§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Before we consider the first of the three Private Bills set down for consideration this evening, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I raise 555 a point of order which affects hon. Members who are interested in the matters which are the subject of the three Bills. As we have them all set down for consideration on the same day, those hon. Members who wish to make a speech on each have not been given adequate time to prepare their speeches and to study these extremely extensive Bills. The first runs to no fewer than 271 Clauses and six Schedules, touching on many serious issues of public policy, and the other two are almost equally extensive. I suggest that it is unfair to hon. Members to expect them to consider in the course of a single afternoon and evening the matters contained in all three Bills.
Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge it is wholly without precedent for three Private Bills taken in the course of an afternoon to be exempted business, which means that their promoters can keep us here until whatever hour of the night they choose, until any opposition is exhausted. I respectfully suggest that this is a serious attack on the freedom of private Members, back benchers, to represent views on the Bills to the House and to see that they are given adequate consideration.
Therefore, as this is the only opportunity I have of raising the matter, since the Motion for the suspension is not debatable at Ten o'clock, I urge you not to allow the other two Bills to be exempted business, but to give us time to consider the first and have the other two set down on another day.
§ Mr. William Wells (Walsall, North)
Further to that point of order. I respectfully submit that there is no substance whatever in the first point raised by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), since his Motion has been on the Order Paper for some weeks and it was therefore possible for other hon. Members, as for—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I must deal with the substance of the point of order and not allow a debate to take place.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Orpington for giving me notice that he would raise this matter. There is nothing in the Motion for the suspension on the Order Paper that is out of order, and at Ten o'clock hon. 556 Members will have the opportunity, if necessary, of opposing that Motion.
Having disposed of the question of order, perhaps I may help the hon. Gentleman. It is not unprecedented for this to happen. There are at least three precedents, although I should say that if it were unprecedented it would still not be out of order.
On the hon. Gentleman's point about making speeches, he may feel on consideration that he can make one major speech on the first Bill. He will be aware that the texts of the Bills are very similar, and he may be able to make his major point and achieve his purpose on the first Bill. Otherwise, I cannot help him.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Sir Henry d'Avigdor-Goldsmid (Walsall, South)
If ever there was a valid argument in favour of regional government, the point of order of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) is justification, because the Measures with which we have to deal, despite the hon. Gentleman's remarks, are mainly in the form of model clauses taken from earlier legislation, and the Walsall Corporation Bill is a consolidation Measure.
The area that the Walsall Corporation now administers as a result of the West Midlands Order, 1965 includes—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. May I correct an omission. I should have dealt with the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). This has not been selected. As far as the Instruction in the name of the hon. Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams) is concerned, it would be satisfactory if he would allow the subject matter of his Instruction to arise normally and naturally in the course of the general debate on the Second Reading, and if he wishes to put the Instruction he may do so formally after the Second Reading.
§ Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid
The area of the Walsall Corporation now includes no fewer than five with the doubtful benefit of a Private Act—Wednesbury, Willenhall, Bilston, Aldridge, and the 557 Staffordshire County Council. When one realises that under the West Midlands Order the existing legislation remains in force only until December 1970 one can see how important it is for these Measures to be passed. The urgency lies in the fact that between now and December 1970 we shall certainly have a General Election. It is therefore vital that we get these Bill through in the present Session. Otherwise they will have to be reintroduced in the next and run the danger of being slaughtered on Prorogation. That would produce wholly unnecessary and avoidable administrative chaos.
I understand that the hon. Member for Orpington wishes to raise a number of points, and I do not want to anticipate them. I rely on the considerable forensic talents of the hon. and learned Member for Walsall, North (Mr. William Wells), who will reply on behalf of the promoters of the Bill.
Accordingly, I shall only say briefly that Part II deals with heating undertaking powers. Such powers were obtained by Dudley, Oldbury, Smethwick, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton in the late 1940s and early 1950s. They were disallowed in the case of the Southend-on-Sea Corporation Bill in 1960. But apparently the Minister of Housing and Local Government has now changed his view, because the trend towards building at higher densities, the growing demand for better standards of comfort in the home and technical advances have combined to make district heating schemes more attractive. The corporation thinks that there are places where such a scheme could be shown to be practicable and it therefore wishes to have these powers. Let me come to the part in which the hon. Member for Orpington is interested—
§ Mr. Lubbock
Has the hon. Gentleman considered the objections to the district heating part of the Bill which have been submitted by the Central Electricity Generating Board and West Midlands Electricity Board?
§ Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid
I will leave that to the hon. and learned Member for Walsall, North.
The part of the Bill in which the hon. Member for Orpington is particularly interested 558 refers to the provision of camping sites for gipsies. Having gone through the expensive labour of getting the Caravan Sites Bill through the House during 1968, his disappointment that the Government have not yet implemented Part II of the Act, which gives it all its effect, is understandable. The Act is in a state of suspended animation and I can understand that the hon. Member seeks an appropriate method to bring this to the Government's attention in the hope that they will change their minds. I do not wish to pursue this matter except to express the hope that when he sees the enormous volume of avoidable administrative chaos—I stress the word "avoidable"—which could arise if the Bill were not given a Second Reading, he will consider, on reflection, that the right place for him to state his objections is in Committee.
I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, South has some reservations about the superannuation fund of the corporation. I appreciate his point, but I understand that, even if the Clause were to be omitted, the legal position would not be altered. So I hope that he, too, on consideration, will feel that the advantage the national benefit, of sending the Bill to Committee outweighs the anxieties which the Clause has given him.
The Bill has been on the Order Paper for a long time and time is not on our side. Together with the other Bills which the House is to consider tonight, this is a necessary piece of machinery legislation which should in justice be given a Second Reading.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Mr. A. H. Macdonald (Chislehurst)
I hope that I will not be thought discourteous to the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) if I observe that he said singularly little about the contents of the Bill, which, as the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) said when raising his point of order, is quite lengthy, containing many Clauses and extensive powers for the Corporation. But he said nothing about the merits of the Bill or the necessity for the powers. He referred to the necessity for an early decision, which I understood, but that is not the same as arguments in support of the proposals.
559 I do not think that the object of the Amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Orpington, which has not been selected—an Amendment to which I was happy to put my name—is simply a cloak for pressure on the Government to implement Part II of the Caravan Sites Act, although I want to see it implemented. I thought that the hon. Member for Walsall, South was about to defend the Bill and give reasons why our opposition is ill-founded—if it is—but he said nothing on the subject.
We know that there are two further Bills for discussion but I hope that it will not necessarily be assumed that what is said on one debars discussion on the others, because it does not seem to me that the texts are quite as similar as might at first be thought. Some remarks might be applicable to one but not to another.
The Parliamentary agents acting for the promoters put out a statement referring to the objections raised. It was entirely accurate so far as it went, but a little selective. The concept of the Caravan Sites Act was that every local authority would be required to provide sites for gipsy or traveller caravans. There were provisions for exemption, but basically this applied to every authority. When, in the Minister's opinion, enough pitches had been provided in any area, the authorities providing those sites might apply to the Minister to be declared designated areas and would receive powers enabling them to remove travelling caravans from unauthorised places. The concepts of the sites and the powers were inextricably linked.
The Bill was necessary because local authorities had not individually taken action. In June, 1966, the Ministry of Housing issued Circular 26/66 calling the attention of local authorities to the problem of gipsy and travelling caravans and urging, as a voluntary measure, that all authorities should act in concert to provide sites and deal with the problem. But few authorities took such action and most argued that, before they provided sites, they would like powers to remove caravans parked in unauthorised places. The argument, which was not unreasonable, was that if sites were provided without the powers, that would be a waste of ratepayers' money, because there would 560 be no compulsion on the travellers to use those sites, where a rent would be charged, and they would prefer to continue rent-free on unauthorised sites.
The Minister said that, on the contrary, the sites should be provided, because, if powers were granted first without the provision of sites, it was feared that unscrupulous local authorities might use them to deport the travellers and gipsies into the territory of their neighbours, which would be undesirable.
As a ratepayer in the London Borough of Bromley, which contains my constituency, I live in one of the few local authorities which has provided a site for travellers of this kind. It has cost the ratepayers of my borough £13,000. I do not object to that in itself, but I do not see why my constituents and the ratepayers in other constituencies forming part of this borough should have to cough up to provide this site if other authorities are to be able to escape what I consider to be their obligations to take their due share in providing sites to deal with this problem. Bromley is one such site, not to mention Eton and Hertfordshire and other authorities which have also provided sites.
If the provisions of the Caravan Sites Act are allowed to slip through, so that Walsall and any other places which care to follow its example can obtain powers to deport the travellers from their territories without fulfilling their obligation to provide sites, my borough will act as a haven for all those people who have been deported from other areas, and that would not be fair or proper. The whole concept of the Caravan Sites Act was based on the idea that every authority should provide its due sites and receive the necessary powers to make sure that the sites were properly used.
But there is more to it than this. We are all conscious that a major problem of gipsies and other travellers faces the whole country. The problem is particularly acute in Walsall, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton, but it is also acute in my constituency and in that of the hon. Member for Orpington and we too are familiar with it. The problem will not be solved simply by the use of powers to move gipsies and other travellers off unauthorised sites without at the same time providing sites to which they may 561 lawfully go. Powers by themselves are mere persecution and there can be no lasting solution to the problem if the remedy consists simply of moving these travellers on. That is why the Caravan Sites Act proposed sites and powers, and the two were to go together.
I am well aware that the existence of caravanning, travelling gipsy families arouses much resentment among normal ratepayers, if I may so describe them, because the average citizen pays his rates and his rent, if he lives in that kind of dwelling, and his taxes, and yet observes that other people apparently pay no rent, almost certainly pay no rates, and I take leave to doubt whether in every case they pay taxes. These people are clearly not fulfilling their duties to the community.
But I cannot think that it is proper for the vast majority of us to criticise the travellers for not fulfilling their duties if at the same time we do not make it possible for them to enjoy their rights, that is, the right to a place where they may reasonably park their caravans and live unmolested and unharassed. It is basic that rights and duties go together in this matter.
That is why I feel such deep regret about the proposals in the Bill which seek to provide Walsall Corporation with powers to move on caravans which are parked in unauthorised places. To that in itself I do not necessarily have objection; my objection is that that power is not accompanied by any necessary—and I stress "necessary"—obligation to provide a suitable number of pitches.
I deeply fear that if a succession of authorities come forward with proposals of this nature—and this evening we have a little queue of three authorities doing so—for powers, but not to provide sites, the whole concept of the Caravan Sites Act which I was glad to support, will be entirely undermined.
I join those who much regret that the Minister of Housing and Local Government has not yet seen his way to activate Part II of the Act, for that would be a solution to this problem. I do not know how far it would be in order to take this opportunity to urge this action on my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who played a leading part in our deliberations on that Act and who expressed not only the Government's 562 view but his own personal view that it was a wise and beneficial Act which he would like to see in full operation. I hope that he will say something today to offer some indication of hope for some declaration that in the reasonably near future we may see the activation of Part II. [Interruption.] In the absence of such a declaration—and I gather from that remark, which I did not quite catch, that I do not have much hope of hearing such a declaration this evening—
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Arthur Skeffington)
I was saying, "As soon as possible."
§ Mr. Macdonald
That is a remark which causes my heart to sink beneath the floor; I have heard remarks like that before. None the less, it remains a fact that a solution of the problem of gipsy travellers and other mobile caravanners is to be found in Part II of the Caravan Sites Act which the House passed with approval and very little dissent last summer.
In the absence of the activation of Part II, I cannot but describe the Bills as an attempt, perhaps unintentional, to evade what I had hoped to be provisions accepted by every hon. Member and by local authorities generally. I urge on the Government the necessity for the speedy implementation of Part II. In the meantime, we should not allow to pass three Bills of this kind which would drive a coach and horses through the admirable provisions of an Act intended to deal with the gipsy and caravan problem.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
I have never heard a Bill of this length moved so cursorily as the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) moved the Second Reading of this Bill. It is highly insulting to the House to make a speech lasting about five minutes on a Bill containing provisions fundamentally affecting the future of the citizens of Walsall in a variety of ways and of tremendous importance not only to Walsall, but the country as a whole. It would have been far more for the convenience of the House if, instead of delegating these matters to the hon. and learned Member for Walsall, North (Mr. William Wells) to explain at the end of the debate, the hon. 563 Member had given an adequate explanation at the beginning of the debate of what some of the Clauses are intended to accomplish and how the powers which it is intended to confer on Walsall Corporation are to be operated by it.
I shall give a few illustrations of the matters contained in the Bill which merit serious examination because of the general principles which they raise. Although I cannot pretend thoroughly to have studied and mastered the whole of 271 Clauses and six Schedules in the course of a few days, I have seen enough in the Bill to cause me the gravest anxiety and to cause me to suggest that if we allow corporations to pass legislation of this kind, we shall not be doing our duty, because so many of the matters with which the Bill deals are matters better considered in public legislation.
The first subject with which I want to deal is a perfect illustration of this. The second part of the Bill gives Walsall Corporation power to implement a district heating undertaking scheme.
Let me make it clear at once that I had no objection to the expansion of district heating schemes. I take the opposite view. I have always been very much in favour of them, as the Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Power would be able to tell the House if he were here. I have had detailed correspondence with him on how schemes could be sustained and what machinery could be devised for local authorities to press on with them faster in terms of big educational schemes, blocks of flats and developments of that kind where the advantages of district heating could be of tremendous importance.
The possibilities are there for reducing the costs of heat to the householders who are in receipt of heat by means of these schemes, quite apart from industrial users. District heating enables us to make better use of indigenous fuels and thus improve our balance of payments by reducing the need for imported fuels. I welcome the action of the National Union of Mineworkers in this respect in granting loans to certain local authorities for putting in district heating schemes so that more indigenous fuel can be consumed and the rate of rundown in the coal industry can be arrested to some extent. I am sure that the House would approve of that as 564 an objective if it means less redundancy in the mines and allows Lord Robens and his colleagues more time to make arrangements for the redeployment of manpower in the industry without causing hardship.
A third and tremendously important advantage of district heating schemes is that they help to reduce pollution. In central plants of the kind operated, one can afford to put in machinery for the extraction of grit and sulphur dioxide from flues which is not possible to the same extent in individual heating installations.
I say that by way of introduction because I may have to be a little critical of the detailed provisions in this Part of the Bill. I understand that certain objections are raised to these schemes. It is suggested, for example, that the capital cost inevitably is higher than with individual heating schemes in all the schemes which have been examined so far. In addition, the gas and electricity industries may be lukewarm about district heating because they see their potential markets slipping away at a time when they have excess production capacity.
As I have said already, over the last few years I have had a lengthy correspondence with the Minister on the subject, more particularly since the Parker Morris standards for heating were made mandatory on local authorities by the Minister of Housing in his Circular 36/67 and since the new cost yardsticks were introduced.
The significance of the introduction of the Parker Morris standards was that more heat would be required per dwelling and, therefore, the economics of district heating would become even more attractive. It is laid down that in houses built today the kitchens and areas used for circulation must be capable of being heated to 55° F. and living areas to 65° F. I only wish that it had been extended to whole-house heating because, in the future, we shall regret not having proper central heating in our bedrooms, where people can, if they wish, be separate from the rest of their families. In my own family, I find that my children like to do their homework in bedrooms. Many people will find in future that we have made a mistake in not going the whole hog with Parker Morris standards and not having whole-house heating.
565 The Minister has stated already that district heating schemes will qualify for loan sanction even where the total capital cost, including such schemes, exceeds the yardstick plus 10 per cent., provided that it can be shown that the saving on running costs more than offsets the higher capital costs. The way is open for a more widespread use of district heating in Britain, and it may be that we shall catch up with Continental countries where this method of heating homes has been in widespread use for many years.
I believe that costs-in-use for well-designed district heating schemes can be substantially lower than those for individual heating installations. I have been supplied with some typical figures of the costs per therm for various methods of heating as at the end of 1967. For off-peak electricity, the cost was 35.5d. per therm. For coke, it was 25.5d. per therm. For gas, it was 24.6d. per therm. For oil, it was 19.8d. per therm. For anthracite it was 18d. per therm. District heating was the cheapest at 16.9d. per therm. Since then, of course, electricity and gas costs unfortunately have been increased by about 15 per cent. and extra taxes have been loaded on to fuel oils. If the same comparison were undertaken today, the cost advantage of district heating would be even more striking.
As to the objections sometimes raised by the gas and electricity industries, it is worth remembering that the demand for domestic heating is seasonal in character and has sharp daily peaks. Since it is very costly to provide marginal capacity to meet this kind of demand, the sharing of the market with district heating in the long run may even be beneficial to the gas and electricity authorities. In any event, I do not think that those authorities should plan their marketing strategies entirely on the basis of the present temporary surplus of capacity which, it is hoped, will last for only a few years.
So much for the economic background to this Part of the Bill. We must now consider whether it is desirable for the introduction of district heating to be facilitated by Private Bills of this character and whether the very provisions of this Bill have been well-designed, bearing in mind that, as far as I am aware, this is the first occasion on which powers of this kind have been sought by a local authority in a Private Bill.
566 I would suggest that the answer to the first question must be a definite "No" unless it is felt by hon. Members that district heating schemes will be so uncommon that few local authorities will decide to ask for similar powers. It can be seen already that that is unlikely to be the position, with these three Bills containing provisions of this kind on the Order Paper today. I fear that the result will be a patchwork of highly undesirable legislation because of the arbitrary differences in powers which may be assumed by the various local authorities seeking them, and the cluttering-up of the Statute Book which will ensue, quite apart from the not inconsiderable factor in the context of the present Parliamentary Session of the vast amount of Parliamentary time which will be consumed in examining these separate Bills when the House could easily and with much profit devote a few days to establishing legislation on a national framework.
It seems to me that we have reached a situation in the development of district heating which is not very different from the equivalent applying to pipelines at the time of the passing of the Pipelines Act, 1962. I was a member of the Standing Committee which considered that Measure. It had 21 sittings, many of them continuing throughout the night and others lasting until 3 in the morning. It was quite a contentious piece of legislation.
I have been looking at the Second Reading debate. At the time, the right hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) was Minister of Power. In relation to the Select Committee considering the Esso Petroleum Company Bill, he said:There was at that time considerable feeling in the House that the Private Bill procedure was not the right procedure for a development of this kind, and in the Special Report of the Select Committee on this Bill, which was issued on 21st July, 1960, the Committee said that it was convinced that the Private Bill procedure was not the best way of safeguarding the interests of owners, lessees and occupiers where a pipeline is to be constructed. It recommended that no further Bills for the construction of pipelines should be passed by the House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th May, 1962; Vol. 659, c. 447.]It is obvious that the interests of owners, lessees and occupiers will be affected just as much where district heating schemes are promoted as where pipelines have to be constructed, if not more. Therefore, I am sure that the House will 567 agree that we should apply the same principle and legislate nationally to secure the orderly development of district heating on a uniform basis, having regard to the public and the private interest of the property owners, the lessees and occupiers who will be affected in one way or another by these schemes.
At this stage it is relevant for me to inquire of the promoters, having dealt with the general principles, why it was necessary for them to have these special powers conferred by Clause 9 to lay mains and to break open streets. These appear to be matters covered by the Pipelines Act, 1962. If the hon. and learned Member for Walsall, North (Mr. William Wells), who is to reply, will refer to Section 14 of that Act he will find that it appears to give powers for doing these things in the case of pipelines, which would apply pari passu to mains carrying hot water or steam for district heating schemes. Unless there is a good reason for not doing so, I think that the same rules which were devised by Parliament, in its wisdom, applying to pipelines conveying oil or other chemicals, should apply to pipes which will be used in association with district heating schemes to carry hot water or steam.
One great advantage of requiring local authorities to use the Pipelines Act procedure would be that detailed regulations for ensuring the safety of pipes which might be carrying steam at high temperatures and pressures could be laid down by the Minister of Power under Section 19 of that Act. From my inspection of this very long Bill—of course, I may have missed the point—I cannot find any reference to provisions about the safety of district heating mains. I should be grateful if the hon. and learned Gentleman would cover that point when he winds up.
My second question on this part of the Bill raises a matter of fundamental importance. In Clause 6 the Corporation is asking to be allowed to… erect, lay down, maintain, work and use stations … for providing, storing, transmitting, distributing and supplying heat … (including the generation of electricity)…".I underline those last words.
Again, in Clause 10 it is asking to be allowed to… lay down or erect electric lines and apparatus …".568 I do not know whether the Walsall Corporation intends becoming a sort of miniature South of Scotland Electricity Board generating, transmitting and distributing all the electricity consumed in its area or whether these provisions have been included by some over-enthusiastic draftsman who is determined to put in everything which has occurred to him as having some potential use in every remote set of circumstances. Ploughing through the 271 Clauses and six Schedules, which appear to cover every facet of human life from the cleanliness of employees in tattooing establishments to the removal of human remains from burial grounds, one suspects the latter.
However that may be, in assuming powers to generate and distribute electricity, the Corporation seems to have overlooked that in 1947 Parliament, in its wisdom, passed the Electricity Act which transferred the functions that had formerly been carried out by the municipal undertakings to the then British Electricity Authority and to the Area Boards. If these provisions were allowed to remain in the Bill we should be putting the clock back 22 years. I asked the hon. Member for Walsall, South to say what objections have been received from the Central Electricity Generating Board and the West Midlands Electricity Board. The hon. Gentleman said that the hon. and learned Member for Walsall, North would deal with this when winding up the debate. That was a highly unsatisfactory situation. It meant that hon. Members taking part in the debate would not be aware that the Electricity Boards had objected unless I had drawn it to their attention.
§ Mr. William Wellsrose—
§ Mr. Lubbock
Fortunately, I am armed with a copy of the submissions made by the C.E.G.B., from which I intend to quote.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I was about to quote from this rather long document. In paragraph 14 the C.E.G.B. says:There are a number of other provisions in the Bill"—569 this does not relate to Part II; these are incidental matters—to which both of your petitioners desire to call attention, namely, Clause 80—Use of Delves Green; Clause 81—As to Reedswood Park; Clause 93—Prohibition of building until street defined; Clause 94—Prohibition of building until street formed and sewered; Clause 96—Rounding or splaying off corners at street junctions; Clause 97—Adjustment of boundaries of estates in connection with streets"—I do not think that the House will wish me to read the whole list. That is approximately one-third of it.
Having listed all these provisions to which it wishes to make objection, the C.E.G.B. continues:All the aforementioned provisions would enable the Corporation, or other persons, to interfere with or otherwise injuriously affect the electric lines or other apparatus and works of your petitioners laid in the public highway or other land or the access thereto for the carrying on of your petitioners' undertaking in pursuance of their statutory powers and your petitioners object thereto.I think that the Corporation might have taken the trouble to consult the C.E.G.B. and the West Midlands Electricity Board before producing a Bill in which so many of the provisions are objectionable to those Boards.
I realise that the powers to generate electricity—I dare say that this is what the hon. and learned Gentleman will say in reply—are conditional on receiving the approval of the C.E.G.B. Since the Corporation knows that it will not get that approval, why put this in the Bill?
We derive tremendous advantage from the central generation of electricity. It has enabled us to increase substantially the size of our generating sets, which have now reached 660 mW. As a result, the capital cost per kW has decreased in real terms. Although we, as consumers, have not reaped the benefit by way of reductions in our electricity bills, we are much better off than if we had remained in the fragmented state of electricity undertakings which existed before the 1947 Act. That is why I say that the wording and the intention behind these provisions would put the clock back about 22 years.
Thirdly, I refer to Clause 15, "Power to enter premises". The hon. and learned Gentleman will no doubt say that this Clause is closely modelled on the Rights of Entry (Gas and Electricity Boards) Act, 1954. The points I should like to 570 examine are, first, whether it is right in principle for Parliament to confer sweeping powers of this nature on an ever-widening network of public bodies and, secondly, whether these powers are necessary for the purposes of a district heating undertaking.
The Corporation is asking for even more extensive powers than the gas and electricity Boards in one respect. The proviso to Clause 15(1) implies that in an emergency an officer of the Corporation may demand entry as of right without giving any notice to the occupier and without obtaining a warrant from a magistrate. On the other hand, in the Rights of Entry (Gas and Electricity Boards) Act, 1954, Section 2(2,b) allows a magistrate to issue a warrant if admission to the premises was sought in an emergency but was refused by or on behalf of the occupier.
I should like the hon. and learned Gentleman, who is well qualified to deal with these matters, to tell me why the Corporation should have even greater powers than are conferred on the Gas and Electricity Boards and whether, indeed, he thinks it is right that it should have equivalent powers. I think that we should limit as far as possible the rights of entry into private houses, which have already gone far enough. Any legislation which permits an extension of the number of persons who can enter my house, with or without a magistrate's warrant, I am disposed to view with disfavour. These powers are held not only by the police, but by inspectors of taxes, by officers of the Customs and Excise, by gas and electricity board officials, and no doubt by many others of whom I cannot think at the moment, and now it is proposed to allow officers of the Walsall Corporation to enter our premises to inspect the district heating apparatus, and in some cases to do so without even obtaining a magistrate's warrant. If it is necessary for certain people to be enabled to walk into one's sitting room, Parliament should keep these powers down to the absolute minimum, and should not add to the list of persons on whom these powers are conferred.
I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman will say that this matter was raised at a public meeting called in Walsall on 17th December last to discuss the Bill, and that a Motion was put to 571 delete the whole of Part 2 because of the objections made by one of the citizens to Clause 15 but that a majority favoured the promoters' case, but I regret to say that that meeting was not properly advertised, and therefore was not truly representative of the citizens of Walsall. Furthermore, I am reliably informed that some of the persons who were present and who voted on this issue were not local government electors in Walsall.
To sum up my remarks on Part 2, I say that this is a very inadequate prototype of the kind of national legislation that we would like to see on district heating, and that it is so wide of the mark that I cannot possibly see how a Committee upstairs can knock it into shape.
I now turn briefly to Part 4 which deals with transport, and which one would think was fairly innocuous until one studied it in some detail. I suggest that on this Part of the Bill we need considerable advice from the Minister of Transport so that we can ascertain whether the Corporation's operations of a municipal undertaking, and one of a highly specialised nature at that, will fit in properly with the objects of the 1968 Transport Act.
Over the weekend I refereshed my memory about the discussions which took place in the Standing Committee on the Transport Bill on the creation of passenger transport authorities under Section 9 of the Act as it now is. I looked at an Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell), whose indefatigable labours in that Committee excited the admiration of Ministers and Opposition spokesmen alike.
In that debate initiated by my hon. Friend the right hon. Lady who was then the Minister of Transport explained how the P.T.A.s would cover the area of a number of local authorities and she added that they would beclosely linked to the town planning, highway planning and traffic management powers of local authorities …At that time the right hon. Lady could not tell the Committee precisely what the boundaries of the new authorities would be, because of the needfor long and detailed consultations with local authorities … as to what they think are 572 the appropriate boundaries for the proper planning … in their part of the world",but the general shape of the areas for the four big conurbations, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, West Midlands, and Tyneside could already be discerned by that date. These were clearly already units in transport terms, the right hon. Lady said, because they had in them peoplemoving freely to and from work and for recreation within a wide area of conurbation. They are also the areas where the traffic problems are at their most crucial."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee F, 7th February, 1968; c. 399.]Since then the Order establishing the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority has come into operation—on 10th February to be exact—and under the terms of Section 18 of the Transport Act, within 12 months from that date the P.T.A. will have to prepare jointly with the Passenger Transport Executive a statement on the policies which the two bodies intend to follow, includingthe planning and operation of the road passenger transport services to be provided by the Executive …With those considerations in mind, one is bound to ask how it is possible for the West Midlands P.T.A. properly to co-ordinate throughout the West Midlands the services mentioned by the right hon. Lady in her speech upstairs, or for the P.T.E. to operate services within the area if one of the local authorities concerned unilaterally continues to function as if the Transport Act of 1968 had never been passed? There is no mention in any of these Clauses of the P.T.A. or the P.T.E., and perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will explain this omission when he winds up the debate. It appears to me that the Parliamentary draftsman completely ignored the 1968 Act, if indeed he was aware of its existence. If one takes the most obvious example, one finds that the Corporation is clearly determined to continue operating trolley buses with which most of the Clauses in this Part of the Bill are concerned.
If there is to be real co-ordination of the passenger transport services throughout the West Midlands, one of the first essentials is that vehicles of the same type are used in different sections of the area. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman can say whether the use of trolley buses in Walsall is unique 573 throughout the West Midlands conurbation, but wherever these vehicles exist costly interchange facilities will be required for the use of passengers journeying onwards by ordinary diesel buses.
Nor can I believe that if these passenger transport services are to be properly linked with highway planning, town planning, and traffic management, trolley buses should continue to be operated in any part of the country, because they are highly wasteful of road space, they demand unsightly works in the streets where they operate, and they are very inflexible when it comes to meeting the needs of a mobile population. I understand that a considerable amount of new building is taking place in the West Midlands. People are moving from one area to another, which means that the existing trolley buses could within a few years, be entirely unsuitable for the needs of the population in that area. I believe, too, that properly costed trolley buses are uneconomical compared with conventional diesel buses, as nearly every other municipal transport undertaking has already discovered.
Lastly on this Part of the Bill, it looks as though passengers will be subjected to rigid military discipline if they use the Corporation's trolley buses, because under Clause 68 the Corporationmay make byelaws requiring persons waiting to enter the trolley vehicles or public service vehicles of the Corporation at any stopping place or terminus to wait in lines or queues and to enter such cars, vehicles or public service vehicles in the order in which they stood in such line or queue.Under Clause 69 the Corporation is given powerfor regulating the conduct of persons waiting to purchase tickets at any office, kiosk or other building … for regulating the conduct of persons using … public service vehicle and trolley vehicle stations, shelters and conveniencies provided by the Corporation … for prescribing the manner in which the public service vehicles and trolley vehicles operated by the Corporation are to be entered and left"—on all fours I suppose? Is it really necessary for the Corporation to make all those regulations which are reminiscent of the kind of thing that we had to put up with during the war, though no doubt for much better reasons? Would it not be much better to leave the long-term decisions to be made by the P.T.E. as foreshadowed in Section 18(1) of the 1968 Act?
574 In moving the Second Reading of the Bill the hon. Member for Walsall, South, said that these powers do not expire until 31st December, 1970. The passenger transport authority will have reported by February, 1970, and I would have thought that that gave plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments to the passenger services in this area under the terms of whatever legislation existed beforehand, without bringing these new matters before the House now. That is all I wish to say on Part IV.
I now turn to Part V and to Clause 74—the use of certain burial grounds; Clause 76—the power to use burial grounds for highway purposes, and Clause 77—the removal of human remains. It is desirable to consider the national legislation on this subject and to see whether, instead of having individual Bills of this kind brought forward every time a burial ground is to be used for some other purpose, it would not be better for the Government to consider how to legislate for the whole situation.
I remember taking part in the Second Reading debate of the St. George Hanover Square Burial Ground Bill in 1964. It was decided by the church authorities that this land would be better used for housing development in London and they brought forward a Bill for the purpose. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) argued that we should not do this because Laurence Sterne was buried there, but in that case no burials had taken place in the grounds since 1854 An Order in Council had been made to cease burials there. I do not suppose there was any great objection by the friends or relations of the people whose tombs were contained in that burial ground but when I studied the matter I discovered that under the 1884 Disused Burial Grounds Act no burial ground could be used for any other purpose. No exception was made unless someone could bring forward a Private Act. The church authorities were given permission to use that land for the purposes of housing.
We now find the same thing in the Bill. The Walsall Corporation proposes to use part of these two burial grounds for the purpose of constructing highways. It is almost a case of their taking up father's ground to build a sewer. However worthy this may be I would like 575 the hon. and learned Member to say whether it would not be preferable, instead of dealing with this matter in a private Act, to deal with it by national legislation, which could be discussed with the Church of England and other religious authorities, so that the whole thing could proceed on a uniform basis.
Many burial grounds are no longer used for religious purposes and might be better used for the purpose of providing houses for the population or improving the road system. I am trying to facilitate this procedure. I am not trying to hinder the provisions of this part of the Bill. I have no doubt that the Walsall Corporation has a worthy object in trying to improve traffic circulation in the area, and think that it is necessary for it to obtain part of the burial grounds for that purpose.
I now come to the question raised by the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald). This is why I first began to take an interest in the matter, and why I read through some of the other Clauses, apart from Clauses 116 and 117, to which I originally objected. Finding that the Corporation had taken these powers, which I found highly objectionable, it was reasonable for me to scrutinise carefully its other proposals, with some of which I have tried to help the House. But this part of the Bill is nearer my heart, because it concerns the Caravan Sites Act, 1968.
Clauses 116 and 117 relate to "moveable dwellings" which are defined as meaningany caravan, tent, van, shed or similar structure".In respect of the first of the Clauses the promoters have been good enough to furnish hon. Members with a statement of their motives and I cannot help thinking that it might have been for the convenience of the House—particularly bearing in mind the brevity of the hon. Member's opening speech—to have an explanation of some of the other Clauses that I have been discussing. Just because there are no Motions on the Order Paper objecting to these other Clauses does not mean that the promoters can take it that they are necessarily uncontroversial.
The promoters say that Clause 116(1) is a re-enactment of the provisions in the 576 Walsall Corporation Bill, 1939, and the effect of them is to make it unlawful to put a moveable dwelling—the Memorandum calls it a "moveable building", but that must be a misprint; I can only hope that the Bill itself is not so carelessly drafted as in the Memorandum—in front of a building line. Ifland in the borough abutting upon a streetmeans land in front of the building line, that would be so. I am not a lawyer, so I cannot say definitely whether those two phrases mean the same thing, but I have no doubt that there must be interpretations in the courts and, once again, I hope that when the hon. and learned Member replies he can explain whether land in the borough abutting upon a street means the same as land in front of a building line and whether the court have determined to that effect.
Subsection (2) is also a re-enactment, except that the offence is now extended to moveable dwellings placed or kept in any street. That extension overlaps the Highways Act, 1959, and will also duplicate the provisions of Section 10 of the Caravan Sites Act, 1968, contrary to the assertion made by the promoters, who say that the next following subsection is the only one against which that criticism could possibly be levelled.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that if we interpret Clause 116(2) literally it means that we cannot even momentarily park a caravan in a Walsall street? Indeed, is it not possible that a person would infringe the terms of the Bill if he parked a Dormobile in a Walsall street? Is not that vehicle used for dwelling purposes from night to night?
§ Mr. Lubbock
That is probably true, but I doubt whether any tourists go to Walsall. That possibility should therefore present no great problem.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
Do I understand from what the hon. Member is saying—I speak as a caravanner and a member of the Caravan Club—that anyone with a house or bungalow in Walsall, being the owner of a touring caravan, could not park it on his own land by the side of his house if it happened to be in front of the building line?
§ Mr. Lubbock
The hon. Member is quite right. If he were unfortunate enough to live in Walsall he could not put a caravan in his front garden. He would have to find a space behind his house on which to station the caravan. The promoters say that this provision is a repetition of the provision contained in the Walsall Corporation Act, 1939.
Subsection (3) makes it unlawful to place any moveable dwelling on land in the borough without the consent of the owner of the land. The promoters say that this is in order to enable proceedings to be taken in cases of moveable dwellings placed on vacant land without the owner's consent having been obtained. That subsection is probably defective, because it would seem that if a person were a tenant or lessee of land and that among the conditions of his tenancy or lease was the right to station a caravan on the land, or to permit somebody else to do so, and the tenant or lessee had obtained a valid site licence under the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act, 1960 and had obtained planning permission under this subsection, he would still be committing an offence. But the real objection is that this and the bit of the last Section which has been added, which refers to the parking on streets is that they duplicate Section 10 of the Caravan Sites Act, 1968, which reads as follows:In any area designated under the following provisions of this Act as an area to which this section applies it shall be an offence for any person being a gipsy to station a caravan for the purpose of residing for any period—Although the Walsall Corporation Bill does not refer to gipsies by name, it is the gipsies at whom these provisions are directed and not the ordinary members of the travelling public, although I doubt whether it consulted the Caravan Club when drafting these provisions.
- (a) on any land situated within the boundaries of a highway; or
- (b) on any other unoccupied land; or
- (c) on any occupied land without the consent of the occupier."
Section 10 of the 1968 Act then goes on to provide:… it shall be a defence to prove that the caravan was stationed on the land in consequence of illness, mechanical breakdown or other immediate emergency andthat the owner removed it or intended to remove it "as soon as was reasonably practicable". But, in Walsall, this defence 578 will be denied, so, if a gipsy who is passing through Walsall is unfortunate enough to stall in the high street, he will immediately be liable to a fine of £20 as well as to having his caravan towed away and himself left on the street looking after a broken-down vehicle and parted from his family, who no doubt will still be in the caravan. This is highly objectionable. I do not think that the House realised that no defence was provided and once this is borne home to hon. Members, I think that they will see that it is quite inhuman not to allow a person, even in an extreme emergency or mechanical breakdown, to stop for a moment on the streets of Walsall without incurring these severe penalties.
The Corporation says, correctly, that Part II of the Caravan Sites Act is not yet in force and that, in the meanwhile, they face difficulties in respect of itinerant caravan dwellers who frequently camp on vacant sites in the borough and often present a real problem. The Corporation does not expect that the Minister will make an order bringing Part II into operation "for some considerable time" and, in consequence, feels justified in asking Parliament for these further powers.
With great respect to the Corporation, this is not the right way to approach the problem. Many of us have experience of the problems which arise when we find unauthorised gipsy encampments in our own constituencies. The hon. Member for Chislehurst reminded the House that we have this in our area. I would imagine that the London Borough of Bromley has a great many more gipsies going through it than Walsall has, but we have not taken this attitude. We do not solve anything by decanting the gipsies over the border so that a neighbouring authority has to deal with them instead. There seems to be a sort of "I'm all right Jack: pull up the ladder" attitude in this Clause which might create even greater difficulties for neighbouring authorities than they already have.
This has been referred to in the case of Birmingham City Council by Councillor A. B. Kennard, who is reported, in the Birmingham Post of 28th October. 1968, as saying:From what I understand, the City Council has said that it does not want the problem 579 and wants to opt out of establishing sites itself but is prepared to pay its poor relations some sum if they will take over the responsibility.What is the difference between that and the attitude of the Walsall Corporation, which is trying to decant this problem over the borders into the county of Staffordshire? It would be interesting to know the views of the Staffordshire County Council.
As to the attitude of the Walsall Corporation generally, I would ask the indulgence of the House if I quote from a letter which I received, dated 24th January, from the Chairman of the Human Rights Year Committee in Walsall about gipsies in the area:There are, and always have been, a goodly number of such families in this area and the Corporation have just applied to the Minister that they should be exempted from the requirements of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 when Part II takes effect, on the grounds that there is no room. That this is but a cover for discrimination against a tiny minority is not denied even by those concerned.That criticism is well-justified.
If one looks at the amount of money spent by the Corporation over the years in harrying gipsies unmercifully as it does, one can see that it is not alive to its responsibilities. The expenditure by Walsall Corporation on unproductive methods of dealing with the gipsy problem, such as prosecutions under the Highways Act, the erection of barriers and so on in 1967–68 was £4,850. The Parliamentary Secretary would like to know that, I think, because when this matter was debated in another place recently, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said that he thought that the figure for the boroughs where the problem was most severe averaged £1,500 to £2,000 a year. This figure for Walsall is nearly three times as great.
I should also like to quote from the West Midlands Planning Authority's Report on gipsies, itinerants and other travellers published in July, 1968. Referring to the Caravan Sites Act, it said:This legislation will require a major change of attitude by many councils, but it is felt that, in the long run, the cost of settling these travellers will be much less and the results more socially postive than the present negative policy of merely moving them from one area to another.580 That, of course, is true. Before I came into the Chamber, a friend of mine was telling me that he had been listening to the B.B.C. Radio 4 Midlands programme "Talking Point", in which Councillor South from Bromsgrove, one of the two West Midlands authorities which have provided sites, gave actual figures for his council's positive expenditure. He said that it had spent £4,000 for a one-acre site with 12 pitches and he criticised Walsall Councillor Ted Wainwright for Walsall's attempts to opt out and do nothing itself.
These figures, the hon. and learned Member for Walsall, North can see, are significant, because it costs £4,000 in Bromsgrove to provide this site with 12 caravans, which cannot be very luxurious for that amount, I agree, but which is considerably less than the unproductive expenditure by the Walsall Corporation in a single year. We require a change of attitude by this Council so that it can live up to its responsibilities and not continually try to shunt them over the borders to make someone else suffer for them.
When one considers Clauses 116 and 117 one is bound to wonder if it is right, Parliament having passed legislation on a national basis, to permit a host of local authorities to obtain the benefits of that legislation while shouldering none of the obligations. Before the Minister designates an area as one to which Section 10 of the 1968 Act applies he must be satisfied that adequate accommodation has been provided for gipsies residing in or resorting to the area, subject to a maximum limit. County boroughs need not provide more than 15 pitches each.
So far, Walsall Corporation has provided no sites. I do not believe that it has any intention of doing so, bearing in mind what the chairman of the local Human Rights Year Committee reports. Indeed, the Corporation has asked the Minister to exempt it from the provisions of the Act, even before it has come into operation. This does not reveal a co-operative attitude.
I do not accept that the making of an order will be as long delayed as the promoters of the Bill anticipate. The Minister has already indicated that he will not give positive news of this tonight. However, when this matter was debated in another place recently the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said that if 581 the Government could be convinced that their estimates of unproductive spending by local authorities on such purposes as the erection of harriers against gipsies, the cleaning up of mess at unauthorised sites after they have left and on prosecutions under the Highways Act, 1959, proved to be seriously on the low side, the Government would be prepared to consider bringing the date forward.
I will shortly be sending the noble Lord and the Minister the results of some inquiries which I have been undertaking among diverse groups of local authorities, not only county boroughs such as we are discussing but urban, rural districts and county councils. The noble Lord seemed to assume that gipsies were confined to the big conurbations like the West Midlands and Greater London. The figures of expenditure by county authorities such as Hertfordshire are substantial and, within the counties, urban districts are also incurring large bills.
If Clause 116 is allowed to become law, the expenditure of the County Council of Staffordshire will rise to astronomical proportions. It will be as great as it has been in Walsall. Money will not be saved if the ratepayers of another area have to spend the same sums, perhaps under different headings. When the noble Lord and the Minister have had time to study the calculations, I am sure that they will lose no time in laying an Order.
While Clause 117 does not have a particular implication for gipsies, it again shows how slipshod the Parliamentary draftsmen have been in preparing the Bill. The marginal note indicates that the provisions are a repetition of what was in the Walsall Corporation Act, 1930. Since that Act is water under the bridge, so to speak—particularly bearing in mind later legislation applying to caravans—it is obvious, from the wording of the Clause, that it has received inadequate preparation. The draftsmen must have been aware that under the 1960 Act no person may station a caravan on land unless a site licence is in force. One need only examine the Bill to find many examples of inadequate preparation by the draftsmen.
In view of the many defects in the Bill, to some of which I have drawn attention—I apologise for detaining the House for this length of time—I urge the promoters to withdraw the Measure, 582 to give the matter further thought and to draft another Bill which the House will not find objectionable in principle. It is clear that in Committee many of these provisions will have to be deleted. Many of them conflict with the general law which Parliament, in its wisdom, has passed. I therefore beg the promoters, even at this late stage, to withdraw the Bill and think again.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)
As a rule, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you approve of short speeches. Indeed, you have been known to appeal to hon. Members to make their remarks brief. I can only conclude that the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) had that appeal very much in mind when he initiated the debate. I should have liked to have had fuller explanation of some of the Clauses. I am thankful, however, that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) did not move the Second Reading of the Bill, otherwise we might have been here all night.
One or two Clauses affect my constituency, and here I can assure the hon. Member for Walsall, South that I am not looking for trouble. I have enough trouble locally with the Essex County Council about travellers and gipsies without taking on Walsall, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton.
An important principle is involved here if it is possible for the House to receive Bills from other local authorities which will completely cut across Parliament's intentions in the Caravan Sites Act of 1968. It would be a very sad day for Parliament if it were possible to amend legislation in such a way. I do not suggest that that is the intention of the Bill. The fault lies partly in bad drafting. The hon. Member for Orpington is an expert on travellers and gipsies, and I gather from him that in the West Midlands some local authorities are not as enlightened or progressive as others in this respect. However, it is not only the hon. Member for Orpington and my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald) who have a gipsy problem.
It is to the credit of my local authority The London Borough of Havering that it has already included in its estimates a sum of £40,000 to provide a caravan site, and there is every indication that it will spend more as time goes on. I had 583 a great dispute with the local authority, and only sold it the idea of a permanent site, slightly anticipating the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Orpington, on the basis that there would be legislation to make it incumbent on other local authorities to share the burden.
We shall run into considerable difficulty if it is now to be possible for some local authorities to shift their share of responsibility, and I hope that this will be kept very much in mind. Certain Clauses involve a very important principle, and its acceptance would make it extremely difficult for those local authorities which are doing their duty.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ House counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington, South)
I am grateful for your suggestion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I might be privileged to catch your eye during the Second Reading debate on this Bill rather than wait until after its Second Reading in order to raise the question of the Instruction I set down, which I do not think at all necessary to take as a separate item of business.
By way of introductory remarks I should explain to the good citizens of Walsall that I have chosen this particular Corporation Bill for the purposes of the remarks I wish to make on the question of protection of pension rights, but I hope that the Committees which will be set up to consider the West Bromwich Corporation Bill and the Wolverhampton Corporation Bill will be so good as to reflect on the remarks I make on this particular Bill, as they are equally applicable in the case of those other corporations. I am informed that by choosing to raise this question in connection with this Corporation Bill I am not in any way delaying the progress of this Measure, which I am sure is a highly necessary one. I would not have sought to raise this matter if I felt that there were any likelihood that the consequences would be that the progress of this Bill through the House might be delayed.
Hon. Members will know mat I am interested in the whole problem of the 584 protection of occupational pension rights. Normally when I have spoken on this subject I have spoken of the problem of protecting occupational pension rights in industry, but the problem and principles of this matter apply just as forcibly in connection with the 800,000 people—or thereabouts—who are employed by local authorities. These principles are becoming generally accepted now as being, first, that a pension is a form of deferred pay and, secondly, a pension once earned is the employee's property. It may be that it is held for him until the time of his retirement by trustees or, as in the case we are discussing now, in a special superannuation account set up under Statute to hold the accumulated pension rights of the employees of the local authority concerned.
I believe these two principles are becoming more and more generally accepted, and rightly so. If they are, the employer has no rights over the money which is held in the fund and is ultimately the property of the employee. In this particular case, if Walsall Corporation have a dispute with one of their employees, there is no barrier to their proceeding through the courts in the normal way to recover what may be due to them. It is wrong that they should seek to hold on to the man's entitlement in the superannuation account as an extra means of exercising discipline.
I belong to a party which believes that we should work towards a property-owning democracy. That is a slogan which is accepted not only on this side of the House. The assets which a man can acquire in the course of his working life which are of the greatest value to him are probably first, his house and, secondly, his accumulated pension rights. The Government have a duty to protect the individual's assets.
I am sorry to say that lately in regard to pension rights, because of the difficulty and complexity of the subject, Governments have tended to neglect their duties in this respect. I hope that we will hear from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Government's general views on this matter. I hope that he will not forget that he belongs to a party in whose election manifesto it was stated that they intended to solve the problem of the protection of individual pension rights.
585 It is part of every citizen's self-respect that the assets which he accumulates by virtue of his work should be properly protected and recognised as his own. If we believe that every citizen has equal rights, we should not allow particular employees to be left behind their brethren in pockets of disadvantage because of the operation of obsolete Acts and Clauses.
I realise that old-fashioned concepts have survived even into the present day on the question of occupational pensions. They go back to the days when the relationship between an employee and an employer was considered to be that of servant and master, a term commonly used in old times about this relationship. One could not today talk about "master and servant" without appearing to be intolerably obsolete in one's concept of the relationship which exists in employment.
There are, however, people who will still maintain that an occupational pension has the character of some form of discretionary bonus; that it is really a gratuity, something in the nature of a tip which an employer may choose to accord to his favourite employees at the end of their service as a sign of grace. Today this is not an acceptable concept. It is increasingly recognised that it is a condition of good employment practice to protect a man's retirement, and that a good employer will do something about this and take it as a matter of course that he should do so.
There might well be room for legislation in this matter to make sure that good employers are not penalised and put at a disadvantage vis-à-vis those employers who do not feel themselves under this obligation, and who are thus able to cheapen their production costs by neglecting the long-term interests of their workers.
As a courtesy to the House and possibly as a convenience to the Committee, I should like now to read the subsection of the Local Government Superannuation Act of 1937, as amended by the Act of 1953, which is referred to in Clause 217 to which I have taken exception. I have been informed by the Library that, taking into account the Amendment in 1953, it should now read:Where a contributory employee of an employing authority ceases to be employed 586 by them in consequence of an offence of a fraudulent character, or ceases to hold it in consequences of grave misconduct, being such an offence or such misconduct in connection with the performance of the duties of, or otherwise in relation to his employment and is not entitled to any benefit under regulations made under subsection (2) of section one of the Local Government Superannuation Act 1953, the employing authority may, if they think lit, direct the return to him out of the appropriate superannuation fund of a sum equal to the whole or a part of the aggregate amount of his contributions to the fund, or, if he ceased to be employed in consequence of such an offence of a fraudulant character as aforesaid the payment out of that fund of an equivalent sum to his wife or family.I recognise that in extending my campaign to protect men who have lost their jobs as a result of an offence of a fraudulent character or grave misconduct I possibly have not chosen the most sympathetic of all the victims of the different types of pension disentitlement. Nevertheless, it is the one that arises on this Clause. The principles apply, and the man's rights remain the same, whether or not he has proved himself to be capable of gross misconduct or fraud.
I recognise, too, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) pointed out, that the deletion of the Clause will not automatically thereafter give protection to those whose rights should be protected. A hard-faced borough treasurer, if such a person ever were to be appointed in Walsall, might conceive that he could achieve the same effect as he could under the proposed Clause 217 simply by leaving the man's contributions in the fund when he left the authority's service and by making a corresponding reduction the following year in the amount the local authority had to put into the superannuation fund by way of topping up. Thus within a short time the corporation could be back where it was, even if the hon. Member for Kensington, South had not made the remarks he is making tonight.
There is no question but that if we are to succeed in giving full protection to local government employees in regard to their pension rights a new Act is needed and is, indeed, long overdue. I regret that it may have to wait for the return of a Government who are sympathetic to the protection of the property rights of underdogs. I acknowledge that too, as was pointed out to me in the proceedings on the York Corporation Bill, the common 587 law makes it possible for salary not yet paid—but earned—to be retained by an employer in the event of similar circumstances arising to those envisaged here. However, I think that the circumstances are not quite the same and that we need not be deflected from our purpose by the analogy with salary. After all, a pension right may have been earned as a result of transactions often long completed. In every case, money standing in the superannuation fund on behalf of an employee is there only in relation to service which has been completed.
It is particularly repugnant that a local authority should have a direct right to forfeit a man's own contributions. I do not wish necessarily to differentiate sharply between money paid into a fund by the man himself out of his earnings and money paid into a fund by the employer in respect of that man's work. I think that often the distinction between the two is too arbitrary and that the matter needs further examination. But there is an emotional feeling, which everyone must share, against a powerful authority having the right to take hold of a man's contributions which he himself has subscribed to a superannuation fund for himself and for his widow and children. Under the 1937 Act wife and family also have claims which are recognised—miserably small though they are under the normal conventions of local government Acts. They presumably have not been guilty of fraud even if the head of the household has been convicted of it. If he has lost his job and has suffered a conviction, why should they be made to suffer further by the financial hardship which must inevitably follow if the local authority chooses to exercise its right to forfeit the man's own contributions in the pension fund as well as the contributions which the authority itself has made?
In conclusion, therefore, I ask the Committee to reflect on two considerations. By deleting Clause 217, it will encourage the Walsall Corporation, and, I hope, other local authorities which take note of what is said here, to exercise the discretion granted to them under the 1937 and 1953 Acts in the most generous possible sense, bringing themselves in so doing up to date voluntarily with the progress of public opinion on this subject. 588 Second, I hope that, if the Clause is deleted in Committee, we may be able to take pride in the fact that the House will not have passed in 1969 a Bill perpetuating an offensive, obsolete and unjust provision which would confer on a great local authority the power to appropriate the private property of one of its employees and simply to put it shamelessly into the general rate fund.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
My purpose in intervening is to direct attention to Clauses 116 and 117, my principal concern being with Clause 117(1)(a):No movable dwelling used or intended to be used for human habitation shall be placed or kept on any land situate within the borough without the previous approval of the Corporation.In the last 30 years, there has grown up in this country from small beginnings a large industry and leisure activity in caravanning and camping. I declare my interest here in that I am a member of the Camping Club of Great Britain and Ireland and also of the Caravan Club. Both clubs will be interested in the provisions of these two Clauses. I am sure that I speak on behalf of both clubs when I say that we are grateful to successive Governments for what they have done to encourage more people, particularly young people, to take their holidays in Britain—and in Ireland, too, for our clubs cover Ireland as well.
The important point here is that, if one lives in one of the conurbations, one must keep a caravan or a tent trailer at one's home. If one lives in the country, one can arrange with a farmer to park it on his farm, but in town the only place is alongside one's home. I have had a caravan for some years. I have it parked alongside my bungalow in Somerset where I live now, and in Glasgow, when I lived there, I parked it alongside my home. When I wanted to go off into Scotland, I just hitched the caravan to my car and away I went; and I can do the same now at my other home.
As a result of the encouragement given in legislation by successive Administrations, as I have said, more and more young people with families are taking to caravanning and camping, particularly in this country, since the Continent is now 589 such an expensive place to go to, but if borough councils and county councils bring in legislation with such provisions as the one I have quoted, any individual will be prohibited from parking a caravan or camping trailer alongside his home. I include the camping trailer because the definition of a mobile dwelling would cover a folding trailer which can be used for human habitation.
I take it from the Clause that without the corporation's consent no one in the Borough of Walsall would be able to keep on his own land such a camping trailer, which one would use only for habitation purposes when one had towed it to an approved caravan site. If other boroughs start doing the same thing, no one will be able to keep such a trailer on his own land without the local authority's consent.
I do not use my caravan as a habitation where it stands alongside my bungalow, but only when I have towed it to a recognised caravan site. But the Clause saysNo moveable dwelling used or intended to be used …I do not intend using my caravan as a dwelling alongside my house, but, as I read the Clause, if I lived in Walsall I would have to dispose of it or find somewhere in Staffordshire or Warwickshire where I could keep it on a farm or similar place. This cuts across the whole intention of the Caravan Sites Act.
A further problem could arise if a family living, say, in London travelled to the Lake District or the Yorkshire moors and dales and arrived in Walsall with a caravan. According to the Caravan Sites Act, anyone with land can permit caravans to be sited, up to a limit of three in one area, for not more than 28 days without a licence. But the Borough of Walsall cuts right across that, and says that if one's car breaks down in Walsall one cannot park the caravan anywhere there while the car is being repaired. If other boroughs start doing the same it will be a serious matter for the caravan industry and those who have taken to caravanning as a form of holiday. I hope that my interpretation of the Clause is wrong.
I do not know whether Walsall Corporation got in touch with the Caravan Club, the caravan manufacturers' organisations and the Camping Club of Great 590 Britain and Ireland when it drafted the Clause. I hope that if the Bill comes before a Committee the corporation will obtain the observations of those bodies on the effect of such legislation by local authorities on the general recreational activity of caravanning.
As I see it, if I decided to move my residence from Somerset to Walsall I would have to dispose of my caravan, because I could not park it anywhere in Walsall, although I would not live in it but just keep it for recreational purposes The Clause says that even if I am not going to use it there but have intent to use it—and it does not say where—I shall not locate it without the consent of Walsall Corporation. This means that the councillors and aldermen of the borough can flout national legislation permitting the siting of not more than three caravans for a period of not more than 28 days without the need to obtain a site licence, by introducing a private Measure, and can deny the citizens of Walsall the benefit that has been given to the citizens of the United Kingdom outside. That is local autonomy going too far.
The corporation should reconsider the matter and consult the two well-known and well-organised bodies that I have mentioned, which own camping sites all over the United Kingdom and in Eire; both clubs have many sites in Eire. Hundreds of thousands of young people are taking up camping and caravanning. There is an enormous growth of the use of the camping trailer, which is included in the definition of mobile dwelling in the Clause. Walsall Corporation should reconsider the Clause and make an appropriate Amendment permitting the caravan owner to keep it on land adjacent to his house, not for residential purposes, but in readiness for the recreational purposes for which it is used on holidays.
I hope that Walsall Corporation will get in touch with the two clubs, clear up the situation and reassure caravanners that, if they happen to go to live in Walsall, they will not have the frightful problem of what to do with their caravans when not using them for recreational purposes.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
It may be thought that hon. Members on both 591 sides are perhaps paying rather detailed attention to this Bill but I share some of the misgivings which have been expressed. This is a very long Bill, with 271 Clauses. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) raised an important point about caravans to which I shall refer later.
Until recently, I had a more or less implicit faith in Private Bills. It was only a few weeks ago, when the Welland and Nene River Authority deposited its Bill, which had a Second Reading, relating to the provision of a large reservoir for Rutland, that I learned that sometimes Private Bills are not all they appear to be. That Bill had more than 50 Clauses relating to provisions which may or may not be necessary for the reservoir. But there were two small Clauses in it which had nothing to do with the reservoir but nevertheless introduced a doubtful principle.
We have a mass of material in the Walsall Corporation Bill and the other two Bills we are to discuss tonight. I wonder whether it is necessary for Parliament to be troubled with Clause 64, for example, which would give the Corporation power to provide cloakrooms and charge for admission. Is it necessary for Parliament to be troubled with Clause 108, which would give the corporation power to provide escalators? Is it necessary for the Corporation to obtain power from Parliament for Clause 128, which provides a penalty of £10 for the wretched people living in Walsall every time they throw a toffee paper into one of the streams within the borough boundary? Surely some—indeed, the majority—of these Clauses are quite unnecessary to trouble this House with.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), in a lucid and apt speech, phrased his objections as being general. But those of us who have shared his interest in caravans and caravanning since his Caravan Sites Act, 1968—which he piloted through so ably—could not help feeling that the Act would be the backbone of his objection. So it proved.
Clauses 116 and 117 cause me to stress my objection. The hon. Member said that in the Bill there is something for everyone and that every eventuality one can envisage has been put down. He is wrong. One thing which the corporation 592 has not thought of is the desirability of establishing a site for itinerants on which they can put their caravans. Yet this is one of the things it should have thought of in the first instance. There is no mention of it, however.
Stressing his objections to Clauses 116 and 117, the hon Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald) gave us the interesting example of his borough which, under the Caravan Sites Act, had provided a site for itinerants at a cost of £13,000.
§ Mr. Macdonald
I should have made it clear that the borough council was fortunate in that it already owned the land and that the cost of the land was not included in that figure.
§ Mr. Farr
I am grateful for that intervention. Nevertheless, this local authority was sufficiently energetic and sensible to do something about the problem. He pointed out that in Walsall, Bromwich and Wolverhampton there was no intention to do anything of the sort.
My objection rests upon the fact that my constituency in Leicestershire is fairly close to these three boroughs. If the itinerants are driven out of those boroughs, they will have to go somewhere else, and they will go into neighbouring local authority areas and neighbouring counties, and extra pressure will be put on those authorities to provide sites for itinerants coming from Walsall. This will spread through the East Midlands. Why should Leicestershire have to provide for itinerants driven out of Midlands industrial boroughs by legislation like this when those boroughs will not shoulder their own responsibilities and expenses? Why should Leicestershire do it for them?
As the Parliamentary Secretary knows, in Leicestershire we have a major problem with itinerants. I have had a number of meetings with authorities in my constituency and we have tried to solve some of the difficulties. I have been in touch with the police, who are more forceful at some times than others, and I have frequently been in touch with Leicestershire County Council. A letter which I received from it the other day is very illuminating and has a bearing on these Clauses.
Replying to my letter asking the county council to provide sites for itinerants 593 instead of having the police move them on, for there are large numbers in Leicestershire and elsewhere in the Midlands, the county council said that it was reluctant to implement its powers under the Caravan Sites Act because it felt that if it were to do so, it would merely provide sites for itinerants from neighbouring counties and that itinerants would flock into Leicestershire from Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire, at the expense of the ratepayers of Leicestershire.
If that is to be the answer of every local authority and authorities like Walsall introduce legislation like this, washing their hands of the whole problem complete and utter nonsense will be made of the whole business. The hon. Member for Orpington was absolutely right—it is not good enough for the Minister to say that he does not know when he is to introduce the Statutory Instruments to implement Part II of the Caravan Sites Act.
I feel sure that the Minister would be spurred into action if only he would come to Leicestershire soon, possibly before he answers the letter which I wrote to him in this connection at the end of last month. If he saw some of the places by the roadside where gipsies and tinkers have stayed, he would be as appalled as I am at the terrible and disgraceful conditions in which these wretched people live. In Leicestershire, there are what can only be called "sores" where groups of itinerants have gathered in the most abject conditions that one can imagine. There is no sanitation available and, with the approaching warm weather, the health hazards are considerable. Education among them is nil, because no one goes to see that their children attend schools. I realise that I am describing a scene which is repeated in many other parts of the country. The eyesores which are caused where these itinerants have camped have to be seen to be believed. Great lumps of litter are left by the roadside, composed of old motor car chassis, pram chassis, bottles, papers and tins. If the Minister could see some of these places, I feel that he would not say that he was not sure when he would implement his powers under Part II of the Caravan Sites Act. He would do it right away.
594 It is the actions of local authorities like Walsall, who are dodging the column and trying to evade their responsibilities, which make it even more imperative that the Minister takes early action. I do not blame the itinerants on these sites for the conditions in which they live. In my view, they are the last people to be blamed. I have great sympathy with them in their plight. The responsibility is a joint one, and it rests upon the shoulders of the local authorities in whose areas they dwell, who are evading their responsibility under the Caravan Sites Act of 1968, and it rests just as much on the shoulders of the Minister and his Department for failing to introduce the statutory powers which they are able to do under the Act.
It is now eight years since the Caravans Sites and Control of Development Act, 1960 was introduced. In 1968, we had the Bill sponsored by the hon. Member for Orpington. That again took a small bite at the subject and left the initiative with the Government. When will the Government govern and do something about the problems facing us, and this one in particular?
This Bill will exclude itinerants completely from Walsall. Recently, very large numbers of itinerants have been flocking into Leicestershire. I am told that the reason is that the police in the adjacent county of Warwickshire have developed recently what is called a "hard" policy towards itinerants. As a consequence, they have poured into the adjacent counties. I understand that Leicestershire at the moment is following a fairly "soft" policy. Itinerants are not being bullied and moved on too soon. However, that policy has to be changed rapidly in view of the large numbers flooding into the county.
What is to happen in Staffordshire if Walsall, Wolverhampton and West Bromwich ban itinerants completely and if other city and borough authorities copy their example? Does the Minister know the views of the Staffordshire County Council? If he does not, I would suggest that he ought to obtain them quickly. The Minister pays real attention to what some of us say now and again. I know that if he found them out he would be surprised to find that they did not share the support for the Bill which has been stressed by some hon. Members.
595 On 1st March I asked the Minister a number of Questions relating to the Caravan Sites Act, 1968. In particular, I asked him,if he will list by name those local authorities, as defined in the Caravan Sites Act, 1968, who have as yet not exercised their statutory powers to provide accommodation for gipsies as they have been empowered so to do by legislation enacted by Parliament".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st March, 1969; Vol. 781, c. 37.]The Minister found it much easier and shorter to describe instead those local authorities which had taken action. They included 27 sites for itinerants by 25 local authorities.
In the whole of the East and West Midlands only two sites are provided: one in Spilsby, Lincolnshire, and the other, as it happens, in Staffordshire in the urban district area of Aldridge and Brownhills. Is this fair on the Urban District Council of Aldridge and Brown-hills? What will happen if the Bill is implemented? Why should the ratepayers in Brownhills—I have passed through it on the A5 and it does not look to me a very prosperous area—enlarge their existing itinerant site which they have provided because the bigger towns in the same county have taken no action?
§ Mr. William Wells
I represent the Brownhills part of the Aldridge and Brownhills urban district and the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) represents the Aldridge part. I have received no representations from the Aldridge and Brown-hills Urban District Council, from any ratepayer in Brownhills, or from the Staffordshire County Council on this matter. From my experience, if they had any feelings on this matter I know that I should have heard of them.
§ Mr. William Wells
If the hon. Gentleman knew more about Parliamentary procedure he would understand the reason. Contact between the Aldridge and Brown-hills Council and myself—and I do not doubt that the same applies to the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid)—is frequent and continuous. If it considers that it has a proper interest to represent it will do so by the appropriate methods. The hon. Gentleman, not alone in the course of the debate, has confused the procedure one would expect to be followed on a public Bill with that followed on a Private Bill.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Now that these matters have been drawn to the attention of residents in these areas, since no doubt they will be able to read what has been said in the debate, they will wake up to find with a nasty shock that the hon. and learned Member for Walsall, North (Mr. William Wells) and the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) have given them something that they did not anticipate. The expenditure involved by the influx of gipsies into other areas, consequent on being driven out of Walsall, will make things uncomfortable for people living in those areas.
§ Mr. Farr
That is a matter which I have no doubt the developments of the next few days will determine. I should not be surprised if something of that nature occurred.
I shall not be surprised, either, if many local authorities, once they see that Walsall can get away with this, and particularly with Clauses 116 and 117, decide that it is much cheaper to do things this way instead of spending as the Chislehurst authority did, about £13,000, or £40,000, which is what it cost one Essex authority. They will decide that it is much cheaper to introduce a Bill containing two or three Clauses and shrug off one's responsibilities by saying, "I am all right Jack", and pass the buck to somebody else. I shall do my best to stop the Bill going through unless these two Clauses are excluded.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
This Bill is one of a group of five which arise out 597 of the creation of the Warley County Borough by the West Midlands Order, 1965. The four other Bills relate to Warley, Dudley, West Bromwich, and Wolverhampton. All five Bills are exceptional in size and in purpose. The promoters have deliberately set out to write local government codes for five Midlands boroughs, and in doing so they have clawed from the past local statutory provisions going back more than 100 years.
In many ways these Bills are by no means in modern form when they cover subjects familiar to up-to-date legislation. And even apart from form, in substance many of the provisions are surely out of date. My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams) called the provisions relating to superannuation offensive, obsolete and unjust, and this may be true in the context of modern thoughts and modern legislation on that subject.
We are accustomed to considering Private Bills which deal with some specific matter on which a local authority has found that under modern conditions it needs some new power. The majority of the 53 Private Bills before the House this Session are of that type. For some good reason a local authority finds that modern conditions make a requirement for some new powers, but suddenly, with these five major Bills, each of about 270 Clauses, and between six and ten Schedules, the fact is drawn to our attention how these several separate powers have accumulated over the years.
One wonders whether it is right to go on with that sort of procedure. Surely the time has come to consolidate and codify more of this local government law so that we do not have five boroughs writing a new code of law for themselves? This is not just a matter of taking a specific power because modern conditions require it for a walkway or something of that kind. We are accustomed to that, but here we are faced with complete codes.
The promoters say in their statement that the intention is to providefor the re-enactment of such of the existing powers that they have so far as those powers are still appropriate and at the same time to make these apply throughout each of the boroughs.To that extent my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) 598 was correct in saying that this was a consolidation Bill, but the promoters go on to say that the purpose is alsoto enact further provisions which they consider of value to the local government of the boroughs and in some cases to modify the enactments proposed to be re-enacted to meet present-day conditions.Indeed, I glanced through the Bill to see whether there were any unprecedented Clauses, and found that quite a number have been introduced into this Bill. Clause 108—power to provide travelators; Clause 109—control of subways; Clause 112—sanitary conveniences; Clauses 118, 119, and 155; Clause 238—tyre air-pressure gauges; Clause 239—civic restaurant; Clause 247—prohibition of leaving polythene and other bags at houses, and Clause 252—power to test and verify meters—are all unprecedented Clauses. They may be very desirable, but they are slipped into a Bill of 270 Clauses and it is very difficult for an hon. Member to track them down.
The draftsman has conveniently put in the margin little notes telling us where various Clauses have come from, but many Clauses do not have such a marginal note. Precedented Clauses from other private legislation are now being introduced into this code. We are presented with something quite out of the ordinary in these five Bills, and especially in this one. It shows that the time has come to think seriously about dealing with all these matters by way of a general public Statute.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), to whom the House must be indebted tonight for his hard work in studying the Bill and bringing certain matters to our notice, mentioned particularly the district heating Clauses in Part I. Surely they should now be in a public Statute. This process will develop in the future and the House ought to consider its incorporation very soon in a public Statute. The hon. Member mentioned burial grounds and transport matters, and my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, South mentioned superannuation. These require careful study against recent legislation.
In some cases the provisions contained in the Bill have been overtaken by general legislation. Although we are talking about 270 Clauses I understand that 599 many of them are coming out. Part XII, Part XIII and Part XIV, which contain nearly 30 Clauses, will be withdrawn, together with about six others which are being overtaken by legislation such as that contained in the Housing Bill, which the House is now considering. Other Parts ought to have been overtaken by the introduction of legislation concerning caravans, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Orpington and my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr). These provisions should have been overtaken by those contained in the Caravan Sites Act being brought into operation.
This is surely a matter that the House ought to deal with on a national basis. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough showed clearly that adjoining constituencies, boroughs or areas will suffer. If it were applied, the Caravan Sites Act would deal with the subject. It is a national Statute. To deal with the matter piecemeal, as the Bill endeavours to do, will cause suffering and hardship to adjoining areas.
The Bill shows something of a failure or even a collapse in our procedure for private legislation. It certainly shows a failure of the House to codify and consolidate local government law in this respect soon enough. We are now being overtaken by these massive Bills because we have not paid attention to the consolidation of local government law.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Arthur Skeffington)
Perhaps it is convenient for me to intervene briefly now with such advice as I can tender the House because I want to allow adequate time for my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. William Wells) to reply to the points made in the debate. I think that is the fair course.
I sympathise with some of the points made by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). I agree that there exist a number of matters where national legislation is and ought to be the answer. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) mentioned burial grounds and the problems involved with them, for example, and this I think is a matter which 600 should be dealt with nationally. We have thought a great deal about it and are laying the basis of legislation. But, of course, we have the great difficulty, which has existed for many years for Administrations of both parties, in that there is never enough time for this kind of, perhaps rather pedestrian, legislation—pedestrian but nevertheless vital. This led to the kind of difficulty which the hon. Member for Orpington pinpointed in relation to gipsies. However, we have made a beginning in such matters by the introduction of the Redundant Churches Bill.
With the Walsall Corporation Bill, we are dealing with a backlog of what has happened in a special case where a number of authorities were amalgamated under the West Midlands Order. They were given five years in which to sort out the complex private legislation which had applied to them in the past. They were to consider what was imperative for them to retain, in order to administer their areas wisely after 1970, and what could be dropped.
Having approved the West Midlands Order, the House is therefore under some obligation to see to it that these authorities are able to carry out the great responsibilities which Parliament is continually putting upon them. They themselves are helping to ensure this by bringing forward certain proposals to the House. That does not mean that the Bill and others should not be closely scrutinised in Committee, particularly following the reports which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and other Ministers concerned will provide for the benefit of the Committee. As I have said, I think that we are under some obligation here and I hope that the House will take it into account when deciding its attitude.
The hon. Member for Orpington referred to district heating. National legislation in relation to this matter already exists in the Housing Acts. If an authority wishes to supply premises outside its perimeter, it requires statutory authority. I remind the House that nothing which a local authority does in this country has validity unless it has a Statute behind it. This principle will be examined in the Royal Commission's Report on Local Government, but the fact remains that unless there is statutory authority 601 a local authority cannot do anything. If an authority wants to take a district heating pipe under a highway, it must have statutory authority. We must, of course, consider whether this is really necessary or whether there is a more appropriate way of dealing with such problems. But already about 50 authorities have district heating powers and these have not given rise to great difficulties. I remind the House that one of these authorities is the City of Westminster.
Again, in relation to transport, certain provisions will be required by the authority for carrying out its responsibilities locally. Provision is in the Bill for certain transport undertakings. Negotiations about transport are going on. When appropriate orders are made transferring functions to the new transport authorities, perhaps parts of this Bill will become redundant and can be dropped or brought into line with the general provisions of the Transport Act.
The hon. Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams) made an interesting speech and dwelt particularly on the provisions relating to the pensions fund. As he pointed out, the main authority is the 1937 Act, Section 10(4) of which deals with persons who have committed an offence, particularly fraud. In that event the relevant authority is given discretion, in certain cases, to pay part of the contributions which remain in the fund to the family. Clause 217 merely gives authority to the authority to transfer any part which is not given to the family, to the general rate fund out of the superannuation fund. Should these provisions be approved, the Clause in its present form would not prejudice any discussion of the general pension scheme. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Kensington, South has taken a great interest in this matter.
In commenting on the provisions relating to gipsies, I admit at the outset that we find ourselves in some difficulty. The hon. Member for Orpington dealt with this matter comprehensively—he will appreciate that the Government wish to co-operate in the closest possible way on this issue—and pointed out, in relation to the suggestion that there should be greater power to deal with gipsies, that provision had been nationally made for tackling this problem.
602 In suggesting that it would be wrong at this stage for authorities to obtain private Acts to prevent the unauthorised camping by gipsies, the hon. Gentleman expressed sentiments which find a ready echo in my heart. However, I suggest to him that in this case the authorities are going further because they are taking powers which, if approved, would sidestep the requirements of the relevant legislation, which requires them to provide sites where caravans can be stationed.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Orpington will allow the Bill to go into Committee—these comments apply equally to the other Measures we shall be discussing—when he hears what I have to say on the topic. My right hon. Friend has it in mind to suggest to the appropriate Committee in his reports that the caravan provisions should not be allowed—
§ Mr. Skeffington
—or, if the Committee decides to the contrary, that the provision should be limited by the requirement that the provisions should be allowed in the Bill only on the understanding that sites are first prepared and that the provisions would lapse when Part II of the Caravan Sites Act comes into operation.
Hon. Members will appreciate that it is difficult for me to tell the House what will be in the reports which my right hon. Friend will make, since he has not yet made them. It is right that I should inform hon. Members of what he has in mind, taking account of the national legislation which exists on this subject. Thus, if the Measure is allowed to proceed to Committee, that is the way in which my right hon. Friend would propose to handle the matter. I hope that this information will be of assistance to the hon. Member for Orpington in deciding his attitude towards the Bill.
My position is to give advice. I am conscious of the need of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Walsall, North to have ample time in which to reply to the points that have been made. I will only add that I urge the Bill should be given a Second Reading. That will enable the necessary functions to continue after 1970. Local Acts are still required, although careful scrutiny must 603 be given to all provisions in such Measures, and particularly to those applying to caravans, and I hope that that scrutiny will proceed along the lines I have suggested. I therefore hope that the provisions to which I have referred will be dropped from the Bill.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. William Wells (Walsall, North)
There is an old story which will be familiar to some hon. Members and which may be true. It is about a Private Bill which was presented to the House last century, before the Matrimonial Causes Act. A provision in one of its schedules declared that the town clerk of whatever the borough was should be divorced. This Bill, I am glad to say, contains no provision for terminating the matrimonial relationship of the town clerk, but it contains nearly everything else. I echo very much what has been said by the Parliamentary Secretary and by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) about the desirability of dealing with a number of the subjects covered by the Bill by national rather than by Private Bill legislation.
Having said that, I must correct certain criticisms made of the way in which the hon. Baronet, the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) moved the Second Reading. Neither he nor I is the Minister in charge of the Bill or the Minister who has settled the policy, nor is either of us counsel retained to argue the Corporation's case. We are Members of Parliament who happen to have a particular interest in the Bill and a particular duty in regard to it, and that is all.
I have a good deal of sympathy with a number of the points made by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). The transport provisions need very careful scrutiny. I agree with some of the hon. Member's comments about district heating, a subject of which he obviously has a great and extensive knowledge. Although these may not be the best possible Clauses for the purpose, and although powers of this kind would much better be provided by way of general legislation, are the inhabitants of Walsall to be deprived of the advantage of district heating because that general legislation has not come forward? My answer to that question is a confident "No".
604 The hon. Gentleman questioned the necessity of the powers of entry. I would only say to him, first, that other authorities engaged in similar tasks have found it necessary to have such powers and, secondly and more importantly, this is eminently the kind of question which should be considered in Committee.
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not follow him in detail in all his criticisms of the provisions of this very detailed Bill. The more one develops a detailed argument, the more one comes to the conclusion that these are matters that ought to be considered very carefully in Committee. The House in general, and the inhabitants of Walsall in particular, have heason to be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the care he has taken on their behalf. One hopes that his criticisms will be very carefully considered at the appropriate time.
Most attention in this debate has been focused on Clauses 116 and 117. Walsall Corporation will no doubt take note that, of the speeches made from both sides of the House, not one has been in defence of those Clauses as they stand. When the Bill goes into Committee, as I hope it will, I ask that the background of this question shall be fully considered. I do not know whether it affects the other Corporations presenting similar proposals in the same way, but Walsall is a town in which open spaces are very limited. If responsible people in Walsall consider that with the urgent claims for housing and for adequate playing fields authorities with more adequate resources of space could shoulder responsibility for tinkers, gipsies or travellers, that view should be considered carefully, not against a background of emotive phrases about Walsall trying to get rid of its responsibilities. Walsall Corporation's main responsibilities are to the people of Walsall. If hon. Members who have spoken in this debate had seen what I have seen of the behaviour of tinkers, travellers and gipsies they might approach this problem slightly differently. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Orpington laughs. I wonder whether he would have laughed if he had witnessed a scene I saw two or three years ago. A body of tinkers had been allowed on to a piece of open ground in the middle of a housing estate in my constituency. They had taken their ponies there, which they had 605 every right to do, but there are no rights without duties.
The tinkers showed no consideration for the people in the area. The ponies were not tethered, they were allowed to roam about on the estate. They damaged fences and gates and made a great mess of gardens on which my constituents pride themselves. I could give many examples of the reckless disregard by these people for the rights of others of my constituents, though I have no knowledge of their behaviour elsewhere.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I am amused that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not seem to be aware that both the hon. Member for Chislehurst and myself have had this problem for a great many years, probably to a far greater extent than it has affected the people of Walsall.
§ Mr. Macdonald
I hope that neither the hon. Member for Orpington nor myself has been intolerant in this matter. Our approach has been that the council of which our constituencies form part has played its due part in solving the problem. It appeared to us that Walsall Corporation was not playing its due part. We do not expect it to do more than its share. The point we were making was that it was bearing none of its share.
§ Mr. Wells
I make no complaint about my hon. Friend or the way in which he has presented his argument. I am only trying to present the problem as it appears to the promoters of the Bill and to a large sector of the public in Walsall. There are other people in Walsall who take a different view. A distinguished body of clergy representing several denominations signed a letter of protest against the stand taken by the corporation. Their views are as deserving of attention as are those of the corporation, but it is the corporation's responsibility to look after the interests of people in the borough, which is not the responsibility of other people, however distinguished they may be.
Technically the Clauses are indefensible. If they re-enact the law of the land, they are superfluous; if they are contrary 606 to the general law, then they are wrong. One cannot accept such a situation.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.