§ (1) The Secretary of State shall appoint a committee to advise on the conditions which ought to govern the holding of night assemblies.
§ (2) The committee shall submit to the Secretary of State a code of practice for purposes of this Act and the Secretary of State shall lay before each House of Parliament a draft statutory instrument embodying the code of practice recommended by the committee, subject to such amendments as he may think fit.
§ (3) The draft statutory instrument referred to in subsection (2) above shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
§ (4) The local authority in refusing any application or imposing any requirement under section 2 of this Act and the Secretary of State in dismissing any appeal made to him under section 6 of this Act shall state in writing to the applicant the reasons therefor, and shall at the same time specify in writing to him any departure from the code of practice.—[Mr. Hamling]
§ Brought up and read the First time.773
§ 11.7 a.m.
§ Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
In parenthesis, in opening today's proceedings, I am rather surprised that the Prime Minister is not present to move the Adjournment of the House to celebrate a famous victory last night. However, I understand that that practice ceased in 1815.
In moving new Clause 2 we are asserting that this is an Amendment to delete Clause 7. It is worth while mentioning, perhaps, in referring to the proceedings of Standing Committee C on the Bill, that the Bill we have before us today is radically different from that which was presented to the House. Clause 7, which we are seeking to delete, was certainly never in the Bill at the start and was put in to deal with some of the doubts of my hon. Friends about the Bill.
In view of what I understand may be remarks on subsequent Amendments, it is fair to say that one of the purposes of moving Amendments to a Bill is to try to improve it or at least to try to remove some of its worst features. Oppositions have done that from time immemorial. That does not mean that because they move Amendments and have them accepted, perhaps their doubts about the Bill as a whole are thereby removed. At the end of the day, they may still feel that it is a bad Bill.
Nevertheless, this is something that certainly some of my hon. Friends who served on the Committee felt strongly about. This deals with the approved code of practice for night assemblies. One of the things about which we have grave doubts is the Secretary of State's position in all this. Clause 7(1) says:The Secretary of State may approve and circulate to local authorities any code of practice for the purposes of this Act which has been prepared and submitted by a committee appointed by him to advise on the conditions which ought to govern the holding of night assemblies.The use of "may" is relevant. There were great terminological arguments in Committee about whether it is appropriate to use "may" or shall ". "May" in a Statute means that the Secretary of State may or may not: he has the power, but he does not need to use it. He may 774 approve a code of practice and he may circulate it. The question is whether having approved it he feels obliged to circulate it.
The other doubts in the minds of some of my hon. Friends in Committee related to the composition of the committee to be appointed by the Secretary of State to advise on the conditions which should govern the holding of night assemblies. I am never happy about these collections of learned or experienced men or women. It smacks of paternalism. Some of us still have grave doubts as to whether this is the right way of doing it.
Clause 7(2) says:The local authority in discharging the functions conferred on them by sections 2 and 3 of this Act, and the Secretary of State in deciding any appeal to him under section 6 of this Act, shall have regard to any code of practice which is for the time being approved as mentioned in subsection (1) above; but neither the local authority nor the Secretary of State shall in relation to a particular case be held to conformity with any particular provision of the code.This subsection drives a coach and horses through the whole of the Clause. What is the point of having a code of practice, whoever has prepared it, no matter how knowledgeable, experienced or competent may be the advisory committee, if the local authority which is concerned with exercising its functions under the Bill when enacted shall, in relation to a particular case, not necessarily be held to conformity with any provision of the code?
The new Clause which I have the honour to propose makes the whole thing much firmer. Subsections (1) and (2) provide:11.15 a.m.
- "(1) The Secretary of State shall appoint a committee to advise on the conditions which ought to govern the holding of night assemblies.
- (2) The committee shall submit to the Secretary of State a code of practice for purposes of this Act and the Secretary of State shall lay before each House of Parliament a draft statutory instrument embodying the code of practice recommended by the committee, subject to such amendments as he may think fit."
The Bill having passed through the House, the House will nevertheless have the right, subject to the new Clause, to have another look at the code of practice so decided by the Secretary of State. He is not given complete discretion.
775 This is an important matter relating to the right of assembly which is something that is part and parcel of our tradition in this country. One thinks of the six Acts after the Napoleonic Wars and the way in which the reactionary Government of those days sought to control or reduce the right of citizens of this country to assemble. The House has always jealously guarded that right of assembly of the ordinary citizen.
We believe that the House, should retain control and that it should not be left to the Secretary of State. Some of the other matters which the House discuses from time to time, which some people may think a little more serious, for example, the rights under the European Communities Bill, are teaching the House some awfully bad habits. We do not want those bad habits which are being imposed on the House by this Government to leak over to this Bill. We want both Houses to retain control.
Subsection (3) states:The draft statutory instrument referred to in subsection (2) above shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.",This is right, in order to retain the powers of the House.
Subsection (4) states:The local authority in refusing any application or imposing any requirement under section 2 of this Act and the Secretary of State in dismissing any appeal made to him under section 6 of this Act shall state in writing to the applicant the reasons therefor, and shall at the same time specify in writing to him any departure from the code of practice.This would successfully overcome the difficulty in the existing Clause 7(2) where"Neither the local authority nor the Secretary of State shall…be held to conformity with any particular provision of the code.This is a fairly straightforward Clause. It would strengthen the Bill, however much some of us may later look at the Bill as a whole and have other points of view and other doubts. It would meet some of the objections which my hon. Friends expressed so cogently in Committee.
For example, in Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Carter) talked about local authorities escaping their obligations. One of the purposes of the new Clause is to ensure that that does not happen, by 776 removing from local authorities some of the discretion which they might otherwise have—this is one of the central issues of the Bill—so that local authorities shall not be allowed to evade their responsibilities or obligations and will be bound by something much tighter than exists in the Bill.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)
The code of practice which my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) envisages is based on an obvious and justified desire to protect the issue of civil liberty which is gravely endangered by the provisions of the Bill as it is drawn. There were some improvements in Committee, but the Bill is still too vague. First, it provides the Secretary of State and local authorities with arbitrary powers against which there is no proper protection.
I want to develop that argument. My hon. Friend has drawn attention to the fact that under the existing Clause 7 the Secretary of State may, if he so desires, provide a code of practice. That is not good enough because without a code of practice this Bill is totally unacceptable. The code is an absolutely essential prerequisite to the passing of the Bill. If we do not have a code of practice, a chaotic situation will arise.
As has been said in Committee, there is a burden of proof on the sponsors of the Bill to establish in so many respects what sort of research they have done in order to justify the assertions that they have made about the validity of the Bill as it is at present drawn. I think that it is not research that they have done into what is required; I think they are governed primarily by their emotive reactions to certain incidents which have occurred, and that cannot be a very good guide to legislation.
What the Secretary of State would do presumably, if he deigned to introduce a code, would be to introduce one which was remarkably like the Highway Code. It would have no legal authority. It would be a guide which local authorities could, if they so desired, implement or totally reject. I am not sure whether in rejecting the code a local authority would find itself in difficulty in the matter of the appeals procedure. It is possible. But, as is said in Clause 7,neither the local authority nor the Secretary of State shall in relation to a particular case 777 be held to conformity with any particular provision of the code.That seems to me to deny any real authority to the code, and this is dealt with in the new Clause emphatically.
It is rather ludicrous that the House of Commons should be denied the opportunity of debating the code. This, in fact, is implicit in Clause 7 as at present drawn. Possibly we would have had an opportunity of debating the code in an Adjournment debate, but that is a matter of chance.
§ Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)
I do not think it would be possible to debate it on the Adjournment. Would it not raise a question of legislation and, therefore, not be debatable on the Adjournment?
§ Mr. Davis
I am prepared to be guided by the hon. Gentleman's experience, but I do not think it would involve legislation. I think that in an Adjournment debate one could draw attention to certain defects in the code because it is not legislation in itself. One could debate how it was operating in given circumstances. I believe that it could be debated on the Adjournment. Nevertheless, that is totally unsatisfactory because it depends upon one's luck in the ballot. I suppose one could ask Questions about it. That might be a possibility, but that is not an adequate substitute for a proper debate involving a matter of this tremendous importance. As has been stressed during the whole course of the Committee proceedings, this is a matter affecting the right of free assembly in this country and we cannot allow it to be governed by whim and chance. Therefore, the proposed new Clause is of vital importance.
It is not simply a question of the right to debate. We must have the right to amend the code and to revoke it if the House considers that the code which has been worked out by this group of people is unsatisfactory. At the moment I am engaged in the Committee stage of the Legal Advice and Assistance Bill where a number of us have had cause to complain of the large number of advisory bodies and working parties which are set up. We do not know how many there are. Indeed, one of my hon. Friends put down a Question to the Home 778 Office asking how many advisory committees and working parties had been set up by the Home Office. The answer that he received was that to give an answer to that Question would involve inordinate expense. By this Bill we have another organisation being set up.
The feature in Clause 7 which I find appalling is that there is no provision at all for vetting the code, and that is put right by my hon. Friend's new Clause. We simply cannot rely on the good will of the Secretary of State. The present Secretary of State may be a man of great geniality. He may be an effective Minister, though I have rather more doubts about that. The fact is that we are dealing with one Secretary of State who happens to be in office at the moment. We may later have a Secretary of State who takes very different views about matters of this sort and who would willingly exercise arbitrary powers involving the possibility of the invasion of civil liberties. I do not know whether that is a likely possibility, but when we are legislating it is a matter which we have to take into account, and in my view this is not taken into account properly in the Bill as it is at present drawn.
A great deal of time was devoted in Committee to arguing the issue of civil liberty, and when one is dealing with legislation as wide as this, involving difficulties which in my submission have not been dealt with properly, or at all, it becomes even more essential that the code of practice should be clear and specific. Time without number in Committee it was put to the sponsors of the Bill that they should make proper provision for the political assembly, for the assembly that was spontaneous, the assembly that could arise because people were angry about some issue—perhaps unemployment or a foreign affairs issue; and, although some Amendments have been made, and 5,000 may now assemble as against 1,000 as was originally envisaged, I do not think this begins to grapple with the problem. Therefore, this code of practice becomes even more essential.
What the sponsors of the Bill may decide to be encompassed within the code of practice may be totally different from what we want to see encompassed within it. The sponsors may want to deal only 779 with the number of lavatories, sanitation and so on. We want to see established the principles upon which the Bill should be operated, and not simply—to adopt a term which was used in another series of debates—the nuts and bolts. This code is designed to assist local authorities and, therefore, it must be designed to assist them in the implementation of this Measure so far as it relates to issues of principle.
I do not believe that either the Government or the sponsors of the Bill have taken properly into account the very real objections which were made on political grounds to the drafting of the Bill. It is not sufficient to say, as the Minister said in previous debates, that we can safely rely on the established principles of democracy in this country to see that the Bill is implemented sensibly and within the limits of a democratic society. That is no good, because I believe—I speak as a lawyer—that law must be as precise and specific as possible. Laws can be used for purposes that are totally unacceptable; they can be abused. Laws can be introduced for the best possible reasons and ultimately be used for the worst possible reasons. Therefore, the code of practice should have the force of law. It should bring the Bill within the criteria to which I have referred.
The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), who introduced the Bill, said that he would make some concessions on the question of the rights of political assembly. I looked through the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee proceedings very carefully. It may be that I have missed them, but I did not observe the concessions that he promised. I did not observe the concessions that would deal with the question of a spontaneous political demonstration, which might well take place at night. I did not see the consession which would deal with the sort of examples which were postulated of the Jarrow hunger march and the objections that were taken to Russian activity in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, which could well happen again. There could be massive demonstrations taking place throughout the day and the night. Where is the provision? Where is the security? Where is the safeguard? I challenge the hon. Member for Weston- 780 super-Mare to tell us what safeguard there is in the Bill to provide for that provision.
§ Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
It would perhaps be more appropriate if the hon. Gentleman made these points on the next set of Amendments, when I shall be very glad to answer them.
§ Mr. Davis
I shall listen with bated breath to the observations which the hon. Gentleman makes, but which he denied himself the pleasure of making during the long Committee stage. He might well have given the matter more thought earlier, but if he is now prepared to make the concessions that have been demanded, we shall be very happy. We await that with interest.
I have argued that we cannot have vague protections. We must guard against arbitrary action by local authorities or the Minister. As the Bill is drafted, the protection is totally inadequate. I do not believe that Clause 2 provides it. It was argued in Committee that it would be impossible to expect a spontaneous demonstration to comply with the protracted and cumbersome procedure envisaged under the Clause. Under Clause 3 a total veto would be possible on the Part of the local authority. There would be no possibility of an effective right of appeal, because there would not be adequate time. Under Clause 8, the matter would be totally within the hands of the Secretary of State. An organisation seeking to promote such an assembly would have to establish that it had held night assemblies in the past. That is ludicrous, because political organisations may never have held such assemblies. To require that they must establish their bona fides in that way is absurd.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt), in an interesting argument in Committee to try to meet such objections, said:We want to see that the Bill does not apply to that sort of thing, but is not the hon. Member overstating his case? In cases of genuine spontaneity, does anyone believe that a court would convict? It seems that we are worrying needlessly. If there was a genuine case of spontaneity, and it could be proved to the court that it was impossible for the people concerned to give 4 months' notice, this would not apply."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C. 15th March 1972. c. 89.]781 That is a remarkable and novel doctrine to be introduced into the law of the land. I am sure that the Minister, who is a solicitor, as I am, will agree that it would be a totally regrettable innovation. What the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight is saying is that the law may be an ass, and that although someone may be convicted of an offence under this absurd law he will have a jolly good plea to make in mitigation. That is completely unacceptable, and the argument against it is unanswerable. We can safely reject that approach.
What we are anxious to do is to design a proper safeguard, proper security, against abuse, against the use of the law by local authorities or a Secretary of State for tyrannical purposes. I hope that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare will see this point and will make proper concessions.
I do not want to detain the House any longer. I was not fortunate enough to serve on the Committee. But I should like to offer my appreciation to my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) for having moved the Amendment, because like him I am very much involved in issues of civil liberty. I regret that the sponsors of the Bill did not make proper provision for this. All sort of concessions have been wrung out of them, but their constant argument was, "It is not for us to amend the Bill. We have introduced the Bill, however nasty it may be, and those who object should propose Amendments." That is a novel proposition.
On the whole, this is not a very satisfactory Bill. It has not been very well drafted. It is full of loopholes and is capable of appalling abuse. It is the burden of those who are sponsoring it to put it right if they can. I do not believe they have, and I do not believe they will, though that remains to be seen.
I give my full support to the new Clause so ably moved by my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Charles Morrison
I support the new Clause and the deletion of Clause 7. Unfortunately I did not have the benefit of being a member of the Standing Committee, nor have I had time to study all the arguments that were advanced at that stage in support of Clause 7. Nevertheless, 782 it seems that that provision does little more than fill up a few lines of paper in the Bill.
Granted that Clause 7 gives the Secretary of State a permissive power, the fact remains that the Bill is not exactly permissive in nature. I do not complain about that, but in view of that, one is bound to question why the Secretary of State should he given this permissive power. Parliament should insist that the right hon. Gentleman produce a code of practice which hon. Members would have the right to debate.
I do not believe that acceptance of the new Clause would do anything other than ensure the dispelling of certain fears which many people have in their minds about this whole matter. I therefore urge the Minister to accept the new Clause and so make a minor improvement to the Bill.
§ Mr. Ray Carter (Birmingham, Northfield)
On various occasions in Committee I raised numerous objections to the powers of local authorities as contained in the former Measure and as stated in this Bill.
At our last sitting of the Committee I objected to the use of the word "may" in matters of this kind, mainly because its use would leave in the hands of local authorities power so to interpret the code of practice as to frustrate the intentions of the Bill.
In the midst of our Committee proceedings we were issued with the Working Party's Report to the Secretary of State entitled "Fifty Million Volunteers ". I read it with great interest and noted the similarity of view between that of the Working Party and my own on the question of the ability of local authorities to act oppressively under the former Measure. The Working Party clearly stated that such oppressive powers should be removed. Its report said:More recently, the Night Assemblies Bill has been promoted, with the support of the government, to provide similar powers of control in all parts of the country. This Bill seems to provide a much more satisfactory framework for control than the Isle of Wight Act, and in particular provides for an appeal to a person appointed by the Secretary of State against requirements imposed by the local authority. However, what is still lacking is a detailed statement from the central Government of the principles which should govern the use of controls or guidance as to the standards required. This is urgently needed.783 The Working Party was clearly referring to the need for a code of practice. The report went on:For this reason, we feel it is vital to emphasise that, even in its present form, the Bill is potentially oppressive".This matter was argued in depth and at length in Committee, where the sponsor of the Bill and others said that the point made by the Working Party had been met by dealing with what the report regarded as the "source of potential oppression ". I have no doubt that we shall hear from the sponsor how in his view the Bill removes this element of potential oppressiveness.
I made it clear in Committee that my doubts on the subject remained and and I gave notice that on Report, if the sponsor were not prepared to amend the Bill to remove what I considered to be the source of potential oppressiveness, I would have to reserve my position.
I now entirely support the Amendments standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), Amendment No. 27 which stands in my name and the other Amendments which stand in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). Even if certain of them have not been selected, they appear on the Notice Paper and express the feelings that many of us have on the subject.
I am still extremely concerned about the use of the word "may ". In the past we have had lengthy discussions about the strict legal interpretation of this word and whether one can substitute "shall" or "will" for it. It does not seem impossible to substitute "shall" for" may" in this case.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
Is my hon. Friend aware that a rather extraordinary situation would arise if "may" were used in relation to various criminal Statutes governing criminal liability? For example, if "may" were imported into certain matters that people at the moment "shall not do ", there would be a discretion in the matter for the criminal. It would be absurd to rely on such legalistic terminology in a matter as vital as this, which governs the whole of our civil 784 liberties from the point of view of assemblies.
§ Mr. Carter
I accept entirely both the spirit and content of that intervention, but I must say, with that degree of ambivalence which "may" implies to me, that there remains a source of potential oppressiveness in the Bill. Whatever we do about laying down a code of practice and having appeals machinery, it will be possible as the Bill is drafted for a local authority to frustrate the intentions of the Measure.
I accept that the sponsor expressed his willingness in Committee to meet many of the objections that were made. He must accept that though we now agree on many of the fundamental differences that were between us, there remains this potential oppressiveness and that there is, therefore, a serious dispute about the Bill as drafted. We are anxious not to withdraw our support for the Measure and I therefore hope that he will support the Amendments standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West.
There is then the question of the way in which a local authority may interpret the code, even though it may have accepted it. After all, Clause 7(2) concludes:neither the local authority nor the Secretary of State shall in relation to a particular case be held to conformity with any particular provision of the code.That again seems to me to be a source of potential oppressiveness. It would seem to allow a local authority, even though it had accepted the code, to place a wide variety of interpretations upon the Bill which could frustrate its intentions.
I do not want to restate the arguments we went over in the many hours in Committee. I merely remind the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare that at present pop festivals are wanted by no one. In the last few weeks, we have seen a local authority, for what appeared to me to be entirely politically motivated reasons, saying, "No" to a pop festival despite the fact that the people living in the immediate vicinity were quite happy about the festival being put on. I do not think that that local authority, given this Bill, will change its attitude. The loopholes in the Bill could frustrate the intentions both of the sponsor and of the Government.
785 No one wants pop festivals, just as no one wants a mental hospital or a prison in his area. Yet we know, as was pointed out time and again in Committee, that the pop festival is no longer a modern phenomenon but is part of the contemporary life of young people. Somehow or other we have to make it possible for organisers to put these events on and for young people to attend them and to enjoy themselves.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is sincere in wanting to create a climate and to produce legislation in which these pursuits can go on without undue hindrance from local authorities or people antagonistic to them. But on this point I ask him to accept the Amendments. Without them, I believe that the Committee's work on the Bill will prove valueless and that the clear intentions of the Bill can be, and I am sure will be, frustrated.
§ Mr. J. Selwyn Gummer (Lewisham, West)
I have always been unhappy about the Bill. I think that the motives of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) have been good but that many of those trumpeted abroad elsewhere have been other than good. This is a distinction which we should make. It is clear that the all-party support for the Bill has come from people who want to control pop festivals in the sense of ensuring minimum standards necessary in any kind of situation. What worries me is what worries the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Carter) about the use of the Clause which amendment would greatly improve. There is a difficulty here.
If we make so strict a code of practice that we demand from pop festival organisers standards so high that they could not in any reasonable circumstances be provided at the sort of places where a pop festival would be likely to be held, then the new Clause might be very restrictive. One might get a code of practice so tight that people could not hold pop festivals at all. Perhaps my hon. Friend will tell us whether he sees this as the position. Surely it is some objection to having a code of practice in any case. What worries me is that in such a case we perhaps ought not to have a code at all. Yet many of us feel that a code is necessary. Perhaps my hon. Friend will explain how a code established 786 on the responsibility of the Secretary of State would, in terms of the Amendment, be more dangerous to pop festivals than a code which "may" be approved by the Secretary of State.
There is considerable misgiving about the Bill. Much of it has been stirred up by persons with interests other than the interests of those hon. Members who have spoken in this debate—people who want to go on with pop festivals with no control whatever because they can make more money that way. But we should not evade the fact that there has been a lobby on the other side as well. Some people have said that we will be saying to some local authorities which have always refused pop festivals that there is now a situation in which they can find it easier and not harder to refuse properly constituted pop festivals. I had hoped that the Bill would distinguish between the pop festival properly organised, with adequate safety regulations and sanitary provision, and the pop festival which is not organised at all and creates the sort of shambles we saw on the Isle of Wight recently. In general the Bill does make that distinction. My hon. Friend has made a lot of alteration and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Carter) was right to point out how much had been done and how open-minded and reasonable my hon. Friend and the other sponsors have been in taking account of objections.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
I go along with most of what the hon. Gentleman is saying but not as far as to say that the sponsors have been reasonable. It took us five sittings in Standing Committee to persuade the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) to act in a reasonable fashion. The hon. Gentleman should not distort the proceedings of the Standing Committee.
§ Mr. Gummer
All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that I, in company with large numbers of representatives of young people, have met and discussed these matters with my hon. Friend and that on all the points raised not only has he been extremely helpful but has carried his help into action. If the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) addressed to my hon. Friend points which were perhaps not immediately acceptable 787 to him, no doubt it was because my hon. Friend was carrying out the extensive consultations he conducted. I do not think that there is a youth organisation in the country which did not have something to say to my hon. Friend and which was not met by him. This should be made clear. If ever a Bill was altered and improved by pressures put on the sponsors by youth organisations, this is it.
§ Mr. Carter
This change of heart on the part of the sponsor only came about when the Minister published the report I previously quoted from "Fifty Million Volunteers ", issued by the Secretary of State—a report which, at the previous sitting of the Standing Committee, the Minister had said he would not publish as an extract from a wider document. So the change of mind came about not through extensive consultations but because the Spectator leaked the fact that the document was in existence, so that the Minister was forced to publish it.
§ Mr. Gummer
Whatever the facts or non-facts of the production of the report, the fact I know about, because I was involved, is that a large number of people and very many organisations of different kinds approached my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare and not only were they received with great help by him, but the suggestions they made were largely accepted. I am pleased to say that many who were loudest in their opposition to the Bill are now not so opposed.
I support the new Clause, unless my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare can show very good reasons for not incorporating it in the Bill, because there is still this fundamental fear that the balance between the proper demands of the residents and ratepayers of an area and the pressure which they can exert on their local authorities and the needs of young people to have this kind of activity is too much in favour of local authorities as the Bill is at present drafted. As a result of the continued pressure of ratepayers and voters, a local authority will in almost every case say "No" to anyone wanting to promote a pop festival. The Bill does not distinguish sufficiently between the properly organised pop 788 festival and the kind of shambles that we have seen in the past.
The new Clause provides a chance for an objective, clear statutory code which people can point to and say, "We have fulfilled these requirements." I am worried about Clause 7 as it stands. It contains too many" mays ", to many vagaries and too many opportunities for those who want nothing to do with pop festivals to say, "We shall not have it. We cannot say exactly why, but we do not think that it is what we want." That is not fair to young people. On the other hand, it is a situation which can be improved considerably by the new Clause. For that reason I hope that my hon. Friend will accept it, or give us very good reasons for not accepting it. It may be that he has some idea of introducing some alternative in another place. But certainly an attempt must be made to improve upon the far too woolly provisions of Clause 7.
§ Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I wish strongly to oppose the new Clause. In doing so, I wish to set the tone of my opposition to what I regard as a nasty little Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) has fallen for the sucker punch by trying to improve the Bill. He referred to the need to strengthen it. In my view, there is never any need to strengthen a repressive Measure, and the weaker that this Measure can be made, the better it will be.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am sure that my hon. Friend does not want to misrepresent me or any of my hon. Friends. When I talk about strengthening the Bill I mean strengthening it from the point of view of civil liberties. If one cannot kill a Bill, one should at least attempt to strengthen it from that point of view.
§ Mr. Golding
My hon. Friend did not talk about strengthening the Bill from the point of view of civil liberties. He talked merely about strengthening it. I was surprised to hear him say that because, when he was in the Opposition Whips Office, he was known as "the permissive Whip ". At times we referred to him as "the Wizard of Oz ". It is surprising to see the most libertarian Whip who ever walked the corridors of 789 the House of Commons adopting this attitude. On this occasion, my hon. Friend has permitted himself to be lead to believe that he can improve this Measure. However, I remind him that it does not matter whether liberty is strangled by a coarse hemp rope or by silk. The way in which these fundamental liberties are tampered with does not matter. My hon. Friend should be directing his attention to destroying the Bill as it stands rather than tinkering with it.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
Is not my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) doing a serious injustice to my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling)?
§ Mr. Davis
This Bill received a Second Reading. The purpose of the Committee stage and the Report stage surely is to try to preserve something out of the chaos that this Bill will introduce if it is brought into law unamended. It may be that the right course is to vote against the Bill on Third Reading. I have considerable sympathy with that argument. But surely the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme is totally at odds with the purpose of the Committee stage and Report stage.
§ Mr. Golding
I had hoped to deal with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) later. He, too, has fallen through the trapdoor in the system whereby private Members sponsor attempts to restrict our liberties. Both my hon. Friends are guilty of the same error.
I should have no objection if what we were discussing today was a Committee reporting how best to conduct pop festivals. But let it be clear that that is not what we are discussing. The Bill does not provide for that alone, and it is on this point that I part company with my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney, Central and Woolwich, West.
I have some experience in these matters in that I am one of the few Members of this House to have had a pop festival literally dumped on the doorstep. In my own case it was within sight of the house in which I was living at the time. I should be as vehemently opposed to 790 a pop festival in my constituency as any hon. Member—
§ Mr. Golding
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Carter) says "Disgraceful ". I do not know what his attitude would be—
§ Mr. Robert Boscawen (Wells)
The hon. Gentleman said that he would be as opposed to a pop festival in his constituency as any hon. Member. May I point out to him that we are not opposed to pop festivals in our constituencies? My own constituency probably has had as many as any. We are opposed to the completely unorganised and disorganised affair which raises the temperature and builds up a head of steam against a pop festival ever being held again.
§ Mr. Golding
I did not say that all hon. Members were opposed to pop festivals. I said that I was as opposed as any hon. Member. I opposed the pop festival in my constituency on the ground that I should have preferred it to go elsewhere. I made no bones about it. I offered it round. No one wanted it. Everyone told me that I ought to be supporting it. I offered it to them in their constituencies. I opposed it strongly.
§ Mr. Carter
We in my constituency would be delighted to have one, given that we had a piece of ground big enough to hold a pop festival.
§ Mr. Golding
That demonstrates the difference between a Member who represents a car factory and one who represents acres of beautiful agricultural land, as I do.
§ Mr. Golding
I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West that my constituency stretches to Market Drayton. It has within it some of the most beautiful of the Staffordshire, Cheshire and Shropshire border country. He ought to know better than to make an interjection of that sort.
I know from experience that we need to find ways in which to protect people 791 who go to pop festivals from being exploited. I make no bones about this. If the Bill had been a music festival Bill, and included pop concerts and concerts at Glyndebourne, I should not have been here today, because I appreciate the need to protect youngsters who go to pop festivals.
I saw the way in which they were exploited in my constituency. I saw the prices which they had to pay for food and tickets. I could speak at length about the need to protect youngsters who attend pop festivals, and I agree with the sponsors of the Bill in so far as they set out to do that. One of the ironies of the pop concert held in my constituency was that before it was held people amongst whom I lived were begging me to protect them from it, but during the festival itself, while talking to the same people in the pub, I had to tell them that it was those who had come to attend the festival who needed protection. Local people were sneaking into the festival and treating it as a peep show. Some unscrupulous tradesmen were selling milk and other commodities at extortionate prices. There is a need to protect young people who attend pop concerts, and were that the sole purpose of the Bill I should not be as critical of this Measure as I am.
It is also necessary to provide protection for those who live near the sites at which pop festivals are held. I do not deny that one ought to be able to control the nuisance to local residents, although that can be overstated. I do not deny that people in my constituency were severely inconvenienced by the pop festival, and that is one of the problems that needs to be considered. One is faced with the problem of noise, large crowds, and so on. But there are many other problems to be considered and which are not always presented to one by the people before the concert takes place. If the purpose of the Bill as drafted had been to define the rights of people who live near the sites at which pop concerts or, for that matter any music festivals, are held, I should not be here today.
I have learned from experience that there is a need to define powers of local authorities in this matter. At present the law is inadequate and confused, and I should have thought that a Government Measure which went to the heart of the 792 matter and gave local authorities clearly defined powers in this kind of situation would have been very useful indeed. I have said before in this Chamber that were the Government to introduce a Measure which covered the whole of the United Kingdom and dealt solely with the problems created by pop festivals I should support it.
I referred a moment ago to the whole of the United Kingdom, but I may have to return to that, because it is clear from the new Clause and from the Bill that Scotland and Northern Ireland are exempted. That will have some severe consequences, as we shall discover later in our debates. If the purpose of this legislation had been to define the powers of local authorities throughout the United Kingdom, I should have supported it, but the more I read the Bill, and the more I read the Committee proceedings, the more I am persuaded that the sponsors of the Bill have not done their homework to discover the implications of their proposed legislation. I am, and have been for some time, persuaded of the need for someone, somewhere, to discover the facts and to search for solutions.
§ Mr. Hamling
I find my hon. Friend's speech most puzzling. Why did he not put down an Amendment in Committee, or even one for consideration today, to do specifically what he wants?
§ Mr. Golding
—and I shall not be drawn into doing that. If my hon. Friend had looked at the Notice Paper and examined the Amendments with care he would have realised that had the Committee not discussed certain items and thus precluded my Amendments from being taken today it would not have been necessary for me to make this speech.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
Does it not defeat the validity of the argument which my hon. Friend sought to adduce—namely, that the Bill ought to be totally destroyed and that we ought to have nothing to do with it—that he has put down a large number of Amendments—no doubt sensible ones—which would have the effect of doing precisely what my hon. 793 Friend the Member for Woolwich, West suggested, which was that we should straighten out a rather distorted Bill?
§ Mr. Golding
No Amendment of mine can ever have been described as sensible. My intention is not to strengthen or straighten out the Bill. My intention is to weaken it. If one is faced with a piece of legislation such as this, one has the responsibility of weakening it as much as possible, or at least of trying to confine it to the point at issue.
We shall later come to an Amendment in my name which will seek to exempt political and trade union purposes from the provisions of the Bill. That is an important Amendment. I oppose the new Clause because it accepts as a starting point the definition of night assembly. In Committee there was no challenge to the definition. There has been some shoddy compromise. One of the most interesting sittings of the Committee on the Bill was the sixth. If we look at the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee's business that morning we shall find the most compelling reasons set out for opposition to this Bill. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member wants to intervene, I am prepared to give way.
§ Mr. Selwyn Gummer
There are many of us—would the hon. Member not agree? —who are concerned today to look after the interests of their own constituents whom he mentioned and also the needs of young people gathering together—or any people gathering together. It does not help a moderate approach to the issue merely to attack Amendments instead of proposing alternative Amendments. The hon. Member has no Amendment saying anything about the meaning of "night assemblies ". It seems to me that the hon. Member is either attempting to go on talking to bring about an extreme position, or at least putting things in an extreme way. He is not putting forward sensible arguments at all. In that case he cannot blame hon. Members on either his side of the House or this for talking while he is speaking.
§ Mr. Golding
Had the hon. Member referred to the Notice Paper he would have seen that I have tackled head on the question of the exclusion of political and trade union assemblies. Of course I 794 have tackled the problem of definition. I have done that.
§ Mr. Hamling
What I invite my hon. Friend to do is to look at this from a positive point of view instead of a negative point of view. He could have said something about pop festivals but he has not said a word about them. Instead, he has taken this negative attitude all the time.
§ Mr. Golding
Let me make it clear that what I have said, and I think it a good idea, is that the Government should introduce a Measure based on research and fact. One of the objections I have to this Bill is that it is very vague and very woolly. Probably because it is a Private Member's Bill it is one which is loose and unsatisfactory.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)
If the Government introduced a Measure would my hon. Friend then say that, should the Opposition not like it but find it objectionable, they should throw their hands up and take no part in improving it? Is that what my hon. Friend is suggesting? Is not that a negation of the duty of Opposition?
§ Mr. Golding
I think the Bill should be tightened up. One of the objections I have to what my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) was saying is that he was talking about more precisioness, so that local authorities are more precisely controlled, so that regulations may more precisely be made and so that lawyers can more precisely in court take away our liberty of assembly. That is what I am objecting to. I am not objecting to all the Amendments to the Bill, but I am objecting to Amendments the purpose of which is to make it easier to restrict freedom and in particular the freedom to assemble for purposes other than those of pop festivals.
This is an important point, because an hon. Member has already said that there should be ways of controlling all people who assemble together. That is what I am against, precisely. This Bill being slipped through on a Friday brings about a fundamental change in our constitutional position. It transfers the onus from the State and places it upon people 795 assembling, who have to get a certificate and to give undertakings to the State about noise, about disturbance to others—
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
How can the hon. Member say that this Bill is being slipped through on a quiet Friday? Is he not aware that the Bill took more time in Committee than do most Private Members' Bills, and that there has been massive publicity about it, that a vast amount of thought has been devoted to the Bill, and that there has been plenty of warning of its Report stage today. Cannot the hon. Member see the other point of view?
§ Mr. Golding
I was scandalised when I picked up the OFFICIAL REPORT of the debates in Committee on the Bill to find how light those proceedings were in discussing an important constitutional issue—
§ Mr. Hamling
I think we might take my hon. Friend's objections more seriously if he had been present in the Committee when these matters were discussed. He was not there.
§ Mr. Golding
I was involved in the Committee on the Sound Broadcasting Bill, which were rather heavier proceedings than those on this Bill. If one looks at the OFFICIAL REPORT to see the extent of the consideration, if hon. Members would do me the favour of looking at the Report of the sixth sitting on Wednesday, 12th April, they will read there, in col. 221, "Mr. George Wallace in the Chair ".
§ Mr. Golding
I was led astray, Mr. Speaker, and I demand protection from sedentary interjections.
My view is well known on what I can only call a committee of public safety. That, I think, is the only historical phrase by which I can describe it. It is no way in which to approach this problem. It is not good enough for my hon. Friend to be proposing a Government committee 796 of inquiry into the conduct of political and trade union assemblies—
§ Mr. Hamling
I shall need protection soon. I will support my hon. Friend's Amendment No. 5 when we reach it, but I must not now anticipate debate on that.
§ Mr. Golding
I am not doing any shoddy deals to withdraw my charge against my hon. Friend because he will support my Amendment No. 5.
I put the point seriously. "Night assemblies" in this Bill includes political and trade union assemblies which will last more than 24 hours. It includes those assemblies. By this new Clause my hon. Friends are asking the Secretary of State to set up a committee to advise on a code of conduct for those particular assemblies and what my hon. Friend is thereby doing is quite specifically saying to the Government, "Please examine, please draw up rules for assemblies of young people assembled to discuss politics or "—
§ Mr. Golding
My hon. Friend says "No "from a sedentary position, but this is the dilemma in which the Bill places us. Had the Bill specifically excluded political and trade union assemblies there would have been no need for discussion. The only concession that has been made is the exclusion of a demonstration or assembly which lasts for less than 24 hours.
I do not want a committee of inquiry to examine political and trade union assemblies which so far have been free of controls.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Golding
I have not forgotten the Public Order Act. If the hon. Member for Woolwich, West, who speaks so often on civil liberties, is saying that because there is a Public Order Act we should 797 extend the restrictions on trade unionists—
§ Mr. Golding
—my hon. Friend has been kidded into supporting a measure which is restrictive of our civil liberties.
I come to my second point. Were I not objecting on this ground—
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
In his extensive researches in the late hours of yesterday far his speech today, I wonder whether my hon. Friend read the proceedings on the Isle of Wight Bill in column 991 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 17th May, 1971, wherein he was advocating provisions to deal with pop festivals which were far more oppressive, restrictive and undemocratic than are the proposals contained in the Bill?
§ Mr. Golding
You would rule me tedious, Mr. Speaker, were I to repeat what I have said in the first part of my contribution. Were the Government to introduce legislation based on research with the intention of defending people who wished to go to pop festivals, defending people who lived near the place where pop festivals were held and to make the local authority procedures clearer, and were those provisions to apply to Scotland and Ireland as well as to England and Wales, I have made it clear that my attitude to that legislation would be different.
§ Mr. Golding
I will make that clear when we discuss the next Amendment. There is a great difference between defending our old political rights of assembly and defending pop festival promoters who are trying to exploit the young. Much of my objection to the Bill lies in the way, in the name of liberty, we are allowing pop festival promoters to exploit our young people.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Apart from any political or trade union assembly at which my hon. Friend might be the principal speaker, what sort of political or trade union assembly is likely to last for more than 24 hours in the open, with an audience?
§ Mr. Golding
To answer that question would be to trespass on the next set of Amendments and it would be improper for me to do that now, but I have a speech prepared on that point. When I was looking at the Bill last night and deciding whether to support it, from time I discussed the question with my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). In the intervals between childing him for his weakness, I considered the wider issues.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)
Before the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), my hon. Friend was talking of the need to protect young people from exploitation by promoters of pop festivals. The only correspondence on the subject which I have received from my constituency has been in the form of petitions signed by hundreds of young people asking for the Bill to be destroyed. That being so, does my hon. Friend, as a libertarian, agree that it is inappropriate to decide how young people shall be protected against something from which they do not wish to be protected?
§ Mr. Golding
I find the reference to myself as a libertarian quite offensive. I do not want to be associated with my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West, who is supporting this vicious legislation. I take the point, but I think that there is a need to protect young people.
My second point is that throughout the Bill and in the new Clause appears the phrase" the Secretary of State ". I want to know which Secretary of State we are talking about. I have been unable to decide.
§ Mr. Golding
Normally a Bill bears the name of the Secretary of State who is presenting it, but this is a Private Member's Bill and no Minister is named.
§ Mr. Hamling
I hope that my hon. Friend will not parade his ignorance too much this morning. It is well known that on the back of Private Member's Bills the Secretary of State is not mentioned. Frequently in Private Member's Bills there are references to the Secretary 799 of State and the House understands that even if my hon. Friend does not.
§ Mr. Golding
On a Bill which is not a Private Members Bill it will be clear which Secretary of State in involved. In our proceedings on the Sound Broadcasting Bill we argued whether "The Minister" meant the Minister of Posts and Telecomunications or the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Hamling
The Secretary of State was mentioned in the Sunday Entertainments Bill which I sponsored a couple of years ago. Everyone knew that we were referring to the Home Secretary, just as in this case everyone knows that we are referring to the Secretary of State for the Environment.
§ Mr. Golding
Could that be everyone bar one? This is a constitutional issue involving civil liberties. If it is the Secretary of State for the Environment then I am even more opposed to this Clause than I would be if it were the Secretary of State for the Home Department. It is an important distinction. The Home Office is known as a Department of State conscious of the need to protect the freedom of the individual. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Bidwell) will support me when I say that the Home Office has a very fine record in dealing with immigration cases.
The Department of the Environment is quite different. It is a body created to interfere with civil liberties. It is an interventionist Department. It is one which sees as its objective the drawing up of rules and regulations. It is a vast bureaucracy. If one wants to stop something one writes to it; if one wants to take a negative attitude one goes to it. It is quite a different thing if we are asking that Department to appoint a committee whose job it would be to make recommendations which could fundamentally affect our civil liberties. We know that the Department for the Environment is not the Department to do this.
It is clear that the type of people whom the Secretary of State for the Environment would appoint to such a committee would be latter day Inspectors-General. We could expect the choice to 800 be of people whose attitudes towards life were ones of restriction. Without doubt the type of Committee appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment would be composed of Establishment figures. It would include Privy Councillors and that sort of thing.
§ Mr. Golding
Yes, indeed. There would be the same old faces, the old, the comfortable, those who have lost all spark and imagination. We would get on such a committee those who think that order consists of a comfortable armchair by a fire, and these would be the wrong people to deal with this question because by their very nature those who want to assemble in numbers of 5,000 or more in the open air are not the comfortable men and women in armchairs, the old, the wise, those who have given up the struggle in society. The people who want to congregate outside will be anti-Establishment, they will be the long-haired—
§ Mr. Golding
—they will be the bearded, the badly-dressed. We know that this committee sitting in comfort in a London board room will base its attitudes on an image it has of these people. It will draw up rules, regulations and restrictions based on its prejudices, based on an antagonism towards all who would challenge the establishment.
That is one of the fundamental objections to the Bill and that is why I oppose the Clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West is trying to create a committee which we know will be prejudiced against anti-Establishment people. I was shocked to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central say that he would like the code to be drawn up in precise terms so that it could be implemented in the courts. Then, not only would it have been drawn up by Establishment people, but it would be rigidly applied by the most reactionary force in the country, which is the judiciary, which is the courts, which means the lawyers.
This combination would be an intolerable infringement on our civil liberties. The Wellingtons of the 20th century would be able to look out of their club 801 windows in comfort knowing that there was no chance of the mob passing by that particular window. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) says that I go too far. His conscience is pricking him. Having been involved in that shady deal at the sixth session, he sits there muttering under his beard. I come now to my third point—
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson
Before my hon. Friend gets to his third and perhaps final point, may I ask him about this shady deal to which he keeps referring? I have not heard about this. Could he describe in detail what it is, because I know of no deal and none of my hon. Friends does?
§ Mr. Golding
I think that you have told me off already for that, Mr. Speaker. I hope you will protect me, because I do not want to run away in the face of the enemy, but at the same time I do not want to be out of order. I will refer to that on the next set of Amendments when I think it will be in order. I have one other objection to this Clause. I do not think this is a job which should be tackled by a committee. This is a job which should be tackled by a Minister, either of the Home Office, which I should prefer, or of the Department of the Environment, if we are pushed to it. Rather better than that, perhaps, and going forward rather than backward, having read the accounts and listened to representations from my constituency, a better thing would be to ask the Minister responsible for the arts to set about creating ideal conditions under which pop festivals can be held, instead of keeping out youngsters from our art galleries and museums. That would be a very good thing. If we could remove the problems of finding sites for pop festivals and the problems that come from commercial exploitation, we should avoid the need for a committee of inquiry as proposed in the new Clause. It would be a very good thing if the responsibility were placed quite firmly on the Government and not left with this particular committee of inquiry.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
My hon. Friend has referred to the committee of inquiry. I hope also that if he has an opportunity 802 of doing some more late-night reading, he may get round to reading the Stevenson Report, a report submitted by a group of young people to the Secretary of State. That report recommended the appointment of an advisory committee to advise the Department of the Environment and the Secretary of State of the code of practice and other matters in relation to pop festivals. All the recommendations have been accepted by the Government and all of them were the basis of the respectable arrangement that was arrived at in Committee in order that young people at pop festivals could have some form of protection.
§ Mr. Golding
I find that acceptable arrangement totally unacceptable. I wonder what acceptable arrangement my hon. Friend is referring to. Perhaps later he could spell out what that arrangement is, and between whom it has been made.
§ Mr. Kaufman
In any case, would not my hon. Friend agree, from his long experience on the Sound Broadcasting Bill, that attempts to make "acceptable arrangements" in Standing Committees among small numbers of people closeted together for long periods are not acceptable when Bills comes to the Floor of the House and others have a look at what has been fixed in a Committee?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) began his speech at two minutes past 12 o'clock. He has wandered about fairly wide. He has given way a lot. It may be that the next time he gives way I shall assume that he has resumed his seat for good.
§ Mr. Golding
I had almost finished, Mr. Speaker. I shall not give way on the next occasion, although many of the interventions, Mr. Speaker, have come from hon. Members opposite whose names appear on the Bill.
My final point is that I object very strongly to the support which hon. Members have given to the new Clause, which will make local authorities apply the laws more rigorously. I had thought that this Measure had stemmed from the desire of local authorities to get the power to control pop festivals. That was the starting point. It seems to me to be very odd indeed that towards the end of the Bill the thing has been turned on its head. 803 Now we are talking about creating regulations which we shall force the local authorities to use. We have twisted the argument.
I reinforce my previous point. Were this applied only to pop festivals, perhaps I should not be here today. However, I have received a petition from hundreds of young people in North Staffordshire. Because this will relate to assemblies other than musical assemblies, serious civil liberty issues arise. No one in the House should support the new Clause. It will make this Measure more pernicious and more restrictive than it is at present.
§ The Minister for Local Government and Development (Mr. Graham Page)
I hope that it will be convenient to the House if I intervene at this stage.
It is no secret that the Government support the principle of the Bill. It may be of assistance if I indicate the Government view of the new Clause. In order to do so, I shall have to go into the history a little of how we have reached the situation as it is in the Bill and how we have led up to Clause 7 as it now appears in the Bill.
Originally, in the Bill as printed, certain criteria were set out on which local authorities could reach their decisions on whether to give notice under the Bill prohibiting the holding of a festival or notice putting conditions of permission for the festival to be held. They were obviously very short and rather brief conditions, and they were rather vague.
In the discussion both on Second Reading and in Committee, it was obvious that right hon. and hon. Members wished to see some sort of regulations or code by which the local authorities and, eventually, whoever heard a decision on appeal would be able to arrive at their final decisions whether there should be prohibition or permission with conditions or permission without any conditions.
It was fortunate that at that time, when the Bill was first introduced in the House and discussed on Second Reading, there was a working party set up by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Working Party on the Rôle of Voluntary Organisations and Youth in the Environment, under the chairmanship of Mr. Dennis Stevenson. Its report came into the 804 hands of my right hon. Friend during the passage of the Bill.
I was reluctant at first to extract the one chapter from this report which dealt with pop festivals. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Carter) said, at one sitting I resisted that publication. But I readily admit that, having read that chapter and seen the great value it would be in the deliberations of the Committee, at the very next sitting of the Committee I decided to submit that chapter to the Committee so that it might assist those deliberations.
That chapter recommended that the Secretary of State should set up an advisory committee to advise not only the Secretary of State but also the local authorities, the pop festival organisers and the residents of an area—in fact, anyone concerned with the holding of a pop festival in any area. It also recommended that this committee should lay down a set of flexible rules. I was pleased to be able to inform the Committee that my right hon. Friend accepted this recommendation and proposed to appoint a committee in accordance with the recommendations of that working party and to invite that committee to set out a code of practice for the guidance of local authorities and of the Secretary of State should any of these decisions come on appeal.
§ 1 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I was not on the Standing Committee. I understood that the advisory committee that was recommended would be representative of young people who have been concerned with festival organisation and local authorities. Clause 7 specifies no particular selection of age groups that should be on the advisory committee.
§ Mr. Page
I indicated in Committee the kind of experience which we should seek to have on that committee. It would be difficult, except in general terms, to lay down a description of the people who would be on the committee. We should want the committee to represent the pop festival organisers, voluntary associations of youth, and all those who are interested in pop festivals, either for or against. We should want, in particular, those who represent the people who are going to enjoy the pop festivals, the youth organisations and those at whom the pop 805 festival organisers can point as their customers on these occasions.
It is our intention to appoint this committee whether or not the Bill becomes law, to have advice from people who have already studied this subject. I have great pleasure in telling the House that Mr. Dennis Stevenson, who was the chairman of the working party I have mentioned, has consented to act as chairman of the advisory committee.
If the Bill becomes law, the committee, which we shall have already appointed under Mr. Stevenson, can become the new advisory committee under this legislation. This indication of the chairman indicates the sort of committee we desire.
Mr. Dennis Stevenson is aged 26. He has carried out a great deal of research in areas of social need, including the problem of young West Indians in Britain, the social effects of high-rise building, and a national survey of old-age pensioners. He is well experienced in this kind of work. He is an energetic young man who has been associated with young people who enjoy pop festivals.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Will the Minister clarify the rôle of this committee? What will be its powers, range of activity and scope if the Bill does not become law?
§ Mr. Page
It would be an ordinary advisory committee to the Secretary of State and could advise the Secretary of State on any of these matters. Whether or not the House desires night assemblies to be under statutory control, the Secretary of State is concerned about these matters and will seek the advice of a committee of this kind.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
Do I understand that the hon. Gentleman is saying that there will be an attempt to limit night assemblies by Statute introduced by the Government even if the Bill fails?
§ Mr. Page
I am not going as far as that. I am merely dealing with the present Bill and saying that, if the Bill becomes law, this advisory committee will be an advisory committee set up under Clause 7 or the new Clause.
The proposed terms of reference of this Committee are— 806
- "(1) To advise the Secretary of State for the Environment on the conditions which ought to govern the holding of night assemblies and to prepare for his approval a code of practice for the purpose of the Night Assemblies Act, 1972.
- (2) To advise promoters, occupiers of land, and local authorities, when so requested, on problems arising in connection with the holding of particular night assemblies."
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
That deals with the environmental argument only and not at all with the objections voiced by a number of hon. Members about the holding of political assemblies which might go on into the night. Is the hon. Gentleman going to deal with that?
§ Mr. Carter
The Minister has as his central attitude towards the Bill the committee of which he has just informed the House and the code of conduct. He no doubt heard my remarks about Clause 7. The possibility remains in the Bill that local authorities will frustrate what are clearly his and the Government's intentions. Is he satisfied with that state of affairs?
§ Mr. Page
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to deal with one subject in my speech at a time, I am coming to deal with the point he has raised. I wanted to deal, first, with the history of Clause 7 and where it has led us up to the present.
We have provision for an advisory committee to submit a code to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State has gone so far as to anticipate the progress of the Bill and to appoint a chairman and to discuss with him the individuals who might serve on that committee. As I have indicated today, the Secretary of State has set out the terms of reference which he would wish that committee to have.
I come to the new Clause, as opposed to Clause 7. I am glad the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) has returned to the Chamber, as I was waffling until he returned and I could deal with his Clause in his presence.
807 The two points which have emerged from the debate in support of the Clause are that the House would first wish the obligation on the Secretary of State to appoint a committee to be mandatory. Clause 7 as it stands does not say that the Secretary of State shall appoint a committee. It says that he may approve and circulate a code submitted to him by that committee. I think there is something of value in the new Clause in seeking to impose an obligation on the Secretary of State to appoint that committee. My hon. Friend would certainly accept that obligation if the House wishes to put it in the Bill.
The second and major point—I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) is not here, because it was mainly his point—I apologise; I have just received a note containing the hon. Gentleman's apologies. He is appearing on the "World At One" and therefore has had to leave the Chamber. I do not know why that should take precedence over the debate in the Chamber, but, having received his written apology after I had made a rather rude remark about him, I thought I should tell the House about it.
§ Mr. Kaufman
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Kaufman) is appearing on the "World At One" to bring to the attention of the public a further invasion of civil liberties different from that attempted today but equally important.
§ Mr. Page
I am glad to hear that. It would have been reprehensible if the hon. Gentleman had gone to debate this Bill outside the House while we are debating it here. I take the point he made that he and other hon. Members would wish the House to have some control over this code. My difficulty, therefore, is that if one sets out a code in a Statutory Instrument it is rigid. There is the fear, which I am sure would be in the heart of the hon. Member for Hackney. Central and of myself, since we are both in the same profession, that the lawyers would get hold of it and it would be rigid, that local authorities who wished to get out of applying the code would find an "and" or an "or" or a "may" or a "shall" which would get them out of it, and it would be administered as a legal obligation on both sides, as much 808 on the festival organisers' side as on the local authority's side.
We hope to have a flexible code because this is an experiment. We are trying to learn by experience. The whole process of having a code of practice is experimental, and to that extent I hope the House will let us keep that code flexible so that the advisory committee could advise the Secretary of State from time to time on alterations to the code and so that it might be applied to any area where the organisers wished to have a pop festival.
For example, how can one set out in the code that it would not be right to have a pop festival next door to a church or a school or near an ancient monument or something of that sort, without knowing the facts? I take the point that the House ought to keep some control of the code. I should have thought that this could be achieved by means of bringing it before the House in a Statutory Instrument. But if one is to have a Statutory Instrument and keep the code flexible, the actual drafting of the code will have to leave a number of escape clauses.
Let the House consider that if necessary. Let the code come before the House with these escape clauses and let us discuss it. Let us keep to the principles of the code, which I think were agreed by Standing Committee C, that it should be a code not drafted by the Secretary of State, not a bureaucratic code drafted in the Department of the Environment, but a code submitted to the Secretary of State by this advisory committee, a code which the Secretary of State would not then endeavour to amend but would either accept or throw out and say, "Do it again "—not a code prepared by the civil servants in my Department, no matter in what high regard I hold them, keeping the code flexible so that it is not set out in some statutory form in which there is no escape from the actual wording of the code.
We want to develop this in the earliest stages of the organisation of the pop festivals, balancing the arguments of the residents in the districts in which it is proposed to hold them and the arguments of the people who hope to enjoy the festivals. There is much value in the 809 new Clause, which the hon. Member for Woolwich West has proposed. He will realise that, speaking for parliamentary draftsmen, I would never accept any draft by anybody who was not a parliamentary draftsman. That is where I stand now. When on the other side of the House I have frequently argued that my draft was better than theirs. But in this situation, I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) and the hon. Member for Woolwich, West would allow us to see whether we could so draft the Bill that we introduced the main points in the new Clause.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Latham
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene, as I have been wondering whether I ought to put this point to him before he sits down. It may have some bearing on the reasons which he is about to give. What intrigues me is the reference he made—I am not sure how much of this was part of the "waffle" to which he referred; it sounded serious to me—to the intention of establishing an advisory committee irrespective of whether this legislation is passed. At the moment the Minister is speaking as if he expects the legislation to be passed. Earlier he was saying what was the intention of the Government even if the Bill did not reach the Statute Book. I should like to know what is the practical function of an advisory committee without this legislation. What powers is it claimed that the Secretary of State for the Environment would have to implement and, indeed, enforce any proposals made by the advisory committee? What will be the relevance of a code of practice to local authorities which would be concerned with trying to see that any practitioners of night assemblies or pop festivals conformed to the code of practice? What would be their powers to enforce the implementation of a code of practice? If it is—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
Order. I understood that the hon. Gentleman wished to intervene, not make a speech.
§ Mr. Latham
I apologise if the intervention is long, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was concluding the very last sentence of my intervention. I was coming back to the central question: what is the point of 810 having an advisory committee if there are no powers to enforce its recommendations, and, if there are such powers, is this legislation necessary at all?
§ Mr. Page
It would be unfortunate if we were left with an advisory committee without this Bill to give it purpose. All I was saying was that the Secretary of State could be advised on this sort of issue. In the same way as when he appointed a working party under Mr. Dennis Stevenson, it seems a pity that, that working party having reported, there should not be a standing advisory committee to monitor what happens from that point. I sincerely hope that we shall not be left with an advisory committee suspended in the air without powers given by this Bill.
I come back again to express the hope that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West will take my assurance that his Clause will be carefully looked at by parliamentary draftsmen, to see whether the Bill could be amended to take into account the two points which I mentioned: first, that it shall be mandatory on the Secretary of State to appoint a committee; and second, that there shall be some means of bringing the code before the House for consideration.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson
The difficulty facing the House today—and I say this with as much courtesy as I can to the sponsor of the Bill—is the sponsor's fault. What the House is trying to do is to make a Bill which sets out to do one thing into something else. What we are trying to do, and what the Standing Committee tried to do, is to change what is essentially an illiberal Measure into a less illiberal Measure. It is not an easy thing to do.
It is very easy to change a basically illiberal Measure into a more illiberal Measure, because the objectives are the same. For that matter, it is easy to change a basically liberal Measure into an even more liberal Measure, because the objectives are the same. But it is very difficult to change one type of Bill which is intended to achieve a particular object into another type of Bill which has a totally different emphasis.
That, in a sense, is why there has been so much misunderstanding today on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) and 811 others about the difficulties confronting the Standing Committee. I want to say a word about that, in fairness to the Opposition in the Committee.
I do not like the Bill as it is now drafted, but I like it a little more than I liked the original Bill, which was undoubtedly a most repressive and reactionary Measure, a Bill which would have attacked the very roots of the right of assembly. Civil liberties would have been in peril. My indictment against the sponsor of the Bill is that he was prepared to put on the Statute Book in that form such a Bill, which, alas, had Government support. Only when week after week we pointed out in Committee how threatening it was, not only to the right of young people to get together, but to the right of all people to engage in debate of any sort, whether trade unions, religious organisations or political meeting; only after the hostile Press he received—apart from the ever-loyal and ever-loving Daily Telegraph. every single responsible newspaper pointed out how dangerous the Bill was; only after the strong opposition by the Labour members of the Committee; and the outcry amongst young people and in the musical Press; were he and his hon. Friends prepared to concede that perhaps, after all, their Bill was not such a nice, cosy, gentle Measure as they had suggested.
When such a Bill is introduced the Opposition cannot just throw up their hands and say, "Get on with it. It is a nasty Bill, and we are not soiling our hands with it. Let it go on the Statute Book." To do that would pave the way for a repressive Measure to appear on the Statute Book, and we should have done nothing to make it less oppressive or to stop it.
The Amendments made so far make the Bill far less oppressive than it was intended to be. They have altered its emphasis completely. In its original form the Bill gave almost complete arbitrary powers to any local authority to stop completely, on any grounds it wished, a pop festival from taking place. The Bill is about pop festivals. It would be hypocritical to pretend that it was about anything else. Local authorities are inevitably subjected to a great deal of local pressure, which does not necessarily come from a wide circle of people. It 812 does not necessarily come from the public as a whole. It tends to come from a small group of powerful, influential and outspoken people who would not tolerate, under any circumstances, a pop festival in their area.
§ Mr. J. Selwyn Gummer
I agree entirely with that, and many of us feel strongly that this must be a Bill which gives a balance. But the hon. Gentleman should also admit that some of the opposition to the Bill, even in its present form, with the alterations that he and I and many others want, has come from another very small and very powerful group, the financial interests behind certain kinds of festivals, which do not want to have any of the reasonable restrictions which even the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) thought should be in it. We should be a little careful in accepting wholesale some of the criticisms which have come from very interested parties.
§ Mr. Davidson
I agree, as I often do, with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I am not here to speak for pop promoters. I do not give a damn about them; they can look after themselves. What I am concerned about is that young people should have the same rights to assemble together, enjoy themselves, and enjoy the music they want, as any other group of people has. The trouble is that they basically do not have those rights. It is only the thought of young people having a festival that evokes such fears and horrors among other people. Perhaps they are frightened of the young people. Perhaps they do not like the way they dress. Perhaps they suspect their lack of regard for authority. Perhaps they do not like the length of their hair, the width of their ties. For whatever reason, the thought of young people coming to a district—I should not say "coming ", because they never come, but are always accused of invading a district —evokes such hostility that I have often felt that perhaps we should be introducing a Bill to protect young people from the threats they frequently suffer from powerful local residents.
§ Mr. Boscawen
I am sorry to go back over the ground we have been over many times in Committee, but this is one of the main purposes of the Bill. Without 813 some sort of Bill, civil liberties are endangered. They are just as much endangered by lack of law as by repressive law. That is the point which I do not think the hon. Gentleman has ever really grasped.
§ Mr. Davidson
I have grasped it, and I am about to come to it, so firmly have I grasped it. I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman thinks I am covering the same ground, but this is the core of the Bill. The code of practice was not in the original Bill. It has altered the emphasis of the Bill. Many people have not followed the Committee debates and it is important that the House should know that the Bill is in many ways different.
But before I come on to that point, which I am accused of not grasping but which I intend to develop, though not as lengthily as my hon. Friend to Newcastle-under-Lyme developed his points, I want to bring into perspective the way in which local councils are subjected to pressures to stop at any cost, on any grounds, young people getting together for a pop festival.
Many people will have read the letter to the Daily Telegraph by Mr. James Wentworth Day objecting to a pop festival being held at Tollesbury. Many suggestions have been made that the purpose of the Bill is to prevent fly-by-night promoters. I am against fly-by-night promoters. I am against fly-by-night any-bodies. But the organisation that was attempting to promote the festival in Tollesbury was not, by any reckoning, a fly-by-night outfit. It was Great Western Festivals. I am not here to speak on its behalf, but I can say that it contains somebody as respectable as a Tory peer, and somebody even more respectable, a Labour actor. The organisation is one with considerable financial resources. Yet Mr. Wentworth Day and the Tollesbury Action Committee, which was no doubt composed of gentlemen with very short hair, wearing immaculate suits, spoke in the following terms. Mr. Wentworth Day wroteI think your readers should know that had the festival been held at Tollesbury certain villagers and others from a distance would have taken drastic measures to protect private property from trespass and damage. These included felling trees to block the access road, which are now lying trimmed and ready; barbed wire; tar; shot-gun cartridges loaded 814 with rock salt and peppercorns; brushwood fires…and so on.
Had Mr. Peter Hain suggested that these tactics be used to stop the South African rugby tour, there would have been a howl of protest from Mr. Wentworth Day and others. Had the Angry Brigade written a letter in anything like those terms there would have been a cry of protest and letters in the Daily Telegraph suggesting that the Special Branch pull their fingers out and round them all up.
All I can say to Mr. Wentworth Day and those who talk in these terms is that while I would not have them in my district for anything in the world, I would not use those tactics to try to keep them out. People who talk in those terms and who pose as gentlemen yeomen endeavouring to keep out the" alien hordes "—the Daily Telegraph either used that phrase or implied it—have a lot to learn in the way of good manners from the very young people they condemn.
Unless there is a code of practice which really means something, a code which the local authority will regard as binding on it, the Bill will be less than useless and we might as well all pack up and go home. Had the sponsor not agreed to incorporate a Clause containing some form of code of practice by which the local authority would have to abide I would have said that the Bill was so objectionable that no decent person could support it.
A code of practice of a sort has been incorporated and it is now a matter of marginal judgment whether the Bill as drafted will make those who wish to mount perfectly respectable and well-run pop festivals better or worse off.
However objectionable one may find the Bill, the position generally today is extremely objectionable from the point of view of those who want to run pop festivals and I am afraid that it is getting more objectionable. Great Western Festivals have moved from one village to another and from area to area in an attempt to put on a pop festival. The firm has been harried from pillar to post and threatened with injunctions. I am told that an injunction is likely to be 815 served on it today. It is a wealthy organisation which can afford to fight an injunction, but many smaller organisations would find themselves in great difficulty if placed in the same position.
Thus, in speaking about the Bill, I must voice my great difficulty in deciding whether, the position being so unsatisfactory, the Measure, with its many faults, will put those who want to run festivals and respectable gatherings in a better position.
While the inclusion of Clause 7 was a considerable advance and concession on the part of the sponsor, he knows that in its present form I could not possibly recommend my hon. Friends to support the Bill. First—my Amendments are directed to this very object—the words "have regard to" are far too weak and vague when it comes to having regard to a code of practice.
I have visions of the local authority which has predetermined its view—it will not have a pop festival in its area at any cost—reading the Bill and saying, "We simply have to have regard to this. Having had regard to it, we do not like it and will therefore impose all sorts of conditions of our own."
The words "have regard to" will have so little practical effect on local authorities—I refer particularly to ill-disposed, prejudiced local authorities and particularly those subject to local pressures—that they will simply disregard the code saying that it is impracticable in the circumstances of their areas.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Will my hon. Friend spell out his intentions about the Bill? The Minister, naturally because it is not his Bill, did not address himself to this. If the promoters do not find my hon. Friend's Amendment acceptable, will he press it?
§ Mr. Davidson
I would certainly have to press my Amendment, because if Clause 7 got on the Statute Book in its present form the latter part of subsection (2) would give a complete escape route to any local authority. Clause 7(2) simply says:neither the local authority nor the Secretary of State shall in relation to a particular case be held to conformity with any particular provision of the code.816 Any local authority which did not want a pop festival or any other form of assembly in its area would use that escape route. Unless the sponsor is prepared to delete that form of words, I should feel obliged to press my Amendment to a Division.
The other Amendment which I would have to press is that which would replace the words "have regard to" with the stronger form of words "act in accordance with ".
Much has been said by the Minister about the composition of the committee, and in Committee I tabled a probing Amendment suggesting that on this committee should be representatives of people with experience of putting on night assemblies, which virtually means pop festivals. I would include on the committee musicians, comperes, promoters, representatives of young people and at least one representative of an organisation concerned exclusively with civil liberties, because this is a civil liberties issue as much as anything else.
It would be meaningless if the committee were composed of pompous, Establishment-minded people who did not understand the peculiar problems associated with pop festivals. In other words, if this committee is eventually to draw up a code of practice, it must have knowledge of the requirements of young people, of what pop festivals are all about and the need to protect people who live in the vicinity of these assemblies.
These representatives must bear in mind that young people do not necessarily expect the high-class facilities that older people desire. Whatever may be said about the need for high-minded provisions, they should not be too high-minded in relation to pop festivals and similar activities. They must be provisions which are reasonable and sensible in all the circumstances and which would enable pop festivals to be conducted, and conducted in a better way perhaps than many are conducted at the moment.
There is a great deal to be said for the Amendment. It is a matter of judgment as to which emphasis one prefers. I take the Minister's point that if we had a code drawn up and debated by this House it might well be necessary to include more things in it than if it were 817 merely drawn up in an informal way. I am not sure that that is a bad thing because, whichever way the code is adopted, I am convinced, sadly, that some local authorities will seek a way to evade it and to impose conditions more onerous than those in the code and which will effectively stop a pop festival in their areas. This is why I have tabled an Amendment which would enable a local authority, if it so wished, to dispense with any particular provision in the code if it thought it unnecessary in the interests of public safety and public health. This would mean that a local authority could impose lesser conditions but not more onerous conditions.
As we debated the code of practice at some length in Committee, I need not detain the House longer, but I cannot accept Clause 7 as it stands. It is too vague; the escape route is too obvious. We should be in no better position than we are at present. I think that ill-disposed local authorities would disregard it and treat it with contempt and that we should be guilty of putting on the Statute Book a piece of very badly drafted legislation through which anyone could drive a coach and horses.
§ Mr. Wiggin
The hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) has undoubtedly covered a great deal of ground which we discussed fully both in Committee and elsewhere in the past few months. In view of the hour, I hope he will forgive me if I do not pursue him through every one of the points he raised. I hope by now that it is established that the purpose of the Bill is to bring in reasonable controls over large assemblies, and I make no secret of the fact that at the moment the only assemblies of this nature which would be caught by the Bill are pop festivals. The purpose of the Bill is to allow local authorities some powers, particularly in the interests of public health, safety and nuisance, over these gatherings.
At present our planning laws, our health regulations and other pieces of legislation which can be called in on these occasions appear to be totally inadequate. It is, therefore, desirable from the point of view of those who are trying to combat prejudice that there should be legislation so that when a pop festival wishes to go to a certain area the organiser can say to those who have 818 disquiet about it, "Do not worry. I have here rules and regulations with which I must comply ". I believe that if the Bill becomes law it will greatly assist to break down this understandable prejudice. If one brings together a very large number of people in a noisy type of gathering, whether it be a pop festival or motor racing, in the heart of the countryside for perhaps four or five days and nights, then opposition is human and understandable.
The original intention of the Bill was that the Department of the Environment would issue a circular in the normal way in succession to the existing circular of the Department of Health and Social Security, laying down the guidelines to be used when assessing the suitability of sites and conditions which local authorities would require of organisers. It became abundantly clear from my post bag, from the Press and from the comments of hon. Members opposite, that there was a widely held fear that local authorities would take a completely unreasonable view and impose conditions the effect of which would be to ban pop festivals. I repeat for the umpteenth time what I have said on the Floor of the House—that the purpose is not to ban but to control. It is not to ban—yet how many people have said that it was my intention so to ban? I totally deny that it was my intention to ban. Everything I have worked for is to try to ensure that the Bill could not be used in that way. We shall be discussing appeal procedure later. It is clear that it has been given the greatest possible importance in my calculations.
I have been nervous, and rightly, about writing a code of practice into the Bill. The hon. Member for Accrington made a number of relevant points on this. He drew attention to the considerations that I think we had to take into account in not writing a code of practice into the Bill in the first instance. The whole question and hardness of the code is what we are talking about. Do we have a code that is written into the law of the land, that cannot be diverged from, that must be obeyed, that will have to be written for the worst possible conditions? Or do we have a code that allows those on the spot, both organisers and local authority representatives, to use their 819 common sense? I believe that we rightly opted for the latter course.
The worst possible conditions that could be envisaged are perhaps that such a festival could take place on marshy ground in a high rainfall area or high up on a mountain. Such conditions would be quite different from those which might appertain on a sandy beach in the south of England on a midsummer's night. Yet the Amendment presses me very hard to give force of law to a code of practice. I fully appreciate the fear which has prompted the proposal. It is the fear that if the code is not written, the very flexibility which I believe to be desirable could be misused. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) made his case most succinctly.
The attitudes of future Secretaries of State have also been raised. Compliments have been paid to my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for the Environment, but the point was made that a future Secretary of State might not have such a liberal attitude towards these assemblies. My right hon. Friend is given a number of responsibilities of a similar nature, particularly in planning matters, and I think it fair to say that his predecessors from both parties have used their position responsibly and with no abuse of their powers. I must admit therefore that I do not see the fear about future Secretaries of State as justifiable.
There are other Bills going through the House. The Committee on Unopposed Bills, of which I was a member, passed a Clause a few days ago exactly the same as the parallel Section in the Isle of Wight County Council Act, 1971. The promoters of the West Sussex County Council Bill have agreed that if this Bill becomes law they will withdraw their own Clause. I know that the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), who took an important part in these debates, will agree that this Bill is a substantial improvement on both the Isle of Wight and the West Sussex County Council Bills.
I want to draw attention to the report issued by Lord Wheatley only last week on football grounds. Many people have said to me that we ought to have rules for football grounds. Lord Wheatley reports in his summary of recommendations 820 dealing with a very similar situation where large number of people gather:While not seeking to set out a code of practice in the sense of statutory regulations which have to be observed in all cases I have, with the assistance of the Technical Support Group, provided what should be regarded as guidelines towards a proper standard. I trust that these will be of benefit both to clubs in deciding what they should do in making improvements, and to licensing authorities in deciding what should be looked for.In a parallel situation, the noble Lord recommends a very similar method of operation—
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
Equally, he could have cited as an argument against it the mass of regulations under the Factories Acts, which are not merely guidelines. They have the force of law. Is this not a comparable argument?
§ Mr. Wiggin
Those who have to carry out the regulations feel that their very inflexibility often militates against the use of some of the most sensible provisions. I am sure that any factory inspector will agree with that point of view.
I turn to the concessions which have been made. I do not wish to arouse the ire of the Opposition again, but I hope that they will agree that we have met them very substantially throughout on all the major points that they have raised about the Bill. The very fact that it received an unopposed Second Reading is in part an admission that this is a sensible proposition and that something should be done to control these gatherings—
§ Mr. Wiggin
No. I think that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) has had a fair crack of the whip, and time flies by—
§ Mr. Wiggin
As a result of what for the last two meetings at least has been a constructive Committee, I believe that we have done something of which this House has no reason to be ashamed. We have listened to public opinion and we have altered the Bill to meet the criticisms which have been made of it. Although a wealth of viewpoint has been expressed 821 by young people, a large number would have me be much fiercer from the other point of view.
Dealing with this matter, my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development said that he considered that there was much of value in the new Clause. I agree to the extent of saying that I appreciate the feeling that this matter still is too flexible. Therefore I am prefectly prepared to go along with the concessions that my hon. Friend has stated, to have another look at what I believe the Opposition want, which is to tighten up this matter, so that the code and the very flexibility of it cannot be used against pop festival organisers. In so doing, I hope that we do not endanger the future of pop festivals. If we make it too tight and absolutely statutory that every" t" should be crossed and every "i" dotted, there is a danger that it may make it too difficult or too expensive in certain circumstances for pop festival organisers to hold their gatherings.
With that warning, which I have stated before, I am prepared to accept the two concessions: first, that a committee will be set up and, secondly, that some method will be sought to see whether it is possible to debate the code in this House. There is a slight difficulty about the latter point, and it was brought out in the strictures of the Leader of the Opposition during Business Questions yesterday. Statutory Instruments tend to pile up. It would be a pity if Amendments, possibly easing the burden on organisers which the Committee might make after a little experience, could not be passed owing to the weight of legislation in this House or the lack of time. I do not think that we want to make the amendment of this code too onerous.
Having said that, I hope that the hon. Member for Accrington will accept that his Amendment leads on from the philosophy of tightening up the code, and I have given the assurance that my noble Friend who is to handle this matter in another place, should it proceed that far, will look closely to see whether we can meet these points substantially.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
If this Bill fails to reach the Statute Book, it will be because of the anxieties to which the original draft gave rise in the minds of so many hon. Members and others outside this House. Nothing that the hon. Member 822 for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) has said this morning has lessened the justice of the fears which were expressed when the Bill was first introduced.
The claim that we now have an amended Bill as a result of concessions puts too low a value on the fight that had to be put up in Committee to achieve any movement. Everyone who has studied the situation knows that the original Bill was the child of that repressive anti-democratic Measure the Isle of Wight County Council Act. It is only the activities of my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) and others in this House, together with the support which they have received from those outside anxious to protect civil liberties, that we have been able to make any progress in getting this Bill near to dealing with the problems which so many of us feel have to be met.
I was amazed this morning when my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) took the view that he did. I recall that in our debates on the Isle of Wight Bill he spelled out his views on how the problem should be dealt with and how it was necessary to have deposits, codes of practice and goodness knows what else to meet the difficulties which undoubtedly arise with large assemblies, whether they be pop festivals or anything else, held over a period stretching beyond 24 hours. I was amazed at my hon. Friend's attack upon my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) and his new Clause.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme himself has tabled Amendment No. 24 which seeks to remove the word "may" and substitute the word "shall" in respect of the application of the Secretary of State's responsibility to publish a code of practice. My hon. Friend argues that my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West is being restrictive, yet he wishes to go very much further in his own Amendment. I do not think that he will be very surprised if few hon. Members take his remarks too seriously. He has done some valiant work on other Bills, but I hope that he will understand why we think that his intervention on this Bill has been rather a light interlude in the serious matter of protecting civil liberties and dealing with the problems of large assemblies, and 823 why I do not dwell further on his remarks.
If the new Clause is not enacted, what will be the effect outside? To a large extent—in fact, almost overwhelmingly—the 24-hour rule relieves many of our apprehensions about civil liberties. What do those who take the view that it is better not to have any law, regulations, or code of practice think the effect will be on the right of young people to assemble together to enjoy themselves if the new Clause is not enacted? It is becoming increasingly difficult to hold a music festival. It is becoming increasingly difficult for young people to enjoy themselves as they do, and which they are entitled to do, listening to music at overnight assemblies.
I am considered to be an old fogey in many areas in which I move. I do not understand or wish to participate in these noisy musical gatherings but younger people should have the right to do so if that is what they wish, provided that their activities do not place an unfair burden upon those who live within the vicinity of a large gathering.
That is what the Bill, as it is now amended, seeks to do, despite its imperfections. It seeks to create a situation in which, instead of hostility and friction being created every time there is a proposal to hold a music festival, there would be some rational, agreed, sensible provision to provide safeguards. These provisions would safeguard, first, those who attend these gatherings in terms of the avoidance of contamination of food and the spread of disease. That cannot be done now.
Secondly, they would ensure that adequate sanitary and washing facilities were provided for those attending these festivals. I am sure that nobody, and certainly none of my hon. Friends, would dissent from those desirable propositions.
Hon. Members must consider the effect of their action if, by their detailed examination of the Bill today, it fails to reach the Statute Book. If that happens, young people, the very people for whom we have all sought to do the best possible job, will be at a disadvantage compared with what could emerge as a result of the Minister's statement today. In fairness to the Minister, I must say that he has 824 made a substantial step forward. If I understand him correctly, he is prepared to accept a code of practice from the advisory committee and to consider presenting it to the House in some form for its approval.
That is a fairly dramatic step forward. It deals with the remaining 5 per cent. of the civil liberties argument, because it means that the code of practice will be subject to the approval of this House. If hon. Members found that a Secretary of State was using that provision to be repressive, to stop assemblies, the House could deal with that.
Those are the first and second parts of my argument. First, that young people will be worse off if the new Clause is not accepted; secondly, that there will be democratic control over what happens, because the Minister is to present his code of practice to the House.
I come to the third matter, which again is a civil liberties argument. It is something which even the National Council for Civil Liberties has failed to appreciate. If the desire of some hon. Members that the Bill should not be enacted is given effect by their actions today, there will be left on the Statute Book the Isle of Wight Act and all the other provisions which the civil libertarians allowed to slip through in the West Sussex County Council Bill, to say nothing of all the other repressive provisions that will be allowed to slip through by the House and by the National Council for Civil Liberties in future Bills.
My hon. Friends and I who served on the Standing Committee which considered the Bill fought hard to defend civil liberties, and we have been attacked for doing so. We received very little support from any source outside the House when we fought our lonely battle against the Isle of Wight Bill. The National Council for Civil Liberties did not even know that the Measure was before the House. It did not send out any circulars about it. It therefore does not lie in the mouth of that movement to accuse my hon. Friends and others of not doing what they ought to have done in the Standing Committee.
For those three reasons, I hope that my hon. Friends will think very carefully before they prevent the Bill from going through the House today.
825 We do not believe that the Bill is perfect. There are many provisions in it which we would rather not see there. I should sooner not have had the requirement about putting down deposits, because I think that that could be regressive. It is a provision which, if not properly used, could stop festivals from being held.
Unless the promoter of the Bill gives a clear undertaking that he accepts his Minister's wish in respect of the code of practice, and makes it a little more binding in the setting envisaged by the Minister, he cannot count on our support to get the Bill through in its present form.
§ Mr. Boscawen
If the Bill is more libertarian than it was when it was first brought before the House for its Second Reading, and if the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) is in agreement with many of the changes that have been made to it, I think he will also be in agreement that he himself has come a long way since it first went to the Standing Committee. If some of the sentiments which the hon. Gentleman has just expressed had been expressed in Committee we should have progressed a great deal more quickly.
Without this sort of Bill, amended as it has been, there would probably be few more pop festivals in this country, because the immediate local reaction which builds up against the holding of them leads people not only to seek by all legal means to prevent them from taking place, but by other means to disparage in every way how young people behave at them. I have been so much in support of the Bill because, without reasonable law there is as much danger to civil liberties as there is from repressive legislation.
One of the great things about a code of practice to be followed by young people—or any others—who wish to go to the countryside and enjoy themselves listening to music is that it will set a standard for them which is acceptable and agreeable to those who live in the area. There is this great conflict of interest between those who live in the country and those who live in towns and want to enjoy the country. It is right that we should try to set out a moderate measure, a code of practice setting out how people should or should not behave 826 and so to get on together and thus overcome that conflict.
I am, therefore, glad that my hon. Friend has accepted new Clause 2, because it is right that that code of practice should be discussed in this House, that we should improve on it if we can, and that it should not be made too rigid. I accept that, and I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) has done a great service by introducing this Bill, a service not only to people who live in the areas which may be concerned but the young people who want to go out into those areas.
§ Mr. Michael Barnes (Brentford and Chiswick)
I am not nearly as clear as is the hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), the sponsor of the Bill, has accepted new Clause 2. My impression was that he hedged around what he said with many considerations, and some of the time he did not seem to me to be even going as far as the Minister when the latter spoke. Perhaps I misunderstood the hon. Member, but that certainly was my impression.
§ Mr. Wiggin
This matter ought to be made clear since there seems to be doubt and I wish there to be no doubt. The Minister made it quite clear. He put two considerations, firstly, that the setting up of the committee should be mandatory and secondly, that the code itself should be debatable. I pointed out the difficulties, but I am perfectly happy, if some sensible method can be adopted, to accept it if it is acceptable to hon. Members opposite, to see that done.
§ Mr. Barnes
I think it is very important that that should happen, because to have a code of practice as it stands in Clause 7, a code of practice by which the Secretary of State "may" approve and circulate, but one which local authorities and the Secretary of State would not have to have regard to, would really be worse than having no code at all because, clearly, such a code would fall into disrepute when exceptions were from time to time obviously being made to it.
If there is to be a code of practice it is most important that it should be of general application in all cases and not one which is regarded here, but not so 827 regarded elsewhere. It really must be a code of practice over which this House has control and which is not left to the discretion of the Secretary of State. I am sure it is possible, as the Minister said, to have a code which can be set out in a Statutory Instrument but at the same time is flexible and which does have escape clauses which would be needed. It is most important in a Bill like this that there should be no loopholes which would make it possible for local interests, which might not be particularly representative in some cases, and perhaps local interests in collusion with the Secretary of State—not the present Secretary of State, but some Secretary of State at some future time. It is very important that there should be no loopholes which would make it possible for such local interests arbitrarily to prevent pop festivals from coming into certain areas where there might be an influential minority or a very vocal minority opposed to them.
That, I think, was the original intention of the Bill. It was basically anti-pop festival. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare said that his intention was to control, not to ban. I was not on the Committee on the Bill, but my impression received from following the proceedings was that at the beginning he was wanting to impose very rigorous controls on pop festivals. Now he speaks of health, safety, nuisance. Health and safety are one thing, certainly but the minute one starts talking about nuisance one is getting into an area which is much more subjective, and it is in that area. I still have the feeling, that he is wanting to impose fairly rigorous control.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Selwyn Gummer
As somebody who was consistently opposed to the nature of the first draft of the Bill, and publicly so, let me say that I have at all times found my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) —and right from the beginning—saying that it was a Bill to control and not to ban. I think it would he wrong if it were thought anywhere that his intention was other than to make pop festivals orderly in the sense of safety and health provisions. Without this Bill that would become impossible, as the hon. Member 828 for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) pointed out. It is unfair to my hon. Friend for the hon. Member for Brent-ford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) to make that proposition.
§ Mr. Barnes
I cannot agree. It was certainly my impression, and that of many of my hon. Friends and of many people in the country, that the kinds of controls which the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare had in mind were the kinds of controls which would enable people comfortably situated in some of the most attractive parts of the country to keep pop fans out and to stop them from coming in for what might be a one weekend festival in a two or three or four-year period. That was undoubtedly the impression that got abroad outside; it was certainly mine, and that of many of my hon. Friends.
There is a very real sense in which the countryside belongs to us all, and if landowners and farmers are prepared to allow pop festivals, and if the arrangements are adequate, it is not for other local interests to attempt to block them because they do not want them.
This could happen if the amount of latitude which there is in Clause 7 at the moment were left to local authorities and the Secretary of State. So I support wholeheartedly the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling). If there is to be a code of practice it must be a code over which this House has control and which is generally applied in all cases.
§ Mr. Kaufman
When this Government came to power in June, 1970, this was a free country. It is rapidly ceasing to be so, and I am astonished that my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) should propose a new Clause which would connive with the Government in that reduction of civil liberties which has been taking place over the period since this Government took office.
I do not wish at this stage of our proceedings to talk about pop festivals or what my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) said was the motivation behind the introduction of the Bill. I do not wish at this stage to enter into the question of pop festivals, whether they are good or bad things, how they should be controlled, 829 whether they should be controlled, in whose interests they should be controlled. That is a matter for Third Reading as and when we get to it.
What I am concerned about specifically in new Clause 2, and also, if I may say so with respect to my hon. Friend with Amendment No. 25 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson), but which is smaller, is the paraphernalia being set up, and particularly that which has been set up during the two years of this Government. I am sick and tired of bodies being set up to supervise the way people should behave. I am sick and tired of codes of practice and conduct being written out and enshrined, whether in statutory instruments or in other ways, telling people what they should do or should not do. I am a Socialist, but I have never believed that Socialism is synonymous with bureaucracy. In so far as Socialism is regarded as being synonymous with bureaucracy, I do not like it very much. I believe that citizens, of whatever age, whatever their callings, whatever they wish to do, in their working hours or in their spare time, should be allowed to do it, provided they are not breaking the law and not causing harm and nuisance to others, regardless of the fact that others may dislike what they are doing, which is another thing. I am sick and tired of attempts of Governments and of back benchers on both sides of the House to gird citizens about with committees and rules and regulations and codes of practice and the rest.
That is why I regard this new Clause, for whatever reason it has been introduced by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West—I say this without offence to him—as repugnant. I know my hon. Friend is a well-intentioned Member of this House. Nevertheless, unwittingly he has introduced a new Clause which I regard as repugnant to those who care deeply about civil liberties.
Without going into detail I will just mention what has taken place in the last two years which leads me to regard new Clause 2 as piling Pelion on Ossa. We have an Industrial Relations Act which sets un a new court and a code of conduct which trade unions have to look at to see whether they are keeping within the law. There is a Housing Finance Bill which sets up elaborate 830 bureaucratic machinery to tell people how to pay their rent and how much rent to pay. It is intolerable that we sould have an apparently trivial Bill to do with pop festivals which sets up a new committee.
The Minister is one of the most agreeable Ministers in the House—
§ Mr. Graham Page
I am glad to hear that I am not repugnant, like, apparently, his hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling).
§ Mr. Kaufman
I am sure the Minister realises that in the political party to which I belong fratricide is endemic. We retain our courtesies for hon. Gentlemen opposite because we are fond of our brothers and therefore can say what we think of them.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I trust you will, Mr. Speaker, because I can no longer remember it very clearly myself. The Minister is one of the most agreeable Ministers. When he comes to the House and says something, we know that, within the limitations imposed on him by his strange colleagues in the Department, he comes with the best intentions of helping the House.
The Minister has today announced the setting up of a committee within the Department of the Environment, and I am distressed by what is implicit in the announcement of the committee. Whether or not the Bill is passed, we shall have a committee. I can understand the administrative convenience of having a committee ready to go into action if Parliament passes the Bill. But it is conceivable at the very least that Parliament will not pass the Bill. We shall then have a committee hanging over us like a hanging participle with nothing very much to do. One knows from experience that if a committee exists, something will be found for it to do. Therefore, I do not like what has already come about because of the Bill and new Clause 2.
Obviously, society needs regulation and people must not infringe upon each other's liberties; people's happiness and 831 convenience must not be set aside for private profit. I would be the last to stand up in the House and champion private profit as a motivation by which the country should conduct its affairs.
I do not see why it is necessary to have a committee at all. It will be a committee meeting together and finding things to do in the way that Parkinson's Law has taught us. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) to favour me with a wry moue when I say that, but we shall nevertheless have the committee. Committees meet and, as with committees of the House, if they meet they find things to do, usually some kind of damage.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)
Like the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) I share the archetypal suspicion of committees which many hon. Members have, but does not my hon. Friend think that it would be preferable to have a committee, rather than back benchers in the Tory Party, giving advice to the Secretary of State?
§ Mr. Kaufman
If I were to be sentenced to death, I would prefer to be electrocuted rather than killed by slow torture; and I would prefer neither, given the choice. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) is waging what I regard as one of the most important campaigns being conducted in this Parliament—to protect the liberty of the individual from what one might call the "Anderson Tapes" society. I am astonished that someone who is fighting that campaign should lend his name to a new Clause which will set up a whole paraphernalia to supervise civil liberties.
§ Mr. Huckfield
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kindly tributes. I attached my name to the new Clause because I regarded it as a probing Clause to find out precisely what were the intentions of the Secretary of State. If I catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, I intend to elaborate my views on it. Nevertheless, being a genuine honourable Friend of my hon. Friend, I thought he needed support. He normally supports what I support and I thought this was no exception. It was in that context that I put my name to the Clause.
§ Mr. Kaufman
In that case, my hon. Friend surprises me even more. He has more experience of the House than I have and he should therefore realise that there is no need whatever to table a probing Amendment to find out what are the intentions of this or any other Secretary of State. The intentions of every Secretary of State at almost all times are suspect, and it is not necessary to table a probing Amendment to discover that.
Subsection (2) of the new Clause provides for a code of practice. A code of practice to protect animals from factory farming I would favour, but a code of practice to supervise activities under the Act—if the Bill becomes law—I regard as intolerable. The country has enough codes of practice, enough lists—lists of bylaws, instructions on walls, and so on, telling people what to do. I am not in favour of yet another code of practice, nor am I in favour of a code of practice which is to be enshrined in a statutory instrument. There are far too many statutory instruments; there is too much Government by statutory instrument; and the European Communities Bill will flood us with even more statutory instruments. Since there should be less legislation rather than more, legislation which spawns statutory instruments ought of itself to be prevented to prevent statutory instruments which are limited in the way in which they can be debated.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson
Since my hon. Friend appears to be criticising hon. Members on this side of the House for in some way trying to improve Clause 7 dealing with the code of practice, will he bear in mind that the sole reason why we favour a code of practice is that it will protect young people from the arbitary use of unlimited power? That was the original intention of the Bill. That is why we agreed to a code of practice and why I and other hon. Members have tabled Amendments to Clause 7. We think that the local authorities would have powers that are too wide and arbitrary.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Kaufman
After last night there is less danger of local authorities exercising arbitrary or unwelcome power. Nevertheless I see what my hon. Friend is aiming at. If I may digress and turn 833 for a moment to Amendment 25, which we are debating on this Clause and on which we shall be voting if necessary, here again I do not like what it is to do. I do not like the injunctive effect of "act in accordance with…" rather than "have regard to."
There are far too many people telling others what to do. We on this side of the House have complained with great justification about the Government giving too many instructions to local authorities, certainly in Manchester over school milk. Yet here we have a situation in which a local authority, instead of being requested to have regard to something, is being instructed to act in accordance with something. I am against this burdensome imposition of duties upon local authorities. I am against imposing burdensome duties on anyone when they are not necessary.
It is in the very nature of a Bill like this that attempts to improve it merely mean a spreading of the disease. We cannot improve something which is not capable of improvement. My hon. Friend the Member for Accrington has been wasting his considerable drafting talents on trying to do what he ought never to have been asked to try to do.
§ Mr. Kaufman
As my hon. Friend the Member for Southall says, with a great deal more eloquence than I can summon up at such short notice, it is a sow's ear and we cannot turn a sow's ear into a silk purse—to coin a phrase.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
Are there not many Bills which pass through this House and which are regarded as being incapable of proper amendment and yet receive many hours of attention in Committee in an attempt to improve them? I can cite the Immigration Act as a supreme example. Surely my hon. Friend recognises that when the Bill is in Committee there is a burden on those on the Committee to say that since it has received a Second Reading they must do their best with it. I readily agree that this is a thoroughly bad Bill, incapable of proper amendment, but we have to do our best.
§ Mr. Kaufman
My hon. Friend is trying to perpetuate a legend which has been bamboozling the public in this country for far too long, namely the legend of the constructive nature of proceedings in Standing Committees. Most proceedings in Standing Committees of this House, with the exception of the proceedings on the Immigration Act, which was a serious Committee, are a farce in which Opposition back benchers try to waste time and in which Ministers make unhelpful replies which do not get us any further forward. One of the things which has to be dealt with at some stage is the whole nature of Standing Committee proceedings which to a large extent do nothing whatever to improve Bills but merely take up the time of hon. Members when they could no doubt be spending it less usefully elsewhere.
§ Mr. Bidwell
Reverting to the Immigration Act, and the Committee proceedings on that Measure of which I had experience, would my hon. Friend agree that the real work of amendment and improvement was done in the other place and not here?
§ Mr. Kaufman
My hon. Friend is correct. I do not want to be drawn too much to one side about this but the work of Standing Committees in improving legislation is in my opinion a legend which has been produced to excuse hon. Members from attendance in this Chamber where the real work of this House should be done.
We have a code of practice and I do not wish to have a code of practice. I do not, specifically, wish to have a code of practice enshrined in a statutory instrument, of which there are far too many. I do not wish to have a situation in which we have to have the code of practice annulled, which means the negative Resolution procedure, because that means that it does not necessarily come before the House unless a Prayer has been tabled by the Official Opposition. Back benchers who try to table Prayers against statutory instruments have very little chance of having those Prayers debated. This Clause evokes a cry of protest from me, not so much against the Clause, although I regard it as repugant, as against the setting up of apparatus whereby the rights of the people are constricted and girt 835 about by Government regulations, decrees, committees and codes of practice.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West that if he does not withdraw this Clause I shall vote against it and I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington that if he does not withdraw his Amendment I shall vote against that because the time has come when in the interests of our constituents we should vote against too much legislation.
§ Mr. Dykes
I will not follow the speech of the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman). He dealt with a number of important matters which I felt were unrelated to this Bill. He dealt with the European Communities Bill, the Industrial Relations Bill the denationalisation of steel, the demise of the Land Commission and other matters. He did not get on to the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which was to his credit, but he dealt with almost everything except the Night Assemblies Bill. I would like to return briefly to the Bill since it is the matter in hand.
§ Mr. Dykes
The House has been detained for a long time on issues not to do with the Clause and the important Amendments and it is time to come back to the central theme. One of the striking features of this debate is the substantial measure of agreement that has emerged between both sides of the House. The debate has been complicated and, without disrespect to anyone, blurred in a number of ways by some curious cross-voting intentions or prospective alliances of a temporary nature when hon. Gentlemen were objecting to or supporting the idea of the Clause or the related Amendments, for a different number of reasons. That was highlighted in the speech of the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick.
The most important elements in the debate and to all that has happened to this Bill are threefold. First, there has been a striking amount of progress and improvement made in the textual characteristics of the Bill since its inception. It is to the credit of those who have been engaged in discussions on both sides and representing different opinions that this has happened, that the qualitative nature of the Bill has been improved by a coming together of minds and opinions 836 on a subject which was totally new to the House, which has been virgin territory for members of the Standing Committee. It is a subject which is now capable of greater control, in the respectable and positive sense of the word. The Bill has been transformed in a number of ways but the essence of it remains. In comparison with some of my colleagues I could say that I was one of the more detached members of the Standing Committee, for a number of reasons. One was that one was seriously disturbed that a number of aspects of the Bill and its Clauses—despite what I believe have all along been the very good intentions of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), the promoter of the Bill—could have been interpreted by local authorities as being not merely excessive powers but Draconian powers of control against pop festivals and other similar musical entertainment assemblies overnight, and so on.
That was my great fear. I know that it was also the great fear of many hon. Members and many members of the public, including those who have been regarded and described today—not always in condescending terms, but sometimes so—as "the young ". I am sure that all of us in the debate, if not young in age, are certainly young at heart. I would suggest that that applies also to you, Mr. Speaker.
Although no one has invited me, alas, I should like to be able to attend pop festivals properly organised, with the necessary sanitary arrangements and safety features for access and egress built in. At the same time, one wants the promoters not only themselves to accept the obligations which will be placed upon them under the terms of the Bill, as amended—whatever may happen at this stage of the proceedings—but to have more than merely a possible chance of being able to persuade a local authority to let them hold a pop festival. They should have much stronger powers of saying, "We intend to hold this properly. This is our right, a basic rivil liberty of ourselves and those we intend to have along at the festival. We feel that we are adequately protecting those in the surrounding area, the environs of the site where the festival is proposed, and we believe that reasonable provision should be made under statutory authority vested in them by Parliament."
837 Without going into all the specific details and some of the related Amendments, I feel that new Clause 2 has virtually become synonymous with what the Minister said in a very positive response to what had been suggested by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West. In the objective at which we aim, he has come virtually 100 per cent. towards the suggested requirements. With some reservations about details, and depending on what happens at a later stage, I feel that this is to be welcomed. The Bill originally, and inevitably, had the ragged ends which are usual in a Private Member's Bill—with no disrespect to my hon. Friend, who is dealing with a new subject for the House. It is to be welcomed because it will be substantially better with, I believe, the new Clause or the Amendments, or a combination thereof, or whatever the Minister will apparently agree to undertake, put into the Bill in another place when it falls due for debate there—and because of the way in which the public has impinged on it in a more substantial way than often happens in public Bills, let alone private Members' Bills.
In parenthesis, I pay tribute to a whole host of organisations outside who have had some effect on the Bill. Time prevents me from doing so properly, but I cite as one example what the Young Conservatives have done in taking an interest in the Bill and seeking to see that it is improved. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare will endorse that sentiment.
Because of all these things and the way in which the Bill now meets the anxieties and the desires of the House—the anxieties reflecting the need to balance the constitutional right that people should have in this country to hold these overnight assemblies with the need to protect the localities in question—and because also it seems that there will not now be in the Bill any provisions which would allow local authorities to have excessive powers, I welcome the Bill, and the House should do the same.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield
When the hon. Member for Harrow. East (Mr. Dykes) said that he served on the Committee and yet he was detached from it, I was 838 not sure what he meant. I was not quite sure what he meant till he started explaining his attitude to the Bill. What he had in mind is the kind of pop festival which, first, has to be held on a racecourse or some well-defined field and, second, where one has to have a bloke at the gate collecting at least 50p per head for people entering. Then all the farmers for miles around would make fat, whacking profits by charging people to park their cars.
If that is what the hon. Gentleman means by regulating and presenting festivals in an orderly way, I am definitely against that. Thank heavens that the whole trend of younger people today is towards spontaneity, and that the whole trend of pop festivals is towards more freedom and spontaneity. When the hon. Gentleman says that he wants to see them orderly, nice, decent and organized, that is an expression of attitude about which I express a great deal of suspicion.
With due respect to the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), I first knew him through the columns of the Nuneaton Evening Tribune, in the Territorial Army.
§ Mr. Huckfield
It has a circulation of 19,000. It comes out five times a week. The most significant thing about the hon. Gentleman's attitude—I pay him all respect for his other endeavours—was that he has had, I can only presume in the Territorial Army, a fair amount of military experience. It was presumably as Major-General Wiggin—I think that he was a Major-General or something like that—[Interruption.] I was once a company sergeant major in the school cadet force, but I do not brag about it.
§ Mr. Huckfield
If my hon. Friend can keep his hair in a place like this—if it is his own hair—I congratulate him, and indeed yourself, Mr. Speaker.
It was, then, as Major Wiggin that I first came to know the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare.
I cannot help feeling that the whole basis and suggestion and the whole ethos of the Bill is a little militaristic. We have 839 a little too much legislation such as this already on the Statute Book and it is capable of being interpreted in a highly restrictive way. I am very much afraid that we shall now have a little more, thanks specifically to the hon. Gentleman's endeavours.
When one recalls the speech made last week, I believe, by the Lord Chancellor, about punishing people too hard because the appeal court can always reverse it later, some of the sentiments about alleged illegal picketing and some of the suggestions about alleged industrial anarchy that we have had from the benches opposite, I am afraid that the Bill fits in very much to that kind of trend in legislation. Ideas of restriction, of making festivals orderly, regularised and thoroughly decent and aboveboard—
§ Mr. Huckfield
—and bourgeois—the very word I would have used next. When hon. Members opposite want to make them thoroughly decent and aboveboard, I get very suspicious. Those sort of intentions have caused a great deal of clashes and confrontation in our society, particularly when dealing with young people. One recalls the confrontation which we have already had in certain villages where people have tried to hold pop festivals. Young people in the United States have been beaten down and beaten back when trying to express their opinions. I cannot help thinking that this legislation, apart from widening the generation gap, will encourage even more the kind of confrontation between the generations of which our society is very much afraid.
The hon. Gentleman should forget his militaristic past. Perhaps he 'still goes on exercises with the Territorial Army, or whatever it is now called, but I do not think that is the way to treat young people. Young people are not impressed by the sentiments of the Bill in wanting to make everything thoroughly orderly, decent and bourgeois. If the hon. Gentleman does that and pushes ahead with the endeavours of the Bill, we shall lose the very spontaneity of young people which we should be encouraging.
840 I also strongly object to the patronising attitude on the benches opposite. The hon. Members for Harrow, East and for Weston-super-Mare seemed to think that they have got something to impart to young people. They seemed to think that, because they have lived their lives in a certain way, the generations that come after them should do the same. If the House made the mistake of thinking it had the right to tell successive generations to behave in the same manner as we behaved, that would be terribly wrong. The conventions, traditions and atmosphere of the hon. Gentleman's generation and the generations that came before are not the attitudes, conventions and traditions of today. One of the great features of young people is that they have turned their backs on, rebelled against, and rejected many of the conventions which we find so overwhelmingly represented on the benches opposite.
I want the hon. Gentleman to stop being so patronising about young people and to stop thinking he has some unique wisdom to impart to them. Above all, I want him to stop thinking they need his advice. When young people find sentiments like the hon. Gentleman expresses being breathed down their necks, they are bound to rebel even more.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This is going very wide. The Clause has nothing to do with the views of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin). The Clause deals with the appointment of a Committee.
§ Mr. Huckfield
I fully respect your opinion, Mr. Speaker. I was describing the atmosphere in which the Bill had been couched and setting the scene for the presentation of the new Clause to which I have attached my name.
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not think the hon. Gentleman is entitled to set the scene for the Bill. The hon. Gentleman must deal with the new Clause.
§ Mr. Huckfield
That is precisely what I intended to do, Mr. Speaker. I shall get down to it immediately.
§ Mr. Huckfield
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to give himself away by the expression of such militaristic sentiments, he is adding fuel to my argument.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) said that he did not like the fact that the Clause would establish a committee to advise the Secretary of State on the conditions which should govern the holding of night assemblies. It is vital to get advice of many organisations, particularly those involved in the organisation of pop festivals. In the past we have had far too much advice on this subject from local authorities, particularly those which claim to have been affected. We have had too much advice from people who are anti-pop festival. We have not had enough advice from those who are pro pop festival.
The new Clause has been tabled because it is thought that by appointing a committee we could get a representative sample of public opinion and not just the anti-pop opinion. Far too often the anti-strains and tendencies in public opinion have made the running on the Bill. If we had a committee which could advise the Secretary of State, we could draw into an advisory capacity a far more representative and wholesome view of public opinion on this important subject.
§ Mr. Latham
My hon. Friend is speaking about the advantages of the appointment of a committee, and like my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) he has expressed doubts about the Executive having still more power. The Clause as drafted would merely oblige the Secretary of State to appoint a committee. It gives no guidance as to the composition of that committee and would impose no requirement that the advice of such a committee should be followed. What kind of representation has my hon. Friend in mind and how does he reconcile his fears about the Secretary of State's power being increased with the prerogative resting with the Secretary of State to choose who shall advise him? It may be that he will choose those to advise him who will give him the advice he wants.
§ Mr. Huckfield
The trouble with that suggestion is that if one were to write down all of the organisations that ought to be consulted or which should be on 842 this committee one would have a list far too long. Apart from that, I am sure the House would find that difficult to accept as an amendment. However, I take my hon. Friend's point that perhaps it is best to specify the kind of interest that ought to be represented on such a committee. I want to see the views of pop festival promoters advanced in no uncertain way.
I put my name to the Clause because I thought it was an Amendment whereby and whereupon we could find out the attitude of the Secretary of State. I still feel that the Bill is far too draconian in its intent. The legislation gives local authorities far too much power. I would rather not have it on the Statute Book, but if it is to go forward, I would rather see emphasis put on a voluntary code of conduct or practice than the kind of powers that have been bestowed upon local authorities in the past. I respect the sentiments of my hon. Friend and his suggestion that we ought to make the advisory committee as representative as possible. Indeed, I hope that the Secretary of State will feel constrained, whatever he does, to consult as many strands of public opinion as possible.
It is desirable that this code of practice and matters like this which affect civil liberties, on which we share an increasing amount of concern, should have full and adequate discussion in the House. I was disturbed to see the statement made by the Lord Chancellor last week about heavier fines. That is the kind of thing which ought to be discussed in this House rather than pontificated about by Lord Chancellors. The Lord Chancellor made this statement whilst speaking in a kind of private capacity. The only thing I can say—this has already been said—is that if that was the Lord Chancellor speaking in a private capacity then Lord help the rest of us when he speaks in his public capacity.
These are the matters, sentiments and vital issues that affect civil liberties which ought to be discussed in the House. They ought to have the most adequate discussion by all strands of opinion represented in the House.
The other reason that I want to see the most adequate discussion of the code of practice is that I feel the Bill can affect far more than pop festivals. 843 We know that it is the anti-pop festival Bill. We know that is the intention of the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, we know that it is the intention of many hon. Members on both sides of the House who support the Bill because they do not want to have pop festivals in their constituencies. But, although Amendments have been made, the Bill still goes much wider than pop festivals. I can think of some picketing situations in which I have been involved recently. I can think of sponsored charity walks and debutantes' parties which my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) mentioned—although why he should mention those I do not know. All these things are still encompassed by the Bill.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson
I agree that I mentioned debutantes' parties, but I would not want my hon. Friend to think that I have been to one or that I have a desire to attend one. The reason I mentioned them was that even Lady Caroline and her daddy with all their influence would find it difficult to have a party under the Bill as it is drafted.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Huckfield
I am grateful for that intervention. I do not know why my hon. Friend feels any need to justify himself for not going to débutantes' parties. Nevertheless, I accept his justification, and I am grateful for the reasoning with which he presented that example. I am sure he did it sincerely.
Although this is an anti-pop festival Bill, it still goes wider than pop festivals, and that is why we ought to have the most adequate discussion of the Bill and particularly when the code of practice is drawn up. More far reaching than this is the fact that any kind of code of practice could impinge on the civil liberties of anybody who wanted to participate in one of these festivals. I am not arguing against the necessity for adequate toilet accommodation at these festivals. I am not arguing against the fact that the band ought to be fenced off from the spectators. I am not arguing against the fact that we do not want too many farmers' cows chased round the fields. I am not arguing against the fact that we do not want roads and other public places gummed up by people acting in a disorderly way.
844 Nevertheless, I still feel that in giving all of these powers to the local authorities, and the sanctions to back them up, we are going much too far. If we are to ensure public order and good public conduct let us do it on the basis of a code of conduct and not on the basis of statutory enforcement through local authorities.
§ Mr. Huckfield
The Bill does not say anything about the maintenance of order, but the hon. Gentleman knows very well, if he reads back through the Standing Committee proceedings, the whole theme of the Bill has been law and order. That is a very popular theme on the benches opposite. The party opposite has even tried to win elections on that same theme. That is the kind of party it is. It is the kind of people they represent—the law and order mob.
It is a rather interesting reflection that so strong are the motives of hon. Gentlemen opposite that they cannot even see the kind of attitude which they are portraying. They cannot see the kind of image that they are giving to young people of their real feelings about the Bill.
The other reason that I think any voluntary code ought to have the most adequate discussion in the House is that I want to know how these festivals are going to be policed. I am not keen on having Securicor or factory guards policing pop festivals. I am not keen on having private investigation agents lurking round the back, taking names and addresses of people and completing files and dossiers. I am not keen on the other so-called private security organisations being called in. We have already had examples of local authorities, even in London, employing private organisations to evict squatters. We have had examples of other boroughs employing private security organizations—
§ Mr. Wiggin
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is nothing whatever in the entire Bill to deal with the policing of pop festivals, either by the regular police or by other organisations. There is certainly nothing about this in the code of practice.
§ Mr. Huckfield
The point that the hon. Gentleman has raised indicates even more the need for a code of practice. It indicates even more adequately than I could the need for the most full discussion of this code of practice. The question that anybody will ask about a code of practice is: how can it be enforced? The hon. Gentleman knows that it is no good talking about a code of practice unless the House knows what is in it and how it is to be enforced. I think of the kind of codes of practice we have been talking about in the House recently, such as that in connection with the disposal of toxic waste materials. I speak as someone who had 36 drums of cyanide dumped in the middle of his constituency one dark night.
Codes of practice are very important, but we must see what is in them. We must be able to discuss them and know how they will be enforced. I should be most worried about any code of practice or any Bill that did not refer to the way in which it could be enforced. I hope the hon. Gentleman takes my point, particularly bearing in mind his military background. If codes of conduct be properly enforced—
§ Mr. Graham Page
The hon. Gentleman has entirety misunderstood the code of practice. It is a code by which the local planning authority will judge whether to make a decision one way or the other. It does not set out criminal law which people must obey. It is a guide to the local planning authorities in coming to a decision, and to the man who hears an appeal from them.
§ Mr. Huckfield
If it has taken a few harsh words from me to extract the Minister's opinion, I am very glad. What he has said is most revealing, and helps me to understand the Government's attitude in a little more detail.
§ Mr. Latham
I am extremely interested in the points raised. In trying to understand the full implications of the new Clause we should look elsewhere in the Bill to see that to which it relates. Clause 2(2) talks about other local authoritieswho appear to them likely to be affected by the holding of the assembly…846 They would presumably include the police authority, which might be involved. Clause 2(2)(b) makes a similar reference about expenses falling on other authorities, and Clause 2(4)(a) refers tothe prevention or limitation of nuisanceand tothe interests of public health and public safetyPresumably, the inclusion of those references would be meaningless if they simply meant that if any of those hazards were likely to arise the assembly could not be held, in which case this would be a totalitarian piece of legislation. If there are to be safeguards, surely that implies that there must be a method of enforcement, of policing, to ensure that they are properly observed? Therefore, is not my hon. Friend right in his original contention before the Minister's intervention?
§ Mr. Huckfield
I am most grateful for that very definite and precise illustration of the point I was trying to make. My hon. Friend has made a very careful and detailed study of these matters. He, like me, is most concerned about civil liberties. We are talking about things which happen at night, about things which occasionally go bump or bang in the night. Everyone has a right to know what is going bump or bang.
I return to the main point in the Amendment. I want to test the sentiments of the Government Front Bench. I know the feelings of Conservative backbenchers. They were made clear in our consideration of the Isle of Wight County Council Bill and the West Sussex County Council Bill, and have been expressed throughout the country. They are sentiments from which I wholeheartedly dissociate myself. But I am very mindful that the Minister's Department recently received the report of its working party on young people in the environment, which came to rather different conclusions from those of some of his hon. Friends. It is because the Department's own report has come to rather different conclusions about the way in which things should be done, as compared with the Bill, that I wanted to probe even more the precise feelings of the Government. Having succeeded in extracting a a few more details from the Minister and in clarifying the Government's attitude 847 a tiny bit more, I feel that the Amendment should be pressed to the vote. That would not only show us how the Minister feels but would also show the true sentiments of his hon. Friends on the back benches.
Hon. Members have pointed out that we have had some mighty queer—I use the word in its best sense—alliances over this Bill and I want to examine how some of them stand up. I added my name to the Amendment to test these cross-party alliances, and by taking the matter to a Division we will see how they withstand a proper test.
§ Mr. Latham
I am glad to speak following my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) because he was not correct to assume that I had studied this matter in some detail. This bears on a point that disturbed me in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) when he made some extremely derogatory remarks about the functions and practices of Standing Committees.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ardwick was speaking I thought of the several months, comprised of 57 sittings and 250 hours of deliberations, that I had spent on the Housing Finance Bill in Committee. I was disappointed to hear him describe such arduous activities as a waste of time. It is because I have been so absorbed in those matters that I have been unable to give the detailed attention to this Bill that I would have liked to give to it.
Having started with a feeling that the motives of the promoters were somewhat suspect and having doubted whether the reasons for the proposals in the Bill were sound, I have, in anticipation of this debate, tried to understand what transpired in Committee and why we are told that the Bill which is before us is so different from that which was originally sent upstairs.
I was interested in the remarks of one hon. Gentleman opposite who spoke of the bipartisan approach that there had been in Committee. Little has been said to explain the nature of the Bill and the way in which, as some hon. Members have claimed, it has been transformed as a result of its Committee experience. It seems in essence to be the same Measure 848 as was originally sponsored by the promoters.
I am horrified and mystified by some of the things I have witnessed. For example, I was taken aback by the seemingly savage attack by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) on my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) over the motives of the latter in tabling his new Clause. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Ardwick included in his strictures both my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton and my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West.
I was intrigued by the allegation made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme that there had been some sort of shady deal which had led to the Bill coming before the House in its present form. I am therefore mystified and horrified first by the language in which opinions have been expressed and second by the difficulty one experiences in arriving at a judgment of the nature of the Bill.
I do not always look for guidance from my Front Bench. I always have it in mind that any advice proferred from that quarter might need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Nevertheless, I hoped that my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) would help me make up my mind, particularly as we are dealing with a Private Member's Bill, about the nature of the Bill as amended in Committee. But I understood him to say that he found the Bill now less illiberal than when it went into Committee. Although he did not like the Bill as originally drafted, he likes it a little more now that it has been amended, which perhaps means that he dislikes it slightly less. The kind of words he used made me wonder whether, in some parts of the Bill, he was seeing some merits and whether we should not be re-examining certain provisions in order to see whether the attacks made by the sponsors on the Amendments were justified or ill-founded.
My hon. Friend put the dilemma. When one is faced with a bad Bill, should one remain in total opposition to it and never at any time propose any Amendment for fear that one will sully oneself or dirty 849 one's bands? Or should one accept that there is a chance that the Bill will go forward and that there is, therefore, merit in trying to ameliorate or mitigate some of its worst provisions? Having understood that dilemma, I still find it difficult to judge whether new Clause 2 would improve or worsen the Bill, and in my confusion find it difficult to understand how bad or slightly less bad the Bill now is. My hon. Friends, too, find how difficult it is to judge the merits of new Clause 2 in relation to the merits of the Bill, the details and implications of which do not seem to have been brought out in the course of the discussions so far.
Therefore, I want to direct my remarks to hon. Members on both sides of the House, but most particularly to my hon. Friends, in order to try and get some better understanding that would enable me to exercise my judgment. One should, I suppose, be able to look to the promoter of the Bill, the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), but he seems to have been singularly inactive in defending it or explaining it to the majority of us in the Chamber today who were not members of the Standing Committee and who may not have had the opportunity of studying its deliberations as closely as we would have wished. I understand that the hon. Gentleman made a contribution lasting for some 12 minutes. It was my bad luck that I was not present in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Latham
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) laughs and says that it was good luck, but I assume that it is bad luck not to be here when the promoter of a Bill defends himself from attacks made on the motivations lying behind the Bill.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is what my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) has done. The hon. Gentleman will realise that this is not a Second Reading debate. We are dealing with an Amendment, and my hon. Friend dealt very effectively with it.
§ Mr. Latham
I thank the Minister for that hint of information. He has rather titillated me and has whetted my appetite to make me wish even more that I had 850 been present for the 12 minutes for which the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare spoke. But since one cannot act retrospectively in this House, it is not possible for me to read the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow and return to make the remarks that I wish to make at the moment. I am in the unfortunate position, due to circumstances for which I accept no blame, of not having had the benefit of that 12 minutes of elucidation which does not seem to have assisted my hon. Friends who have had the opportunity of hearing the hon. Gentleman.
I have been trying to discover from my hon. Friends whether it is necessary to enter this debate at all—
§ Mr. Latham
Had the promoter been able successfully to defend the Bill and to express views about the new Clause which made it crystal clear whether there was any merit in it, there would have been no need to proceed and we should have been able to vote on the Clause understanding its implications fully. I apologise for the fact, for which I do not believe I am responsible, that I am still unclear about the implications of the new Clause and the merits of the Bill.
In trying to look at the new Clause, it is reasonable to expect first to achieve a full understanding of the Measure to which it is proposed to add it. Therefore, it is relevant in trying to examine that point to ask how the Bill came out of the Committee in such an apparently completely different form from that it had when the Committee began its deliberations. It was on this point that the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme intrigued me immensely. He spoke rather unkindly and unpleasantly of shady deals.
But from inquiries that I have made since hearing his remarks, I understand that members of the Committee were in the same dilemma, wondering whether to have nothing to do with a very nasty Measure or to try to waiter it down in some way. I understand that the choice before members of the Committee was either to spend a very long time, with the Bill coming out in the extremely unpleasant form in which it had gone into Committee, or to spend less time, with 851 the result that the Bill came before the House on Report considerably less illiberal than that which was given a Second Reading. If that is true, it appears that this is a reasonable way for members of the Committee to have conducted themselves, and they have done a service to the House in that, instead of our having to deal with the nastiest aspects of the legislation as it was proposed originally, we can examine it in a more modified form.
That still leaves open the question of how moderate or immoderate a Measure this is, and I am still not completely clear about the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington whether it is so nasty as to require rejection out of hand.
It is against that uncertain background that I come to the new Clause and to examine whether it makes more illiberal or less illiberal a Measure which is probably less illiberal than it might have been had there not been the arrangement in Committee to which reference has been made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme asked which Secretary of State was intended when references to "the Secretary of State "were made not only in the new Clause but elsewhere in the Bill. Notwithstanding the rather unpleasant attacks which my hon. Friend appeared to direct at my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West I was surprised when my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West departed from his normal tolerant manner and became indignant that someone should presume to question which Secretary of State was meant.
§ Mr. Latham
My hon. Friend says that it is a matter of ignorance. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, with characteristic, becoming modesty, explained that he was probably the only hon. Member in the House who did not understand to which Secretary of State reference was being made. May I comfort my hon. Friend by telling him that there are at least two of us in that position, because I have been thumbing through the Bill to try to discover in 852 which right hon. Gentleman's hands these powers would fall not only if the new Clause were passed but if Clause 7 went through in its present form.
I share my hon. Friend's concern that the Secretary of State to whom reference is made should be the Secretary of State for the Environment. I should not go along with the rather generous praise of the libertarian and humanitarian attitude of the Home Office in all matters, but all things are relative and I believe that when one compares the attitude of the Home Office with that of the Department of the Environment the former might seem to be slightly more saintly, to put it in reverse, than the latter.
It is in the Department of the Environment that we are witnessing the most devastating intrusion into local autonomy and discretion. It is that Department which has dreamed up, drafted and proposed the most extraordinary powers to take away from local housing authorities all discretion in housing matters. It is that Department which has a completely doctrinaire and dictatorial approach to local government. I therefore agree with my hon. Friend that if there is one Department in which these powers should not be vested it is the Department of the Environment. Any other Department of State would be preferable.
I do not know whether the promoter of the Bill might be, not provoked, but invited to make a short intervention to explain one thing to me. Presumably he has had consultations with the parliamentary draftsman. I am a little puzzled about why there appears to be no reference in the Bill to determine to which Secretary of State reference is made. If the Bill becomes law, how will anyone be able to tell which Secretary of State has the powers given by the Bill to a Secretary of State?
I gather that my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West says that this is usual. I lay claim to far less parliamentary experience than he has, but in those Bills to which I have referred from time to time I have not had difficulty in discovering which Secretary of State was intended because the precise reference appears always to have been made to the appropriate one. Perhaps I have been somewhat selective in my choice of legislation.
853 Apparently the promoter of the Bill does not intend to help me on that matter. I shall have to rely upon one of my hon. Friends to intervene now or subsequently to offer me guidance on how those concerned with the Bill and its implementation, if it becomes law, will know to which Secretary of State an appeal has to be made, to which Secretary of State representations have to be made about a code of practice, and so on.
§ Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow, West)
I am keen, as an ardent Member of the House, to make sure that Acts of Parliament, or would-be Acts of Parliament, specify these details. I should have thought that, on the face of it, the reference to the Secretary of State here must be a reference to the Secretary of State for the Environment. On the other hand, the Bill is widely drafted in this regard, and it cannot be claimed, as it might with other Measures where there is a reference to the Secretary of State, to be self-explanatory as there is other legislation which has a bearing on this point and to which the Bill is merely a corollary and at which those in doubt can look. I should have thought that it was at least arguable that the Secretary of State here could be the Secretary of State for the Home Department who has the official parliamentary responsibility for matters of public order, since, although it is not specified in the Bill, or officially it is not the intention of the promoter to deal with public order, we know that this lies at the heart of the matter. Is it not equally likely that it would be the Secretary of State for the Home Department? If that is the case, ought it not to be specified in an interpretation Clause at the end of the Bill?
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Latham
My hon. Friend is underlining the very doubts I myself have in this matter as to what is precisely the meaning, and may be at some stage my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West who drafted the new Clause and seems to feel the reference is adequate as it stands, may be able to assist my hon. Friend the Member for Waltham-stow, West (Mr. Deakins) and me in understanding precisely why it should be in this form.
§ Mr. Driberg
As a second underlining to my hon. Friend, if he will cast his mind back to this Bill's immediate predecessor, the Isle of Wight County Bill, through which the attack on pop festivals was seen in all its naked savagery, he will recall that the somewhat tepid intervention from the Government Front Bench came from a Home Office spokesman, which may give some clue.
§ Mr. Latham
I thank my hon. Friend, and I can add one other point which has occurred to me, when one is considering whether it, is the Secretary of State for the Environment who is intended and not the Secretary of State for the Home Department. When the ban was placed on the holding of demonstrations in Trafalgar Square in connection with the problems of Northern Ireland one immediately supposed that this would have emanated from the Home Office as the custodian of order generally, and which at that stage was concerned with affairs in Northern Ireland. I was a little shaken when a spokesman for the Department of the Environment came to that Dispatch Box to deal with the matter, and the ban was placed by the Department of the Environment. Only yesterday I put down a Question asking whether it was now to be lifted. I do not know whether it was insult being added to injury or injury being added to insult when I found that the hon. Gentleman replying to me was that very same Minister with whom I have had to live in Standing Committee on the Housing Finance Bill for the last five months, and who, apparently, is now transferred from the illiberal approach to housing finance to the illiberal attitude to public demonstrations in London. However, much as I would like to take the opportunity to develop that point it would obviously be very far from this new Clause and it would be unfair to the Chair and the House were I to embark on that tangent at this time.
However, it leads me to the next point which I want to make, and to a question I want to put to my hon. Friends in particular. I say with respect to hon. Gentlemen opposite that they will understand why I am more inclined to listen to the advice of my hon. Friends on this side on these matters, because I believe that most of them approach this issue 855 from principles relating to civil liberties which are similar to my own. What is intriguing and interesting, although it is somewhat baffling, is the somewhat different interpretation which may hon. Friends seemed to have placed on the Bill as it stands at present and upon this new Clause. We have two groups of my hon. Friends, each group advocating an alternative course of action, and based on the same premises and while having the same objects in view. One group complains that the new Clause will make the Bill more libertarian and the other argues that it will make it more restrictive.
§ Mr. Latham
Some have argued that it will make it less restrictive, and some that it will make it more restrictive. The question I want to put is whether one is serving the cause of making the Bill less illiberal or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West put it, less odious, by adding to the powers of the Secretary of State for the Environment or by allowing greater authority to rest with local authorities.
We on this side of the House in recent months have been shown to be the defenders of local authority discretion and opposed to central government intervention, interference and diktat. I can understand the fear that some local authorities might seek to make excessive use of the legislation and might attempt either to impose unreasonable conditions of their own or—an even greater danger —might place an interpretation upon the legislation to suit their own prejudices.
The last Private Member's Bill with which I was associated was the Bill that became the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. Many of us are extremely disappointed that so many local authorities have placed upon that Act interpretations of their own which have largely undermined its effectiveness. The Labour Government of the day which helped to get the legislation through wanted the wording modified to allow greater discretion. The present Government seized upon that wording to place their own interpretation upon the legislation which, whether or not by intention, has had the effect of encouraging many local authorities not to implement it in what most of us understood to 856 be the spirit as well as the letter of the Act.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson
Perhaps I can assist my hon. Friend in one of his worries, the discretion that should be left to the local authority. If he will look at my Amendments he may feel that they are preferable to the approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West. Amendment No. 26 specifically gives a local authority power to dispense with any particular provision of the code if it feels that it is unnecessary in the interests of public health and public safety. Without that Amendment Clause 7 is totally objectionable.
§ Mr. Latham
This is a point which we must discuss when we come to Amendment No. 26. The question arises whether what one is disregarding is negative or positive. The giving of discretion may not ensure that the code will be applied in a more relaxed way because that which is disregarded may be greatly in the interests of the promoters or sponsors of an assembly. I must not be led astray into discussing Amendment No. 26, but my hon. Friend is clearly taking my point when I ask my hon. Friends whether giving more power to the Secretary of State is likely to result in a more liberal or a more illiberal application of the legislation.
Before my hon. Friend intervened I was citing the example of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act and the way in which it has been interpreted in so many different fashions by Departments of State and local authorities. It is a sad situation when Parliament enacts legislation in such a way that its provisions can be interpreted differently, depending on the outcome of elections.
We ought to lay down legislation in such a way that there is no opportunity to defeat the principle enshrined in it. Will we have a more or less liberal interpretation if more or less discretion is left to local authorities? I hope that after the local elections which have been taking place, and which will take place tomorrow, there will be a greater number of local authorities in which there are those who value civil liberties highly and who take a far less critical attitude towards young folk and those of different ideas.
857 Sadly, this is not always true of my party, because there are in certain areas Labour-controlled authorities which behave in a more reactionary manner than Conservative-controlled authorities. As a generalisation it may be true to say that as a result of the events of this week there is a greater likelihood, if this Measure becomes law, of it being implemented in a reasonably tolerant way should its implementation be in the hands of local authorities rather than in the hands of a Minister in this Government.
This raises the important question about the desirability or otherwise of the Clause. I can understand the fear that there will be local authorities where backwoodsmen are in control, where there is a completely intolerant attitude not only towards the young but to anyone who is slightly different, who does not behave in the conventional way. I am worried about the way in which the Secretary of State for the Environment will implement this legislation and whether we might not find that his judgment is less liberal than the judgment of local authorities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, who has been in the Chamber for virtually all of the debate, referred to the backwardness of some local authorities and also to the ideal conditions in which night assemblies should be held. He referred particularly to pop festivals which it has been acknowledged we are primarily discussing. It is these which are in the promoter's mind and he does not seek to deny this. His target is the control or possible extinction of pop festivals. It is a pity that we are not at the stage of this Bill when it is possible for an hon. Member to speak more than once, because I would have liked to have heard from my hon. Friend again about what he regarded as the ideal conditions for the holding of a pop festival.
There were certain descriptions of the attitudes of hon. Members opposite by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton that went close to the truth. There is among a section of the community, represented particularly by the promoter of the Bill, a precise and rigid concept of the way in which young people should look and behave. The motivation for the Bill arises from their shocked horror 858 that there are so many people who do not look nor behave as hon. Members opposite and their supporters feel proper and think fit.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme contributed unwittingly to the idea that there should be in anyone's mind a precise concept of how young people should behave, because the very term "ideal conditions" and references to public health and sanitation and so on imply that in my hon. Friend's mind there is some kind of precise concept of how young people should organise themselves and how to behave. If he criticises hon. Members opposite, as he does, for having this kind of rigid image in their minds, if in his mind he has another rigid image, he is no less guilty than others of trying to compel young people to conform to a particular pattern. It does not matter whether he or I think that his image is better than theirs. The mere existence of some kind of rigid pattern which people believe should be applied is to be deplored and rejected.
When my hon. Friend spoke about ideal conditions, I thought that he was in danger of overlooking the fact that the very frugality and apparent disorder and lack of conformity at functions with which the Bill is concerned are an important part of those functions. That seemed to be ignored by my hon. Friend. Having a nice tea in a nice well-ordered hall and a system of collecting tickets and taking refreshments at a proper time, almost having some kind of timetable for sanitary arrangements, is the very antithesis of what pop festivals are about. They are concerned not just with a form of music or sound, whatever hon. Members may think; the whole atmosphere is essentially different from the rigid pattern of society outside.
This leads me to consider whether it is right to think in terms of a code of practice at all. A code of practice—however much the Minister tries to deny that what is envisaged is the laying down of a code of behaviour at pop festivals—applied by local authorities when considering whether to permit the holding of night assemblies must necessarily impinge on the organisation and the nature of the function itself. A code of practice is likely to become a code of behaviour and a code of conduct to be accepted and implemented and guaranteed not only by the promoters, 859 but by the participants in the function itself.
Once there are rules of that kind, the whole nature of such an activity, which is essentially almost an anarchist kind of activity, certainly a free activity with an absence or the minimum of rules, is changed. Its nature is changed once rules are applied as a condition of the granting of permission for the holding of such a function.
I come now to one or two points of detail. I am a little intrigued. Perhaps those who served on the Committee may be able to assist me, if not today, perhaps on some future occasion, by explaining why the word "shall" appears in the first line and the words "ought to" appear in the second line. The word "shall" clearly puts a complete obligation upon the Secretary of State; but the words "ought to ", which also appear in Clause 7 of the Bill, as amended in Committee, merely mean an aspiration, some kind of target towards which one is aiming. But presumably, that which ought to be is something not merely which may not be achieved but which many may deliberately decide not to try to achieve. Therefore, the words "ought to" seem to be a very weak expression of what I assume to be the intention.
For a very short moment I shall ride a hobby horse which is directly relevant to the new Clause and upon which the Minister is particularly qualified to comment. I had the interesting and educative experience, during my first few months as a Member of the House, of serving under his Chairmanship on the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. He has remained extremely concerned—as is my hon. Friend the Member for Ardwick—about the amount of delegated legislation, and not merely the volume and scope of such legislation but also the inadequacy of the procedures of the House for giving proper scrutiny to orders which are made under powers of delegated legislation.
The Minister will have observed the present position, in which there is no opportunity for vast numbers of Statutory Instruments which are subject to negative procedure to be considered by hon. Members.
860 The Select Committee to which I have referred deals only with the propriety of the Instrument, the legal form for its making, and the Committee is expressly forbidden from commenting upon the merits of delegated legislation. Therefore, any proposals for new, subordinate enactments of Statutory Instruments become, especially in view of what is happening at present, matters of vital constitutional importance. When my hon. Friend drafts an Amendment, and provides within it that the Secretary of State shall have certain powers to be enacted by Statutory Instrument, and that this shall be subject to annulment by a Resolution of either House, and when he includes those words, I presume that he does so sincerely and honestly and believes that he is writing in some kind of parliamentary safeguard, that he is not seeking to give the Secretary of State absolute power to act in these matters.
My hon. Friend must he aware, with the increasingly worsening position in regard to Statutory Instruments—we have at present a series of classic examples —that the practice is that a Statutory Instrument which is subject to annulment by Prayer is not afforded time for discussion, that the order takes effect despite the tabling of a Motion to negative that order, and that it goes ahead without parliamentary discussion, parliamentary surveillance or the opportunity for Parliament to disagree with it.
In the constitutional position at which we have arrived in relation to delegated legislation, once a Minister is empowered to act by statutory instrument, subject to any negative procedure, one is in practice giving the Minister complete power to act as he thinks fit. Although theoretically and technically the House of Commons has a right to intervene, to discuss, or to reverse the decision, in practice that right is never accorded. Therefore, I criticise not merely this new Clause, but any other Clauses which include this facade of parliamentary control and scrutiny which in practice does not exist.
Clause 7 gives the Secretary of State permissive powers to approve and circulate a code of practice. The argument is that there should be some kind of committee to assist the Secretary of State, 861 that one should make much more mandatory than it is in Clause 7 the requirement for there to be a code of practice.
I seek guidance on the effect of Clause 7(2) where these words are used—…but neither the local authority nor the Secretary of State shall in relation to a particular case be held to conformity with any particular provision of the code.The inclusion of those words in the Bill makes almost meaningless the application of any code of practice. Neither the local authority nor the Secretary of State is tobe held to conformity with any particular provision of the code.Therefore, the code is to be some kind of almost meaningless and certainly unenforceable document.
I ask the supporters of the new Clause to consider whether there is any point, if Clause 7 stands, in having a code of practice which has no standing, in making it obligatory for the Secretary of State to have such an unenforceable code of practice, and then, having got the Secretary of State to proceed with his unenforceable code of practice, writing in the additional machinery.
I said earlier that I did not like what my hon. Friend the Member for Ardwick said about Standing Committees, particularly as I spent so long on the Housing Finance Bill, but that is by the way. This is to be a committee merely to advise the Secretary of State on the preparation of a code of practice which, as Clause 7(2) says, does not have any effect or meaning.
It has been argued that the code of practice might be applied strenuously. There is an Amendment later to allow local authorities to depart from it. I should like the words in Clause—
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.