§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 10.2 pm
§ Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is my privilege today to commend this Bill to the House. I should confess at once, however, my disappointment that we are to have only a short debate and that the Government have been unable to accommodate the Bill at a time and on a day when we could have spent more time debating the affairs of our capital city. It has become a tradition in the House that the Bill provides one of the far too rare opportunities afforded to London Members to debate London's affairs.
In addition, until two or three days ago, many of us were under the impression that today's debate was to be on the money Bill. There are precedents for the money Bill being discussed before the general powers Bill. One such precedent was in June 1979, when the motion was moved by the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) who is not now in his place. He will recall that the money Bill had already received an unopposed Second Reading when he moved the general powers Bill, so there are precedents for the money Bill to be taken first.
On that occasion the hon. Member for Streatham began by drawing attention to what he considered to be the satisfactory rate of unemployment in London. At that time it was running at just under 4 per cent., although he said that in some areas it was as high as 13 per cent. I had hoped that he might tell us today what he thinks of the present figures after three years of Tory administration, when unemployment is now 11.6 per cent. for London as a whole and the board across the river at County Hall shows a total of about 339,000 unemployed in London. Stepney has unemployment of 26.5 per cent., Poplar has 28 per cent., Holloway has 23.5 per cent., and Lambeth and Camden just over 18 per cent.
I give those figures to compare them with the situation when the hon. Gentleman opened the debate not so long ago, after a couple of years of Tory administration. The figures are as bad as any in the country, and they are a constant reminder to all of us in London, if we need a reminder, of the terrible disaster that befell London in May 1979.
§ Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)
I do not see how the hon. Gentleman relates those figures to the Bill.
§ Mr. Stallard
I was relating them to the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Streatham. He began with a statement of the unemployment figures in London at that time. That is justification enough. Moreover, as I said at the beginning of my speech, this debate has traditionally been an occasion when we can look at London's problems as a whole and put them into proper perspective.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On previous occasions in these debates we have been called to order for not adhering strictly to what is in the Bill. May I ask that you do that tonight?
§ Mr. Stallard
This is a Second Reading debate. I know how touchy Conservative Members must be, and they 1036 have something to be touchy about, but I do not recall many occasions on which we have been called to order in these debates.
I shall now explain the main provisions of the Bill in as few words as I can. Although the Bill has been available since 1981, I imagine that many of us did not think it necessary to brief ourselves on it, because it was not due to be debated for some time.
The powers proposed in the Bill are sought at the request of the London Boroughs Association. These powers, as well as those sought by the GLC, are designed to benefit the ratepayers of London generally. The provisions in clause 20, for example, have been sought at the request of the London borough of Richmond upon Thames, and those in clause 21 are at the request of the Royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea. All those recommendations have been endorsed and approved by the present administration at County Hall. That proves, I think, that the Bill is not too contentious.
Clause 3 deals with charges for diverting traffic. For some time the London Boroughs Association has been worried about the costs involved in issuing notices under section 12 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967, which authorises highway authorities to close roads temporarily in certain circumstances, for instance, to facilitate the execution of works on the road by statutory undertakers, or to allow the delivery of bulky equipment to a building or a construction site or in a narrow thoroughfare, or for building development. The costs involved in the temporary closure of roads under the 1967 Act include the public advertisement of intended closure, drafting and supervising the operation of closure orders and notices, erecting traffic signs and barriers. The London Boroughs Association requested the council to include provision in this general powers Bill to authorise London borough councils to make a charge to cover such costs. At the moment there is no power to make such a charge, although I understand that some boroughs have facilities for making a charge in respect of those powers.
The GLC and the Department of Transport also make closure notices under the 1967 Act which are included in the proposed legislation. To give the House an idea of the amounts involved, the Common Council of the City of London—which deals with about 400 notices or closure orders in a year—estimates that the administrative cost of a closure order is about £150 and £30 for a notice, so that we are talking about between £50,000 and £60,000. Camden council, which deals with only two or three notices a week, pays between £15,000 and £20,000 a year. That cost must be borne by the ratepayers, but the London Boroughs Association and councils believe that it should be a charge on the undertakers. I am sure that most hon. Members who have expressed sentiments about rates from time to time will welcome that "good housekeeping" approach to closure orders.
Clause 4 increases fines for some summary offences in Greater London. London local legislation is embodied in about 250 Acts of Parliament which contain many offences and provisions, some enforceable by individual councils, some by groups of borough councils and some by all borough councils. Maximum penalties for certain offences are sometimes increased in the council's general powers Acts and other penalties are updated by Government legislation such as the Criminal Justice Acts. The Criminal 1037 Law Act 1977 increased some penalties across the board but only in respect of Acts passed before 1 January 1949. As a result, the increases were relatively small.
The London Boroughs Association considers that penalties should be realistically updated and so there has been a comprehensive review, with adequate consultation of all authorities, into about 500 provisions that contain penalties for the commission of offences. As a result of that consultation and review about 95 penalties were increased, which can be justified if necessary. Clause 4 and the schedule to the Bill seek to authorise all those increases.
§ Sir Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
Can the hon. Gentleman explain the offences to which those penalties apply? What is the range of offences?
§ Mr. Stallard
I am sure that I should be called to order if I tried to quote the schedule at length. It covers many offences and includes the Monuments (Metropolis) Act 1878, where the old maximum fine was £25 and the new maximum fine is recommended to be £200.
§ Mr. Stallard
Cleopatra's Needle is included, as are other monuments. There are also offences under section 51 of the Act dealing with wilful damage to drains. I do not wish to bore the House with a long list of Acts. There are many other fines and penalties and I am sure that hon. Members will study the Acts and pick out those that apply to their areas. I am sure that when the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) has had an opportunity to study the schedule he will agree that it is about time the penalties were updated. My only criticism is that some of them are still not high enough for the offences involved.
We must also take into account what the Home Office is doing in the measures relating to criminal justice and criminal law, but those 95 proposed increases could be justified in view of the intense consultative process with all the authorities before the recommendations were made.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Does the hon. Gentleman think that sufficient discussion took place before the maximum fine went into section 171 of the Erith Tramways and Improvement Act 1903, which deals with offences such as organising circus processions without giving notice?
§ Mr. Stallard
I am assured that, as I have said, consultation took place. The matter was last raised in 1977. We must accept that some consultation took place before then. More consultation has taken place since by people who understand those matters far better than the hon. Gentleman or myself. Therefore, I am certain that consultation took place.
For some hon. Members, clauses 5 and 21 are the most important. The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon), who has had reservations about the proposals, will be interested in this. These clauses relate to what became known in the early 1970s in London as creeping conversion of residential accommodation to hotel accommodation. There was erosion of residential accommodation in boroughs such as Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Camden and Paddington. It is rife in those areas and is of great concern to all involved.
"Creeping conversion" is a term given to a process whereby a change from normal family residential accommodation to accommodation for short-term or holiday visitors is made gradually. Because that 1038 conversion is so gradual, the local planning authority is not aware of the change until cases are brought to its notice. That is not unusual for local planning authorities.
All of us must be concerned about the erosion of permanent living accommodation in that way when the housing situation in London is so serious. The housing starts programme has gone down from a total of 44.600 in the first nine months of 1978 to 5,880 in the first nine months of 1981. Any erosion, for whatever reason, of remaining parts of residential accommodation must be viewed by all hon. Members with the utmost seriousness.
Two London local enactments were passed to alleviate the situation. The first was in section 25 of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973. It was enacted to secure planning control over changes of use of permanent residences to temporary tourist accommodation by deeming changes in the use of residential premises to use as temporary sleeping accommodation to be material changes of use for the purposes of the town and country planning legislation. The term "temporary sleeping accommodation" was tied to the occupation of premises by the same person for less than 22 consecutive nights.
Since the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973 several factors have contributed to an increase in the use of accommodation for short stay or holiday letting purposes. Opportunities for new hotel development within and near the centre of London have become limited owing to the shortage of suitable sites for that purpose. Local authorities have rightly, in most cases, adopted restrictive hotel policies for a variety of reasons. The nature of the demand for tourist accommodation has changed. There is now more emphasis on self-catering accommodation. There is a lack of profitability in some sectors of the housing market, which adds to the pressure for the change of use.
Westminster city council has found that, although the 22-nights limitation in the 1973 Act has been partially effective in catching transient holiday uses, it has been ineffective in dealing with instances when lets of one month or more in the borough for supposed residential purposes are holiday lets to foreign visitors. In other words, there is a bit of a racket going on, about which we are all bothered. I welcome the views expressed by the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) when I have listened to him on his frequent visits to the local media. I do not think that there is much between us.
The second relevant local enactment was obtained by the Royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea in its Act of 1972, which is used in tandem with the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973 to require the registration of certain types of sleeping accommodation. The object of registration provisions of the Modification of Kensington and Chelsea Corporation Act 1972 was twofold. First, it provided accurate and necessary information about the number and location of premises used for hotels and other short-stay purposes so that they could be kept track of. Secondly, it enabled the Royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea to protect existing permanent residential accommodation by refusing to register proposals for new temporary sleeping accommodation.
The Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973 and the Modification of Kensington and Chelsea Corporation Act 1972 have the common feature that control in both cases is based on a period of 22 consecutive nights. Those two Acts are now considered by the London Boroughs Association and by other local authorities 1039 involved to be due for revision. The LBA feels that an extension should be made from 22 to 90 consecutive nights; in other words, three months in the letting period in section 25 of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973, which would do much to restore the usefulness of the original provisions. We would welcome that, although we recognise immediately that there are probably loopholes and snags which will have to be looked at from time to time in the course of the operation of the new system. That is dealt with in clauses 5 and 21.
The hon. Member for Abingdon objected to the possible retrospective aspect of this legislation. From discussions that I have had with both the GLC and the LBA, and through them with the Royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea, I understand that it was never intended that the legislative process should be pushed backwards. I am assured that, on the recommendation of officers from all those areas, suitable amendments will be accepted by the Royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea and be included in the Bill.
§ Mr. Tom Benyon (Abingdon)
I thank the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) for those words. I wish to make a brief intervention. It might come as a slight surprise to the House to find that the Member for Abingdon wishes to sit in on the Bill that is being deliberated upon tonight. It is as strange for me as it is for the rest of the House.
I have a constituent who is deeply concerned about the possible retrospective elements of clause 21. I have attempted to make note of it by putting my name to the attempt to block the Bill. However, I am prepared to allow the Bill to have a speedy transmission through the House provided that I receive an assurance from the hon. Gentleman that he will point out to the appropriate authorities the possible retrospective elements of this offending clause. I should add that they have been extremely co-operative with us in discussions. Nevertheless, I seek an assurance from the hon. Gentleman that he has noted the retrospective possibilities of the clause and will do what he can to ensure that a perfectly respectable business is not destroyed—
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
Order. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to catch my eye subsequently to make a speech, that is one thing, but a long intervention is another matter.
§ Mr. Stallard
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and for the fact that he has withdrawn his opposition to the Bill so that it can have a fair passage. I understand his reservations and I have raised the matter with the appropriate authorities. I am convinced that some answer will be found.
Part III is, for many of us, probably the most important part of the Bill. I refer to the provision relating to the licensing by borough councils of sex establishments. Part III seeks the introduction of a licensing code for various types of sex establishment in Greater London. Central London boroughs and particularly the City of Westminster have observed that a proliferation of shops retailing sex aids, sex books and sex films, of cinemas showing sex-oriented films and of other sex-oriented establishments can not only bring about substantial changes in the character 1040 of an area and cause widespread complaint among local residents and visitors but can lead to the loss of valued local shops. We are all concerned about that.
While the sex industry has hitherto concentrated its activities in Central London, notably in the Soho area, it is clear that sex-oriented establishments, primarily shops selling sex books and aids, are springing up throughout Greater London and, judging by the reports in provincial newspapers, throughout the country as a whole.
London local authorities wishing to respond to pressure to control the spread of such establishments and to regulate their operation find that their powers to do so are piecemeal, inconsistent and defective in major respects. In London, sex cinemas are required to be licensed by the GLC under the Cinematograph Act, while sex cinema clubs are not. However, if the Cinematograph Bill is enacted, such clubs will be brought under the GLC's licensing control, which might be helpful. Saunas and massage parlours are licensed by the borough councils for most, but not all, of Greater London under a number of local Act codes. Strip clubs, nude posing establishments and "booking offices" for such establishments are licensed by the GLC as public entertainments licensing authority.
However, shops selling sex-oriented books, films, tapes and aids of all kinds cannot generally be controlled, and neither can the sex cinema clubs. Various other establishments, including peep shows and sex encounter establishments, may fall outside licensing control under the law as it stands. I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, in our innocence, you and I may be unaware of all sorts of other establishments which we should know about when it comes to regulations. No doubt we shall eventually find out about them if we live that long.
Some sex establishments are subject to reasonably effective licensing controls, but others are not. Therefore, there is a need for the Bill. Although they are all subject to town and country planning legislation, its operation is not necessarily effective for sex establishments. For example, a change of use from a club to a sex shop would probably require planning permission, while a change of use from a greengrocer's shop to a sex shop would not. I am not criticising greengrocers' shops. I have nothing against them. However, although a club would need planning permission, a change from a greengrocer's shop to a sex shop would not. Therefore, there should be some improvement in that state of affairs.
Having taken account of all the existing powers of control, the borough councils most affected reached the conclusion that a London Private Bill solution would have to be sought, based on a licensing code for sex-oriented premises. That is the purport of part III. Its various clauses outline and define all the terms that I have mentioned as well as others and lay down the procedure for applying for licences, for appeals, and so on.
We are all aware that since the introduction of the Bill the Government have added some provisions to their Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which is being discussed in the other place. I am sure that the LBA, the GLC and the London boroughs in general are proud of the fact that the Government had something to copy and to insert into a national Bill.
It might be necessary to withdraw part III of this Bill in favour of the provisions in that Bill. If we look at all the provisions we must have some reservations as there are some areas—such as sex encounter shops—that are not covered by that measure but are covered in this Bill. The 1041 LBA is trying to persuade the Government to improve the miscellaneous provisions in line with the provisions in this Bill. If they can effect those improvements, part III will be withdrawn. I hope the House will agree that it is a necessary provision. Any provision that can unite Kensington and Chelsea, Camden, Westminster and the present GLC must be off to a good start. It must be supported by all and sundry.
Clause 20 is important. It amends the Richmond, Petersham and Ham Open Spaces Act 1902. Those of us who have had the pleasure of visiting places like that know that it is important that we protect and keep those amenities, particularly in London. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey is not in his place. He could have told us about them—[HON. MEMBERS: "He was here."]—I thought that he was here for that reason. I did not really want to go through all the provisions of the clause. The hon. Gentleman might have been able to enlighten us.
I have discussed the provision with the promoters and all concerned. The Royal borough of Richmond upon Thames owns about 30 acres of land alongside the river. It is known as Petersham Meadows. With other land in the borough, Petersham Meadows was vested in the borough council's predecessors in the Act of 1902. Petersham Meadows are situated at the foot of Richmond Hill and are of great amenity value. They are an important part of the famous prospect of the Thames Valley from Richmond Hill. For about 100 years Petersham Meadows have been worked as a farm. Most of the buildings were erected before the borough council became the owner of the land and it would seem that some of the construction was in breach of the 1902 Act building restrictions. The buildings are unobtrusive. They blend well into the background of trees and they are practically unnoticeable from Richmond Hill.
The lease of the farm has terminated and the lessees are holding over. The borough council and all concerned are keen that if possible the amenity should be saved. They consider that the presence of cattle—it is a Guernsey herd, I understand, run by a famous dairy—in that important location is a valuable amenity. I understand that that opinion is shared by all the local residents. The absence of a petition against it—
§ Mr. Stallard
The hon. Gentleman signed a petition in favour of keeping it. That is even better. I understand that there was no protest and that, on the contrary, it is a welcome amenity. It is open to the public at milking times and is a facility that local youngsters obviously enjoy. It is something that London children should see more often. I am sure that we all agree that that is necessary.
In my own constituency we have the city farm run by Inter-Action, where youngsters ride horses and get to know goats and animals of all descriptions. What a bonus it is to parents and children to have that in any part of London. I have no hesitation in recommending that the provisions of clause 20 be accepted by the House, with all the safeguards and precautions that the local authority has taken into account.
Clause 22 is an amendment to the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1981. Section 20 of that Act lifted certain retail trading restrictions contained in the Shops Act 1950 relating particularly to Sunday opening for 1042 seven venues in London where exhibitions, trade fairs and conferences are held. Alexander Palace, the Barbican Centre, Earls Court, Olympia, the Royal Festival Hall, Wembley conference centre and arena and premises forming part of the World Trade Centre at St. Katherine's dock, known as International House and Europe House, were all included in the lifting of those trading restrictions. They were selected after careful consideration of the submissions made by the proprietors, and others, and of the views of the London borough councils involved, the London Boroughs Association and of advice tendered by the London Convention Bureau. Consultation took place on a wide scale.
The Shops Act restrictions are lifted on these venues only in respect of shops and stands used for the purpose of, and as part of, an exhibition, trade fair or conference. Now, Tower Hamlets council and St. Katherine-by-the-Tower Ltd. have asked the council to promote legislation to add Ivory House in East Smithfield to the list of seven. Clause 22 seeks to give effect to that request. Ivory House is part of the World Trade Centre complex. I believe that the House will agree to that provision.
That brings me to the end of my explanation of the main provisions of the Bill. I hope that I have said enough to convince the House that the Bill should now be given a Second Reading.
§ Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)
It would perhaps be better to draw a veil over the party propaganda in which the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) indulged at the beginning of his speech. The only comment I make is that he might have remembered that at least part of the unemployment in Greater London is directly due to the high rating of industrial and commercial premises imposed by the authority on whose behalf he speaks tonight.
Nevertheless, we are indebted to the hon. Gentleman for his careful and comprehensive explanation of the Bill. It is highly unusual for anything emanating from the present Greater London Council to be accorded a welcome by Conservative Members. Now that my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) has apparently Mien satisfied and has departed, I think we can say that Conservative Members approve of the provisions in the Bill and will give it a fair wind.
The Bill originated with the previous Conservative administration at County Hall, so it is a bipartisan measure in the best sense of the word.
The hon. Gentleman rightly said that among the most important provisions in the Bill are those contained in clauses 5 and 21 dealing with what has been called the creeping conversion of residential accommodation. He rightly paid tribute to the campaign waged by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler). No doubt we shall be hearing from my hon. Friend.
The hon. Gentleman was also good enough to concede that the original initiative for these new provisions came from the Royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Conservative Members regard those origins as of the utmost respectability and that is a further reason for giving the Bill, and these clauses in particular, a warm welcome.
The problem of creeping conversion is particularly acute in central London where the stock of housing available for private renting has been steadily shrinking over the years. That trend has been accentuated and 1043 accelerated by the arrival of our friends from the Middle East, and others, who take so many flats on a holiday-let basis. This has changed the character of some parts of Central London and has increased the pressure on remaining rented accommodation. This is a change that the Bill will do something to reverse. We hope that once enacted the Bill will help to ensure that a larger share of existing accommodation is retained for our own population. That is a purpose that is to be applauded and encouraged.
Similarly, we welcome the increased restrictions that are to be placed on sex establishments in Greater London by the proposed licensing code, which will help to reduce the serious nuisance and offence that these establishments so often cause. We give the Bill a general welcome. We hope that it will not be opposed and that it will be allowed to go into Committee.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
I congratulate the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) on the exhaustive way in which he presented the Bill and explained it to the House. The hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) upbraided the hon. Gentleman for mentioning unemployment, but it is a matter of great concern. It is traditional that London Members take the opportunity when discussing general powers Bills to comment on wider London issues. The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North did not offend against the normal practice. The hon. Member for Ravensbourne will know that if we lose the opportunity of commenting on wider London issues while discussing Bills of this sort we shall not get any more time.
§ Mr. John Hunt
I acknowledge that what the hon. Gentleman is saying applied in the past. However, I think that he will acknowledge that since the Government have been in office time has been allocated for the first time for specific London debates. This has avoided the necessity of using a Bill of this sort for a general debate. This distinction can legitimately be made in the light of the experience of the past two years.
§ Mr. Brown
Unfortunately, we have not had a London debate for nearly nine months. The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North took his opportunity, and I should like to take mine.
Only today I was informed that a company in my constituency is to close to move elsewhere. This means that 720 employees will be going. The fact that the firm is leaving has nothing to do with rates, Mr. Livingstone or anything else. As so often happens in London, the company has been given an enormous bribe by the Government to go to Weldon near Corby. It is being given nearly every conceivable incentive to go. A representative wrote to tell me that he was sorry that the firm was leaving, but it had to accept the Government's offer. Its reason for leaving has nothing to do with rates or the environment. Money is being thrust at it and it is much more attractive for it to go to Corby than to stay in London.
That is the tragic story of London. That is why the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North read out a list of unemployment figures. We are continuing to allow employment to leave London because other areas are suffering from unemployment. However badly off they 1044 may be for industry, it is ironic that they recruit from an area such as Hackney, in which unemployment is about 20 per cent., to go to an area which has a lower percentage of unemployment. That does not make a great deal of sense. London Members should continue to tell the Government that the situation in which London is being placed is absurd and unacceptable.
I welcome clause 5, although creeping conversion is not a problem in my constituency, although we have other manifestations. I congratulate the hon. Member for Paddington, because it is important to keep before the House and London the sort of thing that is happening. We must use the clause as a peg to hang on some other things that are "creeping" in our areas.
Will the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North help me by giving me an explanation on one or two matters? In the schedule to which he referred, and did his best to read through for the benefit of the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle), he will find that on page 22, the third item says:Haringey Corporation Act 1971—Offences under section 3(2) (unauthorised parking of heavy vehicles, trailers and caravans).I do not object to the fine going up from £20 for the first offence and £50 for a second and subsequent offence, to £200, but do I understand from that that the other relevant parts of the general powers Bills passed in years gone by are also covered by that same allowance?
In Hackney, having declared a no-parking area for heavy vehicles between the hours of darkness, we are empowered to impose a fine of only £6; and people are still coming to park in contravention of the no-parking rule. Does this proposal also cover that situation? Can the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North talk to the promoters of the Bill about this, because, if the proposal does not cover it, would they not feel it right to do something about the absurdity?
When I complain bitterly to the police that they are not surveilling the area, they tell me that they have other important things to do, which is not wrong. They tell me that there is a traffic warden team that is responsible for this. When I get in touch with the team, I find that they represent two areas and are responsible for surveilling the whole of Tower Hamlets as well as Hackney. Their modus operandi is that they start at 10 o'clock at night and do the whole of Tower Hamlets between 10 and 2 o'clock, and then come into Hackney from 2 o'clock until they finish their work at 6 o'clock.
The traffic wardens have an impossible task. They tell me that if I ring up and let them know where a lorry is parked, they will try to pass by the spot. However, all they can do is give the vehicle a £6 fine, which is a good parking price, because it is cheaper than going to a car park. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North will be able to seek advice from the promoters to see whether we can incorporate, if it is not incorporated into the schedule, that sort of provision in another place so that we can update those figures.
I must confess that I am not familiar with part III. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North with his detailed knowledge of these matters. With regard to the sex encounter premises, I did not understand whether he said that they had stables for animals, or quite what he was talking about. I am not familiar with these things, but there was one item that I thought was important to point out, on page 12, about the arrest of offenders.
1045 The terminology has been drawn to my attention by people who know about these things. It says:he may require him to give his name and address, and if that person refuses or fails to do so or gives a name or address which the constable reasonably suspects to be false, the constable may arrest him without warrant.I have been told that the termto give his name and addressmeans that he will give the firm's name and address but not his private address. Normally these people have private addresses outside London and the sex shop or whatever it is that he is running is his, under cover, in London. It would be helpful if we had it clarified that we do mean his name and personal address, so that those around him will be able to see the sort of enterprise that that person is associated with.
The Bill covers some of the areas that are important. I am sorry, as I always am, that the Greater London Council is not taking the opportunity of doing a great deal more that ought to be done.
It is all very well to charge for the stopping up of highways. I came to the conclusion recently that somebody is keeping information away from me deliberately. There are so many holes in the ground in Hackney that someone must be drilling for oil. I want to get in on the ground floor to see if I can get some shares in it. No one would drill so many holes in so short a time unless gold, oil or a valuable mineral had been found. I am prepared to accept that there should be a charge for opening up a road.
The promoters should take back to their political masters at the Greater London Council the suggestion that somebody should find out why there are so many holes which are left for days and weeks, making life impossible for the residents. A long time after the road surface is reinstated, there are potholes by the dozen. When one raises it with the authorities they say that the repair has to have time to bed down. Six months later it is still bedding down. Cars are banging their springs and people are falling over.
As hon. Members know, when one tries to take action on behalf of elderly people who have fallen in the street, it is most difficult because of the ruling in 1968 in Meggs v. Liverpool Corporation. The promoters should understand that, besides charging for opening, they should consider a further charge if holes are not closed more quickly and competently.
I welcome the Bill and trust that the House will give it a Second Reading.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
This Bill gives us the opportunity to make unashamed constituency speeches, provided that they are strictly within order and adhere to the provisions of the Bill.
I welcome the good-humoured and comprehensive way in which the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) introduced the measure. As one who lives in Richmond I was glad that he made such favourable allusion to Petersham Meadows and the herd of cattle that formerly occupied the pleasant pastures by the riverside. My friend and constituent, Mr. Jeremy Hanley, the prospective parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party for Richmond, takes particular pride and pleasure in those meadows, as do the residents of Richmond.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) alluded to the fact that on this occasion the Greater 1046 London Council had introduced a measure which had general support in the House, although it is ironic that this should be the very day when Mr. Iltyd Harrington has chosen to make the extraordinary initiative on behalf of the GLC to turn Greater London into a nuclear-free zone—a preposterous suggestion and quite beyond the powers of the GLC.
For the benefit of those hon. Members whose knowledge of my constituency does not extend beyond the pages of Leslie Thomas or, if they do not know them, know only the television serial "Tropic", my constituency is a most pleasant residential area—indeed, one of the most pleasant in Greater London. The residents are rightly jealous of the agreeable environment, which is under constant threat. I am aware that the borough council, which is Conservative again with an even bigger majority, is determined that the green belt should be sacrosanct and should not be nibbled away by either residential or industrial development.
There are other insidious threats to the environment. One that has been brought to my attention by my constituents is the threat of the development of sex shops and other similar establishments in Ruislip and elsewhere in the constituency.
The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North rightly reminded us that these establishments, which were previously concentrated in central London, primarily in Soho, are now being opened elsewhere in the capital. I am glad that under part III there areProvisions relating to the licensing by borough councils of sex establishments",which give quite clear powers to refuse permission for such establishments to be opened.
The relevant powers with regard to my own constituency are contained in clause 8(5)(d), under which a borough council is given powers to refuse permission for the opening of a sex shop or similar establishment if thegrant or renewal"—of a licence—would be inappropriate having regard to the layout, character or condition of the premises"—this is the important part—or the character of … the locality in which the premises are situated; … or … other premises in the vicinity".So long as I am the Member of Parliament for Ruislip-Northwood, I would never wish Hillingdon borough council to open such establishments in my constituency. I am sure that is the wish of my constituents. It is certainly the wish of those constituents who have taken the trouble to write to me and to voice their fears. I support them wholeheartedly.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
My hon. Friend has raised an important point. I have experienced the setting up of a sex shop, and know that it can cause huge distress, particularly in a residential area. Formerly, a local council had great difficulty dealing with the problem. I take my hon. Friend to say that there are no circumstances in which he sees a sex shop being acceptable in his constituency. I should like to say the same about my constituency, and I hope, about the great part of Greater London.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I thank my hon. Friend for that observation. I entirely share his feelings. We in the western part of outer London feel that it is primarily a residential area and that if people want to avail themselves of a sex shop or similar establishment, they should go to 1047 the more traditional parts of London where they can be found. They know where they are, and I shall not abuse the House by giving the necessary advice.
Residents already complain—for example, in Eastcote—that too many building society branches and savings banks are opening, to the detriment of local traders and ordinary retail establishments. I do not want the pattern of trading or the nature of the high streets in my constituency to be changed for the worse by the opening of sex shops. I am sure that Hillingdon borough council, under Conservative control, feels exactly the same and will apply this legislation in the responsible way that it ought to be applied—by refusing permission.
§ Mr. Thomas Cox (Tooting)
Like many other hon. Members, I support and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard). He went into great detail on many clauses. I warmly welcome the debate. I shall confine my speech to part III.
We live in a changing world in which attitudes and standards have altered in a way that many people find distasteful. I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). If there is a law to control sex shops, many local authorities do not seem to have made much use of it. In cases where they have not taken action I am told that they do not have powers to do so, but, sadly, they never even seem to seek such powers.
Many constituents write to hon. Members complaining about the setting up of sex shops. We take the matter up with local authorities. They say that they are terribly sorry that our constituents are suffering annoyance from the shops but that they must live with them. That is not good enough.
I am deeply worried about the fact that many people never know what is about to take place in the area in which they live. By chance I heard that we are to have a new amusement arcade in Tooting. We already have a notorious one. I hear that there is an application before Wandsworth borough council to set up another. I wrote to local residents explaining that I was anxious about the matter. I asked that if they were equally anxious they should write and support me in my action with the local council and the police, saying that I do not believe that Tooting needs another amusement arcade. Many people wrote back saying that they were grateful to me for informing them of what was being presented to the local council by the organisation that is trying to set up the amusement arcade. Many local residents knew nothing about the proposal.
Part III deals with what an applicant wanting to set up a sex shop should do. It says that a notice should be placed in the local newspaper. That sounds attractive, but we all know that many people do not read local newspapers.
We must not lose sight of the fact that the people who run these establishments are making vast sums of money. That is why they are in the business. If people want to set up such businesses in our constituencies, it is inadequate for the local council of the GLC merely to require that the individual concerned is of a certain character and that he must have put a notice in the local press that will have made local residents aware of their intentions. In areas adjoining proposed sex shops, those who intend to set up such shops should be required by the local authority—they 1048 have the power to prescribe the scope of the area—to inform local residents of their intentions by letter. The public could then make their observations known to the local authority.
I am sure that many hon. Members realise that it is no good people saying that they do not want such establishments once they have been granted permission and have opened. It is no good people saying that they knew nothing about them and complaining to the local authority to try to get them closed. Once they are open, it is a hell of a job to get them closed. The greatest possible protection must be given to local people against this kind of establishment being set up in the area in which they live.
Even today, Soho is regarded as the sex centre of London. As has been said, sex establishments have spread over an enormous area. I want to know some of the details that are not specified in the Bill. For instance, for how many hours per day will these establishments be allowed to open? Will they be open at midnight? We are entitled to know that.
Many people find these establishments not only distasteful but degrading. Half of the population are women, and I am sure that all of them find such establishments degrading to their sex. Moreover, many women work long hours in essential jobs and have to go home late at night. In my area there are three major hospitals which employ a large number of nurses and domestic workers who go home late at night. If they have to pass establishments of this kind, there could well be a risk because of the type of people who frequent such places. Therefore, we are entitled to know just what opening hours a local authority is prepared to grant.
We are also entitled to know how many days a week they will be open. Will they be allowed to open on Sundays? There are still many people who regard Sunday as a day of prayer. They find these establishments offensive at any time, but they find it incredible that they should be allowed to open on a Sunday. I am sure that many hon. Members have been had these points brought to their attention.
The Bill contains many good points, but we are entitled to information on how all this will work. What real controls will there be? Control must go far deeper than merely having some control over such establishments and the areas in which they may be opened.
As I have said, enormous profits are made from these establishments. Sadly, in the Metropolitan Police area there has been a great deal of corruption, sometimes of very senior officers, by the owners of sex shops. It is an indication of the amount of money that can be made by these people that they are able to corrupt police officers so that they do not put pressure on them or arrest or charge them with offences. That is why they are in the business.
This debate is taking place quite late at night. As my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North said in opening the debate, it is one of the few occasions when we have the opportunity to discuss issues which cause deep concern to the people whom we represent. Parts of my constituency have suffered an influx of prostitution. Anyone living in those areas knows the hell that local residents must live with, day in and day out, because of the presence of prostitutes in the area. Therefore, when we are asked to approve measures such as this, it is our duty to do everything in our power to ensure that we safeguard the interests of the people who live in the areas that we represent.
1049 I am a realist. Sex shops are part of a way of life now. Even allowing for that, it is our job to impress on local authorities that they should protect and advise the residents who live in the boroughs of which they are the local authorities.
§ Mr. Greenway
I agree with every word that the hon. Gentleman has said. He has put it extremely well. However, there is one aspect that he has not mentioned which I hope he will agree is a difficult but important aspect. The staff whom these sex shops employ below management level are often of an extremely low grade. The chap who is employed as a bouncer is often of low-grade intelligence and is employed for his muscle rather than for his brain. These people often intimidate a whole neighbourhood in a most undesirable manner. They intimidate people as they walk about the area, and they sling people in and out of the sex shops in a crude manner. If there were any way to get at those people it would be most desirable. It would be better to have no such people at all, but if they have to exist, attention should be paid to the standard of people who are employed and the duties that are assigned to them.
§ Mr. Cox
I agree with all that the hon. Gentleman says, as I am sure do other hon. Gentlemen. What he mentions is covered in clause 8(3) where it says:An application for a licence or the renewal of a licence under this Part of the Act shall be made in writing to the borough council and the applicant shall in the application state…his full nameage, and so on. One hopes that a local authority will try to find out who is running the establishment if the person seeking the licence is not doing so. Some time ago we had bouncers in a dance hall in my area. They were out-and-out thugs who, instead of using discretion, kicked and hit the persons who were causing trouble. Therefore, what the hon. Gentleman says is highly relevant.
Local authorities have to help us, as Members of Parliament, and also the residents who live in the areas which they control. The people who run these establishments have vast sums of money at their disposal, and it is not good enough for local authorities to expect a group of people who are protesting to get a solicitor or barrister to take action on their behalf. The local authorities should do everything in their power to make sure that the safeguards are there for an area in which permission is sought to open these establishments. This issue is crucial to many people in London and, I am sure, in other parts of the country. It is our duty as Members of Parliament to do everything that we can to ensure that the area where people choose to live remains the kind of area that they want it to be.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Paddington)
As befits someone who was in the House until about 4 o'clock this morning representing the interests of London and the London Boroughs Association in moving clauses in the Criminal Justice Bill, perhaps the House will readily understand my desire to be brief and to contribute in a modest way to tonight's proceedings.
I welcome the Bill and congratulate the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) on the way in which he introduced the clauses. There is no doubt that this modest measure provides many important benefits to the people of London. Tonight's debate has been fascinating 1050 because of the range of issues that concern us as London Members of Parliament. It is wholly appropriate that we should join together, regardless of political party, to think of the best interests of the people who live and work in London.
The Bill will provide opportunities to improve the quality of life for Londoners. I especially welcome clauses 5 and 21 because the issues that lie behind them are worrying to those of us who represent Inner London, especially the city of Westminster and the Royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Holiday lets are a problem. In the past 10 years, the city of Westminster has seen about 10,000 of its residents moved out. The population has fallen in line with rising rates, rents, service charges and the growth of holiday let accommodation. At the same time we have seen a growing group of people who wish to live and work in Central London. Consequently, we feel that it would be a reasonable balance to provide local authorities and the communities in Central London with an opportunity to ensure that the residential accommodation that remains is available for people to own and to rent.
I hope that nothing will occur during the passage of the Bill to prevent clauses 5 and 21 from becoming law. I say that with some anxiety because the task upon which I was engaged last night was not unassociated with the clauses. I was then moving clauses to deal with penalties relating to harassment and bad landlordism, especially in London, and I was sorry that the support for which I looked from the Government was not forthcoming. I hope that we can do better with those clauses.
I cannot resist the temptation to stray into the areas that other hon. Members have covered, especially sex establishments. In my area the sex industry is a growth activity. The House has considered, through the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981 and the sex shop licensing provisions in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, some proposals that are intended to control the spread of that industry. I wish to make a point that will be at some variance with other London Members. It is not the intention of the city of Westminster, nor is it my intention, to prohibit the existence of those premises. A very great evil would arise if the House, in a misguided sense of morality, suggested that the premises should be closed down or banned altogether.
There is undoubtedly a great demand among the people of London and the United Kingdom as a whole for the goods and services that those premises provide. If one simply said that they should not exist, the upshot would be a rise in criminality because those people would go underground. We would have a much worse situation. Therefore, in the Bill, as in other measures that the House has recently considered, we seek to exercise control and balance on behalf of the community.
In my constituency, for example, in the Praed Street area there are over 12 establishments that come within the definition of being a sex establishment. However, that is also a residential area. Ordinary families live in that area. Not unreasonably, they say "We could put up with one, two or perhaps three, just as we do not mind there being a couple of public houses in the area. What we do not want to have is the entire commercial part of the district turned over to the sex industry any more that we want to see every commercial building in the locality being a public house, and antique shop or anything else. All that we seek is a reasonable balance in the environment."
1051 That is a logical and commonsense position. I endorse it. My council, the council of the City of Westminster, also believes that to be the appropriate position to adopt. Therefore, I perhaps part company from other London Members when they hint that in their districts they would rather not have any of those establishments. I merely put this question to them. Where does the money come from to create those establishments, if not from the pockets of the people? We must thus be cautious when we talk about those matters.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
The hon. Gentleman is talking about an important matter. Does he agree that what started out as a simple device—a sex shop was supposed to give aid and comfort to the people who needed that service—has escalated into sex cinemas and clubs and sex encounter premises, mentioned in part III? We are developing a ball game that we never had before. What is worrying my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) is that those establishments have changed so much from what they were formerly.
§ Mr. Wheeler
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I can only answer him by saying that as an amateur archaeologist I have noted that throughout time, mankind has en-deavoured to pursue activities related to sex for profit and gain. In our age the character of our modern society, with the electonics industry also involved in this exercise, seems to change what is going on. However, in truth, that is only humanity doing what it has always done. What we should be about, and what I think we are about in the Bill, is introducing a measure to control and enter the balance so that the community can say "We will allow so much and we will see so many of our premises used for a particular cause or activity, but otherwise we say `No'." That is a reasonable proposition. That is why I support the clause dealing with that matter.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Does my hon. Friend agree that there are good grounds, as this measure suggests, for making it plain that certain residential parts of our metropolis, where there are few shops amd mostly houses, and where families are brought up, are inappropriate for such establishments, whereas in the central, more cosmopolitan region, they are better suited?
§ Mr. Wheeler
My hon. Friend tempts me there. The implication of his intervention is that his constituents take the underground to the City of Westminster and participate in the small business activities of my constituency at Paddington.
We must be cautious. Surely, if people who live in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) wish to look at certain magazines or the latest video cassette films, they have as much right to do it in their area as to travel to another. It must be borne in mind that in Central London there are long-established residential communities. If my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) were participating in the debate, he would say that Soho has a residential community of more than 2,000 people. That community has to live cheek by jowl with a large sex industry. It wants to see some balance. It does not want to see every commercial property 1052 in the district change to the sex industry. It wants to see some control. That is what this and other measures that the House has recently been considering are about.
I support the Bill. It offers useful points to the people of London, which we all want. We want to see a stable society in London and we want to see our residential community living in peace and tranquillity. The Bill tries to help the people of London. That is why so many hon. Members here tonight can welcome and support it in unity.
§ Mr. William Pitt (Croydon, North-West)
May I add my congratulations to those of the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) on the lucid way in which he explained the Bill? I welcome the Bill with few reservations.
I particularly welcome clause 5. As I was on my feet in a similar place last night supporting the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) in his attempt to amend the Criminal Justice Bill to increase penalties for people who harass, a constituent was talking to my wife on that very subject. Sadly, harassment does not take place only in inner London; it is creeping outwards. The holiday letting business in London, once confined primarily to the inner London area, over the past five to six years has crept out visibly, as far south as Streatham. I believe that it is even creeping into my own town of Croydon.
Such letting is profitable and lucrative. Tenants can be removed with great speed and one does not have to abide by the strictures and regulations of a decent landlord who wants to let his property on a proper basis with proper tenants. I welcome clause 5 of the Bill.
I have only minor reservations. I should have liked to see greater powers devolved to London boroughs, especially in respect of road traffic orders, pedestrian crossings and road humps. However, I will not comment further on that because I shall seek to introduce amendments on those matters in Committee.
Before I turn to the nub of the matter—part III—I must congratulate the authors of the Bill on their farsighted attitude to Petersham Common. All hon. Members have at one time or another stood on Richmond Hill and looked over Petersham Common. We have seen television programmes on the farm, showing how much the children enjoy going to the farm to see how a farm works and how the milk arrives on our doorsteps in the morning. To this day, many London children would believe that milk arrived in bottles if it were not for the farm on Petersham Common and other similar establishments. My friend, who represents Richmond in County Hall, and my other friends on Richmond council will welcome this part of the Bill. It represents a farsighted use of a Greater London (General Powers) Bill. We are dealing with a valuable and vital addition to London's amenities, and I am confident that it will remain.
I turn to part III. I had most of my say on sex shops in the debate on the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. A national newspaper gave me the sobriquet of the Liberal Party spokesman on sex. However, most hon. Members have said as much as I would say, and more. I take the point that the hon. Member for Paddington made about whether we should disallow sex shops, or control them. The point of this provison is that we should control them. Sex shops are better placed in the central or commercial areas of towns. We must not forget that Greater London consists not 1053 merely of central London and a collection of residential areas but of central London with a number of large towns surrounding it. Each town has a commercial centre.
I am not much bothered one way or the other, but I think that I would prefer it if sex shops did not exist. They are degrading, particularly for women. In our last debate, I cited the views of my wife and daugher and shall do so again. They find those sex shops exceedingly offensive and think that they should be done away with. However, we must consider the freedom of those who wish to use such places. Therefore, I warmly support the suggestion that such premises should be licensed. If they were licensed by the local authority, it could recognise the wishes of the ratepayers and decide, on that basis, whether to license them.
The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) mentioned the amusement arcade syndrome. In some areas amusement arcades cause as much annoyance as sex shops.
§ Mr. Pitt
Indeed. I am reminded of the Sun Valley amusement arcade in Norbury in my constituency. Although 2,000 people in Norbury signed a petition saying that they did not want the arcade, although the London borough of Croydon's planning committee refused planning permission, and although the borough of Croydon was unanimous in its view about the arcade, the company involved took the matter to the Crown court. I should point out that the arcade started life as a walk-in bingo parlour. However, the bingo soon went out of the window. The company could spend much more money than the residents of Norbury could afford. Under the present law it appealed to the Crown court—whence there was no appeal for the residents of Norbury—and, as a result, it was allowed to open the arcade. That is an argument for including amusement arcades within the licensing provisions in the Bill. In Committee, I shall table an amendment to that effect.
I shall detain the House no longer. Other hon. Members wish to speak who may have more valuable contributions to make. I am glad that there is unanimity across party lines that we need this excellent Bill. I hope that it will go through both Houses intact but strengthened by amendment.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I welcome the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) on his lucid introduction.
I wish to refer to two problems that increasingly arise in my constituency. The provisions in the Bill for restricting and restraining the creeping change of use from normal residential to other purposes are welcome, as is the tightening of the law in the Criminal Justice Bill. Further such moves would be welcome, too.
From my postbag and from what people who attend my advice service tell me, it is increasingly clear that bad landlordism is more rife now than it was a couple of years ago. I am getting a lot more complaints from middle class constituents living in what they regarded as secure and reasonable mansion or semi-mansion blocks about the pressures from landlords either to buy the places in which they live or to move. The manifestations of pressure on 1054 private tenants are disturbing. The atmosphere surrounding the creation of shorthold tenancies has partly been responsible. A large number of residential landlords had the feeling that life would be easier for them and more difficult for tenants. That fact is reflected in the problems faced by my constituents.
I also welcome the provisions for licensing sex shops. They are spreading from central London. In the southerly part of my constituency we have for a long time had sex shops. There did not seem to be a great deal of concern in London generally about the obnoxious features of such trading and the disturbance caused to the long-standing residential communities. It is ironic that at least two hon. Members representing outer London constituencies have now said that they will urge their local authorities not to permit the establishment of a single sex shop in the area. Presumably they are secure in the knowledge that legions of their constituents will come to my constituency, Paddington and the City of London and Westminster, South to avail themselves of such facilities. Perhaps we could install turnstiles to log the people who come—the man from Ruislip-Northwood or the happily married couple from Ealing, North—to measure the extent to which central London constituencies provide services to people from outer London.
Let me move away from that light hearted approach. I have had sex shops in my constituency for a long time, but I get only a few complaints about the problems arising from their proliferation.
I receive a vastly increasing number of complaints on the problem of prostitution from one part of the area that I represent. It is rather ironic that the London Squares Preservation Act 1931 is also mentioned in the Bill, because that Act provided a certain measure of protection for many squares in London including Argyle Square. The Argyle square area of my constituency causes me a great deal of trouble and even more trouble to the people. I represent. I regret that neither in public general Bills before the House nor in this private measure has any significant and worthwhile effort been made to cut down the offensive outward manifestations of prostitution in the Argyle Square area or round about. It almost causes nausea to many of my constituents.
I believe, Central Londoners being worldly, that they accept that prostitution exists and will certainly exist as far as the eye can see into the future. Many of them accept that a lot of prostitution will take place in their area. In and around Argyle Square, Midland Road and St. Pancras Way, legions of prostitutes are literally lining up against the walls waiting for kerb crawlers to come along and select their bit of meat for the night. That happens in my constituency and I am sure that it happens in a number of others. It is disturbing that very little is done. I have made representations to the Home Secretary and he promises that at some time or other there will be some changes in the law which should cut down what is happening. No progress is being made at the moment.
§ Mr. Wheeler
On that point, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman might agree that the problem is that prostitution is not of itself unlawful but the management of a brothel is. If the brothel were not unlawful, would there be a need for people to use the streets in which to meet the client?
§ Mr. Dobson
I shall come to that, because I believe that it is an important point. En the Argyle Square area we 1055 have a massive and offensive problem of kerb crawling where respectable women—the ones that come to me—ranging from 14-year-old girls to 70-year-old grandmothers are being propositioned by men in fancy cars who come to the area looking for prostitutes. The women are sick to death of it and no one seems to be doing anything about it.
The whole area—school playgrounds, Argyle Square school playground, the lawns around council blocks, lifts in council blocks, footways along council blocks—are literally scattered with used contraceptives every morning. My constituents are getting sick of it, and they want something done about it. There are people who arrive in their cars—no doubt from outer London—pick up a prostitute, park their cars outside one of the blocks and have intercourse. They perhaps go into one of the car parks under the blocks and, again, cause great offence to my constituents.
One of the most offensive and disturbing aspects of the problem which has been brought to my attention is the extent to which young girls are involved in that trade. It is quite clear from observation that some of them may be only 14, 15, or 16 years old. That should be unacceptable in a society which calls itself civilised. We are not taking any steps to reduce it.
I get representations from quite respectable hoteliers—particularly now that the pressure on hotel space is declining—who find it difficult to let rooms because people do not want to stay because they do not believe it is a respectable hotel. Conversely, they have the problem of people who try to book in because they think that it is a brothel. It is a further problem which affects my constituents and about which neither this Bill nor any of the public general Bills before the House at present, does anything.
I take on board the point made by the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler). My view, although it is not shared by many of my constituents, is that there is no possibility of eliminating prostitution. Therefore, we should endeavour to reduce the outward manifestations of criminality, violence, extortion and exploitation of young girls that are associated with prostitution.
We should remember that running premises for the purposes of prostitution is an offence. Until we grasp the nettle and decide on a system of licensing so that nobody has an excuse for conducting his activities outside the licensed premises, the problems caused by prostitution to the people in my constituency will not be eliminated or even significantly reduced.
Prostitution is with us for the foreseeable future. We should enact sensible measures to bring it under control and cut out the outward, offensive manifestations that cause so much trouble. I am sure that those characteristics are to be found in other parts of the capital and in other parts of the country, so I hope that it will not be long before a Bill is brought forward that will do something to eliminate the worst aspects of prostitution.
Nevertheless, I welcome the provisions of the Bill. It was ably introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard), and I hope that Members from outer London who presumably provide a substantial proportion of the clients for the various premises described in the debate—
§ Mr. Dobson
I hope that Members representing central London constituencies will have some sympathy and give some attention to the problem without waiting for it to spread over the Greater London area.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)
I also welcome the Bill, although in a number of respects I should like it to go further. I illustrate that point by referring to one or two problems in my constituency which further measures would have alleviated.
I refer to an area of housing where tenants of private landlords have a dubious basis of tenure. The problem arises from various holiday lets, short-term lets and other doubtful lets. A document has been given to me that is called a deed of mutual covenant. This sets out to establish the relationship between the tenants of a private estate and the landlord.
Hon. Members will be interested in one specific paragraph. It is a condition which, if met, makes the arrangement null and void. The paragraph states thatin the event of any Parliamentary Bill which proposes to apply the Rent Acts or any legislation analagous thereto to the legal relationship between the Proprietor and the Resident created hereunder or which proposes to authorise local authorities or any publicly constituted body to compulsorily acquire 'the Flat' from the Proprietor or which is in any way detrimental to the Proprietor vis a vis the Resident being given a first reading in the House of Commons",the proprietor will be entitled to recover immediate possesssion of the property.
It is extraordinary that a landlord can suggest that the position of a tenant is prejudiced to the point where the tenancy arrangement becomes null and void if the House goes so far as to give a First Reading to a piece of legislation which might change the arrangement.
I wonder whether any court of law would allow that arrangement to stand if it were challenged. It is astonishing that there are tenants in my constituency who may lose their homes if we go so far as to consider introducing a piece of legislation that might have a bearing on their tenancy agreements. I shall be interested to learn whether the Minister is aware of such agreements. The issue was referred to a Select Committee by the Wandsworth legal resource project.
Unfortunately, the number of rather doubtful arrangements appears to be proliferating. Some of them are introduced under the guise of holiday lettings. Apart from the Withers estate in my constituency, we have the saga of a block of flats in the Balham area, called Thurleigh Court, where the tenants are being subjected to a degree of harassment through repairs not being carried out to the flats. An extraordinary number of diverse arrangements govern their right to live in the block. I wish that the Bill went far enough to prevent such arrangements from continuing and proliferating. I have received many complaints about them, and they seem to be extremely dubious.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) referred to prostitution, which affects my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and many others. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting and I receive complaints about the prevalence of prostitution of an area called Bedford Hill, which covers a part of my 1057 constituency and a part of my hon. Friend's. I understand the concern of local residents about the prevalence of prostitution in a residential area. There is the feeling that wives and girl friends cannot easily walk in the area without being mistaken by men on the prowl for prostitutes and being accosted. Naturally they find this an unpleasant experience. I have much sympathy with their complaints. On one occasion when I received many complaints in a short period I contacted the local police. It was my intention to persuade them to take action about the noise and nuisance caused by kerb crawlers and the banging of car doors late at night. The police arrested a number of the prostitutes. That dealt with the problem for the evening, but for no longer. Until the house tackles the problem positively and stops shirking from doing so, many of us will receive complaints from our constituents about prostitution.
When my constituents come to me on this issue I ask "What is it that you are complaining about? Are you complaining because there are prostitutes in the area? Is it because your wife or girl friend is being mistaken for a prostitute and is being accosted? Is it the noise late at night, such as the banging of car doors?" One receives different answers. When the complaints tend to be based on different aspects of the problem it is harder for the House to decide what is the best way to deal with the problem. Until we have a stronger law of nuisance which tackles, for example, the disturbance caused by the slamming of car doors, we shall not make significant progress. I hope that such legislation will be introduced. It is regrettable that it is not contained in the Bill.
On the other hand, I am aware that that would tackle only part of the problem. As long as we, as a society, are prepared to have prostitution as a legal activity—even if soliciting and running a brothel are illegal—I wonder whether there is any alternative to giving legal sanction and blessing to brothels, rather on the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler). I am aware that that would give rise to a certain amount of protest, but I feel that it would be a sensible way of dealing with the situation. It would ensure that something that is prevalent, which exists, and which we cannot, and should not, stamp out, is given an environment in which it can continue, but which causes the minimum offence to local residents and people passing by. That is the answer.
In common with many other hon. Members, I have had complaints from my constituents about sex shops. I am generally sympathetic to suggestions in the Bill that local authorities should have the right to control such establishments. However, I am not certain that we are giving the best guidance to local authorities in the way that the Bill is drafted. It seems to me that whereas there are some who complain about the very existence of sex shops, others complain only about the establishments that are offensive to passers by.
There are some sex shops—I have seen a few of them—that are not offensive. They are quite discreet and to the passerby would not cause offence. I doubt whether the Bill will enable a local authority to make a distinction between those sex shops that are inoffensive to the public and those that are blatantly offensive to and unpleasant to look at as one goes by on the pavement.
I do not think that the present legislation will enable local authorities to make the decision easily. I have a lot of sympathy with local councillors, who will have to make a rather difficult decision—unless they decide that there 1058 should be no sex shops. That would be an undesirable consequence, because these places provide a useful service to some people, provided that it is done discreetly. We are shunting the problem away from the House and on to local councillors. I only hope that they will make a better job of it than perhaps we might.
Within the limits of the Bill, I support the proposals, because local people, through their councillors, can influence decisions. I hope that the outcome will be a sensible balance between allowing some of these shops to operate and getting rid of the most blatant and offensive manifestations of them.
§ Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)
I begin, as all other hon. Members have done, by offering warm congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard). Those of us who have had anything to do with Bills recognise that it is not merely the reading of the speech or the preparation of the brief, but there must be an endeavour to ensure before the debate starts. if it is possible, that various points of view can be accommodated by the promoters. We have had a less acrimonious debate than we might otherwise have had because my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North has done his homework. I congratulate him on that. There is no better equipped Member than my hon. Friend for speaking on London matters. I congratulate him on the tone that he has set.
It is a function of the House to facilitate the passage of legislation that we get from the GLC, unless there are strong party political points, where controversy will occur. Tonight we have seen a piece of legislation that came to us primarily from the GLC but owing its genesis not just to the GLC, or even to the present GLC, but to a previous one, and to the London Boroughs Association and the council at Westminster.
That does not mean that the GLC should automatically assume that it has rights or that we will not query what it has said, nor does it mean that all hon. Members agree with every word in the Bill even if we approve its Second Reading. The hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Pitt) said fairly that he would not oppose the passage of the Bill tonight but that at a later stage useful amendments might be tabled.
Clause 3 deals with the charges for diverting traffic. For a long time local councils have shrugged their shoulders, although they have grumbled about all the costs being borne by the ratepayer when traffic has to be diverted. I can see the merit from the point of view of ratepayers of the expenditure being met by the person or organisation who wants the traffic diversion. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North pointed out that Camden council would be relieved of expenditure of perhaps £20,000 per year. But if that expenditure is not borne by the ratepayers it will have to be borne by the public in some other way.
If the gas undertaking has to pay £3,000 or £4,000 a year for this purpose, it will have to find some means of passing the cost on to the consumer. If it is a builder who is asking for a road to be closed, the charge will be passed on to the consumer of his service—the tenant or the purchaser of the house. It is not a case of a fairy appearing and relieving the ratepayer of the burden because, if the ratepayer is the consumer of the services, he will still have to pay.
1059 In regard to the updating of fines, I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North for taking such care to point out that London is beset by a range of disparate fines brought in by various Acts over the years. I am intrigued by the way in which the updating is proposed. The first one in the schedule on page 16 is:Monuments (Metropolis) Act 1878—Offences under section 4 (damaging Cleopatra's Needle or other monuments).That sticks out a mile. The fine is being uplifted from £25 to £200, an eightfold increase. Later in the same schedule we see that under Surrey County Council Act 1925 forOffences under section 19(8) (unauthorised works in Beverley Brook or River Wandle) (as substituted by paragraph 57 of Schedule 1 to S.I. 1965 No. 540).the fine is to go up from £25 to £500, an uplift of 20 times.
The answer we may get is that there is an attempt to keep to the progression and level of fines which is general. On page 17 in relation to Ilford Corporation Act 1937 forOffences under section 47(2)(b) (non-compliance with notice as to hoardings, etc.).there is merely a doubling of the fine from £25 to £50. For one of the offences on page 18, namely, the failure by a hairdresser to deliver up a certificate of registration, the fine is to go up from £1 to £50. It may be that £50 is accepted as the minimum fine, that the next one is £100, then £200, £500 and so on, but I should like an explanation.
Reference has been made to the uplifting of fines for leaving heavy vehicles in residential areas in Haringey. We all have experience of the aggravation and annoyance that should not be allowed to occur.
I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) present. I know that he likes to be called the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate. He is always present when we discuss these matters. In the London borough of Enfield, provision has been made for two lorry parks that are well patronised. Frankly, I have no sympathy with any owner of a heavy vehicle who allows himself or an employee to park those vehicles in roads. Any increase in fines that will help to remove this detriment to good residential living ought to be supported.
The debate has in the main been concerned with clause 6, which provides for the licensing of sex establishments by councils. One of the most distressing and aggravating experiences for a local council has been that, although it may have had great sympathy with the feelings of residents, it has been powerless to act effectively to control such premises.
I share the view that we are not so much concerned with a complete ban on these premises as with effective control and guidance, especially when such a shop already exists in a locality. We can, of course, argue about the precise geographical location.
I warmly welcome the purpose and intent of the clauses in part III, which deal with sex shops. They seem to provide a means of control over premises whose activities are not in themselves necessarily unlawful but which may reasonably be felt to warrant regulation. The clauses enable local authorities to ensure that undesirable elements are not concerned with the operation of sex shops and that the character of their areas is not adversely affected by these activities.
I am pleased that one of the clauses lists the grounds on which it is right and proper to refuse a licence. For example, it can be refused if the applicant is not a fit and 1060 proper person. That is a powerful weapon in the hands of a local committee. A licence can also be refused if the number of existing premises are already sufficient.
The hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) pointed out that in Praed Street about 12 establishments could come within the definition of "sex shops". He was right to suggest that residents might feel that one was tolerable and two just about acceptable but that there was a limit beyond which it was not acceptable.
When the Bill is enacted, it will enable an authority to refuse a licence purely on the grounds that there are sufficient existing premises to satisfy any need. Another reason for refusing a licence is that the shop is inappropriate in terms of character and neighbourhood, or, if it already exists, that it is not being conducted properly.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) is also in his place. I know that he was unable to be with us earlier because he is chained to the Finance Bill Committee.
We do not need legislation solely to prevent the possibility of the establishment of a sex shop. In the recent past, an attempt was made in the London borough of Enfield to establish a sex shop, and frankly, under the existing definition of "retail use", premises can become a sex shop without a change in planning use. Local government would have been in some difficulty in that matter. I know that the other hon. Members representing the Enfield area received many representions and that agitation took place. Petitions were signed, public meetings were held, and letters were written to the press. Those wishing to set up the establishment began to realise that to do so in Enfield would be not only against the wishes of the local populace, but that there would be determined efforts to boycott, barricade and threaten. The better sense of the entrepreneur eventually prevailed and he decided to find somewhere else to set up business. The legislation will provide an opportunity for local government to exercise effective control.
Nevertheless, the local populace should not assume that, merely because local government has the power to refuse a licence, ipso facto every time an application is made it will be refused. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) pointed out the danger of our shuffling off some of the responsibility on the shoulders of local councils and councillors. So be it. That is what local democracy ought to be about. It may require some courage, foresight and determination. If a local council considers that it is right and proper to grant a licence, it should be able to do so.
Not only has the Bill been well prepared and well thought out. It has also been well received by the House. Picking up a point that was made by the hon. Member for Paddington, we are discussing the welfare and well-being of the people of London. We are here not to act as censors but to ensure that the capital city is as clean, honest and decent as it is possible for legislation to make it. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North and the sponsors. The Opposition give the Bill a warm welcome and trust that it will have a speedy passage.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)
It may assist the House if I briefly give the Government's view at this stage. We have no objection to the principle of the provisions of the Bill. Any detailed comments that arise will be taken up, as is 1061 customary, in reports to Parliament by my right hon. Friends. I commend the Bill to the House, I hope that it will be given a Second Reading so that the detail can be considered in Committee.
I endorse the kind words of the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard). He introduced the Bill with the competence that we have come to expect of him. The debate has not been partisan, although there have been one or two criticisms of the Government on such matters as housing and employment. There is no need for any Conservative Member of Parliament to defend his party's performance to Londoners. They passed their verdict last week. It is worth reminding Opposition Members that we increased our overall haul of seats in London handsomely. The increase has been from 713 in 1974, to 960 in 1978 and 978 in 1982. That compares with a slump in Labour seats from 1,090 in 1974 to 784 last week. We had speeches from hon. Members representing Croydon where the Conservative majority increased from 38 to 54, from Hillingdon where the increase was from 35 to 45 and from Bromley where the increase was from 42 to 46.
I need only quote what the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) said about the matter:In many London boroughs there was a swing from Labour to a position even worse than in 1979.It is worth pointing out that a number of Greater London Members who spoke in the debate today would not have been here had there been a parliamentary election last week.
I see that in the constituency of the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Pitt) the Conservatives polled twice as many votes as the hon. Gentleman's party. The hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) would also have been out, as would a large number of other Labour Members whom I shall not embarrass by naming. There was also a very encouraging result in Mitcham and Morden, and I am sure that Miss Angela Rumbold will do very well when her time comes a few weeks from now.
Any hon. Member representing a London seat who wanted coverage in his local paper had only to speak on part III dealing with sex shops. From what I know of local papers, they will print in full any comment that any hon. Member makes on the subject, probably with a photograph of him at the top. As I have no need for any extra exposure in my own local paper, I shall make no comment on that in relation to my constituency, except to say that it seems to be the only constituency in Greater London that is not threatened with—or promised, depending on one's point of view—such an establishment.
One or two points were raised about the relationship between the provisions of the Bill and those of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill currently going through Parliament. I am grateful to the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North for his helpful remarks about the provisions that the Government have now added to that Bill.
I liked the air of injured innocence with which the hon. Gentleman introduced the subject of sex encounter premises, as though he had no idea what they were. I should mention that the addition of these premises, which were adequately described in the debate, to the provisions of the local government Bill, will be debated on Monday in another place, so if any hon. Member does not know 1062 what they are I suggest that he goes to the other place on Monday, when I am sure that the matter will be fully ventilated.
The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) mentioned various points of detail about publicity. Under the Government's proposals on sex shops, notices would have to be affixed to the premises or close by, informing people that an application was being made for a licence. That is in addition to the publication of notices in the local paper. With regard to opening hours, under the Government's proposals, the local authority could attach conditions to the licence regulating the hours of opening and closing and could consider requiring the premises to be closed on Sundays. The local government Bill also makes provision for local authorities to insert restrictions of that kind.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) drew attention to the relationship between high rates and unemployment. He referred to the problem facing many Londoners in that accommodation that would previously have been available to them is being taken over by overseas visitors. This was mentioned by a number of other hon. Members. On this, I refer hon. Members to a perceptive publication entitled "Tourism: Blessing or Blight?" that I wrote some 10 years ago and which considers the relationship in some detail.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) will also be looking with some doubts at the election results this week. He mentioned the problems of roads being dug up in his constituency. The provisions of the Bill may act as a deterrent in that the undertakers will now face charges and will not be able to dig up the roads without good reason.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), whose constituency I look forward to visiting tomorrow, spoke for the vast majority of his constituents in speaking as he did about part III of the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) did well to remind the House that the Bill does not ban these establishments but simply provides the opportunity to license them. That is an important distinction.
My hon. Friend the Member for the City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) would have been present to listen to the debate, except that, as I understand, the Finance Bill Committee is in his tender care and he was therefore engaged elsewhere.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) referred to bad landlordism. I hope that in certain cases he would include the local authority in that description, as in addition to complaints from constituents living in private rented accommodation no London Member is a stranger to complaints about the local authority as a bad landlord.
I hope that every London hon. Member will welcome the increase in housing starts in Greater London. In 1931, the total number of private sector starts exceeded the 1980 total by 79 per cent. After seven or eight years' decline under both Governments, housing starts in London are now picking up.
The hon. Member for Battersea, South mentioned prostitution. All that I can say is that I understand that the law relating to prostitution, including the problem of kerb crawling, is now being considered by the Criminal Law Revision Committee.
1063 In conclusion, may I say that the Bill is an uncharacteristically sensible piece of legislation to emerge from County Hall, and the Government will do nothing to obstruct it.
§ Mr. Stallard
With the leave of the House. I shall not attempt to reply to all the matters that have been raised, because we have discussed them at length. However, I welcome all the contributions that have come from both sides of the House, and the constructive way in which hon. Members have approached the Bill. I shall endeavour to see that those hon. Members who have raised questions to which I have not replied will receive a reply in due course.
Part III has been discussed at length. The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) made great play of the fact that he did not mind sex shops, so long as they were not in his constituency. Having listened to the rest of the debate, he will now understand that there is no such thing as a sex-free zone. On the contrary, some of the purveyors of the stuff come to London, to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson), on the inter-city line to meet his constituents.
I welcome what the Minister said, but he was a little unkind about the results of the elections. He did not mention Camden, where we were quite happy. Nor did he mention what might happen to his hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) had there been an election last week. I think that some of his friends, too, would have disappeared, according to the statistics that we know about.
I welcome the Minister's assurance about the legislation that is going through the other place. He has titillated my enthusiasm to find out about his sex shops or sex encounter places. I shall go along and listen to that debate on his recommendation.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.