§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)
I start by apologising to the House for my voice. I hope that it will stay nasal and not disappear during the course of the evening.
I shall set out as carefully as I can the provisions of the Bill and say something about its key provisions and why they are necessary. The Bill arises from the Local Government Act 1972, under which all the local Acts in the Greater Manchester area were due to expire at the end of 1979. As a result, the Greater Manchester council and nine of the 10 district councils have jointly promoted this Bill.
The position of Tameside is peculiar in that it failed to pass the necessary resolution to be a joint promoter. It is therefore free to petition against clause 58, whereas the other districts are not free so to do. However, the Bill will apply to the Tameside area as well.
The Bill is based on extensive discussions that were held within the Greater Manchester Association of Metropolitan Authorities. It has been discussed on many occasions. It was deposited in Parliament in November 1978. It has taken a long time to reach the House, partly because of the general election which took place in the 67 interval and, more particularly, because of the need to ensure that the Bills promoted by various different local authorities produce legislation without unnecessary local differences. As a result, the promoters held back so that they might see how similar provisions were treated in the Cheshire and Merseyside and other Bills.
Those decisions were made in February and March of last year. They enabled the promoters to withdraw some clauses and to save a contest with counsel on five other petitions. I am sure that the ratepayers will regard this as an act of prudence, because the Bill has already incurred costs in excess of £150,000. Nevertheless, the Bill has been before Parliament for more than two years, and has had three carry-over motions. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment for laying an order to delay the automatic lapsing of the local Acts beyond the revised date of the end of 1980, allowing the council a further six months for the passage of the Bill. I am sure that the House will agree that the time has come to bring these matters to a conclusion.
The Bill in its present form consists of 180 clauses and six schedules. That sounds a lot, but it should be remembered that some 260 local Acts were in force at the time of reorganisation. It is also smaller than the original Bill. Sixteen clauses were deleted by Committees in another place, and 17 clauses have been withdrawn by the promoters.
I shall outline some of the Bill's provisions. I do so because undoubtedly there will be some hurly-burly in respect of specific clauses. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the Bill contains other valuable items about which the House should know.
I should add that petitions have been lodged against seven clauses. I shall deal with them as I proceed, because I know that the House will be particularly interested in the clauses to which objection has been made. I shall deal with them as I go through the Bill, with the exception of clause 58 on street processions. I imagine that that subject will take up most of the available time, and I shall deal with it at the end of my remarks.
I shall not discuss part I and the final provisions of the Bill, which are interpretation clauses and technical matters relating to implementation.
I shall deal, first, with part II. It provides for the continuance until the end of 1984 of certain existing powers to aid industry. These provisions are fewer than were originally planned, either because it was felt that the proposals were covered by existing law or because the Government opposed any new industry powers to be set up in local legislation.
The Bill provides for local authorities to lend up to 90 per cent. of the security for the purchase or lease of land, and for the erection of any building whether within their boundaries or not. The Greater Manchester council and the city of Manchester, but no other district, may also make loans for the management of a building. Those of us who are concerned about the better industrial development of the area, an area which has suffered considerably from changes in the forms of industry, will welcome these clauses. The clauses will apply to both manufacturing and service industries.
However, clauses 6, 7 and 8 concern manufacturing industry and enable grants to be given to small firms—in other words, firms with fewer than 100 employees—and 68 local authorities may prepare and improve industrial sites for use by companies. Local authorities may also guarantee the payment of rent on industrial buildings.
These powers are not new. However, they are extended geographically, and apply to some parts of the area not previously affected. They all cover manufacturing, scientific and research companies, but, as I said, only a limited number cover service industries. The powers are the same as in Acts relatiing to other counties. The powers will expire in 1984—a fact which, again, is common to the other Acts. That limitation was imposed by both the previous and the present Governments in discussions with the Greater Manchester council, and it is related, I am told, to the fact that there is a continuing review of the whole subject of Government aid, which it is hoped will be concluded by 1984, although it will be realised that a review has been conducted in recent times.
I come to part III, dealing withLands, Open Spaces and Municipal Property".I shall not go into the matter in great detail. In the main, it relates to updating powers. Let me give an example. The councils already have power to make byelaws for items such as swimming pools. But, of course, there has been a growth of leisure centres, which have a wider application. Clause 11 will give local authorities power to extend byelaws to leisure centres.
There is a clause which is of particular interest to me, because it affects Platt Fields Park in Manchester. But clause 12 changes the rules relating to the closing of parks. Under the present law, it is not possible, basically to shut parks on a Sunday. Some may feel that that is quite right. But it makes life difficult when people are trying to arrange a large show. So changes in the law will make it more possible for such matters to be dealt with.
There is one other matter which will probably interest people in the locality. There are some parks in Greater Manchester where transport is run. In Lyme Park there is a thing called a land train, and in Heaton Park I think there is a tram. There is some doubt as to whether those are legal, so clause 14 ensures that, if they are not legal already, they become legal.
There is only one other clause in this part to which I draw attention—unless any hon. Member wishes to raise other matters. Clause 15 is quite interesting because it gives the local authority power to make an arrangement with a profit-making organisation in the running of leisure activities. For example, at present the local authority can deal with a charity or with a museum or art gallery run on a non-profit making basis, but if Manchester City, for example, had wished to continue with the ice rink and had wished to deal with a commercial undertaking, it would not have had the power to do so. This clause will give it such powers.
In the main, the rest of this part is a tidying up operation.
Part IV deals with highways. Very extensively, highways relate to the Greater Manchester council rather than the individual districts. There are a large number of clauses in this part. In order to guide hon. Members through them, I have taken the liberty of grouping some together. In clauses 17, 18, 19, and 24 we are concerned with obstructions to footpaths. This will make quite a difference to cities. It is concerned with the fact that, if one wants to put a kiosk or one of those rather interesting advertisement pillars in a pedestrianised area, one is liable to run foul of the law. Therefore, the clauses provide an 69 opportunity, particularly in pedestrianised areas but not only there, for kiosks for selling refreshments, for advertisement display, and even for trees in tubs. One hopes that that will have the effect of making life more pleasant.
Incidentally, at the end of the Bill there is another clause which will help pedestrians. It strengthens the powers to stop people from cycling in areas which have been set aside for pedestrians. This is a cause of some anxiety on the part of old people in my constituency who are fearful of getting knocked down.
A new offence is created by clause 23, which makes it an offence to interfere with local government property. Of course one cannot go around maliciously damaging that now, but there are circumstances in which one can interfere with it and no offence arise therefrom. An example has been mentioned to me. One finds extremely interesting bins on the side of the road—which contain grit to be used in icy conditions. If someone turfs out the grit it is not at all clear whether that is an offence. Also, a lot of damage is caused by such actions as the undoing of fuse boxes at the bottom of lamp standards, which are a nuisance to the public and are sometimes dangerous.
There is also a provision which will interest people who are sometimes very aggrieved by the parking of heavy commercial vehicles. There is also a prohibition on the parking of commercial vehicles—that is, those over 13 cwt.—in residential streets between 9 pm and 8 am. This is rather wider than the present law, which is limited to 3-ton vehicles. People in the Greater Manchester area should know that it can be activated by people living in five houses affected, so if five neighbours feel that they have a grievance in this respect, they will now have a remedy.
§ Mr. Silvester
It is in clause 26.
Incidentally, dealing with clause 26 brings me to the first petition. I shall not spend much time on it, although I have no disrespect for the Central Electricity Generating Board. The CEGB has objected to seven clauses. They are mainly technical objections designed to ensure that the board's interests as a statutory undertaker are safeguarded. I am assured by the promoters that the board's objections can be met. We are expecting that in due course the petition regarding those objections will be withdrawn.
Two other clauses in this part have attracted petitions. It is right that I should spend a little time on those, because they affect a lot of people. They concern footpaths. We all know how steamed up people rightly get about the preservation of footpaths, particularly in a highly urban area, where people rely upon them for recreation. First, clause 28 allows footpaths and bridle paths to be stopped up for 18 months provided that an alternative can be made, if possible, but even if an alternative cannot be made. The main function of clause 28 is to prevent people from moving across areas where land reclamation schemes are taking place.
As hon. Members will know, in the Greater Manchester area there are considerable areas of land which are undergoing reclamation. They are very large areas. Very large, fast-moving earth-moving equipment is being used. This petition was raised against the clause by the Ramblers Association and the Peak and Northern Footpaths Society. 70 However, I am pleased to say that agreement has now been reached and the petition is being withdrawn because an amendment to the clause has been incorporated, which will limit this power to circumstances in which reclamation schemes are being undertaken.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)
I understand from those who are concerned about footpaths that they feel that some progress has been made towards meeting them. However, will the hon. Gentleman give some assurance about the length of time for which closures will be permitted under the new wording as opposed to the old wording? There have been one or two reclamation schemes in the Greater Manchester area which, for one reason or another, have dragged on for periods of two to three years. Many people are anxious about footpaths being closed or diverted for that length of time. It seems reasonable that 12 months should be the maximum time for which a footpath should be closed, even for a reclamation scheme.
§ Mr. Silvester
The Bill provides for a period of 18 months. As I understand it—I shall check this before the end of the debate—there is no power for an extension of that period. That is the limit. It is rather more than 12 months, but not as bad as two to three years. The amendment does not alter that. It is concerned with limiting it to reclamation schemes. The petition has been withdrawn, and I understand that the petitioners are satisfied.
§ Mr. Bennett
The Ramblers Association and the Peak and Northern Footpaths Society, as bodies, have been parties to the discussions. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has many constituents, as I have, who are concerned about footpath matters, and some of those do not seem to be as happy as the bodies that represent them. That may be because they have not been made fully aware of what is intended in the Bill.
§ Mr. Silvester
I hope that the hon. Member will be practical about this. Of course some people in every constituency are concerned about these powers. But reclamation scheme can be very dangerous. I was told today of a foreman who was working on such a schemes and who parked his car nearby and an earth-moving vehicle was driven over it, not only squashing his car but burying it. It was never found again. Hon. Members can imagine the circumstances if that were a child or someone out for a walk. It is a very difficult matter, but this is a reasonable compromise.
I can speak only personally, and I have not had any representation—although this is a fairly recent agreement—to the effect that people are not satisfied with the agreement that has been reached.
The second petition dealing with this area concerns clause 30, which is about bulls on footpaths.
§ Mr. Silvester
They may be emotional bulls, indeed. My hon. and learned Friend is right. The Wildlife and Countryside Bill tries to overcome this problem by stopping the bulls from becoming emotional. It does that by the simple process of either restricting this to bulls of less than 10 months of age or by putting the bulls in fields with cows and heifers. I do not make light of this matter, 71 because it affects ramblers very much. I regret the fact that I am not competent to know whether that practice has the desired effect on the bull.
§ Mr. Silvester
Yes, and on the heifers and cows. All that I can say is that this petition has been received from the National Farmers Union and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. They dispute the desirability of the clause, which would exclude bulls from any field through which there is a footpath, largely on the ground that it would interfere with the methods of dairy production which operate in some parts of the country. As I believe that there is no cow at all in my constituency, I am at a slight disadvantage in dealing with these matters. I can only say that the petition will, of course, be carefully considered and will have to be balanced against the legitimate requirements of ramblers, who are naturally cross when they see a "Beware of the bull" sign at the end of a path. That is enough to put anybody off, and they do not go far enough to see whether there are any cows there. Nevertheless, I do not think that it would be satisfactory to have a requirement in Manchester which differed for the national requirement under the Wildlife and Countryside Bill now before Parliament, which may therefore lead to a change in this Bill in Committee.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
My hon. Friend will recognise that the Bill also covers parts of my constituency, where the incidence of bulls is rather greater than it is in his. When legislating on these matters, it is important to bear in mind that ramblers, whose interests we all respect, are out for purposes of recreation, but, that if we impose disabilities and inhibitions upon the farming industry, we are dealing with the problems of people whose livelihood is at stake. It is at least arguable that they should have priority over the legitimate rights of those who are simply exercising their enjoyment and recreation. I put it to my hon. Friend that, although the Bill deals for the most part with the requirements of an industrial community, we must bear in mind that it also impinges upon country areas. These are problems of some moment and concern to those who work in the countryside.
§ Mr. Silvester
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting that point so clearly. I think that it is well recognised by the promoters of the Bill that they have to achieve this balance. I therefore reiterate my earlier point that the Committee may wish closely to examine this provision.
I do not think that it would benefit the House for me to deal with any further clauses in part IV. However, if hon. Members wish, I shall be happy to do so.
Part V deals with public health. Again, it contains a large number of clauses. For the convenience of the House, I shall group them as follows. A number of clauses deal with matters relating to food. Clause 32 deals with hawkers of food, clause 36 with the disposal of food waste, and clause 54 with floating restaurants, which are now being developed and which at present are not covered.
I draw particular attention to clause 53, which empowers magistrates temporarily to close food premises or stalls where danger to health exists. They will now be 72 able to do that in 24 hours instead of three days, as under the current law. One recognises that there is great danger in not acting swiftly in this matter. I therefore hope that the House will approve of that provision.
There is also some further control of personal services. Clause 31 requires hairdressers and barbers to be registered. They can already be controlled by the local council, provided that it knows where they are. The purpose of registration is to know where they are.
Clause 33 provides a new power covering acupuncture, ear-piercing, electrolysis, which I am told is the removal of unwanted hair, and tattooing. Again, these areas have grown substantially. A serious outbreak of hepatitis B in Birmingham in 1977 arose from lack of control of these matters. As this area is developing, it is wise for the local council to pay regard to the necessary standards of hygiene.
A series of clauses deals with what I might call demolition and dust as well as with rats and mice. They are clauses 35, 37, 38, 39, and 40. The latter is an extensive clause dealing with demolition, to be read in conjunction with schedule 2. Clause 51, empowers the local council to lop trees which are a nuisance to neighbours because they block out the light.
A further series of clauses deals with buildings which in one way or another are unsatisfactorily sealed off. For example, if a house has been broken into and needs to be sealed off from trespassers, that is covered by clause 41. If it is derelict and needs to be made safe, that is covered by clause 42. If it is inadequately fenced, that is covered by clause 44. I do not think that I need go through them all.
Clause 52 is an interesting provision to deal with the circumstances, which I believe have occurred in the Greater Manchester area, in which the council undertakes the demolition of a building but is unable to recover the money for weatherproofing the building next door and therefore does not do so. That loophole is now covered.
I draw particular attention to clause 56, a clause of some significance dealing with dealers in second-hand goods. The clause requires the registration of such dealer—a provision which I understand covers antique dealers. It imposes upon them the requirement to keep a record of their purchases, with a power of entry for the police to inspect. They may not buy from children under the age of 16. As one might expect, there are various exemptions, such as secondhand cars, charity shops, scrap metal and waste paper, and places where the secondhand material is secondary to new material. The chief constable is anxious to have this power. Apart from any control over health that it may provide, it will also help in the tracing of stolen property.
There are then a number of miscellaneous matters with which I shall not weary the House. I draw attention only to those which affect a large number people. Clause 43 starts the business of controlling dogs. At the moment, the police can take away stray dogs as a matter of anti-rabies and general control. The clause empowers the districts to appoint people to do that. It would, of course, cover organisations such as the RSPCA which could also undertake this work.
Clauses 49 and 50 will be helpful to tenants in certain cases. Clause 49 enables the local authority to re-establish electricity when it has been cut off for reasons other than non-payment of money, that is to say, where something 73 is defective, and to recover the cost from the landlord. Clause 50 will require a proper supply of lighting to a domestic property.
Part VI deals with law and order, and includes a provision which I did not realise was necessary. Clause 59 enables policemen to enforce byelaws. I had always believed that they were able to do so, but apparently that is not so.
Clauses 60, 61 and 62 relate to safety standards of stands erected temporarily and cover tents and marquees where there could be a big public meeting. They particularly deal with fire precautions.
Clause 62 contains regulations concerning touting. It empowers the local authority to designate certain areas and streets where touting for hotels, restaurants and entertainment and hawking, selling, photographing—people coming up and flicking a camera when one has not asked them to—and hiring transport may not take place without the consent of the council. That may sound a wide provision, but clause 62 contains the word "importuning". The provision is not to cover casual use but to stop people from being bothered to an extent that amounts to being importuned.
As I know that it is of great interest to hon. Members, I shall return to clause 58, which relates to street processions.
Part VII deals with fire precautions, and I shall not go into in detail. It covers such premises as tall buildings, which are becoming increasingly important.
Part VIII deals with flammable material stacked in the open. A number of agreements have already been reached with, for example, brewers and others likely to be affected. However, it does not cover such situations as the disastrous Woolworth's fire in Manchester. Such provisions have to be on a national basis.
Part IX is the subject of a petition. It deals with night cafes and entertainment clubs. The petition is a joint one from Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Takeaway and Fast Food Federation Limited. It covers clauses 76 to 85. It requires the registration of entertainment clubs, such as private cinema clubs, and night cafes open between 11 pm and 5 am, and allows the council to impose conditions such as fire regulations. It does not cover licensed premises. It no longer covers takeaways. There was objection and they were withdrawn. However, the provision still covers takeaways where food can be consumed on the premises. That is the basis of the objection by Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Provisions against clubs have operated in Manchester since 1975 and seem to be perfectly satisfactory. Provisions against night cafes have operated in Manchester since 1971, and 16 are currently registered. There is a power throughout the country under the Late Night Refreshment Houses Act 1969, but a licence cannot be refused and conditions are not attached to it. The council can only limit the hours in which the premises can be open. Greater Manchester therefore regards this as an important power which it will seek to sustain in Committee despite the petition.
Clause 79 raises penalties to £500—which is in one case the same but in others higher than current Acts, where they exist—where the club or cafe is habitually used for unlawful purposes and nothing is done about it. It relates to undesirable characters lurking about a cafe at night.
Part XIII, clause 113, is similar and deals with entertainment licences. Basically, there are two kinds of licence. The licensing justices can operate over most of 74 Manchester and under a national Act, but there are many local Acts that not only provide special powers but also cover boxing and wrestling. The effect of the clause is to extend the provision to boxing and wrestling generally and to make the licensing by the local authority rather than the justices. However it is a clause that has to be adopted by the council and does not operate automatically. If the council still wishes to use licensing justices, presumably it can, although it would not be able to control boxing and wrestling.
Parts X and XV deal with street trading outside and inside Manchester, where the systems are different.
Part XI deals with finance. Clause 98 enables rates to be collected. Where the tenant pays the landlord and the landlord does not cough up, it enables the local authority to proceed against the landlord rather than the tenant, which is right. The provision may be superseded in general law, in which case it will be dropped in Committee.
The only other clause that I shall draw to the attention of hon. Members in that section is clause 100. It is of interest to those who help the local authority in a voluntary capacity. The provision is contained in other local Acts. For example, people who take out residents of social security homes or the disabled are not covered as employees by the insurance policy of the council. The clause enables them to be covered.
Parts XII, XV, XVI, XVII, and XVIII either continue existing local Acts or absorb them into the general law in respect of airports and districts. Part XIV adopts the general law in relation to markets and slaughterhouses.
Coming to part XIX, at present anybody can use the coat of arms of the local authority on a commercial operation without permission. Clause 158 seeks to protect the coat of arms and to stop that from happening.
There are two petitions outstanding in relation to clauses 162 and 164. Clause 162 relates to hackney carriages. As a result of activities in the other place, the clause, as it has now emerged, extends metered driving from anywhere within the district plus four miles around the district, provided that that four miles is wholly within the area of the Greater Manchester council. I hope that that is clear. In practice, it means that when I get a cab to Stockport station I shall be covered, whereas previously I was not. However, in a cab from the airport to Cheshire, one would not be covered.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
The point that causes most annoyance is when people arrive at Manchester airport and are not clear what will be covered by the Act. As I understand it, if I arrived at Manchester airport, I would be entitled to go four miles outside the Manchester city boundary. However, it would still mean that those who live within, say, six or seven miles of the airport, in parts of Stockport, Sale or Partington in Trafford, which are within Greater Manchester but more than four miles from the city, would be in difficulty. I hope that we shall have clarification on that.
§ Mr. Silvester
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The main cause of annoyance arises out of the airport use. I am sorry that the Bill is now as it is rather than as it was previously. I should like to see the development of Manchester airport, and it is a pity if anything happens which makes that more difficult.
Under the Bill as amended in the other place, a passenger who arrives at Manchester airport and wants to 75 go anywhere within the city of Manchester is covered by the law, and it is a metered ride. The position there is exactly the same. If the passenger wants to go to Stockport, or somewhere else within the Greater Manchester area, at present it is not a metered ride, but it will become so provided that the journey is not more than four miles outside the Manchester city boundary. However, if a passenger wishes to go south into Cheshire he is not covered, and will not be covered after the enactment of the Bill. Therefore, he will have to negotiate his fare in the existing way. I understand that the charge is often an extra 50 per cent.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
What the hon. Gentleman has described is a great source of annoyance to many people in the Greater Manchester area. The taxi drivers claim that they cannot pick up fares in other authorities' areas. Because they are precluded from doing that when they are coming back, they say that they must charge one and a half times or one and a third times the fare. I have had instances of people being charged double fares for those journeys. If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about the matter, why does he support the clause?
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
While the hon. Gentleman will not wish to talk out the Bill by speaking at much greater length, would he care to comment briefly on the representations that have been made to right hon. and hon. Members by and on behalf of the taxi drivers in the Manchester area?
§ Mr. Silvester
I support the clause because it is half a loaf. The Bill as now proposed will alleviate the problem about which the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) is concerned. The taxi drivers wish to retain the restriction. That view is moving in the other direction. I believe that it is in the long-term interests of all the citizens of Manchester, including the taxi drivers, that the provision should be loosened up as much as possible. I regret that we have not gone further, but I am prepared to accept what we have. I hope that the House will not find its being only half a loaf a reason for throwing out the clause.
§ Mr. Silvester
I understand the point. The taxi drivers' petition is to retain the restriction. The right hon. Gentleman's suggestion is not covered by the Bill. It would require a degree of agreement that is probably not forthcoming.
If the taxi service were a Greater Manchester council service, it would be possible to apply that kind of provision across the whole county. It has not been thought fit to make it a county service. I am happy to continue discussing the matter, but I am aware of the time, and I do not think that I can add anything further.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
The major problem in Greater Manchester is that the right to ply for hire as a taxi driver involves buying the licence plate. That should not have happened, but it has happened over the years. 76 Unfortunately, the licencne plate changes hands for very different sums in the different parts of Greater Manchester. The result is that those who bought plates in Manchester and Salford feel that it would be unfair to allow someone who has bought a plate for a much smaller sum in one of the other districts to operate in the same area.
In equity, we should be trying to abolish the system of buying and selling licence plates, which has produced considerable anomalies for people in the area. It has also imposed considerable hardship on those who want to become taxi proprietors, because they must pay large sums to obtain their plates, and they then have to try to protect their investment by pressing for what really are restictive practices.
§ Mr. Silvester
The hon. Gentleman has made his point. The provision is not in the Bill, and it was not one of the matters raised by the districts in bringing the Bill forward as a joint promotion. The hon. Gentleman may well be right, but for the provision to be introduced something should have been done long ago to persuade the districts.
If hon. Members will forgive me, my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) will deal specifically with clause 164 on the direct labour organisation of the city of Manchester. However, I draw attention to the fact that there is a petition relating to this matter. The clause is concerned with the power of the direct labour organisation to undertake construction work in other parts of Greater Manchester, a power that has been added to the Bill by the city of Manchester as a joint promoter. It has been objected to by the National Federation of Building Trades Employers and the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors.
I come finally to clause 58, dealing with processions. I apologise if hon. Members think that I have been a long time in getting here, but, since nobody else is to talk about the rest of the Bill, I think it important that the person who introduces it should do so. I should like to see the clause retained. It is probably superfluous for me to say what it involves, as I am sure that every hon. Member knows. Some hon. Members have been concerned with other county Bills and know far better than I do.
The clause provides for three days' notice before processions take place. That is in line with the Select Committee's proposals and with the West Midlands County Council Act. Generally, the promoters have tried to make sure that the clause is on all fours with similar provisions operating elsewhere. The Government have expressed a wish through my hon. and learned Friend the then Minister of State, Home Office—the reference is col. 114 of Hansard for 21 January 1980—that as far as possible there should be consistency. The provision now applies to the counties of Merseyside, Cheshire, West Midlands and the Isle of Wight.
The need for the clause is generally recognised, and is strongly advanced by the police. As some hon. Members will know, because their names are on it, there is a petition, with a wide range of names on the list of those who oppose the clause. I am surprised to see that they include the Friends of the Earth.
The chief constable has provided information about the number of times marches have taken place in the Greater Manchester area and about the size of the problem. His figures for the five-year period 1974–78 show that there were 2,462 marches and processions, involving 22,578 77 police officers of various ranks, and attended by over a quarter of a million members of the public. In the 12 months of 1979, there were 591 marches attended by 157,000 members of the public and involving 5,000 police officers. I quote those figures to show that this is not a minimal problem. It has cost considerable public expenditure and the diversion of police resources.
It is important for the House to recognise that it is not simply a question of the policing of the procession and the counter demonstration if it arises. Police resources are not limitless. This large number of police, if involved in these duties, are not doing something else. It should be reasonable for the House to allow the chief constable and his officers to plan their resources. The central ingredient of a power of notice is that the police should be able to deploy their resources to the most efficient purpose. If the police are required to make a large number of officers available in anticipation of an event that is difficult to gauge—they may get information on the grapevine or, in the case of the National Front, by direct conversation—it is extremely difficult for them to plan.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
The hon. Gentleman quotes the number of processions that took place. On how many occasions did the organisers fail to give notice?
§ Mr. Silvester
I have details of four recent occasions when the chief constable and his assistant claim that there was unwillingness to give information, which led to an unnecessary use of resources.
§ Mr. Silvester
I am happy to do so. There is the famous case—I suppose the most famous—of the National Front march in October 1977. It was decided to transfer the march to Longsight after discussion with the National Front when there was no forthcoming information regarding demonstrations on the other side. A case is quoted in March 1980 when the Tameside Trades Council arranged a meeting in Ashton-under-Lyne which eventually had to be moved because it was not possible for the meeting to take place. A Left-wing group stated its intention to go ahead with a meeting in March at the West End community centre but would not say when the meeting was to take place.
In April 1980, the National Front proposed to hold a march in the Oldham town centre. Intelligence was received from an association known as CARL, its Oldham branch, that it would be organising a counter-rally. The police were unable to get information regarding that rally. On Sunday 23 November 1980, the National Front assembled in the centre of Bolton for the purpose of holding a march and demonstration. Again, opposing factions, eventually numbering 1,000, assembled at the Bolton institute.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
I think that the Bolton occasion was the same as that at Oldham which the hon. Gentleman has described. Although there is no need to give notice in the city of Manchester and many other parts of Greater Manchester, there happens to be a requirement to give notice in Oldham. If it is so important to get this new power, why did not the police use their existing power in Oldham? I understand that they took no action against any of the people involved at Oldham who failed to give notice, although there is a requirement to give notice. If 78 the police did not bother to use the existing law in Oldham, what is the point of asking for such power in the rest of Greater Manchester?
§ Mr. Silvester
That is a fair point which I also asked. There is, however, a practical problem. There are three categories of notice in Greater Manchester—24 hours, 36 hours and 48 hours, depending on which part of the county one is situated in—or nothing. It varies from place to place. There are different rules in adjacent districts. It is difficult operationally to make any good sense of that situation. If these powers are to exist, it is only reasonable to have a uniform practice, known to everyone, which the police can observe across the whole county. I do not know whether any prosecutions will result from the occasion in November. It is, however, not unreasonable to say that the police, when faced with these circumstances, would not wish to follow up these powers in the patchwork way that they operate. I doubt whether notice of 24 hours is of any great value unless shorter notice, as this Bill permits, as did the West Midlands Bill, is practicable.
§ Mr. Orme
The overwhelming number of cases given by the hon. Gentleman concern the National Front. The chief constable has power, if he thinks that there will be danger of public disorder, to prohibit those demonstrations. He did not prohibit any of them. He put on excessive protection for those demonstrations at colossal cost. The proposal in the Bill is absolute nonsense. That is why many of my hon. Friends and I oppose it. This matter, if it is to be dealt with, cannot be approached on a patchwork basis. It has to be dealt with on a national basis. Stronger action has to be taken. The chief constable in Greater Manchester has not given the type of lead that is necessary.
§ Mr. Silvester
The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view about the chief constable. We are concerned with a situation in which there has grown up over the last few years a measure of agreement in different parts of the country and in a Select Committee of the House about the nature of the power that should be operated. There is no immediate prospect, so far as one can ascertain, that the Government will take over this clause and introduce it. If that were the case, we would not have to pursue it. We cannot wait for something that may not happen. We are obliged to proceed with the Bill before the House. There is no way in which it can be argued that we are doing anything in the Bill that has not been done elsewhere. It is on all fours with what has become established practice.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Practice varies between two proposals. Fifty per cent. of the promoters of these Private Bills have agreed to drop the procession clause altogether and to require no notice and allow the law to stay as it is. The other half have opted for this sort of compromise. It is unfair to suggest that what has happened in the West Midlands, Cheshire, Merseyside and the Isle of Wight is the national none. They are the exceptions rather than the rule.
§ Mr. Silvester
That is not really right. I accept that some areas do not have the power and that some people have not sought the power. It seems to me that where the power is sought and where it is recommended by a Select Committee of the House, the terms of the power, as set out in the Bill, are not substantially different. So far as possible, we have lined ourselves up with powers already taken. It is clear that this is the central point. It would be unfair of me to prolong the debate.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington South and Finsbury)
I intervene not through any connection with Manchester but in a home affairs capacity. The hon. Gentleman spoke as if there were no prospect of the Government coming forward with a proposal on this subject. He must be aware that the whole subject of public order is currently being actively considered within the Home Office and that a Home Office Minister has conceded that the matter would be better dealt with in national legislation ultimately when the review is completed.
§ Mr. Silvester
That may have been an overstatement. I did not intend to imply that it would never happen. In any event, "never" is a meaningless word in politics. Although the review has been proceeding, it has not been possible for us to receive an indication that it will be completed within a stated time. That means that we would be left with the option of dropping the Bill in anticipation of what is yet to come without a specified date or proceeding as we are. If there is a national power, presumably it will be the same as or will supercede the local Act.
I have been as clear as I possibly can. There will be many points of difference during the course of the Bill. If it should be necessary, and if it is thought that I have not made something clear, I hope that I shall be given the opportunity to do so at a later stage.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Jim Callaghan (Middleton and Prestwich)
This is a Private Bill and one of a series of major Bills promoted to retain provisions repealed by the Local Government Act 1972. A general powers Bill of this nature deals with many topics that affect a great many people and it must be scrutinised with great care. I know that, from experience, as I spent many days in Committee on a similar Bill, namely, the County of Merseyside Bill. I have already heard many of the arguments that have been advanced this evening. I feel that it is a privilege that I am able to compare the provisions of both Bills.
The Local Government Act 1972 established new local government areas in England and Wales. In section 262 it repealed, with certain exceptions, the provisions contained in private Acts in force in certain areas. The powers conferred by those Acts ceased to have any effect in metropolitan counties such as the Greater Manchester metropolitan county at the end of 1979. Unless they are re-enacted by means of other legislation, we shall be in some difficulty with the law.
The 1972 Act provided a unique opportunity for a thorough revision of all local legislation. From 1984 onwards local legislation will be well documented and much more readily understandable by the public. I am glad to say that the Greater Manchester authority seized the opportunity for a thorough revision of all its local legislation. The Bill represents the outcome of months of scrutinising existing powers, examining and disregarding a multitude of provisions whose worth has long since passed away and identifying the relatively few provisions that have shown the need for their retention or enactment. The work has constituted three and a half years of detailed study and close collaboration between officers of the county councils and the 10 district councils involved. That has been done at a cost of £150,000. That work should cut out much of the dead wood and greatly reduce the bulk of local law that is cluttering the statute book. It is a tidying-up operation that will benefit everyone.
80 The principal issue that the Greater Manchester council raised in its memorandum is as follows:The greater Manchester authorities are of the opinion that there is a large corpus of valuable local law which has not been overtaken by national legislation. If action were not now taken to preserve it, that whole body of law would have been lost automatically at the end of 1979.I believe that that is true. Private Bills are necessary so that local authorities are enabled to carry out certain works and certain projects that they desire to undertake. That is generally accepted. There are matters of general public importance that can be decided only by Parliament, especially if there is a conflict of interest.
In one of the clauses there is such a conflict. I draw attention to clause 30, which has already been referred to by the hon. Members for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) and for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne). It states:(1) No person shall drive or lead or cause to be driven or led in any street or public place in a district any bull unless it is properly secured and kept under proper control and no person, being the occupier of any field or enclosure through which there is a footpath or bridleway, shall permit any bull to be at large in that field or enclosure.(2) Any person who contravenes the provisions of this section shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £50.I warmly applaud those subsections. I know that the clause is supported strongly by the various footpath organisations. I have had considerable correspondence with the Ramblers Association, the Footpaths Association and various other bodies, which are extremely concerned. One of my constituents, Mr. David Lee, who is one of the chief officials of the Footpaths Association, is extremely concerned about these matters. He has written to me and lobbied me.
There is a conflict between those who want to use the countryside for recreation purposes and those who want to earn a living as farmers. I am sure that clause 30, which I warmly applaud, will be in conflict with the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, which is passing through another place. There is great concern among ramblers and country lovers about the effect of that Bill. It is proposed that a farmer should be able to graze a bull in a field containing a public right of way as long as the bull is not of a recognised dairy breed or if it is accompanied by a cow, cows or heifers. Legislation along these lines already applies in Scotland. However, there is a difference. Most of the footpaths in Scotland are on the higher ground and mountains and well above the fields in which bulls graze. The position is not quite the same in England.
In England and Wales there are local byelaws that vary from one part of the country to another. We should like the variations to be tidied up. However, in about three-quarters of England and Wales there are byelaws in force that prohibit the grazing of bulls in fields containing public paths. Those byelaws will be overridden by the proposed legislation, because I believe that the provisions in clause 30 will be overruled.
The Ramblers Association believes, as I do, that bulls should always be regarded as potentially dangerous, irrespective of their breed, and regardless of whether they are with cows and heifers. The safety division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food agrees with that view. It has stated:Bulls are always a potential danger and it is advisable to treat them with extreme caution.81 The National Union of Agricultural Workers has said that it considers bulls to be an extremely dangerous species of animal, despite the long outmoded legal classification of them as domestic. That union should know. In 1979 alone three farmworkers were killed by bulls and 27 were injured. A pensioner was killed when walking near Thornaby in Cleveland in October of last year.
Civil servants drafting the Wildlife and Countryside Bill have been persuaded that bulls running with cows are safe. They may be safer, but they are definitely not safe. Footpaths are often used not only by ramblers who can take care of themselves but by families out for a stroll, by pensioners and by children taking a short cut to school. It is vital that bulls and walkers are kept apart. Surveys have shown that walking in the countryside is a popular recreation which is becoming more popular each year. By introducing the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, which will make walking in the countryside more dangerous, the Government are doing a great disservice to a substantial section of our community.
I ask the Government to clarify the position relating to the conflict of interest between the Ramblers Association, the farmers, clause 30 and the proposals contained in the Wildlife and Countryside Bill relating to the countryside, which will shortly be introduced into the House. The hon. Member for Withington mentioned that point. Which Bill will take precedence? The Bill that we are discussing has taken three and a half years to bring to the Floor of the House, at a cost of £150,000. With all that time, money and energy spent on it, I wonder whether it will take precedence. Are the promoters of the Bill wasting their time and money? I sincerely hope not. I invite the Government to tell us.
§ Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)
I shall not detain the House for long, as many hon. Members wish to speak and time is limited.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) for the enormous amount of work that he has carried out on the Bill. I shall confine my remarks to the two most controversial clauses, namely, clause 58 which deals with notice of street processions, and clause 164 which deals with the Manchester direct works department. Both issues appear to make Opposition Members see red. No doubt we shall have a stormy debate about them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Withington discussed clause 58. The issue of notice of street processions has been debated in the House over and over again. I am sure that we are all aware of the arguments both for and against. Indeed, we should know the arguments off by heart. In 1980 various Acts were passed for the counties of Merseyside, Cheshire, West Midlands and Isle of Wight. All contained a modified processions clause. Clause 58 is identical with clauses that have been passed in other Acts for other areas.
When we debated the West Midlands County Council Act 1980 my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, previously the Minister of State at the Home Office, said:There are grounds for debating the provisions of the new clause, and even in its present form it may not be regarded as suitable by every local authority that wishes to have a notice of procession provision in local legislation.However, I believe that it is desirable that some measure of uniformity should be achieved wherever the inclusion of such 82 requirements in local legislation is felt to be necessary. No doubt local authorities will wish to look at the new clause when considering how they wish to formulate any proposals that they intend to put before the House."—[Official Report, 21 January 1980; Vol. 977, c. 114.]We are not simply copying the West Midlands. In the Greater Manchester area there is a real need for this clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Withington quoted a letter from the chief constable of Greater Manchester. Despite some uncomplimentary remarks by Opposition Members, I believe that the chief constable is doing an extremely good job. He more than anyone else realises the difficulties.
The clause is required because of an omission from the Public Order Act 1936. That Act empowers the chief constable to impose on marches such conditions as he considers necessary to preserve public order. One Opposition Member referred to a patchwork pattern. That is exactly what we have in Greater Manchester. In certain parts of Greater Manchester advance notice may be 24 hours, 36 hours or 48 hours. We are seeking to bring some conformity to the system and to get rid of the patchwork pattern.
Hon. Members will be aware that clause 164 has a stormy history. By it Manchester city council seeks powers to extend the operations of its direct labour building organisation. There is a great deal of difference between the council of the city of Manchester and the Greater Manchester county council. My wife is seeking reelection in May to the Greater Manchester county council. She is fearful that every time anyone confuses the two councils it costs her support. Whereas the city of Manchester appears to have got itself into a financial tangle, the Greater Manchester county council appears to operate its affairs in a different manner.
Currently the direct labour organisations are confined to carrying out new construction work only for their own parent local authority, although maintenance may be performed for certain specified public bodies. Manchester city council, through this clause, is seeking to allow its direct labour organisation to carry out new building and other works for other local authorities in the Greater Manchester area. In addition, it wishes to perform work for the police, the water authorities, the Greater Manchester passenger transport executive and the health authorities in the county of Greater Manchester. If allowed, that will provide a precedent for all other authorities wishing to extend their direct labour operations. That would be in complete opposition to the Government's general policy towards direct labour organisations.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, when he replies, will point out that under the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 the Government have introduced proposals which will subject direct labour organisations to more stringent financial and management controls, and which will make councils more accountable for the operation of their direct labour organisations. Those proposals are intended to operate from April 1981 and will be supplemented by a code of practice and delegated legislation now in the process of preparation.
The intention is that direct labour organisations should face effective competition under conditions that they have never yet experienced so that local authorities and the 83 general public can make a more realistic assessment of the efficiency of direct labour organisations and the value for money obtained from their operations.
I quote in aid a statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment during the debate on Second Reading of the 1980 measure. He said:It would be wise for the direct labour organisations to prove that they can work effectively within their own areas before we consider whether we should extend the areas in which they trade."—[Official Report, 5 February 1980; Vol. 1159, c. 225.]My right hon. Friend's words should be borne in mind tonight because competition will never take place on a completely comparable basis.
Direct labour organisations are not the same as private building contractors. Of necessity the private sector must organise its operations to cover its costs, maintain a positive cash flow and make a profit. Direct labour organisations are not subject to such onerous disciplines. The proposed new system goes much of the way to compensate for the economic gaps in direct labour operations by demanding considerable competition under controlled conditions and by requiring direct labour to make a return on capital. Such a system must be followed vigorously.
There can be no case for extending direct labour operations until the system has been proved. Since direct labour organisations are not and never will be totally commercial, they should not engage in operations in which public money is exposed to increasing risks. It is wrong to confer these powers on Manchester city council alone. It is wrong in principle to allow local authorities to disperse ratepayers' money on commercial ventures, albeit in the public sector alone, when there is already a fully developed private sector whose function is to take risks. After the Bill obtains its Second Reading, I hope to move an instruction on clause 164.
§ Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)
The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) had a formidable task in moving this the Second Reading of this blockbuster of a Bill with 180 clauses. I was grateful for the elucidation that his speech provided, I noted carefully the arguments that he advanced in relation to the politically sensitive clause 58, which requires organisers of processions to give 72 hours notice of a procession. Frankly, I subscribe to the view that such measures should be the subject of national legislation.
I seek an explanation of three other clauses. First, I draw the attention of the House to clause 154, which deals with Manchester central art gallery. My interest in the art gallery goes back a number of years. In concert with my parliamentary colleagues I was involved in acquiring for the city of Manchester that delightful picture by Stubbs of the cheetah with Indian servants. We were also involved in representing Manchester's claim for that impressive portrait of a notary by Matsys. Consequently I am surprised at clause 145 and am anxious to hear an explanation.
The clause indicates that the art gallery and all works and other objects of art thereinshall be held in trust by the Manchester council for the benefit of the citizens of Manchester".Subsection (3) says: 84Notwithstanding anything in subsection (2) above, the Manchester council may from time to time sell or exchange any works or other objects of art for the time being acquired by them",and subsection (3) (a) says thatthe Manchester council shall, if reasonably practicable, consult with the donor or with the personal representatives or trusteesof those who have made art gifts or grants to the city. That is a formidable power that the city council is taking on behalf of the art gallery. What will be the attitude of the council? What will be the attitude of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government when they read that the art gallery has the power to sell off works of art that have been gathered over a century or more?
The art gallery seeks that power. One might call the provision the "art mart" clause. One of the possible consequences is a boom in auctioning works of art. If Manchester seeks the power, other local authorities will follow suit. I do not know what it will do for the citizens and art lovers of Manchester, but it will certainly fill the pockets of art auctioneers. One is entitled to ask what is envisaged by the art gallery committee in Manchester in seeking such an additional power.
I turn to clauses 162 and 163. Concern has been expressed on behalf of Manchester's taxi drivers about clause 162. One can understand their anxiety about the extension of the metered driving restrictions. Clause 163 highlights the long-standing acrimony between taxi drivers and private hire drivers. I invite the House to consider what is involved. The proposal is that a private hire vehicle shall display nosign, notice, mark, illumination or any other feature".and that no such features shall be displayed evenin the district on or from any motor vehicle"—I understand the feelings of taxi drivers about the activities of private hire drivers, but perhaps we are taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Is there not a better way of dealing with the activities of unscrupulous hire drivers? If a private hire vehicle is to contain no sign, notice, mark or illumination, the private hire driver is denied the right enjoyed by the owner of any business, commercial or other vehicle operating on the streets, roads, and motorways of Manchester. It is almost an inalienable right of the owner of a vehicle to advertise on the vehicle his commercial or business interest.
I do not seek to give any advantage to the private hire owner or operator. Some of them are highly unscrupulous. My sympathies in those conflicts are on most occasions with the taxi cab operator. However, we should not introduce such restrictions to deal with that problem.
I want to deal briefly with the arguments in regard to the direct works department—dealt with in clause 164—to which reference has been made. I do so because the largest, the most efficient and most successful direct works department in the country is located in the city of Manchester. A large element of that direct works department is in my constituency in Openshaw at the Bessemer Street works. I am concious that this undertaking, with an annual turnover of £49 million, employing 4,400 workers, 400 of whom are young apprentices, ought to command the support of the Government. I should like an assurance from the Minister that he will support the Greater Manchester council in this clause and oppose the petition to which the hon. Member for Withington referred in moving the Second Reading.
The existence of the Manchester direct works department has been for the benefit of the ratepayers of 85 Manchester. Its very existence has discouraged the sort of tendering that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) identified when he was chairman of the direct works department and broke the ring that existed at that time in tendering for the contracts for cement. His was a signal achievement at that time by breaking that commercial ring.
In my constituency recently, I was delighted to see the opening of the one hundred thousandth house built by Manchester's direct works department. Of even greater interest is the Openshaw village development in my constituency, which was built almost entirely by apprentices of the direct works department. At a time when the number of apprenticeships in Manchester in the building industry is contracting in the private sector, the direct works department's encouragement of young people in acquiring the necessary skills to carve out for themselves a career in the building industry is, indeed, a great compliment to the enterprise, not only of the direct works department, but of the city council as a whole.
I hope that either the hon. Member for Withington or the Minister will comment on the points that I have made.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg)
It might help the House if I were to intervene at this stage in order to give the Government's view on the Bill.
As the House has heard, the Bill is one of a number promoted by local authorities primarily to save what they consider to be essential local legislation which would otherwise lapse under section 262 of the Local Government Act 1972.
There are only three clauses on which I should like to comment at this stage: clause 58, which provides for 72 hours' notice for street processions; clause 164, which seeks to extend Manchester city council's existing direct labour powers to enable the council to carry out construction works for other councils and public authorities throughout the Greater Manchester area; and clause 30, on bulls.
Perhaps I might add to what was said earlier about there being two items that would make hon. Members see red; it is that red is something that bulls do not like to see. All I can say to assist the House—and the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Callaghan)—on this point is that my right hon. Friend takes the view that the pasturing of bulls in fields crossed by public paths should be regulated by general legislation rather than by byelaws, as is the case over almost all of England and Wales at present, or by local Acts. But his detailed views on the subject will be made known in his report to Parliament before the Bill is considered in Committee.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Does the Minister agree that the existing powers in Greater Manchester are to restrict bulls from going into fields with footpaths, and that in an area such as Greater Manchester a very large number of those footpaths are used by young children, who are not able to distinguish between a bull and a cow or to distinguish between dairy and non-dairy herds? Does he agree that it would be disastrous to introduce the proposals in the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, which is now being considered in another place, into places where there is a meeting between rural and urban areas? Surely, if he knows anything about Greater Manchester, he is aware 86 that, particularly along the Mersey and on the north side, there are substantial amounts of green land which have to be fanned, and that to have bulls loose in such areas would be extremely dangerous for children under 10, many of whom use footpaths in those areas.
§ Mr. Finsberg
The hon. Gentleman might try to tempt me to stray from the path. I hope that the bull recognises a cow or a heifer when the time comes. I cannot say more than that my right hon. Friend will be reporting to the Committee. All these matters will be for the Committee to decide, assuming the House gives the Bill a Second Reading.
I have listened with considerable interest to the debate on clause 58. As all hon. Members have pointed out, the Government are currently conducting a review of the Public Order Act 1936 and related legislation, and that review is considerng the question whether there should be a national requirement to give advance notice of processions.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) will understand the difficulty that I have in responding to his invitation to commit my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to a date for the announcement of the conclusions of the review. I understand that most of the comments on the Government's Green Paper arrived late and that some are still trickling in. The issues involved are complex, but my right hon. Friend is pressing ahead with the review as quickly as possible and will announce the outcome as soon as he can.
The Green Paper, which was published by my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland in April last year, recognised the strength of the arguments in favour of a national provision of this sort. The police need time to make local arrangements for an event and, where necessary, to organise policing assistance from other forces. A notice requirement can serve as the formal trigger for discussions between the police and the organisers of a march so that disorder and disruption can be kept to a minimum.
The Green Paper, which I am sure that all hon. Members have read, also recognised the difficulties which the organisers of a march might face in complying with such a requirement—for example, where there was a genuine reason to organise a march at short notice. However, the Green Paper suggested that it might be possible to find ways round such difficulties and that on balance the advantage might lie in favour of a national notice requirement.
My right hon. Friends are now giving careful consideration to the comments they have received on the Green Paper and to the fifth report of the Home Affairs Committee on the law relating to public order, which, incidentally, as the House will recall, recommended in favour of a nancinal notice requirement. But the Government have not yet come to any firm conclusions on this or any of the other matters being considered in the course of the review. When he has come to his conclusions, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will make known the Government's views on the review as soon as is possible.
In the meantime, the Government's position remains that it is for the promoters of local Bills seeking provisions requiring advance notice of processions to make out a case for such a requirement on the basis of local need or the 87 special conditions in the area. In the case of Greater Manchester it is clearly relevant that there are provisions of this sort in the existing local legislation which this Bill is intended to replace. In fact, they exist in 10 parts of the county, including Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale and Wigan. The chief constable considers that the existing provisions have proved useful in the past. Hon. Members who oppose the clause do not appear to have offered any evidence that these requirements, which have existed for very many years, have created any difficulties for either the police or the organisers of marches. It seems therefore that the problems they have identified are more imaginary than real.
I note, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) said, that the form of the clause is modelled on the provision which the House agreed a year ago should be included in a similar Bill promoted by the West Midlands county council. Since then that model has been adopted in other local Bills. As far as I am aware, it has not hitherto been proved to cause difficulty. I hope that the House will share my view that, wherever the inclusion of advance notice requirements in local legislation is felt necessary, it is desirable that some measure of uniformity should be achieved. On that basis, I commend the form of this clause to the House.
In view of the existing provisions in the Greater Manchester area and the problems which processions in the area can cause for police and residents, it does not seem unreasonable that the promoters of this Bill should seek to retain an advance notice requirement in the Bill and that they should wish to make the requirement a uniform one throughout the area.
In relation to the question whether there should be a national requirement of advance notice, clearly there are wider factors to be taken into account and I must not prejudge the outcome of my right hon. Friends' review. But on the strict basis of the needs of Greater Manchester, I suggest to the House that the case for the inclusion of clause 58 has certainly been made out.
Let me turn now to the other main provision that has provoked controversy, that covering direct labour provisions. We believe that clause 164 is unnecessary and undesirable for three main reasons. First, direct labour organisations exist to serve the needs of their own authorities. They have no role in major works outside their direct responsibilities; and the powers now proposed are irrelevant to the city council's statutory functions, the House recognised that when it passed the Local Government, Planning and Land Act.
Secondly, ratepayers' and taxpayers' money should not be risked in commercial ventures where there is already a fully developed private sector quite capable of fulfilling the needs of any public authorities in the county for building services. Thirdly, as a matter of principle, we feel that public enterprise should not be expanded at the expense of the private sector.
The promoters claim that in order to make the best use of resources a wider base of activities is necessary. Without this it is claimed that the work force will have to be reduced and that the apprentice training scheme will suffer as a result. These are not accepted as good reasons for the powers proposed.
§ Mr. Charles R. Morris
I can understand the motivation behind the Minister's comments, but does he realise that there is very little apprentice training in the private sector of the building industry in the Greater Manchester area? His comment, if given effect, will mean unemployment for the 4,400 workers of the direct works department in Manchester and the loss of some crucially important apprentice jobs in the city.
§ Mr. Finsberg
If Manchester expands its activities and wins contracts from private builders by any methods it cares to choose, the workers in those concerns will be put out of their jobs. In our judgment, there is no reason why the Manchester direct labour organisation should be artificially protected from the effects of any decline in building construction work. There is no good reason to suppose that if training by direct labour organisations declines there would be an overall decline in the amount of training undertaken. I think that secretly the right hon. Gentleman knows that.
The Government's legislation on direct labour organisations contained in part III of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 is aimed at controlling the activities of direct labour organisations, enforcing adequate accounting standards and requiring direct labour organisations to be exposed to fair competition. This will ensure that the performance of direct labour organisations is measured against an appropriate objective standard—the rate of return on capital employed—and will give the Secretary of State the power to close down consistently unsuccessful organisations. No one with a scrap of impartiality could object to that concept. We do not wish to see Manchester's direct labour organisation roaming round the rest of the county looking for work.
My right hon. Friend will set out his views on this matter, and others, in his report to Parliament. They may then be considered in detail in Committee. I recommend that the Bill be given its Second Reading to enable that to be done.
§ Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)
This is a long Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Callaghan) said, it took many hours of expertise and deliberation by the various authorities to formulate it.
I shall address my remarks to some of the comments that have been made on clause 164. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) said that Labour Members saw red whenever mention was made of direct works. That is true. Labour Members with considerable experience become indignant when they hear organisations being maligned in this Chamber, as they have been on many occasions. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale added insult to injury when he sneered at Manchester's so-called financial tangle. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the financial tangle is quickly being resolved, despite the problems that the Government have caused. The country has been starved of financial aid by this Whiz kid from the Department of the Environment who has introduced a recipe for disaster for local government.
As we saw a few weeks ago, Ministers come and go. However, despite ineptitude and bad management from above, local government will survive, will give a good 89 account of itself and will benefit ratepayers. I was extremely disappointed to see that the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) and the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale had tabled a motion for an instruction. It is an outrage that they should do so.
§ Mr. Eastham
The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale is not a Mancunian, but we Mancunians do not believe that the clause is in the interest of ratepayers. The Greater Manchester ratepayers and those of the 10 districts can benefit. In many ways they have indicated that they want the services of the city's direct labour organisation. It is obvious that no shame will be expressed, even though there is very little basis for some of the attacks that seem to be mounted against the Manchester organisation.
Conservatives throughout the country like to talk about competition. They pride themselves on saying "Let us have competition. It is good for business. Competitive pricing is of benefit to everyone." The building industry is potholed with problems of bad management, incompetence and all the other recipes that leave monumental disasters for local authorities to pick up when private builders disappear.
Clause 164 does not request privilege for direct labour organisations; it requests only the right to compete. But now Conservative Members seem to express a constant fear of competition. A great deal of time has been spent on this clause. It has already gone through a detailed investigation in the House of Lords. Many hours of evidence have been submitted by experts. It is noticeable that at the end of the deliberations in the other place there was a recommendation to this House that, in the interests of good local government, the clause ought to be approved and that no stopping motion should be introduced.
Obviously the interests of private builders are involved. One has only to look at the names of some of the petitioners—the National Federation of Building Trades Employers, the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors and so on. Can Conservative Members demonstrate to Opposition Members when such bodies have been concerned about the ratepayers' interests? They have submitted their petition in the interests not of the citizens, but of their own financial gains.
The serious situation in the building trade is the direct result of the Conservative Government's policies. My God, they are in a mess. One can understand the desperation being felt by the private sector. Obviously it wants to move into local government contract work because of the disastrous situation now facing it as a direct result of the Government's policies, particularly from the Department of the Environment.
It might be useful to illustrate the disastrous situation in the building industry. About 38,605 people are registered as unemployed in the North-West region alone. That represents 24 per cent. of the work force. The national figure is 294,538, or 20.1 per cent. That gives some idea of the desperate plight in which builders find themselves as a result not of our policies but of yours. Yet these days they approach Labour Members daily and talk about massive liquidations and bankruptcies. They appeal to us in relation to the mess into which they have been placed by your side. They then turn to your side and say "We are in a desperate situation. At least hold the fort by denying direct labour organisations their rightful place in the competitive world of building."
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not involve me in this debate.
§ Mr. Eastham
Much propaganda and expense have been used to smear direct labour organisations. Very often, we have taken the trouble to read the most jaundiced kind of despicable documents that one could ever see. Many thousands of pounds have been expended on drawing up a smokescreen to try to convince people that they are not getting benefits. Have hon. Members ever known of private organisations spending thousands of pounds on a propaganda campaign just because of ratepayers' interests? Let us be honest and frank. The only reason why they spend this money is that it is in their own interests to do so. That has been the situation constantly when these spurious attacks have been made, often completely without foundation, against local government.
Recently I was in a position, fortunately, to look at some examples of the final accounts of the Manchester direct works organisation. I have with me a document that was presented to the city council. It is a current document, dated 17 December 1980, illustrating 14 major capital projects which the direct works organisation had completed. These were finally costed, and the figures were agreed with the city architect and the city treasurer. Of the 14 projects three were overspent and 11 were underspent. As against the original estimate, there was a beneficial balance of £1,161,355. There is another column that indicates the additional savings made as against the next lowest tender if a private contractor had been awarded the contract. That shows £398,327. In all, there is an indication of a direct saving and benefit to the ratepayers of £1,559,682.
We constantly have to listen to claptrap from Conservative Members about the failures of direct works organisations. It is untrue. The facts have been verified, not by politicians, but by highly paid, professional, honourable officers, engaged for their expertise and answerable to district auditors. That is one example. I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherlanc0 catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will be delighted to reinforce my argument with further examples of the direct results and benefits that we have achieved in the city of Manchester.
In the past, we have been able to offer numerous services in the Greater Manchester area, often to authorities that are not Labour-controlled. Conservative-controlled authorities have invited Manchester's direct works organisation to come to their areas to assist them with their building problems. That is the situation today. Numerous Conservative authorities are using those benefits.
§ Mr. Eastham
It will not be for long, as my hon. Friend says. When Tameside was Conservative-controlled, it used the services of the direct works organisation. Two other Conservative-controlled authorities, which I shall not name, invited the direct works organisation to come in and assist them. At present we are providing considerable maintenance and office 91 building work. We are also involved in considerable work for the police. I am beginning to understand that the police prefer to have an efficient organisation to come in and assist them.
With regard to the Bill, we are simply appealing to the House that Manchester should be able to offer these services to the water authority, the police authority and the Greater Manchester passenger transport executive. I remind the House that before reorganisation in 1974 we were carrying out some of the very services that we seek to have included in the Bill. We built the police stations. We carried out a great deal of work on the airport and on many other projects, to the highest standards and the greatest satisfaction.
This is a blatant political attempt to kill off competition. If the organisation is inefficient, the Minister has the power to close it down. There is no requirement for him to appeal to anyone. If the organisation is inefficient, he makes the decision and he can take action. Today the Minister tells us that the organisation will be denied even the opportunity to continue its work. If it were inefficient, he could close it down. We believe that Manchester's direct works organisation is second to none in the country. We merely make the plea for the opportunity to continue to offer benefit to the ratepayers. Let it be remembered that ratepayers want the best of services and the best of standards at the lowest possible price.