HL Deb 17 June 1965 vol 267 cc197-210

3.20 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.—(Lord Champion.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Rating of Gas Council and other gas authorities]:

LORD WISE moved to add to subsection (1): but this subsection shall not apply to a drainage rate made under and in accordance with the Land Drainage Acts 1930 and 1961.

The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name on the Marshalled List. Before I do so, I think that I should read subsection (1) of Clause 3 in case noble Lords have not the Bill before them. The subsection reads as follows: No premises occupied for operational purposes by the Gas Council shall be liable to be rated, or to be included in any rate, or in any valuation list or valuation roll. My Amendment has been tabled to enable the Minister to give an official ruling on the correct interpretation of this clause. If this subsection is read in its literal sense, it would appear to exempt the Gas Council from payment, either directly or in any other manner, of any rate on premises occupied for operational purposes.

In my view, the words "in any rate" and "for operational purposes" seem to be the significant ones. I want particularly to call the attention of the Committee to the words, "in any rate". Paragraph 3 of the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill states: By Clause 3 provision is made to secure that the total rateable liability of the gas industry is not changed because a particular function is exercised by the Gas Council (under the powers given by Clause 1) instead of by an Area Gas Board… In Clause 1(4) reference is made to the Gas Council's exercising their powers to secure that their revenues are sufficient to meet their outgoings properly chargeable to revenue account, taking one year with another. This suggests to me that the day-to-day expenditure should be provided for, and, if so, the payment of such ordinary outgoings as rates would be included.

Clause 3(8) of the Bill provides a meaning for the expression "occupied for operational purposes", but states that premises so occupied do not include: any shop, room or other place in England and Wales occupied and used by the Gas Council wholly or mainly for the sale, display or demonstration of apparatus or accessories for use by consumers of gas… It is clear from this subsection that in certain respects the Gas Council will be liable for the payment of all rates for which the premises have been assessed. So far as I can gather, the Area Boards have not received preferential treatment in the past in respect of the payment of rates levied against them. If the position is altered by this Bill, then I hope that the Minister will be able to explain the reasons and substantiate them.

I am concerned with the question of drainage rates, which in the past have been paid, where applicable, by the gas authorities. If subsection (1) of Clause 3 can be legally construed as meaning that these payments will remain unaltered, and that drainage boards will not be penalised or adversely affected, or lose their rights, under their other Acts, to levy such rates as in the past they have been entitled to do, then an assurance by the Minister on behalf of the Government to that effect will satisfy me, and it can be recorded, which is important. If the subsection continues to be ambiguous and uncertain in its meaning, then I hope that it can be redrafted for reconsideration at a later stage. To avoid future misunderstanding or litigation, it must be clear and definite in its expression and wording. This is important. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 18, at end insert the said words.—(Lord Wise.)


I must declare my interest, having been associated over many years with river boards. I therefore rise to support what the noble Lord, Lord Wise, has said, because it seems to us very important that there should be no ambiguity, which certainly might arise on the present wording. Certain river drainage boards, have to be run by river boards, and therefore we are as much interested in the words which were so fully and ably pronounced by by noble friend Lord Wise, and I trust that the Government will go into this matter further.


I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Wise for having put down this Amendment and for the terms in which he has moved it. I am also grateful to the noble Earl for supporting him, because I am able to clear up any doubts that may exist in the minds of those who are responsible for drainage boards. We had anticipated that this Amendment had been tabled in order to obtain from the Government an assurance that Clause 3 does not exempt the Gas Council from drainage rates. I can, and do, here give a categorical assurance that that is so. But perhaps I had better go a little further than that, because those who are deeply interested in this matter will perhaps look at some of the other clauses of the Bill and consider them from a more legal aspect.

An analysis of the language of the clause and of the statutory provisions which it demands makes it reasonably clear that the clause is concerned only with rates levied under the Rating and Valuation Acts. It is irrelevant for the purposes of the Land Drainage Acts that particular premises are or are not included in the valuation list or valuation roll, because their liability to drainage rates does not depend upon their inclusion on such a list or roll.

Again, all the provisions amended by the clause relate exclusively to local authority rates. If it were intended to operate on land drainage rates, there is no doubt that a number of consequential Amendments to the Land Drainage Acts would be needed. In fact, the intention is only to secure that rates which would have become payable by the Gas Council are instead to be paid by the Area Boards. Bearing this in mind, it is difficult to see how one could possibly construe Clause 3(1) as exempting the Gas Council from drainage rates when there are no corresponding provisions making the Area Boards liable for those rates. Accordingly, the Government can confidently give the assurance which has been asked for. The reference to rates in this clause does not include drainage rates.


After that explanation, I would not for a moment say that the interpretation of this subsection is not clear to the expert, but here we are not passing laws for experts only. We want to see legislation leaving this House in such a businesslike and clear form that the ordinary person who is going to have to use it will understand it. There will be members of many authorities, some of them small authorities, who from time to time will have to refer to this Bill, and at first reading, and even at second reading they will obviously be struck by the doubt which the noble Lord, Lord Wise, and the noble Earl have already mentioned.

I have some small interest in this matter, in that I was Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture at the time when the Land Drainage Act, 1961, was going through the House. I can remember being assailed in Committee stage because the drafting of that Act was not clear to the ordinary man, even though it might be clear to the experts. Here the error is again being repeated, in a worse form. Surely it is not too late to add a few words to this subsection, not in order to make something clearer to the experts which is already clear to them, but so that the ordinary person who will have the working of this Act is not led astray.


This business of words being framed in such a way as to be clear to everyone is a very old point. It is an old one which I have myself used, when in Opposition, pleading for precisely this. But always and inevitably one finds that Parliamentary draftsmen have to use words which have been thoroughly considered in relation to Acts which have been passed previously. They have to go into this carefully to make sure that we do not make any mistakes by attempting to use in an Act laymen's words which might later lead to great difficulties. I am afraid that I must do what members of other Governments have done to me in the past, and reject the suggestion that it is possible to find laymen's words to express precisely what we mean in this clause.


In view of what the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, has said, I am disappointed that the Minister has not decided to take this subsection back for further consideration. I think it is essential that the wording of the subsection should be intelligible to anyone who has to deal with this matter. However, if he is unwilling to do that, I must ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.


Before the noble Lord withdraws the Amendment, perhaps I may say this. I remember the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor making a great speech here on one occasion, to the effect that one of the processes of law reform would be that we should have our Statutes more intelligible and in a form which the ordinary layman can understand. Would not the noble Lord, Lord Champion, reflect on that? Would he refresh his memory as to that speech, and perhaps consult his noble and learned friend to see whether it is not possible to re-word this clause to make its meaning more easily ascertainable by those who have to study it and are concerned with the provisions? Surely it is not asking very much of the noble Lord, in the light of the criticism that has come from both sides of the Committee, to ask him to give further consideration to the wording of this clause.


I should like to support what has been said by noble Lords on both sides who have spoken. It must not be supposed that this Amendment has mostly been put down by laymen. This was a request made by the national organisation representing river authorities, and they and their Parliamentary agents considered that there was some doubt in the matter. I feel that the Government ought to be prepared to try to draft legislation in a way that is intelligible to those who spend most of their time trying to interpret it. I hope we shall not again be told that the Parliamentary draftsmen have such a mystique of their own that it is necessary for Governments always to support the words they have used, and to say that it is not necessary for legisation to be intelligible to ordinary people.


Hear, hear!


I was delighted to hear the cheers that came from the Opposition Front Bench, having regard to the fact that they have so often used the words that I have now used in this connection.




Noble Lords say "No"; but I have a ready memory of this. However, I am not going to reject the pleas that have been made to me. It seems to me to be reasonable, having regard to the forceful interventions, that I should look at this again and, if necessary, put down an Amendment on Report stage. This will have to be carefully considered by everyone concerned. But I give the undertaking that if my noble friend will withdraw his Amendment now, I will look at the point again between now and Report stage.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said. I do not myself remember using words exactly the same as those used by the noble Lord. Perhaps he may have read one of my speeches and quoted it, but it is not my recollection. However, I am grateful to him, as I am sure the whole Committee are.


I, too, am grateful to my noble friend, and beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

LORD CHAMPION moved after subsection (1) to insert: ( ) For the purposes of section 6(1) of the Rating and Valuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1955, and of the corresponding Scottish enactment, gas supplied by the Gas Council to consumers at, or manufactured by the Council at, a place in Great Britain shall be treated as having been supplied or manufactured, as the case may be, by the Gas Board in whose area that place is situated.

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 2 and 7 can be conveniently taken together, I think, the second Amendment being consequential on the first. These are drafting Amendments. Because only the Area Boards have so far had operational functions, the existing law governing gas industry rating deals only with the Boards. Clause 3 is mainly concerned with ensuring that the gas industry will pay the same amount of rates when the Gas Council make or supply gas at any place in Great Britain as it would pay if the gas had been made or supplied by the local Area Gas Board. The clause is intended to achieve this by providing that when the Council exercise their new powers under the Bill the gas made or supplied by the Council will be treated as being made or supplied by the appropriate Area Board. These Amendments make the necessary adaptation in relation to Section 6(1) of the Rating and Valuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1955, and the corresponding Scottish enactment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 18, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Champion.)


I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation of this Amendment, and I should like to say for my noble friends on this side of the Committee that we are in agreement with the intentions expressed in it.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


This Amendment remedies a defect in the drafting of Clause 3(3). The intention of Clause 3(3) is that, for rating purposes, gas manufactured or "reformed" by the Gas Council is to be treated as being manufactured or "reformed" by the local Area Gas Board. Noble Lords with knowledge of the gas industry will recognise that I use the words "gas reformed" to describe what section 11(4)(a) of the Local Government Act, 1958 calls gas produced by the application, to gas purchased by the Board, of any process not consisting only of purification or blending with other gases, or both. This Amendment is required because the subsection, as at present drafted, assumes that if the Gas Council embark on gas reforming they will be using gas which has been purchased by the Board in whose area the reforming plant is situated. Indeed, it is only in respect of gas purchased by the Board that the subsection applies. It is, of course, intended to apply to gas produced by the Council by reforming gas which the Council themselves have purchased. The Amendment achieves this intention by providing that gas so produced shall be treated as having been produced by the Local Area Board from gas which they had purchased. I hope that this is clear to the Committee. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 38, leave out from ("manufactured") to end of line 40 and insert ("by the Gas Council shall be treated as having been manufactured by the Gas Board in whose area the gas is manufactured, and for the purposes of the said section 11, and of the corresponding Scottish enactment, any gas produced by the Gas Council by the application of a process to gas purchased by the Gas Council should be treated as having been produced by the Gas Board in whose area the gas is so produced by the application of that process to gas purchased by that Gas Board.—(Lord Champion.)


This is clearly a difficult Amendment for a layman to follow, but I am sure that the noble Lord has done his best to explain it to us. Could he indicate to the Committee who will, in fact, pay the rates in these cases? Will it be the Council or the Area Gas Board?


As I understand it, throughout the rates will be paid by the Area Board.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 go together, and are drafting Amendments. The last four lines of Clause 3(3) are intended to provide that where any gasworks operated by the Gas Council is situated partly in one rating area and partly in another the provisions of paragraph 12 of Schedule 3 to the Rating and Valuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1955, shall govern the division of rateable value between those rating areas in the same way as it does for a similarly placed Area Board gasworks. While amending Clause 3(3) in other respects, the opportunity has been taken to express this intention more clearly. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 42, leave out ("the gas works") and insert ("a gasworks of the Gas Council").—(Lord Champion.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


This Amendment is drafting. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 44, at end insert ("as they apply where a gasworks of a Gas Board is so situated.")—(Lord Champion.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


This is a drafting Amendment. Following the additions proposed to this clause by preceding Government Amendments which I have moved, the reference in line 45 to "the said section 11" now appears rather a long way away from the previous mention of Section 11 of the Local Government Act, 1958. It will therefore assist to refer to this provision in full as this Amendment proposes. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 45, leave out from first ("of") to end of line and insert ("section 11(3) of the Local Government Act, 1958").—(Lord Champion.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


This Amendment is consequential on Amendment No. 2. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 5, line 8, leave out from beginning to ("1955") in line 11 and insert— ("(b) section 24(1) of the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act, 1956, is the Scottish enactment corresponding to section 6(1) of the Rating and Valuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1955, Schedule 4 to the said Act of 1956 is the Scottish enactment corresponding to Schedule 3 of the said Act of").—(Lord Champion.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Control of mining and other operations in storage area and protective area]:

3.44 p.m.


This is the first of 20 Amendments which are purely drafting Amendments. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 7, line 4, after ("this") insert ("Part of this").—(Lord Champion.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


Clause 5 provides for the control by the Minister of mining and other operations in the storage and protective areas. Any person wishing to carry out such operations must apply to the Minister for consent to do so, and under subsection (6) the Minister may either refuse his consent or give it with or without any conditions. The intention of subsection (7) is to provide that such consent shall run with the land and not merely benefit the applicant. As will be sufficiently clear from a glance at the last few words of the preceding subsection (6), the Minister's consent in subsection (7) includes any conditions with which it was given. The introductory words "Subject to any conditions imposed under this section" in subsection (7) are therefore unnecessary, and may accordingly be misleading. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 7, line 36, leave out from beginning to ("the").—(Lord Champion.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


This Amendment is consequential upon Amendment No. 8. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 39, after ("this") insert ("Part of this").—(Lord Champion.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 6, agreed to.

Clause 7 [Compensation for general effect of storage authorisation order]:


I beg to move this Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 10, line 20, after ("this") insert ("Part of this").—(Lord Champion.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 7, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?


In the debate on Second Reading, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simonds, said that he was a little anxious about the provisions of Clause 7. He thought it might be difficult at the stage when the storage order was made for the landowner to assess the whole effect of an underground storage project, because of the time it would take to reach full development. He conceded that when the storage right was actually acquired in any land or other specific powers were exercised against the land, compensation would be paid for that; but he thought the total effect of the works might be greater than the sum of their parts. He wondered therefore whether landowners should not be enabled to claim compensation under Clause 7 at a later stage, as well as when the storage was authorised, and whether we should not apply the provisions of Section 138 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962.

Clause 7 is an unusual provision in Bills concerned with compensation and I should like to explain why the Government included it in this Bill. I hope that this explanation will help to allay the noble and learned Viscount's anxiety. I would stress that the right of claim provided in this clause supplements and does not replace the rights of landowners in a storage area to claim compensation in accordance with the law which applies when land or rights are compulsorily acquired. The landowner will then be able to claim, not only for the market value of the land or rights taken, but also for any injurious affection to the rest of his land by that acquisition. Such claims can be made, however, only when the land or rights are actually acquired and the landowner will be free to wait until then before claiming compensation.

The Government recognise, however, that the gas authority may not exercise its powers of compulsory acquisition immediately the storage authorisation is made. During that interval interests in land may have to be disposed of, and it was primarily and principally to cover this possible gap between the making of the order and the actual acquisition of rights that Clause 7 was included in the Bill. A storage authorisation order will not of itself authorise the gas authority to acquire land or storage rights compulsorily. But if apprehension about the prospects of gas storage were to affect the value of interests in land, this could occur when it was known that a storage authorisation order had been made and that gas was to be stored under the land. If there is in fact depreciation, then Clause 7 allows a claim to be made for it when the storage authorisation order is made and without waiting until any rights are acquired compulsorily.

This clause therefore provides an additional safeguard for landowners by supplementing the rights available under the normal compensation code and enabling them to claim, if they so wish, compensation for any depreciation in the value of their land at an earlier stage than would be possible under that code. The noble Viscount mentioned Section 138 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962. Now the purpose of that section is to enable certain owner-occupiers whose land has been designated, for example, in a development plan, for compulsory acquisition at some future date to require the acquiring authority to buy their land if in the meantime they wish to sell it and because of the threat of compulsory acquisition, it can be sold only at a substantially depreciated price. I can tell the noble and learned Viscount that consideration was given to the question he has raised whether this provision could suitably be applied in the Bill. It was decided, however, that the provision now embodied in Clause 7 would be a more appropriate way of dealing with any depreciation in the value of land caused by the coming into effect of a storage authorisation order. Whereas Section 138 is concerned with land which is to be compulsorily acquired and enables the acquisition date to be brought forward, in the case of an underground storage for the most part only storage rights and not the land itself will need to be acquired. To impose on the gas industry the liability to purchase land which goes with the provision in Section 138 might therefore defeat the purpose of the provisions of the Bill which enable the industry to acquire rights without purchasing the land itself.

The Government do not believe that the storage of gas some hundreds of feet down need affect the value of the land above it; indeed for all we know some of us may be living above a deposit of natural gas held in porous strata in the same way as gas will be held in an underground storage. If, however, any loss of values does occur it is likely to be greatest immediately the storage order is authorised when there is uncertainty about the possible effects of the storage of gas: Clause 7 provides for this. As experience shows, as it has abroad, that this form of storage is both practicable and safe, any initial adverse effect on property values will tend to diminish. The noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, on Second Reading, said in his view the compensation provisions of this Bill were fair. I have looked into this particular matter again and I hope the answer I have given to the noble and learned Viscount will at least cause him to feel that the compensation provisions now included in the Bill are in fact fair to the landowner and others.


I rise only to thank the noble Lord both for his courtesy in writing to me and for the explanation which he has just given. I find it an extremely difficult subject to follow, as I think some of your Lordships may, but I can only say that I thank him and I hope he is right.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clauses 8 and 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Exclusion of double compensation]:


Amendments 12 and 13 go together; they are in fact two drafting Amendments. Clause 33(3) provides that Except in so far as the context otherwise requires, any reference…to any enactment shall be construed as a reference to that enactment as amended or under any other enactment, including this Act. So the words proposed to be left out duplicate the existing provision and are therefore unnecessary. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 12, line 33, leave out ("as amended by this Act").—(Lord Champion.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.


I beg to move that the House be resumed for the purposes of the Statement.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.