incurred in connection with any such improvement or construction unless the plans and sections therefor have been approved by the Minister and the Minister is satisfied that the work thereon is being properly carried out;
  2. (b) grants under this section shall be made subject to such conditions as may, with the approval of the Treasury, be prescribed.

(2) If it is shown to the Minister that any expenditure towards which a grant would, if the work were properly carried out, be properly payable under this section is about to be incurred by a catchment board the Minister may, if for any reason he considers it expedient to do so, and subject to the approval of the Treasury, make advances to the board on account of the expenditure to be so incurred."

Your Lordships will realise that this is a purely financial clause, and before it can be formally inserted in the Bill it will need a Financial Resolution in another place.

I am informed that it would not be customary or proper to put it down actually as an Amendment in this House, but I can assure your Lordships that that is the form in which the Government intend to insert it in another place, after having taken the necessary financial procedure in the House of Commons. With this explanation I hope that noble Lords will be satisfied that His Majesty's Government have done everything in their power to ensure that this Bill, when it becomes law, will enable catchment boards effectively to discharge their duties of looking after the drainage works of this country and doing such necessary work as may be deemed essential, with such suitable State aid as may meet the requirements of each particular case.


My Lords, as I raised the point with my noble friend I would like to thank the noble Earl for his statement. The difficulty which I had in my mind was the noble Earl's statement, in his Second Reading speech, that he had not the financial portion ready, but would put it in in another place. That, I thought, was not quite treating the House with the respect with which it ought to be treated. I have not been long enough in this House to know whether it is possible to put in the financial clause in this House. If it is, I think it should be put in, because it is an essential portion of the Bill. I should be glad if the noble Earl would consult with the officials of the House as to whether it would be possible to include the financial clause here, because it is a very vital portion of the Bill, and the Government are asking this House to pass a Bill of very great importance without an essential clause in it. Of course I know that the Government will implement the pledge given by the noble Earl, that the clause will be introduced in another place, but I think that if possible the Bill should go down from this House in its full condition, with the financial clause in it, as it would have done if the noble Earl had got the Bill properly ready, and had been able to introduce it in its full condition.


I will certainly convey the noble Viscount's feelings to my right hon. friend who is responsible for this Bill. As far as I understand, the very most that could have been done would have been to insert the clause formally in italics, and it would have come out in Committee, and that is a very small difference now that the clause is before the House. Certainly no discourtesy was intended to the House. Really it was the other way. We were so anxious to bring the Bill before this House first, so as to have ample time for discussion, that we were rather led to push things on.


May I express a hope that Lord De La Warr will at a little later period give us some information as to what the Treasury grant may be? We have no idea from what we have heard whether the Treasury will give us a few thousands, or whether the sum will run into millions. We want to have some idea what the Treasury contribution towards these big schemes will be—whether it will be an adequate one and save a great deal to the country rate.


It is only with the permission of the House that I can say any more. Of course the difficulty of giving any specific amount is that the decision as to whether particular schemes are to be carried out is not in the hands of His Majesty's Government, but in the hands of the catchment boards. It may be that no catchment board for the first five years will start anything at all, and then no financial responsibility will fall on the Government. It may be that a large number of catchment boards may feel that large schemes are necessary, and then large financial responsibility would have to be assumed by the Government. I think, therefore, the noble Lord will see why it is almost impossible to put in any specific amount.


My Lords, I would like to thank the noble Earl for the information which he has given us. Perhaps it is as much as it is possible to give us at this stage, but I would like to support what my noble friend beside me has said, that it would be exceedingly important, when we come to consider the Bill in Committee, to know approximately what sort of financial aid is to be given us. It would have such an important bearing upon the powers which we should be willing to give to the catchment boards. If we knew what the Government were going to give towards the cost of executing works under these powers the powers which we might be willing to give to the catchment boards might be very (Efferent from what we would be willing to give if the Government grant were left entirely vague. Therefore, I hope that on the Committee stage we shall be given some indication of the approximate amount of the Government grant. With regard to the insertion of the clause which the noble Earl read in the Bill itself, I hope that will be done. I cannot conceive that any objection can be raised against such a course in another place, except possibly as a question of Privilege, but if the Government themselves introduce the clause it is not likely that any one in the House of Commons could effectively raise a question of Privilege. Meantime, I beg to thank the noble Earl and to ask leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, it may interest the House to know that the Government propose to put off the Committee stage of the Land Drainage Bill until Thursday, May 15.

House adjourned at seventeen minutes past seven o'clock.