Clause 22. — (Road Grants and Classifications.)

Local Government (Scotland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th November 1966.

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Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock 12:00 am, 9th November 1966

I beg to move Amendment No. 37, to leave out 'For' and to insert: 'The Secretary of State, may for all or any of the following purposes, that is to say,'. May we take Amendment No. 38 at the same time, Mr. Deputy Speaker?

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

If the House agrees.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

These are drafting Amendments to make it clear firstly that the Secretary of State can classify roads for one or both purposes—that is, for the purposes of grant or of other enactments and not only for both purposes at the same time; secondly, that the Secretary of State will not become involved in classifying roads for the limited purposes of local enactments; and thirdly, that future as well as existing enactments are covered.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: No. 38, in line 35, leave out from 'and' to 'classify' in line 37 and insert: 'the purposes of any enactment or instrument (whether passed or made before or after the passing of this Act) which refers to roads or highways classified by the Secretary of State,'.—[Dr. Dickson Mabon.]

9.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Bill Baker Mr Bill Baker , Banffshire

I beg to move Amendment No. 76, in page 15, line 43, after 'ferries', to insert: 'except insofar as the Secretary of State is satisfied, having regard to the exceptional expenditure to be incurred by a local highway authority on snow clearing, road gritting and reinstatement works arising from frost damage, flood damage or other exigencies, that such expenditure creates a burden greater than the authority can reasonably be expected to bear unaided'. This is an extremely important Amendment, not only for the North-East of Scotland but for the Highlands and virtually the whole of Scotland. It seeks to make funds available for such things as snow clearance, the gritting of roads and, possibly more important, the damage caused by frost or flooding. The bill for such reinstatements is by no means a small item in these areas and I will give an example from my constituency to underline the point, since I gather that Banffshire will be extremely badly off under the roads part of the needs element.

Grant will be based on the 1964–65 figures, although that was an extremely good winter compared with other winters we have had—notably last year—when no extraordinary expenditure was incurred and, therefore, little damage was caused because of frost. To fix grant aid on a fixed formula is basically wrong and is bound to lead to anomalies. It is not equitable if this portion of the grant is based only on area, population and road mileage, leaving out of account the extraordinary expenditure incurred by the natural phenomena of frost and flooding.

To give the current position in my constituency, after the very hard and long winter of 1965–66, the normal roads estimate for the County of Banff was £147,000. Flood damage entailed a further expenditure of £9,000 and frost damage no less than £43,500. Therefore, the exceptional expenditure was over one-third of the original estimate for roads for the whole year in the County.

I understand that the Scottish Development Department is prepared, under the present grant system, to accept 50 per cent. of this exceptional frost damage expenditure and that that will become payable in 1967–68. In addition, the Scottish Development Department has promised to look sympathetically at the other half, the £4,500, at the end of the current financial year.

Even if only 50 per cent. of this exceptional expenditure is received it will be a great help but, as I see it, special assistance will be wiped out under this Bill. It is obvious that if we are to have developments in the remoter areas we must have good communications. If we do not have funds available for road repairs and maintenance after a difficult and long winter we are bound to see a rapid deterioration in the state of our roads and, therefore, ipso facto, less likelihood of development in the areas concerned. The Amendment is designed to combat the absence of any provision to deal with exceptional expenditure.

Photo of Mr Ian MacArthur Mr Ian MacArthur , Perth and East Perthshire

The House will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Baker) for moving the Amendment, which calls attention to the very special problems facing local authorities in parts of Scotland which are particularly subjected to the hazard of snow.

My constituency is in one such area. Over the last six years the extra expenditure involved in gritting and snow clearing has varied from £33,000 to £108,000 in the severe winter of 1962–63. The worst year—1962–63, when we had a long, snowy winter—resulted in an expenditure of £108,000. Of this, under the present system £80,000 was subject to grant, but the county council had to meet a burden of £28,000. Of this total, £18,000 fell on the rates for the whole county area, except Perth City, and £10,000 in respect of classified roads fell on the landward area.

The size of the burden is illustrated by the fact that the rate cost for the landward area was 3d. for classified roads and between 2d. and 3d. for unclassified roads, making a total rate of nearly 6d. in the pound in respect of gritting and snow clearing. This cost was slightly reduced by the Exchequer equalisation grant, which I believe was about 10 per cent. to 20 per cent. of the total cost borne by the county. This would have eased the rate for the landward area by only ½d. or 1d. in the pound.

The difficulty is well known to me. My home is in a very snow-prone area of Scotland. I know the problem this presents. I know, too, of the splendid service given by employees of this and other county councils and by many public-spirited individuals who keep the roads open, often in the most trying conditions.

I hope the Secretary of State will be able to tell us more than we know of the future pattern. It would be intolerable if the full burden of these costs were to fall upon the county council, because this, in the case I have given, would represent an additional cost of £80,000 on top of the £28,000. If the cost of the trunk roads were fully covered but the classified roads were not, the additional cost would still be about £40,000 on top of the £28,000.

It is clear that there must be provision for this extraordinary and almost annual hazard in the special needs element. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to reassure us on this point.

Photo of Mr William Baxter Mr William Baxter , West Stirlingshire

I apologise for rising once again, but a Member who is not selected to serve on Standing Committees dealing with very important matters pertaining to Scotland is at a disadvantage and naturally wants to ask questions when the matter reaches the floor of the House.

Generally, I would accept the contents of the Amendment, with the proviso that in the past, when grants for this work were earmarked for local authorities, for snow clearance, there was, if the money was not fully used up, a rush at the end of the financial year to spend the money on some other purpose. One of the objects of the exercise in this part of the Bill may be to obviate the necessity for that in the future and to plan the expenditure in a more rational and sensible way.

I cannot say I am happy about the general set-up as contained in the Clause as a whole, but as I am speaking only to an Amendment to the Clause I must make my remarks acceptable to the Amendment.

I would like to feel that this money is not being denied to local authorities under the Clause but paid to them in such a way that, if it is not wholly utilised in that financial year, it will be carried over for the benefit of roads which may have deteriorated because of bad winter conditions in the previous year.

In many county areas, such as Stirlingshire, there is a long mileage of unclassified roads. The conditions in winter can play havoc with them. Notwithstanding certain monetary grants in the past for winter snow clearance work, because of the conditions written into the grant the money has had to be spent hurriedly without proper utilisation in the best interests of the roads. I hope that my hon. Friend will give an assurance that the new method of handing out this money w ill be in a manner more in keeping with good business practice.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfriesshire

I support the Amendment, which is fairly worth while. Most local authorities are prudent in budgeting for snow clearance and only in exceptional conditions do they need help. But I do not think that any local authority budgets ahead for flood damage. As the Secretary of State knows, in one night in Dumfries-shire, in August, there was £144,000 worth of damage to roads and bridges.

I appreciate that there is a difficulty in helping private owners over damage to houses and property, but when it comes to roads and bridges I would like more than the sympathetic letters I have had from the right hon. Gentleman. What the local authority needs is cash and, while the right hon. Gentleman has stated that grants will be available for the repair of bridges and roads in relation to their classification, something over and above that is needed if roads are to be brought back to their original conditions and the existing maintenance programme continued for that year.

This is where the Amendment would be so valuable in that a special sum could be made available immediately to local authorities to get on with the work, for road maintenance and improvement is vital in an age when transport is one of the most important things in Scotland. I warmly support the Amendment.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) was kind enough to refer to the additional assistance the Scottish Office is seeking to give his county to repair the frost damage to classified roads and we are grateful to him for putting it on the record that we are also willing to look at the whole position when further information is available.

We have this power without incorporating the Amendment. The danger of including it in the Bill is that it is contrary to the idea of Part III. In dealing with disastrous events such as occurred in Dumfries-shire in August, we already have power not under the 1919 Act but under a previous Act to give grant aid for works in certain special circumstances. My hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) made a good point in saying—and it was emphasised by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur)—that many of these things occur annually, as distinct from the disastrous episode in Dumfries-shire which we hope will not return perhaps for another century, and should be taken into account in a businesslike way and budgeted for accordingly.

We intend to cover this through the rate support grant itself. We already have powers at our disposal. What the Amendment seeks is to give a specific grant for exceptional expenditure incurred by a local highway authority because of abnormal weather conditions on the roads. The Amendment would be contrary to Part III which limits the principle of the grant to principal roads.

9.15 p.m.

This is the provision which has to be preserved if Part III is to have any meaning at all. Apart from running against the principle of Part III, the implication of the Amendment, namely, that local highway authorities will have to bear unaided expenditure on clearing snow and repairing frost damage and so on, is not correct. Within the rate support grant we hope to be able to make a reasonable adjustment for what might be called the consequences of normal bad weather and to take that amount within the formula. But it would be impossible to include in the formula a factor in respect of abnormal weather.

These matters have been discussed, although financial assistance towards the cost of snow damage was not discussed because the conclusions from the first discussion were that it would not be right to have a special factor in the formula. I think that this decision by the working party was wise. Bearing in mind that the Secretary of State will still have a reserve power, I think that we ought to see how the rate support grant works out when dealing with "normal conditions", frost, snow or any other of our different climatic conditions, and to see whether the working party has been wise in accepting the generally accepted relevant factors in the agreed formula without having a special weighting or seeking a specific grant. We are by no means ignoring the other considerations, but we think that ours is the right way of going about this matter.

Photo of Mr William Baxter Mr William Baxter , West Stirlingshire

Before my hon. Friend sits down; I am interested in this aspect of local government administration because in my long experience I have found that much money has been wasted by attempts to spend £30,000 or £40,000 in the last month or two of a financial year, often on roads which do not require expenditure. I hope——

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman has already spoken once. He cannot do so again, although he can intervene.

Photo of Mr William Baxter Mr William Baxter , West Stirlingshire

I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker, but this is a rather complicated intervention. It is difficult to follow the full implications of what is contained in the Clause and I am most anxious to be helpful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

Do not strain yourself.

Photo of Mr William Baxter Mr William Baxter , West Stirlingshire

I shall not reply to that in case I give a false impression. If the formula which is stipulated by the Clause does not deal with the position which I have mentioned, this will be a bad provision.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

That is the substance of the argument for making the change. My hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) has made a good case and that is what we have taken into account. We may seem to have gone too far, but we have gone in the right direction. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his generous support.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

If the Amendment is completely out of place in Part III, as the Under-Secretary has suggested, we hope that none the less the Government will consider how in other ways provision can be made to deal with the situations which have been described. The hon. Gentleman said that in future the rate support grant would be considered to see whether such a provision could be included. However, our proposals in previous debates this afternoon and in Committee for adding words about unforeseen circumstances and for considering the effects of storms and other weather conditions, have not been acceptable.

My hon. Friends have shown that there is need for providing for assistance to be given—and it will often be needed at short notice—to authorities which have spent a great deal of money because of the effects of the elements. The Under-Secretary mentioned the Secretary of State's reserve powers, but we hope that some way will be found to deal with this problem even if the Amendment is not the way.

Photo of Mr Bill Baker Mr Bill Baker , Banffshire

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

I beg to move Amendment No. 39, in page 16, line 18, at the end to insert: 'A road in the landward area of a county shall remain vested in a county council when it ceases to be a classified road'.

This is an Amendment that we moved in Committee when the Under-Secretary said that he would try to meet us. He said that he would consider this and I understood that he intended to put down a declaratory Amendment if he felt that the position was already covered, to make it clear to the local authorities concerned. As we have not seen such an Amendment we have put down this one.

I would remind the hon. Gentleman that local authorities are worried about this. In other Amendments passed in Committee the position was arrived at whereby county councils are not responsible for roads in small burghs when those roads cease to be classified. We believe that there should be a parallel provision making it clear that when roads in landward areas, that is, outside the burghs, cease to be classified, then the county council is still responsible. If this is made clear there can be no case of ratepayers in the burghs having to contribute towards rates outwith the burghs and not their concern.

Photo of Mr William Baxter Mr William Baxter , West Stirlingshire

I would like to support this point of view, because in my experience many roads that have not been classified in landward areas of a county, and, even in certain burghal instances, have become a bit of a nuisance, not only to the inhabitants adjacent to that road, but to the community as a whole. It seems that an unclassified road in a county area will not be the responsibility of the county. I hope that I am wrong in this, and that it would still be the responsibility of the county council, because this could affect a great many roads in rural areas.

If the road ceases to be the responsibility of the county council it can be a great nuisance to the rural areas and to many of the people who from time to time use them. I hope that my hon. Friend can give us an assurance that when a road becomes unclassified it does not fall into disrepair and disuse.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

May I make clear, first of all, what I said in Committee about this. I said: We think the law is perfectly straightforward. I have since taken advice on this and my advisers are still of the same view. However, I am perfectly willing to discuss this matter. If what the Amendment seeks to achieve is necessary, we will probably put down an Amendment, which is declaratory in form, to this Clause or to some later one."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 21st July, 1966; c. 379.] I discussed this with my advisers, including the lawyers and the Local Government Finance Working Party. Everyone was satisfied with the present Bill, and did not wish to make a declaratory provision, so I think that I have fulfilled my undertaking.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) raised the point of what happens to the road. That is why we must read Clause 22(5), ensuring that upon declassification, a road in a small burgh will revert to the town council and the county council will not exercise any function in a small burgh in respect of the road. It will cease to have any right to requisition on the small burgh for a declassified road in the landward area. The proposed Amendment would not, in any case, achieve the movers' intention. I take it that their intention is to ensure that upon a road in the landward area losing its classification, the county council will not requisition on the small burgh for its upkeep. That is not what the Amendment will achieve. The point is not whether the responsibility for the road remains with the county council, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire said, but who should pay for its upkeep.

At present a county council could claim that it exercised a function in a small burgh in respect of a road which had been classified and for which it had retained responsibility when it ceased to be classified. It might therefore requisition under Section 210 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947, on the small burgh for all roads in the county which were declassified, including those in the landward area. In practice, one county council is known to have done so. This is now prevented by Clause 22(5).

I hope that I have acquitted myself of any apparent discourtesy. I consulted those whom I said I would consult. We are convinced that this is the right procedure. I hope that subsection (5) gives some reassurance to my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire and other hon. Members.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

I am glad for the Under-Secretary of State's assurance. He quoted from column 379 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee's proceedings, but at column 380 he said: So with the assurance that I will once again take advice on this to see whether or not it is the view of my advisers that the law is the law as we understand it, and as it stands at the moment, and therefore that we should insert a declaratory provision; or, alternatively, that we should amend the Bill in some other form, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see his way to withdrawing the Amendment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 21st July, 1966; c. 380.] It seemed from the hon. Gentleman's later words that he would table an Amendment. That was why we were surprised that it did not appear on the Notice Paper.

The hon. Gentleman's explanation covers the point, although we should have preferred to see it written in the Bill.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will read the sentence in column 379 of the OFFICIAL REPORT which begins: At the same time, if we do not amend the law at all …". I hope that he will not fall into the error of one of his hon. Friends who quotes only bits rather than the whole speech. If the hon. Gentleman reads that sentence, he will see that I have met the point. However, if I have misled him, I apologise.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

I did read it. I thought that the hon. Gentleman's later words were his last words on the subject.

Amendment negatived.