HC Deb 03 May 1967 vol 746 cc692-6

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the West Midlands (Amendment) Order 1967, dated 6th April, 1967. a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th April, be approved.—[Mr. MacColl.]

11.14 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

This Order varies the West Midlands Order of 1965, which made a substantial local government reform in the area of Birmingham, Wolverhampton and round about. The 1965 Order came into operation about 16 months ago, so the present Order is to vary one which has been in effect for only that time.

Article 25 of the West Midlands Order, 1965, extended Sunday opening of cinemas to certain areas there specified. I presume that before the Order there was not authority for cinemas to open in those areas on a Sunday, but apparently in drafting Article 25 of the 1965 Order a comparatively small area which should have been mentioned was not. The error was obviously one of omission. The 1965 Order changed the boundary between the Boroughs of Halesowen and Oldbury; part of Oldbury was transferred to Halesowen. Sunday opening of cinemas was at that time allowed in Oldbury but not in Halesowen, and in that small area transferred from Oldbury to Halesowen I understand that there was a cinema, or cinemas. That cinema—or those cinemas—had opened on Sundays when in Oldbury but when it found itself in Halesowen it could not. Perhaps it is better not to ask whether the cinema has opened in the intervening 16 months.

There is no mention in the Order of giving an indemnity to the proprietors, nor could there be, for an Act of Parliament would be needed. I shall therefore restrict my remarks to what is in the Order, which merely seeks to put right this error in the 1965 Order. If this were a Bill it would be a hybrid Bill; it affects private interests, and the petitioners against it—if any—could be heard in the Standing Committee which would deal with the Bill. We have no such procedure in the House relating to Orders which affect private interests. although there is such a procedure in another place. Because we have no such procedure I think that it is important that we should make sure that any preparatory steps necessary before an Order comes before the House have been fully carried out, for they give some protection to any private interest which may be affected.

Section 41 of the Local Government Act, 1958—the parent Statute of the Order—the Section under which the Minister has exercised his powers in making the Order, requires a considerable number of preparatory steps to be taken before an Order of this sort comes before the House. I would have expected a preamble in the Order reciting that they had been carried out.

The Section states: (1) Any order of the Minister made on a review under this Part of this Act may be varied or revoked by order of the Minister made in accordance with the following provisions of this section. The Order with which we are concerned is an Order varying a previous Order, and the rest of the Section applies to it. The Section continues: (2) The Minister shall prepare a draft of the varying or revoking order, shall send copies of the draft to such local or public authorities as appear to him to be concerned, and shall give public notice, in such manner as appears to him sufficient for informing persons likely to be concerned, that the draft has been prepared,… I shall not continue reading the whole Section, but it provides for public inquiry if any objections are received, and the Minister must give full consideration to those objections.

Have any such objections been received, and, if so, was any inquiry carried out? In short, were the steps required by Section 41 before bringing the Order before the House duly carried out? If they were not, then this Order is ultra vires. If these steps have been carried out, this Order is something more than an order varying a previous local government order. It is also an order under Section 1 of the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932, and there again there are quite a number of preparatory steps to be taken to inform people in the district that such an order is being made. Section 1(5) of the Act, which permits Sunday opening of cinemas, says: This section shall … extend … to any borough or country district to which it can be extended by an order laid before Parliament in accordance with the provisions of the Schedule to this Act, and approved by a resolution passed by each House of Parliament". The Schedule to the Act sets out a procedure for advertising the intention to make an order, the advertising of the drait order and, if any objections are received, for a meeting—a town poll meeting—to be held.

Have these provisions been carried out or can the hon. Gentleman assure us that there is some other statutory provision which makes it unnecessary for the Minister to carry them out? I ask him to give an assurance that the preparatory steps required under Section 41 of the Local Government Act, 1958, have been duly observed and carried out fully, that the public has been informed and has had an opportunity to object to the Order in public meeting, that the provisions of the Sunday Entertainment Act, 1932, have also been carried out and that the necessary meetings have been called and all objections, if any, duly given a chance to be heard in the form required by these Statutes.

11.22 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. James MacColl)

As the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) observed, this might have been a hybrid Bill had it been a Bill. He referred to the procedure in another place. I will not trespass into what happened there but I believe that this Order was treated there under the hybrid procedure applied in that House to special orders, that there were no objections to it and that it went through with rather less discussion than we are having. So I do not think we need blame ourselves for not having treated this matter seriously enough.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has misled the House a little. I am not sure if I heard him aright, but I think he implied that Article 25 of the original Order applied the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932, to places which did not already have Sunday opening of cinemas. Article 25 applied to certain places which are now parts of the new boroughs. They are all places which already had it.

From our point of view the difficulty would not have arisen if Halesowen had had Sunday opening and therefore been covered by Article 25. The trouble arose from the fact that Halesowen did not have it and does not have it and that this little piece of Oldbury, for all I know, regarding the transfer into Halesowen with modified rapture at best, and finding that it could not have its cinema open on Sunday, felt even more disgruntled. But this is speculation.

Certainly there was pressure, and requests from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) on behalf of some of her constituents, to do something about this. That is why the Government are doing something. It is correct to say that the draft Order was put on deposit with the Halesowen Council on 4th February, and advertised in the local papers. There is a requirement that the Minister has to consider representations and hold an inquiry into objections.

No objections were received, although the Lord's Day Observance Society, not surprisingly, said that it saw no particular reason why the cinema should be opened. That was a representation and was not, in the terms of the Act, an objection. It was, therefore, decided, on the basis of that, with the full support of the local council, to amend the Order.

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of the application of the Sunday Entertainments Act. When in 1952, Oldbury had the very great privilege of having its cinema open on Sundays, there was a poll, and by a very substantial majority it retained that freedom. No change has taken place, and this particular piece of territory, including this cinema, had always had its Sunday cinema since that time.

All that is being done is to restore the previous arrangements. There are powers under the Local Government Act to do that in a Local Government Act Order. We are not, in any way, extending the powers of Article 25; we are merely including in it that which was omitted by error, and we are not therefore in any way altering the existing position. I am advised, and it is my view, that everything has been done within the provisions of the Local Government Act to make this a valid Order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the West Midlands (Amendment) Order 1967, dated 6th April, 1967, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th April, be approved.