§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Sir Francis Acland
I have given the Minister notice of a point which I desire to raise, but not as long notice as I should have liked, because the matter was only brought to my attention at a county council meeting at the end of last week. It is not a very complicated point, and the right hon. Gentleman will no doubt be able to deal with it. This Clause deals with compensation to be given by county councils for losses suffered by parish councils on account of special rates during the third fixed grant period. The original Act said that compensation was to be given by the county councils through the district councils to the parish councils for special rates levied in the standard year during the first and second fixed grant periods, but that thereafter the county councils should give such sums as they might determine. A point arises owing to the fact that these grants were given to the parishes to make up loss of revenue due to derating, and were based on the expenditure of the standard year. When that expenditure of the parish was a recurring expenditure like a loan charge, this was a fair thing to do, but a lot of the expenditure which happened to be falling upon the parishes in that standard year was not recurring but capital expenditure for that year alone, and the parishes have been compensated every year since then for expenditure which fell on them only in the one particular year.
I have an example of a parish which laid a waterpipe in the standard year. It cost them about £20, which they met out of revenue. The loss due to derating was assessed at £22, and they have had to receive from the county council that sum every since. As this is one of the happy parishes which does not levy a parish rate, it has piled this money up in the bank and it has nothing to spend it on. At the Coronation, no doubt, they will do their best to levy a 2d. rate and "blue" some of it. That seems to me 94 to be a thing which ought to be modified as soon as reasonably possible. I have another case of a parish which lost 45 per cent. of its revenue through derating and spent £263 in the standard year on a water undertaking. It received, partly direct from the county council and partly by the stopping of the grant to the county council, £119 a year. The cost of the water undertaking has now gone down to £90 a year, so that the parish council receives £29 a year more than it needs in order to pay the present cost. If we are to get sanitary matters, water supply and sewerage, dealt with on a reasonable basis in the rural areas, the sooner we get rid of the difficulty of special rates on parishes the better. Perpetuating grants under this Section of the Act simply reinforces the principle of special rates and puts off the day when the rural councils will spread their charges with proper help from the county councils.
I would like the Minister to consider whether there is not still time for him to take power to cancel the prolongation of the grants under Section 92, particularly in those cases where it is only given to meet a capital expenditure which has long since ceased in a parish where the county council has made full provision to assist rural councils in their water supply and sewerage works. At present the county councils are forced to give their grants with their eyes shut to parishes which happened to be doing something in the standard year, whereas what county councils would like to do is to have their money free and to give it to places which really need it and which are willing to spread the parish burdens. That is the best way of getting work done, for surely this system is out of date. The Minister will very likely say that it is a bargain between the district councils and the county councils. If so, the county councils were rather "had." If it is a bargain it must be stuck to, but if it is possible, as I gather from a discussion on a previous Amendment it is, for the Minister to get in touch with the local authorities concerned, I feel sure that he will do his best to consider my point, because, clearly, the longer special compensation to parishes which do not need it has to be continued, the longer we delay the proper spending of what the county councils can afford in order to help the rural district councils in the matter of sewerage works and water supply, 95 in which, unfortunately, so much still needs to be done.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. R. S. Hudson)
I have made inquiries, and I understand that there may be in one or two cases, such as those quoted by the right hon. Gentleman, capital expenditure entering into the grants in a particular year, but as far as the great bulk of the amount is concerned, it represents, not capital expenditure, but revenue expenditure and loan charges on capital expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman quoted two small cases where £22 and £29 a year were concerned, but when I remind the Committee that the total of these grants represents something like £400,000 a year and that that represents over all the rural areas a rate of something like 3½d., the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that if the Government were to make any alteration and cut down the grants the areas would suffer very considerably. There is, of course, the further argument that the scheme embodied in the Bill is really the result of a compromise negotiated with the local authorities, and it is very difficult to go back on the agreement.
§ Clauses 6 to 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Schedules agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the Third time To-morrow.