§ Order for consideration, as amended, read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)
I hope to be reasonably brief. I believe that this is a useful and, I hope, largely uncontroversial Bill. Many of the proposed powers within it have been sought by the London Boroughs Association and will, I believe, be of general help and benefit to Londoners.
In order not to prolong the debate unduly, I am proposing to deal in detail with only one or two specific clauses, but if hon. Members wish to raise questions or comments on other parts of the Bill, I shall endeavour, with the permission of the House, to deal with such points at the end of the debate.
Clause 3 proposes increased penalties for the carriage of dangerous goods on ferries—in particular, on the Woolwich ferry. Clearly, there is always a risk of explosion or fire in such cases, and it is important to have an adequate deterrent to such offences. The Bill proposes that the fine should be increased from £50 to £200.
Clauses 4 and 5 deal with the somewhat technical matter of flashpoints in flammable liquids, notably petroleum oil, and again the opportunity is taken to update the penalties for failing to comply with these provisions.
Clause 6 is, perhaps, of rather more general interest. Its aim is to achieve the more efficient enforcement of traffic and parking regulations in London. It empowers the Greater London Council to experiment with new methods of parking control. The problem with the existing conventional meters, as many hon. Members will know, is that they take only coins, that they can easily be vandalised, and that they involve councils in considerable expense and difficulty in recalibrating when charges have to be increased to reflect inflation.
The GLC is, therefore, planning to experiment with three possibilities: first, the use of tokens instead of coins; secondly, the use of magnetic cards, along the lines of cash-points at banks; and thirdly, some kind of in-vehicle display which would remove the need for meters altogether and would merely entail the motorist in punching holes in a parking card, or, perhaps, tearing off perforated tabs on the card, on his arrival at his parking space.
These are all possibilities for the future. They deserve to be tried, as the Bill proposes, on an experimental basis. I think that they could well prove particularly useful in an area such as London, where our traffic congestion is becoming progressively worse and where parking control by the meter is largely breaking down, partly because of a persistent shortage of wardens and partly because of the continual vandalism to which these meters are being subjected.
I am told that out of a total meter stock of 25,000 in London, as many as 2,500 are out of action at any one time because of vandalism. This makes it even more urgent and important to look at the alternatives which are suggested in the Bill. I hope that the House will agree with that.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
Does my hon. Friend agree that another very good reason for 929 dispensing with the parking meter is that a parking meter is an environmental eyesore, and that anything that we can do to get rid of such eyesores would be a very good thing?
§ Mr. Hunt
I entirely take that point. As my hon. Friend says, the parking meter is a very unattractive piece of street furniture—to adopt the planners' jargon. I, too, would like to see meters obliterated as soon as possible. Perhaps, as a result of the Bill, we shall be moving in that direction.
Clauses 7 and 8 deal with overcrowding in hostels. This is an issue of major importance and concern for many in Greater London. A number of our London boroughs, particularly the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the City of Westminster, have frequently expressed their concern about the lack of effective control over the hostels which spring up, particularly in the central areas of London, to accommodate—and, some would say, to exploit—students, young tourists and others. This part of the Bill is aimed solely and specifically at overcrowding and does not cover such matters as structural condition or fire precautions, which the GLC believes—rightly, I think—must be dealt with on a national basis.
The penalty provisions in clause 11 are designed to catch those who, by a rapid change of ownership or management, can at present evade the law. Clause 13 gives effective powers of entry to borough council inspectors, which again is essential if the present abuses are to be stopped.
In two or three months' time we shall once again be in the full tourist season, and it would be encouraging to feel that the Bill could be on the statute book by that time and thus help to reduce the overcrowding and exploitation of young people from overseas, which is not only a substantial health hazard but is, I believe, a disgrace to our capital city.
Clause 18, which I shall mention only very briefly, seeks to regulate the activities of the acupuncturists, tattooists and cosmetic piercers in our capital. With the advent of the punk rocker, it is more important than ever that ear piercing and other agonies endured by the young should be carried out as safely and as hygienically as possible. That is what this part of the Bill seeks to ensure.
Finally, I come to clause 19, which is entitledApplication of Shops Act 1950 to exhibition and conference premises.I want to emphasise that, whatever one's views on Sunday trading may be, the impact of this clause is extremely narrow. There seems to be an overwhelming case for some relaxation of the Shops Act provisions in cases of this kind, particularly as the restrictions have already been lifted in respect of the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. So we must not allow London exhibition and conference centres to be at a disadvantage, as they are now.
I stress that only retail activity with a close and bona fide connection with an exhibition, trade and fair or conference is covered by the clause. That seems to be an entirely sensible and unexceptionable provision. I hope that I have said enough to convince hon. Members that the Bill contains a number of modest and worthwhile reforms that cover quite a large area of London life. I hope that the House will support the Bill and I commend this stage of its passage to the House.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
I should let the House know that Mr. Speaker has not selected the amendment.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) on his presentation of the Bill. It is a hangover from a long time ago. Originally, we had a long discussion about it, but now we have almost forgotten it. I thought that the Bill contained other provisions. However, I made a mistake and I realise that those provisions are contained in the Bill to come. I am doing my best to prevent that Bill from being taken formally.
I have a few observations to make. I am particularly concerned about part III, clause 6(4)(b). The provision deals with parking meters. Under clause 6(4)(b) it will be an offence for someone to fail to display—a parking device otherwise than in the manner prescribed.That provision will create hazards. One can imagine the sort of punch-ups that will occur if a pernickety but authorised person goes round checking whether a device is displayed in the exact position required. As a result of an error of judgment or a moment's thoughtlessness a person may be subjected to heavy penalties, as described in the Bill. In reality he may have made an inoffensive mistake.
The provision is mandatory but draconian. It cannot be argued that such behaviour should be treated in that way. A person who fails to position a device in his car in the manner prescribed by the law will be subjected to penalties. One can imagine a housewife, or harassed mother who has children in the car. The children may move the device. There are many reasons why the device might not be in the prescribed place. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will clarify the powers contained in that provision. What does the mean when it says that a persons will be penalised if he fails to display a parking deviceotherwise than in the manner prescribed"?What evidence would have to be produced? What negotiations could take place? Could a reasonable excuse be given, or would a person have to go to court?
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)
Clause 6(4) (b) cannot be understood without reference to the beginning of subsection (4), which states:A person who, with intent to defraud—
§ Mr. Brown
That is why I am asking for clarification. Subsection (3)(c) states:Subsections (6) and (8) of the said section 42 shall apply to an offence under subsection (4) of this section as they apply to offences under the said section 42.The Bill then goes on to refer to the intent to defraud. I am not sure whether the failure to place a device in one's car can be determined to be an attempt to defraud. A harassed housewife might have forgotten to place the device in the right place How can she prove to everyone's satisfaction that she did not have any intent to defraud? Will she have to go to court to prove it?
One can imagine that those who make genuine mistakes might well feel harassed. If there is no appeal, a person will have to go through all the panoply of the law to prove that he or she genuinely made a mistake and had no intent to defraud. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take advice and let me know whether—as the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) said—the provision relates only to a deliberate attempt to defraud. How is one to distinguish between a deliberate attempt to defraud and an error of judgment?
931 Part IV, clause 7, refers to hostels. I am concerned because the definition contained in the clause is limited. It is certainly not precise enough. In his introduction, the hon. Member for Ravensbourne suggested that the provision was limited to certain things and certain places. I accept that the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea wish to use the clause in order to control the problems that the hon. Gentleman elaborated. He referred to holiday makers and to students that are being fleeced.
I may not have similar problems in my constituency, but overcrowding does exist. As defined in the Bill, "hostel" means the same as a common lodging house, hotel or bed and breakfast place such as councils and the DHSS use. Such places are overcrowded. Rows are still going on about the conditions of some of the hotels that are used. The definition of "hostel" contained in the Bill does not describe anything other than a common lodging house or hotel. I hope that it will be possible to ensure that the Bill means a common lodging house. The House will recall a fire in my constituency in which many people were killed. The building was overcrowded and people lost their lives unnecessarily. The authorities did not even know who had been in the building. It was the type of common lodging house known as a doss house. As a result, those letting the rooms did not know who was there.
§ Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)
I wonder if my hon. Friend has noticed that the legislation fails to call for any registration procedure. In effect, it empowers local authority officers to enter a building when they believe that matters inside the dwelling are not in order. As a result, it means that a suspect dwelling will not be registered. Therefore, many of these buildings will continue to prevail.
§ Mr. Brown
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. I was about to say that if dwellings are not registered, excuses and denials are heard. That sort of thing happens daily in our constituencies. One does not need a crystal ball to foresee what will happen. In my area, the public health department has to rely on section 90 of the 1961 Act. That is insufficient. I hope that clause 7 will give chief environmental health officers an opportunity to take action. Given the way that the hon. Gentleman has introduced the Bill, I fear that the provision will cover only those on holiday in certain parts of London, who are being fleeced and shoved into rooms by the dozen. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will clarify that point.
I dissent from the hon. Gentleman's belief that, as the GLC has decided that it is not right and proper to involve itself with fire precautions, it should be a national matter. That is difficult to follow, because the GLC is responsible for London's fire brigade. The GLC is responsible if there is any danger that the fire brigade will not be able to take effective action. If it is thought that there should be a national fire brigade, the Government should be contacted and they should take the necessary steps. It is unsatisfactory to say that we shall take such steps as possible to stop overcrowding, when an authorised officer who goes into a dwelling to stop overcrowding will come out knowing that the conditions contravene the fire regulations. I cannot go along with the hon. Member for Ravensbourne when he says that the GLC is not responsible for that. There have been many fires in 932 London's hostels and that alone means that the GLC should be responsible. It cannot abdicate its responsibility by saying that it is a national issue and does not specifically relate to London.
I should like to know whether clause 7 will apply to certain properties in my constituency belonging to the GLC. They have been lying idle, month in and month out, year in and year out. They were run-down properties. They were awaiting sale and there were no buyers. Two or three years ago they were handed over to all sorts of peculiar people for all sorts of peculiar purposes. I have had constant hassle concerning the itinerants who were resting in these places and causing trouble with all the people in the surrounding properties. People were being awakened night after night by parties, drunkenness, and problems related to drug taking. This was in Lansdowne Drive in my constituency. I have raised the matter in the House on several occasions.
My question, therefore, is whether clause 7 will apply to those places. As I have already indicated, the properties are owned by the GLC and they have been made available to some doss-housing groups. The GLC has lost control of them and there is no way in which I can get the GLC to do anything about it.
Two weeks ago, after a great deal of hassle, we have been able to do something by making an early morning raid on the properties, with the assistance of the London Electricity Board, the gas board and other bodies. We have been able to get at the properties while the dossers were out, cutting off the gas and electricity, and blocking them out. But that is a most unsatisfactory way in which to have to tackle a problem of this sort. As this legislation is now being introduced, I should like to know whether Hackney borough council will be in a position to take action in such cases, even though the properties are owned by the GLC.
Clause 15 deals with the various exemptions. I object to some of them. For example, paragraph (a) refers to premisesused or managed by the Crown, by the Common Council of the City of London or by an authority or body established by or under any enactment or operating under Royal Charter".Some of those bodies are not above becoming involved in the kinds of problems that I have mentioned, where properties are used as doss houses. As freeholders, they have in many cases handed over their property to others, and I do not think that they should be exempted.
I draw attention to paragraph (m):occupied, used or managed, for the purposes specified in paragraph 4 of Schedule 5 to the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976, by a voluntary organisation which is in receipt of contributions from the Secretary of State under the said paragraph 4".I see no reason for that exemption, because that is exactly the type of case that I am complaining about.
Many bed and breakfast places and hotels used by the DHSS are in an appalling state, and there is continual complaint about them in London, and certainly in Hackney, where the authorities, because of the numbers of homeless families, are involved in an outrageous situation. It is not right, therefore, that such an exemption should be included in the Bill.
The question as to who owns or is running a property is of no consequence. The only relevant question is whether the people concerned are subject to the law. The fact that the DHSS is paying for the accommodation does not entitle people to use the property in the manner of a doss house.
§ Mr. Graham
Will my hon. Friend agree that it would be rather sad if the GLC and the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) were to be more concerned with people who use these dwellings in the summer as hostels, when they are visiting the country for a week or a month, than with the welfare of the people who have lived here all their lives?
§ Mr, Brown
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. I ask the hon. Member for Ravensbourne to look at the exemptions to which I have drawn attention and to obtain instructions from the promoters as to whether the Bill, if it becomes an Act, will cover some of the conditions that I have described. My present impression, however, is that the inclusion of the exemption clause means that the Bill will not apply in the cases that I have mentioned.
In dealing with clause 16, I do not want to join in any argument about the fines to be imposed for improper street trading, but I ask the House to bear in mind that that offence is not always what it seems to be. The City of Westminster is a very attractive place for street traders. A Mr. Yousef, who seems to like to live in my area—no doubt because it is a desirable and attractive working class area—likes to operate in the City of Westminster as an itinerant trader. He sells various commodities and there is no suggestion that they are not worth what he is charging for them. The problem is that the City of Westminster is hounding the life out of him because he does not possess a trader's licence.
Mr. Yousef, who is a charming man, has been under the care of various hospitals for many years. His problem is mat he is continually being taken to court and fined. He is trying to do an honest day's work, but he is continually appearing before the courts. The magistrates' advice to him was "Go and see Ronald Brown"—the Hackney one. That is what Mr. Yousef did. I went into the problem with him. I then went to see Westminster city council, whose people were most kind and agreeable. The chief executive wrote to me and said that he would have the matter looked into but that the council did not have a free licence in the area in which my constituent wished to trade.
I had further discussions with the council representatives, pointing out that there were special circumstances, and I asked them to consider it as an unusual case. I received a letter from the council stating that it could not be considered as a special case. I explained the position to Mr. Yousef. He told me the nature of his business. He assured me that he was not fleecing visitors or anything of that sort and was in fact contributing to the culture and the colourfulness of the City of Westminster.
I then received a letter from Mr. Yousef's medical consultant, urging me to look into the matter, as Mr. Yousef had been to court again. The consultant assured me that medically it would be greatly to Mr. Yousef's advantage if he could be granted a licence, as he has to work outside because of the nature of his complaint. The consultant felt that if Mr. Yousef could be enabled to carry on the work that he had been doing for several years, but without being harassed in the courts, with threats of imprisonment, it would be of advantage to his health.
I therefore returned to the chief executive of Westminster city council and sent him the recommendation of the consultant. He said that he would look into the matter again for me. He later informed me that his officer of street trading felt that the council had to reaffirm its previous decision, as there was no licence available for 934 Mr. Yousef, and that it was just too bad. I recognise that there has to be some sort of control, but Mr. Yousef is being harrassed.
I notice that on page 20 there is reference to the London County Council (General Powers) Act 1947, section 29, which deals with the offence ofStreet trading without a licence".It is in accordance with that provision that Mr. Yousef is being charged. The fines are set out:£50 for a first offence and £200 for a second or subsequent offence.Mr. Yousef is being clobbered time and time again. This is an ordinary chap trying as a Londoner to do his work.
Clause 16 reads quite inoffensively. It is a few lines that sound right. It says "not exceeding £200", but for that offence the fine is already £200. Therefore, the Bill does not change the situation.
Is it possible for authorities such as the City of Westminster, which is claiming that it requires these powers for more harassment through the higher rate of fines, to take into account cases such as that of my constituent Mr. Yousef?
Clause 17(1 )(d) comes out of the ark. It says:a street forming part of the route of a stage carriage".Although we have Hackney carriages in Hackney, we do not have stage coaches and postilions. No doubt the City of Westminster or Camden have them. Will the Minister tell me what that means?
Clause 17 is a major step forward. It gives authority to the courts to order, where such powers are applied for by a borough council, that the council is able to block off a road. The reason a road may be stopped is not for transportation purposes but to prevent dumping. That is an interesting development. I wish it had existed years ago because my area and other areas in London are subject to considerable dumping which is impossible to deal with. If that power had existed, life would have been made more tolerable for some of my constituents instead of their having to suffer that dumping.
I do not understand the wording of subsection (1)(d). What is that road? Who is in charge of such a road? The subsection saysa street forming part of the route of a stage carriage or express carriage service".Where is that in London? Is there one in Hackney or Hackney, South? Will the Minister identify it for me so that I know whether I am right in supporting the fact that that road or street should be exempted. That is an important element and one should be careful about leaving it out. The chances of having an amendment inserted, if the Bill is enacted, would be remote. Before we agree to leave it out I should like clarification.
The last question I have on the clause is whether it is capable of taking care of the itinerants. My problem is not only rubbish but the caravans and itinerants who park on such roads. In my area they cannot be removed and hold up traffic, there is continual harassment and months pass by before they can be moved. One does not solve the problem but moves it to some other area such as Camden, Islington or Tower Hamlets. I wonder how far the provisions in clause 17 will enable one to solve that problem because even if the road is closed, and cut off, these people pull down the barriers, move on to the site and make life hell for everyone in the surrounding area. I wonder whether the proposals will enable that sort of problem to be contained.
935 I hope that the House will forgive me for having raised these problems, but they are relevant to my constituency. I hope that the Minister will advise me.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
It is always a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). I hope that he will excuse me if I do not take up the various points that he has raised except to join with him in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) on the concise and clear way in which he has introduced the Bill. I note that the Bill has been carefully considered and approved in Committee. I have no intention of commenting on every part of it, but I shall steer a reasonable course between the Woolwich free ferry and the flashpoints of petroleum and other flammable liquids and the ambidextrous manipulations of acupuncturists, tattooists and others.
I shall preface my remarks by saying that I have a conservative, cautious outlook when examining Bills of this sort. The first question I ask myself is: why does any council need special legislation? If it does need such legislation, should not such legislation be uniform throughout the United Kingdom? Therefore, should it not be contained in a Government Bill containing general powers? However, two exceptions can be made for Greater London. First, we may need special legislation in the Metropolis which is not relevant in other parts of the kingdom simply because an eighth of our total population lives in this great city which occupies less than 1 per cent. of the total land mass of the United Kingdom. Therefore, the pressures on living and on land are much more acute. Secondly, it is not jingoistic to observe that the councils of our Metropolis should be the trendsetters, or perhaps the trial areas, for legislative experiments to improve safety, health and other environmental standards.
I want to refer specifically to part III and to clause 6. That will afford the Greater London Council the power to consider alternatives to receiving revenue for on-street car parking by means of parking meters. As Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Transport I have his permission to make these comments on parking meters. He has asked me to point out to the House that these are my personal views. Parking meters are environmental disasters. They have brought ugliness to the pleasant squares of many of our townscapes. They obstruct pedestrians. They invite, if they do not incite, vandalism. My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne mentioned that. They represent a wasteful means of parking vehicles economically, as a parking bay must be designed to accommodate the largest car, and they are relatively expensive to provide,
There is no need for any such equipment on the highway which, as I have suggested, is an eyesore. The revenue for on-street parking should be gathered by means of selling the required identifiable discs, stamps or tickets for the windscreens of cars, procured from a machine or bought in bulk in advance.
I hope that, if the Bill is enacted, the GLC will introduce such schemes quickly and replace every parking meter fouling every pavement in the Metropolis. When that has been done I hope that another Bill will be introduced to eliminate the absurd need to pour millions 936 of gallons of yellow paint on our roads to indicate parking restrictions. I readily accept that that campaign must wait for another day.
I briefly mention another part of the Bill, part VI, clause 19, seeking amendments to the Shops Act 1950 in relation to exhibitions and conference premises—also specifically mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne. I do not want unnecessarily to invite the wrath of the Lord's Day Observance Society lobby, but there are quite ridiculous anomalies about Sunday trading. While I hold that those should be tackled through a Private Member's Bill, I feel that there is a case for seeking amendments to rationalise the situation where they refer to special areas.
Clause 19 covers such special areas as conference premises and exhibition halls. Schedule 3 identifies seven locations, including Alexandra Palace. Although none of the seven is in my constituency, I think that there is some urgency about the matter. We want our exhibition halls and conference premises to be on an equal footing with the National Exhibition Centre just outside Birmingham, which is already covered by the West Midlands County Council Act 1980.
I come finally to two minor points. The Bill updates many fees and fines. I have no objection to that. Alas, with the modern disease of inflation, whatever fees or fines are fixed in legislation rapidly become out of date. It seems to me absurd that organisations—or, indeed, the Government—must return to the House to seek special powers to update fees and fines from time to time. I realise that it cannot be done in this Bill, but we should devise a more rational system, whereby a Minister can update fees and fines every four or five years, say, though not increase them beyond the inflation rate.
I said earlier that as PPS to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport I had to be careful what I said. Perhaps I should ask the authors of the Bill to recognise that, since the Bill was presented, my right hon. Friend's office has been upgraded. I humbly suggest that the Bill will have to be amended in a number of places, at least technically, in order to put my right hon. Friend's new status in the correct form.
I welcome the Bill, and very much hope that it will become an Act soon.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg)
It may be helpful if I intervene. I apologise for making a major speech at this stage.
The Government find the Bill acceptable in principle, and hope that it will proceed through the House.
§ Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)
As the book says, "Follow that!" I shall do my best.
We have before us a number of useful amendments to current legislation and regulations that affect every hon. Member present who represents a London constituency. Some people might describe those amendments as comparatively minor, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) pointed out, when we examine the practical import of what appears to be minor legislation and bring it down to streets, hostels, houses and the safety of people, we see that it has significant consequences.
I appreciate the way in which the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) opened the debate. There is no 937 partisan aspect to the Bill. The hon. Gentleman recognised that hon. Members—certainly all Greater London Members—are entitled to feel satisfied that the right questions have been asked and that within the limits of his ability in the circumstances—he will appreciate what I mean—he has given direct answers to direct questions. We are entitled to see whether we can be helpful to all our constituents in the process.
Many hon. Members have said that it is not their intention to deal in detail with all the matters covered by the Bill, which include the flashpoints of oil and car parking. I shall return to the latter, because it can be regarded as a minor, interesting innovation but possibly one with significant effects.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch rightly raised serious points about the clauses dealing with the control of hostels. I hope that the hon. Member for Ravensbourne will be able to tell us why there is to be no registration of the premises affected. As well as the Bill, we have an explanatory statement from the Greater London Council, which says starkly:The powers sought will not require the registration or licensing of premises, but will empower borough councils to take prompt action, when they find overcrowding actually exists".Sadly, overcrowding might be found to exist after a tragedy that might have been avoided if the premises had been registered, if the owner's intention were known, and if officers had visited the premises and said that there was a limit to the number of beds or the number of people that could be accommodated in certain rooms, or collections of rooms, or on certain floors.
Many owners of such buildings may genuinely not want deliberately to have overcrowding. They may think that the premises are safe and that their provision is adequate, but the promoters may have failed to secure the maximum safety for the people who use the premises, and for our communities, by not insisting upon a simple registration procedure. We may be told that the procedure would not be so simple—that additional staff, bureaucracy, finance and so on would be needed. If such excuses are trotted out in the aftermath of a tragedy in which people have died, I know who will be running for cover. They will be saying "If only we had known that all that was required was a simple registration procedure …"
Therefore, I ask the hon. Gentleman to say something about the promoters' willingness to contemplate introducing a means whereby it will not be necessary to wait until, in the passage of time, one overworked officer gets round to buildings that he suspects may be used as hostels and then tries to get in to enforce the law.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
In my constituency a group called "Bow-Wow Autos" has taken over a piece of British Rail land and has brought in a large number of caravans. It is causing overcrowding. The local authority is trying to take High Court action but is being frustrated. I wonder whether the word "premises" in clause 7 covers this case.
§ Mr. Graham
It is a question of where the caravans are resting. I understand from my hon. Friend that they are in Hackney. There is a need for clarification with regard to caravans, and for a precise understanding of the terms. I am not familiar with the position, but the hon. Member for Ravensbourne may tell me whether the legislation contains a definition of what are understood to be 938 "premises". As legislators, we are under an obligation to be as precise as possible.
The Bill contains clauses to do with street traders, the stopping up of streets, acupuncturists and the Shops Act. I spent the whole of last Friday in the House seeking, successfully, to ensure that the Bill concerning Sunday trading did not make progress. I see nothing wrong with the provisions of clause 19, because it tidies up the law and gets rid of anomalies, not least the anomaly that it is possible to do in Birmingham something that it is not possible to do in London. If we want simply to put on our Greater London hats tonight, that is right. It is also right where it is possible to keep trading activities within the confines of an exhibition building no offence will be caused to the interests which I sought to represent here last Friday and which I seek to represent elsewhere.
I want particularly to deal with the question of car parking. The document from the GLC says that the changes are being soughtwith the objective of more efficient enforcement of traffic and parking regulation in London".There cannot be an hon. Member who would not subscribe to that objective. It must include fines and penalties, alternative forms of parking to street parking, and enforcement of or, in many instances, sadly, the inability to enforce, existing regulations. The legislation lists alternative parking devices. The definition says that it means a card, a disc, a token, a meter, a permit, a stamp, or a similar device. I am prepared to welcome an experiment designed to secure those objectives. I support the views of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) that London should give a lead—I believe "proving ground" is the term—for deciding such a change.
I am not certain whether the inability to alter any change in a period under five years is wise. A minimum period of five years for an experiment seems a long time. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet in his description of parking meters as environmental disasters. They may be described sometimes as an eyesore. Our streets may be cluttered more in 1981 than ever before with what can be called extraneous street furniture. The parking meter has to be seen strictly from the point of view of the purpose that it serves. There is no doubt that it has served a valuable purpose.
In this debate we are examining the efficiency of the manner in which we collect parking charges and also the manner in which we dole out penalties for people who do not pay the parking charges. Hon. Members should be aware that a great deal of profit can be, and is, being made through the operation of car parking. I should like to know whether the promoters feel that in a Bill designed to avoid the recalibration of the machines and the replacement of machines, in the light of a need to take account of inflation, there is a need to cane the motorist even more than he is being caned now.
Last year, the city of Westminster made a profit of £7,571,000 from the operation of its parking systems. It has 10,000 meters. It is the biggest operator of this kind of device in the country, although, obviously, not in the world. There are bigger users. However, this is a means by which £7.5 million, sorely needed by Westminster and, indeed, many authorities, is obtained. Last year Kensington and Chelsea, without any need for a change, made a profit of £2,687,000. Camden made a profit of £591,000; Croydon, £268,000; and the City of London, 939 £930,000. I should like the hon. Member for Ravensbourne to justify not merely innovation—not merely change for the sake of change—but, in the light of the cost of meters, enforcement and the payment of wardens, the fact that the present system manages to produce for Westminster a profit of £7.5 million.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
Will my hon. Friend take into account the fact that when I tried to get parking restrictions imposed in the Hackney and Shoreditch end of my constituency, where the streets are completely flooded by people coming into the area, those facilities were refused because the City of London does not want these people? The free parkers make our life a misery in Hackney because of the controls in the City of London and the City of Westminster.
§ Mr. Graham
I can well imagine that what my hon. Friend says is one of the sad consequences. Regrettably, no matter how easy parking is made, the question of cost arises. In the City of Westminster there is now talk of a charge of 60p an hour. That is prohibitive. It is no wonder that people wishing to park in areas where such charges are made will look for alternative places. This applies not only in inner London but in outer London.
The matter that we are discussing is not merely concerned with off-street parking, or solely with the responsibilities of local authorities. We need to examine the activities of some of the large private car parking organisations, such as National Car Parks, which made a trading profit in 1979 of £3.5 million and in 1980 of £4.5 million. It projects a 1981 profit of £6 million from car parking, not only in London. Every hon. Member knows the nature of its operation, which is undoubtedly efficient and profitable.
We need to know from the hon. Member for Ravensbourne whether the GLC is intent on solving, or attempting to solve, the car parking problem, or whether it is concerned simply with raising money. That itself is a laudable objective as costs go up. In the enforcement of the operation of parking meters, one relies on the police or traffic wardens—an arm of the police—to make sure that those who transgress are brought to book. In the Metropolitan area in 1978 there were 1,342 traffic wardens. In 1979, the figure had dropped to 1,099. Over the period, the number of traffic tickets issued by the police and traffic wardens, mostly by wardens, was 1,958,000—a colossal number.
The wardens are well stretched and well used. Considering the productivity and efficiency of use of traffic wardens, why is it not possible for the Metropolitan Police to increase the number of traffic wardens for the policing of the system with which clause 6 is partly concerned. My aggravation is shown by the report of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner in 1980. In respect of traffic wardens, the commissioner said:The service is now less than half the strength necessary to meet current commitments. The GLC and the London Boroughs Association helped by not imposing additional enforcement uses upon us. But by the end of the year, many boroughs were expressing concern about the failure to enforce existing restrictions in their areas.I wonder whether the hon. Member for Ravensbourne holds out any hope that even with a change in the system there is any likelihood of catching more people despite the fact that 2 million were fined last year. The hon. 940 Gentleman would surely agree that more traffic wardens are needed. The commissioner went on to say that if the traffic warden manpower continued to deteriorate, or if it simply did not improve from its present level, there could be very real danger in view of the growth in the volume of traffic conditions, of the metropolis grinding to a halt.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Ravensbourne and the GLC are mindful of the fact that, even though in this tiny piece of legislation they intend to improve one of the means of controlling the efficiency of our car parking system, there are other ways in which their good work may be negatived.
I shall illustrate another of the irritations that are suffered by London Members. We need to have not only the legislation of the GLC but the collaboration of the police, and the support of the local authority and British Rail.
I use Bush Hill Park station whenever I use the train service to London. About five years ago British Rail created a purpose-built car park for not only commuters but the rest of the community. The car park has been ready for four years, but it is still not being used for its original purpose. That is due to a failure on the part of the GLC, the police and the London borough of Enfield to make the necessary arrangements to enable the yellow lines to be drawn, residents' permission to be secured, and the charges to be fixed. That would make it worth while for British Rail, the London borough of Enfield and the police to operate the car park. At present it is technically a car park for commuters. However, it is not being used by commuters, because the charges are so high. The fact is that it is not being used to good effect.
I believe that the GLC has performed a useful task in bringing together a number of valuable minor ameliorations to issues that must have caused offence to the constituents of London Members. I hope that the hon. Member for Ravensbourne will be able to give us some assurances in response to the issues that have been raised.
§ 8.2 pm
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
I was hoping to intervene for about two minutes in the debate. However, I have been so disturbed by the oratory of my hon. Friends and Labour Members that my contribution may extend to three minutes. It is always a pleasure to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham), especially now that he speaks from the Opposition Front Bench, he having ended the Trappist silence to which he was accustomed.
I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, like myself, have been thrilled by the news that Westminster makes £7 million a year from parking meters, that sum going to relieving the rates bill of those who live and pay rates in Westminster, the said sum of £7 million being paid by those from outside the area. It comforts me to think that traffic wardens generally are as alert as those who patrol in Tufton Street, where, having arrived home at four o'clock the other morning, I found a £6 parking ticket on my car at 10 minutes to nine o'clock. I had always thought that there was half an hour's grace. I do not recommend an increase in the number of traffic wardens. I think that they are probably doing just about enough.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) introduced an amazing piece of philosophy that he put under the umbrella of Conservatism. He said "I am a Conservative and I think that we should have complete 941 uniformity in byelaws throughout the boroughs of Greater London." I was under the impression that my hon. Friend was arguing that that uniformity should extend throughout the country.
§ Mr. Chapman indicated dissent—
§ Mr. Chapman
I do not think I said that. I did not intend to say that. I said that as a Conservative I am wary of passing any legislation that operates in only one part of the country. If there is a need for legislation, I start with the premise that that need should extend throughout the United Kingdom. That is the context in which I made the remark.
§ Mr. Page
I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said and I do not think that I have him too far wrong. I do not like Government byelaws very much, but if there have to be some, let them be different. It is important that the attractions and excitement of the byelaws that apply in Petticoat Lane should be different from the byelaws that operate in the lazy charm of Pinner in my constituency. Those of us who have been to Strasbourg are used to that sort of thing—vive la difference!
I have been overtaken because I was going to ask my hon. friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt), in his highly influential position in presenting this Bill and other Bills with dignity and elegance, to use his influence with the local authority and the Metropolitan Police to ensure that residents have half an hour's grace when they rise in the mornings.
I turn to clause 17, which deals with constraints. It is a useful and small addition to the convenience of the public. There have been incidents in Harrow and elsewhere where it has taken six or eight months under the old procedure to get a street stopped up in the event of complicated building or construction works. The new measures are sensible and useful. They will be appreciated by not only the inner London boroughs but the outer London boroughs.
Clause 18 deals with acupuncturists, tattooists and cosmetic piercers. Subsection (1) provides that from an appointed day any borough shall be able to cause a chap who is not registered to cease to continue his practice. Will my hon. Friend give us some idea of how much notice he will expect to be given in a local newspaper or by some other local publicity of the necessity of registration? I agree with the subsection, which seems to be wise.
I must declare an interest. You might be unaware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that while I was in China some 18 months ago I bought a do-it-yourself acupuncture kit. It is a useful piece of equipment that includes a plastic ear with many numbers placed on it. The pin is put into a certain place in the hope of curing the particular ailment that is afflicting one. The kit has caused a great deal of extra profit to be derived from the laundry services that are undertaken on behalf of my family. I know from personal experience of the difficulties of operating acupuncture efficiently and I am aware that registration is needed.
Finally, I draw the attention of my hon. Friend to a notice that appeared in a window in my constituency that referred to the desire to give a real service in the public interest. The notice on the jeweller's shop read "Ears pierced while you wait."
§ 8.9 pm
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)
I am never sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether one should declare an interest. I am glad that we did not have to hear too much of the experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) in tattooing and cosmetic piercing.
I do not know whether the powers to stop up roads will be sufficient for the London borough of Brent and the GLC in dealing with the rubbish dump on Glenlea Road on the site of the proposed Eltham relief road. I suspect that they will not. The difficulty facing local residents is that the roads are not just being turned into rubbish dumps but are being used for car-breaking purposes—not only the roads, but the activity is spreading on to the pavements and gardens of the houses that have been vacated so that the relief road can be built. I hope that the GLC and the London borough of Greenwich will consider whether under this Bill or any other legislation they can more effectively stamp out that kind of disturbance.
The second issue that I want to raise concerns car parking. I hope that the devices defined in the Bill and the freedom it gives will be used as an encouragement to public authorities, both boroughs and nationalised industries, to make it more possible for more pople to park in more places. Clearly, in areas such as the centre of London, traffic has to be controlled. But if one views from the air the areas around Eltham High Street in my constituency, it is perfectly plain that apart from the car parking behind Marks and Spencers which is useful and valuable, there is an equivalent site owned by Segas just off the high street that is totally empty on Saturday mornings. I hope that some of the devices mentioned in the Bill and the flexibility that it allows will encourage Segas and the local authority to see whether it is possible for people to park in a car park that is owned by us all—a nationalised industry—and make it possible for fewer people to park where there are no meters and where parking causes great confusion in North Park and the other
§ Mr. Graham
I am sure that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) is trying to be helpful. He seems to be saying that wherever there is a spare space that is owned by private or public enterprise, some means should be found to encourage—if not coerce—private or public empty spaces to be used for car parking.
§ Mr. Bottomley
The hon. Gentleman is quite correct. I go further. When the extra parking facilities that are being provided in new purpose-built shopping centres, as in the outer London boroughs beyond Eltham, come on stream in a few years' time, the use of the parking devices in the Bill and the parking facilities that I mentioned on the Segas site will be even more important if businesses, rates and employment are to be maintained in my constituency.
The powers given in the Bill and in similar Bills put an extra load on local authorities. I hope that nothing in the Bill will put such a load on the London borough of Greenwich as to prevent it from doing what it should have organised already, namely, the sale of council homes to tenants who want to buy them. At the moment the borough is saying that it does not have enough staff, and that may be the reason. But I fear that there are some people who would use any opportunity to frustrate the right of tenants to buy. I hope that tenants will be enabled to buy as soon as possible.
§ Mr. John Hunt
I shall reply briefly to this useful debate. I am glad that the Bill has received a general welcome from both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) described it as a minor amelioration. I suggest that its benefits are likely to be more substantial than that. At least it has had a fair wind from all parts of the House.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) was concerned about the fate of those who failed to display the kind of device that is proposed in the Bill. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) dealt quite effectively with that point during his intervention, when he said that before prosecution there has to be an intent to defraud. In the case of the harassed and flustered housewife that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, I think it is unlikely that any police officer or warden would seek to take further action in the case of someone who clearly had failed to display the device for good reasons and had no intention to defraud. I am sure that any regulations would be operated flexibly and sensibly. I repeat that the proposals are in the nature of experiments.
§ Mr. Graham
That is an interesting point. I assume that most traffic wardens take action in complete ignorance of the owner or of the circumstances of the owner, who is obviously not present. If a traffic warden has a duty in cases where a car does not display the appropriate disc or device, inadvertently, due to harassment or neglect, not fraud, surely he will simply log the car. Subsequently, explanations will have to be given in court or in an office, and the traffic warden will have to act as some kind of Pontius Pilate.
§ Mr. Hunt
It will be more a case of explanations given in an office, than in a court. In the case of the housewife who was used in the illustration, I hope that there would be no possibility of prosecution. I believe that the proposals in the Bill will be administered flexibly and sensibly, and I do not foresee the kind of difficulty that has been mentioned.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
I should point out that the difficulty exists now. I know of a disabled person who parked a car in a place where it should not have been parked, and it is alleged that the traffic warden did not see the disc. My constituent claims that the warden was shown the disc. The police and I have spent hours discussing the case. My constituent now has to get a photocopy of the disc that he alleges was on show at the time, and the commissioner will have to consider the matter. So it does happen. The more this type of regulation is widened, the more difficult it becomes, particularly when it involves a mere piece of paper. There is no discussion. The person is fined there and then, and there is an immediate fixed penalty fine.
§ Mr. Hunt
Again, I think that one would have to show an intention to defraud. I repeat that we are dealing with experiments. If the disc system produced many cases of the kind that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, I imagine that it would not be continued. It would be unpopular, and it would be impossible for any authority that was proposing such a scheme to carry the public with it. But let us consider whether the difficulties that the hon. Gentleman envisages do arise.
944 Hostels featured quite prominently in the debate. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch said that the definition of "hostel" was not wide enough. That point was taken up by the hon. Member for Edmonton. They were particularly concerned about the lack of provision for registration in the Bill. Two years ago, the GLC promoted wider provisions on behalf of the London boroughs requiring registration of premises. Those provisions had to be withdrawn because of strong opposition from the Department of the Environment and other Departments. That is why the proposal in the Bill is more limited in scope. It should be seen merely as a first step, but at least it is one in the right direction.
§ Mr. Graham
As a Minister from the Department of the Environment is present, perhaps he would care to tell us why the Department feels that registration is not in the best interests of our constituents. The hon. Gentleman was careful to say that the earlier provisions were withdrawn as a result of strong representations from the Department. If Members of the House and authorities believe that registration would be suitable it is surely only right, proper, courteous and timely for the Minister to tell us the reasons.
§ Mr. Hunt
The Minister will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said, and perhaps will write to him in due course.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch also referred to street trading. He told us the sad story of his constituent Mr. Yousef, who had apparently been harassed because of his street trading activities. The fines proposed in the Bill are merely an updating of the existing fines, and in present circumstances that must be considered reasonable. In spite of his commendable concern for his constituent, I ask the hon. Gentleman to appreciate the resentment that street trading causes to established traders in premises where they have to pay increasingly heavy rates to sustain their business. On that basis alone, it is right to deter as far as possible such street trading. If Mr. Yousef is being harassed in the way that he says, the best solution is for him to take a lock-up shop of his own.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to clause 17, which deals with stopping up roads, and to the admittedly archaic wording of the section that deals withstage carriage or express carriage".I imagine that the phrase is carried forward from one piece of legislation to another. I can tell the House that a stage carriage is a red bus and an express carriage a green bus.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
I now understand why I cannot get a No. 277 bus in Hackney. It is running like a stage coach—only once a day.
§ Mr. Hunt
The hon. Gentleman also asked whether street closures would affect itinerant people and caravans. I understand that a caravan is a vehicle and therefore would be affected. I gather that if itinerant people were in the road before it was stopped up it would be difficult to remove them, but after the stopping up they would not be able to enter. We have at least met the hon. Gentleman half way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) spoke eloquently. I thank him for his general welcome to the Bill. Many of us support him in his campaign against parking meters. We are trying to make a start in that direction in this legislation.
945 The hon. Member for Edmonton also referred to car parking and parking meters and in particular to the apparently large profits that the city of Westminster and other local authorities are making as a result of meter charges. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) dealt appropriately with that point. It is important to remember that the charges are not levied to make money. That is an incidental effect. The main purpose is to discourage prolonged parking and to prevent congestion, which is a problem for the emergency services and others in central London. I understand that the rule followed is that the charges should be set to discourage an occupancy level of more than 85 per cent.; in other words, in theory, there should be 15 places out of every 100 available for one's car at a meter. At present, the occupancy rate is higher than 85 per cent., hence the necessity from time to time to uprate the charges in order to produce greater flexibility.
The hon. Member for Edmonton rightly said that we depend on the recruitment of more traffic wardens—although I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West in his early morning encounter with them. Equally, we must recognise that it is not a much sought-after job. Traffic wardens are abused by the public in general. We shall not have better recruitment until the public show a more sympathetic attitude to them. I am not sure that there is an early prospect of that happening.
We were all interested in the adventures of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West with his acupuncture kit. As my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West said, we are glad that he did not also acquire a do-it-yourself tattoo kit.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West put forward the view that we should seek to enable more people to park in more places. In outer London that is a worthwhile and laudable objective. I am sure that his comments on Segas have been noted. However, we do not need the provisions of this Bill to persuade Segas to be a little more forthcoming in making car parking spaces available to my hon. Friend's constituents at weekends and other times.
I thank the House for the general welcome that the Bill has received. I hope that it can now go forward to the benefit of London as a whole.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill, as amended, considered accordingly; to be read the Third time.