HC Deb 02 August 1971 vol 822 cc1257-93
5A.—(1) The Council shall formulate a model set of terms and conditions that may be imposed under section 5 of this Act upon a person seeking to hold an assembly in the county; but the fact that a term or condition compliance with which is actually required is not in the model set or differs from any corresponding term or condition in that set shall not invalidate the term or condition, compliance with which is actually required.
(2) The Council shall make available for inspection and for sale at a reasonable price any model set of terms and conditions formulated under the preceding subsection.

Read a second time.

12.3 a.m.

Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Lords Amendment, in the proposed new Clause 5, subsection (2), line 3, after 'consultation ', insert 'and agreement'.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that it will be convenient to take with this Amendment the two other Amendments standing in the name of the hon. Gentleman so that they may be discussed at the same time:

In new Clause 5, subsection (2), line 4, leave out 'as the Council think fit', and insert: 'concerned with the intended site'.

In new Clause 5, subsection (5), in line 6, after 'attend', insert: 'the Council shall consult with the local authority in whose area the intended site is situated and subject to that local authority's agreement'.

Mr. Driberg

Yes, Mr. Speaker. It occurred to me, as I have already notified you, that this whole discussion might be out of order because the matters referred to in this Amendment could be sub judice. However, I am informed that the sub judice rule does not apply to legislation.

The reason I mention this matter is that last Friday the Clerk to the Isle of Wight County Council issued a public statement to the Press to the effect that he on behalf of the Council had applied for injunctions against three landowners whose land might possibly be used—

Mrs. Mark Woodnutt (Isle of Wight)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is addressing himself to a matter which is outside this Bill. This Bill will apply as amended, from 1st December this year. The writ to which the hon. Gentleman is referring applies to a pop festival which is intended to take place this year, about which the promoter has given no notice as to site, location or anything else. I submit that this matter is outside the Bill and outside the terms of the Amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir R. Grant-Ferris)

The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) must adhere strictly to the terms of his Amendment. As long as he does that, he will remain in order.

Mr. Driberg

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I note the sensitivity displayed by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt) in referring to the heavy defeat he suffered in the other place in regard to the operation of the provision as from 1st December, which rules out this year. At the same time this reminds me of a curious letter by the clerk of the county council which I have in my hand in the course of which, in writing to a would-be possible promoter, he says: In accordance with the council's policy of acting throughout as if their bill were law …". That seems to me to amount to a gross contempt of Parliament. No private promoter of a Bill has the right to assume that it will go through on the nod, as, of course, did the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight, who believed that few of us would oppose it on Second Reading, and that no substantial Amendments would be made to it in another place. I remember—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) wish to intervene?

Mrs. Ray Mawby (Totnes)

I am sorry I intervened from a sitting position. Who was the promoter of the pop festival to whom the clerk wrote?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We must be careful not to stray out of order on these Amendments. They concern whether a rural district council or other councils than the county council shall have certain mandatory powers.

Mr. Driberg

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am glad that you mentioned the rural district council because at present the relevant rural district council is totally opposed to the view of the county council which is proposing this Bill. That is a curious local situation and a curious local disagreement.

I was saying—

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would you be good enough to give a ruling on the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) raises, which is of some importance? Here we have a letter from the Clerk to the County Council of the Isle of Wight dated 12th July which explicitly says that he and his council are acting throughout as though their Bill were law. That raises serious matters. If a local authority assumes that any Bill it proposes to Parliament will automatically be passed, this makes proceedings in Parliament ludicrous. It seems to me that, in view of the point raised by my hon. Friend, it would be wise if you gave us a ruling on the propriety of the clerk to the county council acting, no doubt on behalf of the county council, in conducting all correspondence with prospective promoters in language which has been identified in the letter he sent out.

Mr. Woodnutt

Further to that point of order—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I can help the hon. Member considerably. It is nothing whatever to do with us in the House of Commons what the clerk says or does. What I am concerned with is that everybody speaks to the terms of the Amendment which are pretty narrow.

Mr. Denis Howell

Further to that point of order. [Interruption.] Had I wanted to filibuster, I could have spoken at great length on other stages. I have chosen not to do so, but it seems to me that, even though you think it is not a matter for the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is a matter for Parliament, in that people presenting Bills have no right to assume that the Bills they present will be acceptable.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but we simply cannot discuss that at all at present. We have an Amendment before the House, and the hon. Member knows that whatever Motion is before the House, that Motion must be debated and nothing else. That is what we should be doing now. I am sorry I cannot help him further now, but I have my duty to do.

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely the purpose of a Private Bill in this case is to give a local authority powers it does not have now, and if the county council is saying it is exercising those powers on the assumption that a Bill which is not yet law is about to become law, that is surely a derogation of the principle and purpose of legislation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That may or may not be the case. It is nothing to do with the present Amendment, and I must, therefore, ask the hon. Member for Maldon to proceed and discuss his Amendment.

Mr. Driberg

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker I am not the hon. Member for Maldon.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely, whether the matter arises as a point of order or not, it arises as a question of debate, because under the third Amendment to which my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) is speaking—that in line 6, to add the words the Council shall consult with the local authority in whose area the intended site is situated and subject to that local authority's agreement"— the conduct of the county council, when it is claiming to act in conformity with a Bill which has not yet been passed and which happens to be the Bill we are discussing, affects the way in which we should consider the Amendment.

I therefore submit to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that even though the matter might not be one that can be raised as a point of order, it is certainly one which should be raised as a matter of debate, because the conduct of the county council enters into the question whether we should agree to the Amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says. No doubt there either have been or could be opportunities when this matter could be discussed, but they cannot be said to occur upon this Amendment. I ask the hon. Member for Maldon to continue his speech.

Mr. Driberg

I am not the hon. Member for Maldon.

Mr. Woodnutt

Further to that point of order. It may assist hon. Members if I explain that when the county council wrote its letter there were no rules for controlling pop festivals and it suggested to the district councils and to the would-be promoter that they should act as though the Bill were law. The district councils and the would-be promoter agreed to this being done.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

First, I must apologise to the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) for mistaking his constituency. If he will continue his speech I am sure that he will do his best to stay in order.

Mr. Driberg

With reference to the last point of order raised by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight, it is nonsense to say that there were no rules which the county council could exercise in controlling pop festivals. On the contrary, in another letter the clerk of the county council remarked that it was necessary, for example, to continue to consider the following, all of which are mentioned in the Clause—the site, the layout of the site, access to the site, dates, hours, music, number of people attending, water supply, provision of toilets, as he calls them, and so on. These would all be relevant in the context of such Statutes as the Public Health Act, 1936, which the clerk himself refers to. To say that there were no rules that would enable the county council to control such a festival is absolute rubbish.

The high-handedness and arrogance of the county council in presuming to dictate to Parliament and to say that the proceedings of both Houses of Parliament can simply be disregarded and that everything will go through on the nod at the magical touch of the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight, who has had very nasty defeats in the other House particularly, are typical of the combination of repression and evasion which has characterised the conduct of the county council throughout the various stages of the Bill. It was in March that approaches were first made to the county council to try to arrange something in the nature of a pop festival, properly controlled, of course, in accordance with the rules which exist.

Mr. Woodnutt

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are all being patient, but has this anything to do with the Amendment which we are supposed to be discussing?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt) has raised a point of order as to whether the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) is in order in what he is saying. I am not quite sure that he is. I was intending to see how the hon. Gentleman would relate what he was saying to these Amendments. If he constantly relates what he is saying to these Amendments he has a chance of staying in order.

12.15 a.m.

Mr. Driberg

When you replied to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was about to try to intervene on another point of order to suggest that perhaps questions of order might be left to the Chair, as is customary. But evidently the hon. Member for Isle of Wight is so frightened about his little Bill that he wants to gag anyone who dares to utter a word of criticism about it.

You have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the terms of the principal Amendment are narrow. That may be so. But it is very long, and I suppose that I should be in order if I read every line and commented upon it—which I am prepared to do. But I must—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman would not be in order in going into the terms of the main Question now. He must deal with his Amendments first. Then he will have a chance to speak to the main Question.

Mr. Driberg

I am sorry, but I shall have to seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have very little experience of this kind of Measure.

Although you say that the terms of Lords Amendment No. 4 are narrow, it is a very long Amendment. Then there are Amendments to it in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), whose absence—[Interruption.]—through illness will be regretted by all of us, except by cads.

It was before you assumed the Chair that Mr. Speaker said that we should take all these Amendments together—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Let me make the position as clear as I can. The hon. Member for Barking is moving the first of his three Amendments to the Lords Amendment. If the hon. Gentleman's Amendment is carried, then I shall put the following two. If it is not carried, they will lapse. Then I shall call Lords Amendment No. 4, which is to insert new Clause 5 and 5A. However, the hon. Gentleman must wait until it is called before he can discuss it.

Mr. Driberg

I am obliged for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Therefore, I shall deal briefly with the first of my Amendments—[Interruption.]—although the more often that one is interrupted, the less brief one is apt to be. Those hon. Members who do not want to listen had better shut up and go back to the Smoking Room.

It seems to me that the words "and agreement" after "consultation" are the sort of words which it should be natural to add in a Measure of this kind if there were good will on both sides. In this case, we know that there is no good will on the side of the county council, which has been determined from the first to crush and prevent anything in the nature of a pop festival. That is the real motive behind the Bill, as we know from various phenomena, the behaviour of hon. Members opposite and words uttered by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight.

The hon. Gentleman said to the Press at one point that he knew of two perfectly good sites which would be acceptable to the county council. When asked which they were, he said that he would not say and that he was not going to help "the so and so's".

The words "and agreement" may be otiose, since there is no good will on the side of the county council. Therefore, I do not press that Amendment. However, if any of my hon. Friends wishes to say anything about it, should he do so at this point or when I have finished speaking about the Amendments in general?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman should continue his speech, move his Amendment, and then let the debate continue on the Amendment.

Mr. Driberg

Then I beg to move the Amendment, without any hope that it will have a satisfactory outcome.

My second Amendment proposes to leave out as the Council think fit and to insert concerned with the intended site Hon. Members on both sides of the House who have studied the Bill in some detail, as I am sure they all have or they would not be here, will realise at once the relevance of that substitution.

My third Amendment is important. It is to insert, 'the Council shall consult with the local authority in whose area the intended site is situated and subject to that local authority's agreement'. This means the rural district council more particularly than the county council. The county council having shown itself obtusely hostile to the whole question of having a pop festival in the Isle of Wight, the rural district council has taken a somewhat more moderate and reasonable view, greatly to the annoyance, I am sure, of hon. Gentlemen opposite, particularly the hon. Gentleman who is in charge of the Bill.

I do not think that I need say very much more about those three Amendments. [Interruption.] I have given one warning to the claque opposite. If they go on bellowing in this inane, animal way, I shall make a much longer speech.

Mr. Michael Foot

I have not participated in these debates previously, but, having spent the last hour or two reading some of the discussions which have taken place, I am extremely sorry that I have not examined the matter before. I believe that the more one examines the debates which have led to the stage we have now reached, the more one must acknowledge that important public issues are involved.

I speak only for myself in this debate. This is a Private Bill and, therefore, nobody is speaking officially on behalf of the Opposition on this subject, just as I gather that nobody is speaking officially on behalf of the Government, although we may have a Government inclination expressed by the hon. Gentleman who is to speak—

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

The Whips are on, are they not? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Then what are they doing here?

Mrs. Foot

It is necessary that the House should look at the matter carefully. I believe that the Amendments moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), if passed, would at least provide some protection against the desires of the county council which are bound to arouse suspicion in the mind of anyone who wishes to protect the rights of assembly in this country and, if those rights are to be altered, to ensure that they are altered in a proper fashion.

The Amendment, if passed, would mean that the county council instead of being able to decide the matter by itself, shall secure the agreement of the other local authority in the area to what it wishes to do. That seems a very moderate request. I should think that the easiest way for the hon. Gentleman who has sponsored the Bill, if that is the correct way of describing him, to deal with the matter is to say at once that he is eager to accept the Amendment. After all, the county council ought to be able to persuade the rural district council in the same area that what it is proposing is advisable in the interests of all the citizens in the Isle of Wight. It does not seem a very tall order.

We are entitled to ask for these protections, because something very strange is being attempted by the Bill. That is one reason for my interest in being here tonight, as well as for many of my hon. Friends and, I gather, for so many hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Government should agree with these Amendments because they have expressed doubts about the Bill right from the beginning. Throughout, they have suggested, rightly, that it might be better that a matter of this kind, affecting the right of assembly, should be dealt with by a Government Bill.

I remember very well that in the last Parliament, when Private Members' Bills, as opposed to Private Bills, were being passed, hon. Members opposite, whether on divorce, abortion or many other matters, often argued that it would be better for such legislation to be introduced in a satisfactory form which did not leave matters frayed at the edges and that such Measures should be introduced by the Government. Some of us did not think that that was so necessary particularly when those Bills—whether on abortion, divorce, homosexuality, capital punishment or whatever it may have been—were subject to detailed lengthy examination in the House of Commons over many days and weeks of investigation.

If, however, that argument is accepted at all by hon. Members opposite—that Private Members' Bills of a character which dealt with public issues would better be dealt with by a Government who examined the whole legislative possibilities before hand—how much more does that apply to a Private Bill which attempts to deal with a public issue? That is what is happening in this case. The Government have acknowledged from the beginning that the Bill is one which, perhaps, they would have preferred to deal with. The Government know very well that the right of assembly affects not only the Isle of Wight, but the whole country. Therefore, it would be quite wrong for the country—I am citing the Government's view——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but there is a tendency to stray away from the Amendments on to broad principles. I am sure he will see the point. We must keep to the Amendments.

Mrs. Foot

I should have thought, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that everything I am now saying is covered by what I said at the beginning, when I said that my hon. Friend's Amendments would introduce a modest restriction on what is proposed in the Bill—that is, the restriction that the county council, in order to get its way, would have to secure the agreement of the local authority in the area. I was arguing—and I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will permit me to continue to argue—that the Government, and others whom I will mention presently, have said that the right of assembly is such an important question, affecting not only the Isle of Wight, but many others in the country, that it should be dealt with, if it is to be dealt with effectively, by a Government Bill.

I do not say that that was a major argument used by the Government but it was a hint given. Unfortunately, hints are not taken by the county council in the Isle of Wight, which is precisely why we have to introduce Amendments of this kind which would bind the county council in the Isle of Wight to take account of the feelings of hon. Members.

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)

Surely, in arguing about the right of assembly, the hon. Gentleman is causing confusion. Just as there is a difference between freedom, on the one hand, and licence, on the other hand, surely there is also a difference between the right of assembly on the one side, and unruly and unorganised assembly, on the other side.

Mrs. Foot

I should be happy if it were in order to argue the issue with the hon. Member, but it is not in order. I am not arguing in this case where the law should be drawn about rights of assembly. Where it should be drawn is a matter of dispute between different sides or between hon. Members, as the previous arguments have shown. What nobody can dispute, however, is that the question of the right of assembly arises in the Bill. That is not my statement but is the statement from the Government. In the earlier debates their spokesman referred to this and said that they had doubts. They said that Clause 5 was awkward in some respects. I believe that the Minister himself said it. Nobody could deny that the question of the right of assembly is influenced by the Bill.

12.30 a.m.

Therefore the argument arose—both in the Second Reading debate and in the discussions in the House of Lords which have led to the Amendments—whether the best way to deal with a change in the law affecting the right of assembly was by a Bill introduced to deal with the affairs of one county council—

Mr. Woodnutt

Perhaps I can assist the hon. Gentleman to get back to the terms of the Amendment by reminding him that the Isle of Wight County Council has been pressing for public legislation. I agree with the hon. Member that there should be public legislation, and I shall give him full support in any efforts he likes to make in future to obtain public legislation. Perhaps he can now get back to the Amendment.

Mr. Foot

The question whether I am speaking to the Amendment is not for the hon. Member to determine; it is for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Hon. Members can make representations to the Chair. If the hon. Member had wanted to do so he could have done, but he did not. He asked to be allowed to intervene, and then purported to say that I was out of order. In my submission that is highly disorderly conduct.

Nobody who has read the reports of the previous discussion of the Bill can say that the question of the right of assembly does not arise. Those who have spoken on the Bill in this House and in another place have argued that it would be better to have a separate Government Bill to deal with the question, and the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight—

Mrs. Deputy Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but I must ask him to leave the development of the point about the right of assembly and come to the question whether there should be a mandatory instruction to the county council to consult local councils before coming to a decision. That is what we are talking about, and not about any larger question on the right of assembly. It is in order to mention that in passing. Many people mention things in passing which, if developed, would become out of order.

Mr. Foot

I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have not sought in any sense to argue the merits of the issue about the right of assembly. I have merely referred to the fact that the Bill deals with that issue, and have said, therefore, that when we discuss the Amendment and consider whether the House is proposing to place restrictions on the activities of the county council we are entitled to take into account the whole history of the matter, and the fact that questions of major public importance are affected by the Bill.

It is not only the Government who have underlined this question, in the earlier interventions of the Minister himself; the discussions in the other place, which have resulted in the Bill's being sent back to us in this form, have dealt with it. On a number of occasions many speakers in the other place said that they thought it much more satisfactory for a matter of this kind to be dealt with by a Government Measure. All my reading of the Bill persuades me that that is correct. The fact that an Amendment of this nature has to be considered by this House is further evidence of that fact.

I should have thought that the hon. Members who are sponsoring the Bill would be only too eager to agree with the Amendments. If they say that they will not accept them we are forced to the conclusion that the county council does not believe that it can secure the agreement of the local authorities in which these activities are to take place.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)


Mr. Foot

Very well. If the county council can secure the agreement of the local authority, why object to these Amendments? It is very simple: if hon. Members who are sponsoring or supporting the Bill wish to assure the House that the county council, at least in this respect, will not act arrogantly, let them accept the Amendments. The county council will not then be able to apply this part of the Bill—which some of us regard with the greatest suspicion because it touches an important aspect of the right of assembly—without having to win the approval of the elected local authority in the same area.

That is not much to ask. If, on the other hand, the sponsors of the Bill reject the Amendments, they will be showing that they wish to give to this county council exorbitant powers, and exorbitant powers, as I say, dealing with matters which the Government themselves say would be better dealt with in a Government Bill.

The best service that the sponsors can do is to accept the Amendments straight away, though probably the best service that the House of Commons could do for the rights of free assembly in this country is to throw the Bill out altogether.

Mr. Woodnutt

The promoters of the Bill cannot possibly accept these Amendments. They are far too loosely worded. In effect, the county council could do nothing. Under the terms of the Bill as it stands, the county council has to consult. That is acceptable. But under the Amendments it would have to obtain the agreement of all local authorities concerned with an intended site.

The whole of the Isle of Wight is concerned with any intended site. The whole island is only 95,000 acres. We have two borough councils, three urban district councils, one rural district council, a joint Isle of Wight water and river board, a policy authority. All are concerned. Yet hon. Members opposite are suggesting that, before taking effective action on a tight timetable, the county council must consult all those authorities and obtain their agreement. It is not practicable in the timetable.

It has been suggested that there is a difference of opinion between the councils in the Isle of Wight. There is not. The district councils on the island approve this Clause as it stands. The Isle of Wight County Council represents the whole of the island—all the 105,000 souls living there—and the maximum represented by any one district council is 20,000. Clearly, this is a function of the Isle of Wight County Council.

The matters about which local authorities would wish to impose conditions are mainly functions which concern the county council, not the district councils. I have in mind the ambulance service, for instance, seeing that there is proper space for ambulances and proper access roads for them to get in and out quickly. That is a function of the county council. The fire service is a function of the county council. All the access roads and road generally in the whole of the rural districts of Ventnor, and public health in its broadest sense are functions of the county council.

Mr. Denis Howell

All the matters which the hon. Gentleman has raised, which are of importance, are matters with which the county council already has powers to deal.

Mr. Woodnutt

With respect, if the hon. Gentleman had attended the previous debates, he would understand what I am talking about. The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), who made similar comments a few minutes ago, must remember the Second Reading debate. I pointed out then that although the councils have the right to lay down rules for public health—sanitation, the number of lavatories, and so on—in the event of promoters not abiding by those regulations the fine is a derisory £10. Will that stop a promoter who is mainly in it for the money he can make out of 250,000 people? The object of the Bill is to see that the powers are given teeth.

It is ridiculous to suggest that the Isle of Wight could accept the Amendment, for the reasons I have given. But there is another reason that is even more valid. We have been seeing the Bill through the House since. March, and hon. Members opposite have done everything to hold it up and stop it reaching the Statute Book.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Epping)

With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, not all hon. Members opposite have done anything to hold up the Bill. In the past they have not bothered to turn up, because they have not had any interest in it. They only turn up now, at the last minute, to try to muck up a Bill which has the overwhelming support of the House and the people of the Isle of Wight. Hon. Members opposite are a bunch of wreckers.

Mr. Woodnutt

I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful intervention. It reminds me that many hon. Members opposite have supported us throughout, and I am pleased to see some of them here tonight.

This is another exercise to try to delay the Bill, to send it back to another place so that it will not reach the Statute Book. We shall oppose the Amendment and see that the Bill does reach the Statute Book.

Mr. Bernard Conlan (Gateshead, East)

I was rather surprised to hear what was said about hon. Members on this side opposing the Bill, although the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt) rectified that belatedly. Many of us have supported it throughout, and have voted in the Lobbies in support of it.

I am also surprised, however, that the hon. Gentleman is fiercely opposing the Amendments, which I believe to be reasonable. I emphasise that I accept the general principles of the Bill. I support the Bill. But when the Isle of Wight County Council is asking for these powers, presumably it is asking for them with the general agreement of the local authorities within the island, and acting as a sort of umbrella, a kind of watershed, for the views and desires of the local authorities. If my interpretation is correct, I should have thought that the county council would have been pleased and enthusiastic about consulting the various local authorities within the island, because although it is the overall authority for the island the problems of nuisance that can arise from such gatherings as pop festivals are really for the local authority. The local authority is the authority most directly and vitally concerned with the annoyance that can arise from the gathering of a large number of people, and it might be asked to agree that a pop festival or any other event should occur within its area. Although I support the Bill, its general intentions and purposes, I think it might have been wiser if the sponsors could have accepted these reasonable Amendments and I cannot support them in their opposition to them.

12.45 a.m.

Mr. Denis Howell

When I intervened earlier, I inferred that all the things which the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt) was speaking of—questions of public health, access and so on—could be dealt with under present legislation, particularly the Public Health Acts, and it is interesting to recall that he denounced me for not having been here at earlier stages. He is entitled to do so, but it is an odd thing if an hon. Member who exercises his right to speak in this Chamber is to be denounced like that. It does not help his case. The hon. Gentleman—and I have read the reports of the earlier stages—has never given the House any examples of why these powers are necessary and why the present legislation cannot be exercised to deal with the matters he referred to.

It may surprise the hon. Gentleman to know that I have a great deal of sympathy for the point he has taken up. But I hold the view, along with the Home Office, that this is not the way in which these matters should be dealt with. I will give a few examples which lead me to that conclusion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) I might be obliged, by interventions from hon. Members who may have been here at earlier stages but have no intention of making constructive contributions, to take a little longer than I intended. That would be a pity because this is not a filibuster. I am on a point of major concern. It is interesting to note the behaviour of hon. Members opposite who do not want the arguments dealt with on their merits.

There are major questions of public concern in public assemblies of all sorts at present. The question therefore is whether one local authority should have power to determine this matter after consultation with other local authorities but not in agreement with them, and it is a question of major importance. Such a local authority should not be able so to determine on the basis of this Bill.

There is great concern in the country at the behaviour of football crowds. I go so far as to say that such behaviour is causing greater public disorder and concern—I regret to have to say this—than the behaviour at pop festivals on the Isle of Wight. Such behaviour is as much a matter of concern if one lives in Halifax, after last Saturday's scenes, for example.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

It is the fault of the referees.

Mr. Howell

We can deal with this seriously. This is a serious matter, although I do not expect that to be understood in Rutland and Stamford.

I will be guided by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I should like to ask what the Government intend to do about the whole subject of crowd control at public gatherings.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

That question is out of order. The hon. Member is taxing me rather hard. Hon. Members on my right would do much better and dispatch the business much more quickly if they were quieter. I hope that hon. Members will keep to the terms of the Amendments.

Mr. Howell

I half expected that Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, which was why I invited you intervene at that point.

In the absence of a proper guarantee about the major questions which I want to raise, including what I describe as the democratic point, we are entitled to say that local authorities on the island should have more than just the right to be consulted. If the borough, rural district, or parish council of the area where the festival is to be held disagrees with the county council, there should be some means to determine who is right. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight says that in every such case the will of the county council will prevail. He seems quite unaware of the need to give conclusive justification for that. If the consultation between the county council and the other authority concerned breaks down, how is the disagreement to be resolved? What is the justification for the will of the county council prevailing in such an eventuality?

The case has not been made out and. if only to get the explanation about what will happen in such an eventuality, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) was fully justified in moving the Amendment.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Richard Sharples)

It may assist the House if I intervene briefly at this stage.

The House will recall that the principles of the Bill, including those of Clause 5, were decided by the House on Second Reading. The normal practice is that the Government express their views in the terms of a report which is considered by the Select Committee examining the Bill. The points which we made were examined by the Select Committee, and many of the reservations which we expressed were met.

We made no observations on the lines of these Amendments, and they must be matters for the House to settle this evening. I may express my own views, but the Government have not expressed a view about these Amendments.

Mr. Hamling

I had not intended to take part in these proceedings until I heard the rather ill-bred interventions in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) and the ill temper with which the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt) replied to the comments on the Amendments. It is taxing the patience of the House to talk of tremendous opposition to the Bill when only two of my hon. Friends voted against it on Second Reading or for the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight to speak of my hon. Friends making very long speeches opposing the Bill when there has, in fact, been very little opposition to it.

It is rather odd for the Minister to say that the Government have no view on the Bill—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is not perhaps for me to say this, but the Minister did not say that the Government have no view on the Bill. He was talking about the Amendment, which is what the hon. Member should be talking about.

Mr. Hamling

The Minister said that the Government have no view on the Amendment and that the House must make up its mind. Yet we see the serried ranks of Lobby fodder below the Gangway, who have come here not to decide on the merits of the Amendment but to keep a House so that the Government do not lose the Bill. We know exactly what goes on about Private Bills.

Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)

To save a great deal of time—because the hon. Member is obviously prepared to devote a great deal of time to it—may I ask him to take it from us that we are not Lobby fodder and that there are no Whips? Each of us has a view about the Bill, and we thought it worth while to come here to support that view.

Mr. Hamling

I was talking about hon. Members below the Gangway.

Mrs. Mawby

As an hon Member below the Gangway, may I assure the hon. Member that there are no Whips? We have attended every sitting on the Bill in the Chamber, unlike the hon. Member. He misquoted the Minister, who in fact said that points had been made by the Government and considered by the Select Committee. We are dis- cussing Lords Amendments. I hope that at least the hon. Member will withdraw his allegation that the Government have made certain statements—which are in fact contrary to what they have said.

Mr. Hamling

If hon. Members below the Gangway had earlier behaved a little better—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I will withdraw nothing I have said until I am directed by the Chair to do so. It is about time that Government supporters realised that we on these benches are as much entitled as anyone to discuss Private Bills and to make speeches without ill-tempered accusations from the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight and interruptions from below the Gangway. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking is as much entitled as anyone to discuss a Private Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] I will take as long as I like—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member should be a little careful about the way in which he makes his speech. It is in order to say of hon. Members opposite that they are not behaving as they should, but to develop a speech almost exclusively along those lines is an abuse of the procedure of the House. The hon. Member would do well to address himself to the Amendment; and hon. Members on the other side of the House should bear in mind that the quieter they are, the sooner we shall get the business through.

1.0 a.m.

Mr. Hamling

I hope that hon. Members will take the point, that the quieter they are the sooner they will get their Bill. So long as we have no interruptions—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman, when he sees that the House is quiet, ought to address himself to the Amendment.

Mr. Hamling

My hon. Friend has raised important arguments to which I wish to direct my attention. The third Amendment talks about the local authority in whose area the even is to be held. It surprised me that when the hon. Member for Isle of Wight replied to the Amendment he talked of "all authorities". Surely in an area where an event is to be held there is only one local authority or at the most a couple of parish councils and perhaps a rural district council. Surely the area to be covered by an event is not so large that it is concerned with all local authorities on the Island as well as the county council?

This seems to be a reasonable Amendment, and I cannot understand why the promoters seem so determined to reject the hand of agreement held out across the Floor of the House. I intervened to discover why they take this attitude and object to this modest suggestion. Only two reasons have been given as to why the Amendment should not be accepted. First, the hon. Gentleman talked about "local authorities" instead of "the local authority". The second argument was that these powers were needed because existing ones were inadequate. That argument relates not to the Amendment but to the whole of the Bill, therefore, we have only had one argument against the Amendment.

When local authorities are asking the House to give specific powers they should be as careful as possible to meet all possible objections. The House is expected to give time for such Bills and to grant them expedition. The Government are expected to give not only time but some facilites so that they are passed. There is an obligation upon local authorities—to meet objections—without the ill-temper shown earlier.

I cannot see how the Amendment would make any difference to the purposes of the Bill. The promoters would still be left with their powers and could do what they want to do. There would simply be the modest addition asking the county council to consult the local authority.

Mrs. Woodnutt

The hon. Gentleman is, I am sure unintentionally, misleading the House. This obligation on the part of the county council to consult the other authorities is already in the Bill.

Mrs. Handing

If the hon. Gentleman is saying that they are prepared to consult the local authority—

Mrs. Woodnutt

They must consult.

Mrs. Handing

—what objection does he have to my hon. Friend's Amendment? He cannot have it both ways. He cannot say the Amendment is wrong because it would require consultation and at the same time say that consultation must take place under the Bill. [Interruption.] Surely the purpose of consultation is to get agreement.

If the promoters say the Amendment is badly drafted, they have a simple remedy—to draft their own Amendment. It is normal, particularly in Committee, for the Government to agree with the principle of an Amendment, particularly one tabled by the Opposition who do not have the services of well-paid parliamentary draftsmen at their disposal, but reject it on the understanding that they will introduce a better worded Amendment later.

My hon. Friend has made a reasonable proposition, although I will not be in the Lobby later to vote for it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh! "]—because there is agreement between the two Front Benches on this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, there is.

Mrs. Sharples

I do not know of any such agreement.

Mr. Hamling

I appreciate that, and I have not consulted the Minister about it. However, it is well known in the Whips Office that Opposition Whips do not vote in these matters. I will not be voting in the Division for that reason. Whether or not one votes in a Division, there is no reason why the House should not have a better explanation than it has received. Having heard the opening part of the debate, I was moved to intervene because I thought the House was being treated with less consideration than it was entitled to receive, and that my hon. Friend's arguments were entitled to a better reply.

Mrs. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)

The Government's attitude to the Amendments has been that they had not a view—

Mrs. Sharples

The position is that the Government express their view on all Private Member's Bills in a report. We did not express a requirement for Amendments of this kind.

Mrs. Bagier

I understood the hon. Gentleman to say previously that new Clause 5 was satisfactory to the Government but that the Amendment was not sufficiently strongly worded for him to express a view. I have supported the Bill through all its stages, and I do not see what the difficulty is in seeking agreement.

Suppose the Isle of Wight County Council wished to have a pop festival and imposed that festival on a certain rural district council. Would not the rural district council's agreement have to be sought? This might be taken as a blueprint and possibly as a widening of the powers of other county councils. The West Riding County Council and the Northumberland County Council are very large authorities which may not know the local aspects of an urban or rural district council. I ask the hon. Member for Isle of Wight to think again and provide for agreement to be sought as well as for consultation.

Amendment to the proposed Lords Amendment negatived.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Lords Amendment No. 4. Mr. Woodnutt?

Mr. Driberg

On a point of order. Could you possibly put the Question on the two other Amendments, Mr. Deputy Speaker?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

No, I am afraid I cannot take them for a Division. If the first Amendment had been carried, I would have put them because they are consequential, but I do not propose to put them now.

Mr. Driberg

With great respect, are they strictly consequential? They seem to deal with somewhat different points.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

They are not selected. What I meant to say was that they were not selected for Division. Mr. Speaker was quite definite about that.

Mr. Michael Foot

Further to that point of order. Did not Mr. Speaker when he was in the Chair invite my hon. Friend to discuss the second and third Amendments with the first Amendment? I thought that was what he said. I may have misheard it. Therefore, I thought it might follow that they could be put to the vote.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is a perfectly reasonable supposition. I understand that Mr. Speaker said that the three Amendments could be discussed together, and that it would be possible to divide upon the first. I understood him to say that the second and third Amendments were not selected for a Division.

1.15 a.m.

Mr. Driberg

Further to that point of order. With the greatest possible respect, Mr. Speaker said that the three Amendments could be discussed together. It is common practice for several Amendments to be discussed together, but it is for the mover of them to have the right to divide or not to divide on each separately. I had intended to divide on the third one if it were so put.

Mr. Maude

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Since it is clear that the Opposition do not intend to divide because they are not here, does it really matter? Would it not save time if we did not have Divisions?

Mr. Driberg

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would you disregard that intervention as irrelevant, ungallant and impertinent and give a Ruling on a matter on which Mr. Speaker did not rule?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I should like to help the hon. Gentleman if I can. I am bound by the rules of order. What I would like to do is to take back the first Question and allow him a Division if he wants it, but I cannot do that, having dealt with the Question. The hon. Gentleman must accept that I cannot assist him. I am afraid that our business must now continue because the next two Amendments are not selected by Mr. Speaker for Divisions, and nothing can be done about forcing one.

Mr. Driberg

We shall have to wait until the day after tomorrow to see in HANSARD whether Mr. Speaker did say what I did not hear him say, that separate Divisions would not be allowed. [Interruption.] I hear one of the usual catcalls from the other side. I am sorry to delay you in this way, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wanted to divide on the third Amendment, not on the first and second. Mr. Speaker said nothing about not selecting them.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is the situation as it is now. I am afraid that we cannot go back on the matter and I do now so rule. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Chair is indivisible, and I rule that the situation is as I have said. We must now pass to Amendment No. 4.

Mr. Woodnutt

I beg to move, That the House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Driberg

I am surprised that the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt) has not said anything in support of his Motion. He has, I take it, exhausted his right to speak except by leave of the House. It is odd that he has not told us why he has felt obliged, or why the county council has felt obliged, to concede so many points to the strong representations made to it in another place.

There are a number of differences—some minor, some major—between the new Clause and the original Clause. However, there are still a number of extremely objectionable features in Clause 5 which some of us would not wish to accept without severe questioning. One difference occurs at the end of subsection (2) where two lines are added on the matter of public order: Provided that no term or condition relating to public order shall be imposed without the consent of the Chief Constable of the police authority. I should think so indeed! It is arrogant of the county council in the first instance to have tried to take over from the chief constable powers relating to public order. This is characteristic of the way in which this very badly drafted Bill has been handled throughout. This must be particularly distasteful to the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight since it was the chief constable who paid a glowing tribute to the behaviour of most of the young people who attended last year's pop festival. Their conduct in general was good. None the less, that did not lessen the prejudice of the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight and the county council against their relatively innocent enjoyment. [Interruption.] Do hon. Members wish to interrupt or do they just want to barrack? They should keep quiet.

Mrs. Mawby

The hon. Member trailed his coat then. Surely he will recollect that as a result of last year's pop festival, a lot of young people were misrepresented, that the company which operated it went into liquidation and that some problems arose.

Mr. Driberg

I do not quite see how that is relevant to the point I was making. I was referring to the chief constable and was reminding the House that he paid tribute, as did the police generally, to the good conduct and behaviour of the majority of the young people. Of course, there were some bad hats among them—I am not talking about the promoters, or anything to do with them—but the chief constable paid that tribute which must be distasteful to the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight.

We move to subsection (3). I am not sure that it is fair to expect the promoters to pay the council an excessive amount in advance, a deposit which might be enormous, because, although it says such amount … as the council may reasonably require it is obvious that the council's ideas of how much money it can get out of the promoters or organisers of a pop festival is fairly inflated, since later in the Clause, in both old and new versions, it is empowered to impose fines not exceeding £400, and on indictment not exceeding £1,000, for each day on which an offence is committed.

The offence may be any breach, however tiny or technical, of the arduous and rigorous conditions laid down by the county council. If it says that there must be a mile of urinals and there is a mile minus a furlong or minus half a furlong, there is a £1,000 a day fine. This is a ridiculous idea. One would like to know how much the county council may reasonably require under subsection (3). Hon. Members can read it for themselves. I take it they can read. [Interruption.]

Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I hope we shall understand it better than the hon. Member seems to.

Mr. Driberg

I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman will, but he should always make his interventions standing and not from a sitting position.

There are a number of other provisions, some of which are reasonable and unexceptionable, but some of which are going much too far in interfering with the ordinary rights of assembly and the ordinary rights of people assembled for public occasions in the open or for some particular purpose, political, religious or pop festival or anything else. The whole of this Bill and of this Clause is extremely dangerous in its newer form, which alters very little the old form.

It is interesting that the county council, for all its intransigence, has felt obliged to agree with some of the weighty criticisms made by members of another place. The legal members there were particularly appalled, one gathers, by the disgraceful drafting of this Bill. They said it was, legally, one of the worst pieces of drafting they had ever seen, which was not surprising.

I have already referred to the amount of the fine. It is extraordinary that a county council can set up laws for itself, creating new offences and imposing such enormously drastic and heavy fines as £1,000 a day for each day on which some trivial infringement of regulations occurs. Altogether the Clause in its original form and as redrafted contains almost everything to which some of us objected on Second Reading. I particularly resent the sneers which have been directed from the other side at the fact that only a few of us took part in the debate on Second Reading or in other debates. There were rather more on Report, as it happened. The size of a minority in any argument is not necessarily the only test of its merit.

Mr. Gorst

There has not been much quality, either.

Mr. Driberg

That is a matter of opinion. The hon. Gentleman's opinion is naturally echoed by a few barks from his friends. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where are the hon. Gentleman's Friends?"] The exquisite quality of the wit emanating from the other side enables me to say "tu quoque". The hon. Gentleman does not have to stay. He can go straight back to the Smoking Room and enjoy himself. He will not be bored there, except by the sound of his own dreary voice.

Mr. Tebbit

If I wanted to be bored by a dreary voice, it is clear why I came into the Chamber.

Mr. Driberg

Goodness, the wit that is being displayed! It is almost overwhelming; it is so scintillating. I fear I shall have to disappoint you, Mr. Speaker, and the House, in that I cannot go on giving way to interventions if they cannot do better than that. I do not want either to bore or to detain the House unduly. I shall therefore end this brief speech by saying that the essence of the Bill and of this Clause, the most important Clause in the Bill, is that there are a number of young people from all over Europe as well as from all over Britain who were hoping, and who may yet just have the chance, to come to the Isle of Wight this year for another festival, to enjoy themselves in wonderful, beautiful, rustic surroundings, to enjoy the sort of music that they happen to like best and which they are entitled to like. The object of the Bill and of the county council is to frustrate that wish of theirs and to crush in the most ruthless and unscrupulous way, any attempt to meet it; that is the way in which the Bill has been presented and handled by the county council throughout.

Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)

I suggest to the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) that his fears both about the Clause and about the Bill in general are misconceived. He thinks, no doubt honestly, that behind the Bill is some kind of plot against the right of public assembly. Others of his colleagues have taken that same line as though the Bill were the tip of an iceberg which is intended to interfere with the right of public assembly. I am a supporter of the Bill, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not supporting it out of any desire to limit or truncate the right of public assembly.

1.30 a.m.

I support the Bill for a quite different reason. I recognise—I invite the hon. Gentleman to agree with me—that the right of public assembly, like every other right, must be exercised with due regard to the rights of others. The right of public essembly must be exercised with due regard to the rights on non-assemblers. I am sure that we are all in favour of free speech. I am equally sure that we all agree that the right of free speech, like the right of assembly, must be exercised with due regard to the rights of others. The hon. Gentleman will remember, no doubt, that it was laid down not by any supporter of Tory reaction but by Justice Wendell Holmes that the right of free speech does not confer upon someone the right to cry "Fire" in a crowded theatre.

The Bill is promoted not to interfere with the right of assembly. It is promoted to see that if that right is exercised in the Isle of Wight it is exercised with due regard to those who live in the Isle of Wight—

Mr. Michael Foot

Even admitting all that the hon. Gentleman says about the rights of non-assemblers, does he not agree that it would be better if a Bill dealing with the right of assembly were drafted and presented to the House by the Government? There may be a case even for a Private Member's Bill dealing with it, but for a Private Bill to deal with matters of that nature is an innovation, and a dangerous one.

Mrs. Curran

That may be true. I am prepared to accept that the hon. Gentleman's opinion is that this is a Bill which deals with a matter that should be dealt with by the Government. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his point of view. But it is not necessarily an argument against the Bill to say that the Bill is all right but there is a better one laid up in heaven or in some office in Whitehall. We are here to debate this Bill and to decide whether we accept it. We must look at the Bill and see whether it satisfies us.

Mrs. Speaker

Order. I thought that we were debating Lords Amendment No. 4, not the Bill.

Mr. Curran

Perhaps I was drawn into a cul-de-sac by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). I shall back out of it and resume my remarks, which are directed to the Clause which the hon. Member for Barking criticised.

The hon. Gentleman's fear that the Bill is a threat to the right of assembly is unfounded. His other fear that the Bill is a threat to the right of youth to get together is equally unfounded. The hon. Gentleman is—

Mr. Driberg

I cannot remember whether the hon. Gentleman heard the beginning of the Second Reading debate. If he did, he will remember that when I said that the effect of the Bill would be to wipe out pop festivals altogether, in the Isle of Wight, at any rate, there was a tremendous roar of applause from hon. Members about him, indicating that that was precisely what they wanted.

Mr. Curran

I heard the hon. Gentleman speak. If there was a roar of applause, I did not join it. I am not hostile to any right of youth to get together for a festival. All I say about that right is that it must be exercised with due regard to the rights of others. It may be that the Isle of Wight, being a small place, is not suitable for youth festivals. No one is better fitted to judge that than the elected authority for the Isle of Wight. The county council is as competent to form a judgment about that as I am, or as the hon. Gentleman is. If it comes to the conclusion, as it does, that the Isle of Wight is not a suitable place for bringing together large numbers of young people, I think that that opinion must be respected. What it is arguing, if I understand it aright, is not that it wishes to veto youth assemblies on the island, but that, if they take place, they must take place with due regard to the rights of the people who live there. Does the hon. Gentleman object to that? Does he think that is an unreasonable claim?

Mr. Driberg

Not in the least, since the hon. Gentleman challenges me. But it was possible to see that it was carried out by agreement under the existing legislation without this draconian Bill.

Mr. Curran

Surely that is the whole point of the discussion. The hon. Gentleman says that it is possible to carry it out by agreement. That has not been possible. That is why the Bill has been introduced. There is no desire among the supporters of the Bill to forbid the right of young people to enjoy themselves. There are plenty of places in these islands where they can do it. I agree that it is not as easy to do it here as in America. But we are not talking about Woodstock; we are talking about the Isle of Wight. If youth want to get together in the fashion that was made popular at Woodstock and is now being mimicked in this country—so much of the youth movement of this country is a kind of organised mimickry of what goes on in America—I ask them to remember that the Americans have more space in which to do it than we have here.

If somebody wants to stage and mimic Woodstock in this country, will they do it on Salisbury Plain or on Dartmoor? There are open spaces, even in these islands. [An HON. MEMBER: "Barking."] I do not know whether the hon. Member for Barking puts forward Barking as a suitable place for a British Woodstock. [An HON. MEMBER: "Ebbw Vale."] The attractions of Ebbw Vale may not be particularly magnetic to youth.

I am not supporting any attempt to suppress youth gatherings. I have no objection if young people want to get together to enjoy themselves with electric guitars and open-air copulation. I have nothing against either of those pursuits, so long as I am not required to listen to the one nor to look at the other. In saying that I am sure that I speak for the people who live in the Isle of Wight. This is a perfectly legitimate and reasonable request to make. The hon. Gentleman may have an enthusiasm for electric guitars and open-air copulation—he is entitled to it—but let him recognise that there are people who do not share his tastes and that their judgment on these matters is as good as his own. I invite him, therefore, on the basis of his own argument, to support the Bill.

Mrs. Denis Howell

There might be some validity in the view expressed by the hon Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) were it not for the fact that Ministers in charge of various aspects of Government policy relating to these matters not only permit but actively encourage the holding of these large-scale assemblies in Hyde Park in the centre of our capital city. They do not need Measures like this to regulate the situation.

Mrs. Woodnutt

Not for four nights.

Mr. Howell

Perhaps not for four nights, but the time scale is not involved in the Bill. The Clause is not about prohibition or of reasonable regulation of the crowd—

Mrs. Martin Maddan (Hove) rose

Mr. Howell

I will not give way, because I am trying to make what I regard as a substantial and serious point.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge gave the game away when he said, "If the Isle of Wight wishes to determine, as it does". The phrase he used was "as it does". In other words, he was saying that the Isle of Wight had no intention of applying the criteria laid down in the Bill to any future pop festival. I hope that I am wrong about that. I hope that the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt) will tell us tonight that if a pop festival were adequately and properly regulated it would not be exceptionable to the Isle of Wight.

Mrs. Woodnutt

I have said this repeatedly in all stages of these debates and I do not think I need repeat it.

Mrs. Howell

I am grateful to the hon. Member for doing so, if only for my education in this matter.

Having listened to hon. Members on the Government benches, it would be a reasonable reaction for people to think that most hon. Members were completely opposed to assemblies of young people. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] That is the impression that one has in coming fresh to these matters and listening. Clearly, large numbers of hon. Members opposite are opposed to the principle of young people assembling for the purpose of enjoying themselves. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] If that is not the case, all one can say is that they have a very odd way of showing their support for such a proposition. If hon. Members opposite sit there making such interjections and comments, they cannot complain if one draws that conclusion.

Mrs. Gorst

If the hon. Member had been present on Second Reading, he would have heard the arguments which have convinced those hon. Members on this side who have given their support. As, clearly, he neither attended the debate nor has read the report of it, he obviously draws the wrong impression.

Mr. Howell

That is the sort of impertinent interruption which convinces me that I was wrong to give way to the hon. Member. I have read again this evening, for the second time, the whole of the Second Reading debate, so I hope that the hon. Member will take it from me that I have read in the cold light of dawn as well as the cold light of this evening what was said on Second Reading. I do not detract from the impression I have had sitting in the Chamber looking at and listening to the behaviour of hon. Members opposite.

My point of substance, which is of considerable importance at present, is the whole question of regulating large assemblies. I have considerable sympathy with what the Isle of Wight and the hon. Member for that constituency are trying to do, but I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), which was the Government's point at an earlier stage—I hope that they have not departed from it—that this is a matter of such growing importance that it should not be left to a piece of private legislation affecting one county in isolation from everybody else.

New Clause 5 not only attempts to regulate the assembly of crowds in a way which I regard as very undesirable but gives to the local authority the right to estimate the numbers of people so assembled. I do not know how the local authority would carry out the right which subsection (6) gives. It would be extremely difficult to do it. The more that the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight tells us that the Isle of Wight is a very small island with a small population and not used to having these large assemblies, the more impossible it will be for the local authority, with no experience of doing so, to assess the total numbers of people which subsection (6) requires.

Why should the House of Commons—I believe it to be rather dangerous—seek to legislate for the control of a crowd of pop music fans in one county in isolation from all the other problems of large-scale assembly which at present face us?

1.45 a.m.

Only a short time ago we had people behaving in a way that the hon. Member finds exceptionable—and probably I would, too—and causing a number of deaths. Those deaths were caused because of the behaviour of a much smaller crowd than the crowds at the Isle of Wight, and in a much more confined space, in Glasgow. That was only one of three or four incidents affecting public safety. We now have a committee of inquiry, under Lord

Wheatley, looking into that incident. Because they were so concerned about the problem of public safety that arose the Government asked one of their advisers—Mr. Walter Winterbottom—to visit almost every football ground to consult all the owners of those grounds. But when Mr. Winterbottom went round to look into these questions he discovered that he had no powers—apart from the powers of persuasion—to impose any standards upon the people who were attracting football crowds in much more emotional situations than operated in the Isle of Wight.

In an earlier interjection, which was then rightly ruled out of order but is valid now, I mentioned that a large number of football supporters attending a match at Halifax gave greater offence to the people of that town than anything that the pop crowd did on the Isle of Wight. All the people in question seem to have assembled for the deliberate purpose of breaking the law—if we are to take the Press accounts at their face value. There have been other occurrences, notably at the ground of Newcastle United. Again, it was quite impossible to get ambulances, fire engines and police forces there to deal with the extremely ugly situation that occurred in a match that the club was playing with Glasgow Rangers only two or three years ago.

Let us move away from the football scene and look at even larger assemblies of people, such as those which congregate at Silverstone, for the motor racing, which attracts crowds much greater than the pop festival crowds—crowds numbering about 250,000—in an area much smaller than that of the Isle of Wight. No powers of regulation exist, other than the normal public health powers, because the racing takes place on private property, and the powers of the police and public authorities to regulate what goes on on private property are much more limited than their general powers in respect of public order and public health in open spaces.

In such places as motor racing circuits there are inadequate sanitation facilities, and inadequate public safety facilities. Although motor racing is well regulated by the R.A.C., there is a direct hazard to public safety merely by the nature of the events that take place and the speed of the cars.

I could illustrate my point with other examples, but I think that I have said enough—[Interruption.] I am aware that nothing that I say will make any impression on hon. Members opposite; they are not interested in the merits of the argument. But I think that the Minister of State will be interested in the merits of the argument, for I know from my previous Ministerial experience in these matters that not a week passes but he has to deal with some event of public disorder of one kind or another arising out of our sporting preoccupations. It is very rare, on the other hand, that we have to deal with public disorder arising out of what one might term, in a loose sense, cultural pursuits, which I believe pop festivals to be in their own way. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh at that, but that is how I look at it, and, having read the debate in the other place, I am interested to know many of their lordships drew that conclusion. I notice that it was said by a member on the bishops' bench that there was a deep spiritual purpose on the part of many of the people who assembled. That is not something which one should lightly discount.

On the one hand, we must not transgress the power of public assembly, a power which we seek to cherish and which the House should never lightly disregard. On the other hand, there is the need to regulate large assemblies. Balancing those two matters, one comes again to the inescapable conclusion that the Government's advice at an earlier stage in these proceedings is right, that this is a matter for the Government and not for any one local authority to deal with by a Private Bill. Even though we pass the Bill tonight, as undoubtedly we shall, in view of the forces assembled on the benches opposite—[An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."]—and the fact that many, like the hon. Member who said "Hear, hear", have no wish to deal with the merits of the case, we shall have to come back to this subject.

Are we to come back to it local authority by local authority? Are the Halifaxes, the Manchesters, the Glasgows, the Newcastles to bring in their own Bills to regulate the behaviour of their own large assemblies on other occasions? Such a procedure only has to be stated to be seen to be absurd by anyone who understands the situation Plainly, this is a matter for regulation by the Government. I should support the Minister of State in any such proposal. I should support the people of the Isle of Wight, who say that they ought not to have large numbers of people suddenly descending upon them in an unregulated manner. The regulation of these matters, of public safety and public health, should apply to all large assemblies on all occasions. For that reason, in my judgment, the Bill ought not to go forward. It should be withdrawn so that the Government may introduce their own legislation, which—I speak only for myself on this occasion—I should like to think would have the support of both sides of the House.

Mrs. Sharples

Perhaps I may leave the philosophical argument addressed to us by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) and direct attention to Lords Amendment No. 4 and the new Clauses. As the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) said, new Clause 5 is little different from the Clause passed by this House. From the Home Office point of view, the main alteration, which puts right one matter of objection which I expressed on Report, is the final sentence added to subsection (2) of new Clause 5: Provided that no term or condition relating to public order shall be imposed without the consent of the Chief Constable of the police authority". That meets our main objection.

As regards the other Amendments made in the other place, there were five made on Third Reading: two were drafting Amendments, and the three others were as follows: first, that when the county council turned down a site on grounds of unsuitability it should tell the promoters why it thought the site unsuitable; second, that the powers to regulate pop festivals should not be operative till 1st December, 1971; and, third, that the county council should draw up a model set of terms and conditions to be available to any would-be promoter.

All those Amendments are satisfactory to the Government, and I think that it would be right now for the House to reach a decision on the new Clauses.

Question put, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment:—

Remaining Lords Amendments agreed to.