§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. For the first six months of this year we had a budget deficit with the Community of £90 million. For the subsequent three months it was more than £400 million. Suspecting that to be the case, I put down a question for priority written answer from the Treasury for last Monday.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has had anxieties and was likely to want to raise a point of order, but the Clerk has already read the Orders of the Day. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman raises the matter at the right time tomorrow, which will be after statements, when I shall try to deal with it.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Timothy Raison)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is the second Bill designed to relieve local authoritites and both Houses of some of the burdens of promoting private legislation. Over the years, but particularly of course during the nineteenth century, the statute book has become more and more cluttered with literally hundreds of private Acts giving local authorities necessary regulatory powers. Many of those powers have been superseded by public general legislation and many have fallen into disuse. For others, however, there is a continuing need.
With the reorganisation of local government in 1974 there came the opportunity to clear the statute book of superfluous or obsolete provisions and allow the new authorities to start afresh. They could take to themselves only those powers that could be justified in modern times, and make them readily accessible in new legislation.
Section 262 of the Local Government Act 1972 provided that all private legislation promoted by local authorities applying before 1 April 1974 outside Greater London, which had already updated its legislation, should cease to have effect on the metropolitan counties at the end of 1980 and in the non-metropolitan counties at the end of 1984. Incidentally, the Government are planning to postpone the latter time limit until 1986 to give councils more time. We are not generally proposing to postpone the year 1984 for other purposes.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but can he tell us whether the Bill applies to Scotland as well as to England and Wales?
§ Mr. Raison
No, it does not. The intention was that before the expiry of their legislation local authorities should review their extant powers and seek to re-enact those that were necessary for the late twentieth century and beyond.
Where similar or identical provisions are required by local authorities—and that often happens—it is obviously 904 a waste of time and money for individual authorities to have to promote private Bills to obtain them. General legislation is more appropriate. Soon after local authority reorganisation, therefore, a number of commonly needed provisions were identified and enacted in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976.
Valuable as that Act was, it did not cover all the common ground, and even during its passage the local authority associations were pressing for a second measure. The Bill is the result of discussions held with the associations. They fully support the selection of items in it, nearly all of which are precedented in post-1974 local legislation. It will reduce the length of Bills that are being, or will be, promoted by those of their members that have not yet done so, and it is hoped that it will remove the need for some of them to promote any rationalisation legislation before 1986.
Authorities that will not have to promote Bills will be relieved of the expenditure that would otherwise have been involved; others will benefit from more modest, but still useful, savings. The additional administrative costs that will be imposed by provisions contained in the Bill will be minimal, and in many cases will be met by fees. Only one or two provisions, for instance the licensing code for public entertainments, are mandatory. All the others are adoptive, and authorities that choose to take these powers would probably have done so anyway by means of private legislation. Where they incur additional costs, therefore, they will do so of their own choosing, rather than as a necessary consequence of the Bill.
I have already referred to the criteria that have been applied in selecting items for the Bill. They should be desired by local authorities generally, which all of these measures are. There must be evidence of general need, for instance being precedented in recent local Acts. This is not a Bill that introduces untried or radical provisions the effect of which cannot be predicted. Similar measures to virtually all those contained in the Bill are already in force in one or more counties in England and Wales and, as far as we know, are working well.
The third criterion is that provisions should be uncontroversial. I shall dwell on that aspect a little, because with a Bill with such a wide scope there are bound to be criticisms that the Government have not gone far enough and that we could easily have given local authorities additional powers which are already precedented in private legislation.
Part of the reason for our approach is lack of parliamentary time and our desire to put the Bill on the statute book as early as possible this Session so that local authorities that have Bills before Parliament may seek to withdraw duplicating clauses. The inclusion of controversial provisions could, of course, delay us considerably. But there is a point of principle as well. If a provision is contentious, it should not be slipped into a Bill of this sort. It should be promoted in private legislation so that each local authority is forced to satisfy Parliament of its need and so that local objectors' petitions may be fully considered.
Turning now to the contents of the Bill, it is, of course, hard to find a common thread running through a miscellany. A substantial part of it, however, concerns the introduction of two new licensing schemes for operation by district councils. Clause 1 introduces schedule 1, which 905 contains a new mandatory code for the licensing by district councils of public entertainments which involve music and dancing or boxing and wrestling.
At present, outside London, which has had its own system since 1965, there is a patchwork of controls operated by local authorities or licensing justices. There has been pressure for some time for a standard system operating throughout the country that would ensure the physical safety of members of the public who attend such entertainments and protect neighbouring residents from noise and other forms of disturbance. The system that operates successfully in London has been slightly modified to suit the differing needs of the rest of England and Wales. The main difference is that in London open-air entertainments are licensed, whereas in the proposed code licensing controls will be restricted to entertainments taking place inside a building.
Licensing will be in the hands of the district councils. We had a choice between vesting control with the county councils, with the district councils or with the licensing justices, but decided that the district council, as the elected body closest to the particular need of its area, was most appropriate.
A more complex licensing system is introduced in clause 2, which deals with street trading. It provides an adoptive system of control which is a refinement of the many local Act provisions already in force. District councils, which are again to be the licensing authorities, have four options. They may prohibit street trading entirely in particular streets in their area and permit it uncontrolled in others. Alternatively, they may designate streets in which a licence to trade is required.
The licensing control is fairly tight and includes provision to levy charges on licence holders for services such as refuse removal, but it attempts to strike a balance between the needs of street traders to earn a living and the needs of councils to keep disruption and dirt to a minimum. Where less control is needed, the council may designate streets as consent streets, for which only their consent to trade is necessary. The differences between the two systems of control are rather complicated, but broadly the licensing system is intended for the control of fixed stalls and markets where traffic must be diverted and refuse accumulates, and the consent system for the control of itinerant traders, whether they have vehicles, barrows or carry their wares.
Clauses 3 to 6 provide two separate forms of control over refreshment premises. The first enables the district council to require the closure of take-away food shops between 11 pm and 5 am in order to prevent disturbance to neighbours. The second remedies an anomaly in the Late Night Refreshment Houses Act 1969, which at present enables licensed premises to stay open without any form of control to serve food after the normal closing hour for the serving of drinks.
Clauses 7 to 9 amend the existing law on fire precautions. Clause 7 provides that before exercising its powers relating to the entrances to and exits and means of escape from certain public and other buildings, and before licensing or providing a caravan site, the local authority—that is, the district council—shall consult the fire authority—that is, the county council. Such consultation already takes place on an informal basis but it seems desirable to provide a statutory requirement. A 906 similar provision is included in paragraph 4 of the licensing system for public entertainments and together these provisions demonstrate the extent of the important assistance which the fire authorities provide to the district councils in carrying out their licensing and other responsibilities.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
Bearing in mind that my hon. Friend and I were elected to reduce controls and to increase freedom, will he give me an assurance that the Bill, which provides more controls over take-aways and late night refreshment places, over tattooing and ear-piercing, and over the paving of courts, yards and passages, is consistent with our view that there should be fewer restrictions on the individual and that there should be less public expenditure by local authorities?
§ Mr. Raison
I take that point. It is certainly not my desire to use the Bill as a vehicle for massive increases in public intervention and public expenditure. What the Bill is doing, essentially, is picking up powers that exist across the land in the form of a great many local Acts and consolidating those powers into public general legislation so as to make sure that we do not have a proliferation of Act-making—which will be a relief to local authorities and to the House. Therefore, I think that I can say with some confidence that it is one of the purposes and merits of the Bill that it will reduce public effort rather than increase it.
Clause 9 is designed to provide firemen with additional protection. It relates to electrical signs which operate at high voltages and pose a serious hazard to firemen called upon to deal with a fire or undertake a rescue at premises where such apparatus is installed. An owner or occupier would be required to install with any such apparatus a cutoff switch which can readily be identified by firemen and used in an emergency. In practice, most existing installations will already have such a switch by virtue of local legislation.
Clause 10 is the exception to the rule of the Bill. Instead of conferring or enabling a local authority function, it removes one. It repeals the Theatrical Employers Registration Acts 1925 and 1928, which, as their titles suggest, require the registration of theatrical employers with the local authority. This simple control, which was designed to prevent employers from decamping without paying their employees, is no longer necessary. This provision alone extends to Scotland.
Perhaps I should apologise to the now absent right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart). There is one provision that extends to his country.
Clause 11 makes an amendment to the Public Health Act 1976 which will enable the police to take proceedings in respect of offences against local authority byelaws without the consent of the Attorney-General. This is not a real extension of police powers, since the police are not the primary enforcing authority for byelaws, but it is a useful reduction in bureaucracy on those occasions when they do become involved.
Clauses 12 to 15 enable local authorities to assume powers to require the registration of persons practising acupuncture, tattooing, ear-piercing and electrolyis and of their premises and to make byelaws to ensure that proper standards of hygiene are observed. All these operations involve the puncturing of the skin and there is a risk of 907 infection if high standards of cleanliness are not maintained. Registered medical practitioners and, in the case of acupuncturing, dentists are exempt from control.
Here we are introducing something that is, to some extent, new, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) will feel that the public health aspects justify it.
Clauses 16 and 17 assist local authorities in carrying out their statutory responsibilities under the Food and Drugs Act 1955 and subordinate hygiene regulations by requiring traders selling unpackaged food from a stall or container to register themselves and the storage premises with the district or London borough council. Registration provides the council with basic identifying information by which to trace and advise traders.
Clauses 18 to 20 amend existing legislation relating to highways. Clause 18 and schedule 4 repeal and re-enact with modifications section 213 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 by inserting a new part into the Highways Act 1980. Section 213 presently empowers a local authority to carry out works, place objects or structures, provide facilities for recreation or refreshment, and plant lawns, trees, and so on, on highways pedestrianised under section 212 of the 1971 Act. The Bill extends this power to other forms of highway over which there is preponderantly a right of way on foot only, and empowers authorities to permit other persons to provide amenities.
As to clause 19, the appropriate authority may at present require persons responsible for premises bordering highways to prevent water from the premises from falling on passers-by and from flowing over the footway. In the interests of road safety, the clause extends this provision to include the carriageway and will, for example, enable local authorities to reduce the risk of ice forming on the roads in cold weather.
As regards clause 20, consent is required for certain forms of construction under any street in Greater London or under the carriageway alone elsewhere. The clause requires prior consent for any part of a building under any part of any street and will enable the authority giving consent to satisfy itself that, when constructed, the part of the building under the street will support the street and the vehicles and their loads using it.
Clauses 21 to 25 deal with public health. Clause 21 reenacts section 56 of the Public Health Act 1936 and extends to industrial and commercial premises existing powers of a local authority under that section to require courts, yards and passages abutting dwellings to be paved and drained.
Clause 22 amends section 92(1)(d) of the Public Health Act 1936 and section 16(1) of the Clean Air Act 1956 to enable the local authority to use its statutory nuisance powers for the protection of any person—not just inhabitants—from nuisance.
Clause 23 re-enacts sections 17 and 18 of the Public Health Act 1961 and extends to waste pipes existing powers of a local authority under the sections in relation to drains. The financial limits on the cost of repairs to drains and remission of charges are increased to take account of inflation.
Clause 24 re-enacts and extends section 29 of the Public Health Act 1961 to enable a local authority to serve notice of its requirements on persons demolishing a building before the demolition starts. At present, a person may demolish a building before a local authority has had time 908 to make known its requirements in the interests of safety and so on. There is also no requirement at present for a person intending to demolish to notify adjoining owners.
Clause 25 enables a local authority to secure unoccupied premises against unauthorised entry, or to prevent them becoming a danger to public health, if they are not effectively secured against such entry or are likely to become such a danger. Insecure buildings are often subject to unauthorised entry by thieves, vandals, vagrants and children.
Clause 26 re-enacts and extends section 126 of the Housing Act 1974 to enable a local authority to enforce a positive covenant against the covenantor's successors in title where the authority entered into the original agreement to facilitate the use of land rather than its development.
Clause 27, which by an oversight, for which I apologise, was omitted from the explanatory memorandum, amends the Local Land Charges Act 1975 to allow local authorities to keep local land charges registers otherwise than in documentary form, for example by computer.
Clause 28 enables a district council or London borough council, if it so resolves, to require a person holding a temporary market and the occupier of the land to give to the local authority at least one month's prior notice so that it may make whatever arrangements it may deem necessary.
Clause 29 enables a local authority to insure unpaid assistants against accident and illness.
Clause 30 enables a local authority to dispose of lost and uncollected property after giving at least one month's notice to the owner or depositor.
I believe that all that adds up to a useful package. I commend the measure to the House.
§ Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)
I appreciate the way in which the Minister has led us carefully through the Bill. I can say at the outset that all my hon. Friends, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), who I am glad to see with us, can give a welcome to this useful Bill. It contains an assortment of colourful miscellaneous provisions typical of the Home Office ranging from tattooing and take-away food to ear piercing and the repair of drains.
I commend the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) on his astute observation that perhaps the Bill contains an extension of powers, yet his hon. Friend the Minister seemed to deny that. In the explanatory memorandum the fourth line specifically says:It extends the powers of local authorities".There is no doubt that the Bill does that.
It is both regrettable and ironic that a Bill that has as one of its aims the extension of powers of local authorities is being introduced when the Government have never been more unpopular with local authorities. By tightening their financial control over local authorities, the Government are now forcing them to do less and not more for the ratepayers. I shall return to the financial aspects of the Bill.
My impression of the Bill is that it is both useful and uncontroversial, along the lines of its 1976 predecessor. The Minister states reassuringly that most of the provisions cover matters already dealt with in local Acts in force in many areas of England and Wales. However, the uncontroversial nature of the Bill has generated the 909 dissatisfaction of no lesser bodies than the Association of County Councils and the Association of District Councils. Their complaints are not about the content of so much as the omissions from the Bill.
The Association of County Councils has stated that during the last four years it has been in discussion with the Department of the Environment about the contents of the Bill. It has asked for a number of clauses to be included, all of which were well precedented, but the Department saw fit not to include them on various grounds such as that they were too controversial or that it opposed them on policy grounds.
The association, I believe, perhaps through hon. Members, will press for the introduction of new clauses in Committee. It will continue to urge upon the Ministers during the passage of the Bill that, in the interests of saving not only parliamentary time but local authority money and manpower, those clauses should be included.
Over the last four years the Association of County Councils has discussed no fewer than 196 different items with Government Departments. I have a list of them here. Apparently all failed to be included in the Bill. Presumably if they cannot be included in the Bill, the association will try to include them in the next Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. Who knows how far away that might be?
There is also opposition on the same grounds from the Association of District Councils. It describes a glaring omission from the Bill—the failure to include powers for district councils to assist industry and commerce. They need adequate legal powers to promote and encourage existing and new local industry, especially small firms. Surely the Government will agree that that should receive top priority at this time of severe economic crisis and unemployment.
It is a great concern in the association that the Government have not yet reached decisions on the Burns report, which is a review of the role of local authorities in assisting industry and commerce. There is great uncertainty about the Government's intentions within local authorities and how they should proceed on those matters. Will the Minister tell us whether general powers legislation is ever to be introduced on those matters? If it is to be introduced, can we be told when it is to be expected, so that at least the local authorities can have some idea about if and when they can assist industry? They are in an impossible situation at the moment because they have no powers under the Bill and they do not know whether any will be forthcoming.
I support the criticisms which I believe will be made by other hon. Members during the debate about what is excluded from and included in the Bill. I shall give two examples of problems where there have been public calls for legislation, but legislation has not been forthcoming from the Labour Government or from the present Government. I shall mention areas where local authority powers rather than Government legislation might be a more appropriate method of dealing with the matter. No doubt hon. Members will give their own examples of items which they believe could be included. I shall give just two examples.
910 The first example is the sale of pets. There is increasing public concern and concern among animal welfare organisations about the inadequate controls on street traders and in markets on the sale of pets.
The second example, which is of concern to the Home Office specifically, is the problem of glue sniffing. It is not predominant or rampant over the whole of Britain, but it is a very serious problem in certain areas. This is a Home Office responsibility. There is increasing evidence that this serious practice is spreading among young people in some areas and it is known to take place, to some extent, in my constituency. It can cause and has caused the deaths of young people and its seriousness should not be underestimated. The problem should not be dismissed as a passing craze or fashion. We do not know enough about its incidence because it is not illegal and therefore, presumably, is not reported or the subject of Home Office figures.
There is an early-day motion on the Order Paper at the moment asking the Home Secretary to legislate on this, but he has so far resisted it. The answer is always given that we should educate young people about the dangers of solvent sniffing and that teachers, social workers, youth organisers, the police and parents have that responsibility, not the Government. It is right that that education should take place, but Calderdale council, which covers Halifax, has formed a working party to formulate a byelaw banning the sale of glue to those under 16. It is believed to be the first move by a council to implement local legislation to halt glue sniffing. A working party has been set up which includes councillors, environmental health officers, social services officers, teachers, the area health authority and the police. They are trying to draw up the byelaw, but it is extremely time-consuming for that authority or any other authority. It is also an extremely expensive exercise. In view of the refusal of the Home Secretary to legislate nationally, I should be interested to hear the views of the Government about the appropriateness of this subject for inclusion, if not in this miscellaneous provisions Bill, then in a future Bill.
We understand that part I of the Bill is a mandatory provision. We accept that, although we would ask the Minister two questions. Has it been the experience since 1965 in Greater London, where similar provisions have operated, that if a local authority is itself engaged in the promotion of a public entertainment there is a conflict of interest? Is not the local authority judge in its own cause? What has been the experience with regard to this problem, given the extension of the law which is now to take place?
Secondly, the Minister was not very clear as to why there should be exceptions for open-air events. In this respect, the Greater London model upon which the code is based is not being followed. I listened carefully to the Minister's opening speech, but I did not understand why the needs of places outside London should be different and why there should be exceptions for open-air events.
Part II of the Bill, which deals with the control of street trading, is to be welcomed as street trading may annoy residents and other shopkeepers and cause difficulty of access for vehicles.
We also agree with part III of the Bill, dealing with the control of refreshment premises, as disturbance to neighbours from such premises is a growing problem in some areas. The powers will therefore be welcomed, as will the powers under part IV relating to fire precautions.
911 Part VII provides the possibility for a local authority to require people carrying out acupuncture, tattooing, ear-piercing or electrolysis to register themselves and their premises and to ensure the cleanliness of the conditions in which those activities are conducted. I gather from the Minister's explanation that this does not mean that people carrying on such activities must be registered or that their premises must registered. It is simply a discretionary power available to the local authority in any particular area.
I wish to put to the Minister the possible consequences of that. If there is no byelaw, presumably anybody can set up and practise these professions—"activities" might be a better label—so if he is caught by a byelaw in one area he can simply move to an area where there is no byelaw and continue to practise there. I believe that, even if there is a byelaw, it is too late to act after the event—the event being what the Minister calls the risk of infection, but what I would call the risk of serious disease. I shall return to that in a moment. A byelaw does not prevent people from moving to another area where there is no byelaw and spreading serious disease there.
The health hazards of tattooing and acupuncture are extremely serious. The "infection" to which the Minister refers is an outbreak of viral hepatitis, which may be fatal. Indeed, the problems of serious outbreaks of that disease caused by tattooing and acupuncture have been raised in the House over the years. There was a serious epidemic in Birmingham, and one of my hon. Friends described another which was caused by acupuncture. Such outbreaks are due to unsterilised or infected needles. At present, there are several hundred tattooists and several hundred people practising acupuncture in Britain. Despite the inclusion of this provision, anybody could still set up in undesirable premises and unhygienic conditions and spread the disease simply by moving to an area which has no byelaws. If any provisions in the Bill should be mandatory, this is one. It should not be discretionary.
The same applies to part VII, which deals with the control of the sale of food. People who sell from a container or stall food that is not so packaged as to exclude all possibility of contamination may be obliged by the local authority to register. The local authority may oblige them to register, but it does not have to do so. Again, therefore, if a person wishes to sell food which has the possibility of being contaminated he can simply move to an area where there is no byelaw.
I should like to be assured that the registration of a person selling food will be followed up with adequate inspection measures. Registration on its own will not decontaminate the food or make it completely safe to consume. How does someone qualify for registration? Do adequate inspection arrangements exist to ensure that someone is a fit and suitable person to sell the food? Can we be sure that the food will not be at risk of contamination?
Local authorities are short of money and staff. What incentive is there to adopt these powers if local authorities have no means of enforcing them? There is an increasing incidence, especially in towns, of people selling food or drink other than water in open containers that could well be contaminated. That practice seems to be spreading, not only to shops that are not covered by the Bill but also to people selling from stalls or barrows.
I can understand the reason for making certain powers discretionary. A local authority might need to enforce 912 many of the powers in a particular area. On the other hand, another area might not require those powers. But a basic minimum national standard of public health should apply to the population as a whole; otherwise people in one town could be at risk of viral hepatitis or contaminated food whereas they would not be at risk in another town. We are not talking here about public services. We are discussing the protection of the public from the possibility of harmful practitioners and contaminated food. Serious consequences could arise if a local authority failed to implement the powers contained in those two parts of the Bill.
The Minister was unclear about which powers were mandatory and which discretionary. He said that only one or two were mandatory. Perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but as I read the Bill it looks as if only two parts are mandatory—part I, which covers the licensing of public entertainments, and clause 7, which deals with fire precautions. Are any other parts of the Bill mandatory? Why have only part I and clause 7 been made mandatory? How does the Minister decide what is to be mandatory and what is to be discretionary? What criteria were used? It does not seem consistent or logical to make part I and clause 7 mandatory when the public health parts of the Bill are not.
Has any study been made of the way in which the byelaw powers in parts VII and VIII are operating in some areas? Are they effective? How many cases have been discovered of people operating without a licence or contravening conditions of their licence? It would be useful to have more information about how the byelaws have been operating, and whether they have been effective before deciding to put them on the statute book in a local government Bill.
I now turn to the financial effects of the Bill. At a time when local authorities are being hit by Government financial limits and when ratepayers are rebelling against further increases, these new powers will not be adopted by local authorities if they involve extra cost unless there are extremely compelling reasons for doing so. The explanatory memorandum says that any cost involved in extra administrative workwill normally fall on the person whose activities are being regulated rather than on the ratepayer".Is that not over-optimistic? We are told that a local authority may determine a reasonable fee for licence or registration that will finance the use of these powers. What does the Minister consider to be a reasonable fee?
We are told that the fee will pay for all the administrative work involved. I suspect that the money from such fees will not cover all the work involved. A licence or registration is not an end in itself, but rather a means to an end. If it is to be effective, it involves subsequent supervision and inspection of the practitioners and premises. It involves the supervision of places of public entertainment, take-away food shops and stalls, late-night refreshment houses, the premises of tattooists, acupuncturists and so on. We must ensure that the terms and conditions of the licence and registration are upheld. We must also ensure that unregistered and unlicensed people do not run a business. We must make sure that people observe the byelaws, otherwise there will he no point in having these powers to protect the public.
Additional people will be required, first, to issue the licence or check registration; secondly, to follow that up 913 with powers of inspection; and, thirdly, to deal with any complaints. We are told that all this will be paid for by the licence or registration fee.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Huddersfield, West)
Does the hon. Lady accept that after we license stables or dog kennels someone from the public health department and the fire service must visit regularly? These inspectors carry out work at present. Presumably, they will take on a little extra work. We may have to increase their establishment levels. However, if the charges are similar to those in South Yorkshire, it is possible that local government will be able to recoup the cost. I doubt whether these proposals will cost the ratepayer more money.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The hon. Gentleman said that this will involve a little extra work. How does he know? That is what I am asking the Government. Have they carried out a work-cost exercise to discover how the byelaws are operating at present? These powers are to be extended to other local authorities. Why are the Government so sure that the licence and registration fees will cover the additional work and activity that will be involved? I am asking for the evidence on which their assumption is based.
It seems to me to be wishful thinking for the Government to say that this will all be paid for out of the registration and licence fee. The alternative is that, rather than risk incurring more expenditure or taking on more staff, thus incurring the wrath of the Government or its ratepayers, a local authority may say "Oh well, we will not adopt these powers". That would be regrettable, because the powers are important.
I am grateful to the Department for providing me with notes on clauses. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) introduced a similar measure in 1976 during his time at the Department of the Environment, he arranged for all the members of the Committee to be given full notes on clauses in order to speed the passage of that legislation. I hope that the same generous facility will be provided by the Government this time. This is an extremely detailed Bill, with 33 clauses and six schedules. I assure the House that it will need careful examination in Committee.
§ 5 pm
§ Mr. Marcus Fox (Shipley)
I listened carefully to the two opening speeches and, although there may be disagreement on whether or not the Bill extends powers, there seems to be unanimity about the fact that it is non-controversial. I hate to say, at such an early stage in the consideration of the Bill, that I take exception to clause 3.
Of course I understand that we would not wish the time of the House to be taken up with local Bills promoted by local authorities, but it is essential from time to time that in a Bill with miscellaneous provisions we should try to draw together certain proposals, Acts of Parliament or whatever for the general benefit of all. However, it has not been the practice in a Bill with miscellaneous provisions to break new ground or to include controversial matters. The yardstick must be that such Bills are not a means of extending legislation into new areas. If we do that, the time of the House will be taken up more considerably than the powers-that-be might expect.
914 Let us not forget—I reiterate the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths)—that the Government are not in business to extend legislation any further than is necessary. I remember that we were promised last Session that there would be a diminution in the flow of legislation during this Session. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will make a little room, by removing clause 3 before the Bill gets through its Committee stage, and allow my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment the time that he will need to introduce far more important measures on industrial relations and trade union reform.
In part III, clause 3 deals with take-away food shops. Not long ago that industry could have been described as a cottage industry. It would not be described as such in Yorkshire and the North because it includes fish and chip shops. In the old days that was a staple diet, and it is still a staple diet for many of my constituents. In those days fish and chips shops were the only take-away food shops, but the take-away trade is now big business and it is probably the fastest growing sector in catering. I do not need to repeat names such as Wimpy, McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Chinese take-aways, not to mention Indian take-aways, to remind the House that in every town and city those establishments exist. There are about 10,000 fish and chip shops and about 10,000 other outlets in the fast food industry. They are small businesses that the Government are pledged to support. The people who run those businesses have immense capital tied up in them and anything that the House does should take account of that.
The numbers employed are not minuscule. To remind myself this week, I went along Victoria Street and popped into a certain take-away and counted the number of people employed there. Ten people were working at 9.30 that evening. I enjoyed a pleasant meal for 96p. The bigger take-away food shops employ on average 10 people. If we multiply that figure by the number of outlets, the numbers employed could be over 100,000 and possibly over 200,000. There is also scope for many more jobs and it is in our interest to ensure that in the service industries there should be no bar on expansion that would result in unemployment. Of course, we should also bear in mind that noise, nuisance and litter concern us all and I would not seek to minimise the need to impose strict disciplines in that area.
Clause 3 would allow a district council to close takeaway food shops if "unreasonable" disturbance is caused by their customers. I am worried about the word "unreasonable". In my experience of district councils that word could be used more extensively than the Government hope and, if that were the case, many people would be put out of business.
In the Opposed Private Bill Committee on the West Midlands County Council Bill on Wednesday 21 March 1979 a Mrs. Young was asked about her opening hours. She said:We open from 5 p.m. to 12 midnight from Mondays to Thursdays and on Fridays and Saturdays we open from 12 dinner time to 2 and then from 5 p.m to 1 a.m.Under further questioning she was asked whether she could tell the committee the sort of people who used her shop and, in particular, the people who used it late in the evening—from 10 o'clock onwards. She said that when the pubs closed people came in to buy take-away food. She spoke about shift workers, policemen and taxi drivers. She said that 50 per cent. of her takings were made after 11 915 p.m. That is not unusual. The vast majority of those shops take far more after 11 p.m. than before, and some even later, after 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. She was asked whether she would be able to stay in business if the restrictions—they were the same in that Bill as in this—were imposed. She said that she would not be able to survive and that her business would go bankrupt.
That is not unique. A minority of residents may have a field day at the expense of some well-established businesses that try to provide a first-class service and are extremely conscious of the need to make their customers behave decently in terms of litter and noise. But surely the House will understand that, once people leave those premises, their behaviour on the street is not necessarily controlled by the owner of the premises—just as in licensed premises. Once people have had their final drink and have moved outside the pub, the licensee cannot be held responsible in any way for their actions. It may be said that in terms of the amount of drink consumed the licensee has a responsibility, but no one could seriously say that blame could be directed towards the owners of take-away shops.
I am not sure that giving these powers to local councils will have the minimum effect that the Government believe. I have suggested that the legislation will inhibit further expansion, and perhaps jobs that would have been created will not be created. Who would risk putting large sums of money into ventures of this sort when a local council could order them to close at 11 p.m. and no later?
I know, in my constituency and from my observations, that the busiest times are considerably later. If powers are given, local authorities will, I believe, use them. Hon. Members should not assume that powers put on the statute book will be used only occasionally. I believe that many officials are longing for these powers in order to go into action straight away.
§ Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and, should I catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope to make this point. Many of my constituents are anxious that local authorities should have these powers and that they should make use of them. Those constituents have been making such representations to me for a number of years.
§ Mr. Fox
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I hope to prove to him that already, under existing planning laws, powers are available to councils to take action in this respect.
Clause 3 in particular is misguided. I am opposed to controls that go far beyond what is customary in a Bill of this kind. Hon. Members will know the principle involved in such Bills. They are controversial but the principle has been accepted in previous private Bills. Over the past six years, hon. Members have repeatedly rejected similar clauses to that proposed. I refer to various county council Bills. A classic case is the West Midlands County Council Bill which came before the House in March 1979. This sought to introduce identical legislation for closing hours. It was rejected by the Opposed Private Bill Committee.
Existing planning controls contain adequate provisions to deal with the sort of nuisance that occurs from time to time. It is strange that the provisions of the Bill have been circulated for comment since early this year among local authorities. No such formal steps have been taken in respect of the people who will be drastically affected by 916 the Bill's proposals. I refer particularly to the take-away and fast food industry. If one wants an example of one-sided consultation, I would have thought that this was it.
I have always believed that local government will never be satisfied with the powers it possesses. It will always seek more. The hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) gave the proof. She said that the county councils were not satisfied with what they had been given and wanted more. We should beware of giving our consent to people who are never satisfied on this respect. I cannot help but think that Ministers, in preparing the Bill, thought that it would go through on the nod. I hope that I have managed to disabuse them of that idea.
I wish to talk about planning safeguards and to refer to what Sir Frank Layfield has said. Sir Frank stated:If planning permission is necessary and is sought, the local planning authority may grant permission 'subject to such conditions as they see fit.' However, the conditions must be thought to be 'fit' from a planning point of view. Conditions restricting the time of opening may be validly imposed.In allowing an appeal for a change of use from a cafe to a take-away food shop in a certain case,a condition was imposed requiring that the shop should not remain open after midnight or re-open before 9 am".Sir Frank further said:Similar conditions may be imposed limiting the duration of the permission in order to enable the local planning authority to judge whether the intended development has adverse effects on the neighbourhood.Finally, in evidence before the Committee on the East Sussex Bill on Wednesday 24 June 1981, Sir Frank said:As far as take-away establishments are concerned, they can readily be regulated in one of two ways, First of all, if a consent is to be granted for new premises, it needs planning permission. Not only do the borough know thatbut alsothey can impose conditions relating to hours. In cases where there is a pre-existing planning permission, that is one which either was given before this kind of problem became known or became serious, or where there is an existing use, the borough council have powers to modify and if they have a proper case they will obtain a modification order. In my submission there are no grounds at all for thinking that any serious problem arises in relation to imposing a legitimate and proper limitation of hours where that can be properly established in the particular facts of the case.This Bill will make easier the closing down of well-run premises. I cannot believe that the Government intend that the Bill should lead to this result. With rate increases, rises in fuel prices, not to mention coping with inflation, the retention of clause 3 in the Bill means that the life will be snuffed out of many hundreds of small businesses. The Minister may say hat this will only apply in a few cases. I would say to him "How do you know?" With the powers that will be given to district councils, I take the opposite view. It will be all too easy. For that reason, I wish to oppose that clause.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
I shall speak briefly despite the fact that there seems to be an absence of pressure on the Opposition side for time to be allocated. I wish to deal with part VII which relates to acupuncture, tattooing, ear-piercing and electrolysis. This is a discretionary part of the Bill. The growth of tattooing and ear-piercing has caused concern because it is an interference with the body. One wonders whether the interference is carried out with scrupulous regard for cleanliness and health. This part of the Bill is designed to remedy any omissions in that regard.
917 If it is important, there is no reason why it should be discretionary. Local authorities are finding extreme difficulty in meeting the burden of providing and maintaining existing services. The likelihood is that, because this part of the Bill is discretionary, local authorities will avoid passing resolutions to bring the measures into force.
If this part of the Bill is worth while—in other words, if there is a quantifiable health risk, which presumably there is, or the Home Office would not have made the proposal—it should have been made a requirement upon local authorities. If it were made a requirement, there would seem to be some cost involved, contrary to what is stated in the explanatory memorandum.
The Government should have faced up to the matter and given some sort of financial commitment to ensure that the health risks were eradicated by the action of the local authority. If the argument is that this cannot be afforded, all I can say is that, if there is a real health risk, anything that eradicates a deterioration in health is in the long term of benefit to the nation through the savings on National Health Service expenditure. A long-term benefit would therefore be met in the short term by a slight additional increase in cost. I should like the Minister to explain why this part of the Bill was included and why it is discretionary.
The hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox) has brought to our attention clause 3 relating to the control of refreshment premises and take-away food shops. The hon. Gentleman exaggerated his case by suggesting that local authorities consist of zealots eager to apply all sorts of legislation in an attempt to suppress the activities of people within their area. I do not think that he is right.
I entirely endorse the view that an important take-away food shop—at least in West Yorkshire, and certainly the one with the best standards—is the fish and chip shop. In most areas, though probably not all, fish and chips are excellent food at a reasonable price, contrary to the rumour put about by one hon. Gentleman. I should not want legislation to interfere with this well-established, much-admired and much-used institution in urban areas in my constituency and in the rest of West Yorkshire.
However, the hon. Member for Shipley exaggerates the case about the growth of take-away premises—not fish and chip shops, which have been with us for many years and provide an extremely useful service. There has been a growth of take-away premises and there are cases which involve a conflict between the services that they provide and the peace that is enjoyed by the neighbours to such establishments. The legislation proposes a means of resolving that conflict by means of an order taken out by the local authority.
I may have reservations about clause 3(3), which specifies 11 o'clock as the time at which closing orders should commence—perhaps that should be advanced to midnight—but the Bill contains an apparatus for resolving the conflicts that sometimes arise. I suppose that I cannot quarrel with an attempt to resolve such conflicts, because as Members of Parliament we have all received representations about activities which invade people's peace and the enjoyment of their homes.
I want to enter a qualification about the method of appeal. Once the district council has served the order there is a right of appeal to the magistrates' court. I have doubts 918 about a system of resolving a conflict which has a right of appeal by entry into the legal system, however. The appeal from the magistrates' court is to the Crown court under clause 4(11). When bodies enter our legal system, involving the potential cost of representation, the larger organisation always has the advantage. If the magistrates' court gave a decision which a local authority did not like, that authority would be much more likely to have the means for financing an appeal than would the ordinary shopkeeper.
So, in my view, it is reasonable to ask the Government to have another look at the means of appeal. Certainly there should be a means of appeal, but there is a whole host of appeals which are deliberately kept out of the legal system because of the potential cost that is involved. In matters involving supplementary benefit claims, for example, it is not necessary to go to court. There is a system of tribunals for that purpose. For planning appeals there is a system of appeal to the Minister, and they can be dealt with by an exchange of correspondence. No cost is involved, and people who are nervous do not have to appear before a court. Such a system of appeal might well be considered in this legislation instead of the method that is set out in clause 4.
My final point concerns an omission from the legislation. It concerns a discretionary power of local authorities which has existed for many years and which is specifically exempt from the Bill. For example, clause 9(11) which relates to firemen specifically excludes reference to a licence under the Cinematograph Acts 1909 and 1952, and schedule 1 says:Nothing in this Schedule shall affect … section 7 of the Cinematograph Act 1952".In a Bill of this sort I should have thought that the Home Office could exclude from local authority powers the exhibition of cinematograph films. Those powers are rarely used, and when they are they are used in a way which, by and large, invites ridicule.
I am referring to the powers in connection with fire control and licensing under which some local authorities, on rare occasions, have a rush of blood to the head and decide that a film will corrupt and deprave the citizens. So a group of councillors, no doubt receiving an attendance allowance, go to see a film and emerge, amazingly enough, without being depraved and corrupted. It is not the councillors, but all the other people who see the film who will be depraved and corrupted.
That has not happened for some time, but several years ago it happened in Keighley, when the film "Emmanuelle" was shown and the council decided that it would deprave and corrupt. The council told the cinema manager to withdraw it, although it had been shown 12 months earlier without any noticeably corrupting effects on the population.
Another absurdity was that the film was shown a few miles away in Skipton soon afterwards. Of course, that involved a different local authority which was entitled to its view. Because of the differing views of local authorities, this kind of censorship has been brought into disrepute where it has been exercised. The practice has died down because of the outcry and because people started asking questions about the cost of councillors eagerly queueing up to see these films.
In a Bill of this type I should have thought that that duty could be removed, and a clause could be included simply establishing the British Board of Film Censors as a body 919 which could provide for a film a certificate which could be accepted by a local authority. It would mean that the British Board of Film Censors, which is essentially a trade organisation, was strengthened by representatives of the public at large, appointed by the Minister. It would be seen not purely as a trade organisation, but as a public body. That would retain its independence and ensure that the Home Office could not he accused of censoring all films through a subordinate group. There are a number of bodies which we regard as independent and whose reputations are beyond question. There is no reason why the British Board of Film Censors cannot be established in such a way, thus removing this anomaly.
For example, the Home Office still sends out model licensing conditions for cinemas, and they have to be adhered to as conditions for the cinematic exhibitors' licence which is granted by the local authority. I initiated an Adjournment debate on the matter on 22 July 1976, when the Home Office spokesman promised that the matter would be looked at. One of the conditions was thatNo improper character, prostitute, reputed thief, or other notoriously disorderly person shall be knowingly admitted into or permitted to remain in the licensed premises.That is a vague and antique definition, and it is time that it was overhauled. In any case, it would probably be in breach of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act if the cinema manager suddenly told someone that he thought that he was a "reputed thief". It is an anachronistic phrase. I am sure that, in view of what I said in the Adjournment debate in 1976, the Home Office is aware of the matter. At the time, it was to mull over the proposition. It has been mulling over it for the past five years. The Bill is designed to tidy up the position and to discard some of the otiose legislation that exists. Therefore, the Home Office could have considered including such a provision in the Bill, and I am disappointed that it has not done so. I hope that the Minister will have second thoughts.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Huddersfield, West)
There was a moment earlier when I wondered whether I was in the right debate. It seemed like a textile debate, with the hon. Members for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) and for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley (Mr. Fox), for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) and for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) in the Chamber. That is a good show for Yorkshire.
There is probably a good reason why we are all here. First, Yorkshire is the home of street traders, whom the public seem to love. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said, there are many take-away premises in that part of the country and they are enjoyed. Clause 2 deals with traders. It is right to introduce codes and to extend the powers of local authorities, following the Local Government Act 1972. Many local authorities are seeking such powers and they will get them cheaper if they are extended collectively, by the Government, than if local authorities apply independently.
The public are always mystified and puzzled about street traders. There are several types of street trader, particularly in the North and around London. There are two extremes. Some street traders are licensed by their local authorities and they trade in what are known as "licensed streets". Such traders are popular, and long may 920 they remain. When customers purchase goods from them, they know that the traders will be there if they wish to return them for any reason. People love their street traders.
At the other extreme there is the fly-by-night who deals from a suitcase and is nothing but a rogue. When customers purchase an umbrella from him they usually find that it blows inside out in the wind. Although I am not an expert on ladies' wear, I am assured that people have purchased tights with one leg 6 ins shorter than the other.
§ Mr. Dickens
Of course, that trader will not be in his place the next day, when he is wanted. Hon. Members should be wary of street traders because Christmas is approaching and such traders will be all over the place. Between the extremes there are so-called streets of consent—[Interruption.] At the risk of going into the details—[Interruption.] I must press on with this responsible contribution. Streets of consent need the consent of the local authority. However, there is the disadvantage that areas for stalls cannot be designated in the streets. Therefore, it is not such an orderly system as the licence system.
Ultimately, the public could be protected if street traders were registered for VAT. Some of them might claim that they did not earn enough money to pay VAT. That does not matter. If they are registered, they must stand examination of their books. The production of that certificate would satisfy the public that they are bona fide traders. That would also help in terms of the local authority examination. The Minister might like to consider that idea, but I do not put if forward for inclusion in the Bill.
As the Bill explains, clause 1 covers the following aspects:public entertainments involving music, dancing, boxing, wrestling".As we have heard, those provisions have been in existence since 1965 in the GLC area and they seem to working well. I can see no dispute about them. Such provisions are welcome.
Clause 3 is a variation of the Late Night Refreshment Houses Act 1969. It deals with the closing hours of refreshment premises. I am sorry that I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley. The purpose of the legislation is to give the district power to make a closing order. However, such orders will be made only if establishments are causing a nuisance or a disturbance. That often happens with premises that trade very late at night. They start as modest, sensible establishments for take-away food, but their popularity gradually grows and cars leave public houses en route for the take-away shop. Car doors bang late at night, rubbish is strewn all over the pavements and cans are kicked around. We seek only a provision to enable local residents to protest.
There are protections. The provision extends only to those premises that open between 11 pm and 5 am. The Bill seeks to give a form of protection that would last for three years. It would be possible to close a premises or to make a variation of the conditions. If applied, the order could even be revoked. As a further safeguard, there is an appeals structure. Therefore, local authorities will not be too heavy handed. Where they have cause for complaint, local residents will be up in arms. If they have such cause for complaint, it must be asked whether the disturbance is 921 reasonable and whether the residents should have to tolerate it. Therefore, the legislation is sensible and there is nothing wrong with it.
The Bill does not provide for any central Government expenditure. That is probably why the Opposition are not too excited about it and have been co-operative. I was most impressed by the contribution made by the hon. Member for Halifax. It was a statesmanlike speech from the Opposition Front Bench and I enjoyed listening to it. However, I did not agree with her about local government having to fork out money for such things. In my intervention, I sought to point out that inspectors, such as public health inspectors, often go to refreshment and dining establishments in the course of their work to ensure that standards are being maintained and so on. While they are there they can check about the licence.
Therefore, there is no great financial consideration other than that it will probably save local government money if they do not apply for separate legislation. I hope that many local authorities will withdraw their applications and rely on the Bill. I shall not speak further as many hon. Members are dying to make contributions. I do not want hon. Members to be here all night. I think that I have made my points rather well and I shall leave it at that.
Mr. Michael Newbert (Romford)
I shall present my credentials for entering into the arcane arguments occasioned by the debate on the Bill. I should like—this week at least—to say that I am a former leader and mayor of the London borough of Bromley. Given that council's enterprise, anyone connected with the borough is—at least until Friday of this week—a folk hero in Greater London. I should like some of the credit to rub off on me.
In that capacity I have been privileged to become a member and vice-president of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. I declare that interest, although it involves no financial remuneration other than the opportunity, once a year, of taking cocktails with the leaders of Labour authorities throughout the country. My greatest qualification for entering the debate must be my service on the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 1976. I mention that, not to give an impression of continuity in this sphere, but to show those whose purpose in the House is to observe such things that I regard my membership of that Committee in 1976 as a short service commission rather than as my lifetime's career.
I have described my qualifications for taking part in the debate. The Bill is important in many ways to the people likely to be affected by it. I shall make some points of direct relevance to my constituency. We in Greater London have enjoyed the provisions of the legislation that is now to be extended, under clause 1, to councils outside London.
I should like to make a point about the use of discotheques in public houses. In the Rush Green Tavern in my constituency a large number of young people assemble virtually every night, often in unruly circumstances, and cause disturbance, distress, irritation and offence to nearby law-abiding neighbours. To my astonishment, discotheques are not controlled by licence. The control of drinking by people who are over age is controlled by the granting of a justices full on-licence, 922 where no extension of hours is involved, but the discotheque, which has obvious attractions for young people and brings in larger numbers than the public house can cope with, is not the subject of a music licence. It is not necessary to have a music licence to provide disco entertainment.
That is not the only omission from the Bill, where modern practices are not matched by innovations in the legislation. Disco entertainment is similar to the activities that are involved in the granting of a music and dancing licence and they should therefore be included and brought more closely within the law. More control should be exercised and is called for.
Clause 14 gives councils the power to require proper hygienic conditions for the practice of tattooing, ear-piercing or electrolysis. These are rather exotic activities, but none the less are to be found in most towns, and certainly in my constituency. I wonder whether these activities have been selected by chance. Other treatment such as hair transplants—here I declare an interest—are closely allied to tattooing and are similar in that they involve piercing the skin. There are therefore the same dangers. Are these practices covered by the legislation, and, if not, should they not be so?
Yet another recent innovation is that of sunbeds, which provide a treatment for the beautification of women.
I am told by the hon. Lady that men also use them. The use of sunbeds is not properly controlled. They are an innovation that may have dangerous side effects about which we know little. They can be purchased by hair or beauty salons and used by their employees, who have no medical qualification to enable them to ensure that they are used properly.
Clause 27 relates to temporary markets, which are another modern-day nuisance. If hon. Members wish to understand some of the problems associated with these markets they can go to Buckingham Palace Road on a Sunday, where an offensive display of notices attracts people to a market which has recently started and which has not received the necessary permission.
Efforts to make money are to be commended as enterprise, but they must be within limits. The street trading provisions in the Bill emphasise that people who endeavour to earn a livelihood must not do so in a way that causes nuisance to other law-abiding citizens. The market to which I refer, which is close to Westminster, obviously causes a nuisance.
I also accept in part the argument of the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) that the Government are not being very ambitious or adventurous in the Bill. Five years have elapsed since the last similar Bill. The Government have had plenty of time to introduce measures that might have merit.
The Minister says in connection with clause 10 that it is obvious that it is no longer necessary to register theatrical employers who decamp without paying their employees. That provision presumably goes back to the days of the great actor-managers. Now that Donald Wolfit is dead, it is thought that such a provision on the statute book is no longer necessary. However, that is not an exciting or courageous move when so many other things need to be done.
That brings me to my most substantial point, which relates not so much to what the Bill contains but to what 923 it might have contained if the Government had been more concerned to take responsibility for combating dangerous practices, or practices that cause annoyance and irritation, instead of leaving that responsibility to local councils. I refer in particular to two controversial matters. The first is the question of sex shops—and my hon. Friend the Minister knows about them as the Minister responsible, if in no other connection. The second matter is glue sniffing.
Whatever one's views, it is clear that the Government cannot escape responsibility for considering the implications of the two issues and what action should be taken. Sex shops were thought to be a planning matter and therefore the responsibility of the Department of the Environment. Responsibility has now been passed to the Home Office for control by licensing. In turn, the Home Office has suggested to me and to other hon. Members who receive much correspondence from constituents that the problem should be the subject of a private Bill introduced by the Greater London Council.
I am not persuaded that it is right to let a local authority, however powerful and resourceful, be the stalking horse for that controversial issue. The Government should accept responsibility for sex shops and glue sniffing and introduce legislation to control them. No single local authority can hope to have the resources or the knowledge required to make legislation that would, after all, affect the whole country. It goes without saying that sex is not confined to Greater London. It is to be found in most parts of the country. Glue sniffing is certainly a problem where I live and in ray constituency, and it is widespread elsewhere too.
That the Calderdale council has to introduce a byelaw forbidding the sale of solvents to those under 16 represents a dereliction of duty by the Government. Helpful though it might be to the citizens of Calderdale, many others would like to benefit from such a law. That is possible only under legislation that applies to the whole of the United Kingdom.
On the question of sex shops—a curious and distasteful concept—I believe that for them to be springing up everywhere with no control on their location causes offence to many people. Offence is caused in particular to parents of young children when in a street of shops selling food and other essentials one shop sells the impedimenta of sex.
We have been concerned in recent months to remove offensive publications in newsagent shops from the public eye, especially children's eyes. We are apparently less concerned about the equipment and other material that is made the subject of commercial exploitation in a way that goes beyond what any of us would regard as reasonable. Commerce should flourish by all means, but it is necessary in some circumstances to control the licensing of such shops. I support that recommendation.
I hope that if such legislation is eventually passed through the House—either through this Bill or through a general powers Bill of the Greater London Council—it will be retrospective and that local authorities will be able to go back to the beginning and decide where such shops should be located At the moment, groups of citizens are in uproar, picketing such shops and being encouraged to violence and vandalism to express their outrage at the way in which such shops can appear anywhere, even near to schools, where young children pass them every day.
To that limited extent I welcome the Bill, which will be of use to local authorities and to their ratepayers. 924 However, people in the Home Office must be more nimble footed. They are not "spring-heeled Jacks". Many issues affect local authorities where the powers are needed and where movement would be welcome. Although I stress that I have no wish to participate at length in deliberations on such Bills, I look forward to the next debate.
§ Mr. Martin Stevens (Fulham)
It has been a breath of fresh air this afternoon to tackle this Bill. Although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox) said, it contains, and doubtless will contain, disputed elements, the controversy will not be on party lines. There has been a light-hearted mood. Even the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) made his contribution in a whimsical and cheerful manner.
I welcomed, as did my hon. Friends, the contribution of the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill). I agree with what she said—that without seeking to introduce new matters into the Bill, it must be improved and added to in many areas. I hope that my hon. Friends the Minister of State, Home Office and the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment will adopt an open-minded attitude when the Bill is considered in Committee and will permit a more than usually generous consideration of amendments and new clauses from members of the Standing Committee. That may make service on the Committee a positive and worthwhile undertaking and not the and chore that it can be for the Government's Back Bench supporters.
An example of the sort of matter that means so much to those concerned and perhaps rather less to local government organisations or to hon. Members is that part II refers to street traders. Street traders are not always articulate in presenting their needs and aspirations to national and local legislatures. A few weeks ago 22 of the North End Road street traders in my constituency of Fulham were taken to court and heavily fined, after a fair warning from the inspectors that they were in breach of the street trading regulations because they were not wearing washable outerwear. The courts interpret washable outerwear as meaning a white linen coat, but there is nothing in the words to imply that that is what street traders must wear. I imagine that all of us are wearing washable outerwear.
§ Mr. Stevens
That is not yet a subject for legislation by the House.
I hope that we shall adopt a flexible approach to such matters to tidy up many uncomfortable points. If one considers the operation of local government and councillors' priorities of expenditure, it is easy to put high expenditure that benefits a small number of citizens ahead of those wider requirements, such as cleaning the streets, that affect everyone. If the Bill is to be as successful as we hope, it must benefit as many people as possible.
As to licensing, I am in a white sheet over the Ten-Minute Bill presented in the previous Session by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) when he asked us to provide for the licensing of space invader machines. I wonder how many of us were fully aware of what those machines meant. The fact that one puts 50p in and can expect, as the Bible would say, to take nothing out means that the machines do not require licences. The adverse effects of unlicensed space invader machines are the same 925 as the adverse effects of unlicensed "penny-in-the-slot" machines—I suppose they are now "10p-in-the-slot" machines—in amusement arcades. The character of a shopping centre can be changed in 24 hours by the introduction of machines that attract children and persuade them to spend a great deal of money. They are a nuisance in shops ostensibly aimed at other objectives.
I also believe, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) said, that we should consider the licensing of sex shops. I do not share the austere severity of my hon. Friend in claiming to be the arbiter of what our fellow citizens should buy or do in the way of sexual apparatus and appliances. I hope that, whatever they decide to do, they have a fine day for it. However, I recognise that in many areas, especially in Central London where I live, streets that formerly catered for the everyday needs of local residents are taken up by more profitable sex shops. It would be more reasonable if those shops were spread out, in the same way as betting shops or newsagents, under the guidance and determination of the local authority. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will give some thought to the matter.
The hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) went a little far in urging that wherever a measure contained in the Bill was desirable it should be made mandatory. Most of us find that with the much greater self-awareness, self-confidence and civic interest of ordinary citizens—which are welcome—local authorities which did not trouble to take advantage of the powers that we propose to give them would soon find themselves in an untenable position with their electorate.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I wish to correct what the hon. Gentleman said. I said that I appreciated that certain of the miscellaneous provisions were suitable to be discretionary, but that those which my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) mentioned concerning public health should be mandatory.
§ Mr. Stevens
Those are matters for discussion.
The only point that I wanted to make is that often local authorities are unable to do what they and our fellow citizens would like them to do, because the powers that Parliament gives seldom keep pace with the development of our society.
However, I would go along with the hon. Lady if she were willing to extend the provision for food and drink to cover a scandal that has only lately come to light concerning unfit meat. We may be trespassing on the preserves of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the food and drugs legislation, but Mr. Bruce Cova, the environmental health officer of my borough, and his professional organisation, the Environmental Health Officers Association, with the support of our councillors, have done the country a signal service in bringing to light a mammoth abuse of the free enterprise system—the sale of poisonous and unfit meat for use in pies and other cooked foods.
The practice has affected people's health and has the potential to damage the health of hundreds of thousands of people. From the outcome of the recent court case, there is no doubt that it could have been stopped much more easily had local authorities had greater powers. As it may be difficult to find time for primary legislation on the 926 matter, I hope that we can consider that point, together with the other provisions relating to the sale of food and drink in the Bill.
I associate myself with the point made about the sale of pets in the street. Great indignation has been caused over Club Row in the East End of London. One does not wish to pick out a particular trading centre for censure, but it is a subject on which the public feel strongly and to which Parliament should address itself, since we are here to respond to the legitimate aspirations of our fellow citizens.
We might consider a couple of other little points that lie in the demarcation disputes between those whose business it is to enforce local government legislation. No doubt I shall be told that the Bill would not be an appropriate place in which to deal with widening police powers. However, if small boys climb on to a railway line, as they did the other day, and hurl stones at the greenhouses of those whose property backs on to the line it is ridiculous that, when summoned, the local police should just watch and say that they can take no action as it is a matter for the railway police and not the Metropolitan Police.
It is also absurd that refuse collection should be the responsibility of more than one organisation. The local authority may clean refuse off pavements, but when the area in front of an empty house is filled with disgusting rat-infested rubbish it cannot clear that because it is on private property. Likewise, those whose job it is to clean the streets find that they are prevented from going on to local authority housing estates and, even if they do, the areas of responsibility are so difficult to interpret that years may sometimes go by without rubbish being cleared because of doubt about whose job it is.
We should also consider the responsibilities and consequences of the public utilities digging up roads. In the 1959 Act we made it the local authority's responsibility in the first instance to compensate citizens injured as a result of uneven roads and pavements. However, I doubt whether the enforcement of that provision has been successful. Roads may be dug up on Monday by the British Gas Corporation, on Tuesday by British Telecom and on Wednesday by the area electricity board and on Thursday the BGC may come back again. Ordinary citizens suffer far more discomfort and inconvenience from such practices than from many of the more esoteric matters that we seek to protect them from in the Bill.
I am saying much the same as other hon. Members when I welcome the Bill. I am optimistic that we shall be able to improve and widen it without introducing entirely new concepts of legislation. Those charged with line-byline scrutiny in Committee should take the opportunity to consult more widely than merely with the local authority organisations, which are bound to look at the major areas without perhaps the same detailed look that we can have with those on the ground. If we interpret the process of the Bill through the Committee generously and flexibly, we shall end up with a measure of immense value to our fellow citizens, one in which party politics does not intrude and one which will genuinely leave local government better off than we found it.
§ 6.8 pm
§ Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)
My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) felt that it was pleasant not to have the debate proceeding along party 927 lines. It would be difficult for it to do so, since, apart from a fleeting visit by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), the Labour Party seems to be taking no interest in the Bill. Many of my hon. Friends have left the Chamber for elections that are taking place upstairs, but the House will know that they have attended the debate so far in fairly good numbers. My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) will be back soon. The only hon. Member on the Opposition Benches is a member of the SDP. Were he to intervene, it is unlikely that his comments would be on party lines. If nothing else, the Social Democrats attempt to keep politics out of politics and to run away from controversy.
§ Mr. Gordon Oakes (Widnes)
I wonder whether the Dispatch Box is hiding my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) and myself from the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Garel-Jones
I meant no discourtesy, and I shall refer to the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill). I was referring to the Back Benches. Nevertheless, the Government are accused of dictatorially taking powers away from local government and it is interesting that when a measure that grants local authorities new powers, many of which they have been requesting for several years, is brought forward, the Opposition show no interest in it.
I regret that the House does not have more such measures and fewer of the contentious provisions that we frequently spend so much time debating. Some of my hon. Friends and the, hon. Member for Halifax referred to worthy and uncontentious meaures which need urgent attention and which might have been included in the Bill. We might do they country and ourselves a better service if we spent more time on the perhaps tedious but nevertheless worthy measures for which there is a great need, and less time on contentious legislation.
I welcome the Bill, particularly part III, because it deals with the anomalies that have existed for several years about take-away food establishments. The hon. Member for Keighley referred to fish and chip shops. They are rightly held in high esteem by hon. Members and our fellow citizens, but in a sense they are the precursors of a new industry in take-away food establishments which have caused considerable anxiety to many of my constituents. I shall detain the House by explaining how they were drawn to my attention and I trust that I shall be responding to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox), who felt that there was no call for the proposed provisions and believed that they might be abused by local authorities.
I have with me a petition which I received in the summer of 1980 from the residents of Brixton Road in Watford. It is one of a number of residential streets running off from a main road, St Alban's Road, which is a secondary shopping centre. Brixton Road is full of nice terraced houses into which, in recent years, many young couples have moved. It is an area where young couples often buy their first house. They spend considerable sums of money on the properties and these roads are a good residential area.
In the space of half a mile, St Alban's Road contains no fewer than a dozen take-away food establishments. The Brixton Road residents sent me a petition drawing my 928 attention to the problems posed by such a profusion of take-away food establishments. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, although he is not now in his seat, will read my comments in Hansard, because the views of Brixton Road residents were confirmed by the Victoria and the Tudor residents associations. They were complaining about the consequences of such establishments on all the streets leading off St Alban's Road.
I can do no better than quote what one resident told a local newspaper, the Watford Observer:We are all completely and utterly sickened by what is happening. The shop is open to 1 am and it is worse at weekends—it stays open until 3 am. The noise is so bad that I do not know of anyone who sleeps in their front bedroom. It is a nightmare waking-up on Sunday mornings to see gardens littered with pieces of chicken, empty boxes and some customers even urinate on our walls. It took me five hours one weekend to clean my car.Many people in town centres face and must live with such problems. Local authorities rightly wish to be able to respond to their complaints because it is a serious problem. On receipt of the petition I immediately wrote to the Watford borough council, drew the petition to its attention and enclosed photographs taken by the residents showing the type of devastation that they frequently encounter in their streets. Although I disagree with the borough council on a number of issues, and although it is a Socialist-controlled council, it is an excellent borough administratively, and the authority's officers considered the problem of take-away food shops seriously.
The council officers replied by stating that they and the police would do all in their powers to alleviate the problems posed to residents by the shops. The administration and legal department continued in its reply to me:The petition requested that the shop licences be restricted to 10 pm only every day. Unfortunately, there are no licensing laws applicable to these kind of food premises. The council is asking the Association of District Councils to make representations to the Government that a Bill be introduced into Parliament at an early date to require premises of this kind to be licensed.The council is also asking meto consider introducing into Parliament a Private Bill for this purpose.My reaction to the problem posed by my constituents was to write immediately to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office to draw the problem to his attention and ask whether he would consider meeting me and a deputation from the Watford borough council to put to him the type of problems that the anomaly created. I pay warm tribute to my hon. Friend for the prompt and courteous way that he responded to that request. I link that tribute to my borough council, which provided not only councillors from both parties, but two senior officers who were at our meeting with the Minister of State. Those officers provided the Home Office and myself with an extensive briefing which highlighted the anomaly existing in the law and the difficulties that they had experienced as a result.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
Judging by the hon. Member's earlier remarks, he will not be surprised to know that I am making a non-party political point. I am trying to remember some experiences that I had in local government in the North-West. The right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes)—I am sorry that I cannot still call him my right hon. Friend—may be able to confirm that in parts of the North-West local authorities have the opportunity and power under their own byelaws 929 to control a change of use of premises as a fish and chip shop or take-away establishment. The authorities in the North-West can impose conditions on such establishments.
I was not sure whether the hon. Member was complaining about the change of use of domestic premises to shops and that his local authority did not have powers, as we do in the North-West, to control such premises in relation to hours and licences. He mentioned that Brixton Road had suddenly acquired 12 take-away food shops. Although I do not mean to be disrespectful to his constituents, there must be a market for such establishments or they would have gone out of business.
§ Mr. Garel-Jones
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Naturally, I am unaware of whether local authorities in the North have powers which those in the South do not enjoy. Perhaps I did not explain sufficiently clearly that the takeaway food establishments that are causing the problems in my constituency are all in a main road called St. Alban's Road, off which there are a number of residential roads. I apologise if I did not make that point sufficiently clear.
I was obliged to Watford borough council for the way in which it took up this problem and examined it at committee level in the council, and then provided those councillors and myself with two experienced officers and a very extensive briefing about the kind of problem that Watford borough council faces in attempting to deal with that situation. I do not wish to go into great detail about the briefing provided by Watford borough council, but it is worthy of mention, because my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley sought to imply that local authorities already have full and sufficient powers to intervene and control the opening hours of take-away food shops. That has not been the experience of Watford borough council. It has, in some instances, tested this position in the magistrates' court and it has found itself unable to take action against take-away food establishments of this sort.
I shall read the principal paragraph of the briefing provided by the legal department of Watford borough council. It said:Late Night Refreshment Houses Act 1969. This Act requires that late night refreshment houses be closed between 10 pm and 5 am unless the keeper has taken out a licence which the council is obliged to issue. A licence is only required for premises where food is consumed on the premises and the keeper does have a justices' licence. On the issue or renewal of a licence, the council, if satisfied that it is desirable to do so in order to avoid unreasonable disturbance to residents of the neighbourhood, may impose a condition requiring closure at any time between 11 pm and 5 am. An applicant aggrieved by a condition can appeal to the magistrates' court, and either the applicant or the council could appeal to the Crown court if dissatisfied with the magistrates' decision or to the Divisional court on a point of law.Watford borough council has already taken those steps and has failed to gain any sort of control over the opening hours of take-away food establishments. We have an anomalous situation, perhaps due to the fact that the expansion of this business has been something of a recent phenomenon and that establishments are able to remain open in places such as St. Alban's Road in Watford all night, if they so choose, without the local authority having any power to intervene.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley will have to accept that it clearly cannot be the case that residents in such areas should be subjected to what is very 930 often substantial nuisance and disturbance without their own locally elected representatives having any power to intervene on their behalf.
I hope very much—and I am sure that this will be the case in my own borough, and in other boroughs—that when this legislation goes through the House and borough councils will have these powers they will not be killjoys. When young people, in particular, come home on a Saturday evening, they enjoy and make use of facilities of the sort provided by these establishments. I hope that the owners and proprietors of such establishments will not regard this legislation as being in any way discriminatory against them or that it will in some way put their businesses under threat. I hope that local authorities will use their discretion in the operation of this legislation.
It would be wrong for me to claim that the residents of Brixton Road, the Watford borough council and their Member of Parliament had, single-handed, brought this issue to the notice of Government and had, single-handed, brought about this alteration. Other local authorities have made representations, as has the Association of District Councils, along these lines. However, the residents who drew this problem to my notice about two years ago will be pleased to have followed the way in which their petition went from their Member of Parliament to their district council, from that council to the Minister of State, and from the Minister of State on to the statute book. It is a credit to our democratic process. It speaks volumes for the residents themselves and, in this instance, for a Socialist-controlled borough council in Watford and the way in which the democratic process operates.
As I have said, I only regret that we do not spend more of our time in the House dealing with the many worthy pieces of legislation which officials at the Home Office have gathering dust on the shelves. I hope that we shall bring more of it forward.
The hon. Member for Halifax mentioned one or two items that are excluded from this miscellaneous provisions Bill. They fall to the responsibility of the Home Office, and I, too, am disappointed not to see them included. As it happens, the area in which we have suffered from the problem of take-away food establishments, which is about to be remedied, also suffers from other problems. I shall be attending a meeting with residents there at the end of the week. They are seriously disturbed about the way in which gangs of young hooligans go along the roads terrorising and abusing elderly people. They feel—there is some evidence for this—that many of the youngsters are sniffing glue. It is difficult to gather evidence of that, but a reporter from my local newspaper recently visited a piece of waste land near one of the local schools and found there many plastic bags, which I gather is one clue.
I have raised this matter with the Home Office. It would be unfair to say that the reply that I received was complacent, but I am not yet convinced that the Home Office has taken full cognisance of the concern in many parts of the country about youngsters sniffing glue. The residents of this area of Watford are very disturbed about it. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would give an assurance that this problem is being examined seriously.
The kind of housing that exists in the centre of my constituency is good, beginning-of-the-century terrace housing. Living there are many young people who are determined to uphold their standard of living and the sort of decent community standard of life to which they believe 931 they have a right. In order to do that, in many instances, they need the sort of supportive legislation that is contained in the Bill and, I hope, some of the items which may be added to it in Committee, or perhaps included in another miscellaneous provisions Bill next year.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)
Over the years there has been much discussion about the respective roles of local authorities and the Government. The subject of local democratic control and local accountability is one that rightly deserves the close attention of ho n. Members. However, whatever the controversial nature of such decisions on the continuing evolution of this country's governmental system, and the development of the means of financing the tasks that we expect of it, there can be little doubt about the overall welcome given to the Bill. It is a clear example of the Government endeavouring to assist local government by enabling it to exercise certain important powers for the benefit of the community that it seeks to serve.
My hon. Friends and I hope that we shall be able to see the Government enabled to devote less of the time of the House to passing legislation. The vast majority of our constituents are convinced that we need less rather than more law. In many respects, there is undoubted truth in that belief. The Bill, although to a modest extent increasing the size of the statute book, manages to fulfil in part that desire. Rather than a continual flow of individual Bills sponsored on a local authority basis, many of the clauses will provide a framework for action without further recourse to Westminster, which is an admirable saving in time, energy, finance and bureacracy, and which the already hard pressed ratepayer and taxpayer will surely appreciate.
In my constituency of Welwyn and Hatfield, and in other parts of the county of Hertfordshire, for some time there has been a recognition of the need for local authorities to be empowered to control street trading more effectively. The unfair competition that can result from local traders being forced to compete with vans parked outside their premises, selling virtually identical products, but without the same overhead constraints of rates and rents, not surprisingly creates town centre tensions. The discovery by would-be shoppers of parking areas taken up by such forms of trading does not engender harmony. The part of the Bill dealing with street trading is therefore destined to be of considerable benefit to local communities.
A number of other items also of particular significance in the Bill are concerned with matters affecting public health and safety. Whether the sale of food to the public, the registration of people indulging in various activities which involve personal hygiene, the requirements over drainage mechanisms or the provision of enhanced fire precautions are considered, the need for such action by the Government is clear.
Two other key elements in this legislative proposal are the prevention of unreasonable disturbance to local residents from take-away food premises during the night and the extension of the protection of any person from the effects of waste products and contaminated air. Those clauses, together with additional improvements to such items as the licensing of places for public entertainment 932 and the provision of improvements to pedestrianised highways and footways, can be of immense value to local people.
However, concern has been expressed that the Bill does not contain controls on sex shops and glue sniffing. I recognise that those are perhaps more controversial items, but I believe that the concern is well founded. I urge the Government to consider carefully whether those serious omissions can be rectified. I am certain that if that were done it would be greatly appreciated by the general public, who seek positive action.
I am a firm believer in minimum interference in the life of the individual. All Governments should be circumspect when bringing forward further legal provisions that must inevitably place certain controls upon the citizen. In the Bill we have an example of legislation fulfilling its fundamental role of the protection of the lifestyle of the individual. Therefore, the Government are right to have decided upon this measure so that by such controls upon certain citizens the overwhelming majority are better able to be safeguarded.
In a society that becomes more complex and interdependent, it is encouraging to see before us legislation that provides an increased opportunity for decentralised decision making. It is true to the traditions of the Conservative Party in that it enhances self-help, thus enabling local authorities to be more self-dependent.
Many of the subjects covered in the Bill will have a significant bearing on local communities at varying times. Therefore, the Government deserve widespread support for bringing forward the measure, which should be broadly welcomed.
§ Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)
My constituency in Southampton will welcome the Bill with open anus. For a long time there have been difficulties, certainly with take-away shops. Southampton district council tried to cure those difficulties by licensing some of the take-away vans which park in the middle of car parks, trying as much as possible to keep them away from residential areas. There are always problems with the waste that is thrown away after the person has eaten the food. Troubles sometimes surround the vans late at night.
Although the public welcome the opportunity in a seaport such as Southampton of getting a meal at any hour of the night, sometimes that is not to the benefit of the citizens. It is only by licensing the car parks that the local authority has been able to keep that problem under control. Therefore, the additional powers to close an undesirable take-away shop from the hours of 11 pm to 5 am will be welcome.
The emphasis of the Bill is on the protection of the public and the control of certain areas of public entertainment. We have had a great problem in Southampton mainly because it is a seaport. There is an established red light area which has achieved a certain notoriety. Television has told the nation of the dangers of Southampton arising from the presence in a residential area of many established houses of ill repute. The problem is increased because it is an area in which there are ethnic groups trying to maintain a high standard of living.
All the licensing in the Bill mainly concerns the pleasurable side of entertainment such as music, dancing, wrestling, boxing and "similar activities", whatever those are. Nevertheless, there is a great need to bring in more 933 licensing, not only of sex shops, which is vital, but of ladies of ill repute who sell their wares. I do not know whether that is in the scope of the Bill.
Southampton district council has gone far beyond any requests that I have made this evening. It has given an opinion paper to the Law Commission asking for a complete review of that area of law. At the same time, it went so far as to ask for a legalised premises in Southampton in a pre-destined area where the practice of prostitution could come under some control. It did that because of pressure by residents in the area that were suffering most from kerb crawlers and from females accosting people who were on their way home from work in the evening. There is a general feeling that there is a lack of action in the area that is subject to the inflow of prostitution.
Whether or not the Bill might ever cover such licensing in the future, there are clearly blank spots which leave local authorities completely helpless in circumstances such as I have described. The police do as much as they can, but the fines imposed by the magistrates' court on the young and occasionally not-so-young ladies involved are derisory and are willingly paid as part of the penalty—almost as the licence fee—for operating a trade or profession of that nature.
It may be in the virile mind of the Minister to reply that most of what I have said does not fall within the provisions of the Bill. Nevertheless, it is food for thought that not only are professions of that kind carried on in residential areas, but the number of sex shops is escalating beyond all control, so much so that women pickets stand outside in an attempt to stop them trading. It is not very gratifying to see that in one's constituency. In addition, premises are increasingly being used for the showing of blue films. As the Minister will know, there is practically no way to close such premises immediately. There are appeal procedures and a hundred and one other factors of which the proprietors of such shops can take advantage. Moreover, when they are finally moved on, they can set up shop in other premises the same day.
The whole area of activity to which I have referred should certainly be examined with a view to inclusion in a future miscellaneous provisions Bill. The whole of this rather sordid side of so-called public entertainment should be examined.
The Bill deals with many other matters which I should have thought went almost in tandem with those that I have mentioned. The provisions relating to public health are surely associated with some of the points that I have made. It is ludicrous that in certain areas—again, seaports are classic examples—tattooing, ear-piercing, acupuncture and, indeed, almost any practice may go on, without control, in the sleaziest accommodation with practically no hygiene, and probably catering for a clientele unaware of the dangers involved.
The whole of the Bill is good in substance and I hope that it will be good in effect. It could easily be broadened at a later stage. Having warned of how in a major seaport such as Southampton the sleaziest side of life may gain control, and with those slight reservations, I accept the Bill in its entirety.
§ Mr. Tony Durant (Reading, North)
I welcome the Bill. I welcome particularly the provisions dealing with take-away food shops. They have caused a problem in my constituency for a long time. One particular shop in the middle of a residential area has caused great offence and difficulty. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox) said that the point was covered by existing legislation. I have been into the matter as thoroughly as I can, and I am subject to correction, but I do not think that in relation to existing premises covered by the present planning law it is as simple as he suggests. It is extremely difficult to control the problem, and it is therefore necessary to provide for it in the Bill. My hon. Friend's fears are unjustified. Closing a shop from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m. will not damage a successful, useful business. That is a worthwhile provision, and I welcome it.
I also welcome a number of other provisions, some of which have been mentioned, while others have not. I am interested in part IV dealing with fire precautions, with particular reference to caravan sites. Two very nasty fires have occurred on caravan sites in my constituency. Regrettably, caravans are highly inflammable and if they are not laid out efficiently and well with fire brigade cooperation one may set light to another. For that reason, as a result of my experience, I welcome that important provision.
With regard to part VIII, dealing with the control of the sale of food to the public, I am fortunate in having in my constituency a very good public health officer. He has instituted a competition between all the restaurants, butchers' shops, vegetable shops and so on for an annual cleanliness award, with a certificate that the proprietor can then put on display. The result has been to clean up the entire area. Indeed, he tells me that it is becoming increasingly difficult to place traders in first, second or third positions because standards have risen so much and they are all doing such a good job keeping their premises clean and tidy, and looking after food in a hygenic manner. This is of great importance to the general public. I therefore welcome part VIII.
Clause 19 refers to the powers of the appropriate authority under existing legislationto prevent surface water … flowing on to, or over the footway".I should be interested to hear from the Minister what that is about. It is an interesting point, but I do not understand what it means. I also welcome the extension of powers to local authorities with regard to blocked drains and so on. I presume that this applies particularly, for example, to empty premises which may cause difficulties in neighbouring premises. That, too, is greatly to be welcomed.
It is interesting to note that most of the Bill relates to problems of which Members of Parliament have had experience through their constituents having brought them to us. I am delighted that there has been a response. We have all written to successive Governments on these matters. At least we now have a Bill which seeks to deal with them.
Finally, like other hon. Members, I believe that there are important omissions. I agree that something should be done about sex shops. I have indeed cited in the House an example in my constituency in which a sex shop is situated next door to a Baptist church. That is not good enough. 935 There should be some way to deal with that. The Government should get a move on because there is widespread concern about this.
When the Government speak of registration, I am somewhat concerned as registration tends to give an air of respectability. We should therefore be careful when considering such a course of action. Nevertheless, we must find some way to curb this offence which upsets ordinary citizens going about their daily business. Shops of this kind are springing up all over the place. I should therefore welcome a further examination of the problem and the possibility of including it in the Bill.
With those few remarks, I welcome the Bill in general. I particularly welcome the provisions with regard to takeaway food shops—a subject on which I have been battling for some time. I shall now be able to take the correspondence out of my files where it has lain for about two years and write to the people concerned to tell them that at last something is being done.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
Like many other hon. Members, I have had the privilege to take part in the Committee proceedings of a number of private Bills. Those who have not had that privilege have nevertheless heard many debates on the Floor of the House with regard to such legislation. Anyone with that experience must welcome a Bill of this kind, which introduces into national legislation greater conformity on matters which I believe are of genuine national interest.
My real criticism, therefore, is that it has taken so long to introduce legislation of this kind. The explanatory memorandum emphasises thatThis Bill provides for matters which are commonly dealt with in local Bills promoted by local authorities in response to the general repeal of their local legislation brought about by the Local Government Act 1972.One wonders why so much time has been spent in producing so many private Bills, necessitating so much private provision and private expenditure, when at this late stage national provisions are finally to be introduced.
Perhaps we should have had the foresight in 1972 to ask "Why leave all this to private legislation if in 10 years' time we shall introduce national legislation to establish an element of conformity throughout the country?" I suspect that we have wasted both time and money.
However, I warmly welcome the Bill, but, like other hon. Members, I think that there are several other matters that could be introduced at a later stage.
I start with the provisions dealing with take-away and late night food shops. I think that I am right in saying that all the Committees that have dealt with this issue would have welcomed a national rule. We now have a patchwork quilt of provisions, with powers that vary from one district or county to another. I cannot believe that that is defensible.
At present, a county council must prove special local need to be granted powers to limit the hours of business of certain take-away restaurants. In some cases the county council proves its case, but in others it does not. That is unsatisfactory. It is clear that the powers are inadequate for local authorities to issue late night closing orders on take-away cafes that have existing planning permission. I did not hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox), but I think that I would have disagreed 936 with him. It is right that these powers should be given to all local authorities so that they can apply contrPols, just as they do in respect of other refreshment establishments.
We all recognise that these late night restaurants and take-away cafes provide a genuine need. There is a real consumer demand for them. No one wants to be a killjoy or to prevent their operation, nor do we want to make it difficult for people to obtain food late at night. Indeed, this is what a consumer society is about. All that we are saying is that other people have rights and that local residents who have complaints about litter or late night noise should be able to register their complaints with the local authorities, which should have the power to apply rules of this kind. I warmly welcome this provision, but I re-echo the point that I made earlier. Why have we waited so long when it is clear that these proposals have been with the Home Office for quite some time?
The same argument applies to many other provisions in the Bill. I am thinking in particular of the registration of acupuncture, tattoing, ear-piercing and so on. We have gone to tremendous trouble to introduce such provisions into private Bills, and now they are contained in this measure. This is very much a national issue. No one can pretend that the registration of acupuncturists in one area but not in another is a local matter. It is right that such a provision should be enshrined in national legislation.
It is not particularly attractive to see acupuncture linked with tattooing and ear-piercing. Acupuncture is an impressive and highly respected form of medical treatment, yet, by dealing with it in this fashion, it seems that we are reducing it to a less respectable level. Many highly reputable and respectable organisations control the activities of acupuncturists. My hope is that the provisions in the Bill will not reduce their status in society, because acupuncture provides great opportunities to improve medical practice. It might be better if acupuncture were dealt with on the same basis as other medical practices.
Perhaps my hon. Friend can satisfy me about the control of street trading, particularly the sale of food from mobile vehicles. These are increasingly becoming a feature on our highways. This is a controversial issue. In many areas there are complaints about mobile cafes situated alongside major roads. Admittedly they provide a valuable service to passing motorists, but complaints are received from established cafes, which have gone to all the expense of providing toilet facilities and other amenities—as well as paying rates—about their trade being reduced by caravan operators who incur none of those obligations. At present, we do not get a satisfactory answer when this matter is raised with the Department of Transport or the Department of the Environment.
There are two views. Generally speaking, people welcome the facilities that these mobile cafes provide. On the other hand, there is a feeling that they ought to be controlled or licensed and that they should at least bear some of the costs incurred by more permanent establishments. Does the Bill provide for local authorities and district councils in any way to license or control these wayside mobile cafes? If so, does that power extend only to the local highways, or does it include trunk roads within the district?
If the Bill contains no such power, perhaps its scope will permit an amendment at a later stage to deal with this matter. I believe that such a provision would be welcomed by many local authorities for which this has been a problematical area for a long time.
937 The idea of licensing sex shops has been referred to and supported by so many hon. Members that I feel that an amendment to that effect, either in Committee or on Report, would receive widespread support. I hope that the opportunity will arise at a later stage for the House to debate this proposition. The Bill presents us with an ideal opportunity to do so.
I appreciate that this is a different area. One does not want to be over-puritanical on the one hand or too permissive on the other. We recognise that the establishment of sex shops causes great offence to many people. Generally speaking, a proliferation of such shops is undesirable. Surely local authorities should have the final decision. I do not think that this matter can be dealt with adequately by the planning system.
This is not an easy issue, but we must grasp this nettle and introduce a licensing system, even though that will mean difficult decisions for the local authorities. It is right that the local authorities should have that power of decision. I therefore hope that we shall be able to debate such a proposition at a later stage. I should support such a proposal.
Provisions relating to the notification of street processions are not contained in the Bill. Such matters have beencommonly dealt with in local Bills".The House has been involved in heated arguments about street processions, and the matter has led to great argument on many occasions when we have considered private Bills. This is a Home Office Bill, and I should have thought that street processions required a national policy.
I cannot understand why in Brighton one should have to give two or three days' notice of a procession, whereas the notification period in central London is different. It varies from area to area. In some areas, two, three or even seven days' notice have to be given, while in other areas there is no such obligation. Surely that is a question of national, not local, policy and yet it is not provided for in the Bill. I suspect that it is not included because my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is anxious that this should be a non-controversial Bill, but it means that we are passing the buck to private legislation on a matter that is singularly inappropriate for it.
I do not know whether the scope of the Bill will allow the matter to be brought up later and an amendment to be introduced in Committee or on Report. I should welcome that if it could be done, because the issue should be dealt with nationally. I shall be grateful if my hon. Friend will explain in his reply why the Government have decided not to deal with street processions and what his attitude would be if the issue were introduced at a later stage.
I warmly welcome the Bill. It will be helpful to the House and I hope that we can take it even further later.
§ 7.2 pm
§ Mr. Toy Marlow (Northampton, North)
I add my welcome to the Bill. Many of its provisions are very logical, worth while and sensible, and our national legislation will be much the better when they are on the statute book. However, there is one aspect that I and many other hon. Members believe is missing from the Bill, and that is the problem of sex shops, as my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) said so cogently.
938 In Northampton recently, judging by my correspondence and the local newspaper, we have had a rash, if not an epidemic, of sex shops. That is understandably causing a great deal of concern among some sections of the population. It is a matter of concern when the subject of human procreation is reduced, as it seems to be by some of the devices that one hears are provided in sex shops, to a branch of mechanical science, if not dynamics. That properly causes a great deal of offence to many people, who feel powerless to do anything about it.
I understand also that the more sex shops there are, the more peculiar are the pieces of apparatus and documents that exist, and obviously the more likely they are to find their way into the hands of young people in society. Young people could be upset, and their attitude to life and marriage damaged, perhaps irreparably, by what they see. As this is a serious matter, I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would consider the possibility of bringing forward an amendment to deal with it, either in Committee or later.
I understand from my local authority that if premises have planning permission as shops, their use can be changed from selling one item of merchandise to another and there is nothing that the local authority can do about it. If local people are happy to have next door to them or in their local area a butcher's shop, a baker's shop or a candlestick maker's shop, that is one thing, but to replace such a shop with a sex shop is completely and utterly different.
It has been suggested by hon. Members that there should be a separate licensing or planning procedure so that local authorities—local representatives—can have a say in whether the use of premises should be altered from a normal commercial shopping activity to one of these new apparitions that cause so much horror, upset and disruption to many people. Therefore, I add my plea to those of many of my hon. Friends that the Government should look carefully at this growing and severe problem, which causes a great deal of distress to many people. If the Government can respond, there will be a great deal of support within the community.
I am not saying, nor have I said, nor would I say, that, given that there is a demand for these activities, they should necessarily be banned, but different people in different parts of the country have, and are entitled to have, different points of view. As that is the case, within their local authority they should have the right and ability to make local decisions about whether there should be sex shops among them. I hope very much that my hon. Friend will have something positive to say on the matter.
Apart from that, this is a good Bill and I hope that it will go forward as rapidly as possible.
There are other areas within local government that are causing concern, not least of which is the level of domestic rates. I understand that that issue is not included in the Bill, but I hope that the Government will bring forward without any delay, as they have indicated they will, a Green Paper on domestic rates, and I trust that that will be followed, without too much delay, by further legislation. I say that because there is feeling among the public that domestic rating is unfair, unsustainable and something up with which we have put for far too long. The time has come for public demand to be listened to and for fairness and justice to be provided. I look forward to further progress on that issue.
§ 7.8 pm
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
Like other hon. Members, I have been subjected to repeated representations from my local authority, Allerdale district council. I should like to deal with clause 3 and the takeaway food provisions. I welcome the conformity that the Bill seems to impose throughout the United Kingdom, as opposed to the present position where individual local authorities have asked for the introduction of Bills to deal with the problem.
In conversation this evening, I have been able to extract from my local authority a preliminary view on its attitude to clause 3. It feels that it is restricted and that the Government have not been fully aware of the problems of many local authorities. Perhaps the Government have not quite grasped tie problem as it exists in communities where representations are being made by our constituents.
Many of the take-away food outlets today are former fish and chip shops, which in many ways have formed part of the social complexion of the community in as much as they have provided a local social provision. Take-away food shops are a wider area, in that they provide for a wider community. Much of the clientele of the take-away shops, unlike that of fish and chip shops, consists of people coming in from other parts of an area, attracted to a particular shop by the wider nature of the hot food that it provides. In the representations that were made to me tonight it was suggested that far more comprehensive powers should be made available to local authorities in their control of take-away food outlets.
It has been suggested to me that to restrict the time for control to between 11 pm and 5 am is to misunderstand the nature of the problem. Many representations are made to local authorities about the hours long before 11 pm. They are made about the operation of the shops from early in the evening up to, and beyond, the point mentioned in the Bill as the threshold for intervention by local authorities with closing orders.
I hope that the Minister will agree to consideration being given in Committee to the times that feature in the Bill. The local authority should have power to license take-away outlets so that if there was any contravention, in terms of litter or noise, before the 11 pm threshold the authorities would have power to intervene and perhaps remove the licence. This would ensure that communities are fully protected against abuse that stems from people not being willing to appreciate the problems of those living in the neighbourhood of take-away food outlets. I should like to turn to the difficulties that I understand local authorities have experienced over the years in making representations and bringing successfully before the House measures that would give them the powers that I have outlined. I am told that the Take-Away Fast Foods Federation is an effective lobby in defence of its members. I appreciate that it must always be the right of people to combine and to form federations and to act as lobbies to protect themselves against any legislation that might be brought before the House that affected their interests. I feel equally that the Minister might give an assurance that the federation has not been too busy in advising the Minister on the way the clause is phrased.
I am told that a number of authorities over the last few years have made representations to the Government and have come forward with local Bills. They include, I understand, East Sussex, Greater Manchester, the West 940 Midlands and West Yorkshire. It seems that East Sussex was so effectively represented by a barrister in the form of Sir Frank Layfield that it was able to confine restrictions in the Bill to a localised area in Brighton. If so, it must be clear that this was a very effective lobby. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will resist pressures over the next few months, as the Bill goes to Committee, and so ensure that the full rights of our constituents are protected and that local authorities are given powers to ensure that they are able effectively to control the problems that exist in many constituencies.
§ Mr. Keith Wickenden (Dorking)
My contribution will be brief, which will no doubt be as pleasing to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as it will be unwelcome to my hon. Friends the Government Whips. I wish to raise four points, three relating to matters that are not in the Bill—but possibly could be—and a fourth that is included
Part X of the Bill deals with public health. I wish to draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister to the problems that can arise in a locality where a business is carrying on what some might call an offensive trade. I do not mean "offensive" in the sense of sex shops—although that, too, is an issue in my constituency—but "offensive" in the sense that it causes a nuisance to other residents while, nevertheless, being a necessary business that has been in operation for a long time.
In the town of Dorking, the main town in my constituency, there is an abattoir. It is located in the centre of the town immediately off the High Street. There is very restricted access. It is right in the centre of what is now a residential area. It causes great problems, but it has been there for many decades. The owners carry on a perfectly respectable business in accordance with the law. The local authority would like to see the abattoir moved to more suitable premises. No one would consider an abattoir a suitable business in the centre of a pleasant country town. If a closure notice were served on the business, that would be unfair in many ways. The business is long established. Substantial compensation would have to be paid which would be unfair on the ratepayers.
The local residents object to the blocking of the narrow streets by large lorries containing animals for slaughter. They object to the noise and smell of animals and also to the effluent that runs down the streets in the middle of the town. One sees all the difficulties. I confess that I see no ready answer. It is largely a question of resources. It would, however, be pleasing to think that it might be possible to envisage a partnership between the local authority, which, I know, wishes to co-operate, and the trader concerned to find a suitable out-of-town site, funded or leased by the local authority, and the business transferred to it without the need for paying large sums of compensation.
The other main matter I wish to raise is concerned with planning. I realise that hon. Members are discussing a miscellaneous provisions Bill that is not directed primarily to planning, although schedule 4 amends parts of the Highways Act 1980 and parts of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. I should like to raise two matters that might be more suitable for inclusion in a later Bill. The first relates to the increasing practice in Surrey and, I believe, Sussex and other parts of the country not so severely affected by unemployment as others.
941 Where planning permission is given for commercial premises, an unrealistic condition is applied that the premises shall be used only by local users. Even more important, it is a great inhibition to the development of businesses within towns in the area and, indeed, to companies and organisation that may wish to move into the area.
If every local authority throughout the country were to apply such a policy, industry and commerce would grind to a halt. No one would be able to move from one city to another. This is a thoroughly small-minded and unreasonable condition that local authorities impose. I should like to see the power to impose such a condition removed.
The other matter relates to the cost of planning appeals. I speak as someone who has probably lost more planning appeals than he has won, so what I am about to propose would affect me adversely. It has always seemed to me unfair that those who win planning appeals and also Inland Revenue appeals before commissioners should not have the power to recover costs unless stringent conditions are met. The occasions on which this occurs are few.
There are two effects of such costs not being awarded. The first is that appellants, which can keep their costs to a relatively small amount, particularly if they conduct the appeal themselves, may be encouraged to appeal in hopeless cases when otherwise they would not do so. Secondly, local authorities, to my certain knowledge, sometimes turn down planning applications not because they necessarily object to the proposals, but because they do not have the courage to give permission due to objections that may be raised in some quarters. It seems to me that local authorities that behave in this way would be discouraged if they knew that they would have to meet the costs of the other side when they lost or sometimes when they even hoped to lose.
It would also be pleasing to find some way of speeding up public inquiries relating to appeals. Democracy is extraordinarily inefficient. Sometimes the wishes of the minority far transcend the greater good of the majority. People who protest make headlines, whereas people who approve do not. I think, in particular, of a matter which concerns transport but which is related to planning. It is the M25 motorway—the Government's No. 1 priority in road construction—linking our two major London airports and circling London. Yet it has been inordinately delayed by the actions of a few protesters, some protesting for very understandable reasons but some being used quite cynically by people for their own political ends.
In France, procedures are such that people tend to build the facility first and hold the planning inquiry later. Perhaps that is going too far, but perhaps we could move in that direction, for the greater good of those who suffer environmental damage through heavy lorries and traffic passing within yards of their homes, as happens on the A25 in the villages of Gomshall, Abinger Hammer and Westcott. Inadequate roads carry heavy traffic, and the people there have suffered for many years, knowing that the motorway will be built if only the procedures can be got through.
Clause 27 gives powers for the land charges register to be transferred to a computer. I have suffered from computers more than have most people, and I hope that the necessary safeguards will be taken. If the computer entries 942 are not run in tandem with a manual system, until it works, the most dire consequences may follow, both for those who have charges to register and for those who wish to search the register. I hope, too, that appropriate safeguards will be taken to ensure that entries which go into the computer register—if I may call it that—cannot subsequently be altered without that fact being known. I have personal experience of such things happening.
Finally, I hope that the powers given to local authorities in connection with take-away food establishments will not be exercised too stringently by the Westminster city council. I have in mind that excellent establishment, known to Conservative Members as the "junior turf club," which is, of course, the taxi drivers' coffee stall opposite Westminster Abbey, and which is open all night. If we lost that, there are many Conservative Members who might think seriously about standing again at the next election.
§ Mr. Gerry Neale (Cornwall, North)
First, I apologise to the House and to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for not having been here during the opening stages of the debate. I take the opportunity of thanking my hon. Friend the Minister for listening with such attention to the contributions of the many right hon. and hon. Members who have been waiting enthusiastically to participate in the debate.
I shall direct my remarks to what is in the Bill, not to what I should have liked the Bill to contain. First, I want to comment on clause 1 relating to music and dancing licences. It is particularly appropriate for a Minister from the Home Office to be present, even though we are discussing a local government Bill, because we must take care to ensure that in enabling local authorities to grant these licences we do not ignore the adverse effects that can be meted out by magistrates in linking the use of these licences with the use of the same premises for selling alcoholic liquor.
In my constituency, as in other parts of Cornwall, a great problem is developing in relation to village halls, where a music and dancing licence has been granted for a year, where the village community requires to use the village hall for fund-raising occasions for the hall's own maintenance and continuation as a building for use by the village, and often where there is no public house in the village. I have already written to the Lord Chancellor on this subject, and I await his reply. However, I hope that in Committee the Minister will consider the situation which has arisen whereby one or several applications have been made by village hall committees which have resulted in the licensing justices, on the liquor licence application, saying, as it is within their powers to do, that they will restrict the hours for the liquor licence to 11 o'clock rather than to 12 o'clock or 1 o'clock as the halls had requested.
More seriously, in one case, allegedly, a court sought to reduce the hours of the music and dancing licence which had been issued for a hall for a 12-month period. I am far from sure, from my inquiries so far, whether magistrates have the power so to do. It is important to ensure that these measures contain safeguards to allow the greatest possible flexibility in the use of these halls, school halls and so on, to guarantee that the village community and—more important—that the committees operating in these halls, or operating the halls themselves, have the opportunity of raising the funds to keep the premises going.
943 I draw my hon. Friend's attention to paragraph 14(2) of schedule 1, and, in particular, to sub-paragraph (b), which gives power to local authorities tomake such variations as they think fit, including the imposition of terms, conditions or restrictions other than those so specified".I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will make it clear whether that links entirely with the application when it is made, so that when the applicant is granted the licence he knows that its terms will apply for the duration, that that is the only occasion on which the licence can be amended, and that it will not be possible for it to be amended to shorter hours by any other authority until it expires.
I welcome part II of the Bill, which deals with street markets. Nevertheless, I hope that my hon. Friend, in his deliberations in Committee, will consider the implications of clause 28, which appears to deal with what I describe for want of another word as off-street markets—that is to say, markets on private land. My hon. Friend the Minister will recall from his distinguished days as shadow spokesman on environmental affairs that, with our existing planning law, it is possible for anyone at the moment to establish an off-street market on 14 days in a year without requiring planning permission.
As my hon. Friend may know, in areas with considerable seasonal trade, such as Newquay or Tintagel in my constituency, there is tremendous opposition and ill-will when a landowner allows his land to be used for a market and no commercial rates are payable on that land. Traders who stay open for the seasonal months and particularly those who trade throughout the year are angry about that and expect something to be done.
Therefore, clause 28 invites local trouble. Although there is great merit in giving a local authority the option of advertising the fact—following a council resolution—that people in the area must give full details of their proposals to hold a market, the provision does not allow the local authority to do anything to stop the market. It invites trouble, because by encouraging local authorities to take a close interest—to which I have no objection—the Bill will encourage local people to believe that the local authority will have the power to do something if they or the local authority do not like what happens.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister consider making it possible for a local authority to use an article 4 direction and, in certain circumstances, to prevent that land from being used for such purposes unless a formal planning application has been made and approval given? In any event, will he consider imposing some form of commercial rating system on land used for such purposes? Otherwise, the landowner and temporary tenants have a distinct advantage over the retailers on adjoining premises, who are there all the year round.
The definition of a "temporary market" as comprising not fewer than 15 stalls is for those purposes inadequate. In many places it is possible to set up a viable market with eight or 10 stalls. That has an adverse effect on local commerce and on the local community. I hope that the Minister will bear those points in mind in Committee.
Clauses 12 to 15 deal with acupuncture, tattooing and ear-piercing. It would be a pun to say that it scratches the surface of the problem, yet I ask my hon. Friend to consider that the inclusion of acupuncture in that group promotes the view that acupuncture is a frivolity and is part of the process of decorating one's body. The provision ignores the need to establish a proper system of registration for acupuncturists. There are recognised qualifications for 944 acupuncturists, but no doubt some people practise with the minimal qualifications. We should try to find a way of making clearer the distinction between properly qualified acupuncturists and those with minimal qualifications.
Given the way in which the provisions are drafted, local authority inspectors need only inspect the cleanliness and hygiene of premises used for acupuncture. If that is incorrect, I should welcome clarification. It appears that inspectors need only satisfy themselves on that point.
As a result the inspectors will give acupuncturists—however qualified—the appearance of satisfying local health requirements. In that way they will gain recognition that is sometimes unwarranted and perhaps to the disadvantage of their patients. Although in some senses, the provisions attempt to ensure that those who indulge in such treatment have less chance of contracting hepatitis, I ask the Minister to prevail on the Department of Health and Social Security about the need to consider, once and for all, a proper mechanism whereby those who are properly trained and qualified in acupuncture and osteopathy are registered and recognised as part of the Health Service.
Clauses 16 and 17 deal with the sale of food on open sites. I have studied the Bill's provisions, but I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would let me know how far the provisions go. At the Royal Cornwall show and many other rural shows quantities of food are sold and consumed at the ground. Other foodstuffs are sold and consumed elsewhere. How will the provision affect those vendors and other outdoor vendors such as ice cream salesmen?
I feel obliged to mention jam, particularly in relation to women's institutes. I see that my hon. Friend the Minister is puzzled. Perhaps I can enlighten him. He may recall that a considerable outcry was levelled at the Department of Health and Social Security and Parliament during the last Session and the Session previous to that over the nonsense about the requirement for women's institutes to register and have their kitchens inspected if they wish to produce jam for sale to the public. The Minister will recall that, by means of an all-party Bill, the House saw to it that the law was changed. There was agreement on all sides of the House and in the other place that the law should be changed quickly. It was.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister recognise that, in addition to the activities that women's institutes hold in village halls, they operate in open-air markets and at showgrounds. They have a fine record for food production, presentation and retailing. I am sure that all hon. Members will wish to congratulate them on the service that they provide. Will the Minister confirm that the clause does not in any way affect the earlier food and drugs provisions and that it does not evade the principle of the Food and Drugs (Amendment) Act 1981?
§ Mr. Archie Hamilton (Epsom and Ewell)
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for not being here when he opened the debate.
I support the Bill, which will do much to enhance the powers of local authorities and generally make the environment in which we live much more civilised.
Clause 1, by licensing places of entertainment that provide music and dancing, will help those who suffer greatly by being kept awake at night by the noise. I should like to see such licensing extended to recording studios, 945 especially those in the basements of blocks of flats, where the rising sound of throbbing noise causes great stress to the residents. In the case of which I am thinking the local council was able to act under health legislation, but life would be made much easier for councils if they had the power to license recording studios and to insist on the required degree of sound proofing before issuing licences.
My support for clause 3 arises because on the corner opposite my house there is a Kentucky Fried Chicken shop, which remains open all hours of the day and night and all days of the week. I therefore have the privilege of having my front garden littered with chicken bones and red and white coloured boxes. There must be some control of these shops, because they are such a nuisance to people who live near them. I am not sure whether the boxes are thrown into the garden after 11 pm or before, but restrictions should be brought to bear at certain times to attempt to control the amount of rubbish that is thrown around.
Local authorities will be grateful for clause 30, which will enable them to remove uncollected property. I do not know whether the clause provides for broken down cars left in the street. These are a great problem, and abandoned cars often remain in the streets for a long time. If the powers in the Bill will enable local authorities to remove such cars more speedily, many will be grateful, and it will do much to improve the streets.
I hope that I shall not be ruled out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I should like to deal, as others of my hon. Friends have done, not with what is in the Bill, but with what is not. Two new shops are being set up in my constituency, one of which is a sex shop and the other an occult shop. This has caused great distress in a town with a number of God-fearing people. I have in my constituency five large mental institutions or homes which, because of succeeding Government policies, have an open policy. Patients spend a great deal of time walking in the streets of Epsom. There is therefore much worry and concern about the two shops.
The occult shop will be selling all the paraphernalia of witchcraft, and the proposed proprietors have said that they will also be conducting marriages. I have never understood how one can get married by witchcraft, but they have every intention of showing us how it is done. It would be much better if my local borough council had the power to license such establishments. However, as long as no change of use in the retail shop is contemplated, no planning permission or licensing is required.
§ Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)
I am interested in the possibility of marriage by witchcraft, as I am unmarried. Does my hon. Friend seek to prohibit marriage by witchcraft or simply to control where it takes place and under what circumstances?
§ Mr. Hamilton
Marriage by witchcraft is simply an extension of the sinister activities in which the establishment intends to be involved. I mentioned marriage only because it has aroused local interest and alarm. I hope not to be able to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) more about it, because I hope that the shop will not open, thanks to the outrage in the locality and the number of letters that I have received about it. However, I promise my hon. Friend that if the shop opens and starts to conduct marriages I shall 946 make details of how the marriages are conducted available to him. When he comes to the moment, which I hope will not be too far away, and he makes a proposal of marriage, being married in an occult shop in Epsom high street will be one of the options open to him.
I am a great believer in freedom, and we should be careful before we censor such establishments, but we should consider whether they have a corrupting influence on a locality. Local authorities should be able to make that judgment and have the power to license such establishments.
The local council is against the opening of both shops, but it has no power to restrict their activities. The Bill provides for the registration of the practitioners of acupuncture, tattooing and ear-piercing, because of the danger of blood poisoning if those operations are carried out in unhygienic conditions. The proprietors of an occult shop might have a bad effect on the mental patients in my constituency who visit it. If we are trying to look after the health of individuals by ensuring that tattooists and acupuncturists do not poison them, we should also worry about people's minds to ensure that they do not become perverted by such strange establishments.
Perhaps in Committee the powers can be extended to cover sex and occult shops. That would be well received in my constituency and in many others. It would put the minds of many people at rest.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Scunthorpe)
My hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton) might have the problem of witchcraft in his constituency but witchcraft has not yet got as far as Brigg and Scunthorpe.
I wish to argue the case for a legitmate interest in my constituency which has been established for many years. I draw the attention of the House to the problems that might occur if we approve clause 3. A number of my hon. Friends have referred to that clause. I was disappointed with one or two of my hon. Friends, not least with my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell. I know him to be a great friend of freedom. I am almost always at one with him. However, today I detected a hint of restrictiveness in one or two sentences, which was somewhat uncharacteristic. I appreciate the restrictions he mentioned in relation to litter in his garden.
If a take-away food establishment or a fish and chip shop is established as a result of restrictive planning regulations, the planning committee of the local authority—if it is doing its job properly—will decide whether the establishment will open at 9 o'clock and shut at 11 o'clock or beyond. That is not the issue in the Bill. The planning committee should take note of the fact that those who live near to a take-away food establishment will also be inconvenienced during the day. It should consider those factors before it grants an application.
To give local authorities the benefit of the doubt—which is possibly unwise because I have occasionally disagreed with them on planning matters—I suggest that they always take account of other interests before granting a planning application for a take-away food establishment, regardless of its opening hours. If an authority arrived at a wise decision and said that a fish and chip shop, a Chinese take-away or a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet can be established, it recognises the potential nuisance. If a planning application is then 947 granted, the council and the locally elected representatives must be satisfied that there will not be a noise and litter nuisance. I can see no reason for such a restrictive clause in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office said that the Bill is largely a consolidation measure bringing together several earlier private Bills and some of the regulations that were established for individual local authorities under those Bills. I welcome the fact that he has decided to put together the miscellaneous provisions that have been at sixes and sevens in private Bills.
I foresee a problem with clause 3. I represent a constituency where shift work is an important part of the local community. A steel worker, when he has finished the 2 o'clock to 10 o'clock shift, may, on his way home—perhaps after going to the pub for a pint of beer before it closes at 11 o'clock—wish to go to the fish and chip shop. It is a normal activity and part of the heritage of the town of Scunthorpe. The steel worker will come off shift at 10 o'clock, go to the pub for a pint, and then go to the fish and chip shop, perhaps because his wife——
§ Mr. J. F. Pawsey (Rugby)
Does my hon. Friend not agree that those steel workers may also wish to enter oriental shops that sell take-away Chinese food? Perhaps he will make specific reference to that. If he does not, he may lay himself open to a charge of being prejudiced against those shops, which provide a useful and continuing service to many people.
This evening I went to an Indian take-away food establishment. I have enjoyed a strong Indian curry, which perhaps my hon. Friends sitting around me can smell if not taste. If no reference is made to those other establishments, their representatives may feel that my hon. Friend is deliberately casting a slight. I am sure that he is not, but he should rectify what I consider to be a most important omission.
§ Mr. Brown
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to do that. The air in this part of the Chamber is quite clear. It is obvious that he has enjoyed his Indian meal.
In Scunthorpe there is a significant ethnic minority. The local people benefit from the initative and enterprise of the Indian take-away shops and the curry houses, which recognise that, at around 10 or 11 o'clock in the evening, about one third of Scunthorpe's population wish to have a meal on their way home. I link what my hon. Friend has just said about curry houses and Chinese take-away food establishments—
§ Mr. Pawsey
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his courtesy. Perhaps he can find time to mention the problem of litter. It may be that not everyone is as tidy-minded as he or I, so it is important that more litter bins are provided throughout his constituency and every other constituency in Britain. On some occasions we may walk down the high street and find litter blowing around our feet, which is unpleasent and intolerable. It can easily be rectified. The British are a much more tidy race than they are given credit for. They will deposit their litter in the appropriate receptacles if they are provided. If my hon. Friend intends to continue without any reference to bins, that would be unfortunate. However, I am sure that he does not intend to omit that.
§ Mr. Brown
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his brief intervention. I shall deal with the legitimate problem 948 of litter, with which my hon. Friends—although disagreeing with my attitude about clause 3—would expect me to deal, albeit briefly.
We must consider the question of litter when we talk about take-away food establishments. However, the litter that there may be after 11 o'clock will be no more significant than the litter during the earlier part of the day. We should look at the example of the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets. That organisation has taken many steps to deal with the problem of litter. It is acutely aware of the possibility that some of its customers may occasionally be lax in depositing litter in bins after leaving their shops. I am impressed by the way in which the fast food industry, especially the Kentucky Fried Chicken organisation, has made a great effort to deal with the problem of litter. Perhaps the Government can say something further about that in clause 3.
When the Bill is considered in Committee, I shall wish to propose a minor amendment that, instead of the cut-off point at which a local authority can enforce an order being 11 o'clock, the Government should consider extending the time to at least midnight. I do not believe that I am asking for too much. The Government could legitimately look at that because, as I said earlier, in a constituency such as mine and especially in the northern counties, it is a tradition that many take-away food establishments do not do much business until 10.30 or 11 o'clock and beyond.
One constituent showed me his cash flow hour by hour. Much of his turnover came after 11 pm. We must protect the tens of thousands of people employed in the fast food industry, particularly in constituencies like mine which have high unemployment and where people wish to buy the cheaper food that the fast food industry provides.
The fast food industry is a growth industry which serves those who have to watch their pennies, as well as others like ourselves. When I arrive in Scunthorpe, having been in the House on Friday morning and with engagements in the afternoon and evening, unashamedly and publicly, I often take advantage of take-away food. Many hon. Members with constituencies in the North must do likewise. I am pleased to be able to get a good, cheap meal sometimes well after 11 pm.
Some local authorities tend to lean towards restrictions for their own sake. They should consider planning applications and potential noise nuisance. We hear of complaints to local authorities from people disturbed by noise nuisance, but it is as objectionable at 9.30 pm or 10.30 pm as at 11.30 pm, and local authorities and hon. Members do not hear from those individuals who enjoy the products of the take-away food industry after 11 pm, although several hundred people in Brigg and Scunthorpe will be enjoying take-away food after 11 o'clock tonight—not least, fish and chips.
The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has not been able to take part in the debate, but he represents a constituency which is one of the nation's biggest fish producers. The health of the British fishing industry depends to a great extent on the take-away fish and chip industry. I have been present at a number of debates in which hon. Members draw attention to the poor deal that our fishermen get. We must remember that they depend to a large extent on the fish and chip business, which does not come to life until fairly late in the evening. We should link our debate on clause 3 to concern for the fishing industry. The fish and chip shops in constituencies such 949 as mine well serves the fishing industry, for which other hon. Members make impassioned pleas. We must remember that the fishing industry needs consumers.
I hope that neither of the local authorities that I represent—the boroughs of Scunthorpe and Glanford—will be among the restrictive authorities that may take advantage of clause 3. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider in Committee at least extending the time from 11 pm to 12 pm. A noise or litter nuisance will be no worse at 11.55 pm than at 10.55 pm. We should consider making the change on behalf of the many people employed in the fishing industry and of my constituents who wish to buy fish and chips.
§ 8.5 pm
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)
The measure consolidates matters introduced in many local Bills, but the Department is out of date in producing the legislation. I criticise not what is in the legislation but what is not.
Many local authorities are worried about certain issues. I wish to stress the concern about the growth of sex shops and pornographic cinemas. A private Bill concerning Hampshire, which is to come before the House later in the Session, tries to deal with the problem. One street in Southampton is slowly being taken over by sex shops, pornographic cinemas and space invaders. The local authority finds it difficult to stop that development which we all believe is highly undesirable. For example, under present legislation it is not a change of use if a hardware shop becomes a sex shop. A local authority can do nothing about it. I wish that the Bill had dealt with that problem. The Government can take action through legislation to help local authorities. It is a problem that is becoming more and more apparent in our larger cities.
The Bill could have tackled other problems, too. The problem of prostitution in my constituency is well known, as it was reported in every national newspaper. Individual prostitutes own houses and advertise their wares in the windows. We have had many court cases, including the "Girls in the window" case a few years ago. I have been involved in deputations to various Governments to get the prostitutes out of residential areas.
I do not argue the merits of prostitution tonight. However, where large numbers of houses are used for prostitution tremendous problems can be caused for others living in the area, through cars coming and going late at night, doors banging and other noise and the occasional fight. For at least the past 10 years we have tried to get prostitution out of residential areas. I took a deputation to the Home Secretary in the Conservative Government of 1970 to 1974 and another to the Home Secretary in the Labour Government of 1974 to 1979. On each occasion we were told that a committee was considering the matter and we would have to await its report. The Criminal Law Revision Committee is now discussing sex offences, including prostitution, and we are told that we must await its report.
I have to tried to persuade my local authority that it could use planning legislation to deal with the problem. For example, if I wish to put a sign reading "builder and decorator" in the front window of my house, I have to get permission from the local authority. The difficulty is that 950 local authorities do not seem to be interested in taking action against women who put illuminated signs reading "model" in their windows.
A lawyer who is a Conservative member of my local council suggested that the problem could be dealt with through planning legislation and prostitution could be driven out of residential areas. Unfortunately, a majority of the council felt that it could not proceed in that way.
The Bill could have dealt with the advertising of prostitution, sex shops and cinemas showing pornographic films. A number of inner city areas are in danger of becoming like Soho, and we do not want that to happen.
The Government could take action through the Bill, which deals with street trading and the licensing of places of public entertainment used for dancing, boxing and wrestling. There is no reason why it should not deal with sex shops and pornographic cinemas. I urge the Government to consider amendments that will deal with such problems.
The Hampshire Bill is being prepared and will be introduced in Parliament later in the year, probably in another place. It deals with the problems on a local basis, but there is no reason why the House should not introduce national legislation and I urge the Government to consider that possibility.
§ Mr. J. F. Pawsey (Rugby)
The Bill can properly be described as complicated but important, and it is particularly important to local authorities. I served on local authorities for 20 years, first on the Binley Woods parish council and later on the Rugby rural district council. After the reorganisation of local government in 1973–74, I served as deputy leader of the Rugby borough council and subsequently became a member of the Warwickshire county council. Such is my record for parish councils that I was also chairman, and later president of the Warwickshire Association of Parish Councils.
I am convinced that one reason why the countryside is so much better administered is the existence of town and parish councils, which provide genuine grassroots representation. The 10 or 12 members representing 1,200 electors on a parish council clearly provide fine representation.
The explanatory memorandum of the Bill states that part IXextends to other highways existing powers of a local authority under that section to provide facilities for recreation and refreshment on pedestrianised highways".I am intrigued by the word "pedestrianised". Will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment tell me later whether a pedestrianised highway is the same thing as a footpath or a bridleway? I assume that it is, but I should welcome my hon. Friend's confirmation.
Clause 18 deals with refreshment and recreation, which are important considerations. On walks along pedestrianised highways, perhaps Hadrian's Wall or the Pennine Way, we shall clearly require refreshment and perhaps recreation. One would require perhaps the odd bar of chocolate and if there are vending machines available one can enjoy a hot drink, whether tea, coffee, soup or chocolate—all separately dispensed from the machine.
However, I am disappointed that the clause does not refer to the Act of 1892 or 1896—I forget which—that deals with the adoption of roads. That is a startling 951 omission, but it is not too late for the Government to include a provision that would make the adoption of highways a little easier.
Shortly after I was married, which was about 25 years ago—I celebrated my silver wedding anniversary on 24 March this year—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am grateful for the congratulations of hon. Members on both sides of the House—my wife and I lived in a bungalow in Binley Woods where the roads were not adopted. People became bogged down within the curtilage of the so-called highway. Ambulances and even, on one dreadful occasion, a hearse stuck in the thick, deep mud of the so-called highway. As a young member of the parish council I did my utmost to persuade the highway authority to exercise its rights to adopt the roads. I also recall, however, the difficulties that occurred when we were anxious to persuade frontagers to pay for the roads to be made up.
The Act of 1892 or 1896 should be repealed and replaced by something a little more up to date which takes more account of present circumstances. I am a little disappointed that the Government have not so far included such a provision. However, it is not too late for that important matter to be given proper consideration.
I move gently to part X, a particularly interesting part of the Bill. The explanatory memorandum says that clause 21extends to industrial and commercial premises existing powers of a local authority to require courts, yards and passages abutting dwellings to be paved and drained.As I read those words, I was struck by the question why that important provision was not included in the original Act. That was another startling omission. I find it extraordinary that it is necessary to insert it into this Bill.
I referred earlier to my local government experience. I mentioned the time that I had spent on local authorities. I do not intend to repeat that again. I am well aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you would look askance at me if I repeated myself in such an intolerable way. However, I did spend about 10 years on a public health committee. Therefore, again, I am well aware of the problems caused to local authorities by this general legislation. I am aware of the powers that exist, as far as local authorities can apply them, relating to entries and courts that may be described as domestic premises. It is most important that employees in industry should have at least the same protection as the ordinary person. The workers within a factory or within the curtilage of industrial premises should enjoy the same protection and safeguards as they would enjoy if they were at home. It strikes me as a remarkable anomaly. I am delighted to see that even at this late stage we are repairing it.
I should declare my interest in part III of the Bill. I am a director of a group of companies which are involved in the fast food business. It will not surprise the House to know that it was my concern and interest in this matter which prompted me to make two lengthy interjections during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown). I am well aware of the important part that fast food plays in the life of our community. In this world in which time is at an absolute premium, it is necessary for people to obtain fast food. People do not always have an opportunity of going to the greengrocer, the butcher or any of the ordinary high street retailers. They do, not always have time to do the shopping in that way, and they do not always have the opportunity 952 of taking shopping home and cooking pleasant, fresh, three-course meals. Therefore, it is important that the fast food business should continue to advance.
However, adequate street lighting should be a subject of this clause. We speak about the hours during which fast food shops should remain open. It is necesary for us to introduce efficient street lighting. People sometimes carelessly throw away the plastic containers in which the food is served. They are made by a subsidiary within my group of companies—Mono Containers Ltd. of Durham. I realise that from time to time people do throw the containers away and that if the lighting is inadequate, poor, inefficient or simply non-existent, that may result in people slipping and may even result in injury. As a director of a responsible group of companies, I should be very unhappy if that occurred. Therefore, we must make adequate provision for street lighting.
My hon. Friend the Minister will forgive me if I refer to that as another startling omission from the Bill. He is known to be a thoughtful, hard-working and conscientious Minister. That reputation is entirely deserved, for he goes into his subject with enthusiasm and energy. Because of the qualifications that he brings to his most important work, I am a little disappointed that he did not see fit to include this provision.
I have referred to omissions. There is yet another startling omission. I must use the word "startling", and I apologise for using it once more. I have searched diligently throughout this substantial document. I must tell all my hon. Friends and the right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes)—in his somewhat lonely place—
§ Mr. Pawsey
I have searched diligently and I have failed to find any reference in the Bill to rating reform. That is unfortunate. I feel particularly that my hon. Friend the Minister would have liked to discuss with me and with other hon. Members the housing profit factor—E7. My hon. Friend is well aware that I am particularly interested in this subject. I see him taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes with some apprehension of what I am about to say. Let me reassure him and say that the housing profit factor particularly disturbs me, my borough council, my councillors and my electorate.
It is an extraordinary state of affairs that in Rugby, where we have a housing account which has not gone into arrears for many years and which even now breaks even, and despite my local authority's excellent house-keeping, it seems likely that under the terms of housing profit factor E7 council house rents will have to rise. This is an unnecessary increase in my constituency, for the Rugby borough council is very diligent.
I must return to items contained within the Bill. I note with some interest part IV, which amends the existing law on fire precautions. The danger and risk of fire rightly concerned all hon. Members. Clearly, it is imperative that efficient and clearly defined exits should be identified so that people may efficiently make their escape should a fire hazard exist. I am also pleased that the explanatory memorandum mentionscertain specified buildings and before licensing or providing a caravan site.This is an important issue. The Bill also calls for the provision of a suitable cut-off switch for the safety of 953 firemen where high voltage luminous tube signs are installed. Without that important safeguard, firemen's lives would be at risk.
Firemen have a most important job. It is a job whose value is not always recognised by the community. One might almost say that the fire service is sometimes taken for granted. If that is so, it is very much to be regretted. I am glad to see that my hon. Friends entirely agree with that viewpoint.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
Will my hon. Friend consider the fact that fire regulations are already, in many instances, much too stringent, and that they cause inordinate expense in all sorts of establishments? I can think of former riding establishments, for example, where communities were well serviced in their leisure pursuits but where fire regulations were so strict and demanding in terms of expenditure that the establishments had to close. Similarly in schools, hotels and so on, the enforcement of fire regulations has been so severe that people have been put out of business and jobs have been lost. I hope that the Bill will pay attention to the already stringent nature of the fire regulations. Does my hon. Friend agree with what I say?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
I hope that the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey) will refer to fire regulations and that he will not go back to the housing factor.
§ Mr. Pawsey
I am, as ever, always grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I am a relatively new hon. Member. I acknowledge with gratitude your advice. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) for his sagacious comments.
§ Mr. Pawsey
That is true. Having served on a Committee with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North, I am well aware of the expertise that he brings to those proceedings. His point was particularly valid. He referred to the situation that might exist in stabling. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is that?"] Stables are the buildings in which horses are usually kept.
Perhaps I am beginning to stray beyond the terms of the Bill. Therefore, I thank you for your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I advise the Government, if they were in any doubt, that, despite the shortcomings in the Bill, it will receive a warm welcome from me.
§ Mr. Tony Speller (Devon, North)
If there is any way in which a ratepayer can be rendered apoplectic, it is by talking about street markets. Temporary markets are the greatest waste of the ratepayers' money, because they take all and give nothing in return.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider whether more should be done about the obvious hazards surrounding not just the one-day market in the street, but the other places where markets are held and where the public have access without payment. That includes the beach in my part of the world, where the one-day trader arrives with all the gimmicky, gimcrack bits and pieces to 954 be sold to the public. At the end of the day he goes and is never seen again, or not while the public can remember him.
Of all the things that we can do to protect the public, the control of such trading is one of the most important. There is the cost to the rates and of cleaning up. There is also the loss of employment, because these traders do not employ young persons or even older ones in the area. They bring a few people with them, suck up the money and away they go. There is also the question of the validity of the goods that they sell. The following day is too late to seek restitution when the toy does not work or the radio does not produce the required sound once the battery is added.
The shopkeeper who pays rates is invariably annoyed by litter and rubbish. Some of my hon. Friends have spoken of the litter that is produced by those who use the products of fast food firms. The size of the rubbish baskets that are provided by local authorities is of some interest. They are never big enough to hold all the wrappings that are removed from fast foods.
In my part of the world, along the North Devon coastline, we are particularly hurt by the predators who come from the bigger cities and give the holiday areas a bad name. When a holidaymaker has been "done" in a one-day trading market, he does not remember the name of the trader. I am delighted that the schedule dealing with street trading requires that notice shall be given and that the name of the trader shall be displayed, otherwise a penalty will be imposed. I hope that the local authorities will follow that up and make certain that the name given can be identified later when there is a problem about goods that have been sold.
Who can say how many more people would be employed in the shops were it not for the market trader who sells with great expertise but does not show that expertise in advising the customer? That is grossly unfair to the normal retail trader, who pays rates the year round, with business or no business resulting, and who employs staff the whole year round, whether or not they are standing idle for some or much of the time. We must look at those things and seek to protect those traders.
Much of the rate burden arises from the labour-intensive business of cleaning. It is made clear in the Bill that certain responsibilities lie with those who seek to impose themselves on the trading world on and around our streets. They must pay a sum to be there and pay a penalty if they break the byelaws, even though I do not think that that will in any way cover the cost to the community of the refuse that they leave behind or the unemployment that they cause.
I ask my hon. Friend to clarify some of the provisions in the schedules. For example, schedule 3(1)(a) says:'street' includes—any road, footway, beach or other area to which the public have access without payment".That is an open and broad definition. I am not sure whether the wordsother area to which the public have access without paymentwould include, for example, the ballroom or function room of a hotel to which the public may have access for the purpose of a market.
If that were so, there would be an additional hazard. Such premises, whether licensed or unlicensed, may have adequate fire precautions for their normal uses. The situation is quite different, however, if a milling crowd has come in, perhaps because it is raining and they want 955 somewhere to go, and people are standing cheek by jowl in a room where the least spark could lead to panic and perhaps tragedy.
I ask the Minister to consider amendments to make certain that any itinerant trader, whether he be a street trader or one who trades on a beach or area available to the public, must not only indemnify the local authority through the penalties implicit in the Bill, but, equally importantly, must indemnify the public against any form of rip-off, of which they are currently all too often the victims.
I do not believe that there is a chamber of commerce, chamber of trade or confederation of business organisations which does not wish the Bill well in regularising and bringing up to date many ancient measures. Equally, we must ensure that the protection given will last until the next occasion when such a measure comes before the House.
§ Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)
I apologise to the Government and Opposition Front Benches for my absence during the opening speeches. It was unavoidable. I wish to welcome some proposals in the Bill and to regret the absence of others.
It is a great pleasure to speak after my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller). I can see that he feels a deep and intense dislike of street traders. That must be born of his experience in his constituency, where there is obviously a particular type of street trader who is a public nuisance. To set the balance straight, I should point out that there are all kinds of street markets and street trading. Near where I live in London, in Northcote Road, Clapham Junction, there is a lively fruit and vegetable market which serves a very useful purpose. In my constituency of West Derbyshire, in the Peak District, we have many antique markets which are enjoyed by local people and visitors. There is no complaint that people are being cheated or that legitimate local shopkeepers are being done out of their own share of business. There is a place for some types of street trading, but not for others. That is matter for local authorities and Government judiciously to distinguish.
I listened with great interest and admiration to the crisp, succinct and hard-hitting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey). I shall not go down the same road. It seems extraordinary to me that he has been married for 25 years when I have not even got round to it yet. Perhaps the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton) on the subject of arranged marriages by witchcraft will come to my aid.
In his comments about prostitution my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill), who unfortunately has had to leave the Chamber, put his finger on a real problem in residential areas—that of the prostitute who uses her flat or house as her place of business, thereby annoying her neighbours at all hours of the night. I suggest that the problem is not so much the possibly immoral nature of what takes place in the flat as the nuisance caused to those living nearby by a person who is essentially using her house as a place of business.
It is contrary to various regulations to use a house or flat as a place of business. If it is a council flat, one is certainly not allowed to do so. The same applies to privately owned flats under different regulations. The problem is that prostitution has been so circumscribed by 956 law that it cannot be properly defined or set up as a business. The prostitute therefore cannot be held to be using her house or flat as a place of business.
I believe that the matter is currently before the Criminal Law Revision Committee which is examining the law on sexual offences. I suggest that that is perhaps the most appropriate umbrella under which to consider it. In a sense, if the law on prostitution could be liberalised a little so that prostitutes were allowed to set up in business in some legitimate way, we could then begin to control the problem.
I notice that the sister Bill relating to Scotland, which is starting life in another place, makes provision for regulations specifying fines, but not imprisonment, for prostitution. I and a number of other hon. Members on both sides have been pressing for some time to regularise the law in favour of fines rather than imprisonment. Soliciting for the purpose of prostitution is a street nuisance and should be treated as such. It should therefore be punishable by a fine, as are other forms of street nuisance. But that perhaps takes us somewhat beyond the scope of the Bill.
A great deal has been said about sex shops and the fact that they are not covered by the Bill. I cannot add greatly to what has already been said except to give one example from my constituency. A gentleman is threatening to open a sex shop, not because he wishes to do so or because he believes that there would be any demand for it, but simply because the local authority will not allow him to change the use of his premises from a shop to an amusement arcade. He knows that, although the authority can prevent him from opening an amusement arcade, it cannot stop him from opening a sex shop. He is therefore threatening to open a sex shop in the hope of changing the authority's mind, thereby upsetting and outraging local people, perhaps unnecessarily.
I do not believe that all sex shops should be banned. Where there is public demand for a service it must be satisfied, one way or another. Clearly, the law on the whole subject is in a mess. It must therefore be sorted out—if not in the Bill, in other legislation.
Much has also been said about take-away shops. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown) is as assiduous in his pursuit of the interests of his constituents as in his pursuit of individual liberty—[HON. MEMBERS: "And fish and chips."]—and, no doubt, fish and chips. Clearly, there is a need for take-away shops. If there were not, they would not be operated profitably and would not be expanding as they are.
The problem about regulation in this sphere, and particularly about devolving powers to local authorities to make regulations, is that those who wish to complain will always come forward in greater numbers and be more insistent than those who would testify to the usefulness of the service. Those who complain, while small in number, are usually heavily inconvenienced, while those who use the service would be inconvenienced in far greater numbers by losing it, but probably in a much smaller way. The local authority is therefore likely to have a somewhat biased view of public opinion if it hears only the complaints. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe said, some authorities tend simply to adopt the attitude "Find out what Johnny's doing and tell him to stop it".
My hon. Friend's suggestion that perhaps 11.30 pm or 12 midnight would be a more sensible time is fair and 957 reasonable. In many parts of Britain, the pubs close at 11 o'clock. People usually do not go for fish and chips until the pubs have closed. They usually leave the pub at about 11.10, and should be allowed 20 minutes at the very least to get their fish and chips, otherwise we could deprive the public of a useful service.
Public entertainment is a major problem in my constituency. However, we already have a good degree of control over it through the licensing laws. It may well be possible to have public entertainment without alcohol being served, but it has become increasingly difficult to do so. A number of discotheques in my constituency have effectively been closed simply by the denial of the licensing extension that they wanted. Here, too, those who complain will always be louder in their complaints than those who are prepared to testify to the value of a service or business.
Provision for small business signs should be considered for inclusion in the Bill. We are building an increasing number of bypasses. As a result, we often leave the businesses in the town or village that is bypassed bereft of passing trade. Such businesses may wish to place small signs by the side of the bypass indicating that there is a pub or restaurant in the village. At present, they encounter much opposition from the highway authorities.
I should like to have seen provision in the highways part of the Bill to regularise the position on small business signs. I realise that all such signs cannot be allowed, but equally they should not all be prohibited. We fall rather uncomfortably between those two stools to varying degrees throughout the country. This is an area of law that we ought to be considering in a Bill such as this.
Some time ago, I served on a quasi-judicial committee that considered a private Bill promoted by the South Yorkshire county council, which sought to create a criminal offence for trespass on property that it owned or controlled. I think that the county council had education property particularly in mind.
There is a good case for making trespassing a criminal instead of a civil offence, as it is at present. There is also a good case against doing so. However, it cannot be right for the law of the land to make trespassing an offence only in respect of the property of the South Yorkshire county council.
I expect that the Duke of Devonshire would dearly love to see trespass on Chatsworth Park made a criminal offence. I expect that his Grace could advance reasons at least as compelling as those advanced by the South Yorkshire county council. However, if he tried to bring in a private Bill to make trespass on his own property illegal, I imagine that he would get a dusty answer. The piecemeal development of the law on trespass is unsatisfactory, and I should like that to be taken in hand through Bills such as this.
In many ways, this is a rag-bag of a Bill. Because of that, there will always be items that hon. Members feel should be included and those that they feel should have been left out. Bearing in mind its broad provisions, it is a welcome measure. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby succinctly put it, I welcome it in the present situation in which we currently live.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
It is always a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris), and I shall refer in a moment to one of the points that he raised.
It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller). I particularly share his views about the vague wording of schedule 3.
I am also delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey), but on this occasion I shall not follow him into Binley Woods, even though this is National Tree Week. He raised some important points.
I, too, apologise to the House for being unable to be here for all of the debate. I had a long-standing arrangement to meet members of my local branch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to discuss what they felt were vital political matters. I shall not say that going from that meeting to discuss the Bill is like going from the sublime to the ridiculous, because there are many fundamental points of importance in this legislation.
I approach the Bill warily. The more that I examine the different parts of it, the more I realise yet again that we are trying to put on to the statute book legislation that will take away the rights of individuals. I do not object to that if it is essential. Once again, the Bill illustrates the delicate balance that we have to tread on behalf of our constituents—on the one hand balancing the rights of the individual, and on the other protecting them from nuisances such as pollution, noise and so on.
Part I deals with the licensing of places used for public entertainments. As I understand it, the Government propose to extend byelaws that already operate in Greater London to other parts of the country. Those measures have been working well in London since 1965, and, for what my opinion is worth, it is right that they should be uniform throughout the rest of the country.
I agree with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West and the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) about what the Bill has left out, as much as what is included in it. I make no apology for raising again—there seems to be a sporadic outbreak of these establishments—proposals to change the use of existing shops to sex shops. There is a proposal, alas, in my constituency for such a change. The original use of a shop can be changed to a sex shop without the need for planning permission.
Should that sort of establishment require permission of one sort or another? I say unhesitatingly that it should. It is totally wrong, and it causes a great deal of offence to many of my constituents, that a person should be allowed to change the use of a shop next door to a primary school in my constituency to a sex shop. Because of that, I believe that we should have a system of approval before such establishments can come into being.
A better way in which that can and should be done is through a system of licensing by the local authority. That is preferable to the route of requiring the owner of the premises to submit an application to the local planning authority. I recognise that under the use classes order, if a person wants to change a shop into a gymnasium, a Turkish foam bath or a pet food shop, it is necessary for him to obtain planning permission because the premises are being changed from their conventional use to a new use that is deemed to be capable of causing a nuisance to neighbours. The change of an ordinary conventional shop 959 into a sex shop is in a similar category. My preference is for a system of licensing by the local authority. If that cannot be included in the Bill in Committee, because it may not fall within the long title, the Government, one of my hon. Friends or perhaps an hon. Member lucky enough to draw a place in the ballot for Private Member's Bills might consider adopting the suggestion.
A problem arises over the code for street trading. No one wants to abolish street trading. There are, however, cases where shopkeepers have to pay massive rates to sell goods to the public, while street traders can get by without paying one penny. The Bill proposes a sensible balance between providing a service for the public and seeing that street traders pay their fair share of the costs that are incumbent on local authorities.
Part III relates to the ability to move a closing order on a take-away food shop. I understand the reason for the provision, although I consider, on balance, that midnight to 5 am or possibly 6 am is a more reasonable requirement.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
This may cut to the core one of the historical traders of this country, the fish and chip trader, who, I am sure, is represented in my hon. Friend's constituency as well as in mine. Fish and chip traders offer food long after 11 pm, to the benefit of the community where they operate.
§ Mr. Chapman
My hon. Friend is right to raise that matter. If the House is minded to give the local authority this power, it must ensure that there are ways in which people can appeal if they feel that what is proposed is unfair, or feel that they are providing a service to the public.
The other side of the coin is the nuisance caused to people living nearby. I am worried about the trend in recent years of people moving out of city and town centres into suburbs and new developments. This movement eats up rich agricultural land in our green and pleasant countryside, while the cities become empty. We have to try to reverse the trend. One of the more likely ways to reverse it is to make our city and town centres more acceptable places in which to live. While amenity includes being able to get fish and chips at 2 am, it also includes the avoidance of nuisance to people trying to sleep during conventional hours. That illustrates the importance of the Bill, although many people may think it deals with relatively minor matters.
Part IV contains the provision for local authorities to consult the fire authority. I hesitate to see more bureaucracy connected with the building regulations, of which the fire regulations are a part. I must declare an interest. I qualified as an architect in my younger days. I define youth as anyone younger than a year older than I happen to be. I am also a fellow of the Royal Town Planning Institute. I can quote, time and again, instances of people wishing to put up a development, required and wanted by everyone, but thwarted by the sometimes restrictive and constrictive fire regulations.
I suspect, although I do not know, that fire doors have caused more broken arms by swinging back against people than they have saved lives. I can also quote instances where a chief fire officer has insisted on the most rigorous changes in plans, designs and specification on a bill of works, only to be replaced by a new chief fire officer who demands completely new restrictions. We must keep a sense of balance.
960 Finally, I want to refer to part X, which deals with drains. I am worried, because clause 23 gives the most sweeping power to local authorities to mend a drain or a private sewer and then decide who is to be billed for the expense. In my constituency there are many old drains, and it is difficult to find out who has the responsibility—an individual, the local authority, the water company or the regional water authority. Frankly, all the legislation on this subject needs to be clarified.
Many of the provisions cover matters that have already been dealt with in local Acts. Anyone who has sat in Committee on opposed Bills or unopposed Bills knows that the Committee upstairs is very careful about giving powers to local authorities. We ask "Is there a precedent?", and if there is no precedent we tend not to give the powers. I know that it is the argument of the chicken and the egg, but for the sake of ourselves, in the mass of legislation that we have to scrutinise, and for the sake of the people whom we represent, there should be a much more rational approach to the making of byelaws or the consolidation of local byelaws into Acts of Parliament through general powers Bills.
It is ridiculous that local authorities should have to come to Parliament for approval for certain things that they want to do, and then a few years later we find ourselves making those very things the norm throughout the country. There should be a more civilised, sensible and efficient way of dealing with these important matters. If that cannot be dealt with in Committee, it is something—and I say this with the greatest respect—that in due course and at the appropriate time the House should consider and act upon.
§ 9.2 pm
§ Mr. Gordon Oakes (Widnes)
We have had an unusual, interesting, varied, and certainly long debate on a miscellaneous provisions Bill. As the Minister of State said in opening, miscellaneous provisions Bills of this kind arise from the 1972 Act, which provided that until 1984—I understand that it is now extended until 1986—this House can look at private Bills put forward by local authorities and consolidate them for the benefit of all authorities. This Bill is not strictly a consolidation measure, but it is akin to one. That is why I say that it is unusual to have such a long and varied debate on it.
I am encouraged by that, because it shows the enormous interest in local government that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides, particularly on the Conservative Benches, must have. It is unusual, too. that we have so much time for such a Bill because, so early in the parliamentary Session, I had imagined that another Bill might have come before the House—the Local Government Finance Bill. Alas, where is it? What has happened to it? Clearly, on the evidence that we have tonight of the interest that Conservative Members have shown in a miscellaneous provisions Bill, which is normally a minor Bill, we shall certainly need two or at least three days for the Second Reading of the Local. Government Finance Bill.
I congratulate the Minister on his opening speech and—something that is very unusual from this Bench—I congratulate the Government Whips. When we began the debate this afternoon, only a few of us who are now present were in the Chamber. At times, the attendance dwindled to just the Under-Secretary and myself, and then it swelled. That clearly was due to the activity of the Government Whips. Indeed, the Bill mentions highways 961 and byways and they went to the highways and byways to find hon. Members to speak. They found the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) at a CND meeting and rightly brought him to the Chamber. They went further: they even went out of the House and found the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey) in an Indian take-away and brought him back to discuss the Bill.
The contributions by both hon. Members have been most valuable. That is why I thank the Government Whips for having extended the debate and for having given the House an opportunity to hear those extremely interesting, constructive and valuable contributions. I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to use your influence with Mr. Speaker to ensure that those valuable contributions are given in Committee, so that all those hon. Members who have come to the Chamber may join the much expanded Committee to pursue the views that they have put forward.
§ Mr. Wickenden
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that there should be 20 Conservative Members to every one Labour Member in Committee?
§ Mr. Oakes
No, but the Committee of Selection might consider the ingenuity with which some Conservative Members came into the Chamber, picked up the Bill and spoke learnedly on it. They are obviously invaluable to a Committee. Some of those hon. Members who spoke earlier in the debate might be too controversial for the Government Whips, because the Committee would continue for ever and a day. Those hon. Members are opposed to many of the Bill's provisions.
In opening the debate, the Minister rightly said that when introducing a miscellaneous provisions Bill the measure should be precedented in recent local Acts. Indeed, he used almost the same words as I used in 1976, no doubt written by the same civil servant. He said that it should be "uncontroversial" and that no contentious item should be slipped into the Bill. That is in accordance with the normal precedent for miscellaneous provisions Bills. It is the normal precedent, although it does not have to be so.
The Bill may be a useful package, but the speeches that we have heard—particularly from Conservative Members—have made it clear that the Bill, to use words from the Common book of Prayer, hasleft undone those things which we ought to have done—And … done those things which we ought not to have done.I shall not say that there is "no health" in it, but such omissions are a considerable drawback.
I have the honour to be the unpaid vice-president of the Association of County Councils. It wrote to hon. Members and said that the Bill did too little and too late. As my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) said, it has made more than 100 different proposals. All those proposals were well accepted. They were not controversial and were agreed by the various associations and by local councils. It suggested useful provisions that could have been included in the Bill.
However, the Minister said that there was not enough Government time to include them all. That is not necessarily so. On an uncontroversial Bill, there would not be much opposition to such useful measures. For example, the ACC suggests a provision to deal with something that has caused great contention in all our constituencies. I refer to the problem of parking of heavy lorries. That 962 problem includes heavy lorries parking at night and starting early in the morning, the parking of heavy lorries in car parks where the provision is for private cars and the parking of such lorries at the rear of residential premises. Such issues are uncontroversial and could easily be part of a miscellaneous provisions Bill.
The Association of District Councils made the point that nearly all Private Members' Bills contain provisions for a county council or a district council to help industry by building factory shells, for example. Local authorities want powers and rights to assist industry, but there is nothing of that nature in the Bill. This is probably because the Minister of State is being blocked by his friends in the Department of Industry. I do not see why, because it would not be a measure of creeping Socialism. Both Conservative and Labour-controlled authorities want and ask for these powers for the benefit of their districts. Yet there is nothing remotely of that nature in the provisions of the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) made a point which I took up and which we feel should come in the Bill at a later stage. There is a ludicrous discrepancy between local authorities, some permissive and some puritan. In one town a particular film can be shown and in another it is banned. One authority accepts the British Board of Film Censors' judgment on a film and another does not. All that happens is that the film is a box office success because a particular authority has banned it.
It is said that film producers may make arrangements to ensure that the film is banned by one authority to give them extra publicity. I do not know whether that happens but it is ludicrous that the difference exists and the Bill should do something about it. Furthermore, the Association of County Councils and the Association of District Councils made this point and the Minister should heed them.
In Committee, many more matters which have been discussed between the Government and local authorities could be fitted in. The long title of the Bill is sufficiently wide for that to be done and where there is agreement between authorities and the Government new provisions, clauses and amendments can be inserted. Can the Minister assure the House that the widest possible latitude will be given to members of the Committee to consider and add to the Bill many of the things that local authorities think should be added.
One of the most interesting results of the debate has been the demonstration of the desire on both sides of the House for some provision to be put in the Bill regarding sex shops, which are an acute problem for many local authorities. As the House will know, a shop is a shop for planning legislation purposes. If the nature of the shop is changed to a sex shop that change does not come within the purview of the local authority. Most think that it should.
There have been valuable contributions tonight from the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert), Fulham (Mr. Stevens), Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) and Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill)—Southampton has a particularly acute problem—Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), and an excellent speech by the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate). All have said that control of sex shops should be included in the Bill. The Government may say that it is too controversial to be put into a Bill of this nature, but by including clause 3 they have pulled the rug from under their own feet. Members in all parts of the 963 House agree that there should be some control of sex shops. We are not asking for them to be banned but merely to be brought under control.
In Widnes, to the astonishment of my constituents, a letter appeared in the local newspaper suggesting that a sex shop should be opened there. There was enormous opposition to that suggestion. Wisely, the firm decided that discretion was the better part of valour and that it would not open such a shop in the area. In St. Helen's the same firm contracted to buy premises but there was enormous opposition to the idea of a sex shop in the main street and near a school.
The sex shop trade earns enormous profits from the degradation of women. There should be some control over it. Only last year the House passed an Act to prevent lurid literature from being put on open display, but despite that Act such shops proliferate outside Soho and London. A child walking along the high street will wonder and ask his parents what goes on behind the darkened window and why the shop is not an open shop like any other. If the Government take their courage into their hands and do something about that in Committee, they will have a responsive ear from the Opposition.
§ Mr. Parris
With great trepidation I spring to the defence of sex shops. If such a measure were included in the Bill, would it not mean that no local authority would allow a sex shop in its area? I think that it would mean that. Is that what the right hon. Gentleman wants?
§ Mr. Oakes
I should leave the decision about whether a sex shop should be allowed to the discretion of the electorate and their elected councillors. Representations could be made by the people who wanted to open such shops but the local council would have some control. Great anger is caused when a sex shop is opened on a main street in an area where there has never been such a shop before. Small industrial communities are not used to that type of shop and they resent the imposition of it without planning consent or control.
There are many other sins of omission but I do not have time to discuss them all. Clause 3, which deals with takeaway food shops, is also contentious. The clause empowers a council to close such a shop if it provides a take-away service after 11 p.m.
The argument developed into a north-south argument, except for the contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). I can understand that and I am sure that the Minister will also understand it as he represents the excellent town of Pudsey in Yorkshire. The hon. Members for Shipley (Mr. Fox), Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown) and Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) spoke against the provision, either wholly or in part.
The hon. Member for Shipley made it clear that the trade had not been consulted about the provision. It is dangerous to insert a clause in a miscellaneous provisions Bill without extensive consultations with the trade concerned, because that could be hurtful to that trade. He also pointed out that that was far from the accepted practice in accordance with the Minister's statement that it must he precedented in recent local Acts and uncontroversial. An attempt was made on 21 March 1979 with the West Midlands County Council Bill, which was thrown out by the Opposed Private Bill Committee.
I hope that the Minister will tell us in how many and in which private Bills that provision is now contained. If 964 he cannot give us a substantial list of local authorities that have wanted the provision in the Bill, clearly clause 3 has no part in the Bill. I hope that when the Government recognised that it is uncontroversial, they will withdraw it.
The clause is weird and wonderful and uses peculiar words. The essence of the wording is that the local authority must be of the opinion that there may be a nuisance to residents in the neighbourhood. There may not have been a complaint about a nuisance. Some local authorities may consider that take-away food establishments are a nuisance per se and that, in their opinion, without any complaint being made, those establishments must close at 11 o'clock. The word "neighbourhood" is wide. How far does the neighbourhood of a take-away food establishment extend?
I agree with the hon. Members for Brigg and Scunthorpe and for Shipley that a useful service is provided by those shops. We know that there is always someone who will raise a complaint about something. If the council considers a complaint, it may satisfy one, two, four or five individuals, but during that consideration it deprives the public—who have previously made no complaint because they are happy with the service—of that service. It also deprives the proprietor—I am especially concerned for the small proprietor—of a living.
Many shops used to have a lunchtime trade, but because of clearance that trade has disappeared. Many proprietors rely upon the late night trade. We must recognise that the days of curfew have gone. We must consider the hour of 11 o'clock. Pubs do not close until 11 o'clock, although they used to close at 10 o'clock. Auntie BBC used to go off the air at 10 o'clock because people were expected to be in bed, but now both it and ITV broadcast until after midnight. It is reasonable to expect that people can go out and buy something to eat at those hours.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
My hon. Friend suggests that that clause should not be embodied in the Bill. Can he suggest how to resolve the problem, especially in areas such as mine where there have been repeated representations for many years?
§ Mr. Oakes
It can be done partly under planning legislation and conditions imposed when the consent is given, or it can be done if a clause replacing clause 3 meets my hon Friend's legitimate point, although not in such a draconian way. The Government must be aware that many thousands of people, including humble proprietors of fish and chip shops, will deplore the legislation. They will not hesitate to tell their customers who are deprived of their fish and chips at 11 pm that the council has closed the shop because of Government action.
We must be careful to see that legislation does not take away people's rights, particularly where one or two people may object and thereby deprive many hundreds, if not thousands, of others of their rights. They may prevent an industry, and especially individual shopkeepers, from making a living.
In addition, it is clear that the legislation is controversial. Three hon. Members on the Government Benches oppose it, one of whom was a Minister and might have introduced the Bill only a few months ago. The Government should carefully reconsider clause 3.
§ Mr. Rathbone
May I correct one of the right hon. Gentleman's assertions? It is not a north-south divide. Good fish are caught and good fish and chips are sold in the south, where there is just as much concern.
§ Mr. Oakes
I apologise. I may have heard only part of the hon. Gentleman's speech. I am delighted that the south has united with the north to oppose the way that the Government are imposing the legislation.
Part IV relates to fire precautions. It is absurd by statute to require councils to consult fire authorities on fire matters. Which authorities object to doing that? Which impose requirements on caravan sites without consulting the fire authority? The matter is so axiomatic that it is absurd to include it even in a miscellaneous provisions Bill. If there is a reason to include the provision, I hope that the Minister will tell us.
I am wary of and a little unhappy about part VI, which enables the police to institute proceedings without the consent of the Attorney-General in respect of offences against byelaws made by local authorities. I wish that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) was in the Chamber. We have today discussed the Scarman inquiry. Policemen are not park keepers or market inspectors. The enforcement of byelaws is often more a matter for a market inspector or a park keeper. It is not for the majesty of the law to intervene, unless the local authority wishes it.
Secondly, many byelaws concern street processions and the right to demonstrate and to picket. The clause must be looked at carefully, as it gives the police a power that they do not at the moment have to prosecute without the consent of the Attorney-General.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax dealt thoroughly with acupuncture, tattooing, ear-piercing and electrolysis. Acupuncturists may be a little aggrieved at being lumped together with tattooists and ear-piercers, but I suppose that the evils resulting from the malpractice of those professions are similar.
May we have clarification of part VIII, which concerns applications for permits to sell foods from stalls and containers? If an application is made, the local authority appears to have no choice. Clause 17(8) states:On application for registration under this section the local authority shall register the application and if the applicant is for the registration of premises, those premises, and shall issue to the applicant a certificate of registration".There is no discretion to decide whether the person is suitable or unsuitable and no provision to take the licence and registration away from someone who is manifestly unsuitable. That registration should clearly be considered in Committee. It reminds me of Gilbert and Sullivan'sI've got a little list".All that the local authority would have is a "little list" and it would have no powers against the individual.
If clause 3 operated and a local authority decided to impose an order requiring a chip shop or take-away food premises to close at 11 pm, the shop would close, but a mobile trader selling fish and chips could park outside those premises at that time and continue his trade with impunity. The Bill would put the shop proprietor out of business but no public nuisance would have been remedied and a public scandal would be created by somebody trading and being protected by the umbrella of an Act. The Committee will have to consider that. The Opposition will 966 not oppose the Bill, but I wish that the opportunity had been taken, five years after the last Bill, to produce a better Bill than this.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Giles Shaw)
As the right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) said, this has been a substantial debate and there have been many contributions, which have produced four themes. First, there has been a general agreement that the Bill should be passed and, as the right hon. Gentleman confirmed, there is no suggestion that the House will divide. Secondly, it has been agreed that the Bill has been in preparation for a long time, and there has been considerable criticism about that. Thirdly, the Bill contains useful provisions, some of which have provoked criticism which I shall attempt to deal with. Fourthly, it omits a number of major matters which hon. Members on both sides of the House would have preferred to be included.
I remind the House of the conditions under which such Bills must be produced. The right hon. Member for Widnes referred to them in his opening remarks. The legislation must follow fairly well predetermined paths, including being largely non-controversial and precendented, and containing matters for which there can be shown to be a considerable need.
The Bill is following two previous miscellaneous provisions Bills of 1972 and 1976. It may interest hon. Members to know that the processes involved in attempting to gather the Bill's provisions together started before its predecessor in May 1976 had reached the statute book. A working party was established by the Department of the Environment to gather together the contents of the legislation that we are discussing. About 180 proposals have been suggested and, as the right hon. Member for Widnes said, many have been proposed by the ACC and other associations.
The working group's efforts lasted from 22 January 1979. Although I accept a fair amount of blame for the preparation of the legislation taking such a long time—I know that hon. Members wish to see it take a shorter time—the process of consultation and agreement by associations of what might or might not be included—there is competitive pressure from them all to make some contribution—inevitably takes time. Each matter must be weighed against the criteria that I have described and against the fact that in several cases the local authorities might have desired to include matters that were already the subject of separate legislation that was under discussion. We might refer to one or two of the omissions in that context.
My task is to endeavour to respond to the points made by the hon. Members who have contributed so richly to the debate.
The hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) dealt with the mandatory nature of some of the clauses and with the extension of local government powers that the Bill brings about. The only mandatory provisions—these extend the powers of local government—are in clauses 1, 7 and 20. They are in relation to the licensing of public entertainments, consultation between authorities about fire matters, and control of construction works under streets.
The minimum number of mandatory clauses has been put into the Bill to avoid imposing increased duties on local authorities. In all these powers being provided, we 967 recognise that there will undoubtedly be some restraint on expenditure and on manning, but I think that the hon. Lady will recognise that, in so far as licensing is available in many of these cases, there will be a contribution towards the costs that might be incurred by some of the mandatory provisions.
The hon. Lady went on to discuss glue sniffing, a subject that was mentioned by other hon. Members. That is a national problem. I attempted to get some advice from the Department of Health and Social Security about it. That Department does not consider that the problem of glue sniffing can be dealt with within the context of this Bill. Products can obviously be used for this purpose, but they are products that could equally be used for legitimate purposes, and the question of what products must be confined or restricted in their sale is one that will take a considerable amount of definition and will, I suspect, prove extremely controversial.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I note that the hon. Gentleman consulted the DHSS. Is it not a Home Office responsibility to control the spread of glue sniffing?
§ Mr. Shaw
The hon. Lady is right to correct me. It is a problem for the Home Office to contain, but the question of what is involved in terms of the risk to health is one about which the DHSS is concerned. I apologise for misleading the hon. Lady on that matter.
The hon. Lady also asked about the Greater London Council's experience in relation to part I. This has been the basis on which this portion of the Bill has been put forward. It is reckoned that the experiences gained in London have been satisfactory and that the extension to other local authorities would be sensible.
A number of hon. Members raised the question of acupuncture. The hon. Lady asks why this matter should involve a permissive power. I think that she should not draw distinctions that are too fine between what is permissible and what is mandatory. I have no doubt that local authorities will seek to use the powers in the Bill as widely as they consider their local area requires. I think that we can rely on that happening.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox) was the first to raise the major point about take-away food shops. This matter was echoed by almost every hon. Member who spoke in the debate. Under part III and the clauses in it, the local authority will, if it is so minded, have powers to introduce a closing order. There is nothing magic about the time span that is offered between 11 pm and 5 am. Any time that the local authority deemed to be appropriate in regard to the problem could be used.
Secondly, the clause is drafted in a way that makes it extremely individual. If hon. Members care to look at clause 4 they will see that it can be used against an indvidual premise, and clause 3(2) says:A closing order shall be an order specifying individual premises and addressed to the person having the conduct or management of them".There is nothing that could force a local authority to apply a closure order on, for example, all take-away food shops, and certainly not all fish and chip shops, in its area from 11 pm to 5 am. It is empowered to take note of the premises which in residential areas cause a substantial series of complaints or some other nuisance on which it deems it sensible to act.
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) raised the question of appeal. I take his point that in the planning 968 laws there are procedures to handle those matters by a non-judicial route, but as we are dealing with an offence as opposed to a disagreement between a local authority's decision and that which the appellant seeks to establish in a planning appeal, it is essentially a matter for the courts. Also, questions of compensation could be raised should an appeal be upheld when a local authority has taken action to deprive a person of his livelihood. It is sensible that the matter should be dealt with by the magistrates' courts.
My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Dickens) raised the flag of the street traders and their important contribution.
§ Mr. Oakes
I should like to ask the Minister two questions about part III. He talked of "substantial complaints". Those words do not appear in the legislation. Might it be so amended? Secondly, I ask him for the precedents of local Acts that contain that provison. Will he tell us how many there are and where they are?
§ Mr. Shaw
I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman. The precedent need not be contained purely in local Acts. It could be legislation of a similar character. In this instance the precedent is the Late Night Refreshment Houses Act 1969. As the right hon. Gentleman will see from the explanatory notes that we have offered to him, that is the route through which the amendment has been made. In that Act there is provision for closure to be available for premises where refreshment or consumption takes place in the premises. Now we are dealing primarily with refreshment that takes place outside or is taken away from the premises.
It is not incumbent upon them, but it is open to planning authorities to determine shopping policies under the structure plans or district plans—primarily the district plans. As a result, developments for shopping will be material factors when an inspector comes to discuss an application or appeal. It is important that local authorities should use that for dealing with shopping policies, particularly for take-away food and other premises that have collected in any number in certain areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) referred to the Brixton Road. The consequence for the remainder of the area and its amenities is substantial. Shopping policies in district plans may be one way of avoiding the creation of the problems that this modest Bill seeks to put right.
§ Mr. Cryer
The Minister suggested that a closing order under clause 3 would be a criminal matter, but that would be at the discretion of the council to apply after a dispute. No criminal offence would necessarily be involved. The only criminal offence would arise from the application of the closing order subsequent to its confirmation under clause 5.
§ Mr. Shaw
The hon. Gentleman asked whether it would be more appropriate to provide a non-judicial route for dealing with appeals and I was seeking to answer him on that point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) was the first hon. Member to raise the major problem of the sex shops and the fact that that matter is not in the Bill. I suspect that that was the main anxiety of those who complained that the Bill omitted more than it committed. The issue of sex shops is one with which my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office and I have had to deal over recent months.
969 No doubt many hon. Members are aware that the Home Secretary is already advanced in his consideration of the application of a licensing scheme, particularly in relation to the Greater London Council. It is the Home Secretary's view that before reaching a further decision on this it would be sensible to assess the practicability of the GLC's proposed scheme. Hon. Members have been pressing to know how far the scheme has proceeded. Discussions on that Bill have now proceeded a fair way. Those involved in the discussions have already discovered some of the major difficulties involved in legislating in this area.
The practical difficulties include devising an effective licensing scheme while preventing it from applying to forms of trading which I am sure hon. Members would regard as perfectly legitimate. For example, there is the danger of classifying Boots, the chemists, as a sex shop simply because it sells contraceptives, or of requiring the local newsagent to apply for a licence because he sells a few girlie magazines. Difficulties of that kind involving niceties of definition have already shown that there is a real problem in defining the form of trade which hon. Members on both sides seek to restrict.
That Bill is being produced and, we hope, will be published shortly. As my hon. Friend the Member for Romford recognised, the GLC has the major problem in its area and will no doubt be the first to discover whether limits can satisfactorily be defined to catch the trade, while not preventing legitimate trade in articles which may so easily be associated with it.
§ Mr. Chapman
Surely my hon. Friend is not suggesting that it is beyond the wit of Parliament to define what is a residential area as opposed to an industrial area. There may well be some people residing in industrial areas and some light industry in residential areas, but it is surely not beyond our wit to define exactly what we mean by a sex shop.
§ Mr. Shaw
It may not be beyond the wit of my hon. Friend, but it will certainly be extremely difficult to provide a watertight definition in law of those articles which constitute a trade which we wish to license and those which constitute a trade which we do not wish to license. I can only tell him that, having defined the premises by virtue of the types of material sold, the questions which then arise as to what the licensing powers should be; how they should be administered, and so on, are formidable. Nevertheless, I can report to the House that the matter is now well advanced. Through the GLC powers Bill we hope to be able to see how the matter can be taken forward, as licensing is clearly a more appropriate route than the planning laws to which my hon. Friend has referred.
I think that I have dealt with the take-away food shops which constitute a huge problem in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Watford. I hope that he will believe that the provisions of the Bill will help to close the Watford gap which causes such a problem. It is certainly our intention to do so.
I must agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) that the proposals in the Bill will reduce legislative time and therefore reduce cost. That, too, is a good point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) and the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen 970 (Mr. Mitchell), who is no longer present, referred to the problem of prostitution in Southampton. There is no doubt that the problems are particularly severe there. I can advise my hon. Friend that the Home Secretary's Criminal Law Revision Committee will shortly issue for public comment a working paper on the subject of prostitution. We hope that it will be issued in the first half of next year. It will include discussion of whether brothels should be licensed or otherwise permitted in certain areas of a city. The Government have no intention of introducing legislation on this matter in advance of the committee's report, which will be published only after the fullest consultation has taken place on the working paper. My hon. Friend may thus take at least some satisfaction from the fact that progress is being made by the committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) referred to the provisions of clause 19, which refers to the existing legislation whereby the appropriate authority may require persons responsible for premises bordering highways to prevent water from the premises falling on to passers-by or flowing over a footway. It is now intended to extend this provision to include the carriageway or roadway, in the interests of road safety. That is why the clause has been included.
My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) asked why we had waited for so long. I have given some indication of the long period of preparation. My hon. Friend's concern was about mobile food traders and whether they would come within the provisions of the Bill. I think that I can reassure my hon. Friend. That will be possible under clauses 16 and 17. As the right hon. Member for Widnes said, such traders will have to be registered with the local authority. The purpose of registration is to secure before the start of a food-selling activity the essential identifying information. If that is not available by other means, the local authority must carry out its responsibility for enforcing the provisions of the Food and Drugs Act 1955. We hope that this form of retailing will also benefit from the provisions in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) was anxious about the future of rates. I assure him—as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday—that the Green Paper will be published soon, I hope next month, when there will no doubt be much discussion about the alternative systems contained in that paper.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden) asked about planning appeals, the time taken for them and their costs. I accept that this is a major cost restraint upon industry. My hon. Friend will know that we have made substantial progress in trying to speed up the system and that the average time taken to determine appeals has come down steadily, particularly in those cases determined by written representation as opposed to the full arrangement of an inspector's inquiry.
I accept that the M25 orbital ring road has caused substantial problems, but my hon. Friend must recognise that this is the most difficult and contentious road that could possibly have been designed, especially as much of it passes through green belt land. Progress is being made, and I accept that the sooner we can proceed to completion the better.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) raised a number of points. I cannot comment 971 precisely on whether the "jam Bill" of 1981 will be upstaged by these measures. However, I fancy that things should be all right for the women's institutes in Cornwall.
My hon. Friend asked whether clause 28 would include sanctions to enable a local authority to take action against a temporary market. Sanctions are already available. The purpose of the clause is to give local authorities time to use those sanctions. These exist under the Shops Act 1950 as well as under planning law. It should therefore be possible for local authorities to act more speedily. As I said, the sanctions already exist.
My hon. Friend also asked about varying the conditions of an entertainment licence under paragraph 14(2) of schedule 1. This is the only case where the licensing authority may vary such conditions.
§ Mr. Neale
Will my hon. Friend consider details that I can obtain from Cornwall about the enforcement procedure for markets? The authority tried to take action, but that was contested by the market operator, whose appeal was upheld by the Secretary of State. I should be grateful to my hon. Friend if he would look at any details that I send him.
§ Mr. Shaw
Once an appeal has been upheld and determined by the Secretary of State, that is the end of the matter. I trust that my hon. Friend will feel reasonably sure that the matter was properly and fairly appraised before a decision was taken.
My hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton) raised the fascinating problem of the occult. I note what he said about marriage. As a former marketing director of Rowntree Mackintosh, I was often bewitched by the presentation of a box of "Black Magic". I do not think that the occult would necessarily be a suitable matter to be dealt with in the Bill. We are in enough trouble with what the Bill already contains, and I am glad that the occult has been left out of it.
My hon. Friend asked whether clause 30 covered abandoned cars. Hon. Members will know that the clause refers to the recovery of lost property that has been uncollected. It seems possible to relate it to cars that are found on premises that are owned or managed by local authorities, but I believe that there are existing powers to deal with the matter properly under the Road Traffic Acts. I hope that that provides joy in the streets of Epsom and Ewell.
I have already referred to the fact that the fish and chip business, which my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown) so nobly defended, should not be seriously at risk from the provisions of the Bill. I remind him that the largest fish and chip shop in Great Britain is located in Pudsey, under the proud name of Harry Ramsden. Long may he continue to trade profitably and successfully.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey) raised a particular problem about the pedestrianised highway. It is not a highway or a bridleway, it is a pedestrianised highway. No doubt, in the dim recesses of the House at the dim hour of midnight, I shall explain that even further.
The Bill has provided much interest, even though many hon. Members are worried that it does not go far enough 972 in certain predetermined areas. It does not include provision for industrial development, a point that was raised by the hon. Member for Halifax. I accept that the Burns report, which was laid before the House some time ago, sets out conclusions about the review of local authority powers and makes recommendations on what might be done. We have not found it easy to get the full period of discussion with local authorities through, but we intend to do so rapidly and to provide our final conclusions on the report in the new year. That will help to clarify the matter, particularly as I know that local Acts are due to expire in 1984 to 1986.
I remind the House that local authorities have many powers to assist industry. They have substantial planning powers. They have land registers in 35 cases and will shortly have them nationally. They have statute powers to help them to provide encouragement for industry, whether in co-operation with urban development corporations in London and Merseyside or by using the partnership schemes. There is much that they can and should do to help generate industry.
This has been an interesting and well-intentioned debate on a wide variety of miscellaneous provisions. I am astonished, noting that the time is 9.57 pm, that the Bill has managed to obtain such a substantial discussion and airing in the House. However, its main objective is to provide what local authorities have sought so that the hassle of producing separate pieces of private legislation will no longer take up large parts of parliamentary time. No doubt there will now be a requirement for another Bill with miscellaneous provisions, as has happened in the past. I gained the impression from both sides of the House that, although there is disappointment, there is general agreement that this is a useful collection of miscellaneous provisions that should provide some assistance to local authorities in the execution of their duties.
With regard to the two most contentious issues of takeaway food and the powers of local authorities to deal with difficulties in late night refreshment houses, I believe that local authorities will be sensitive in balancing the needs of their residents against the needs of the industries that supply the services. None of us disagrees that local authorities have an important role in planning an area that is pleasant to live in, but also an industrial climate in which small businesses and traders in take-away food can operate successfully.
I commend the Bill to the House. I wish it a speedy and, I trust, successful Committee stage. No doubt amendments will be tabled. I trust that they will be amendments that will not destroy the basically uncontentious nature of the Bill, whose Second Reading I now commend to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).