HC Deb 18 June 1973 vol 858 cc35-8

(1) For the purpose of removing or relaxing controls which affect the exercise by local authorities of certain functions, including limits imposed on the amount of the fees which may be charged by local authorities in connection with the issue of licences and the exercise of other functions, the enactments specified in Schedule (relaxation of controls) to this Act shall have effect subject to the amendments set out in that Schedule.

(2) Without prejudice to subsection (I) above, the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument make provision for the removal or relaxation of any control, including any such limit as is referred to in subsection (1) above, which affects the exercise of any function by a local authority and which is conferred by or under any enactment on a Minister of the Crown or a body constituted by or under any enactment.

(3) An order made under this section may contain such incidental or consequential provisions as appear to the Secretary of State to be appropriate, including provisions amending or repealing or revoking, with or without savings, any enactment passed before this Act and any instrument made under any such enactment.

(4) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section shall be of no effect unless approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.—[Mr. Gordon Campbell.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Gordon Campbell)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

It is suggested that the following Government amendments be discussed at the same time: Nos. 186– 200, 203–206, 210, 214, 218, 221, 223–225, 227, 228 and 229.

Mr. Campbell

The new clause with the new schedule contained in Amendment No. 229 sets out some specific controls in existing enactments which we propose to relax in the Bill. It also gives the Secretary of State a general power by affirmative resolution order in the future to remove or relax similar controls in any existing statute.

This is carrying out a policy, which we have already announced, of relaxing central controls over local authorities where we think this can now be done unless there is still a valid reason for a central control.

The other amendments are consequential, but the new schedule in Amendment No. 229 contains some repeals which result from a survey, which has been carried out by the departments of the Scottish Office, of existing controls exercised by central Government. This is a list of those which we think should now be relaxed. Other controls are already being relaxed in other parts of the Bill. Some of the provisions in the schedule which are to be repealed are clearly obsolete, so their removal represents simply bringing the situation up to date.

In the case of others the Government are taking a deliberate decision to do without controls which we believe are no longer necessary and can be dispensed with. The purpose of the exercise is to give the new local authorities discretion and to remove central controls unless they are clearly needed.

Subsections (2) to (4) of the clause set out the arrangements whereby this can be done in the future and under which the Secretary of State can propose to Parliament that further controls should be relaxed following later reviews by the Government of the day. We believe that this is a useful provision enabling this to be done by Parliament without the necessity for another Bill.

Mr. Edward Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Paragraph 40 of the new schedule proposes the following change to the Transport Act 1968 relating to the powers of passenger transport executives: In section 12(4) (borrowing powers of Executive), the words 'with the consent of the Minister' shall cease to have effect. Will my right hon. Friend give the House some idea of the implications of this? If it is to take away the Government's right fully to supervise the executives' borrowing powers it seems that we are taking a rather greater step than would appear to be the case in the great majority of the proposed changes, which are of little consequence. I apologise to my right hon. Friend for not having given him notice of the question.

Mr. Ross

The desire of the Government to remove or to relax controls is something that we all welcome. We noted in Committee that where fees continue to be charged and where the Government get interest on them there are proposals to increase them. Equally affected may be some of the powers apart from the fees referred to in one of the schedules. I am fascinated by the fact that it is still desired to charge a fee for the lending of billiard halls. Surely the time has come to get rid of some of these things. I hope that if the clause is not strong enough to enable the Secretary of State to wipe out not just the question of fees but also the question of licensing of some things, he will continue to examine the matter.

The only matter that causes us some concern is the nature of subsection (3)— an order made under this section may contain such incidental or consequential provisions as appear to the Secretary of State to be appropriate"— in other word, he can do what he likes— including provisions amending or repealing or revoking…any enactment passed before this Act and any instrument made under any such enactment. The Secretary of State will need to put in some qualifying words as to the scope and extent of the power he is taking to repeal or revoke any enactment. He surely does not mean "any enactment". This provision is not to be used by the Secretary of State to roam through statutes to get rid of anything he does not like or to make repeals, revocations or amendments. However, we approve of the saving in subsection (4) requiring that statutory instruments containing orders must be approved by each House of Parliament.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

We have tried to make subsection (3) as wide as possible simply so as not to restrict a future Secretary of State or House of Commons as to dispensing with any control which may then appear to be obsolete. The saving, as the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) pointed out, is that subsection (4) stipulates that this can be done only by affirmative resolution. This means that a positive decision must be taken.

The right hon. Gentleman drew attention, as I am sure other hon. Members could do if they looked through all the controls that there have been over local authorities, to the question of a control concerning billiard halls. No doubt a future review will show that more controls can be dispensed with. Although that one is not being dealt with on this occasion, there will be occasions in the future, made possible by the clause, when a Government and Parliament can relax controls over the new local authorities and give them discretion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) raised the question of the relaxation involving the Transport Act 1968, which is a fairly recent enactment, as my hon. Friend knows, because both he and I served on the Standing Committee which considered that Bill.

With the assumption of passenger transport responsibility by regional authorities, the Government do not consider that control over borrowing is appropriate. We therefore believe that it can now be relaxed. In the review which has been carried out we have not only gone over some of the ancient statutes and brought forward obsolete provisions for relaxation we have also looked at statutes as recently as the Transport Act 1968 to see what could be dispensed with.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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