§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE EARL OF GAINSBOROUGH
My Lords, this is a small but not unimportant Bill which was introduced into another place by the honourable gentleman, the Member for Gainsborough. The only claim I have for introducing it in your Lordships' House is that I bear the same name as my honourable friend's constituency. I am not an expert on the law with regard to drainage rates, or drainage in general. It will not be necessary for me to detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes, as fortunately the Bill has received the general agreement, not only of Her Majesty's Government (at least that was indicated in another place) but also of local authorities and other interested parties.
The main object of the Bill is to overcome a problem that has arisen regarding the assessments of drainage rates levied by internal drainage boards. Under Section 8 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1943, the Minister was empowered to issue certificates 705 to drainage boards in cases where the annual value of a hereditament or group of hereditaments had been increased by drainage or other improvement, such as road works, and so on. In 1958, the Government gave their support to a Private Member's Bill to deal with a particular problem of drainage rating. This Bill subsequently became the Drainage Rates Act, 1958. Subsequently it was discovered that the effect of this 1958 Act was to repeal, by implication, Section 8 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1943. Therefore, Section 8 of that Act was included in the Repeals Schedule to the Land Drainage Act, 1961.
That sounds rather complicated, my Lords, but the effect of all that was that the Minister was no longer able to issue certificates; and it also invalidated, as from April 1, 1959, any action taken under the 33 certificates which had then been issued. This set up problems for the drainage boards who had issued Section 8 certificates. This Bill is designed to solve these problems. It provides that Section 8 certificate values shall be valid for the future, subject to any fresh Schedule A valuation. It also covers the position of boards which levy drainage rates on the basis of Section 8 values.
The problem is largely a technical one, but it has caused great difficulties to farmers in certain areas by producing anomalies between the rates which they would have to pay if they were related to Schedule A values, as between one property and another. There has been a considerable outcry in certain areas where the new rates have been indicated to show greatly increased cost to the occupiers of the agricultural land concerned. I hope that your Lordships will see fit to give this Bill the same favourable reception that was accorded to it in another place, and if any points arise during the discussion I will endeavour to deal with them at the end. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(The Earl of Gainsborough.)
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl for his speech in introducing this Bill. I must admit that, when I was asked to look after the Bill, I looked first of all at the back of it and saw that it was 706 brought from another place. I naturally thought that I could learn something about this Bill by reading the Reports of the debates in another place, only to find, on looking at the Second Reading and the various stages, that not a single word had been spoken about this Bill other than, "I beg formally to move". So I was at the great disadvantage that I had to read the Bill. All I can say about it is that I understand it better now, because I have heard the noble Earl's speech.
The Bill seems to me to have all the disadvantages of legislation by reference, and in this case the unusual complication of reference to a section of an Act which has been repealed. That seems to me to provide some little additional complication. I should have thought that it might have been possible to reproduce in this Bill the actual or appropriate words from the section of the Act of 1943 which has been repealed. That would, I think, have made it very much easier for anyone who comes to read this Bill, when it subsequently becomes an Act, and to act upon it. But I suppose that the lawyers who produced it thought that this was the best way to do it—and who am I to quarrel with the lawyers? Clearly, I think that this is the sort of Bill which, if it does not emanate directly from the Government Department concerned, at least has its blessing. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, nods, and I must say that, so far as I understand it, there is nothing in this Bill to which objection might be taken by those in this part of the House. So I think I can, without further ado, add my blessing to it.
§ 3.22 p.m.
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (LORD ST. OSWALD)
My Lords, as we have heard the noble Earl, Lord Gains-borough, describe the purpose of this small Bill, I should like simply to compliment him on the clarity with which he has described the Bill's aims in what is for most of us a complex and esoteric matter. My only purpose in taking up a little of the House's time is to indicate the Government's attitude to this Bill, as I have already indicated it in private to the noble Lord, Lord Champion. As the noble Earl has explained, there is a rela- 707 tively short but extremely complicated history providing the background. The Section 8 certificates under the 1943 Act, which the noble Earl has described, enabled account to be taken of the improvements to land which had taken place since the last Schedule A values on those hereditaments were determined. It seems only equitable that account should be taken of the improvements which have been made to such properties for drainage rating purposes, and the Bill does no more than permit the nineteen drainage boards concerned to continue to do this.
The noble Earl has described the certification procedure which was adopted under the 1943 Act. He has emphasised that, since this Act no longer exists, no further certificates can be issued. The sole aim of the Bill is to enable the few drainage boards who have had certificates to continue the methods they have hitherto adopted in levying drainage rates, despite the changes that have since been made by general legislation. The Government see merit in enabling drainage boards to continue on the present lines, not only for the reasons I have indicated but also because of the very considerable difficulties, in the administrative sense, which would face boards if they had to adopt a different set of values having previously used Section 8 values, either over the whole or part of their areas, for a considerable time. The Government therefore support this Private Member's Bill as a useful little measure lubricating, as it were, the complicated machinery of land drainage rating.
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I must say that, as I go on listening to the discussion on this particular Bill I wonder what is the real purpose at the end of it. I should not have thought that it was exactly lubrication; nor can I quite accept the idea that it is of general effect. Apparently it comes into operation only where certificates under Section 8 have existed; and exactly what is to be the financial effect I should still like to know. Is this to maintain or 708 increase the power of drainage boards to levy rates, and, if so, will the rates go up or not? Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister could tell us the answer to that question.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, I am not sure that it is proper for me to speak any further on a Private Member's Bill, but perhaps I may say that it merely restores the right of these nineteen drainage boards to levy the rates in the way they were empowered to do under the 1943 Act.
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, will there be a schedule, or something of the kind, to show exactly what districts are concerned?
§ 3.25 p.m.
THE EARL OF GAINSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, for the way he has received the Bill, and also to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for his support in principle. The noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, has raised a point which no doubt has considerable validity, if I may say so, and there would be the possibility of indicating the areas where this would apply. I probably have the information here among my papers somewhere, but as I did not think that the point would be raised it is not exactly to hand. But the principle is, as the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, indicated, to restore the power which was previously available to the nineteen districts in enabling them to issue certificates, or the Minister to issue a certificate. I could obtain the actual names of the drainage boards concerned if it would be of any assistance.
THE EARL OF GAINSBOROUGH
When the Bill reaches the next stage in your Lordships' House, if it is thought necessary to have some amendment, no doubt that would be the right time to consider it.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.