§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the House to be again in Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Kennet.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD STRANG in the Chair.]
§ LORD KENNET moved, after Clause 23, to insert the following new clause:
§ Power to alter distribution of certain payments made by nationalised boards in lieu or by way of rates.
§ .—(1) The Minister may by order provide—
- (a) that the sums paid to the Minister by the British Railways Board, the London Transport Board and the British Waterways Board or any of those Boards in pursuance of section 100 of the Local Government Act 1948 (which relates to payments by those Boards in lieu of rates) shall, instead of being distributed as provided by subsection (2) of that section (which provides for their distribution among the rating authorities in England or Wales in proportion to the rate able values of the authorities' areas for the relevant year) be distributed as provided by the order;
- (b) that the adjusted basic total of rate-able value; mentioned in sub-paragraph (3) of paragraph 4 of Schedule 3 to the Rating and Valuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1955 (which relates to the rating of Gas Boards) shall, in the case of all Gas Boards or any Gas Board specified by the order, instead of being apportioned and allocated as provided by that sub-paragraph(which provides for its apportionment and allocation among all the rating areas in which, in the relevant year, gas was, or was treated as, supplied to consumers or manufactured by the relevant Board) be apportioned and allocated for the purposes of that Schedule as provided by the order;
- (c) that the apportionment of the aggregate values of the distribution and generating activities mentioned in paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 to the Local Government Act 1958 (which relates to the rating of Electricity Boards) shall, in the case of all Electricity Boards or any Electricity Board specified by the order, instead of being made as
78 provided by sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) of that paragraph (which provide for the apportionment of those values by reference to net annual value and generating capacity) be made as provided by the order;
- (d) that sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 3 of the said Schedule 2 (which provides that the aggregate values of the generating and of the distribution activities of the Central Electricity Generating Board shall each be taken to be one half of the Board's basic value as determined for the relevant year under that Schedule) shall have effect as if for the reference to one half there were substituted references to such other fractions as may be specified by the order in relation to the Board's generating activities and distribution activities respectively;
- (e) that, in any enactment relating to rating specified by the order, any reference to the manufacture of gas shall include a reference to such dealings with gas as may be specified by the order.
§ (2) If the Minister is of opinion that payments by way of rates should be made by Gas Boards by virtue of this subsection by reference to any premises used by the Gas Council or a Gas Board for the reception or liquefaction of gas or the evaporation of gas in a liquid state, being in any case gas purchased by the Council or the Board, he may make an order designating the premises for the purposes of this subsection and providing for the determination, by such method as may be specified by the order, of a value for the premises for those purposes; and where such an order is in force the Minister may direct—
- (a) that the value determined as aforesaid shall he apportioned among such Gas Boards as may he specified by the direction in such proportions as may be so specified; and
- (b) that each Board specified by the direction shall, during such period as may be so specified, be treated for rating purposes as occupying, within the area of the rating authority in which the premises designated by the order are situated (and whether or not that Board occupies or is treated as occupying any other hereditament in that area), a hereditament of a rateable value equal to the proportion of the value aforesaid allocated by the direction to that Board; and
- (c) that subparagraph (3) of paragraph 4 of Schedule 3 to the Rating and Valuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1955 shall have effect during the period aforesaid, in relation to each Board specified by the direction, as if the Board's adjusted basic total of rateable values mentioned in that subparagraph were reduced by an amount equal to the said proportion.
§ (3) Before making any order under this section the Minister shall consult with such associations of local authorities as appear to him to 79 be concerned, with any local authority with whom consultation appears to him to be desirable and—
- (a) in the case of an order in pursuance of paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of this section, with any Board mentioned in that paragraph which appears to the Minister to be concerned;
- (b) in the case of an order in pursuance of paragraph (b) or (e) of that subsection, with the Gas Council;
- (c) in the case of an order in pursuance of paragraph (c) or (d) of that subsection, with the Electricity Council;
- (d) in the case of an order under subsection (2) of this section, with the Gas Council.
§ (4) An order under this section may contain such incidental, supplemental and consequential provisions, including provisions altering any enactment or instrument, as the Minister considers expedient for the purposes of the order.
§ (5) In this section "Gas Board" means any Area Board constituted for an area in England and Wales under the Gas Act 1948, and "Electricity Board" means the Central Electricity Generating Board and any Area Board within the meaning of the Electricity Act 1947."
§ The noble Lord said: The new clause which I propose to insert in the Bill deals with the arrangements by which the Gas, Electricity and Transport Boards' payments by way of rates are distributed among the rating authorities who receive them. These Boards are all assessed by statutory formulæ which are somewhat complex. The formulæ first govern the overall rate liability of the Boards and then prescribe how their payments are to be apportioned among the receiving authorities.
§ A Working Party has been looking at the present arrangements for some time, and it has become clear that technical developments in recent years, particularly in gas, are creating anomalies in the existing formulæ. This clause is accordingly aimed at enabling the Minister, after consultation with the associations of local authorities and the industries concerned, to make orders changing the present methods of apportionment among rating areas. The clause does not deal with the total level of rates, which can be looked at as part of a general review of rating. The clause has the very limited objective of making the distribution of rates among the receiving authorities fairer. It will not have any impact on the industries, but from the local authorities' aspect should be welcomed as giving 80 an opportunity to iron out the present anomalies.
§ Broadly, subsection (1) of the new clause will enable the Minister to refine the present formula: by giving due weight to processes, such as the reception and evaporation of liquid gas, which were not foreseen when the formula' were devised. Subsection (2) is needed to ensure that the cost of attaching a fair value to premises such as the Canvey Island methane terminal is fairly spread among all the Gas Boards which benefit from the import of purchased gas, rather than concentrated in the area of one Board, as it is at present. Subsection (3) provides for consultation with those concerned. Though I regret that such a long and complicated clause should come up so late in the progress of this Bill through Parliament, I think there should be no difficulties in it, and I commend it to the House. I beg to move.
After Clause 23 insert the said new clause.—(Lord Kennet.)
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
I think we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for paraphrasing this somewhat formidable-looking clause in language we can all understand. I think we might also convey gratitude to the Working Party, who must have had a formidable task in front of them and seem to have discharged it very well. I have no criticism at all of the new clause, and I think it will improve the law.
§ LORD KENNET
I am delighted to hear the noble Lord's kind words about the Working Party, which of course I endorse, and I shall take care to see that our thanks and goods wishes are conveyed to them.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clauses 24 and 25 agreed to.
§ Clause 26:
§ Provision of lighting by highway authorities
§ 26.—(1) The Minister and every local highway authority shall have power to provide lighting for the purposes of any highway or proposed highway for which they are or will be the highway authority, and may for that purpose—
- (a) contract with any persons for the supply of gas, electricity or other means of lighting; and
- (b) construct and maintain such lamps, posts and other works as they consider necessary.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MERSEY had given Notice of two Amendments to Clause 26, the first being in subsection (1), after "authority, and" to insert "subject to the next two following subsections." The noble Viscount said: We had a short discussion in the Second Reading debate on this subject. I have endeavoured to put down Amendments to meet the case I was trying to make on that occasion. Perhaps I may very briefly say once again what I am trying to do, because it may not be perfectly clear from the words of this Amendment—which, of course, paves the way for the next one on the Paper. I am trying to make it obligatory in future—and I emphasise in future—for two contiguous local authorities to have the same form of highway street lighting on main roads.
§ At present, there are over 3,000 lighting authorities in this country, and although there are not 3,000 different sorts of lighting, I have been astounded to find how many there are, and those of your Lordships who drive at night must be well aware of this. To mention only a few, we have sodium lighting, fluorescent lighting, what they call tubular fluorescent lighting, mercury fluorescent lighting. There is tungsten lighting, and some authorities are still lighting their roads by gas. I dare say that there are other sorts as well. That is not the end of the matter: lighting also varies in colour; you can find orange lights, bright yellow lights, blue lights. I submit that all this variation is highly confusing to the ordinary driver.
§ It is obviously impracticable at this stage for us to request individual local authorities, with existing lighting schemes, some of them perfectly adequate, to alter their systems, at the behest of the Government. That would involve enormous expense. But ideally this is what we should aim at. I am somewhat surprised to find out that even now the Ministries concerned are not convinced which sort of lighting is the best, even if the question of cost does not arise. I think it is high time that that decision was made. What I am trying to do by these Amendments is to make sure that 82 new urban development, and more especially New Towns and expanding towns, have the same sort of lighting when they install it in future. If we could get that agreed I think it would be of very great benefit.
§ I have only one other point to make. The accident rate on the roads at night is just double what it is during the day No figures that I could give could, think, be more significant in showing how very important any improvement we can make would he. I think that during the Second Reading debate the Government were not opposed to the idea, but suggested that a Transport Bill might be a better place to try to insert a clause of this sort than the Bill we are considering. We have been promised a Transport Bill, but we have not seen it, and there is no guarantee that when it does appear it will be very easy to include in it anything on these lines. In the meantime, we have, as I say, this all-important question of the accident rate, and I think it would be the wish of everybody in this Committee, on both sides, to do everything possible to reduce the appalling rate of accidents we have in this country. For this reason I commend this Amendment to your Lordships. I beg to move.
Page 20, line 45, after ("and") insert ("subject to the next two following subsections").—(Viscount Mersey.)
§ LORD SOMERS
I strongly support this Amendment. I have for a long time considered how important it is to have uniformity on the roads, both in lighting and in road signs and everything else, and I personally feel that this would probably be the most appropriate Bill in which to have this regulation, since it is the disparity among local authorities in their regulations which has produced the confusion. I remember my old friend the late Lord Hampton constantly emphasising the necessity for uniformity in street lighting. As to the question of which is the most suitable, I should say that the way to find that out would be for the motoring organisations to have a round robin among their members. I think that then they would find the most suitable. I personally know which I prefer, but it does not necessarily follow that it is the best. I think that probably a large cross-section of motorists in the country would give 83 some lead towards a solution of this problem.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (LORD CHAMPION)
I take it that we are discussing both these Amendments together, because clearly they concern precisely the same point and one merely leads on to the other. The Government are in sympathy with the purpose of this Amendment. The unevenness and patchiness of much of our street lighting, even on major roads, was one of the reasons why the Government decided that road lighting must be made the responsibility of highway authorities and not of local lighting authorities. This, of course, is the part of the Bill that we are now discussing. This by itself should bring about a great improvement, since each highway authority will be able to consider comprehensively the lighting of all the roads for which they are responsible, and the Minister will have undivided responsibility for the whole of the trunk system, which of course includes the motorways.
The design of lighting installations, however, involves technical considerations which make it difficult to propose a general statutory obligation about uniformity. It would not be desirable, for example, to provide that all new lighting systems should be of exactly the same type or produce the same colour of light. Here I have to answer to some extent the noble Lord, Lord Somers. I respect his point of view in this, but if you decided on a type of lighting which was suitable for one set of conditions I think it would be found that that lighting would not be quite suitable for another set of conditions. The colour and the type of lighting must, to some extent, depend upon the surroundings, the layout of the road and even the type of road surface itself. A system which would be quite suitable for a shopping centre, for example, would not be the most suitable for a residential area, a road crossing or an open space.
These factors are important in this connection, and we must not, I would think, at this stage at any rate, even upon representations by the Automobile Association, the R.A.C. or other bodies representing motorists, decide on a form of lighting for the whole of the country. 84 The last thing we must do, at any rate at this stage, is to discourage experimentation with new systems. But the changes, such as we must have, must be planned; they must not be haphazard merely because of local government boundaries. It is the number of lighting authorities, each with their different ideas, which in the past has produced some of the things to which both the noble Viscount and the noble Lord quite rightly object. But the Minister is convinced that, once the pattern of statutory responsibilities has been put right, the control of standards can be dealt with more effectively by administrative means than by broad statutory provision.
As I am sure the noble Viscount knows, there is a set of recommendations covering the performance of road lighting in the British Standard Code of Practice. This deals in greatdetail with the standard of illumination to be achieved, the height and spacing of columns, the equipment to be used and so on. We feel that the Amendment which is proposed by the noble Viscount would be undesirable as laying undue emphasis on uniformity as distinct from other desirable features of road lighting which are laid down in that Code of practice. I must stress here that the Code of Practice will be followed for all lighting installations on trunk roads. The Government also intend it to be a condition for making specific grants for lighting on principal roads—that is, the grants which are being introduced under the terms of this Bill—that each lighting installation shall conform with the recommendations of the Code. The Government will therefore be able to ensure, as I said just now, by administrative action that new installations on major traffic routes will be of a high standard and will not introduce changes in the type of lighting of a kind which are distracting to drivers and therefore potentially dangerous.
§ LORD SOMERS
Might I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? When he says that the Government were going to make new installations comply with a given standard, does he also mean that the Government will ensure that present installations which do not conform to that standard will be altered?
§ LORD CHAMPION
I believe the noble Viscount opposite said that it would not 85 be practical immediately to wipe out all existing lighting installations. Some indeed are quite costly, and to wipe them out and replace them immediately would be a costly undertaking, which I would not care to say from this Box the Government would be prepared to undertake immediately. But of course, when the time comes for these things to be replaced, naturally and understandably the Minister will ensure in regard to their replacement that the code of recommendations about which I have been talking will be carried out.
The second part of Amendment No. 26 deals with the case where there are two or more highway authorities for any highway. My objection to this might appear to be trifling and niggling, but I am assured that it is not. I am told that to decide how many highway authorities there are for any highway it is first necessary to define the beginning and the end of a "highway". In most cases this simply would not be possible. The Minister will in any case be able to resolve any problems which arise where a lighting scheme on a principal or trunk road crosses a local authority boundary. Statutory provision to cover this situation would therefore be unnecessary so far as the more important roads are concerned, as well as being difficult to frame. I am advised that this is the case.
We have every sympathy with the point of view which has been expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, and the noble Lord, Lord Somers. We have looked at this matter carefully and the Minister, having taken all the best advice available to him, feels that rather than to put this into the Bill as a statutorial requirement it would be better to deal with the point by administrative means and under the general powers given in the Bill. Having regard to what I have said, I hope that the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw this Amendment, with which, as I say, we have every sympathy, but do not feel that this would solve our problem.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Champion, one question? I am sure my noble friend who moved the Amendment will feel that he has received a reasonably encouraging reply, but some of us are worried because, although the new lighting systems will conform to the recom- 86 memded code of practice, we might still be left for a number of years with the situation that there is a very sharp contrast between one stretch of road and another. This kind of road is particularly prone to accidents at night. Therefore, could the noble Lord carry his answer a little further and say whether it is the firm intention of the Minister, by the administrative measures the noble Lord mentioned, to get rid of sudden contrasts between one part of a road and another as quickly as possible?
§ LORD CHAMPION
On the point whether the Minister is prepared to take action of this sort, I cannot pretend to be briefed. I did say that we could not immediately do away with existing lighting systems, but knowing as I do the desire of the Minister and her Ministry to remove all danger points, I am quite sure that the Minister will give every consideration to the point which the noble Lord has made. I agree with him that there is nothing worse than to change suddenly from one system to another or to travel from one stretch of highway where there is excellent lighting to another which plunges one into a sudden pool of darkness and then into a light patch once again. This sort of thing is distracting and bad for the motorist, and I am sure causes great danger. As to the specific point put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, I will consult the Minister and write to him before the Report stage. Then, if he feels my answer is not satisfactory, he can come back to the point at that later stage.
I must thank the noble Lord on the Government Front Bench for his full reply. It shows what a very difficult administrative task this is. Between now and the Report stage, could the noble Lord see if it is possible to bring about uniformity in this matter in relation to New Towns? It seems to me that they would be one area in which we could make a good beginning on this matter. I feel that it would be a step forward if provision could be made in the Bill to deal with New Towns. Having regard to the assurances the noble Lord has given, and in view of his answer to my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave withdrawn87
§ 6.34 p.m.
LORD GRIMSTON OF WESTBURY moved to add to the clause:
( ) Where the council of a non-county borough or of an urban district are by virtue of section 4 of the said Act of 1959 the highway authority for a county road within their area and lighting is provided for the purposes of such county road by the highway authority, the council of the county comprising the borough or district, shall—
( ) The provisions of subsections (3), (4) and (5) of section 237 of the said Act of 1959 shall apply to the payments and contributions referred to in subsection ( ) of this section.
The noble Lord said: This Amendment raises a rather technical point which is giving some concern to the Urban District Councils Association for whom I speak. I shall seek to be as brief as possible, but I am afraid that I shall have to give a little background to your Lordships in order to make the point.
§ Section 45 of the Highways Act 1959, re-enacting the previous legislation, enables the council of a non-county borough or urban district with a population exceeding 20,000 to claim to maintain any county road in their area. They are therefore referred to as "claiming" authorities. Section 4 of the same Act makes a claiming authority the highway authority for the particular county road. Section 237 of that Act provides that contributions shall be made by county councils to the cost of the maintenance and improvement of claimed county roads. These contributions fall under two heads. Paragraph (a) requires payments to be made towards the cost of the maintenance of the road and of any reasonable improvement connected with the maintenance of the road. This expenditure is normally dealt with on the basis 88 of previously approved annual estimates, so that the claiming authority knows where it is in regard to payments. Secondly, the section provides for contributions towards the expense of any improvement of the road, not being an improvement connected with the maintenance of the road. The contribution in this case is arrived at after negotiations between county council and district council.
§ Clause 26 of the Bill which we are discussing to-day gives power to highway authorities to provide street lighting. Previously, street lighting has been provided by district councils, under Section 161 of the Public Health Act 1875. This power is not being repealed, so that there will be existing side by side the two codes for street lighting, under the new Bill and under the Public Health Act. As the new lighting powers are being given to the highway authority, the local authority association representatives in the negotiations had taken it that expenditure on street lighting would attract the normal contributions under Section 237—that is to say, that the contribution towards the maintenance of the lighting would be fixed beforehand. They were therefore surprised to learn of an opinion expressed by the Ministry of Transport that because Clause 26(5) makes the provision of lighting an "improvement", within Part V of the 1959 Act, then expenditure on lighting will have to be dealt with, so far as a contribution is concerned, under the second limb of Section 237; that is to say, as an improvement.
We thus arrive at the ridiculous situation that the provision of current for street lighting will be treated as an "improvement". I suppose it might be said that if the lights are out and the current is then switched on, that is an improvement in the lighting, but it rather stretches the meaning of the word "improvement". I will confirm the point by quoting an extract from a letter received from the Ministry of Transport in which they say:
We have given a good deal of thought to how Section 237 of the Highways Act 1959 will apply to lighting. We agree with you that as the Bill is at present drafted the matter is not free from doubt.
This is the point which has been worrying the Urban District Councils'
Association. I should like to make two observations about this matter. As I have said, to treat the provision of current for lighting as an improvement does not make sense. Secondly, claiming authorities may be penalised as to contribution for maintenance of lighting because, instead of being fixed by previously approved estimates, these matters will be subject to negotiation between the county council and the claiming authority.
§ I hope that I have made the point clear. My Association is worried about this matter, and I feel that it should be looked at again. The first consideration is that we should not send out from this House a Bill which does not make sense, and l feel that on the point I have just made it will not make sense if it is left unamended. The second matter is that any anxieties in this regard should be rightly relieved. This Amendment is intended to do this. It makes the position clear and therefore I hope that the Minister, if he cannot accept this Amendment, will at least be able to say that he will take another look at the matter. I beg to move.
Page 21, line 16, at end insert the said subsections.—(Lord Grimston of Westbury.)
§ LORD PARGITER
There is a point of view about this Amendment which might go a little deeper. I am not so sure that the claimed county road principle ought to remain at all. After all, this was done at a particular time in order to suit highway authorities and to get some measure of agreement on the transfer of highway powers, and so on. It might be much better and tidier, certainly from the point of view of this type of road, if authority were vested in the county council as the highway authority for the whole of the road, because now we get a section of the road which is county, another section which is claimed county road, and beyond that another section which is county road. That certainly does not make for really efficient management. Then there has to be this negotiating period—I know, as I have been through it, both from the borough side and from the county side—where we had the arguments as to what ought to be done in the way of maintenance and what ought to be done in the way of improvements, all of which tends to gum up the works. If the highway authorities 90 would look at this logically and say, "If it is a county road, it is a county road anyway, for its entire length through the county", it would he more advantageous than trying to do something which deals with only a small part of the total problem.
§ LORD SOMERS
I quite agree with what the noble Lord said. But would he not agree that that still does not remove the difficulty, that when you cross the county border you must still have some sort of uniformity, and different counties may have different ideas?
§ LORD PARGITER
I am not dealing with the question of illumination or standards of illumination, but only with the general question of highway control and maintenance as a whole.
§ LORD GRIMSTON OF WESTBURY
May I just say that this is rather outside the point which I am raising with this particular Amendment?
§ LORD CHAMPION
I was going to say precisely that. The point about what the Bill does not contain which it ought to contain is a good Second Reading point. But I can well understand why the noble Lord should have used this occasion to make this remark, because I agree with him that this business is something of a hotch-potch of motorways, trunk roads, classifications, three classes of roads—claimed roads, unclaimed roads, district roads—and unpaved footways; and the whole business is confusing to everybody who has to look at it. I have had to look at it during the past few days, so I know just how difficult it all is. But this is not, I think, a Bill in which to put it right. I think we have to look at this and to consider such amendments as would be necessary to the Highways Act in order to get over this hotch-potch, and we are not proposing to do that in this comparatively small section of the Bill before us.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grimston of Westbury, for explaining very carefully what is a very difficult technical point, and I am sure that everyone who has studied it will agree that it is a difficult technical point. Here I am going to stick very closely to my brief, because of the technicalities that are involved.
91 The purpose of this Amendment is to ensure that "claiming" authorities obtain from county councils full reimbursement of their expenditure on the operation and maintenance of lighting provided under the Bill on claimed county roads. For the purpose of the financial arrangements between "claiming" authorities and county councils, the operation and maintenance of lighting systems are treated differently under the Bill from the maintenance of highways generally. This is the point which the noble Lord, Lord Grimston of Westbury, was making. Under subsection (1)(b) of Section 237 of the Highways Act 1959, county councils must contribute to the improvement of claimed county roads, and under subsection (1)(a) must reimburse the "claiming" authorities in full for their reasonable expenditure on maintaining them.
Under the Bill (Clause 26(5)) the provision of lighting by a highway authority is defined as an improvement, and county councils will therefore have to contribute to the cost of providing lighting systems on claimed county roads—a fact which makes the second part of the Amendment unnecessary. I am advised, however, that the operation and maintenance of lighting by a highway authority would probably also be defined as an improvement for the purposes of the Highways Act. The result is that county councils will beobliged only to contribute to the cost of maintaining lighting systems on claimed county roads, instead of having to reimburse the whole cost. I take it that this is the gravamen of the complaint of the Urban District Councils Association in this connection.
This distinction follows the way in which the lighting powers which highway authorities already have are drafted in the Highways Act. Sections 65 to 70 of the Act give highway authorities power to provide, operate and maintain lighting for roundabouts, obstructions, subways, et cetera. These sections are included in Part V of the Highways Act, and "improvement" is defined in the Act as work carried out under Part V. We are advised—this is the Ministry—that maintenance carried out under these sections would be an improvement for the purposes of the Act. The Bill follows this by including the power to provide, 92 operate and maintain lighting in one clause, Clause 26, the whole of which is to be treated as included in Part V of the Highways Act.
The Government have looked with some care at the Amendment of the noble Lord hut the Minister feels that the disadvantages proposed in the Amendment are much greater than those in the clause as it is at present drafted, and this for the following reasons. It would give claiming authorities an unfair advantage over non-claiming authorities, since they would be able to claim full reimbursement for the cost of operating and maintaining both new and existing footway lighting on claimed county roads, as well as a contribution towards the installation of new footway lighting, whereas non-claiming authorities will be left with full financial responsibility for all existing footway lighting and for any future footway lighting which they may choose to install.
I know of the noble Lord's association with the Urban District Councils Association, and he will see immediately that we shall be in some difficulty as between claiming and non-claiming authorities because of the fact that, in the one case, footway lighting would be paid for by the local authorities where this footway lighting was on the highway, and, in the other case, because they were not claiming authorities they would have to bear the full cost of the footway lighting. There is something in this point, and I would commend it to the noble Lord so that he might think about it.
The second point which I have to make is that it would create a new anomaly to treat lighting provided under the Bill on a different basis from lighting provided under the Highways Act. On the other hand, to amend the lighting powers in the Highways Act to bring them into line with what is proposed in the Amendment would be too extensive a drafting exercise to undertake at this stage. The arrangements for lighting under the Highways Act which are the same as for some other highway work—for example, the maintenance of traffic signs—appear to have worked without difficulty in the past. As the noble Lord knows, if something has worked without difficulty in the past, we tend if possible not to interfere with it.
93 The Bill as drafted gives the maximum flexibility, and so allows sensible agreements to be reached between county councils and claiming authorities in the light of local circumstances. Of course, there is provision for claiming authorities to appeal to the Minister in the event of a disagreement. The noble Lord, Lord Grimston of Westbury, said he did not really like this aspect of it, and that these negotiations might lead to difficulties as between the urban district councils and the county councils. But, in the main, the negotiations between these bodies have worked fairly well in the past.
I understand that the County Councils Association do not oppose the Amendment, but, especially as it is not immediately obvious in principle why one county should reimburse 100 per cent. of the cost of maintaining another authority's lighting, it may well be the case that some individual counties might object to this principle, even though they have to do it for roads. It is not possible to settle the financial arrangements for lighting claimed county roads under the Bill on an entirely satisfactory basis. To follow, as we are in this Bill, the pattern of the lighting powers contained in the Highways Act is to extend an old anomaly. If we were to adopt the noble Lord's Amendment we should be creating a new anomaly, and our difficulty in this connection is to know which is the worse—to create a new anomaly or to extend an old one. We rather felt, and certainly the Minister feels up to this point, that it is better to stick to the clause as it is drafted rather than to cure an old anomaly by creating a new one, and one which might bear hardly on the non-claiming district councils. Having regard to this explanation, I rather hope (although it is very involved, I must admit) that the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD GRIMSTON OF WESTBURY
I thank the noble Lord very much for his reply. As he has said, the matter is very involved, and to be perfectly frank I should like to read in Hansard what he has said in order really to grasp all the points that he has made. I must say that I still find it difficult to think that the supply of electric current should be treated as an improvement. It still does not seem to me to make any sense. There are other maters as well, but I do not 94 wish to detain your Lordships' Committee now. I will have a careful look at what the noble Lord has said, and I hope that perhaps he, too, will have another look at the matter as there is another stage of the Bill. After I have looked at it again I may very likely wish to raise the matter again; but if he will let me know that he, too, will have a further look at it, as I think he will because he has nodded—
§ LORD CHAMPION
I wondered whether the noble Lord had finished. It seemed to me that he was appealing to me to have another look at it. He has said that he is going to study very carefully what I have said in this connection. I shall do him an equal courtesy by studying everything that he has said; and if, as a result of this and further consultations with the Minister, I feel that something ought to go down on Report stage, I will put it down. If I feel that I cannot do that, I shall advise the noble Lora in sufficient time to enable him to put an Amendment down if he feels so strongly about it.
§ LORD GRIMSTON OF WESTBURY
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 26 agreed to.
§ Clauses 27 and 28 agreed to.
§ Clause 29:
§ Transfer of road lighting systems
§ (2) There shall not be transferred to a highway authority by virtue of this section any right or liability of a lighting authority in respect of work done, services rendered, goods(including gas and electricity) supplied or money due for payment before the said date, and there shall not be transferred to the Minister by virtue of this section any liability of a lighting authority in respect of loans or loan charges.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ LORD ILFORD moved, in subsection (2), to leave out all words after "date". The noble Lord said: Clause 29 transfers to the highway authority the system of road lighting on any highway for which they are the highway authority. At present, the road lighting system is not in every instance provided by the highway authority but is in certain cases provided 95 by certain county districts, the non-county boroughs and the urban district councils, through whose districts the highways pass. In some cases the county council is the highway authority, and under the new arrangement the county council will become the lighting authority as well. In the case of the trunk roads, the Minister of Transport is the highway authority, and under the provisions of this clause he will become the lighting authority when the Bill becomes law.
§ The existing apparatus for street lighting—lamp-posts, and all the various articles that go with them—will be transferred from the county districts to the highway authorities. Following the practice which I think is universally adopted where property is transferred from one local authority to another local authority, all the liabilities, including the loan charges incurred in respect of the equipment for street lighting, are transferred with the property to the highway authority. In those cases where the lighting system is transferred to the county council, this practice is followed, where the county council becomes the lighting authority.
§ Now I come to what seems to me to be a very startling departure from this well-established and, I should have thought, equitable practice: and this is the point of my Amendment. Where the Minister of Transport becomes the road lighting authority and the property in connection with road lighting is transferred to him, the outstanding loan charges in respect of the street lighting equipment remain with the district council and are not transferred to the Minister of Transport, although the property is being taken from the district council and passes into the hands of the Minister as the highway authority. This means that the district authorities remain responsible for the loan charges, the interest and the repayment of capital incurred in respect of the equipment which is being transferred to the Minister. That seems to me to be an arrangement which is so inequitable that I cannot understand how it has found its way into a Government Bill.
§ When the gas and electricity industries were transferred from local government to new authorities, the loan charges followed the property that was transferred and became the obligation of the 96 new authorities; and the same was done in the case of the hospital service. I know of only one precedent. When the trunk roads were transferred to the Minister of Transport under the Trunk Roads Act 1936, the loan charges were left with the local authorities. As to that, I say that it was a bad precedent; and when this Bill was in another place I think it was recognised that it was a bad precedent, and the Government said they did not want to act on the authority of it as a precedent but would act upon principle. I find it difficult to understand that. What sort of principle is it which says that if the transfer of property is to another local authority the loan charges will go with it, but if the transfer of property is to the Ministry of Transport the loan charges remain with the district councils? I hope your Lordships will say that this is an arrangement which does not find favour with this Committee. I beg to move.
Page 23, line 22, leave out from ("date") to end of line 24.—(Lord Ilford.)
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ LORD PARGITER
I should like briefly to support what the noble Lord has just said. I think he stated his case well. The 1936 Act has been used as a precedent and quoted in this connection; but this was a transfer of roads and had nothing to do with lighting. Now the Ministry are looking at lighting almost de novo in this matter in taking the power to be a lighting authority. It seems to me to be unreasonable that they set one pattern for the local authorities and a different one for themselves. I know that Ministries are liable to do this sort of thing, but at least they might quote a good reason for doing it. It is not enough to quote the Act of 1936 as against all the other precedents that have taken place since the transfers referred to—gas, electricity and hospitals. It might be argued that gas and electricity are revenue-producing and therefore there is something to transfer in the way of liabilities as well as assets; but the same argument could not be used with respect to the hospitals. They are hardly revenue-producing, nor are they ever likely to be. Therefore it seems to me that it might have been better to take more recent precedents than that of the 1936 Act, which in any case was 97 a major operation in itself—the transfer of trunk roads to the Ministry.
This present matter has been discussed between the associations and the Department. They have had this particular reply about the precedent of the highway authorities; but it seems that it is a tidied operation to transfer the lot rather than to have this sort of division between one local authority and another, and between the Ministry and the local authorities generally. The cost of this cannot be enormous. From the point of goodwill the Government might have thought it desirable to accept the liability for the loan charges on the lighting to be transferred to them.
I might mention also that a cause for complaint is that the Parliamentary Secretary did undertake to look at these points, to discuss them with the Minister to see what could be done and whether it would be possible to accept any of the suggestions put forward. I should have thought that, in courtesy, the Association would have received some reply from the Department. But, in spite of the undertaking given to see whether some suggestions could be adopted, no reply has been received by the authorities. It seems to me that if a Minister looks at something he must then give a reply to the people who raised the matter. For this reason alone, and in order that all the Departments might learn that the associations are not to be treated in this cavalier fashion, I think this Amendment might be accepted.
§ LORD BURDEN
I should like to say a few words in support of the Amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Ilford and Lord Pargiter. Both associations, the County Councils Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations are agreed on the principle of this Amendment and ask for its support. Both Lord Ilford and Lord Pargiter have had long experience in local government, and it would be tedious to go over the many instances where assets are taken over and liabilities remain with the other authority. I know that there is one ewe lamb that is thrown at us, the Act of 1936, which somehow slipped through; but we have a wealth of other precedents as against that one instance. But there it is! The Minister no doubt has a reply, and we shall have to accept that reply; because, obviously, we cannot 98 divide the Committee on this Amendment. But it is a point on which both authorities and those who may constitute those authorities feel keenly that they are not being treated quite fairly in this matter. I support the Amendment.
§ LORD CHAMPION
I must start by saying how sorry I am that my noble friend should feel he had to criticise my Ministerial colleague. I have not had a great deal of time to find out exactly what are the facts in this connection, but I understand that in another place (I think it was in Committee) the Parliamentary Secretary undertook to consider this matter and that subsequently a reply was given by my honourable friend in one of the later stages in the Bill. Whether this is exactly what happened, and at exactly what stage it happened, I do not know. All I can say is I am sure that my honourable friend would not wish to be discourteous to the associations who are normally so helpful to the Minister.
§ LORD PARGITER
I am happy to accept what my noble friend has said. This did not take place in Committee proceedings. This was a matter of representations made by the associations at a meeting with the Parliamentary Secretary.
§ LORD CHAMPION
As I have said, I have not had time to go into this matter. But I will look at it, despite the fact that my noble friend is not pressing it too hardly upon me.
As noble Lords have pointed out, this clause differentiates sharply between what happens between local authorities and what happens between local authorities and the Ministry. They have criticised these provisions on the grounds that one authority acquiring property from another should automatically take over the responsibility for any loan charges relating to it, and that the Minister is acting inequitably in not accepting this principle. It has been said elsewhere (though the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, did not quite say this) this amounts almost to expropriation.
§ LORD CHAMPION
The noble Lord did not do so. I acquitted him of any charge of that sort. I said merely that it 99 had been said elsewhere. I am sure that the noble Lord would not use exaggerated language in any claim that he made.
§ LORD CHAMPION
That is not expropriation. There is a slightly different emphasis on the use of the words.
The criticism we think misrepresents the position and is quite unjustified. In principle, the case for the transfer of outstanding loan charges in respect of lighting systems, even between local authorities, is a weak one for the following reasons. First, lighting systems are not revenue-earning assets. In acquiring them, highway authorities will simply be relieving lighting authorities of their burden of maintaining and operating them. So there is going to be a relief to those authorities. Even though retaining responsibility for loan charges, therefore, lighting authorities will still gain financially, while the local population continues to enjoy the benefits of the lighting.
Secondly, the transfer of loan charges discriminates unfairly against those authorities which have financed their lighting systems out of revenue rather than by raising loans. But to pay compensation for lighting systems which are not subject to outstanding loan charges will involve complicated problems of valuation which would be a gross misuse of the time of valuation staff who are in very short supply. For these reasons the Ministry originally proposed that loan charges in respect of lighting systems should not be transferred, even between local authorities. The local authorities concerned, however, represented to the Ministry that it was the normal practice, when assets were transferred between local authorities, for any outstanding loan charges to be transferred with them; and they all, including the County Councils Association, representing the highway authorities who will now be taking over the responsibilities, wished to apply this practice to lighting systems. So the original intention was departed from at the wish of the local authorities' Association concerned in this, and the Ministry agreed to the representations of the authorities concerned.
Despite this, despite the wishes of these authorities, there is no reason at all why 100 the Minister should conform to local authority practice in this matter, since central Government practice is quite different. A number of precedents have been quoted in this connection. I believe the best precedent is the one which has been mentioned as being in Section 228 of the Highways Act 1959; which dates from the Trunk Roads Act 1936. That Act expressly debars the Minister from taking over liabilities of this kind when a road becomes a trunk road. It is not suggested that the treatment of loan charges for trunk road lighting should necessarily be settled by precedents, but since this clear precedent accords with the merits of the case we see no reason to depart from it. It is therefore a superficial "inconsistency" in the Bill between the obligations which it lays respectively on the Minister and on local highway authorities. It is not for me to justify the action of the County Councils Association in agreeing to this, but I am bound to distinguish and make a difference, and to point to the difference, between what they wish to do and what the Minister thinks is right.
When the Minister hands over a lighting system to a local authority, as may happen when a road is "de-trunked", there will be no question of transferring any loan charges, since the Minister does not incur any. Where a county council takes over responsibility for road lighting it may be argued that lighting authorities which have been conscientious in lighting their roads in the past should not continue to be responsible for their loan charges as well as contribute through the county precept to the lighting of districts where the lighting authority has been less conscientious in the past. This does not apply in the case of trunk roads, since the local authority will not have to contribute to the cost of lighting them in future. Although this does not affect the principle involved, it is relevant that the Minister will already have paid 50 per cent. towards the capital cost of nearly all trunk road lighting which she has taken over. The loan charges incurred by local authorities on this lighting relate therefore only to half of the cost.
We have heard a number of precedents quoted and everyone claims, "My precedent is better than yours." I tend to think that the precedent in the Highways Act is better than the others. Certainly I would say to my noble friend that, so 101 far as hospitals are concerned, the compromise, or the decision arrived at, when the Government took over the hospitals and assumed responsibility for the loan charges was part of a general settlement in which local authorities became responsible for other services—ambulances, midwifery, and so on—and it cannot be said that the circumstances concerned in the creation of a National Health Service are comparable to the present circumstances.
I am sorry to have taken so long, but this is a point which I know has caused a considerable amount of controversy and feeling among local authorities. But despite the fact that this was raised in the other place and then looked at very carefully—and has again been looked at between the passage of the Bill in that House and its arrival in your Lordships'House—we still feel that we ought not to create a precedent in this Bill. In the circumstances I hope that the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw his Amendment.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
It is encouraging to noble Lords on this side of the Committee when the noble Lord, Lord Champion, says that the present Government cannot possibly do better than what a Conservative Government did in 1936—
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
—and feels that it would be a great mistake to depart from that practice. I thought the 1959 Act was a consolidating one, but perhaps I am wrong.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
I do not like to say this to such a considerate and charming debater as the noble Lord Lord Champion, but I must say that I found his argument entirely unconvincing. It seems to me that the local authorities have here an overwhelming case. Indeed, I would say that the sooner it is established that when there is a transfer of assets as between one local authority and another, or as between a local authority and the central Government, the liabilities in respect of loan charges go with the assets—the sooner that principle is established—the better.
102 The noble Lord, Lord Champion, said that if we were to accept this Amendment it would lead us into complications such as the making of valuations in respect of all the other local authorities which have financed their lighting systems out of revenue; but there is nothing about that in this Amendment, which is a perfectly simple one. So far as I am aware there is nobody on the local authority side who wishes to make a claim on behalf of those local authorities which financed their lighting systems out of revenue. The simple fact remains that if this Amendment is not accepted, those local authorities progressive enough to get on with their lighting system will still have to pay the loan charges, whereas the less progressive local authorities who did nothing about it will now find that everything is provided by the central Government. That does not seem to me to be good for local government; and here it is the good of local government which so much concerns me. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, spoke of cases of "de-trunking"—
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
I had hoped that my noble friend Lord Conesford would not have been present when I was soaudacious as to repeat that word. I did not invent it; I was repeating it. I will certainly try to avoid offending the ears of my noble friend Lord Conesford by mentioning it again. But if this strange thing does happen, I imagine that what will occur under the Bill as it stands is that a district council will retain responsibility for the loan charges when the lighting system on a trunk road is transferred next year under this Bill to the Minister, and then, when the subsequent unmentionable operation takes place in respect of that road, the Minister will not have taken any action about the loan charges; they will remain with the district council, not the lighting authority. The local lighting authority will take over the road which has been treated in the unmentionable way, but will not be responsible for the loan charges. That seems to me as great an anomaly as any which the noble Lord, Lord Champion, sought to establish. I know that these are not revenue-earning assets, but the precedent of hospitals is a 103 much closer one, in time at any rate, than the precedent of 1936.
It would be inconceivable that the local authorities would have agreed to the National Health Service transfer if the loan charges, which in that case would have been large, were not transferred. Here they are relatively small. That seems to be a poor argument for maintaining that there should be no transfer. But we are not really discussing any substantial amount of money. We are establishing a principle. And I think that it ought to be established that, on a transfer of assets, the loan charges should be transferred to the recipient of the assets.
When local authorities were already agreed so far as transfers between local authorities were concerned, it would be wrong for Parliament to let this Bill go through with a clear inconsistency between the case where there is a transfer of assets to a local authority and that where there is a transfer to the central Government. The noble Lord, Lord Burden, said that it was not a matter to divide about, but I frankly hope that we shall divide and establish the principle.
§ LORD CHAMPION
The noble Lord said that he had not heard of anything that might indicate that someone else was asking for compensation in the circumstances I mentioned, but the Rural District Councils Association do ask for compensation for works which had been financed out of revenue, so there is at least one body which establishes the point I made just now. I admit that I used the word "de-trunking", but with considerable trepidation. I looked towards the seat of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and as he was not there, I used it. It was put in my mouth by the Ministry and I must admit that it came out.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, has stressed the importance which the Opposition attaches to this Amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, and it has been supported by some of my noble friends on this side. In these circumstances, I should like to have an opportunity to take this back and look at it between now and Report stage. Naturally I cannot promise that I will put down an 104 Amendment, or that if I do it will be in this form, but after I have had a chance of looking at it there will be two stages on which the House can establish the principle if it wishes to do so. So I would ask the noble Lord if he will consider—and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, if he will advise his noble friend—that it might be to the advantage of the House that we should follow what is so often the practice of taking another chance of looking at this before a final decision is taken by the House itself.
§ LORD ILFORD
The noble Lord invited me to withdraw my Amendment and I thought that I was going to be able to do so, but he did not give me much encouragement. He went a little further in his second speech and gave me some prospect that this matter will be examined again. In these circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment, but I reserve the right to put it down again at a later stage if the noble Lord's further examination of the point leads him to take the attitude he is taking to-day.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 29 agreed to.
§ Clause 30 agreed to.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION moved, after Clause 30, to insert the following new clause:
§ Placing of staff etc. of councils at disposal of Minister
§ .—(1) It shall be lawful for a council to enter into an agreement with the Minister for the placing at the disposal of the Minister for the purposes of his functions relating to highways, on such terms as may be provided by the agreement, of the service, of persons employed by the council and of any premises, equipment and other facilities under the control of the council.
§ (2) For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that for superannuation purposes service rendered by a person whose services are placed at the disposal of the Minister in pursuance of this section is service rendered to the council by whom that person is employed."
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name on the Marshalled List. The purpose of this Amendment is to pave the way for the establishment by the Minister of Transport of road construction units in partnership with the county councils. The 105 Minister of Transport announced earlier this year that she was entering into discussion with the County Councils Association with a view to establishing a new system for the design and supervision of construction of major trunk road and motorway schemes, which are the responsibility of the Minister as highway authority for trunk roads. At the moment this work is carried out either by consulting engineers, or by county councils acting as the Minister's agents under Section 10 of the Highways Act 1959. Under the Minister's proposals, a few large-scale units would be set up to cover between them the whole of England. They would represent a re-grouping of the resources of the county councils and of the Ministry; they would be responsible to the Minister who would meet the full cost of their operation.
§ Discussions on the establishment of the units are nearing completion. While the precise details have not yet been finally determined, it seems clear that if the resources of the county councils are to be put to the best use it will be necessary for the county councils to be enabled to enter into agreements with the Minister to make available to her groups of staff, accommodation, or other facilities to form a constituent part of the units. The Minister, as highway authority for trunk roads and motorways, already has power under Section 10 of the Highways Act 1959 to employ county councils as her agents for the construction of such roads or to delegate to them her functions in respect of improvement or maintenance.
§ The County Councils Association are aware of the intentions to seek powers on the lines proposed and support the purpose of the clause. The other local authority associations have been consulted and have no objections to raise. The clause has been drafted for convenience in terms of all councils and is not limited to the county councils. It is nevertheless the Minister's intention in so far as road construction units are concerned to enter into agreements only with the county councils, and if necessary an assurance to this effect may be given. This is very much an enabling clause. It is an addition to the Bill which eventually, when these units are established, will be useful to the Minister's staff for dealing with this task of creating the highways which the country ought to have.106
After Clause 30, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Champion.)
§ LORD BURDEN
I am glad that the Minister has described his proposal to us regarding the formation of road construction units, and therefore I need not go over that ground. I should like to say that the proposal is both novel and unique. I think that the Ministry and the County Councils Association are to be congratulated on this imaginative and, I venture to think, practical scheme for road construction.
I only want to raise a point in regard to staff. If I may quote a passage in regard to staff from the agreed memorandum, this will make the point clear. It says:All participating county councils will allocate to the unit an agreed number of engineering staff of various grades, initially those already engaged on major trunk road and motorway work which falls within the scope of the unit; staff so allocated will form a constitutent part of the unit.And then I come to the part I want to emphasise:These staff will continue to be based on their county offices, and the county council will retain responsibility for their pay, conditions of service, career prospects, et cetera.It is quite clear that the officers concerned will not be parties to the agreement or understanding, or whatever it may be called, which has been entered into between the County Councils Association and the Ministry, but I am sure that the Ministry would agree that their terms and conditions of employment should not be worsened as a consequence of their entry into the proposed agreement. 1 should like an assurance that, should any difficulty arise in the application of service conditions, the Ministry will confer with the officers' trade union—that will be, in mast instances, NALGO—in order that the difficulty or difficulties may be resolved. I should like to conclude by again congratulating the County Councils Association and the Ministry on this move, which I believe will greatly facilitate and make for smooth working in road construction.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
May I give an assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, that I do not intend to give him any trouble at all this time. I hope that I shall do something to restore 107 my earlier relations with him by promising full support for this new clause.
§ LORD CHAMPION
I am grateful for that, and for the fact that we have now restored friendly relations. I hope the noble Lord will not lead his troops too often into the Division Lobby, in which case we shall remain friends for ever.
My noble friend Lord Burden has raised some points about the staff. Inevitably and understandably, this is an arrangement which to some extent affects the staff relations with the county council. What I can give to the noble Lord is a complete assurance that nothing will be done that might be thought to affect the staff themselves injuriously without full consultation with the staff concerned.
§ LORD CHAMPION
This means with those representing them. I am sure that this is the assurance which the noble Lord requires from me—and I give it without hesitation: that the Minister will enter into such consultations as appear to both sides to be desirable in order to ensure that this is accepted by the staffs, the county council and everyone else.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clauses 31 and 32 agreed to.
§ Clause 33 [Further provisions as to dog licences]:
§ On Question: Whether Clause 33 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD AIREDALE
I should like to ask the Government whether Clause 33, which makes further provision as to dog licences, has been designed to put an end to a mischief which the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, raised (I do not mean that the noble Lord raised the mischief) when he drew attention to it during Questions some time ago. The position is that a dog licence expires at midnight on the last day of a calendar month, but a dog licence is not renewable in advance. This means that any person wishing to renew a dog licence has three courses open to him, each of which has some disadvantage attaching to it. He can take out a 108 new dog licence before the old one expires, but in that event he will have two current dog licences in respect of the same dog, both of which licences he will have paid for. If he does not like doing that, he may be able to find a post office open at midnight on the last day of the month. But is he expected to rise from his bed on a wet night in order to go there? If he does not, he commits a criminal offence between that time and the time when he manages to get to a post office to renew or take out a licence. I hope that we may have an assurance that the Minister will be able to make an order under this clause which will put an end to this ridiculous, Gilbertian situation.
Finally, may I attempt to deflect any imminent ministerial wit by saying myself that, of course, with a name like mine, I am interested in the law relating to dogs.
§ LORD SORENSEN
I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising this question on his own behalf and on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, who is not here this evening. I want to assure him right away that the dreadful possibility of either facing prosecution, on the one hand, or needless spending of money on the other, or maybe having to emerge at midnight in his pyjamas to try to find a post office, where immediately, at one minute after midnight, he can secure a new licence, will now be obviated. The terms of Clause 33 sayThe Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food may by order amend the provisions of the Dog Licences Act 1959 with respect to the time for payment of duty under that Act.Then it goes on with a reference to "the age of any dog or hound", both being members of the canine species, which is irrelevant. By that is meant that the burden to which I have referred is now likely to be lifted altogether, for the provision in Clause 33(1), part of which I have just read, makes it clear, I hope, that it confers power on the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by order to amend the provisions of the Dog Licences Act with respect to the time of payment of duty and the period for which that licence is to be in force. Surely that meets the situation. If the noble Lord and other noble Lords accept this, then we can rejoice that the noble Lord, in his minor campaign for justice, equity and 109 common sense, has reached a victorious conclusion.
§ Clause 33 agreed to.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ LORD KENNET moved, after Clause 33, to insert the following new clause:
Payments by local authorities to offset effect of selective employment tax. 1962 c. 38
. It shall be lawful for a local authority within the meaning of the Town and Country Planning Act 1962 to make to any person such payments as the authority consider appropriate for the purpose of offsetting, either wholly or in part, payments by way of the selective employment tax made by that person in respect of persons employed for the purposes of any contract entered into by the authority before 4th May 1966.
§ The noble Lord said: The purpose of this new clause is self-evident. It is to enable local authorities to reimburse selective employment tax payments made by contractors in respect of contracts which were in operation at the time when the tax was imposed, the contract having already been signed. Government Departments have already been authorized to pay S.E.T., like all other employers in the country, and when my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer authorised Government Departments to make extra payments to contractors, we at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government sent out a circular to local authorities asking them to do the same. Since that time, however, some doubt has arisen about whether they are legally empowered to do this under the existing law. It is in order to clear up this doubt that we are introducing a specific enabling clause in this Bill which will enable them to do what everybody else in the country can already do—namely, to pay for S.E.T. I need not point out that this is a vanishing problem. It is only to enable them to pay the tax to contractors already under contract to them at a certain price at the time the tax was imposed. It does not concern contracts initiated since that time.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
I appreciate that this new clause is moved by the Government for the removal of doubts. The one thing about which there is no doubt at all is that the selective employment tax has put up the cost of essential building.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clauses 34 and 35 agreed to.110
§ Clause 36 [Orders and regulations]:
§ LORD KENNET
This is consequential upon the first new clause which we inserted and provides for the Negative Resolution procedure to be extended to the Orders contemplated under subsections (1) and (2) of that new clause. I beg to move.
Page 27, line 15, after ("section") insert ("(Power to alter distribution of certain payments made by nationalised hoards in lieu or by way of rates.),").—(Lord Kennet.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 36, as amended agreed to.
§ Clauses 37 to 40 agreed to.
§ Schedule 1:
§ Rate Support Grants
§ 10.—(1) A supplementary payment shall be payable if the area of the authority or a part of it lies within the metropolitan district, and the amount of the payment shall be a prescribed percentage of the basic payment, being such percentage as appears to the Minister appropriate having regard to the higher level of prices, costs and remuneration in and around the area.
§ (2) Different percentages may be prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph in relation to authorities whose areas lie wholly within the metropolitan district and authorities whose areas lie partly within the district and partly outside it.
§ (3) In this paragraph "metropolitan district" means Greater London together with the remainder of the Metropolitan Police District.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ EARL HOWE moved, in paragraph 10(2), to leave out "wholly". The noble Earl said: I beg to move Amendment No. 32, but, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to refer to the whole group of Amendments standing in my name since they all cover the same point on the London weighting payment and one does not seem to make much point without the others.
§ Paragraph 10 in the Schedule provides for a supplementary payment to be made to any county authority, any part of whose area lies within the Metropolitan Police District. The object of my Amendments is to enable any of the Home Counties adjoining Greater London to qualify for such a payment, whether or not any part of their area lies within the 111 Metropolitan Police District. A supplementary payment is made to help to offset the higher level of prices, costs and remuneration which the pressures of the London metropolis set up. This higher level does not suddenly stop at the boundaries of the Metropolitan Police District. It extends outwards from the centre across and beyond this boundary into all the adjoining Home Counties, but tends to fall the further out from the centre one goes. It is rather like the ripples from a stone thrown into a pond, which gradually decline in their ever-increasing circles.
§ That the higher level does extend into all the surrounding Home Counties could readily be justified, but the Bill already recognises this in referring to the higher level in and around the area. It seems to me to be quite illogical, and totally unfair, that as the higher expenditure spreads out from London, the aid afforded by a supplementary payment to meet it is suddenly cut off at the boundary of the Metropolitan Police District where that adjoins Buckinghamshire and Kent, but is available throughout the counties of Essex, Hertfordshire and Surrey, just because those counties not only adjoin but have some small part of their area within the District. I do not know why Kent is not protesting but I am sure the ratepayers of that county will be grateful for any crumbs falling in their direction. Aid is available throughout these three counties because the subsidy is based on a percentage of the whole expenditure of the three county councils, whether it is spent in the part of the county within the Metropolitan Police District or in the part of the county without that district.
§ I do not wish to weary your Lord-shops with what might appear to be a rather parochial problem, but I must submit that my experience lies in Buckinghamshire, where I am a county alderman, and I should like to see Buckinghamshire qualify for London weighting under the new grant system in this Bill. The problem is most acute in Buckinghamshire, where the population now stands at well over half a million, and it has been expanding at probably a faster rate than any other county in the country and, incidentally, it is housing people from what used to be the old L.C.C. area.112
§ The financial difficulties in the rapid expansion of a county like Buckinghamshire having a common boundary within the London area are shown by wages and costs of all kinds, where the scales laid down by the N.J.C. for local authorities—that is the manual workers—recognise the requirements to pay higher wages within the borough of Slough, and London zone rates are paid. This applies to all manual workers in that area of the county and represents an increase of over 6 per cent. in the wages of various types of education employees such as caretakers, groundsmen, cleaners, gardeners and the like, and over 5 per cent. so far as ambulance drivers are concerned. On the boarding out of children the costs are considerably higher and because of the proximity to the London area, due to the scales of allowances being paid there, it has been necessary to put up the allowances to bring them into line. So far as salaries are concerned, the proximity of London has resulted in salaries being higher to attract staff to an area where the cost of housing and living is very high.
§ So far as building costs are concerned, although the London rate does not apply to Slough and the surrounding area of Buckinghamshire its effect is much the same, and labour normally constitutes something like half the cost of a contract. About half the tenders received in the South are from London firms who do not quote lower prices outside their own London area. In addition there are many other fields in which expenditure in the South of Buckinghamshire is considerably higher than in regions further away from London, owing to the nearness of that city and competition with it. The cost of land is very high in what is now largely a dormitory for London, and the result of this is that we have incurred heavy expense with resulting high debt charges in order to purchase land bought at these high prices. If the Government would accept the Amendment, aid would not be completely cut off at any point on the perimeter of the Metropolitan Police District, but marginal relief could be afforded to all the surrounding counties. I ask Her Majesty's Government to look most carefully into this. I beg to move.113
Page 30, line 37, leave out ("wholly").—(Earl Howe.)
§ LORD KENNET
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, who moved this Amendment most persuasively, spoke of ripples going all the way out from the centre of London, and this, I think, is the position. It is a most vivid metaphor, and one that I fully accept.
The problem which the Government have faced, and with which I think possibly the county councils of Buckinghamshire, Kent and other counties could sympathise, is how far out among the ripples we are to draw the line. The ripples go out until they cross with other ripples coming from Birmingham or Bristol, or the next big city in that particular area. Wherever one stops there will be an authority immediately outside the line which will feel aggrieved, and with some reason. It is impossible to carve up authorities into small zones which may get this or that grant applied to only one part of their area, and it is this fact that has given rise to the solution contained in the Bill, which I should be the first to admit is imperfect, as are all solutions to human, political and financial problems.
The provision in this Bill, which is similar to the provision in the 1958 Local Government Act for general grant, is for a supplementary payment, consisting of a percentage of the basic payment, to authorities which lie wholly or partly within the Metropolitan District, defined as Greater London together with the remainder of the Metropolitan Police District, and thus, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, pointed out so eloquently, embracing parts of Essex, Hertfordshire and Surrey. These Amendments will require the supplementary payment to be made to authorities in Greater London and to any administrative county adjoining Greater London. But if we include some counties simply because they adjoin the area which is at present laid down, what is the argument against including other counties beyond that, because they in turn are joined to the counties which would be in receipt of the supplementary grant?
114 I should point out to the House that these Amendments, in identical terms, were introduced into the House of Commons at Report stage and were later withdrawn, and other Amendments, in slightly different terms but having precisely the same effect, were introduced into the House of Commons Committee, and were withdrawn. So it is not as if this issue had not been threshed out elsewhere. I think the basic argument beyond that which I have just given—the problem of contiguity t where do you stop it?—is this. Although costs in general may be, and indeed are, higher in the areas immediately adjoining Greater London than they are in most provincial areas, yet they may well not be, and I think are not, higher than the costs in, for example, Birmingham and Manchester, not to mention, to come nearer to London, Berkshire and East and West Sussex, where also costs are affected by proximity to London hut which would not benefit from the Amendments. If these Amendments were adopted I think a sense of real injustice might arise in the counties which would then become contiguous to the privileged area. No evidence which he finds satisfactory has yet been offered to my right honourable friend to enable him to assess with certainty the extent of the higher costs either in the counties in question on the periphery of London or in those provincial areas further afield to which I have just referred.
The higher expenditure there may be due to any of a number of factors—such as a higher standard of services, on which the Ministry would wish to congratulate the authorities concerned, and high house rates, which may be due to a higher standard of housing. But these are quite different from a higher level of costs, which is what the Amendment is about. It is a question of where to draw the line, and for all its imperfections the Government do believe the line is drawn at the right place in the Bill.
It may be of interest to your Lordships if I give the Committee some figures. I can circulate the full table later or send it to the noble Lord it is a complicated table. But it does place Buckinghamshire's problem in what I think is the 115 true light. The national average rate payment per domestic heraditament in 1966–67 was £40.35—call it £40. I have here a list of the rapidly expanding counties in order of their rate of expansion; that is, in order of their rate of increase of population. On this list Buckinghamshire comes third. The first is Berkshire; the second is Bedfordshire. Let us take the first four of these counties. The most rapidly expanding is Berkshire, where the average rate payment per domestic heraditament is £50. Your Lordships will remember the national average is £40. The second most rapidly expanding is Bedfordshire, where the average rate payment is £44. The third most rapidly expanding is the noble Lord's county of Buckinghamshire, where the average rate payment is £55. It is in point of fact the second highest; it virtually ties for the highest place in average rate payment in this whole list of the top dozen expanding counties.
The fourth is Essex, where the average rate payment is £40—a big drop; it is exactly on the national average, way above which Buckinghamshire soars. You see the Government's problem. It would not be just simply to take contiguity into account as well as geographical overlap; one should ideally go further and take the average rate paymentin to consideration in deciding this. But there comes a limit. I do not think that one can hold that Buckinghamshire, comparing counties throughout the country, is in an especially disastrous situation economically; it is a prosperous county and the Government naturally wish it well. In view of the fact that these Amendments have been twice introduced and withdrawn in the House of Commons, and of the further reasons I have been able to give, I wonder whether the noble Lord also would care to withdraw them.
§ EARL HOWE
They have not done anything about it. Buckinghamshire feels strongly about this. So far as I am concerned, the noble Lord cannot expect me to be satisfied, and I am sure the ratepayers of Buckinghamshire will be disappointed when they hear this news. But, in view of the statements he has made and this question of drawing the line, which I admit must be a difficult one, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 1 agreed to.
§ Schedules 2 and 3 agreed to.
§ Schedule 4 [Minor amendments of enactments relating to rating and valuation preparatory to consolidation]:
§ LORD KENNET
This is a drafting Amendment to remove from the Schedule a provision which has become unnecessary because a similar provision has been included in a Statutory Instrument which came into effect on October 22—that is, after the Bill went through the House of Commons. I beg to move.
Page 44, line 34, leave out paragraph 18.—(Lord Kennet.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.
§ Schedules 5 and 6 agreed to.
§ The Title:
§ LORD CHAMPION
This and the following Amendment to the Long Title are consequential upon the inclusion previously of two clauses by the Committee. I beg to move.
Line 3, leave out second ("and").—(Lord Champion.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Line 4, after ("highways") insert ("and the powers of local authorities to place staff and facilities at the disposal of Ministers concerned
with highways and to make payments offsetting the effect of the selective employment tax").—(Lord Champion.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Title, as amended, agreed to.118
§ House resumed: Bill reported with Amendments.
§ House adjourned at one minute before eight o'clock