§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, this is a Bill of some little substance, but fortunately, unlike some Private Members' Bills which have to be explained to your Lordships, this has been so fully discussed—indeed, every word of it, I think, was scrutinised in another place—that it will not be necessary for me to go into it in such detail as is sometimes necessary. Noble Lords will find that there were thirteen sittings of the Scottish Grand Committee on this Bill, and they amended it considerably and inserted a number of new clauses which were not there originally. I think, however, there are certain basic characteristics which still remain, and which will, I hope, help to commend the Bill to the House.
The Bill deals with powers of local authorities, and gives them some additional powers, which I understand they very much wish to have: first, in order that they may be able to carry out more development in their areas; and secondly, to improve their financial structure and the ease with which they can deal with their funds. But these powers in the Bill are all permissive, and are not going to be forced down the throat of any local authority in Scotland if they do not wish to use them. There is no danger in this for the ordinary member of the public. There is no compulsory purchase in the Bill, and no onerous requirements are made on owners of land or anyone else. I do not think, therefore, that there is any need for caution on your Lordships' part on that account. It is also in the Bill's favour, I think, that it contains quite a lot that will help to preserve, and indeed improve, the amenities of parts of Scotland in the hands of the local authorities where they choose to use the powers conferred on them.
This Bill is in three Parts. Part I deals with development, in the form of building and other works, and it gives powers to all local authorities, including district councils. The second part is financial. Clause 1 gives all these authorities power 410 to develop land by erecting any building and constructing and carrying out works for the benefit or improvement of their area, with the consent of the Secretary of State. I think this will be useful because, of course, whereas the local planning authorities already have powers to carry out development themselves (and this is preserved in Clause 1 of the Bill), there are at present certain limitations on the powers that other local authorities, such as small burghs, have. They may be able to carry out development for housing purposes, but if, as quite often occurs, they are doing some minor redevelopment scheme in the middle of their burgh, they may find that they have no power to put up offices or shops. This clause will give such power to them.
The clause will also give all these local authorities powers to erect advance factories for industry, within their area, if they so desire. Your Lordships know that this has been the most effective method of attracting industry to areas which are not so well off, and Scotland has some of these.
Clause 2 is concerned with the development of land, and it gives local authorities specific power to carry out works themselves, without reference to the Secretary of State, for preserving and enhancing the natural beauty of land, or to enable unsightly or derelict land to be brought back into some reasonable shape. No doubt the pit tips or bings are a case in point where this could be extensively used to great advantage. This part of Clause 2 will be complementary to the powers in the Local Employment Act, whereby grants can be made for this particular purpose of reclaiming derelict land where it will help to bring about industrial prosperity in the area.
The second part of Clause 2 gives local authorities powers to provide such things as footpaths, picnic places, jetties and ferries, to enable members of the public to enjoy the countryside, the lochs, the rivers, and so on. I am told that local authorities have anxiously been seeking these powers for some time.
Clause 3 allows a local authority to exercise the powers under the two preceding clauses, not only on its own land but, by agreement, on other people's 411 land. It can also, as it were, delegate, under agreement with the other person, the local authority functions. But where appropriate, and as public money may be involved, there is a provision that public access shall be maintained under the terms of the agreement, if that is the right thing to do in any specific case. Clause 4 deals with the perennial and, I am afraid, ever-increasing problem of litter. Whereas the Litter Act makes it an offence to drop litter about in a public place, there is no consistent power in Scotland which allows local authorities to pick it up again, or to deal with it afterwards when they have picked it up. The position in the burghs is different from that in the landward areas of the countryside; and although some local authorities have got round this difficulty, there is a mass of confusing legislation which will all be cut through by this clause, and I think the situation will be very much more satisfactory hereafter.
Clause 5 gives county and district councils the same powers as burghs have at the moment to advertise their attractions and amenities. There is one point in Clause 5 for which I must apologise to your Lordships, because I think subsection (4) is one of the most atrocious examples of legislation by reference that I have seen for a very long time. But it is too late in this Session to put this right, and I can only say, as an extenuating circumstance, that this is a reference to the limitation on the amount of rates that can be spent for these purposes, and so perhaps it will not incommode members of the public too unduly if they come to read the Bill. I wish it could have been expressed otherwise.
Clause 6 is a supplementary clause at the end of Part I. As your Lordships will see, it allows local authorities to make contributions towards the expenditure incurred by other local authorities or by voluntary organisations in doing anything that they could have done under Part I of the Bill. This ties up with the power in Clause 13, in Part III of the Bill, which allows the local authorities to pay subscriptions to rights-of-way societies. These two complementary provisions will help local authorities to give the proper support which they would like to give to the 412 voluntary bodies who are helping them in this particular field.
In Part II there are matters of finance. Clause 7 enables county and town councils to advance money on repayment terms to people to whom they may have sold, let or feued land, or agreed to do so, so that that person can effect a building on the land. This is a useful power for local authorities—perhaps in the sort of case where somebody contemplated putting up a factory and the local authority desired to assist him. Indeed, under the Local Authorities Land Act, of last year this could be done by local authorities in England and Wales, and I am sure your Lordships will agree that Scottish local authorities should not be hindered by lack of powers. I hope your Lordships will not expect me to explain the distinction between the various legal charges set out in Clause 7(6)(b). I believe that these are the Scottish method of securing payment of money.
Clause 8 and the next two clauses give town and county councils powers to set up funds: first of all, capital funds, details of which are in Clause 1; and secondly, renewal and repair funds, details of which are in Clause 10. These funds can be built up by the local authorities so that they can more easily undertake items of capital expenditure. So far as the capital fund is concerned, I think it is worth noting in that where the money is collected from ratepayers over a certain area (and it can be done over various different types of area) it is provided in Clause 8(5) that the money shall be spent for the benefit of people in the area from which the money was collected, and not for only part of it, or for some different selection of the ratepayers altogether. I think this is fair if the money is to be collected by means of rates, as it could be.
Clause 11 allows the local authorities to issue bonds to attract investment. This again was a power given to English and Welsh local authorities in the Act which I helped to conduct through this House last year. Schedule I sets out the form of the bond, and this is an easy way to raise money, and quite a safe one. Clause 12 encourages the quick payment of rates by giving the ratepayers a small discount if they pay within a certain time. I believe that Edinburgh 413 (I suppose under a Private Act) has a scheme of this nature, and although most citizens of that great city always pay their rates very promptly anyway, I gather that it has helped to speed up the few laggards there are. So it may be a useful thing to have in the armoury of the local authorities elsewhere in Scotland.
I think that these are useful provisions. I hope they are not controversial, and that I have not left out any points that your Lordships would like me to answer. If I have, I will do my best to deal with them at the end of the debate. Meanwhile, I hope the Bill commends itself to your Lordships. I beg to move that it be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (LORD CRAIGTON)
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on the clear and concise way in which he has introduced this useful Bill. The Bill adds to the powers of local authorities a number of permissive powers they are indeed anxious to have, and I can assure them and your Lordships that my right honourable friend will give them all the help he can. I commend this Bill to your Lordships' House.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lords, I want to say just a quick word of welcome to this Bill. I know that the tourist industry in Scotland will be extremely grateful to my noble friend for piloting this Bill, as I hope he will be successful in doing, through your Lordships' House and I think local authorities will take full advantage of it, especially Clauses 2 and 4.
I should like to ask my noble friend a question concerning Clause 4(4)(a), which says:only with the consent of all persons having an interest in the land on which the place is situated".This is with regard to putting litter bins on private land, presumably neat rights of way or roads. I am rather worried about the wording: "having an interest in the land "because, if I as an owner and a tenant, as the occupier, agree to having a litter bin there, I am wondering if anyone else has an interest in that land. I can visualise that where 414 a cottage is situated, say, 100 yards away from that litter bin the owner or tenant or occupier of that cottage may consider that he has an interest in that particular piece of land. I should like my noble friend to confirm that this is not the case, and that the only people who have an interest in that land are the owner and occupier.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ LORD GREENHILL
My Lords, if we were not accustomed to hearing the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, expound the contents of a Bill, we should be inclined to congratulate him on the clarity with which he has submitted this Bill to us to-day. I should very much like to express my own support of this Bill, which is, as your Lordships know, a Private Member's Bill. Having gone through the debate of the Scottish Grand Committee which took place, I have been very deeply impressed by their spirit and the extent to which they have improved the Bill as it was originally presented to them. So much so that when I obtained a copy of the Bill as it first appeared in another place, I found that it was a pretty little Bill of about eight pages, but as it comes now to your Lordships' House, after the Scottish Grand Committee have completed their deliberations upon it, it is twelve pages in length and a good deal more detailed. So, on the whole, knowing the examination through which this Bill has passed in Committee stage, there is nothing objectionable in the Bill that I can find to refer to to-day.
The only question that occurs to me is this—and no doubt there is a satisfactory explanation if only I could think of it. In the Bill as it formerly appeared in another place there was a note under the heading of "Financial effects" which read as follows:Local authorities are not expected to incur[...] significant extra expenditure under this Bill, though it may lead to a slight increase in Exchequer equalisation grant".That referred particularly to Clause 4 of the former Bill, but that clause is not Clause 4 in the present Bill.
§ LORD GREENHILL
Subject to being given information on that, in which I am very much interested, I have much 415 pleasure in supporting this Bill. It is true that some of the major decisions can be carried out only by consent of the Secretary of State for Scotland, but that, too, is a commonplace experience in Bills of this kind, and, provided that the attitude of the Secretary of State for Scotland in office for the time being continues, I have much pleasure in supporting this Bill.
§ 4.57 p.m.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, I am very grateful indeed to noble Lords for the welcome they have given this Bill. I can assure my noble friend the Duke of Atholl that the interests which are mentioned in Clause 4, to which he referred, are a legal interest and the cottager who is going to look at the litter bin would not have any locus standi to object to its being put up, although he might suggest that it be painted an attractive colour.
So far as the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, is concerned, I think the answer is this. First of all, the reason why there is no note about it in the Explanatory Memorandum in your Lordships' copy of the Bill is that I believe it is a matter with which we are not intended to interest ourselves, and therefore it is meant to be beyond our ken. But in actual fact there is nothing very sinister about it. As I understand it, if a local authority increase or decrease their expenditure in any way, it is bound to have some marginal effect upon the Exchequer equalisation grant, and if they use some of their powers, particularly under Clause 1, to develop land, to put up factories or offices, and so on, it is inevitably going to have an effect on the calculations on which the Exchequer equalisation grant is based. The same applies to any other expenditure by a local authority, so I do not think there is anything in the least out of the way about the note or, indeed, the financial clause in the Bill, which comes at the end of Clause 13, which gives power to make the ordinary adjustments for the purposes of the Bill. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, will be satisfied with this explanation. I do not think there is anything strange in the point he raised.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
Therefore, with my thanks to your Lordships for the welcome given, and indeed for the help given me by my noble friend Lord Craigton, I commend the Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.