§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Amendments reported (according to Order).
§ Clause 1:
§ Payments to be made by owners of new buildings in respect of street works.
§ (3) This section shall not apply—
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
moved, in subsection (3) after paragraph (e) to insert:(f) in a case where the local authority, being satisfied that the street is not, and is not likely within a reasonable time to become, joined to a highway repairable by the inhabitants at large, by notice in writing exempt the building from this section.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this is an attempt to meet the point which I put before your Lordships when we were in Committee on this Bill. The point is that it is onerous on a local authority to be asked to make up a stretch of private road, unless that private road adjoins an already made-up or metal street. I feel that the proposition is self-evident; but there is also the physical aspect: that it is not easy, even if it is possible, to transport materials and road-making substances across unmetalled tracks to a made-up stretch. Your Lordships will remember there was some discussion as to whether my Amendment should find its home in Clause 6, or whether it would be better, as is now proposed, in Clause 1. After discussions with my noble friend Lord Marley—for which I am indebted to him it was thought that the purpose is best achieved in the manner set out in the Amendment. I will not detain your Lordships longer in the matter. I beg to move.
Page 2, line 41, at end insert the said paragraph.—(Viscount Buckmaster.)
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, we are much indebted to the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for co-operating with us in improving this small Bill. I say at once that, while at first we were rather against what he suggested, eventually he was so persuasive that he convinced us that the Amendment would be a real improvement to the Bill. For that reason, I am delighted to accept it.
§ On Question. Amendment agreed to.97
§ Clause 3:
§ Sums paid or secured to be in discharge of further liability for street works
§ (2)Where the said sum was paid, and not merely secured, the local authority shall pay on it simple interest at the rate of three per cent. per annum from the date of payment until the time when the street is declared to he a highway repairable by the inhabitants at large, and the interest shall he held by them and dealt with under the preceding subsection as if it formed part of the said sum.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
moved, in subsection (2), after the first word "it," to insert "to the owner." The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Llewellin, who is not here at the moment, I beg to move this Amendment—without having received previous notice that I should be doing so. However, I have had the advantage of some conversation with my noble friend on the matter. This and the next Amendment go together. As your Lordships will see, the object is to secure that, instead of the interest on the money which the owner is required to deposit being reserved and piled up in the hands of the local authority, so that the owner does not receive it until the end of the work, he shall get the interest currently. The result of accepting the Amendment would be that Clause 3(2) would read as follows:Where the said sum was paid, and not merely secured, the local authority shall pay on it to the owner simple interest at the rate of three per cent. per annum from the date of payment until the time when the street is declared to be a highway repairable by the inhabitants at large ….This is a familiar principle, both in business and in law, and if only simple interest is paid and it is not paid punctually, an injury is inflicted on the man who is entitled to the interest. If compound interest is paid, the man receives compensation because he receives the money at a later date. I think I correctly interpret what was in the mind of my noble friend Lord Llewellin when I suggest that this is a reasonable change, which will perhaps more justly arrange the relations between the local authority and the owner when he has made a deposit and is waiting for the street to be made up. I beg to move.
Page 5, line 8, after ("it") insert ("to the owner").—(Viscount Simon.)
§ LORD MARLEY
It will be remembered that we discussed this problem during the Committee stage. It was raised not as an Amendment, but by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. as a point of discussion. I arranged a meeting of various departmental experts and representatives from another place who were responsible for this Bill. It was hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, would be present, and would help us with his advice, but unfortunately he was prevented from being there. It is a further matter for regret that he is not here this afternoon. His absence, however, means that we have had the great advantage of the persuasive eloquence and knowledge of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon. It only remains for me to undertake the extremely difficult task of persuading him and the House that the Amendment is really undesirable. In the first place, we must remember that local authorities are not bankers, in the ordinary sense of the word; and if they were to have to keep a number of accounts for persons who had paid in advance for the roads which will some day be made up, they would be faced with the problem of sending out cheques for the interest every six months or every year. It is undesirable to burden local authorities with a task which will certainly add to the rates. Moreover, if the property were sold after the payment started, the local authority would then have to find the new person to whom to send the interest. If the property were sold in plots to five or ten different plot holders, then each of those persons would have to receive the small sum of interest on his share of the total payment advanced. That represents a serious burden to the local authorities, and it is quite certain that all local authorities would be opposed to it.
There is another reason which I am sure will appeal to the noble and learned Viscount, because he has a moderate and balanced mind and knows far better than I do that this sort of Bill is able to go through without serious difficulty only by reason of the fact that a balance is achieved between the various interests when the matter is under discussion. This was particularly the case when this Bill was going through another place, because at the beginning of the discussions in Standing Committee 13 it was apparent that the Bill had no chance of going 99 through. Then a miracle happened, and agreement was reached outside the Committee Room between the various interests; and among other Amendments which were added in that Committee stage was an Amendment to pay interest on the money advanced. Originally, the Bill had no clause dealing with the payment of interest, and the local authorities were persuaded, in return for other concessions, to give their support to this provision to pay 3 per cent. interest, provided that it did not involve them in more than a book transaction. We do not want to disturb their balance.
There is a further point. The frontager, the man who is going to build his house, is not compelled to pay cash. He can put up a security, and if he does—as I imagine most frontagers will—then he will not lose anything because he is not paying anything. Security will avoid the whole of this problem. I may say that the noble Lord. Lord Llewellin, when we discussed this matter on Committee stage, raised the subject of a limited liability company, and said it would be much easier for a limited liability company not to have to send out dividend warrants to its shareholders. My answer would be that this is not a limited liability company; it is not a profit-making enterprise but an Act of Parliament, which imposes on frontagers the task of paying in advance for something which they are going to receive—for a road to be made up. After all, we are living in a period of rising prices and it might be that the cost of road repairs would go up during the two, three or four years which might intervene. This 3 per cent. simple interest might be just enough to provide the additional cost of the more costly road in, say, five years' time, so that the frontagcr would get his road without paying any more money. I wonder whether I have persuaded the noble Viscount to accept the position which I have tried to outline, and perhaps feel able to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment which he is sponsoring.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, I am greatly obliged to the noble Lord for his full explanation. He has given a number of reasons, and I am not quite sure which he regards as the best. I am reminded of an occasion in your Lordships' House when Lord Halsbury was presiding on 100 the Woolsack. Counsel advanced a great number of reasons and eventually Lord Halsbury said, "Never mind about all those reasons: which is the best one?" I am not quite sure which of this large assortment to-day the noble Lord regards as the compelling reason. But I recognise that it is a serious circumstance that he has been in consultation with local authorities and others on this matter. He has presented, as a result, a point of view which is not merely his own but one arrived at as the result of these consultations; and I should not be justified, I am sure, in insisting on what, so far as I am concerned, is a purely impromptu proposal. If I may for one moment in your Lordships' House yield to the temptation to quote a line of Latin poetry, I would say:"Primo avulso non deficit alter."In other words, if the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, cannot be here, it does not seem right that someone should not propose the Amendment in his place. Nevertheless, in view of the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Marley, whether considered one at a time or in bulk, I do not think I should be justified in seeking to insist that the Amendment put down by Lord Llewellin ought to be adopted by your Lordships' House.
I am sorry about this in many ways. I cannot think that a requirement that local authorities should pay simple interest every six months or so is a formidable obstacle—especially as most local authorities do nowadays raise money on which they pay interest: I think it will be within the experience of some of your Lordships that you do punctually receive interest, even from local authorities. I believe that was the first consideration of my noble friend, Lord Llewellin. But the weight of Lord Marley's argument is more than I can bear. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment which stands in my noble friend's name.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, I am in a greater difficulty this time, because I do not know what is the object of this Amendment. Nevertheless, I move it in order that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill may, with suitable brevity, tell us why it cannot be accepted. I am quite content to leave it there, and I beg to move.
Page 5, line 11, leave out from ("large") to the end of line 13.—(Viscount Simon.)
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, this Amendment was put down by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, with the object of elucidating a reply from me. For the purposes of record, I must say a word or two for the information of the noble Lord and of your Lordships. Lord Llewellin asked on the Committee stage whether the new definition of a "frontage" which appeared involved any alteration in the existing law; and he inquired the meaning of the expression:… and for the purposes of a houseI had to admit that I did not know what it meant. I gathered that land is not always "for the purposes of a house". I therefore hasten to assure your Lordships, and Lord Llewellin through the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, that the new definition of "frontage" does not in fact cut across anything in the Private Street Works Act—which is, of course, the existing law, to which this Bill, when it becomes law, will be an addition.
But there is more to it than this. Perhaps I may take up a few moments of your Lordships' time in order to explain the matter more fully. As to the definition of "frontage," I may say that the provision has no counterpart in previous legislation dealing with private street works because, in that legislation, it has not been necessary to determine whether a building, as distinct from other kinds of premises, has a frontage on a street, or the extent to which a private street is "built up". Hitherto all premises with frontages on a private street have been treated alike—that is, the owners of the premises, whether they have been built on or not, become liable for a proportion ate part of the expense of making up the street when the local authority take it over. In this Bill, however, owners of land which is to be built on have to make an advance payment before the building is commenced, and it is, therefore, necessary to decide whether the building is eventually going to have a frontage on a private street. In most cases there is no question of the actual building abutting on the street but the plot of land on which the building is to be erected—which will eventually, no doubt, be laid out as a garden or yard—will abut on the street.
102 Furthermore, it is necessary to determine with some exactness, for the purposes of Clause 1 (3) (f) and Clause 6 (3) (a), what length of frontage each building on a private street possesses, so that the question whether a street is "built up" within the meaning of the Bill can be decided. So far as the ordinary type of case is concerned—that is, a house with a small garden—it will be sufficient to say that the frontage of any land "occupied with" the building is to be treated as the frontage of the building, and to omit the words: "and for the purposes thereof." The latter words are inserted in order to cover the case of land which, although it is occupied by the same person as the occupier of the building, is not used for the same purposes as the house or other building is used. For example, a garden or a garage attached to a dwelling house forms part of the "residence" and is used for residential purposes. On the other hand, agricultural land which forms part of a farm is not used for the residential purposes of the farmhouse. Again, if a man acquires a plot of building land and builds a house for himself on half the land, leaving the other plot vacant until lie can find a buyer, the vacant plot, unless it is for the time being incorporated in his garden, would not be required for the purposes of his house and therefore the frontage of that land would not be treated as part of the frontage of the building. I had not desired to inflict this on your Lordships, nor had I any intention of making an attempt to browbeat the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, into giving way on this point. However, I have confined it to a single point. It was with the agreement of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. In the circumstances, I hope the noble and learned Viscount will feel able to withdraw this Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, speaking on behalf of my noble friend, Lord Llewellin, and on my own behalf. I thank the noble Lord very much. I feel convinced that the explanation that has been given will be usefully studied in Hansard. It would not be candid of me to say that I understand it any better, but that is because I do not know anything about the Bill. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.