HC Deb 12 June 1981 vol 6 cc698-700
Mr. Colvin

I beg to move amendment No 149, in page 11, leave out lines 33 and 34 and insert— '(6) a person aggrieved by a decision of a magistrates' court or the sheriff, as the case may be, under the foregoing provisions of this section may by notice under this section appeal to the Secretary of State and the provisions of section 36 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 and section 33 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972, as the case may be, shall, with any necessary adaptions and modifications, apply to any such appeal as if references in the said sections to applications for planning permission were references to applications for a licence under this Act.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No 150, in page 12, line 12, after 'sheriff' insert 'or the Secretary of State'.

Mr. Colvin

The amendments, which stand in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), are designed to extract from the promoter an undertaking to discuss with the Secretary of State the possibility of extending a right of appeal. As the Bill stands, if a licence is refused, if any condition is attached to a licence or if there is any variation, cancellation or revocation of a licence, the appeal shall be to the magistrates' court or, in Scotland, to the sheriff court.

There is a useful precedent in planning matters that the appeal is always to the Secretary of State. The purpose of the amendments is to establish that appeals under clause 18 should be directed to the Secretary of State. I shall be grateful if my hon. Friend will give an undertaking to reconsider the procedure before the Bill passes to another place.

Mr. Peyton

I have some misgivings about appeals to Secretaries of State. It is a notoriously time-wasting and bureaucratic exercise that I do not wish to see extended until we have made considerable improvements in our present performance in inquiries and decisions on reports by Secretaries of State.

I should prefer to see arrangements made for appeal to a higher court than a magistrates' court. I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Colvin) some discontent about confining appeals to magistrates' courts. It would be preferable if appeals could go to a higher court. Serious issues will be at stake. On the result of an appeal will hang the livelihood and survival of an operation. It is important that we should take no risk of it being steamrollered out of existence by a bureaucratic process.

A few minutes ago my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) responded to one of my questions. He said that he had no mandate to give the undertaking for which I asked him. He is the promoter. When he answers our questions, I hope that he will consider that his interest lies in trying to meet some of our objections, which are not made for frivolous reasons. I accept that he is in great difficulty in meeting the objection that I have been pressing strongly throughout the day, and I shall not rehearse it again. It turns on which organisation should be the licensing authority. My hon. Friend cannot cudgel the Government into doing what they do not want to do, and I am sorry for him in that respect. I hope that he will make some friendly and sympathetic noises on appeals.

Mr. Skeet

If a person is to run a zoo, he must have planning permission. Therefore, he will have a right of appeal to the Minister. If there is a refusal to grant a licence, the issue will go to the magistrates' court. The Minister will have enormous powers under the Bill. He will be the judge in his own case, and I am not too happy about that. An issue that remains outstanding is what will happen to the animals if a licence is revoked.

Mr. Blackburn

There will be six months' grace.

Mr. Skeet

What happens if a licence is revoked for a large zoo? The animals may be living at the zoo perfectly happily. Will they be put to death by the RSPCA?

Mr. Blackburn

Of course not.

Mr. Skeet

The period of grace is insufficient. It should be much longer. It is insufficient because it does not take account of all the arrangements that have to be made. I suggest that my hon. Friend should consider a very much longer period.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

I, too, would like appeals to go from the magistrates' courts not to the Secretary of State but to another court. It will be within the knowledge of hon. Members that in many areas the personalities who are elected to the local authority and who sit as magistrates are more or less the same. Not all of them, but most of them, will have served on both bodies and will have experience in both kinds of work. I do not believe that it would be likely that a different decision would be reached by the local magistrates' court after the local authority had revoked the licence. Therefore, I believe that the case should go to another court before, if ever, it goes to the Secretary of State. That would be a great improvement to the Bill.

2.15 pm
Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)

The question of appeals is important. I want to reiterate it, because I take a great interest in smaller businesses. Many zoos are smaller businesses, but they employ many people and contribute to the wealth of the country and to the pleasure of many of our fellow citizens. We have to be careful about what road blocks we chuck in their way to make their lives more difficult. I should like the procedure to be properly run, but the appeals procedure proposed is not right. I should not be happy to allow the Bill to go forward in its present state.

People's livelihoods and investments are involved. In the Finance Bill, the House has been discussing business start-ups. If we are not careful we shall become involved in business destruction. We must be careful about the time involved in any of those appeals and we should make the process simple. That is a problem. A magistrates' court is local, easy to reach and to find one's way round. However, there is another problem. All the courts today are grossly overcrowded. People who have committed real crimes—which I would call them, as a layman—as opposed to the crime of not having followed a regulation, are not having their cases heard. Yet under this clause we are proposing to put more cases through the magistrates' courts.

Mr. Blackburn

Does my hon. Friend agree that we have discussed that matter? In the last quarter of an hour we have passed amendments relating to that issue, and clause 17 gives all those provisions.

Mr. Grylls

I assume that my hon. Friend is aware that we need to consider carefully the appeals procedure. I speak on behalf of small businesses, which often do not understand their way round the sophistication of appeals. My hon. Friend should consider that point. I shall be worried if the Bill is not simplified considerably.

Mr. Monro

I shall reply quickly to my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) and others who have spoken. It would be unacceptable for a decision of the courts to be appealed to the Executive, as my right hon. Friend said. I take on board what my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) said about small businesses. This is not a draconian Bill to affect small industries or small zoos. It will be a gradual process over a few years while the licensing procedure is built up. It is there to provide better zoos with better viewing facilities and better wildlife preservation. It is in no way aimed at closing down zoos of good quality.

Amendment negatived.

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