§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, I rise to ask your Lordships to give this modest little Bill a Second Reading. The Bill is commendably short, and it is so clear that I think it scarcely needs any explanation. Nevertheless, I shall do my best to explain it, and I think that I cannot do better than read to your Lordships the only major clause which the Bill contains. Clause 1 (1) of the Bill states that:A local authority may, if they think fit, at any time contribute the whole or a portion of the expenses incurred in connection with the execution after the passing of this Act of any such street works as are referred to in any of the following enactments, that is to say—Then the Bill sets out the various provisions in the five enactments to which it refers. These are the provisions which local authorities must take into consideration before they rake any action. The subsection then gees on:Provided that a local authority shall not make a contribution under this subsection to any person unless, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, including the financial circumstances of that person, they are satisfied that it is inequitable that he should bear the whole of the expenses incurred by him as aforesaid.Subsection (2) states that:A reference in the foregoing subsection to any enactment shall be construed as a reference to that enactment as amended by any other enactment and shall include a reference to that enactment as extended or applied by or under any other enactment.The only other matter of interest I think is contained in subsection (3), which states:A local authority shall not make a contribution under this section towards any expenses incurred in connection with the execution of works in any street unless they 346 are satisfied that the execution of those works is in the interest of public safety or that the street will be used as a public thoroughfare.Subsection (4) reads as follows:In this section the expression "local authority" means a county council or a town council other than the town council of a county of a city.That, of course, excludes Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee.
This is purely an enabling Bill: it is permissive, and compels no one to do anything. It merely enables them to do something if they want to do it. It gives effect to the representations made by the Convention of Royal Burghs in consequence of a large number of cases of hardship which have arisen. The hardships have been suffered by people under the law as it stands at the moment. Perhaps I may give your Lordships briefly some details of the type of cases I have in mind. Some of them have occurred, and some could occur. There is, for example, the case of a house built on a private access road which has been made up to sufficient standards for the householder's use but which may, at a later date, become an access road to a housing estate. It will then be quite inadequate to carry the traffic for the housing estate. Nevertheless, the people who benefit are the people living on the housing estate and not the people who have to make up the road. At the moment, they are called upon to bear the full cost, and in some cases they just cannot do so. Some local authorities have in the past allowed roads to get into almost a dangerous state because in certain cases, owing to the poverty of the people owning the frontages, they could not enforce the Act. Though in England that difficulty is met by legislation, at the moment there is no corresponding legislation in Scotland, and there will not be unless your Lordships pass this Bill.
Another case where difficulty arises is that in which a private road can, at a later date, become the main means of access to future housing development, not necessarily an estate. It can become a short cut or a main road leading to another district. There again, the same thing occurs: the burden falls on the individual frontagers and the benefit accrues to the bigger community. Then there is the case of culs-de-sac They are often used now for parking heavy vehicles, lorries and so on, and in such 347 cases the road often deteriorates to such an extent, owing to pot-holes and the like, that it is likely to become unsafe. There again, the burden of repairing these roads up to modern standards falls on the frontagers without any corresponding benefit accruing to them. I think the equity in this matter is quite clear: the cost should be spread and should not rest entirely on the individual people who are frontagers.
There are many other cases which I could cite, but I will give only one more, which is the actual case of a householder whose house faces on to a main road and whose front door and access to it are on that main road. Because it was a long, narrow property, with a garden behind running back some seventy or eighty yards along a private road, that householder had to bear the cost of making up that road when, later, it became an access road to a building site. The householder himself did not even use it as an access. These cases cause considerable hardship; the cost of the work is often considerable. To put this right the Bill gives local authorities power to adjust matters by making a contribution when they have gone into all the conditions and are satisfied that it is right for them to do so. Those, briefly, are the reasons for which this Bill is being presented to your Lordships. I beg to move that it be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Viscount Stonehaven.)
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ LORD MATHERS
My Lords, I am very glad that this Bill is being put forward, and I congratulate the honourable Member for North Angus and Mearns on having had the good fortune to get the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, to move the Second Reading of what he has described as "this tiny Bill", but which I look upon as a very important Bill, in your Lordships' House. Working in another place I found cases of the kind which the noble Viscount has described arising from time to time, and there was no means of remedying them because no measure of this kind stood on the Statute Book to enable a local authority to take over responsibility for making up roads. And, to my knowledge, grave hardship has been caused to people who, it would seem advisedly, had built a house but were unable to stand up 348 to the responsibility and expense of making up the frontage and footpath and other expensive adjuncts of the house.
I have wished on many occasions that the legal position was as this Bill provides for, as I say, I know that great hardship has been suffered by people in the past. So I am looking forward with hopeful anticipation to the passing of this Bill. I would emphasise to your Lordships its permissive character. I am confident that it will confer great benefits on the people affected, not only in the use of the road but also from the point of view of amenity. I think that is a matter that has to be borne in mind as well. I am grateful to the noble Viscount who has taken responsibility for the Bill in this House for putting forward the instances he has given as justification for giving this Bill a Second Reading. I am glad to say that we concur in that request, and I hope that the Bill may receive a speedy passage into law.
LORD FAIRFAX OF CAMERON
My Lords, I rise only to indicate briefly the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards this Bill, the Second Reading of which has been moved by my noble friend Lord Stonehaven this afternoon. It meets a need that has been felt in Scotland for the past few years and which has been the subject of representations by ratepayers, by honourable Members of another place and by the Convention of Royal Burghs. As your Lordships will have noticed, and as my noble friend has already mentioned, the power which the Bill gives to local authorities to make contributions towards the cost of repairs carried out by private individuals to street works, paths, et cetera, is entirely permissive. No duty to do so is imposed on local authorities. The Government support this Bill, and we will give the noble Viscount any assistance that he may require during its passage.
My Lords, this is a matter of which I have had great experience, and I should like to say that I welcome the Bill. The matter has become much more acute over recent years, but it is a longstanding difficulty. Generally in Scotland, in the past, the method has been that the proprietor makes a road and feus off building sites on the road, one here and there; and as soon as he can he brings the whole road up to the standard required by the 349 local authority and gets it taken over by them. He waits to recover from the feuars, as they take off their sites, the cost of the road he has already expended. In many cases that I have known that has taken twenty or thirty years, and all that time the proprietor is out of his money. To-day the matter has become much more acute, because, as my noble friend Lord Stonehaven said, these corner sites lead to great difficulty. It is manifestly unfair that a man who takes a feu on a corner site should pay the whole cost of a road on both sides of his feu, which might exceed by many times the value of the land. Some method of dealing with that problem has to be found, and it is a matter of considerable difficulty.
There is only one critical remark that I should like to make, and that concerns the wording of subsection (1), where it provides that the local authority shall not make a contribution unless they are satisfied, after all the circumstances of the case, including the man's financial circumstances, have been taken into account, that it is inequitable that he should bear the whole expense. I would question that. If it is inequitable that a man should bear the charge if he is poor, why is it not equally inequitable if he is rich? What have his personal circumstances to do with it? If my noble friend could touch on that point in his reply, I should be grateful.
My Lords, the point raised by my noble friend Lord Saltoun received a great deal of discussion before the Bill arrived in your Lordships' House. It might be that the person concerned was perfectly willing to bear the whole cost, perhaps from a more or less philanthropic point of view. I do not think these words have the full significance that my noble friend gives to them. I think that we must take them in the whole of the clause, as one of the circumstances that must be considered, and not put them as bluntly as my noble friend pat them, because if we do that we get a distorted view. It is only one of the questions that a county council should take into account. At the moment, the law places responsibility fully on the person concerned, whether rich or poor. The Bill does not seek to alter that. All it seeks to do is to make it possible for the local authority, if a 350 person is really unable to live up to his obligations in the matter, to give him relief. It does not seek to alter the law to the extent of giving a rich man relief, whether it is a matter of justice or not. That is not what the Bill seeks to do, and that is the reason why this wording has been adopted in this clause.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.