§ 2.44 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Waldegrave.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]
§ Clauses 1 to 6 agreed to.
§ Clause 7 [Ascertainment of annual value]:
§ LORD HASTINGS
It will be within your Lordships' recollection that the Second Reading of this Bill met with general approval in all quarters of the House. I think that I can say that there will be few Amendments that will be found to be controversial, and many of the Government Amendments are technical. With these preliminary remarks, I come to the first Amendment, which is of a technical nature. It will enable river boards, when calculating drainage charges, to round off the apportioning of Schedule A values to the nearest pound. In doing this, the Amendment follows the precedent of the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, and it has been suggested by the River Boards' Association.
As your Lordships know, gross Schedule A values are always expressed in pounds, and drainage charges will be leviable upon gross Schedule A values. However, under Clause 7 of this Bill apportionments of Schedule A valuations will have to be made to levy drainage charges upon hereditaments which straddle the boundaries of river boards or of internal drainage boards and in these circumstances fractions of a pound may arise. The passing of this Amendment will help river boards to keep their collection costs down to a minimum by saving time and labour and by facilitating the use of machine accounting. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 6, line 42, at end insert—
("(7) Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this section, where the annual value of any land for the purposes of
any drainage charge would include a fraction of a pound, the fraction shall, if greater than ten shillings, be treated as one pound and shall in any other case be disregarded.").—(Lord Hastings.)
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
Since the whole Bill as it now stands imposes well-nigh impossible tasks on every clerk to a drainage authority, it is pleasant to find the noble Lord trying to reduce this unnecessary volume of work that the clerks have to carry out. We have no objection to this saving of the time of the clerks to drainage boards by this simplification.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 8 to 13 agreed to.
§ Clause 14 [Assessment of drainage charge on owners]:
§ LORD HASTINGS
The purpose of this Amendment is to require river boards to notify the owner when an occupier opts out of the arrangement whereby the owner is responsible for drainage charges in the first instance. Subsection (1) of this clause lays down that the owner will be responsible for bearing drainage charges in the first place and in due course will recover them from the tenant. This provision may conceivably jeopardise an occupier's rights of appeal against drainage charges, which he is given under Clauses 7 and 9. The clause, therefore, includes an additional provision to allow an occupier to elect to pay the drainage charge himself—that is defined in subsection (4) of the clause—and this will safeguard his rights of appeal. Of course, it would be inconvenient for the owner if no provision were made for his notification where one of his occupiers had exercised his right to pay drainage charges himself. Therefore, the Amendment put a statutory obligation on river boards to notify owners where one of their occupiers wishes to be excluded from the arrangements in Clause 14. This is really a minor Amendment in the interests of administrative efficiency and convenience. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 9, line 27, at end insert—
("() A river board shall send a copy of any notice served on them under subsection (4) of
this section to the owner of the hereditament to which the notice relates.").—(Lord Hastings.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 14, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 15 agreed to.
§ Clause 16 [Interpretation of Part 1]:
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
moved to insert in the clause:'agriculture' includes horticulture, fruit growing, seed growing, dairy farming, the breeding and keeping of livestock (including any creature kept for the production of food, wool, skins or fur, or for the purpose of its use in the farming of land), the use of land as grazing land, meadow land, osier land, market gardens and nursery grounds, and for woodlands".
§ The noble Lord said: The object of this Amendment is to clarify the scope of Clause 3 (1) of the Bill. Under Clause 3, a river board may raise a special drainage charge where it appears that the interests of agriculture require the carrying out of drainage works under a scheme to be submitted to the Minister for designating the watercourses affected. When designated the watercourses will be treated as main river for the purposes of the Land Drainage Act, 1930. Clause 16, however, contains definitions of "agricultural buildings" and "agricultural" land, the term used in Clause 1 (2) as chargeable hereditaments for the purposes of the Bill—that is, subject to the general charge and the special drainage charge. The Amendment seeks to define the "interests of agriculture" which are the criterion for imposing this very special charge. It seems desirable that the boards, when submitting a scheme and levying a charge, should not be open to challenge on the grounds that the principal use of the land to be designated is not agriculture, which is defined in the dictionary as "cultivation of the soil" but includes also such uses as forestry or fruit-growing. The Ministry suggested that the definition contained in such recent legislation as in Section 109 (3) of the Agriculture Act, 1947, or Section 17 of the Agricultural Wages Act, 1948, would apply by implication. But the omission from the Bill of these words can give rise to serious difficulties.
§ The wording in my Amendment is based on the definition contained in Section 19 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, and Section 295 of the 940 Highways Act, 1959—that is, except the omission of the qualification regarding woodlands, since it is now thought that the special drainage charge should apply to woodlands of whatever kind.
§ We feel that unless the definition is reasonably precise it will be criticised by agricultural interests on the grounds that the charges to be imposed on them are to finance works which might mainly benefit other interests. The River Boards Association foresee serious practical difficulties in applying the Bill to a mixed rural economy, if too narrow a meaning is given to agricultural interests. For example, the schemes dealing with localised village flooding should not be prejudiced merely because the interests benefiting are not exclusively agricultural. I hope that the noble Earl is in a position to do something about this very complex problem and will help to remove the doubts and anxieties and problems that may arise unless an Amendment of this kind is accepted. I hope therefore the noble Earl will not hesitate to accept the Amendment and clarify the situation for all concerned.
Page 10, line 16, at end insert the said words. —(Lord Williams of Barnburgh.)
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE)
My Lords, I have some sympathy with what lies behind this proposed Amendment, and I have listened carefully to the arguments put forward by the noble Lord. This matter has, of course, been discussed at great length in another place, and I was interested to note that the noble Lord did not, in my recollection (I am sure he has read the proceedings in another place), advance any new argument for this proposed change which was not met very fully by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in the other place. When this matter was debated there my right honourable friend's arguments were accepted by the noble Lord's Party as very full and complete.
Nevertheless, I would not for a moment suggest that we must rely on proceedings in another place, and as the noble Lord has seen fit to rehearse his arguments again I am afraid that I must weary your Lordships by quoting again 941 the arguments put forward against the Amendment. The real point at issue here is, we feel, and we have convinced practically everybody, that it would be inappropriate to define "agriculture" in this part of the Bill by a specific definition such as that now suggested. Indeed, it is much better to leave the term undefined. Under Clause 3 river boards will have the power to levy special drainage charges, where it appears to them that the interests of agriculture require it. To provide a definition of agriculture would not help, and, by narrowing the scope of the Bill, might even hinder the boards.
The noble Lord was fair enough to say that he was speaking for the boards because they had the fear that they might be challenged, for levying a charge, on the ground that it was not primarily for agricultural benefit. But the special drainage charges will be levied over the whole of the river board's area, or very substantial parts of it. We are not concerned with defining whether or not certain hereditaments in one section of a village are agricultural: we are concerned with whether the contention of the river boards, that the proposed charge is in the interests of agriculture generally, is correct. Even if other types of property were included—as they must be when a drainage charge is levied, since the whole of a river board's area, which will not be exclusively agricultural will benefit—river boards could not be challenged so long as the property benefiting was primarily agricultural. And the river boards are much better protected legally by a wide definition than by a narrower one.
One of the effects of the Amendment would be to separate the definitions of "agriculture" and "agricultural land". I do not believe that that is at all desirable. We should thus find we have a definition of "agriculture" under Section 109 of the Agriculture Act, 1947 —which the noble Earl is not using—and another definition of "agriculture" following very closely a definition that he has found in some Planning Act. We shall be having all these multitudinous definitions of "agriculture" when we are quite clear what we mean, and we believe that the river boards also will know what is meant. I really must ask the noble Lord to reconsider whether he thinks his Amendment would be 942 doing good, and whether, in the long run, it would not do harm. The very thing he wants to do is to help the administration of the Bill when it becomes law, and the convenience of the river boards, so that they would not be open to possible challenge. As the Parliamentary Secretary said in another place [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 639, col. 554]:The sense of the word 'agriculture' … is very much wider than the narrower definition of the land which shall attract this special charge.I cannot recommend your Lordships to accept this Amendment.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
The noble Earl has not removed the doubts that already exist. As he has already said, there are definitions in the Agriculture Act, 1947, the Agricultural Wages Act, 1948, and the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, and the Highways Act. We already have four definitions which I have discovered. None of them, however, applies to this special charge. It is something very new that is possible under Clause 3 of this Bill.
I still think that the river boards are right when they fear complications should they designate any particular area which is not wholly and exclusively agricultural land. As I said in my last words, within the area there may be a special flooding possibility in a local village. Well, it could not be thought of in terms of agricultural land, according to any one of the four definitions that have been mentioned. The river boards must see the doubts emerging in the minds of agriculturists who have to pay this special charge if they can argue that the main theme of this particular area is not exclusively to help agriculture as already defined. It is a simple thing for which we are asking, to help the river boards to prevent complaints from occupiers of agricultural land in its widest sense, otherwise we should not have put the Amendment down. It is true that I have seen some of the speeches made in another place in favour of a similar Amendment, and the replies given thereto, but they have not removed my doubts nor has the noble Earl removed them this afternoon.
Perhaps I may say just this, as a final word. As 943 I see it, if the river board desire to levy a charge merely to alleviate the flooding of non-agricultural land in a village, they would be Out of order; they are not to do that. They levy this special charge for an agricultural need. But the reverse has also to be taken into consideration; that if, in the interests of agriculture as understood by the river board, and confirmed by the Minister, they took advantage of a scheme to deal with flooding, in a village as well, they are not out of order. They could conceivably be out of order if we relied on closely defined definitions. I must ask your Lordships to resist the Amendment, and I hope that the noble Lord will not wish to pill it to the vote. I am no lawyer, but the noble Lord has been open enough to mention four definitions of "agriculture". If you go to the dictionary, there are a great many more. I should have thought that if we left this wider, for the greater to cover the less, we should be in a better position and less likely to get into tendentious litigation than if we tried to put yet another definition of "agriculture" into the Bill.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I do not think we shall want to divide on this Amendment; we do not wish to be unreasonable. But as I listened to my noble friend, I felt that what was in his mind was that this is going to be an important Statute and it will be largely self-contained. The actual provisions of the Statute ought to be clearly connected in the minds of farmers and others in the particular area in which they live, so that they can in the one document get the information on which they wish to make up their minds whether they want to appeal or not. This goes from village to village and is sometimes very widespread. Surely it is not unreasonable that a Statute should be as free as possible from imposing on the citizens of the country the need to employ lawyers to see how legislation by reference has to be used. The common people and the farmers in industry are liable to taxation of this kind, obviously for a good purpose; nevertheless, if they have any grievance about it, it is not at all a bad thing to have these Statutes complete, so that in these days of growing education they may themselves be able to 944 understand whether they are being fairly treated or not.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Clauses 16 and 17 agreed to.
§ Clause 18 [Performance by river board of functions of internal drainage board]:
§ 3.6 p.m.
§ LORD BURDEN
moved to add to the clause:
- "(6) (a) The Minister shall by regulations provide for the payment by a river board subject to such exceptions or conditions as may be specified in the regulations, of compensation to any officer or servant of that board who suffers loss of employment or loss or diminution of emoluments which is attributable to an order made under subsection (2) of this section or anything done in pursuance of any such order.
- (b) Different regulations may be made under this subsection in relation to different classes of persons.
- (c) Regulations made under this subsection may include provision as to the manner in which and the persons to whom any claim for compensation by virtue of this subsection is to be made, and for the determination of all questions arising under the regulations.
- (d) Regulations made under this subsection shall be made by statutory instrument and shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament."
§ The noble Lord said: Your Lordships will see that this Amendment seeks to provide compensation to any officer or servant of a river board who suffers loss of employment or loss or diminution of emoluments as a result of the administrative provisions of this Bill. I feel sure it is not necessary for me to attempt to argue the case for compensation in such circumstances, because the principle is well established—in fact, the Land Drainage Act, 1930, which I will mention a little later, contains compensation provisions. Subsection (1) of Clause 18 of the present Bill provides for river boards to perform the functions of internal drainage boards. Subsection (2) of the same clause provides that where, by virtue of subsection (1) of the clause, or an order made under Section 11 of the Land Drainage Act, 1930, a river board is in fact the drainage board of an internal drainage district, and a petition for constituting a separate drainage board for that district is made to the river board by a sufficient number of qualified persons or by a qualified authority, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is empowered by 945 order to constitute an internal drainage board for that district. The property and liabilities of the river board concerned, so far as they relate to the river board in its capacity as a drainage board for that district, would be transferred to the new internal drainage board. That is the kernel of the case.
§ Subsection (3) of Clause 18 provides that the provisions of the Land Drainage Act, 1930, are to apply in relation to subsection (2) of the clause as they apply in relation to an order under Section 11 of that Act. And Section 11 empowers the Minister by order to transfer to a catchment board (now a river board) the powers, duties, obligations, and so on, of the internal drainage board of any internal drainage district.
§ Section 67 of the Act makes provision for the compensation of officers of drainage boards. Every officer of a drainage board who before the commencement of the Act has held office under that board for not less than two years, and who by virtue of the Act or of anything done in pursuance or in consequence of it, suffers any direct pecuniary loss by abolition of office, is entitled to compensation under the Act for that loss. But Section 67 of the 1930 Act applies only to officers of drainage boards who immediately before the commencement of the Act held office under the board in question for at least two years. That being the case, the provisions of that section would not have effect in relation to orders under subsection (2) of Clause 18 without modification. It is that modification that my Amendment seeks to effect.
§ In these circumstances, on behalf of the National and Local Government Officers' Association, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was approached in regard to compensation provisions. But I understand that the view of the Ministry is that it is so unlikely that any officer of a river board will suffer detriment by reason of that board losing its internal drainage board functions, that it is not proposed to make provision for compensation. That, I understand, is the case which the Ministry has put up. With respect, I suggest that, if this view is correct, no harm will be done by including compensation provisions. On the other hand, should it unfortunately prove to be incorrect, then I feel sure that the Minister will 946 agree that the right thing has been done by including this Amendment in the Bill. In those circumstances, I would strongly urge the Minister to accept this Amendment. I beg to move.
Page 11, line 21, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Burden.)
§ LORD HASTINGS
I am sure the Committee will agree that the noble Lord has moved his Amendment in a very persuasive manner, and certainly we appreciate his concern for the future of the officers who may possibly be affected by this clause in the Bill; members, presumably, of the National and Local Government Officers' Association. The setting up of a separate drainage board may be effected possibly by virtue of a petition made by qualified persons to a river board which is itself performing the functions of an internal drainage board at the time. As I have said, we are certainly appreciative of the noble Lord's concern. On the other hand, we think that the circumstances about which he has expressed fears will not, in fact, arise.
I was going to say that it might help to explain the position in detail, but in point of fact the noble Lord has done that very clearly himself. It is true that, under the Land Drainage Act, 1930, the Minister may, on a petition from a catchment board (and since 1948 from a river board) make an order which will enable the river board to take control of the internal drainage board. That could already be done before the proposals contained in the present Bill. The result would be, and has been, that the river board would have, and in some cases has, a dual rôle, first as a river board and also as an internal drainage board. But the Act of 1930 and the River Boards Act, 1948, provided for compensation to existing officers for abolition of office. As the noble Lord has pointed out, the 1930 Act limited that compensation to those officers who had already held office for not less than two years at the commencement of that Act—in other words, since 1928. On the other hand, of course, the 1948 Act did not deal with internal river boards at all. It was concerned purely with river boards and catchment areas and their connection with local authorities.
Neither the 1930 Act nor the 1948 Act made any provision for compensation for 947 loss of office which may arise when changes are made in the administration of internal drainage districts. The difficulty which the noble Lord foresees arises because we are providing, in Clause 18, that where a petition by a body of drainage ratepayers or a qualified local authority is successful, an internal drainage board, under the control of a river board, should be re-established as a separate body. It has been argued that where this happens the people doing the internal drainage board work on the river board will lose their jobs. But it is the Government's view that this is almost a theoretical worry—a hypothetical situation. First of all, the number of petitions likely to be made will be very small; secondly, it is unlikely that anybody would lose his job as a result of a relatively small reorganisation of a river board's work arising from a successful petition. It should be remembered that, while the drainage board's work will no longer be carried out by the river board, the job as such will still exist, and it is possible that more jobs are likely to be created. Very often—in fact, I think, usually—in the process of devolution and decentralisation there are more jobs. When you centralise there are fewer jobs. If any were displaced from a river board, I am sure they would be the first candidates for the new internal drainage board posts.
Apart from these points, I have to point out and make clear that there is no provision for the payment of compensation to officers where a river board decided to re-establish one of the drainage boards which it controlled and does this on its own initiative without a petition, or where an independent drainage board was taken over by a river board. That is the existing position which is not affected by anything in this Bill, and there is no compensation laid down for those cases. Therefore, it would seem hardly reasonable to provide for the payment of compensation in this isolated example, which we believe may never occur, and which would, in fact, put a few officers in a better or more favourable position than most of their colleagues are at this moment. In view of that explanation, I hope the noble Lord will think that there is no point in pressing this Amendment, and that he will see his way to withdrawing it.
§ LORD BURDEN
I am very sorry, but I am not convinced by the reply. Nobody can foresee what will happen in the future. The reply of the Minister simply ignores the fact that, by administrative changes arising out of this Bill when it becomes an Act, some persons may lose their posts. That, I think, is a possibility. The Minister thinks that it is highly improbable, but, with due respect, it is the Minister's opinion against that of the responsible people who would know. The point which the Minister has ignored is this. Time after time, when Parliament is authorising administrative changes which result in a person's losing a post or emoluments, it is always the case that, either in the Bill or by taking powers by regulation, compensation is provided for. That is the kernel of the case: that normally when administrative changes are brought about as a result of a Bill compensation provisions are always included. In those circumstances, as the Minister is ignoring that fact, I am with regret unable to see my way to withdraw my Amendment.
§ LORD HASTINGS
I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord said, but we feel that it would be making a favoured class of officers if we accepted this Amendment. What the noble Lord is really asking is not to amend this Bill, but to amend the Land Drainage Act, 1930. We feel we cannot agree to accept this Amendment for the reasons I have put forward, and I am afraid I must ask the House to reject it.
§ EARL ATTLEE
May I ask the noble Lord whether the reason for not accepting this is that the noble Lord thinks it unlikely to occur?
That is not the only reason, as my noble friend tried to explain. That would not be a full and sufficient reason. The reason is that if we gave this small section of the officers this preferential treatment it would be grossly inequitable if we did not carry the same kind of compensation terms right through all the land drainage legislation. It may be desirable for us to do that, but I am not sure whether the noble Lord is aware what would flow from this. I cannot accept this Amendment now to this Bill without saying that I would come back to Parliament at some other date and change all the other Land Drainage and River Board 949 Acts as well, so that everybody would be equally looked after. It is that point really which would seem to me to make it extremely undesirable to pick out this small class of men and put them in a more favourable position than their fellows.
§ EARL ATTLEE
The argument there would seem to be that it would be too dangerous to redress a possible injustice here because you would have to redress other injustices.
Of course I would not use that argument. I do not think there is an injustice, and I think the fact that these arrangement in the other drainage legislation (the River Boards Act, and so on) have not been questioned and have not led to injustice means that they are correct ones. If you make special arrangements for this small class of persons then you are throwing all these other arrangements into doubt. We have not had any discussion here or elsewhere as to the merits of the case that all through the drainage legislation injustice is being done. I would say there is not.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
Is it not apparent that my noble friend Lord Burden has been putting up this very case in regard to status because he has obviously been asked to do so by the people who are concerned and who understand what it is they want? Of course, what we have not had explained is what are the preferential terms which are asked for by these particular people. What is the preference, in substance? It may be a preferential procedure by which, under this Bill, the statutory authority pay compensation, and you want to rely upon something else; but what in fact are the preferential terms asked for and granted? Nothing at all. This is merely the power for them to be able to look after their own interests.
§ LORD SILKIN
I think that the noble Earl ought at least to have undertaken to have this point examined. My noble friend Lord Burden has brought forward a possible injustice and hardship to an admittedly limited number of people. The noble Lord who replied did not say it could not happen that people would be dismissed from their jobs because of reorganisation; he said it is not likely to 950 happen and if it did it would apply to very few people. Let us accept that the injustice would apply to a very limited number of people. Then he says that if we are to remedy that injustice there are possibly a lot of other injustices that we might have to look at. So what? We are not out to perpetuate injustice. If the repercussions of this is that there is another set of injustices to look at, let us look at them. I would suggest that he looks at this matter again and sees whether he cannot do something at the next stage of the Bill in respect of my noble friend's Amendment.
I certainly will look at this again but may I beg noble Lords opposite also to look at it again; no doubt they will before they come back. We have really got a little off beam here in suggesting there is any injustice. It has not been argued that there is injustice, but a certain treatment is asked for for officers of this Association who might become redundant if a drainage district is formed by one particular procedure, by this petitioning procedure. There are other methods in which a drainage board might become set up, not by this particular procedure under Clause 18. I am not going to use the argument but I am sure that it could be used that clearly this Amendment is not right as it stands. If we are going to say, every time a drainage board is formed, that we must introduce a new system of compensation, then it is creating a much wider problem.
I say there is no demand for, and nobody has asked for, a system of compensation quite different from what is existing in the Act and other methods; and therefore to give a specific form of compensation to this particular section would be anomalous and irrational. It is not a question of giving them justice and other people injustice; it would be anomalous and irrational. As this is a point my noble friend and I have not been able to make clear to your Lordships I will take it back, look at it again, study in Hansard the arguments used by the noble Lord, Lord Burden, and others, and come back to it in the Report stage. I hope your Lordships will not think I have been unduly stubborn about it, but I cannot give way at the moment.
§ LORD BURDEN
In view of that assurance I think my noble Leader would 951 agree that it would be wise for me at the moment to withdraw this Amendment so that it can be put forward again on the Report stage. May I again urge on the Minister this point: that we are asking him at the moment only to deal with a possible situation which will arise out of this legislation. In regard to those other instances to which the Minister referred, let us say that the river board itself, with the time having elapsed and all this sort of thing, forms an internal drainage board of its own initiative. We are not asking the noble Earl to deal with that point at all. All that we say to him is that he can leave the men concerned to look after their own interests. But when one by an Act of Parliament provides for a certain method which may lead to injustice or may lead to loss of office, then it is right for Parliament to provide for compensation. In these circumstances I beg to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 18 agreed to.
§ Clauses 19 to 22 agreed to.
§ Clause 23:
§ Drainage rates—determination of relative poundage
(3) The relative fraction shall be arrived at by dividing—
(b) the aggregate of the rateable values of those hereditaments.
(4) For the purposes of this section—
(a) the rateable value of any hereditament shall be taken to be the value which, at the date on, which the drainage rate is made, is shown as its rateable value in the valuation list in force for the period for which the drainage rate is made:
(b) the annual value of any hereditament shall be taken to be its annual value as last stated before the said date in any assessment under Schedule A signed and allowed under section thirty-five of the Income Tax Act, 1952, or under that section as applied by the Fifth Schedule to that Act (apportioned where the hereditament forms part only of any land assessed under Schedule A).
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
moved to omit all words in subsection (3) after "shall be", and the whole of subsection (4); and to insert instead: 952such fraction as may for the time being be prescribed by the Minister by regulations made by the Minister under section seventy, four of the Act of 1930.
§ The noble Lord said: With the best will in the world, I doubt whether it is possible either for me or anyone else to explain all the complications and difficulties that would confront clerks to internal drainage boards if Clause 23 passed without this Amendment. Under the Land Drainage Act, 1930, drainage rates are based upon gross annual values for Schedule A purposes. In that Act Section 24 (4) (b), on all hereditaments, not comprising agricultural land only, one-third of the full rate burden was imposed. Because of the anomalies in Schedule A values, largely due to the last quinquennial revaluation taking place in 1935–36, Clause 22 of the Bill substitutes rateable values where available for all drainage rates levied after March, 1963. I understand that this principle is generally accepted by the drainage authorities. Subsection (4) of Clause 22 continues a reduction of one-third imposed by the 1930 Act, but a further financial adjustment becomes necessary to allow for the different standards of values between rateable values in 1963 and annual values in 1936. Clause 23 of this Bill is designed to provide the machinery for this second financial adjustment. I ask noble Lords to read this clause carefully and tax their imagination to find anything more clumsy. I doubt if they will succeed.
§ Before any internal drainage board can compute the relative fraction under the machinery provided, they must obtain the new rateable values for their district and compare them with the annual values and divide one by the other. Very few of the 361 internal drainage boards have the same boundaries as those of the local rating authorities. Numerous farms will be situated within, or partly within, both separate drainage districts and separate rating authorities. Under Clause 23, which operates after March, 1963, valuation lists will have to be rewritten and volumes of other unnecessary work will have to be done. Having read some of the comments of clerks of internal drainage boards, I can understand their indignation and hostility against the clause as it now stands. Instead of each internal drainage board working out its 953 own relative fraction, in many cases in duplicate because of the spread over of hereditaments into two rating or drainage authorities, it is thought—and I think it is right to think so—that the Minister should provide a simple fraction to be applied throughout the country: that is, applied to the one-third to be charged to non-agricultural hereditaments. That is the simple object of this Amendment. I hope the noble Earl is going to accept it. If, however, he tells your Lordships that nothing that did not happen in another place can possibly happen in this place, I begin to wonder what the utility value of this place really is. I am greatly concerned for the noble Earl's future, for if he persists in resisting this Amendment as he has done the two previous ones I am sure he will incur the displeasure for all time of every clerk to an internal drainage board in this country. For his own sake, therefore, I hope he will accept this Amendment. I beg to move.
Page 14, line 37, leave out from ("be") to the end of line 8 on page 15 and insert the said new words.—(Lord Williams of Barnburgh.)
The Amendment could not have been more charmingly moved by the noble Lord opposite, and I do not take his last remarks as a threat or any form of blackmail as I know they were not intended to be. But I have often heard it said in your Lordships' House and elsewhere that it is a very bad principle indeed to allow facility of administration to thwart justice or to thwart the proper following out of the procedure. I am fully aware that the drainage boards will have a lot of work to do, but we really must not fall into the trap of saying that because their task is difficult or onerous we must simplify it to the extent that we spoil the very thing that we are trying to get at, as I will try to show in a moment. I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Barnburgh, that the Minisster should apply a simple fraction. Let us just see what we are doing in Clauses 22 and 23. The whole point of those clauses is to make the individual variations calculated from district to district. If we go and make a simple fraction to apply to the whole country we are really spoiling the whole principle that these clauses were designed to incorporate.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
But surely the noble Earl will not forget that all this Amendment deals with, and in fact all that Clauses 22 and 23 deal with, is the fraction of one-third which applies to non-agricultural hereditaments. The only uniformity we ask for is one uniform fraction to apply over the whole range.
If the noble Lord will be patient with me I will try to explain why it is not quite so simple as that. I think I must go back to what these clauses are trying to do. Among other matters, where the property is included in a local valuation list for local rating purposes drainage rates will be levied from the date of the operation of these clauses on one-third of the rateable value in the valuation list instead of one-third of the Schedule A value. Clause 23 provides for adjustments of poundage relating to the hereditaments valued for drainage rates in this way. Because the yield of any given poundage of rateable values is higher than the yield from Schedule A values we have to adjust the poundage where rateable values are used to preserve the existing incidence of drainage rates. That is what we are under an obligation to do. To obtain the poundage by which it is to be adjusted the drainage board will compare the total of the net annual values shown in the valuation lists with the total of the Schedule A values of the hereditaments. The resulting fraction will be applied to the poundage paid on rateable values, thus bringing this yield into line with that paid on Schedule A values formerly used.
Perhaps I might give an example. For instance, in a particular drainage district the total rateable values of properties on the valuation list might be £70,000; the total Schedule A values of those properties might be £30,000. The fraction to be applied then to the poundage of the drainage rate where it is charged upon the basis of rateable values would be three-sevenths. We provide that a separate fraction will be determined by drainage boards for each drainage district. In this way any variation in the values over the whole country will be taken account of. Clauses 22 and 23 were introduced in another place to overcome some quite serious 955 anomalies, and they therefore will provide that where the property has a rateable value in a local valuation list the drainage rates will be levied upon that basis, and not, as at present, upon the Schedule A valuations.
This Amendment, as I understand it, is intended to provide for a national fraction for preserving the incidence of drainage rates between agricultural and rateable properties. Of course this would be simple—I do not doubt that for a moment. But there are great variations over the country, in the relationship between Schedule A and rateable values. If a national fraction were to be applied the incidence of the drainage rates on different kinds of property would vary as a direct result of this clause, and we should have the unfortunate result that in meeting one anomaly we should be creating another.
I am well aware that this is going to mean more work for the drainage boards. I am sorry for that, On the other hand, we must not overestimate that, and I think that we should be failing in our duty if, in order to let the drainage boards and the river boards off a little work, or even a lot of work (I am sorry for that, and I quite see their view) we should jeopardise the principle that is behind this scheme, that we should deal with the incidence of this charge as it exists at the moment with this new variation using rateable and Schedule A values.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I must say that the noble Earl has done his level best to explain why he is so adamant upon this Amendment; but I am quite sure that I, at any rate—I suppose being a little slow on the uptake—do not understand how it will work in my own district. After all, we have not put down this Amendment for fun; we have put it down at the request of the Association of River Boards. Obviously, they must see a difficulty. Taking the case of the place where I have a farm, and where I have a direct passing interest in the formula that has been talked about, we have an island where three-quarters, or more than three quarters, of the population are living in an urban district, and the rest of the population, less than one-quarter of the whole of the island, are living in a rural district. They will not come in because 956 they do not want to pay the urban district rate. They have kept well out of the island and live in a rural district. So local feeling does arise about this sometimes. I put that forward only 'by way of illustration.
There is one principle in this Bill that everybody is in favour of—namely, that the main result will be a fairer distribution amongst the population at large of payments towards what is likely to be of general benefit to the country as a whole, and in particular to the agricultural industry. Therefore, it seems to me that when you come down to the difficulties of the river boards, which are admitted by the noble Earl, and the extra work involved, by a kind of process which the noble Earl envisages, then I should have thought that we might have had more consideration given to the proposal of my noble friend Lord Williams of Barn-burgh, especially when the proposal comes forward as a result of the views of the river boards.
Therefore I should like to ask whether the Ministry have been in consultation with the river boards on this particular issue. Have they discussed it with them? Apparently the noble Earl, or his Department, seems to have been moved on other matters, such as in the Amendment we have already adopted in Clause 14, and an Amendment which the noble Earl has down to Clause 23, as Amendment No. 6, to give a measure of relief. Here are the same reasons given by the river boards for adopting this particular Amendment. But apparently the clemency of the Minister in regard to the Amendments which have been, and are to be, adopted in Clause 14 and the Amendment No. 6, is not to be exercised in the other direction. I find that to be completely inconsistent. It may be that the basis upon which you are trying to get a formula is somewhat different, but the spirit and principle is there all the same. Therefore I think that you had better have another look at this one. If you are not going to have another look at it, then perhaps the best way is to decide by going to a Division.
I hope that the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition will not divide the Committee on this point. Here the principles are quite different. I have agreed to consider the 957 Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Burden, on his argument which at the moment I cannot accept and do not believe, though I certainly feel that it should be examined. The burden of his Amendment is that an injustice would or might be done. That is a serious matter, and I agreed that we should take this back and look at it to see whether, by any chance, the noble Lord was right; because no Government wants to perpetuate an injustice. But this Amendment deals with a very different matter.
The noble Viscount has been most open and frank in saying that this is a case of the Internal Drainage Boards coming to certain Members of your Lordships' House and saying: "we are going to have to do a lot of work. Cannot you get us off some of this work, even if it makes the Bill less just than it should be?" The Government have said that the incidence of these drainage rates under the new arrangements will be the
§ Clause 23 agreed to.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ LORD HASTINGS
moved, after Clause 23 to insert the following new clause:
958 same as it was before. Then the Drainage Boards would say, "It will not be quite the same incidence, but what a lot of work it will save us!" I maintain that those are two totally different matters, and at the present moment I have heard no argument except that this would save the Drainage Boards and river boards work. I admit that they are admirable bodies. I myself was a vice-president of their Association until I took office in the Government and, naturally had to resign. But it is not a good argument that I should be asked to spoil the Bill because somebody thinks it is going to be rather difficult to administer it. That is putting administration in a place where it ought not to be. Therefore, I ask your Lordships to reject this Amendment.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 29; Not-Contents, 57.957
|Albemarle, E.||Lawson, L.||Silkin, L.|
|Alexander of Hillsborough, V.||Listowel, E.||Sinha, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Stonham, L.|
|Amwell, L.||Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, L.||Summerskill, B.|
|Attlee, E.||Macpherson of Drumochter, L.||Taylor, L.|
|Burden, L. [Teller.]||Meston, L.||Walston, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Morrison of Lambeth, L.||Williams, L.|
|Crook, L.||Ogmore, L.||Williams of Barnburgh, L.|
|Hall, V.||Pethick-Lawrence, L.||Wise, L.|
|Henderson, L,||Piercy, L.|
|Ailwyn, L.||Exeter, M.||Margesson, V.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Fortescue, E.||Merrivale, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Fraser of North Cape, L.||Mills, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Freyberg, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Baden-Powell, L.||Goschen, V.||Molson, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Gosford, E.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Birdwood, L.||Grenfell, L.||Munster, E.|
|Bossom, L.||Hampton, L.||Newall, L.|
|Boston, L.||Hastings, L.||Newton, L. [Teller.]|
|Brentford, V.||Hawke, L.||Northesk, E.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Horsbrugh, B.||Perth, E.|
|Conesford, L.||Jellicoe, E.||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller]|
|Cottesloe, L.||Jessel, L.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Killearn, L.||Soulbury, V.|
|De La Warr, E.||Kinnaird, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Denham, L.||Lambert, V.||Teviot, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Long, V.||Torrington, V.|
|Digby, L.||Luke, L.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Effingham, E.||McCorquodale of Newton, L.||Westwood, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Drainage rates—fraction of a pound
§ ". Where the value on which a drainage rate is assessed would, apart from this section, include a fraction of a pound, the fraction shall, if greater than ten shillings, be treated as one pound and shall in any other case be disregarded."959
§ The noble Lord said: I do not believe there will be any great difficulty about this Amendment. It is a purely technical clause which the Government are introducing to meet the wishes of the River Boards Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations. I have already explained the reasons underlying the previous Amendment to Clause 7 enabling the river boards to round off, upwards or downwards, fractions of a pound of apportioned gross Schedule A valuations for drainage charges, and this new clause has a similar purpose in relation to drainage rates. It provides that both the river boards and, in this case, internal drainage boards, when calculating drainage rates, shall be able to round off valuations to the nearest pound. It will help the boards in levying their rates under existing legislation upon the basis of apportionments of gross Schedule A valuations or, as in the case of urban property, where drainage rates are levied on one-third of the Schedule A valuations. This new clause also follows a precedent established in the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925. I beg to move.
After Clause 23, insert the said new clause. —(Lord Hastings.)
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
I think we can compliment the noble Lord for having made at least one tiny concession. We agree with him, but only on this occasion.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clauses 24 to 29 agreed to.
§ Clause 30:
§ Restriction on erection of structures in, over or under watercourses
§ (2) No person shall erect any structure [in, over or under a watercourse which is part of the main river] except with the consent of and in accordance with plans and sections approved of by the river board; and no person shall, without the consent of the river board, carry out any work of alteration or repair on any structure in, over or under such a watercourse if the work is likely to affect the flow of water in the watercourse or to impede any drainage work.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
moved, in subsection (2) to omit all words from the first "structure" down to "except" and to insert "to which this section applies".
The noble Lord said: As the noble Earl will appreciate, these next three Amendments plus one later will hang together—and they are likely to hang separately, too. Of course, one discussion will do for all four. The point at issue in this Amendment is of some importance. I think perhaps I can give the Committee some idea of the importance by quoting a few words from a letter written by the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to one of his own colleagues. He says, referring to this particular point:
I do appreciate the seriousness of the problem with which river boards can be faced when building or other development takes place on land liable to flooding",
and so forth. The Minister fully appreciates the difficulties facing the river boards in those circumstances.
§ This point was raised at every stage of the Bill in another place by Members of all Parties. It was no Party matter; it was a question of what is best in the national interest. It was raised on Second Reading, on Committee, on Report and, indeed, on Third Reading. But although the Minister himself appreciated the strength of the river boards' case, he has persisted throughout in relying upon voluntary consultation between planning authorities and river boards, despite the fact that the right honourable gentleman admits that some planning authorities have failed to consult river boards—with very unfortunate results, too.
For the benefit of noble Lords who have not followed these discussions very closely in another place, I cannot do better than quote a circular letter sent to local planning authorities, county councils and joint town and planning committees from the Ministry of Town and Country Planning in 1947. It is rather a long quotation, but I must read it if noble Lords are going to be able to appreciate the force of the argument.
Liaison between planning authorities and land drainage authorities: I am directed by the Minister of Town and Country Planning to draw your attention to the importance of maintaining the closest liaison with local drainage authorities, not only from the point of view of land drainage but also in the interests of planning itself. In certain cases, for reasons not readily apparent, development in lowland areas or near water-courses may lead flooding, which may cause much
damage to property and be costly and difficult to remedy. On the other hand, drainage authorities may have plans for improvements in drainage, including the provision of new cuts or by-pass channels, which would be seriously prejudiced by development. A note for the guidance of planning authorities is attached setting out ways in which development may affect drainage. It will be apparent that there are many points on which drainage and planning authorities can help each other in formulating their plans for future works, and that there is a need for a regular exchange of information between the two sets of authorities. The Minister is anxious, therefore, that planning authorities should at an early stage consult the local drainage authorities in order to find out in which parts of their area development is likely to raise problems of drainage, and to work out an effective system of liaison in such cases".
That was the importance attached to consultation by the Minister of Town and Country Planning in 1947. A similar circular was also sent out in 1951, pleading with planning authorities to consult voluntarily with river boards so as to avoid future problems and, in some cases, future disasters.
§ That circular definitely underlines the importance of full and adequate consultation between planning authorities and river boards. It is true that quite a large number of planning authorities do consult, and have consulted river boards from 1947, but noble Lords may be surprised to learn that some 30 or 40 per cent. of the planning authorities have never consulted river boards at all, with unfortunate consequences in many cases. When floods have occurred in some areas and damage has been caused, the river boards have been blamed for not having taken protective action, when in fact they never knew that the development was going to take place and they never had the power to take protective action at all. Therefore, with fourteen years' experience behind them, all the river boards ask is that there should be a statutory obligation on planning authorities to consult river boards when development is contemplated beside main rivers or in what they call the flood plain. Surely, that is not only common sense, but ought really to be good business, too: and that is the object of these four Amendments.
§ The Minister has suggested in another place that the River Boards Association is asking for powers that would usurp some of the functions of planning authorities. Certainly that is not my desire—and, in fact, I do not think that 962 that would be the outcome of obligatory consultation. In any case, any dispute between a planning authority and a river board would be ultimately settled by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister of Transport jointly. So I do not quite see how the acceptance of this Amendment would give river boards power to take over the functions of a planning authority. Indeed, as I understand the mentality of the river boards, all they desire—and it is their only object—is to ensure that planning authorities have proper regard for land drainage considerations where development is proposed in the flood plains of rivers.
§ The Minister also suggested in another place that to place a statutory obligation on planning authorities to consult river boards would cause practical difficulties and further complications to planning procedure, and might tend to cause delays in decision. Why should this be? Section 9 of the Town and Country Planning (General Development) Order, 1950, contains provisions for statutory consultation with other bodies, and, so far as we know, those powers have given rise to no difficulties at all. In any case, the Minister tells us that he is anxious that there should be full and adequate consultation. Indeed, he goes so far as to tell us that he and some other Minister are promising a strongly worded circular to planning authorities, signed by those two Ministers, insisting that planning authorities do actually consult with the river boards. He says that he wants to give voluntary action a fair trial. Well, they have had fourteen years of trial. It has been trial and error—more errors than trial. And still in this Bill, if unamended, there is going to be no guarantee that that 30 or 40 per cent. of the planning authorities which I mentioned will consult river boards. Moreover, will voluntary consultation cause fewer difficulties and delays than a statutory obligation to consult? I should have thought that the opposite would have been the case: that a statutory obligation to consult would speed up consultation, and remove cause for delays and the danger of more mistakes.
§ Then there is the question of designating flood plains as part of the main river. I fail to see how this can be construed as usurping the powers of 963 the planning authority. Nor do I see how a river board can exercise proper control over the flood plains unless they arc designated. I am sure the noble Earl will agree that only a river board can exercise full control, for they alone know the conditions obtaining throughout the whole length of a river's course. Even when full co-operation has been given between planning authorities and river boards, there are still plenty of problems for those who wish to drain the all too few agricultural acres in this country. One need mention only the 22 classes of permitted development for which no planning permission is required. I shall not deal with them in detail, but I think that perhaps I ought to give your Lordships an example of what can happen even where consultation takes place, in one of the 22 classes of case that I have referred to.
Here is a letter from the Kent River Board to a Member in another place:
Further to my letter of 19th June, the following are two recent examples from this area of the obstruction of flood plains.
In present conditions land in the valley is suitable only for grazing, except in so far as any individual farmer is prepared to carry out special measures for improving the drainage of his land and protecting it from flooding. One farmer has carried out such a scheme involving the pumping of water from his lands into the Hexden Channel, and the making of an embankment across the flood plain alongside an important public road that traverses the flood plain.
Now, this is the point:
This embankment obstructs the passage of flood waters down the valley, with the result that, whereas the road used to flood only to a depth of an inch or two, it now floods to such a depth as to be impassable to vehicles. That is the kind of thing which can happen where no consultation takes place. It is
annoying, and it can be excessively costly to the River Board or to those responsible.
§ I shall not deal with the twenty-two items in detail. Indeed, I know the noble Earl knows them all too well for me to do that. Therefore, my submission is that the river boards have a good case, not only for asking for the flood plains to be designated on the lines that the main rivers were designated under Section 6 of the 1948 Act, but also for a statutory obligation for consultation between the two bodies. I hope that the noble Earl—whatever may have happened, or failed to happen, in another place—will feel that there is a good case here. There are no politics in it at all. It is what is the best for the country as a whole; what is the best for the planning authority in the long term; and what is the best for the river board. I beg to move.
Page 21, leave out from ("structure") in line 33 to ("except") in line 34 and insert ("to which this section applies").—(Lord Williams of Barnburgh.)
§ 4.13 p.m.
I take it we are discussing here, as we must do, Amendments on the Marshalled List numbered 7, 8, 9, and 11. I appreciate that we have a difficult problem here, but, first of all, let me say that the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition asked me whether we had discussed the previous Amendment (I think it was) with the River Boards' Association. Let me assure him that we had and have, and that the River Boards' Association has obviously an extremely good lobby. There is, of course, no harm in that, but it has. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Barnburgh, said that he is moving this Amendment very largely on the advice of the River Boards' Association.
We have to go into this rather carefully to see what we are doing. First of all, the noble Lord seemed to imply that what he was asking us to do now was to provide statutory consultation. But that is an alternative to wider powers, for which the river boards have often asked but which I do not think can properly be said to be the effect of these Amendments. What these Amendments, taken and read together, are doing are giving the river boards the wider powers for which they asked, which makes them 965 really the planning authority in the flood plain. In their own memorandum, which have seen, they say at the end that if they cannot get these wider powers, then they ought to get statutory consultation. Do let us be clear about that. Whether or not writing "consultation" into the Statute is desirable, I am advised that that is not what these.particular Amendments do. These particular Amendments in fact make the river board the planning authority in the flood plain.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
Would the noble Earl tell us what he is quoting from when he makes that statement?
I am quoting from the noble Lord's Amendment—that the consents, and so on, of developers would have to be obtained from the river board, if these Amendments were passed.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
But is it not the case that, in the last analysis, the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Transport would have any final decision if there were any disagreement between the planning authority and the river board?
There is the properly constituted planning authority. Noble Lords opposite are generally the first to say—and I agree with them—that it has very responsible and heavy duties in this overcrowded country of ours, and that its rights and duties should not be whittled away unnecessarily or improperly. I am seriously advising your Lordships that, if we accept these Amendments as a whole, and accept what they are intended to do, they will very gravely derogate from the powers of the planning authority working under the existing planning law, and give the river boards very wide planning powers in these areas known as "flood plains".
Let us see what difficulties we get into if we do that. I am fully aware of the problem of planning in flood plains. Building in these flood plains must, of course, be avoided if possible, or at least carried out with full regard to the effect on the régime of the river. I recognise, of course, that where houses are 966 built in an area which may flood, the householders suffer. That is bad planning, and is bad for everyone. And, more than that, the river boards —and this is the point at the moment—may be asked to go to great expense to alleviate this flooding. However, this is essentially a planning matter. It is for the planning authorities to decide where building should be allowed and where it should not be allowed; and, of course, they must take all proper considerations into account. They must have proper consultations with other authorities who have rights and duties, and there is the whole basis, under the planning law, of public inquiries, references to Ministers, and so on.
I was surprised to hear that as high as 40 per cent. of planning authorities have never consulted a river board. I had never seen that statistic before, and I am sorry to hear it. I wonder how many of those authorities who have genuinely never consulted with a river board ever ought to have consulted with a river board; and whether, for instance, some of those statistics may have been compiled from authorities who have had no cause to consult a river board, because they were not permitting development in a flood plain. I should not like to take a figure at its face value, and I am sure the noble Lord will not mind if I look into it, because, as I say, I had not seen it before.
We must have this consultation, and I believe that in most cases it takes place. The noble Lord has most fairly stated that my right honourable friend and the Minister of Housing and Local Government intend to issue a joint letter to the planning authorities, saying that these consultations ought to take place. He referred me to a circular which went out in 1947. 1947 is a long time ago. It happens to be before the river boards were formed, because they were not set up until 1948. That letter, therefore, must have been addressed to the catchment boards. The noble Lord feels that that letter has not been fully effective. That is why my right honourable friends are going to bring this matter to a head by sending out a new letter bringing new pressure to bear on the authorities to carry this out. The noble Lord also referred to a circular letter of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government of 1951. I sent for a copy of this letter 967 and find that it is almost irrelevant to this subject, only paragraph 11 having anything to do with it.
These Amendments would mean that to a large extent the river boards would usurp the functions of the planning authorities. As I said on Second Reading, and as my right honourable friend said in the House of Commons, that is not a thing that we ought to look upon lightly. Of course, the river boards, anxious to get on with their job of land drainage, would like to have wider powers and not to have to bother with the local planning authorities. They would like to be able to say what factories and residences could be put up in the flood plains they control. But what would it entail, if we were to grant them such powers?
The first thing we should have to do would be to define a flood plain. That is no simple matter. I do not know whether the noble Lord has applied his mind to that. Are we going to define every area that is to be considered a flood plain on a map and declare that for all time this is an area in which the river board is to be "top dog"? Are the river boards to be in a position to say, "If we say there is to be no development, then that is the end of it"? How is this map to be compiled? The river boards are improving their flood plains all the time, and as works to main rivers are done, there is less flooding of land, and this map would have to be constantly under revision to show the changing area over which the river boards have overriding or collateral power.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl, but I intend to be helpful. In my speech, I suggested that a flood plain should be designated on identical lines with the procedure in Section 6 of the River Boards Act, 1948. The Minister then had to designate what were main rivers. I think the same procedure should apply here.
I am fully aware that the noble Lord wishes that procedure to be used and that it is ready to hand, but I am asking your Lordship to consider that it is a much more difficult thing to define a flood plain, put it on the map, and then get it approved, 968 than to define a main river. A river flows between banks which can be shown clearly in a map, but the boundaries of a flood plain are highly controversial. River boards, with their strong lobby, will no doubt wish to put their flood plains as widely as possible, on the basis that the more land over which the board has control, the better. I do not want to labour the point, but surely your Lordships can see that to define a flood plain is no simple matter. It is no answer to say that there is a procedure for defining a main river and that the same procedure can be used here. Certainly we may use the same procedure, but the subject is a different one.
I should like to refer to what was said about this subject in the Heneage Report. I do not think that anybody has studied the problem of land drainage so long and thoroughly as Sir Arthur Heneage and his Committee. When considering how to reply to the noble Lord's Amendment, I wondered whether the Heneage Committee had considered this matter, and it is interesting to see that in paragraph 131 (a) their Report says that a river board should have powers "in, over or under a watercourse or drain." That is exactly what we are giving in the Bill —in, over and under, but not a flood plain.
In paragraph 147, on the question of planning, the Report uses these words:As a matter of administrative arrangement, the local authority should regularly consult with the river board regarding any proposal for development in the areas so delineated and we understand that this is, in general, the practice. It may be, in some cases, that other considerations will override the land drainage consideration; and that development will be authorised in full knowledge of the drainage problems that will be created.I did not know what the Report was going to say when I turned it up, but obviously Sir Arthur Heneage saw the difficulty of taking planning out of the hands of the planning authorities and giving it, either collaterally or wholly, to the river boards, and the Report suggested that the proper thing to do is just what we are doing—to say that it is a matter of administrative arrangement.
The Minister concerned can bring to bear a great deal of advice and pressure on local authorities, and they are ready and willing to advise them strongly that it is a common sense matter that they 969 should consult with the river boards when development is going to be made in areas liable to flood. This is so much easier than making a statutory flood plain and a statutory procedure for consultation, which would mean two authorities investigating every development.
This matter has been widely ventilated in your Lordships' House and in the House of Commons. Both local authorities and river boards will have read all the reports and heard all of this controversy. It seems to me unthinkable, after all that has been said about lack of consultation in the past in some cases and of the desirability of consultation in future, that the two sensible sets of people who run the river boards and the local authorities will not conclude that they should do this, as everybody wants them to do it; otherwise, it will only mean an Act of Parliament, and somebody is going to lose his powers. I think we must give the question a fair chance, as my right honourable friend said, now that the whole matter has been given an airing, and not take the more radical and, I think, improper step of saying, on insufficient evidence, that the local authorities have failed in this matter, and that we should take away from the local authorities their planning powers and give them, either wholly or partially, to the river boards. That case is nothing like proven. So although I hope that what I have said will convince the noble Lord that we will give this group of Amendments our attention and think about them as a matter of principle very deeply, I hope he will not press them. We have come to the conclusion that it would be wrong to make these very wide changes on the very slender evidence of improper use of the powers we have before us up to date.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I am full of admiration for the detail and enthusiasm with which the noble Earl has defended such a bad case. He has really done his job very well for the departmental view which his Department has taken. Therefore there could be no sense of blame attached to him if this House were to take a different view. But the more I listened, the more I was astonished. We were, of course, quite familiar with the debates which took place in another place, and of course we also knew about the views the 970 river boards took. They asked me especially to see that this matter was properly considered on a fair basis when it came to this House. Therefore we kept in touch with them and we have been in touch all the way. The extraordinary thing we noted in another place was this constant claim on the part of the Department that these suggestions for amended legislation by river boards were to give them partial or wholly control in planning. There is not a word in these Amendments which says anything of the kind—not one word.
Let me say this. I have been in Parliament now since 1921 or 1922 and I have done a good deal of governmental and departmental work. I have also had some connection with all the extraordinary planning which has to be done in such complex and complicated Services as the military services, and with all the various kinds of operations on their programmes for buildings and sites, for medical provisions—for everything. There must always be adequate consultation between all those various sections of the plan in order to make it effective in its work and operation. There has always to be consultation, and the Minister has admitted that that consultation is essential. Why has it not worked so far? Because, apparently, whilst there have been very satisfactory results in the case of consultations which have taken place on a voluntary basis with the town planning authorities, where there has been no consultation although it has been asked for, and could easily have been given, by the local authority concerned, there has often been great difficulty.
Would the noble Lord give me one case where consultation has been asked for and refused?
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I could not on the spur of the moment, but I shall be glad at a later stage to try to confirm my impression on that point. We are not asking in any sense for the river boards to be made a planning authority in contra-distinction to, or cutting across the line of approach of, the general planning authority, What we say is that if the Department thinks so it is a very valuable thing to have these consultations; and if in some parts of the country consultations are not 971 taking place where the river boards think they should have taken place, the only thing is to bring it into line and have a proper regulation laying down that consultation should take place.
But what happens after? The Minister threw some doubt on what was the line of duty of preparing, say a map of the river plain. It is quite clearly laid down in the Amendments. The river board will be responsible if they want to get some special provision made for making a map, coloured, if necessary, for the various points they want to mark. They will send it to the Minister and he may approve it or he may alter it. The difficulty of making a map does not seem to be of any real substance at all. In regard to the general result always the Minister has to approve. There is no power asked for the river board to be a law to itself, to lay down a line of action and say "This has got to be, 'or else'." There is none of that. This is purely consultation, and consultation on matters within the province of the Minister and in which the Minister can say "Yes" or "No" even after the consultation has taken place.
The local authorities concerned have been circularised twice—and I do not think very much of the argument of the Minister about whether this or that particular circular did not apply. It might be in the case of housing that that was so, but anybody who knows anything about town planning duties in general knows that the whole range of erections which can take place do not come generally within the necessity for immediate approval before anything is done. Therefore, what we want to see is that there should be proper consultation with regard to all kinds of other building. The Minister I think would either have to promise to think again or we must surely vote for the Amendment as it stands, and not be put off by the departmental assumption that river boards are seeking for special additional powers for themselves. All we are asking for in the Statute is a requirement for the planning authorities to consult with the river boards in their areas. I hope the Minister will reconsider his position.
I do not want to make another long speech. First, I 972 do not as a matter of principle take it as a compliment when I am told I have used a good argument in which I do not believe. I do not know why the noble Viscount should think that this is a departmental argument—not my own.
I should like to say now that I believe in this departmental argument. The whole thing the noble Viscount has tried to say is that there is not a word about giving these wide powers to the river boards. But the effect of these Amendments will be that developments in flood plains will require the consent of the river boards. At the moment they require the consent of the planning authority after they have consulted other bodies. It is not quite true that the Amendment does not give the river boards more powers. The Opposition will have to move different Amendments on the Report stage because I am advised that these Amendments will give the river boards such powers:No person can erect any structure … except with consent … and in accordance with …and so on. I am advised that that does give them greater powers.
I tried to quote from the Bill as it would be amended, but it is difficult to read it in. I would say that my reading of this, and my advice on it, is that this would give the river boards these greater planning powers.
The other point has already been mentioned, but the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition came back to it—that is, the matter of consultation. I entirely agree with him that there should be consultation. But then he says: "What happens if you do not get consultation?" I am suggesting, first of all, that the figures which were given of the developments which have not been done after consultation with the River Boards, and the lack of consultation, is exaggerated. Secondly, I do not think the only answer to lack of co-operation between local authorities is to take statutory action. 973 Surely you take administrative action first, and in a case where it has been done badly the two Ministers write to the local authorities concerned and say: "I wish you two would consult and do this better." I will not say more, other than that I think these Amendments go much too far. My advice to your Lordships is that this would give collateral planning powers to the river boards, and there is no case for that until we have much better proof that consultation does not work. If noble Lords opposite insist upon dividing the Committee, I ask your Lordships to resist the Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I am obliged to the noble Earl for attempting to reconcile us, but I go back to a copy of a letter which I understand was written by the Minister to Sir Richard Nugent. This is the kind of impression that he wanted to make on the other place. He wrote:I do appreciate the seriousness of the problem with which river boards can be faced when
§ 5.52 p.m.974
building or other development takes place on land liable to flooding, and I am as determined as you are to see that this is properly controlled".
"Properly controlled" means after proper consultation by all the interests affected, and especially the planning authority itself and the river board. So that if the Minister has nothing further to say, I do not see that we can do other than divide.
I cannot let that statement go without a reply. If the noble Viscount is praying in aid my right honourable friend, who says that he is as much concerned as some other honourable Member of the other place that it should be controlled, and is convinced that this gives control, all I say is that I think the argument can work both ways.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 25; Not-Contents, 54.973
|Albemarle, E.||Henderson, L.||Macpherson of Drumochter, L.|
|Alexander of Hillsborough, V.||Latham, L.||Peddie, L.|
|Amwell, L.||Lawson, L.||Silkin, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Lindgren, L.||Stonham, L.|
|Boyd-Orr, L.||Listowel, E.||Taylor, L.|
|Burden, L. [Teller.]||Longford, E.||Walston, L.|
|Crook, L.||Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Williams, L.|
|Faringdon, L.||Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, L.||Williams of Barnburgh, L.|
|Ailwyn, L.||Fraser of North Cape, L.||Meston, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Freyberg, L.||Mills, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Goschen, V.||Molson, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Grenfell, L.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Auckland, L.||Hampton, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L|
|Bathurst, E.||Hastings, L.||Newton, L. [Teller.]|
|Boston, L.||Hawke, L.||Northesk, E.|
|Brecon, L.||Horsbrugh, B.||Ogmore, L.|
|Brentford, V.||Iddesleigh, E.||Onslow, E.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Jellicoe, E.||Perth, E.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Jessel, L.||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller]|
|Colwyn, L.||Killearn, L.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Conesford, L.||Kinnaird, L.||Sinha, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Lambert, V.||Spens, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Long, V.||Templemore, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||McCorquodale of Newton, L.||Torrington, V.|
|Exeter, M.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Merrivale, L.||Waldegrave, E.|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ move this Amendment, because it goes some way to help in this problem of the flood plains. We feel that we should bring in this Amendment because we all know that the river boards are worried about the control of development in the flood plains. We think that where 975 private flood banks affecting main rivers have been erected (which do not require specific planning permission) the river boards should have control. I do not think I need go into the details of this Amendment. This is a particular form of structure which we think does not require specific planning consent. It is under the blanket of the general provisions. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
page 21, line 40, at end insert—
("() No person shall erect or alter any structure designed to contain or divert the floodwaters of any part of the main river except with the consent of and in accordance with plans and sections approved by the river board.").—(Earl Waldegrave.)
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I am much obliged that on this occasion the Ministry have been thinking along exactly the lines we have been thinking in moving the other Amendments. Perhaps we may make progress further on. Anyway, we accept this Amendment.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 30, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 31 and 32 agreed to.
§ House resumed.