HC Deb 09 October 1944 vol 403 cc1501-11

(1) No action shall be taken under Section five of the Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Act, 1943, in respect of—

  1. (a) the use of land by a person who is a travelling showman or the proprietor of a travelling circus, stall or store, for the purpose of a fair ground, camping ground or parking ground between the first day of October in any one year and the first day of April in the next succeeding year; or
  2. (b) the erection of temporary and moveable structures for the purpose of holding an amusement fair or circus;
unless there are exceptional local circumstances which make it expedient that the use of certain land in the manner and for the purposes aforesaid should be prohibited or restricted and it is proposed to include provisions in the scheme to this effect. (2) No provision shall be inserted in a scheme made under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, prohibiting or restricting
  1. (a) the use of land by a person who is a travelling showman or the proprietor of a travelling circus, stall or store, for the purpose of a fairground, camping ground or park- 1502 ing ground, between the first day of October in any one year and the first day of April in the next succeeding year; or
  2. (b) the erection of temporary and moveable structures for the purpose of holding an amusement fair or circus;
unless there are exceptional local circumstances which make it expedient that the use of certain land in the manner and for the purposes aforesaid should be prohibited or restricted.—[Mr. H. Beaumont.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Hubert Beaumont (Batley and Morley)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

I am exceedingly hopeful that this Clause will meet with the approval of the Minister, and that he will feel able to accept it. I also hope it will meet with the approval of all Members of the Committee, in so much as it is a human problem which is affected here, and furthermore affects a great profession with a great tradition who have contributed greatly to our laughter, gaiety, humour and enjoyment. I cannot imagine there is any hon. Member or right hon. Member here who has not fond memories of or who cannot think back to when, in a certain escapade, he visited the circus. The "big top," the circus, the circus riders and all the joyous things attached to the fair present a great attraction to the young people. The Clause I am moving affects the showmen of this country. Showmen have a great place in the life of the nation. They have made a great contribution to national gaiety. They have added a quota to our national happiness. Quite unintentionally, and I think accidentally, the Bill as it now stands will seriously affect the operations of showmen in this country and offer a menace to the continuance of their life. It would be a great disaster if we were to lose the tremendous source of enjoyment which is provided for us by travelling showmen. I feel sure that the framers of the Bill have no intention of inflicting any hardships upon them, or preventing showmen from carrying on their occupation. The term "development" in this Bill includes: Any building operations or rebuilding operations, and any use of the land or any building thereon for a purpose which is different from the purpose for which the land or building was last being used. The term "building" thereby implies structures or erections, and as a result of these definitions whenever a showman uses land for the purpose of a fair ground, or a camping ground or parking ground which has not been previously used for that purpose, or erects stalls, booths and other fairground structures or appliances for the purpose of holding a fair he is carrying out developments within the meaning of the Bill. By Section 5 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1942, interim development authorities are given power to prohibit development which is carried out without interim development permission after giving 28 days' notice of their intention to do so. The fact that 28 days' notice must be given enables showmen who do not intend to stop in any one place for more than 28 days to escape any action under Section 5. The real difficulty is this: It affects showmen during the months in which they lay up their apparatus. The laying up period is operative from October to April and during that time it is the common practice for owners of roundabouts and suchlike apparatus to go to certain places to park their appliances or machinery, having obtained permission to do so and by paying rental for the land. It is a common custom to try to have these parking places adjacent to towns so that they can secure facilities they require for repairing machinery and for other matters and in addition be able to provide from time to time some amusement by opening booths and similar attractions. This Bill could prevent showmen from occupying ground for the period between October and April, and I feel sure that no one here desires that they should be handicapped in that way.

7.0 p.m.

Showmen's business is entirely different from any other businesses. They park their apparatus in a certain place in a town one year, and when they go back to that place the next year they find that the piece of ground they used before is not available. The showman has great difficulty at the present time, but he will have almost unsurmountable obstacles to overcome if the Clause I am moving is not accepted. I submit that this Clause will meet this position and the special difficulties of travelling showmen. Subsection (1) (a) is designed to prevent action from being taken against travelling showmen laying up for the winter months and keeping some kind of fair running while they are doing so. Sub-section (2) (a) is designed to prevent showmen from being affected by the usual zoning provisions inserted in planning schemes. It is recognised, however, there there may be exceptional circumstances which might make it desirable or expedient to prohibit or restrict land from being used by showmen in the manner described, so a safeguard has been inserted for planning authorities. Paragraphs (b) of the two Sub-sections have been inserted merely to prevent the erection of fair ground apparatus from itself being a cause for action under Section 5 of the scheme. The Clause will afford protection for travelling showmen who make only temporary use—and I emphasise the word "temporary"—of land. It will not enable the stationary fun fair proprietor to establish a permanent fair ground or amusement centre without applying for permission. This Clause is to give to showmen, for a period of five or six months, the right to park their vehicles and their caravans in certain places.

It is interesting to note that special privileges to showmen have already been granted in other Acts. In the Public Health Act, 1936, with regard to the control of moveable dwellings, it states in Section 269: Nothing in this Section applies … to a moveable dwelling which belongs to a person who is the proprietor of a travelling circus, roundabout, amusement fair, stall or store (not being a pedlar, hawker or costermonger) and which is regularly used by him in the course of travelling for the purpose of his business.". In the Ministry of Health Model Clauses, for use in connection with special schemes, Clause 34 says: Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this part of the scheme shall be construed as prohibiting or restricting or enabling a council to prohibit or restrict.… the use of land for a fair or show by a travelling roundabout proprietor, a travelling showman or a stallholder. Thus it will be seen that Governments in the past have recognised the peculiar and special difficulties of travelling showmen, and have made provision for them which, up to the present, has worked well. There is the economic factor. Not only does the travelling show add to the gaiety of our life, but it has contributed handsomely to the war effort. During the past four or five years a large number of young men from these shows have joined the Forces and many of their women and older men are either making munitions or driving lorries and bulldozers, with the result that only some 25 per cent. of the apparatus of these show people is being used to-day. The other 75 per cent. is in store in certain places, and it would be a tremendous hardship if these people were compelled to move every 28 days. May I also remind the Committee that travelling showmen have contributed very largely to the "Holidays at Home" campaigns which have been organised in the country? They have contributed handsomely towards the rates in many districts as a result of the payments they have made for the right to occupy certain places in our towns and cities.

Therefore, I submit that, providing that no harm is done, the Minister should accept this Clause. I do not see how the acceptance of the Clause will, in any way, materially affect the working of the Measures, and I do not see that it can, in any way, hamper either the local authorities or the Ministry itself, and, because of that, I commend it most heartily to the Committee. It might be said that this Clause may hamper the operation of the Measure. I cannot see that it will do, but, supposing it does, I assert that the social and enjoyable benefits conferred by the travelling showmen of this country are so great that, if I might use a phrase connected with showmen, if the Minister accepts it, what he loses on the swings he will gain on the roundabouts.

Mr. Denville (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)

I do not think more can be said in favour of this new Clause. It might however be difficult, with the Clause in its present form, to incorporate it in the Bill, and so I suggest to the Minister that he might give every facility in his power, either in this Bill or in some future instruction, to protect these people and safeguard the interests of showmen. The showman, as we know him to-day, is not the showman of yesterday. The days of rogues and vagabonds with swings, roundabouts and conjurors, wandering round the country, "busking" from one village to another, have gone, but we must not forget that we have had some eminent men, such as Sir Henry Irving, "busking" from one end of the country to the other. Since earlier days, the showmen have advanced tremendously, and, to-day, instead of seeing rogues and vagabonds, we find men of education, whose sons and daughters are going to the best schools in the country, and who are res- pected in many towns as great citizens. We have had no less a person than an hon. Member of this House—Mr. Pat Collins, formerly Member for Walsall.

We are dealing to-day with respectable members of the community, and it is in their interests that I ask that this Clause should be accepted. It might interest the Committee to know that they are to-day doing very great work. Instead of towns and villages, as they did a few years ago, desiring that the showmen should not pitch their tents in that district, the day has arrived when towns and villages are begging the showmen to bring their fairs, roundabouts and travelling circuses. Indeed, some of our cities look upon the fair ground as a means of raising a large amount of money for their funds. For instance, in fairs of three or four days' duration, such sums as these were raised: Oldham, £1,022; Newcastle, £5,400; Hull, just over £4,000; Nottingham (in two and a half days) just under £5,000. The Committee can understand why the cities are very anxious that the showmen should come round, and why we are very anxious that they are given the right to carry on their livelihood.

The travelling circus or theatre, after many months travelling round the country doing good work, has to go back and lie up for the winter, and the showmen must find some place where they can lie up. You cannot say to them "Get on the roads and travel around in winter," because it is impossible. So they lie up, and in some cases, a town or a village is very glad to say "Here is a spare piece of land, and if you like to open your fair ground on Saturday night, it will take people off our streets." It may be that chief constables have even asked showmen to open their concerns for this purpose. If nothing else can be done to-day, I would ask the Minister, at any rate, to give the matter every consideration and do his best to see that something is done to protect these people.

Mr. Silkin

I hope the Minister will be very careful in considering this new Clause. I should like to say to the two hon. Members who have just spoken that I do not yield to them, or anyone else, in my admiration for the showman, professional or otherwise. I think, however, we should consider what this Clause is doing. After all, good town planning involves control over the use of land, and what my hon. Friends are asking is that, in the case of the showmen, there should be no control over the use of the land but that the showmen could be free to use any land for six months of the year without any control, not only for the storage of their equipment but also for the purpose of giving shows. I do not know whether either of my hon. Friends would like to live next door to one of these shows, but, if the Clause were accepted, they might find themselves in that unfortunate position, and if, next door to them, somebody came along and put up a show for six months in the year, there would be no powers of control whatever. A show might come next door to a school, which would be equally unfortunate if performances were given during schooltime, or it might be even next door to a church. I submit to the Committee that there must be some control.

Mr. H. Beaumont

Might I point out to my hon. Friend that in line 10, of the proposed new Clause, it is stated: Unless there are exceptional local circumstances which make it expedient that the use of certain land … should be prohibited or restricted.

Mr. Silkin

I do not know what that means. What are "exceptional local circumstances?" If there really are such circumstances, why cannot they make application? It does not follow that, because an application is made, it will necessarily be refused. If there are no grounds for refusing an application for the use of land for a fair, then the application will be granted. My hon. Friend must assume that the town-planning committee will act in a responsible manner and will grant an application if it is right that it should be granted, but, in those exceptional cases where it would be a nuisance, then the application would be refused. I think that is the proper way of doing it, and I see no reason why showmen should be placed above the law and any different position from any other land user. I was the chairman of the town planning committee of the London County Council, and I assure my hon. Friends that if they came along in London and asked for the use of land, the committee would act in a reasonable manner, and I believe that would be true of any other authority.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)

The hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) says this Clause would leave showmen free to use land for six months. That is scarcely the fact, because the land they utilise for winter storage is, very often, out-of-the-way ground, and usually derelict and waste land. This Clause does not ask for any permanent possession of the land, but only for permission for the winter to enable the showmen to lay up their equipment until the summer tour commences. If they were forced to move during the winter months it would create considerable hardship. Are we to understand that only if exceptional circumstances arose and the local authority required the land they would have to go? As long as they understood that, I do not think there would be any trouble at all, and I hope that the Minister will accept the new Clause.

Earl Winterton

It is desirable that someone should speak in support of the Clause besides those who speak with knowledge and interest. The hon. Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Denville) made a very erudite speech on the general question of circuses with which I agree. We all view with great sympathy the speech of the mover of the Motion, and I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will do something to meet the case of these people. It is true, as the hon. Member for Central Newcastle said, that there is a very great demand for travelling circuses at the present time. We want to be careful when dealing with a Bill of this kind and attempting to make everything bright and beautiful in the New Jerusalem which is so obviously coming upon us, and which has been so much expedited in the last five days, not to exclude from this bright, new, beautiful city we are about to erect, these picturesque figures of the past, who existed in Queen Elizabeth's time, before there was any town planning. I appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), but I hope that the Minister will be able to give to those who have very properly brought forward the matter some assurance that it is not going to be overlooked.

Mr. H. Strauss

I am delighted at once to respond to the very sympathetic speeches which have been made and not least that made by my Noble Friend. Although what I am about to say is not very relevant, I do not think that anyone in this Committee enjoys the travelling show or circus more than I do, and it is a very ancient, honourable and excellent institution. I am going to invite my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Beaumont) to withdraw the Clause, which really would not work as it stands and is, in fact, unnecessary. In so far as schemes are operative, it is possible to secure adequate provision in them to deal with the problems we have been considering, and such provision has been made in the past in operative schemes. The more important part, perhaps, is the first Sub-section which deals with interim development control. There, I am bound to say, I have a good deal of sympathy with the point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin). The question raised by the exception at the end of the proposed Sub-section seems to be the very point that the interim development authority would have to consider. Until the Act of last year the showmen did not need to apply for interim development consent because there was no way of enforcing interim development control.

I do not think that any of the hon. Members who spoke in support of the New Clause gave any examples where an interim development authority had, in fact, acted unreasonably in refusing an application from bodies of this sort. I see no reason for assuming that if application were made to them, they would act in that way. But assuming for the moment that there were local authorities who did not give sufficient consideration to this type of application, the Minister has powers in the Statute of last year under which he could himself act in dealing with those applications. For these reasons, while expressing every sympathy with the desire that prompted the setting down of the Clause, and saying it is certainly not the intention of my Ministry to put a stop to these excellent institutions, I am bound to say that I see no immediate case for this Amendment, and it would, indeed, be quite unsuitable for this Bill.

Various hon. Members talked as if this Bill did something which threatened showmen. In fact, however, the only Acts concerned are the Acts of 1932 and 1943. I can assure hon. Members and my Noble Friend that as regards completed schemes we are satisfied that we can deal with the matter satisfactorily under the existing law. With regard to interim development control we are not at all convinced that any change in the law is required because we are not aware of any case where the need has been proved, and if cases were brought forward, existing powers would enable us to deal with them. Having given that assurance, in examining this case and other cases of the temporary user of land, we will consider in future legislation whether any amendment of the law is required. With that assurance perhaps I may ask my hon. Friend if he thinks fit to withdraw the Amendment.

Earl Winterton

Have there been any complaints by any of these showmen under the two Acts to which reference has been made? Have there been any appeals to the Ministry?

Mr. Strauss

As far as I am aware, "No," but they have been in touch with my Ministry on the subject of this Clause, and I have every reason to think that they will be satisfied with the assurance that I have given.

Earl Winterton

It should not be assumed that if there is any attempt to prevent these people from carrying on their legitimate business, it will only be opposed by those who, quite properly, have knowledge of the subject in this House. We regard it as a very important matter.

Mr. H. Beaumont

I wish to say that in thanking the Parliamentary Secretary for his statement and the sympathetic way in which he has dealt with the Clause two objects have been achieved—the matter has been ventilated in the House of Commons, which I hope will have a good effect, and there is the assurance that has been given us that if anything did so happen to affect the interest and operations of the showman the Minister would consider it as a very important matter. Perhaps of equal importance is the irrelevant statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary that he has a private vice, and that is to enjoy a travelling circus. Local authorities would be rather reticent to oppose circuses and fairs if they thought that their scheme of prohibiting circuses might come before the notice of the Parliamentary Secretary. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.