Order read for adjourned debate on Question [26th July],
That so much of the Lords Message [24th July] as relates to the Cheshire County Council Bill [Lords], the County of Merseyside Bill [Lords], the West Midlands County Council Bill [Lords], and the West Yorkshire Bill [Lords] be now considered.—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ So much of the Lords Message considered accordingly.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Oscar Murton)
I beg to move,That this House doth concur with the Lords in their Resolution.In moving the motion, I should explain to the House that its purpose is confined to enabling the promoters of the four named Bills to suspend proceedings on them so that they can resume proceedings in the next parliamentary Session from the stage which the Bills have now reached. It is customary towards the end of a parliamentary Session for such facilities to be given to promoters of Private Bills.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
I think that it would be proper and convenient for the House if I were now to state that it will be appropriate during the debate on the motion to discuss the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden). These are:
§ As the motion relates to the procedure of the House, it will be possible at the end of the debate, before the main Question is put, for the hon. Member formally to move all or any of his amend- 338 ments even if he has already spoken in the debate.
§ Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I wish to raise two points of order before we start Mr. Deputy Speaker, so that hon. Members know exactly where they stand in this debate. I accept that we are debating a carry-over motion, and not the Bill itself.
The Chairman of Ways and Means has said that, it is customary at this time of the Session to give promotors of Bills permission to carry over a Bill. This is the fourth year of this Parliament and I should like you to confirm that if the motion is passed and Parliament is dissolved in the autumn it will be necessary in the first Session of the next Parliament to bring forward a revival motion, retrospectively as it were, to comply with what we are doing tonight.
If you can confirm that, clearly we are wasting three valuable hours of parliamentary time debating this motion, and it ought not to have been brought forward because it could be brought forward after the dissolution of Parliament. The argument would have had no validity last year or the year before, but it is common knowledge that this is the fourth Session of this Parliament.
I have another point of order to raise. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may wish to take them together, but I should be happy to sit down now and wait until you received advice on the first one if you so wish. My second point of order relates to the lack of proper papers to enable us to conduct this debate. I have said that we are debating only the carry-over motion, but I think that hon. Members ought to be in a position to know exactly how far the Lords have gone and what they have done to these four Bills. It is not possible for any hon. Member to go to the Vote Office and get a copy of these Bills as they stand following the debates in the other place.
We hear constant complaints in this House about decisions coming to this House from the other place and hon. Members being unable to concur with motions put forward by the Government and others when there is a lack of proper paperwork and we do not know what we are doing. I submit that this brings Parliament into disrepute. If you cannot 339 confirm that the proper papers are available, you ought to suspend this debate until tomorrow.
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps I might answer the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). The answer to his first point is that it makes no difference to the suspension order whether this Parliament goes on or not. The measure will be carried over in just the same way.
On the question of the supply of papers, I should perhaps point out for the benefit of the House that it would be virtually impossible to produce a transcript of what took place in the other House. There is a copy in the Private Bill Office and also, as I understand it, at the Table, but it would not be possible to have copies printed for the general use of hon. Members, because there were about 44 sittings. If certain extracts had been taken for the benefit of the hon. Member for Perry Barr, that would, in my view, have been unfair to others who might have had an interest in other clauses in the Bill.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have tabled the amendments not because I wish to see the exclusion of any of these four Bills from the carry-over motion, but simply because that is the only way available to an hon. Member to give the House any choice at all because according to the motion it is either four or none. The amendments would give hon. Members a chance of saying that they have objections to matters relating to their areas but not to others. However, I hope that the motion will be carried.
I also ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to confirm that there is not the possibility of a three-hour debate. I am hoping to get it on the nod, and will be surprised and delighted if we do, but there is a business suspension motion and this could be a long an all-night sitting as the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill—God forbid.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for 340 Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). The details of the amendments made in the other place have not been made available to hon. Members, and therefore the full implications of these Bills as amended are not known to us. I accept that this is merely a carry-over motion, but many of us are concerned about certain aspects of the Bills. Because of the vagueness of the future of the Bills it is important that hon. Members should know what is involved before being asked to make a decision on the motion.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I think the hon. Member will agree that after 44 days of procedure in the other House it would be impossible and undesirable to bring all those papers before this House. It would be possible for the hon. Member, if he were so disposed, to obtain a copy from the other place.
§ Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston Ash)
Further to the points of order that have been raised with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and particularly that raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). I think that the hon. Gentleman made an important point and raised an important issue when he asked whether we were wasting our time in proposing to have, a three-hour debate now on the motion and the amendments to it. It would be helpful if the Chairman of Ways and Means could confirm that it the carry-over motion is passed, perhaps without debate, it is inevitable that there will be a proper House of Commons stage for consideration of the Bills. If the Chairman of Ways and Means could confirm that it would be an open question, perhaps hon. Members would not want to have a debate now on these Bills which would in any case be bound to come to the House in due course.
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means
Perhaps I may be allowed to answer that point of order. If the House passes the carry-over motion the House will have a complete and full opportunity to take the Bills through all their stages in the next Session of Parliament. To that extent the hon. Member is right when he says that a debate now—though this is a matter entirely for the House and not for me—would be superfluous. If the House is prepared to agree to the carry-over motion, it will be able to discuss the Bills in the next Session of Parliament.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
Farther to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If we were to debate the carry-over motion, would it be out of order to discuss the Bill itself?
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)
If I may speak to the motion, as opposed to raising a point of order—
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
On a point of order, and by way of clarification, Mr. Deputy Speaker. From the first answer which the Chairman of Ways and Means was good enough to give to the question of the thon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), I take it that when he said "the next Session of Parliament" he meant the next Session of this Parliament or the first Session of the ensuing Parliament, whichever circumstances might make it?
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)
I feel that I ought to have the opportunity at least to put forward some reasons why at this stage we should not rush into this motion. It has been suggested that we shall have every opportunity to discuss this matter in the next Session of Parliament. But, as those hon. Members who have taken the trouble to look at these Bills will realise, they are very long and complicated. At least one contains over 183 clauses.
These Bills were first brought before Parliament supposedly as consolidation measures. They went through the advertising procedure which is laid down for a Private Bill. People who objected to them were entitled to put forward their objections both to the House of Lords and, in due course, to this House. But because of the way in which the Bills were put forward, as supposedly consolidation measures, very many people assumed that they were not controversial. Therefore, they did not put in any objections to them.
342 It was only as the Bills began to progress through the other House that people began to discover that they were rather more controversial and were not purely consolidation measures. If the carry-over motion is agreed today, we shall reduce the opportunity for some of those people, who now discover that they are controversial measures, to express their views on them.
I realise that the House is in a dilemma, because if it does not pass the carry-over motion it will involve the promoters in considerable extra expense. But if we pass the carry-over motion we thereby reduce the opportunities for people who would like to protest about at least one of the clauses in the Bills. Those of us who have been concerned about this particular clause have made representations to the promoters to try to persuade them to drop that area of controversy from what are supposed to be consolidation measures. Had we succeeded in persuading them to drop it, we could have continued with the non-controversial elements of the Bills.
The Bills were presented to the House as consolidation measures, and evidence of Bills starting their passage in another place rather than here is normally an indication that they are considered to be non-controversial consolidation measures. Had this happened, we should not need to be arguing the issue now. But I believe that because major issues of principle are involved we ought to be questioning at this stage, and asking the people who are so keenly promoting the Bills, whether they would agree to remove from them the provisions of major controversy.
I have received a large number of letters from trades councils, trade unions, civil liberty groups, and groups such as the Scouts and many others who are concerned about the clause dealing with processions. In the Cheshire County Council Bill it is clause 30, in the West Yorkshire Bill it is clause 42, in the West Midlands County Council Bill it is clause 53, and in the County of Merseyside Bill it was clause 42, although I believe it is now clause 42A and clause 43. This clause, often referred to as a common clause, relates to people having to give notice about—
§ Mrs. Knight
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order to discuss clauses of the Bills when, as I 343 understand it, all we can discuss at the moment is the narrow question whether the Bills should be carried over? Is not this speech verging on matters which are out of order? May I ask for your guidance?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
There are amendments which could be moved. Those amendments are quite narrow, and it appears to me that the hon. Gentleman is straying from the amendments and the motion.
§ Mr. Rooker
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely the point which my hon. Friend is justifiably making in this forum of democracy, where we are supposed to debate such issues, is that certain people outside this House have been prevented from making known their views on these Bills during the parliamentary process in the other place. Under the present system people are entitled to two bites of the cherry—one in the Commons and one in the Lords—and I do not want to take that away from our fellow citizens. The point which my hon. Friend is making is perfectly justifiable in that certain sections of society have been deprived of making known their views to the House of Lords.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point is that the persons mentioned by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) will have ample opportunity of making these points when the House debates the matter, assuming that the carryover motion is agreed to. If it is not agreed to, the unfortunate local councillors concerned will be involved in immense expense.
§ Mr. Bennett
It seemed to me that it was at least reasonable to suggest those reasons why I and many other hon. Members are uneasy about these Bills proceeding. They can proceed only if the carryover motion is agreed to. Therefore, it seems to be at least reasonable to enlighten the House about the area which concerns myself and many other hon. Members, namely, the completely new provision in the Bills that seven days notice shall be given of processions. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is not new".] I hear two of my hon. Friends say that this is not new. I should like to develop my argu- 344 ment. I have been informed that in respect of the County of Merseyside Bill this is not a new power. I hope that I can eventually get to the point where I can indicate my views on the amendments, but I should first like to develop the point that this is a completely new power for many of those areas contained in the Bills.
These are claimed to be consolidation measures, but with the exception of the old City of Liverpool—where one had to give seven days' notice of one's intention to hold a procession—in almost all the other areas, if there was any statutory notice, it was either three days or 36 hours. It seems very hard to claim that these are consolidation measures when they seek to change 36 hours' notice into seven days' notice. That seems to be a major change of substance which was not made clear when the Bills were advertised. But many groups of people have written to me pointing out that this is a major change.
As a result of the representations that have been made, I understand that the West Yorkshire authority is prepared to drop its clause from the West Yorkshire Bill and that at the earliest opportunity it will be taking that action. I understand that its willingness to do so was mainly due to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison), who has worked hard—he has taken up the representations of trade unionists in his area and also those on behalf of the West Yorkshire authority, which is concerned about the costs—to ensure that the two interests are met. The two interests have met, because the authority is now suggesting that it would be happy to withdraw the clause. That would allow the rest of the Bill, most of which is non-controversial, to proceed through the House, thus ensuring that the ratepayers' money was well spent. I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for having brought about this concession. I am, of course, rather disappointed that some of the other authorities have not been prepared to follow that sensible lead.
I should like to turn briefly to the question of Merseyside because as a result of lobbying from representatives of Merseyside I believe that that area has some particular problems. I was well aware that there was a tradition of 345 marches in that area and that those marches took place on a sectarian basis, but I was not aware that there have been byelaws in that area for about 50 years dealing with these marches. Had the County of Merseyside Bill merely contained a continuation of those byelaws, there could have been no objection to it.
§ Mr. Loyden
It has been said that this is a consolidation measure, but in respect of Merseyside that is not the case. The Merseyside county council is a new authority; it was part of the Liverpool city council. We are now talking of extending powers to other authorities in the Merseyside county to which these regulations have not been applied.
§ Mr. Bennett
I accept what my hon. Friend says, and I shall be developing my argument about Merseyside. I accept the argument about consolidation. It will extend the powers in Liverpool to the rest of the Merseyside authority. The Bill will extend the byelaws of Liverpool to the rest of Merseyside. The byelaws deal with the problem of the seven days' notice by including a provision which more or less says that this may happen only "where practicable". However, if one wants to organise a demonstration, following some spontaneous development such as a road accident about which parents wish to demonstrate immediately, or if there is an international incident, or a strike, or an industrial dispute, and people wish to demonstrate by going on to the highway, there is some provision for such demonstrations within the present structure of byelaws. If the Merseyside Bill goes forward, I shall be pressing the authority hard in further debates on this issue to make further concessions. It appears that the authority has a reasonable argument.
I have very much less faith in the approach of Cheshire and the West Midlands authorities which seem determined to push ahead with this common clause, with no safeguards to cover spontaneous demonstrations. Those who seek to ensure that the measure passes tonight should give certain assurances. What happens if somebody wants to organise a demonstration quickly in his area? If this legislation is passed, such a person will have to give seven days' notice. It may be said, "The police will turn a blind eye", but it is not good legislation 346 to try to persuade the police to turn a blind eye. We need clear legislation.
Those who wish to see this Bill pass should explain how they see the position. Let us suppose that an accident occurs on a zebra crossing and that angry parents wish to protest or demonstrate. If they stay on the footpath and go down to county hall they can demonstrate, but if they want to march down the street with banners they will have to give seven days' notice. When that kind of tragic incident occurs, people often want to demonstrate their feelings quickly and do not wish to give seven days' notice.
Furthermore, let us assume that an international situation develops in which again people quickly want to demonstrate to show their feelings or to suggest that the Government take a particular line. We have only to think back to the Suez invasion or the situation that developed between the United States and Cuba over Russian missiles. On those occasions people demonstrated almost immediately by having processions in the street. These provisions appear to make that kind of demonstration illegal. One cannot do that if one has to wait seven days, because events will not wait that long.
The promoters could have come up with a formula to remove the absolute requirement of seven days' notice. If an organisation wishes to organise a demonstration or procession in, say, three weeks' time, it has to put out leaflets and it should tell the police of its intentions and make arrangements to avoid traffic difficulties and all the rest of it. However, this clause does not deal with that situation. Instead, it puts an absolute ban on people demonstrating in the streets in processions unless they give seven days' notice.
I appeal to those who wish this Bill to go through to provide a solution to the problem by allowing spontaneous demonstrations to take place. If that does not happen, civil rights could be seriously eroded. If this Bill goes through in this form, we shall upset many groups—not only trades unionists, but Scout groups and others who on occasions wish to form themselves into processions in the streets. They may not be able to give the correct amount of notice and it will be unfortunate if, by allowing this 347 clause to pass, we lose civil rights. On the other hand, if we object to the Bill, we shall involve the ratepayers of the West Midlands and Cheshire in considerable expense in trying to reintroduce what was regarded as a non-controversial measure.
Therefore, I beg those who support the Bill to see whether they can go a little further and make concessions on this matter.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. David Hunt (Wirral)
I wish to speak to two of the Bills, because by constituency falls within Cheshire and Merseyside. I strongly support the terms of the carry-over motion.
I wish to answer the argument of the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) on the subject of processions. The hon. Gentleman appears to have a number of misconceptions about the way in which that provision will operate. May I point out that the clause in its present form does not govern spontaneous demonstrations. It is quite clear that it applies only to organised street processions. It must be an organised street procession other than for charitable purposes, and it does not apply to the sort of spontaneous demonstration to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Can the hon. Gentleman assure me that if somebody at a factory gate suggests that he and his colleagues should walk down the street to another factory to persuade people either to stop work or to return to work, that event will be covered? I understand that in such circumstances if one goes on to the street as opposed to the pavement that constitutes a procession.
§ Mr. Hunt
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I wish that he would read through the 41-day debate in the other place because he will see that this matter was canvassed most carefully. This is surely the kind of point that should be taken in Committee when this Bill, thanks to the carry-over motion, moves forward. I understand that the promoters would like to safeguard the rights of trade unionists and of anybody who wishes to participate in a legal demonstration or a legally-organised street procession. I am sure that already some 348 compromises have been made and others will follow, but this is a matter for debate in Committee and not on the carry-over motion.
The second point is that the clause as drafted does not make it an offence to participate in a non-notified procession. It merely deals with the position where such an event has been organised in advance. It makes it a penalty for the organiser not to notify the police so that they can take adequate precautions to protect the public and property.
Thirdly, the clause gives no power to the public or to the district council to prohibit the procession. It is concerned only with notice of the fact of the procession and the route, to enable measures of public protection and safety to be planned in advance.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman's argument. Clause 43(1) of the County of Merseyside Bill says:No person shall organise or conduct a procession through any street in a district unless, 7 days before the procession starts to pass through any street, there has been delivered…a notice.That is laid down clearly in the Bill.
§ Mr. Hunt
As a lawyer, my interpretation of the clause as a model clause in the Cheshire and Merseyside Bills—and I have not closely studied Clause 43 mentioned by the hon. Gentleman—does not prohibit an organised street procession. However, that is the kind of point which can be dealt with in Committee. This is not the time to discuss the matter.
I wish to point out that in Merseyside there were 13,000 clauses in local legislation. For five years local councillors have been sitting in working parties occupying themselves late at night trying to consolidate all these clauses and to rationalise the legislation. If they have erred here and there, it is up to us to put the position right in Committee. But if we do not agree to this carry-over motion, all that work will be lost. They have managed to reduce 13,000 clauses in 315 local Acts to a Bill containing roughly 150 clauses. That in itself is a feat to be admired. We should not allow the Bills to die. It would mean that public expenditure of about £500,000 would be lost if they died now after 41 days in another place.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)
I do not dissent from the hon. Gentleman's argument, but I remind him that when the earlier West Midlands Bill came before the House there were two clauses, or perhaps three, to which the Opposition objected. They insisted upon throwing out the whole Bill. They threw the baby out with the bath water, thereby allowing considerable expense to be incurred, instead of letting the Bill go into Committee. I only hone that the House will behave more responsibly tonight.
§ Mr. Hunt
As I understand it, that stance was taken on Second Reading. I cannot be held to be blameless in these matters because I spoke for slightly under three hours to ensure the continuance of the Mersey ferry. I was able to do so thanks to the assistance of many hon. Members on both sides of the House. Of all hon. Members, it may be that I can speak with some authority. I spoke for slightly under three hours when the House was debating the Bill itself. A number of important matters were raised and we almost reached agreement. Tonight we are debating a technical carry-over motion. If the motion is lost, that will have great significance in all areas covered by the Bills and other areas that will have to produce similar local legislation in future.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
We are debating a technical motion, but if there are outstanding problems that hon. Members feel should be cleared up does the hon. Gentleman agree that now is surely the time to do so, so that when the Bill returns to us it may be changed and we may have it in front of us in a form that will allow even further concessions to be made? If that is done, we probably will not need a great debate in the House.
§ Mr. Hunt
I share the hope of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) that important matters will be raised and that they will be considered. We are being given an adequate opportunity to do so.
350 I hope that Labour hon. Members will not take the opportunity that is given to them tonight to sink these important local Bills. It is important that matters of substance are raised so that constituents and trade unionists who have already made representations may further consult on the important issues. I hope that that consultation will take place during the recess so that when we come to discuss the Bill we shall have had an opportunity of considering the clauses with our constituents and all other groups.
A number of representations were made to me by trade unionists and others at Ellesmere Port and Neston at a recent meeting. We have before us crucial clauses for industry and for attracting local industry and there is concern that they will be lost if the Merseyside Bill is lost. There are many other crucial clauses. I hope that Labour Members will not take the opportunity of sinking the Bills at great loss to public funds.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. George Park (Coventry, North-East)
We would not be in the present difficulty at the fag end of the Session if, when the West Midlands Bill was last presented with a Labour administration at the county council, the Opposition had not taken the opportunity to deal with it party politically. That is how they chose to deal with it. Their sole desire was to kill the Bill. They took no account of the fact that the Bills are not promoted because of any wish of the local authorities. These Bills are being promoted because we say so. That has arisen on account of section 262 of the Local Government Act 1972, under which all local legislation, with some exceptions, ceases to have effect in 1979. That is why there is some urgency.
The shoe is now on the other foot. We have a Conservative administration at the West Midlands County Council and a similar Bill has been brought forward. I can appreciate the temptation facing some of my hon. Friends to mete out the same treatment as was accorded to the earlier Bill. However, like the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt), I hope that my hon. Friends will take a more responsible view and will allow a carry-over into the next Session so that time and money will be saved and full discussion will be permitted on any issues on which there are doubts and on which it is wished to move 351 amendments. Following such discussion, it is my understanding that the promoters of the West Midlands Bill would be willing to abide by whatever decisions were arrived at in Parliament.
§ Mr. Rooker
I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is speaking on behalf of the promoters. I ask him to elaborate his last remarks. Is he able to say on behalf of the promoters that they would propose to remove the clause, and not merely to concur with the decision of the House? Would they be prepared to put forward an amendment with which the House might agree or disagree?
§ Mr. Park
I cannot go that far. I said what was my understanding, and that is as far as I can go. It is my understanding that the promoters would be willing to abide by the decision of the House. That is something and nothing. Of course they must abide by whatever decision the House takes. They would rather have rejection after a discussion in the House than a rejection based on procedure, merely by shouting "Object". That is a reasonable approach to take.
It may be news to at least one of my hon. Friends but we have had street procession powers in Coventry since 1920.
§ Mr. Rooker
I raise not a Committee point but a point of principle. My hon. Friend has said that Coventry has street procession powers. I find that clause 53 of the West Midlands Bill specifically states that Coventry does not have such 352 powers. It seems that Birmingham and Coventry are the only two authorities in the West Midlands that would gain street procession powers if the Bill were enacted. That is as plain as a pikestaff. It seems that the other five authorities have such powers and Coventry has not.
§ Mr. Park
I have never known any great trouble arise from the exercise of the powers.
The Bills before us are only the forerunners of many more such Bills. Consolidation will have to take place in many other local authorities. If we continue to kill these Bills by procedural means without consideration of the merits or demerits of particular clauses, we shall ultimately bring local government into total chaos. That is because it will suffer from a lack of powers.
Many of my hon. Friends wish to see local government restructured. To kill these Bills procedurally is surely not the way to do it. I urge support for the carry-over motion.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
I shall be brief. Those who have argued that the purpose or intention of my hon. Friends is to kill the Bill should be made aware that there has been genuine concern about some parts of the Bill. If that concern had been met in the way suggested tonight, there would not have been the intention to kill the Bill. Tonight's debate has given those who have a direct interest to understand more fully the objects of the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) has raised an important matter. The House may satisfy itself that there is an opportunity for it to consider the Bill in Committee. Parliament must have regard to public accountability.
As has been said, organisations affected by the Merseyside Bill may want to make representations. The opportunity will not be available to them because we shall be voting for the carry-over motion tonight.
353 It is certainly not my intention or that of my hon. Friend to kill the Bill. However, we want to alert the House to the fact that there is unease about certain aspects of the Bill and the clause which has been central to this debate.
Those who argue that there is a peculiar situation on Merseyside—sectarianism—do not know Liverpool in 1978. I was born in the city of Liverpool and remember when that was the situation in the 1920s. There were sectarian confrontations in the 1920s and 1930s. But the Orange Lodge processions in Liverpool now attract only their own supporters. I should like to hear about the last time that arrests were made in Liverpool during an Orange Lodge procession due to sectarian confrontation. That is an additional burden that Liverpool has had to carry because of misrepresentation. Therefore, anyone who argues the need for the clause on the ground of sectarian processions in Liverpool could not put that forward as justification.
We should express our views to the House. No one wants the baby to be thrown out with the bath water. However, we want to protect the freedoms of our constituents and of organisations. Their freedoms should be sustained. There are sufficient taws on the statute book—laws relating to assembly and conspiracy—to deal with these problems without having additional unnecessary and undesirable laws in different localities.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Robin Hodgson (Walsall, North)
I should like to take up the point made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) about the balance of advantage in the two courses of action open to the House tonight. The point of substance made by Labour Members concerns the regulations governing processions. I accept that there is real concern about this matter and that there are certain circumstances in which this will be an extremely important issue, but I think that we need to keep a sense of perspective on the action that we should take.
The motion will be either carried or not carried. We have been assured by the Chairman of Ways and Means that, if the motion is carried, a full debate will take place in the next Session.
354 Hon. Members on both sides have referred to doubts and problems. I am concerned about the storage of wastepaper and other matters, not as dramatic as processions, but none the less important for certain sections of my constituency.
If the motion is not carried, the costs and difficulties will be almost incalculable. First, there will be the direct costs in cash terms of having to resurrect the measures. Secondly, there is the question of damage to the economic fabric of the urban areas covered by the county councils in question. These county councils desperately wish to attract jobs and to have secure legislative background with which to carry out the process of attraction. Therefore, if we fail to pass the motion, we shall be in real danger of worsening an already difficult economic situation in these urban areas.
The hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Park) referred to the ending of legislative powers because of the running out of the statutory powers of the old authorities. When hon. Members consider the balance of advantage—ending the Bills for ever or allowing further discussion in the next Session—I am sure they will agree that the motion should be carried.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I shall not take up the time of the House for very long. I am perturbed about this matter. Liverpool already has such regulations, but over a long time they have not been applied rigidly.
I have organised and led many demonstrations on different matters. If one is involved in an industrial dispute one can hardly give seven days' notice if, having come out on strike on Monday, one decides to have a march round the streets of Liverpool on Wednesday. Yet dozens of such demonstrations or marches have been held. Therefore, it seems ridiculous to argue for something which we have not rigidly applied.
Problems used to arise in the city of Liverpool with the Orange Lodge processions and counter-processions. For example, in the old sectarian days, lodge marches through certain areas were bound to cause trouble. It does not happen now. That is because the people concerned have learned a great deal of 355 sense. In any case, those who might be in opposition do not care any more because they live in peace with everyone else. Such people look elsewhere in the United Kingdom and are perturbed at what they see happening. Therefore, they are determined not to allow it to happen in their city.
Why do we need an extension of these powers from Liverpool into every other part of Merseyside? I shall not hold up the Merseyside Bill. However, I should like to give notice to the promoters of the Bill that this matter concerns us greatly. The other Bills are more rigid than that which applies on Merseyside. The Merseyside formulation is not too bad. Indeed, it is fairly mild. But the formulation in the other Bills is very rigid.
I agree that, as has been said, this power could be an attack on our basic civil liberties. Demonstrating is one of our most important rights. For example, the ladies in my constituency who are rightly clamouring for a dinner centre in the Blessed Sacrament School are entitled to demonstrate if they wish. Indeed, they have the right to organise marches and to demonstrate in other parts of my constituency. Powers relating to breach of the peace and so on are still available to chief constables and others under other Acts.
I shall not oppose the motion. I shall not do what was done by the Opposition when, in my opinion, they acted totally irresponsibly. The Opposition do not know how to act in any other way. But I put it to those who are here listening to the debate—I understand they are never here, because under the rules only Members of Parliament can be here—or I put it to the promoters of these Bills that, when they come back to the House and we debate these matters in detail, they should be prepared to remove the offending clauses and to put them in terms acceptable to Labour Members. I make that suggestion on the basis of civil rights and liberties and on the right to demonstrate, even on a quick basis, if people think it essential.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. J. W. Rooker (Perry Barr)
My hon. Friends have raised many important issues, though I do not accept the sugges- 356 tion that local government in this country is the guardian of the liberties of our citizens. The opposite is true—and that applies to both parties at local level. The guardians of the liberties of the people of this country are this House and, for the time being, the place along the corridor. I do not push that too hard, but it is important in this debate. While we still have a House of Lords, it is important that the people of this country are able to use both Chambers to put their case on private and on public legislation.
Several organisations have had no opportunity to put their point of view to noble Lords. If they had done so, we would probably not be having this debate because I am sure that those noble Lords who are not partisan and who lift themselves above the cut and thrust of party politics would have seen sense and removed these clauses. We shall not be able to find out whether that is so if the carry-over motion is passed.
The Cheshire county council circulated a letter to Cheshire Members indicating that they ought to vote for the carry-over motion and claiming that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) and I do not like one of the clauses in the Bill. That is not strictly true. There is a clause in the West Midlands Bill to which I take even more exception than I take to the clause dealing with processions.
I am not irresponsible and I shall not seek to use that clause as a plank for throwing out the Bill because the people involved with that clause—the licensing justices in Birmingham—have had an opportunity of putting their case to noble Lords. The clause will open a gate to allow criminal elements to take over late-night drinking establishments in Birmingham. It will go through this House over my dead body and over the bodies of the lawyers and teetotallers who want to support the justices in Birmingham over the Bill's provisions. However, the licensing justices have at least had an opportunity to make representations to their Lordships.
The Birmingham trades council has had no such opportunity in relation to the processions clause. There was no consultation carried out by the district council or the West Midlands county council. I have a letter from the secretary of the trades council, Sir David 357 Perris, a highly respected man who is also chairman of the West Midlands regional health authority. He says:Further to our recent telephone conversation, I am writing to say how opposed we are to Clause 53 of the Bill.That is the processions clause. He has confirmed this morning that no consultation took place—contrary to what was said in the Birmingham Evening Mail last Friday when the usual malicious little article appeared concerning myself and points I had raised about tonight's debate.
The leader of the West Midlands county council, Councillor John Taylor, complained that it was irresponsible for us even to have a debate. These democrats at local level do not want to accept that the only way we can debate any private business is for us formally to object to it so that we can get time for a debate. Of course, that is never made clear by Conservative Members. Councillor Taylor said that "all this good work" by Conservatives and Labour councillors at county and district level would be destroyed. His implication was that everybody agreed with everything. That may be true for the councillors, but they forgot to have a chat with the Birmingham trades council about it. I also understand that the County Association of Trades Councils had no opportunity to talk to their Lordships about the problem of processions.
In addition, the TUC did not know about the proposals. No opportunity was given to the national body representing 11 million workers in this country to put its views to their Lordships. I do not know what the Prime Minister will make of all this when the matter is raised with him by Len Murray. No doubt my right hon. Friend has more important things on his mind, but the TUC will not stand for this proposal and extreme pressure will be put on the Government, even though this is Private Business. There are ways in ensuring that changes are made and matters are brought to a satisfactory conclusion.
In my simpleness, I believe that the TUC and these other bodies should have had an opportunity to make representations to another place. Even at this late stage, they should be given the opportunity to put their case. It is important for this House to safeguard the rights of such organisations.
358 This will be classed as a civil liberties clause. The National Council for Civil Liberties has become aware of the problem only in the last three months—much too late to make representations because the time for lodging petitions with another place expired in January. The NCCL is collecting the evidence that we shall require later to meet the arguments of the promoters if the clauses remain.
It is not just the trade union and industrial relations aspect which is important. The case on processions does not rest on that aspect. In many ways the fact that trade unions are organised and have the necessary muscle to put their case means that they do not need protection as much as do ordinary citizens who organise only when something happens to make them organise. I have had a number of spontaneous demonstrations in my constituency. For example, there is a zebra crossing in my constituency on which frequently people were killed. There were four or five dealths in 10 years. Last time the victim was a child of five or six, and there was a spontaneous demonstration and a march on the local police station. People marched down the road—that was a procession—and blocked the road—that was not a procession and would not be covered by the Bill. They were stopped for obstructing the highway, but no prosecution ensued.
Since then, matters have improved and the junction has been redesigned, but only because of the pressure that those local people were able to exert. Those citizens were able to make the authorities understand that they had had enough. They marched to the local police station with good effect. They were peaceful, law-abiding citizens. We are here to make sure that the liberties of such people are not eroded, as they will be if the clause stays in the Bill unamended.
There was another example in my constituency about two years ago. It was a first-class example of how protests can erupt without warning, which is the sort of situation in which we must protect our people. At 7 o'clock in the morning, several of my constituents received through the post notice of a planning application for an itinerants' site. One's views on the provision of such sites are not important in this case. My constituents were given 16 days in which to comment and lodge objections, but at 10 359 o'clock the same morning the bulldozers arrived on site. This happened in four areas of Birmingham, including areas in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman) and in my constituency. Of course, it did not take long for the tom-toms to get cracking and there was a demonstration.
§ Mr. Rooker
It is that sort of anti-citizen, anti-democratic attitude that this debate is about. The hon. Lady wants to stop debate in the House. She could stand charged with hypocrisy.
§ Mr. Alison
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) raised a point of order and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who is a man of versatile energy and disposition, took it upon himself to rule on the point of order. I suggest that in the interests of my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston you should rule on the point of order.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I had given an indication to the hon. Lady, which perhaps had not reached the hon. Gentleman, that it appeared to me to be relevant to the discussion
§ Mr. Rooker
I am extremely grateful for your contention, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that my hon. Friends and those outside, who listen to these debates these days, will note that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) wanted to silence debate tonight.
§ Mrs. Knight
I have learned in this Chamber that one must keep to the point on the matter that one is debating. My understanding of the matter was that we were debating the narrow point of whether the Bill should be carried over. I have absolutely no wish to stifle debate on the Bill. When that time comes, I shall be taking my place in the debate with the hon. Gentleman, if he is still here.
§ Mr. Rooker
The question is whether the hon. Lady will be here.
We are debating the carry-over motion. The point I was making, the central point at issue, is that certain citizens outside, whose rights we are here to protect, 360 have been deprived of an opportunity within the parliamentary process that exists, the two Chambers, of making known their views. It is very difficult for citizens who may wish from time to time to have a spontaneous demonstration to make known their point of view in the House of Lords. I am giving two examples from my constituency—I have not finished giving the second one—of where some of my constituents, to whose attention I have drawn this matter, have said "Yes, we could have gone and told the House of Lords the problem that we had and why we were moved to take the action that we took on those days, and that would have assisted the House of Lords in making sure that they understood the implications of these clauses." However, they were deprived of the opportunity of se doing.
As I was saying before the hon. Lady intervened with her point of order, at 10 o'clock, three hours after the warning, the bulldozers arrived on site. My constituents got organised. Not only did they demonstrate: they marched in procession. They kept it up for about two weeks before the matter was finally disposed of very quietly.
Without the facility to carry out that action as ordinary law-abiding citizens, causing no one any harm, they might not have succeeded. It is that sort of example of a spontaneous demonstration which takes the implication of the clause much wider than the industrial relations aspects.
There is a further example. It is an industrial relations example, but it is just as important because it took place in Birmingham this year. That was the announcement of a factory closure. It is true that the 90 days' warning was given, but people in the Typhoo factory in the inner city of Birmingham wanted to complain about it. They assembled outside the factory one morning and marched to a local hall to have a meeting, to be addressed by their trade union officials and by myself, on how best to fight the closure.
That procession was organised within about 12 hours, and certainly less than a day. It would have been caught by the clause because the people concerned actually marched. Two inches of snow fell just before they started out. People were falling all over the place, let alone 361 marching. They were on the pavements and in the roads, in the back streets of Digbeth in Birmingham. But they would have been caught by the clause.
Those who have been caught, or those such as trade unionists, have managed quite satisfactorily in Birmingham, as far as the trades council is concerned, with even spontaneous demonstrations in the last few years. They have good relationships with the police. I am told by Sir David Ferris this morning:You may say we have a close working relationship with the police, with consultation over the last 15 years about any demonstrations or processions, to be more accurate, that we wish to organise. We have had no difficulty.What is objected to is the fact that these days the police have a meeting at which everything is written down, and then everyone is expected to agree with it afterwards, and the stewards on demonstrations get into a spot of bother.
Nevertheless, there has been no trouble in Birmingham, other than during the by-election at Ladywood last year. That trouble could have been caught under the Public Order Act. It had nothing to do with this sort of nonsense. That was during a parliamentary by-election and was quite clearly, as most National Front issues are, a matter to be dealt with under the Public Order Act.
That brings me to a further point as to why this House should further consider the implications of this clause. We are not talking just about local government.
§ Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)
The hon. Member is making a very powerful and persuasive speech on the merits of the clause, but does not he agree that surely the right time for that is when the Bill is being debated on Second Reading, and, if necessary, in any Committee with any Instruction? Surely he cannot justify taking up a great deal of the time of the House now merely on a motion giving the right to debate that issue in the next Session of Parliament.
§ Mr. Rooker
I shall be coming to the hon. and learned Gentleman shortly, in respect of another matter. But I do not accept that point. I was about to raise another issue. In this Chamber we are now talking to those outside who are listening to us. I understand the conven- 362 tion which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) mentioned.
We may say to the county councils, the promoters of these Bills—they might have got the message by now, or they will get it when they read the newspapers tomorrow—that there may be a bit of trouble in getting these Bills through on the nod next Session if the carry-over motion is carried. It may be said that this is all local government. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West said that these were very important issues. I accept that. There is a lot of good stuff in these Bills for which we must legislate; otherwise we shall have chaos in local government. I want that no more than any other responsible Member.
But I understand that the heavy hand of the Home Office is behind these clauses. I have been told today that the permanent secretary to the Home Office has been on to the administrators in the Whips' Office and has said "Do not bother about getting concessions on this. Leave it. They do not have enough troops." That is what the Home Office is saying about this matter. I am told that these clauses are in these Bills with the approval of the Home Office, because these clauses, if passed, put the onus on chief constables. The Home Office will be tickled pink to shift this little problem on to chief constables, away from where it rightly belongs—with the Home Secretary and the chief constables, under the Public Order Act, by which they can be accountable to this House.
§ Mr. Ogden
I think that we can prove between us that this House is a place of contrasting rumours. I am told exactly the opposite—that the Home Office does not want the clauses and that one of the reasons that the Government are reluctant to support them as effectively as they might is that the Home Office does not want them. But the House of Commons must decide eventually whether they are to be in the Bills.
§ Mr. Rooker
That is the great problem when we are discussing Private Business. Some time ago I saw the Under-Secretary move as if to rise to speak. I hope that we shall hear a Government view on this matter. Usually with Private Business a Minister intervenes. If my 363 hon. Friend wishes to intervene, I shall gladly give way. It appears that my hon. Friend has nothing to say. Therefore, I shall continue.
I hope that the Government will have a positive view on this matter. It would be a reassurance to my hon. Friends. Many of them are members of the Government, and Ministers cannot rise to speak on these issues. From the Back Benches we know that there are very many Ministers who are totally opposed to the concept in this Bill and will oppose it on a free vote, root and branch, if we ever reach a debate in Committee. It would be of great help to them if we had the Government's view.
Usually with private business no one is in the Chamber to speak with authority on behalf of the promoters. We cannot actually ask a question and get a positive answer. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) has heard one rumour. I have heard another. I have had a running dispute with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West. The matter is not settled. We are debating this Bill and not his view of local government. Coventry is not listed on page 39 of the West Midlands County Council Bill.
As I have said, we have this problem, and I hope that the Minister will be a little more forthcoming about the Government's view. But I smell the Home Office behind this issue. I shall need a good deal of convincing that the Home Office does not have an attitude of acquiescence or ambivalence that will put this problem in the laps of chief constables. I have not discussed the matter with my own chief constable. He was a bit horrified when I said that the Bill would not go through on the nod. There were many other matters about which he was concerned, although this matter was not raised during our conversation.
Many hon. Members have raised the issue of the public expenditure involved in Bills having come this far and then failed. I am the first to admit that there is a problem here. The hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) mentioned £500,000. I have heard other figures. I have not heard that sum. That probably takes account of all the background stuff on all the Bills. I heard that the cost was £40,000 for one Bill, and if that fig- 364 ure were grossed up for all the Bills the figure would probably be £250,000 if all were reprinted as they are now. It may have cost £500,000 to get this far, but it would probably not cost that much to start all over again. I accept that it would cost the ratepayers money, and I would rather that that was spent on social service departments, education, better reads and many other things. I put that argument forward in 1976, and so did my hon. Friends.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) that the Merseyside Bill, as amended, is vastly superior to the other three Bills. If we come to a Division later, although I do not suppose that we shall if we have a positive statement from the Government, I shall not vote against the Merseyside Bill, in the light of the points that have been made tonight and the concessions that have been given. I understand that the West Yorkshire Bill has been dropped, so I shall not vote against that either. That leaves the Cheshire and West Midlands Bills.
There was a West Midlands County Council Bill before the House in 1976 and another in 1977. The latter went through on the nod because it contained the good parts of the 1976 Bill. They included powers to give grants for sound insulation for people living near airports or near improved roads not within the scope of the Land Compensation Act.
§ Mr. Alf Bates (Bebington and Ellesmere Port)
My constituency is covered both by the Merseyside county council and the Cheshire county council. My hon. Friend said that the position on Merseyside appeared to be different from that in Cheshire. Will he consider what would happen if some of my constituents—say those working at the Vauxhall car plant—wished to organise a demonstration which would cross the boundary between Cheshire and Merseyside? Of whom would they have to ask permission? What would happen if they wished to organise a spontaneous demonstration and were permitted to march in Merseyside but not in Cheshire? In such a circumstance would not the situation created by these Bills be ludicrous?
§ Mr. Rooker
My hon. Friend has raised an important point, but it can best be answered in detail by those hon. Members who know the area. They would be 365 able to name the roads along which their constituents might wish to walk. I am unfamiliar with the area. However, the difference between the Bills creates an awkward predicament for my hon. Friends' constituents. No one on the Conservative Benches has addressed himself to this point. It may be suggested that this is a Committee stage point, but I believe it to be a point of principle which arises from the substantial difference between the Merseyside Bill and the other Bills.
We are faced here with the fundamental issue of public expenditure. I do not want the ratepayers' money in my constituency to be wasted now as it was in 1976 due to the actions of the hon. Members for Edgbaston and Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), and the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle). They were all there on 11 th February 1976 voting on a party whip on private business to oppose the Bill lock, stock and barrel. I do not think that the hon. Member for Wirral was in the House at that time. He is certainly not on the Division list.
§ Mrs. Knight
Earlier the hon. Member was extolling the virtues of debate and democracy. Surely hon. Members are at liberty to vote against any Bill or clause that they believe to be wrong, just as the hon. Member intends, if ever we reach that point, to vote later. Surely there was nothing wrong with voting against something which at the time stirred up great disagreement.
§ Mr. Rooker
That is precisely my point. The hon. Lady could not have been listening, or perhaps she left the Chamber for a moment. The 1977 West Midlands Bill which went through on the nod contained all the good parts of the 1976 Bill. If the hon. Lady had done what she wrongly claims she did and had supported the 1976 Bill on Second Reading but voted to delete the trading clauses to which the Tories objected, my constituents and other Birmingham citizens would not have had to wait another 12 months to enjoy the benefit of the good parts of the 1976 Bill which had to go through separately at enormous cost. She cost her constituents a fortune by her action on 11th February 1976, and so did the other Conservative Members concerned. Let me check whether the 366 hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) was there—oh yes, he was there too. I hope, therefore, that we shall not get any speeches from those hon. Members about the possible cost to local authorities if the Bill does not go through. I hope that we shall be spared any cant or hypocrisy from them.
I submit to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you should rule their speeches out of order. If you wish I shall hand you the Division List of 11th February 1976. That was a sorry day in this House when the Tory Party imposed a three-line Whip on private business. That was unprecedented in the history of this House. Never before had a party been whipped on Private Business. The Tories beat us hook line and sinker by 268 votes to 104. The tragedy was that there were insufficient Labour Members with enough guts to stay and vote for a Labour Bill, because that is what it was. That was the irresponsible action of hon. Members like the hon. Member for Edgbaston.
§ Mr. Hodgson
Is it not true that the 1976 West Midlands Bill provided additional special powers? Tonight's Bill is purely a consolidation measure and is therefore distinctly different.
§ Mr. Rooker
I had intended to finish my speech, but the hon. Member reminds me that there is a point that I have not touched upon. It is the misuse of the word "consolidation". I do not charge the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Hodgson) with hypocrisy because he was not here in February 1976. He is wrong, however. The 1976 Bill gave increased powers to a county council. There were good parts of it. Nevertheless, the baby went out with the bath water, and those parts, which went out when the Bill was voted down, had to be brought back at great cost.
I mentioned this point about consolidation to the county secretary in the West Midlands and he explained that the word "consolidation" meant something different as between Public Business and Private Business. We have great difficulty debating public consolidation Bills. They do not change the law and they go through more or less on the nod. It is very difficult for an hon. Member to make a meaningful speech on such a Bill. This Private Bill, however, is not a consolidation Bill in that sense. Birmingham 367 and Coventry are the two districts in the West Midlands that are not covered by the seven-day notice. The districts that are covered are Dudley, Walsall, West Bromwich—which I think is called Sandwell—Wolverhampton and Warley. We are told that in the note in the margin on page 39.
If we were only consolidating old Acts and byelaws after local government reorganisation, of which this Bill is a consequence, there would be no change in the law for my constituents. In those circumstances I would not be taking up the time of the House. There is, however, a change in the law affecting my constituents and all Birmingham citizens. That is why we are here tonight. I thought that I had laboured that point sufficiently with examples from my constituency. If I have not convinced the hon. Member for Walsall, North, I am sure that I can drag up a few more examples in an attempt to convince him.
§ Mr. David Hunt
May I make a plea to the hon. Member? He has already given notice that he intends to differentiate between the County of Merseyside Bill and the Cheshire County Council Bill. They contain exactly the same clauses relating to processions. I should like him, together with his hon. Friend the Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Bates), to confer with the local trades council in that area. I was at a meeting last Friday which comprised the trades council and many other representatives of industry in Ellesmere Port and Neston, where tremendous concern was expressed that the very important clauses relating to industry might be lost. Those clauses in the Cheshire County Council Bill are desperately needed so that industry can be attracted to Ellesmere Port and Neston, which have an unemployment rate of 15.3 per cent. Will the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) please, before he makes his final decision, at least consult the trade unions in Ellesmere Port and Neston to find out how strongly they feel? I believe their feeling to be very strong.
§ Mr. Rooker
The hon. Member for Wirral has made an excellent point, but he did not name the trades council. If he will name it, I shall know the name of the council with which to consult. It 368 would be useful to have the name on the record. The valuable parts of the Bill are those which are concerned with jobs and prosperity, and they are important to trades councils. I would ask those trades councils, in the intervening period between now and next Session, to contact their local Members of Parliament, of whatever party, and say to them "You had better vote to take out clauses 42 and 53, or get them amended, or we shall lose the valuable parts of the Bill." The hon. Member for Edgbaston has a damn nerve, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to nod her head on that. Members of the Opposition are showing hypocrisy this evening of a sort that I have not seen in four and a half years. The whole point is that we do not want the good bits of these Bills to be lost. That clearly would be irresponsible.
§ Mr. Carlisle
The hon. Gentleman does not appear to have answered the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt). Clearly, in relation to the West Midlands, the hon. Member is free to say and do exactly what he wants. But why does he suggest that on the general merits, which can be debated in the next Session, there is at the moment, on the question of suspension, any difference between the Cheshire County Council Bill and the County of Merseyside Bill, both of which contain the same clauses?
§ Mr. Rooker
You will remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that when the debate started I raised a point of order. I said that the relevant papers were not before the House. As I understand it, the status of these two Bills is not the same. That is the whole point of the argument.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
My hon. Friend will be aware that in the County of Merseyside Bill there is a clause 44 which sets out the byelaws for dealing with processions. It is these byelaws which Merseyside has which give it powers to deal with spontaneous demonstrations and to make exceptions for this, and this feature is not present in the other Bills. I was concerned with the fact that the other Bills have nothing in them to make such exceptions.
§ Mr. Rooker
My hon. Friend is right. I understand that the byelaws used the expression "as reasonably practicable", but at the moment the wording in the 369 other Bills is to the effect that no person shall organise or conduct a procession through any street in a district unless notice has been given at least seven days before. But it does not say that no person shall organise or conduct a procession through any street in the district unless seven days before that notice has been given, or unless it would be reasonably impracticable to do so. There is none of that in the common clause, but it is in the byelaws, as I understand it.
§ Mr. Carlisle
If that be the case, I would certainly support the hon. Member in getting such an amendment to the Cheshire Bill, because it seems reasonable that the words "as reasonably practicable" should be in the Bill. I would certainly support him in pressing for that.
§ Mr. Rooker
I would support the hon. and learned Member in getting that in the Cheshire Bill, and I presume that he would support me in getting it in the West Midlands Bill. That is a deal between hon. Members. We are all hon. Members—most of us, anyway—in this place.
§ Mr. Richard Crawshaw (Liverpool, Toxteth)
I appreciate the point that my hon. Friend is making, and I understand what is worrying many hon. Members. Whether this is the point at which to discuss it, I do not know. My hon. Friend said that the Merseyside Bill was presented a little better than some of the other Bills. A lot of work has been done through Members of Parliament and local authorities on the points at issue. My hon. Friend has made complaints about the trade unions and trades councils not being consulted. Will he tell me whether, when the approach was made to him to discuss this particular matter, he refused to discuss it with the legal adviser of the people concerned?
§ Mr. Rooker
Is my hon. Friend making a charge or asking a question? I thought that my hon. Friend was implying that I had refused to discuss these Bills. There was no consultation before these Bills were presented to Parliament. Certainly there was no consultation with the Labour Members of Parliament. I cannot, of course, speak for all my colleagues, but as far as I am aware, there was no consultation with Labour Members of Parliament, and certainly none with me. I found out about the Bill almost by 370 accident. I wrote to the county council asking what was in the Bill and what it was all about. I asked "If it is a consolidation Bill, have I misunderstood it?" The first people to draw to my attention the existence of the Bill were the licensing justices in Birmingham, who were terribly afraid of the changes in the West Midlands Bill.
§ Mr. Crawshaw
I understand the point that my hon. Friend is making. Of course, until the Bill was presented we did not know the things to which we would object. It was after the Bill appeared that we knew the matters to which we would be objecting. After it had appeared, was not my hon. Friend approached by one of the legal advisers of the promoters, on a personal basis, and did not my hon. Friend refuse to discuss the matter? I am only asking a question. I could be wrong.
§ Mr. Rooker
I think that my hon. Friend is referring to a conversation which took place in the Lobby a week ago, after I had made an oral objection. At that point we were not even expecting a debate, and the matter was then in the hands of my right hon. Friend, the Deputy Chief Whip.
§ Mr. Walter Harrison (Treasurer to Her Majesty's Household)
In reference to this matter, may I point out, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I had full consultations with the West Yorkshire county council back in 1977? When any hon. Member on either side of the House raised the matter with me I had consultation with that Member. The West Yorkshire county council has acted in a first-class manner in every way, and I have had full consultation. When anyone refers to the Deputy Chief Whip or to anyone else, let it be understood that I have had full consultation with everyone concerned.
§ Mr. Rooker
The position is that, in the last week of the Session, I was objecting orally, and there was still confusion about the procedure that was used. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) asked me whether I had refused to have consultations. He seems to be referring to a chance remark from one of the promoters when he left the Box after I had shouted "Object" last week. I do not consider 371 that to be a refusal this late in the Session, when we are so close to the end and when we are talking about a carryover motion. I am not talking about the substance of the Bill or consultation about it. I have been in correspondence with the West Midlands county council about the Bill on behalf of the Boys' Brigade, the licensing justices, and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all. I got no change out of it. We shall still have a battle over the licensing clauses.
Even for private business it ill behoves local authorities to come here with Bills consisting of more than 100 pages without prior consultation even on the substance of the Bill. That may have happened in the past and it may be part of the history of this place, but I was sent here to change a few things that happen here. I think that a little more consultation by promoters, who obviously tell local authorities, "You pay a fee and you get your Bill," would be in order. It is not like that. When certain issues are being raised, I have no confidence in local government to protect the liberty of the individual. That responsibility rests with this House.
If any reasonable approach could have been expected, we should have seen it by now. Cheshire would have made the same decision as Merseyside, instead of issuing the misleading letter to its members, which said on page 2:It does not govern spontaneous demonstrations or people assembling to protest at for example, County Hall.It covers them if they are marching to County Hall: that is the point at issue.
That is a totally misleading statement in a letter to hon. Members on the basis of which they are expected to make a decision if it comes to a vote. I have not said whether I will vote. I should like the opportunity to distinguish between the Cheshire Bill and the Merseyside Bill. There has clearly been a meeting of minds on the Merseyside Bill, but not on the Cheshire Bill or the West Midlands Bill.
This small fraction of parliamentary time will have served to give notice to those outside the House, who we know are not really present, that they are in for a rough ride from the TUC and Labour Members, including Ministers, 372 when these Bills come to the House in future. They will be in for an even rougher ride from the teetotal lobby in this House, combined with the lawyers who I hope will vote to throw out the changes in the licensing laws.
I do not want to spend much time on those changes, because I shall have enough opportunity, and material, during the later stages of the Bill, which will undoubtedly take a long time, in the next Session.
If Back Benchers are of a mind to do so, they can have a field day on Private Business. We have done so on several Bills which have raised matters not to our liking or to that of our constituents. In the final analysis, it is the responsibility of elected Members to protect the rights of their constituents in civil liberty matters. It is not something that I am prepared to sub-contract to any promoter, any local government lackey or any Toni, Dick or Harry. No way will I sub-contract that responsibility. It belongs here and I will take all the powers I have next Session to ensure that the matter is settled here in this Chamber.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
My hon. Friends the Members for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) and Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) have made their objections absolutely clear. Some of those objections are shared by my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) and for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and perhaps by other hon. Members. What frightened me about the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr was his threat of action, apparently, by teetotal lawyers—if we could ever find any. Such a breed would put fear into the heart of anyone.
I have no authority to speak for the County of Merseyside Bill or for any other Bill, but, as has been said, we seem to have had better consultation on Merseyside than has: been the case in other areas—perhaps in West Yorkshire.
§ Mr. Ogden
My right hon. Friend says that West Yorkshire has been marvellous. Merseyside has not been too bad either, although it would be an advantage if sometimes county councils and 373 other authorities could say "We have a problem. How do you think we should go about it?" We could then sort the matter out from there. But that is a question of degree. Let us see what we can agree, rather than concentrate on what we disagree.
We can start relatively easily. I would thank the Chairman of Ways and Means for moving the Resolution and for having been here throughout the debate—which has not always happened in these cases.
Let us try to establish the facts as of this moment. This resolution informs the House, as if we did not know, that four county council Bills have been going through the House of Lords over the past months. The question has been raised whether proper opportunity has been given to everybody for proper objections in the other place. Some people maintain that they did not have the opportunity to object. If they did not, that is regrettable, but we have no control over the House of Lords in that.
Our aim should be to ensure that, if and when we get the Bill through to the Commons, it is given every examination and that better possibilities of objecting are made available than was given in the other place.
§ Mr. Flannery
Do I understand my hon. Friend to say that some of my hon. Friends had consultation on, and knew about, this clause but did not object to it?
§ Mr. Ogden
There are hon. Members representing Merseyside constituencies who take different views about the clause. Some Members object, others find the clause acceptable. Each Member has made his point of view clear to the county council. My hon. Friends the Members for Garston, for Walton and for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw), have wrung a great many concessions about the county council about proposed amendments to the Bill. In the Merseyside Bill there are 165 clauses and five schedules. Perhaps 15 of those raised interest and objections in Merseyside, and 12 of them were changed during the proceedings in the Lords, with the local objections being met. There are one or two outstanding ones, especially clause 43 of the Merseyside Bill, dealing with processions, which 374 has attracted the attention of people in Merseyside, and outside Merseyside.
§ Mr. Loyden
As a matter of fact, I raised this with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) at the time. When the Merseyside county was made aware of the Bill in the general sense, we were inundated with letters from the Girl Guides, the Boy Scouts, the trade union movement, and so on, and we made it clear to the county authority that pressures were being brought to bear on us about the clause.
§ Mr. Ogden
The Salvation Army was also worried about it. However, the county council responded in a way which suggested that charitable organisations would be exempted from the provisions in the clause. It may be that trade unions and similar organisations will also be exempted. I am saying that representations were made to us by our constituents. They were passed to the county authorities and pressed upon them, and changes have already been made. If and when the Bill conies again to the Commons, those changes will continue to be pressed and to be made.
However, at this moment we have the four Bills as they are. They represent four different geographical areas where the needs and the responsibilities are different from area to area. There is much in common in the Bills. But there are differences in the Bills because, although the areas have much in common, there are also differences.
All that we ask tonight is that, having had our say, we should not throw out what has been in preparation for 18 months on Merseyside.
First under a Labour-controlled county council, preparation of the Bill began with some district councils Labour-controlled and others Conservative-controlled. Then the control of the county changed, and the Bill was progressed through the other place by a Conservative-controlled county council, with the full knowledge and support of the leader of the Labour group County Councillor Stuart Cole, and his colleagues on Merseyside county council. It is not party political in that sense, but joint-party.
I cannot speak for other areas because I have little direct knowledge of them or their Bills. I have no doubt that much 375 the same applies to the other three Bills, with different areas requiring different local treatment, and there ought to be every opportunity for amendments and changes to be made as the Bills progress through their various stages.
Last night, I was confronted with a situation where there was a motion on the Order Paper asking that we should continue with all these Bills or have none of them. In other words, 18 months of work, money and talent were suddenly at risk. We have to decide whether all that should be wasted, making it necessary for the whole process to start all over again.
It is not a case of whether the county councils could spend money on these Bills or on schools, roads or better nurseries. These Bills are promoted as a result of the responsibilities placed on the county councils by this national Parliament. This is not an empire-building exercise on the part of the local authorities. Local government was reorganised. The powers have to be renewed by 1979. We in Parliament have told the county councils that they have to renew their powers. They are doing this in response to national legislation and not in an attempt to increase local legislation. It is not a question of having this Bill or something else which is more desirable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North made the assumption that perhaps Merseyside was being a little stroppy and that possibly Cheshire was being obdurate. He said that West Yorkshire was "happy" to have given an assurance that it would seek to withdraw the clauses to which my hon. Friend objects in return for the passing of its Bill. However, nowhere in the correspondence with Yorkshire will my hon. Friend find the word "happy". The authority recognised that if it wanted its Bill, it would have to give something in return.
Let no one complain that an hon. Member uses the procedures of the House to exert a point of view. As the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) said, it is done, and he should know.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
It was unfair to use the word "happy", but the concession will probably cut down the council's costs considerably, whereas if the 376 other authorities insist on our dragging it out through all the stages in the House it will cost a great deal of money.
§ Mr. Ogden
That should be borne in mind, but I take a simplistic view as regards county council Bills. The procedure has been custom and practice for a long time, and custom and practice are very important on the Labour Benches.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North wants something from his county council or is opposed to something from it, I shall support him, but let him keep out of Merseyside. Let the Merseyside Members decide what should happen there. It was a simple way that seemed to work very well. It has advantages and disadvantages.
§ Mr. Ogden
We had to be whipped, and I voted against Third Reading.
There have been objections in the case of these Bills, and they have implications for every other Bill. I am saying that there is a chance of carrying the matter through into the next Session without going through all the procedures again. There would have to be Second Readings. Someone would have to be found to move them. It would not be the Chairman of Ways and Means. That is one duty he does not have to undertake.
Let the case be argued. Let us have our say on each of the four Bills and consider them properly, line by line, clause by clause, amending and subtracting. The kind of pressure we have been able to exert on Merseyside should be able to be received properly by the West Midlands. That should be the kind of relationship between a Member of Parliament and his constituency. There should be some response. Some moves have been made and we should support them.
We have some rough Tories on Merseyside, but they are perhaps more practical. It has been possible to reach agreement.
I keep out of West Yorkshire. There is a story told by Joe Gormley that we Lancastrians marched up our side of the Pennines, got to the top of the hills, took a good look over the top, did not like what we saw, said "Yuk", and came 377 back, leaving it to the Yorkshire people. That is why Yorkshire is not Lancastrian. We leave Yorkshire to sort out its own problems, but of course we now help one another.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Chief Whip, because he has done tremendous work in trying to get wide agreement on this Resolution over the past weeks and months.
The Resolution should be supported. These four Bills should come back. They have undergone considerable examination Time, talent and money have been expended. Let the House give the Bills a carry-over motion and let the examination begin properly, line by line, clause by clause, when we return next Session.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House doth concur with the Lords in their Resolution.
§ Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith.