HC Deb 06 March 1963 vol 673 cc572-83
Mr. Temple

I beg to move, in page 34, line 17, at the end to insert: or, in respect of premises occupied by themselves, to comply with". Perhaps we could also discuss the following two Amendments to the same Clause: In line 41, to leave out from the beginning to the end of line 6 on page 35.

In line 7, to leave out "a police authority or".

Much earlier this afternoon the sun was out and many of us were thinking of the spring events which are coming along shortly—the Spring Double. I very much hope this evening to bring off a double, and I shall make a sporting offer to my right hon. Friend. The object of the Amendments is fairly clear, and if he cares to say now that he will accept them, then I will sit down at once. If he cannot accept my first offer, I make a second: if he does not think that the wording of the Amendments is correct, and if he says that he will take over my Amendments and choose his own wording to achieve the same end, I will sit down at once,

I am afraid that my right hon. Friend is most unresponsive to these sporting offers, and I shall have to explain the objects of the Amendments. They are comparatively simple. They are backed by the Association of Municipal Corporations and the Rural District Councils Association, and are approved by other local authority associations. In Committee the Government said that they would like, without commitment, to examine the principle underlying the Amendments, which is that local authorities should have power to inspect their own offices and associated premises. I do not think that the local authority associations are asking for any particular precedents to be created in this way, because at present they have the power to inspect their own slaughterhouses, restaurants and cinemas. In their restaurants and slaughterhouses they have their own employees on the premises.

11.30 p.m.

One would think that it had been accepted that local authorities are responsible bodies, perfectly capable of carrying out an inspection job of this nature. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is thinking that his Factory Inspectorate will pinch the best inspectors from the local authorities. That is conceivable, and in that case it is legitimate to think that the factory inspectors should take over the inspecting of local authority offices.

I do not think that that is realistic, but it is realistic to think that local authorities being responsible bodies and having these tasks to do in other spheres should be able to inspect their own premises. I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will look on these very reasonable Amendments favourably. It would be rather a slight on local authorities to say that they should have their own offices looked at by my hon. Friend's factory inspectors. For those reasons, I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will have another look at this series of Amendments and will agree to accept them.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

I thought that in Standing Committee we were given a pretty clear promise by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. There was no criticism of the local authorities in any way, and my hon. Friend said nothing to infer that local authorities were incapable of looking after their own affairs. Yet he has not been able to meet the point. I understand that he has been unable to find a form of words with which to meet the requirements. This seems to be quite fantastic.

I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary present tonight, and I would press him once again to accept my hon. Friend's Amendments. He accepted that if there was a strong requirement for this he would be able to meet it. It is very disappointing if these responsible bodies are once again to be denied the duties which they can perfectly well carry out for themselves.

Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)

I wish to support what the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) has said and, in particular, the remarks of the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple). Local authorities have in the past been accepted as responsible bodies. Parliament has considered them to be competent. Therefore, if for all these years we have accepted local authority inspectors to be competent to inspect their own premises, why does the Minister oppose this Amendment now? His hon. Friend appealed to him on two or three counts to give due consideration to the plea which he was making to him.

I have every confidence in local authorities choosing the right kind of people to do this work, and I believe that the bulk of local authorities would rather retain their own inspectorate and use it for inspecting their own premises. I can speak from experience. I have had many opportunities of going through local authority departments. The St. Helens county borough, in particular, is an example to the rest of the country. I only wish that the Minister had had the same opportunity that I have had. If he had had that opportunity, I am sure that he would be only too ready to accept his hon. Friend's Amendment.

Mr. C. Johnson

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs), I hope that the Minister will resist the Amendment. There have been numerous occasions in our discussions on the Bill when the Minister has indicated his desire when enforcing its terms to consult both sides affected. The hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) would have been in a much stronger position if, in addition to the support which he claimed from the various associations of local authorities, he could have given some indication that this was also favoured by the people who will work in the various offices of local authorities. I can assure him that their attitude would be very different from the one he has put forward. What he is asking for in the Amendment—

Mr. Temple

The hon. Gentleman has made a statement about what the employees feel. Has he any evidence to back up that statement? Has he had any representations?

Mr. Johnson

Yes. If the hon. Gentleman had waited a moment, I would have given him the evidence.

I was about to say that the Bill as drafted brings local authority premises within the scope of the Bill in exactly the same way as other premises. The object of the Amendment is to exempt local authority premises alone from the provisions of the Bill and make the local authorities judges in their own cause. It seeks to create a special and favoured class of premises. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that N.A.L.G.O., which has a membership of 300,000, the majority of whom are employed in the offices affected, would view with considerable concern the incorporation of the Amendment in the Bill. In these circumstances, I hope that the Minister will resist the temptation to accept it.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) did not seek to be unfair to me, but I really must put on the record what I said in the Committee so that there shall be no misunderstanding: If anyone in the Committee feels strongly on that matter"— that is, the question of local authorities inspecting their own offices— I would be prepared to consider without commitment the possibility of putting down an Amendment at a later stage …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 29th January, 1963; c. 464.] I said "without commitment", and that was exactly what I meant. I am sure my hon. Friend will appreciate that.

Having said that, I want to assure my hon. Friend that, very naturally, we considered most carefully whether it would be possible to give effect to the provision, that local authorities should inspect their own offices instead of, as it is under the Bill at the moment, the Factory Inspectorate being responsible for doing it.

I should like to say at the start that we have been advised that we cannot provide that local authorities should enforce the Bill against themselves. Indeed, the Amendment appears to recognise this, for it merely requires local authorities to comply with their legal obligations. I should point out that such a provision is in any event unnecessary because the obligation to comply with the law already rests on the local authorities, as it does on every other owner or occupier.

The question that we really have to decide here is whether the local authorities should merely be left with this duty of compliance with the law or whether we should make some provision for enforcement. If any such provision is to be made, it can surely be done only by some outside agent, and I should have thought that that meant in practice the Factory Inspectorate. Having considered this very carefully, the Government came to the conclusion that it would be wrong, to make no provision whatsoever for enforcement in local authority premises.

I really must call the attention of the House to the important remarks made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. C. Johnson) in this connection. He said that there are large numbers of people involved in these provisions and that to make no provision at all for enforcement in their case would detract from the safeguards provided. That is why we decided to adhere to the original provisions.

It has been argued by my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) that the local authorities enforce provisions of other Acts in their own premises. This is true. But I suggest that none of those Acts is in any way comparable with this Bill in dealing extensively and intimately with conditions provided by local authorities for their own employees. I am sure that the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) will agree that this Bill is quite different from these other Measures. We are dealing with a different position.

We can all pay great tribute to the local authorities in our own areas. No doubt they will all set a splendid example in complying with the requirements of the Bill. Surely, then, they have absolutely nothing to fear if they carry out the job in accordance with the Bill. The better they are, the less they have to fear. That is a reasonable proposition.

If that is the case, then it is desirable in their own interests that they should have the opportunity of showing clearly to all concerned that they have set this first-class example. If we took away this provision for enforcement, that would not be the case.

I appreciate the arguments and not one of us, in seeking to retain this provision, is in any way criticising the local authorities. But equally we must realise that they have a considerable job of enforcement already. We are trusting them to carry out these provisions. We would not do that if we were critical of their capacity to do so. Surely it is right to retain a provision for enforcement in the case of their own offices. We are advised that we cannot have them enforcing this on themselves and, that being the case, it is right to keep this provision whereby the Factory Inspectorate will do the job.

The standing of the Factory Inspectorate is, I think, extremely high in this House and in the country generally, and I am sure that the local authorities will have no need to fear that this provision will not work extremely well in practice. To do anything else would not be right, and we must bear in mind what was said by the hon. Member for Lewisham, South on behalf of a very large number of these employees. For these reasons, I must resist this Amendment.

Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)

I had not wished to intervene until I heard my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. I remain unconvinced by his speech. I do not think he has put the matter quite clearly. This is not a question of the local authorities fearing the Inspectorate. The point is that they feel that they are not being trusted to do a job that they have done so extremely well in many other respects, whereas the Government themselves, with their own Factory Inspectorate, are apparently to be allowed to inspect its own offices.

The Minister of Labour's inspectors will be inspecting the offices of other Ministries and will no doubt do a good job. But what about the Ministry of Labour offices? Are they to be inspected by the Minister's own inspectors? If that is the case, why should not local authorities inspect their own offices? Why the difference? Speaking for my own local authority, at any rate, this seems to be the main problem and the main thing that worries it—the feeling that it is not trusted. I hope that my right hon. Friend will try to remove this impression.

11.45 p.m.

Mr. Whitelaw

; The position of the Crown is quite different. The Crown does not and cannot incur any criminal liability under the Bill. There can be no provision for enforcement against it. The civil liability of the Grown is dealt with in Clause 71. In practice, Crown premises will be inspected by the Factory Inspectorate, in order to fulfil the Government's intention that the standards laid down in the Bill shall be observed in Crown premises. But the position in law of the Crown is absolutely privileged.

Mr. Temple

I am rather disappointed by my hon. Friend's reply, but when I moved the Amendment I was not aware that the National Association of Local Government Officers was concerned about this matter. I have a high regard for that body, and if that is its view—which I now recognise is the case—I regard it as a material factor.

I thank my hon. Friend for his exhaustive explanation, and although we have not found it entirely convincing, either on these benches or the benches apposite, in the circumstances I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 34, line 20, after "33", insert: and section (Provision of means of escape in case of fire)".—[Mr. Hare.]

The following Amendment stood upon the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. PRENTICE:

Page 34, line 25, at end insert: No inspector appointed in pursuance of the requirements of this subsection shall be discharged from his appointment as an inspector save by the Minister or with the consent of the Minister.

Mr. Prentice

My hon. Friends and I have considered this point. We think that the purpose we had in mind is largely met by the new Clause moved by the Minister which provides for the setting up of an inspectorate. Therefore, I do not wish to move the Amendment.

Amendment made: In page 34, line 29, after "33", insert: and section (Provision of means of escape in case of fire)".—[Mr. Hare.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I beg to move, in page 34, line 41, to leave out from "county" to the end of line 43.

If the House agrees, it might be convenient to discuss the two further Amendments, in page 34, line 44, and in line 45, which are closely bound up with this one.

The purpose of the three Amendments is to clear up a doubt that has arisen about the premises defined in paragraphs (a) and (b) of Clause 44 (3). It has been put to us that these paragraphs are ambiguous, and might be held to relate only to premises connected with the administration of justice. The paragraphs are intended to refer both to premises occupied by county councils or local authorities, as defined in the Bill, and to premises provided and maintained by county councils and local authorities for purposes connected with the administration of justice. The three Amendments are designed to remove any doubt on this point. I hope that they do so, and in that spirit will commend themselves to the House.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 34, line 44, leave out from "authority" to end of line 45.

In line 45, at end insert: (c) premises provided and maintained by the council of a county for purposes connected with the administration of justice or provided and maintained by a local authority for such purposes.—[Mr. Whitelaw.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I beg to move, in page 35, line 9, to leave out from the beginning to "and" in line 13.

The purpose of the Amendment is to bring the enforcement of the means of escape provisions in railway premises into line with existing provisions under the Factories Act. Railway running sheds are subject to the provisions of the Factories Act and factory inspectors are responsible for the enforcing of the Act. The fire authorities are responsible for the certification of the means of escape and we want to continue the division of duty under this Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 35, line 32, at end insert: and (d) railway premises and office premises occupied by railway undertakers for the purposes of the railway undertaking carried on by them and situate in the immediate vicinity of the permanent way (not being office premises comprised in hotels)."—[Mr. Whitelaw.]

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I beg to move, in page 35, line 35, at the end to insert: (5) The foregoing provision of this Act and regulations thereunder shall as regards premises licensed for public entertainment be enforceable by the authority which has licensed such premises for public entertainment. This Amendment deals with the inspection of places of public entertainment and the enforcement of the rules and particularly with who is to be the enforcing authority. Places of entertainment are already subject to extensive rules and regulations under the licensing system. The licence conditions and regulations apply not only to the parts of the building where the public resort, but to the whole building in which the theatre or cinema is situated. I have before me a licence of the London County Council in which the premises referred to are defined as including, in the cases where such premises consist of part or parts only of the building, also any other such part or parts of the building used for the purpose and in connection with such premises. So the licence granted to the theatre or cinema applies to the whole building and not merely to the auditorium or the passages where the public may resort.

It has been recognised in subsection (5) that in the case of the London County Council the licensing authority should be given power to enforce the regulations under the Bill, for there is power invested in the county council as the enforcing authority. Had that not been done the metropolitan boroughs would have been the enforcing authorities, because the local authority is defined under the Bill as … a county borough or a county district, the council of a metropolitan borough … The licensing authority for theatres or cinemas is the county or the county borough. So we are left with the situation that outside London the county will be enforcing the regulations under the theatre and cinema licences, but in the county districts, the urban or district councils will be enforcing the regulations under the Bill. It seems to me the height of absurdity to have two authorities administering very much the same rules. I am asking that the authority granting the licences and making stringent and detailed rules about the conduct and the structure of the premises should be the authority for enforcing the regulations under the Bill. It would be a great administrative convenience and, of course, a convenience to the occupiers of the theatre or cinema, that they should deal with one authority rather than being under a sort of dual control of the county and county districts, as they would be in these areas.

Mr. Whitelaw

My hon. Friend has returned to the same point that we discussed in Committee and has argued, as he did then, that if London County Council were made responsible for enforcing the Bill in shops and offices in premises licensed for public entertainments, county councils in the rest of the country should be given the same duty under the Bill. There is a very large concentration of theatres in London and they are regularly inspected by the L.C.C. Because the council inspects many of them as agents of the Lord Chamberlain, they are in a special position. It was therefore thought right to make the council the enforcing authority in offices and shops in London theatres instead of giving this duty to the metropolitan boroughs.

It was argued by the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) in Committee that it would be logical to extend the L.C.C.'s duties under the Bill to other places of entertainment which are inspected by them, and, as the hon. Member will notice, we have some Amendments on the Notice Paper to give effect to his suggestion. If those Amendments are subsequently accepted by the House we shall have the position in London that for its great number of theatres and cinemas the same authority will be responsible for enforcing the Bill and issuing the licence. In other cities and large towns where the next largest aggregations of theatres and cinemas are to be found, the county boroughs will have duties both under the Bill and also as the licensing authorities. So, in those important areas as well, as my hon. Friend will be the first to recognise, his purpose will be achieved without the carrying of this Amendment.

The only effect of the Amendment would be to bring together under the same authority responsibilities for enforcing the Bill and for licensing in the residual county areas where we must accept that theatres and cinemas are not so numerous. In order to achieve what I think my hon. Friend would be the first to accept is a very limited objective, it would be necessary to add county councils to the list of enforcing authorities for the non-fire provisions of the Bill. They would have to maintain registers, issue certificates, compile statistics and send reports to my right hon. Friend—all this to achieve what I think is agreed to be a somewhat limited objective. I suggest that in all the circumstances it would be a mistake to complicate further the pattern of enforcement laid down in the Bill.

I do not think that in fact any conflict will arise between the requirements of the licensing authorities and the enforcement authorities under the Bill in places where they are not the same. I ask my hon. Friend particularly to accept that London is in a special position. For all these reasons I am afraid that I could not accept the Amendment. I hope that, once again having returned to the point and once again having had it discussed, my hon. Friend will feel able to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Graham Page

It is not the same point as I raised in Committee. In Committee the point was to make the regulations the same. In this Amendment it is merely over a narrow area to make the enforcing authority the same. To that extent I can only regard the answer of my hon. Friend as wholly unsatisfactory. The county councils have already the organisation for inspection of the premises they license. There is no reason why the county district inspection and enforcement should not be added to them when there is already an organisation within the county to do the job. The provision in the Bill will impose on each place of entertainment a dual control. Under the circumstances I cannot withdraw the Amendment. I will merely leave it to be negatived.

Amendment negatived.

12 m.

Mr. Whitelaw

I beg to move, in page 35, line 37, to leave out "theatre" and insert "place of public entertainment".

I think that it would be convenient for the House to discuss at the same time the Amendments standing in the name of my right hon. Friend, in line 38 and in page 52, line 18 and page 52 to leave out lines 29 to 33.

I agreed in Standing Committee that it would be convenient if the London County Council was made responsible for enforcing the Bill in other places of entertainment in London as well as theatres. This group of Amendments—further to what I suggested earlier—would make the L.C.C. the enforcing authority for cinemas and premises used mainly for public music and dancing. The Amendments in page 52 to Clause 77 delete the definition of "theatre" and replace it with a definition of a place of public entertainment. This is in response to arguments put forward by the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice).

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In line 38, leave out "a theatre" and insert "such a place".