HC Deb 03 July 1985 vol 82 cc471-89 2.25 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Chris Patten)

I beg to move, That the draft Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, which was laid before this House on 20th June, be approved. This order, as its title suggests, is a miscellany of provisions affecting the functions of the 26 district councils in the Province. It began life in embryonic shape with about four articles, since when, like Topsy, it has grown and grown.

Many of the provisions in the order stem from proposals put forward by right hon. and hon. Members and by local elected representatives. For example, the wider powers to strengthen the ability of councils to secure adequate safety standards in places of entertainment are based on proposals formulated by a joint departmental-local government working group. The sex shop controls were promoted by a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), and also by district councils and community and church groups.

The published proposal for a draft order has been amended to include some additional provisions proposed by the district councils, the Northern Ireland Assembly and other interested parties. In view of the wide range of subjects covered by the order, it may be helpful if I now summarise briefly the main provisions.

Part II of the order deals with councils' powers to license places of entertainment and sex establishments. Schedule 1 contains the detailed arrangements for entertainment licences. At present a licence is required for public music, singing, dancing and boxing, but under the extended powers in the order a licence will also be needed for entertainment in private clubs, poolrooms, theatres, indoor circuses, amusement arcades with non-gaming machines and pop festivals. On the recommendation of the Assembly, snooker and darts tournaments have also been added and provision has been made to allow the Department to prescribe other sports in future. Copies of applications will be served on the police and the fire authority and councils will have a duty to take account of any recommendations those bodies may make.

The procedures for licensing sex shops in schedule 2 parallel the corresponding legislation in Great Britain. Councils will be able to refuse a licence on the ground that the appropriate number of sex establishments for a locality has been decided by the council to be nil.

Part III will give councils power to serve closing orders to prevent local residents being disturbed by take-away food shops and restaurants trading between midnight and 5 o'clock in the morning. I know that that provision was of particular concern to the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker), who corresponded with me about it on a number of occasions. Businesses in non-residential areas will be able to stay open all night to cater for lorry drivers, shift workers, and so on.

Part IV provides a legal basis for the grants, which up to now have been paid to councils on an extra-statutory basis, for serviced sites for travelling people. Article 10 contains simplified procedures for clearing unauthorised encampments. Those procedures will be available only to a council designated by the Department of the Environment as having provided adequate sites or being in an area where no sites are needed. I make it clear, however, that part IV does not impose a duty on councils to clear unauthorised camps, nor does it derogate in any way from a landowner's power to take action.

Part V is additional to the published proposals, and has been included in response to widespread demand from the district councils and other organisations with an interest in local government. Article 12 allows councils to resolve to adopt controls over acupuncture, tattooing, ear-piercing or electrolysis. Councils will be able to register persons and premises engaged in those activities and to make byelaws to ensure the cleanliness of practitioners, premises, instruments and materials.

Part VI concerns a miscellaneous array of council functions. Article 17 will update the law on cremation to provide simpler procedures. Article 18 will remove any doubts as to a council's powers to remove graffiti and fly posters. That provision has now been extended to allow councils to recover costs. Articles 19 and 20 provide new sources of revenue by authorising councils to sell advertising space and spare computer capacity.

Part VII contains a number of amendments to the Local Government (Northern Ireland) Act 1972. The most significant is article 28, which brings the law on surcharges into line with England. Under the new provisions a local government auditor, instead of making a surcharge himself, will have to apply to the courts for a declaration that an item of account is unlawful. Article 29, which would allow the Department to make regulations for the publication of accounts, has been added in response to representations, but councils will be consulted about any proposals for implementing it.

Article 31, which will enable councils to sell legal and managerial services to specified bodies, and article 33, which requires a requisitioned meeting to be held within two weeks, both result at least in part from Assembly recommendations. Article 34 repeals a wide range of provisions requiring departmental approval prior to council action. Article 39 widens the definition of "knacker's yard". That is an interim measure in the campaign against the sale of unfit meat. The revised definition will allow councils to control any place where "casualty" animals are killed or meat is processed.

Article 40 replaces the provisions on filling casual vacancies on councils which were formerly contained in articles 8 and 9 of the Northern Ireland (Local Elections) Order 1977. Those provisions have now been included in this order instead of in the recent elections legislation since the Government are advised that, because they deal with the powers of district councils to fill casual vacancies by co-option, they are more appropriate to the local government code. Article 40 is largely a repetition of the former provisions in the order of 1977 except that co-option will not be available in future where a vacancy is due to the invalidation of an election by the courts. In that situation a new election will require to he held.

Article 41 implements another Assembly recommendation and will give Northern Ireland parity with the arrangements in section 56(9) of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. Under that arrangement the Department may, after consulting the councils, pay costs incurred by organisations such as the Public Service Training Board, the Local Authorities Management Services and Computer Committee and the Local Authorities Co-ordinating Body on Trading Standards, which supply services to local authorities. The total involved would then be deducted from the general grant paid to councils by central Government.

The order contains some useful new powers for councils and a number of other provisions which have been urged on us by, among others, right hon. and hon. Members. They should help ease the day-to-day administration of local services. I am confident that the order will be a welcome addition to local government legislation, and without reservation I commend it to the House.

2.34 am
Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)

The House will be grateful to the Minister for that careful synopsis of the order, and we welcome this addition to the legislation. However, the order is a perfect example of what the House discussed last week when we debated the interim period extension order to continue direct rule. First, we began this debate at 2.30 am. Anybody who directed his mind to the problem of running a Chinese laundry at that hour in the morning would be inviting bankruptcy, but that is the time that the Government think is appropriate to consider the affairs of Northern Ireland, and I hope that the people of Northern Ireland will be told that that is how their business is conducted.

The second consequence of direct rule is that legislation for Northern Ireland takes the form of unamendable orders. There is no equivalent of the Committee and Report stages which, in the case of legislation for other parts of the United Kingdom, enable hon. Members to propose and discuss amendments. Where the order deals with a single, broad proposal that may not matter so much. It is possible to debate whether the principle of the proposal is a good idea or a bad one. However, the order deals with a number of detailed proposals—what the Minister called a miscellany of provisions — each of which is capable of being considered separately. It is possible to approve of some, while disapproving of others, offering some qualified approval, conditional on a limited change, or the insertion of a safeguard. In those circumstances, it is unsatisfactory to present the House with a whole heap of proposals and say, "You can take the whole package or leave it, but you cannot amend it. You cannot take part without taking all, and you cannot seek to improve any of the proposals."

I do not lay that at the door of the hon. Gentleman or of the Northern Ireland Office, but I do not understand why, in the nature of things, the order should be unamendable. I see no inherent difficulty in inviting hon. Members to table amendments to subordinate legislation in the same way as we do to primary legislation. I cannot pursue the suggestion in this debate without trespassing on the rules of order, but I give notice that I shall return to this subject.

Article 5 empowers councils to impose closing orders on premises supplying meals and refreshments. This, as the Minister said, is to deal with the case when a cafe or take-away attracts customers at unsociable hours and makes life a misery for adjoining residents. Paragraph 4 provides that the hours specified shall not be earlier than midnight, or later than 5 am. I notice that Belfast city council in its written submissions to the Assembly, asked that the council should have the power to impose a closing order after 5 am, perhaps at 8 am. The Assembly endorsed that request, but the Government have rejected it.

If I lived next to an establishment such as that, I would find it hard to understand why the council should have no power to protect me from being awakened at 5 am. I understand that it is necessary to preserve a balance between the needs of residents and the needs of those who want to buy refreshment, but that depends essentially on local conditions. It is a matter which a council should have power to consider and decide upon. I do not see why a council should not even have power to consider the matter and assess that balance.

Article 21 empowers councils to erect bus shelters. That will no doubt be welcomed by many people who find them themselves waiting for buses in the depths of winter, and sometimes in the bleak early mornings. It is not clear why no central Government grant is made available to councils for that purpose. I understand that funds are provided through the Department of the Environment for direct works, but I do not see why the Northern Ireland Office should not take power to make grants more flexibly in suitable cases. It could still refuse a grant in its discretion if it considered that there was no good reason for making one. There is something to be said at least for taking the power to make such a grant.

We have all said from time to time that local authorities are not to be despised. It is frequently said that the Macrory proposals to remove certain service responsibilities from local counils and to vest them in authorities covering wider areas, or even the entire Province, were made on the assumption that delegated powers would continue to be exercised in Northern Ireland. It is one of the ironies of history that the legislation enacting the Macrory proposals was the last legislation enacted by Stormont before the introduction of direct rule. It is fashionable to remark that the consequence of that is that local councils are left with no powers worth exercising.

A glance at the order will teach us better. Local councils have a range of powers which are of great importance in the daily lives of pople in their locality. If they are exercised badly. They can lead to infected foods, epidemics, failure to ensure safety and an environment which offends the eye, the ear and moral sensitivity. If anyone was suspicious that those powers were being exercised unfairly or in a discriminatory manner, great resentment could be caused.

It is important that the standard of local councillors should be high and that councillors can work together in the public interest even when they may not agree about religious or cultural matters or about their political aspirations. The capacity of Northern Ireland to conduct its affairs through a democratic political system will be judged largely by the maturity shown by its local councillors.

If those who can agree about nothing else can share the powers set out in the order, with majorities demonstrating a sensitivity to the feelings of minorities, and minorities keeping in mind the distinction between asserting a point of view and fouling up the administration, we can urge on the Government that the time has come to consider returning fuller powers to that side of the water in some form. But if councillors cannot work together, cannot demonstrate evidence of tolerance or generosity and cannot make the powers in the order work in a democratic way, they will be reinforcing those who say that the present colonial style of government must continue because the process of constitutional democracy cannot be made to work in Northern Ireland. That would render no service to the people of Northern Ireland.

2.43 am
Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

I am glad to be able to take up the admirable speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). I hope that he will not take it as in any patronising on my part if I say that his speeches as Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland affairs have become closer to the apprehension of the affairs of Northern Ireland as it is held by my right hon. and hon. Friends. We have listened to his recent speeches with great interest and considerable respect.

I sought to catch your eye at this early stage in the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I shall speak for only a short time—to thank the Government and their business managers for providing the additional time for a debate on the order which had been requested by the Ulster unionist party. Part of the reason for that has already been referred to by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West.

We would not wish it to be thought churlish or inconsiderate on our part if there is a less than full representation in the debate of the Ulster Unionist party. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and others formed the view that on this day, and in these circumstances, their duty to their constituents and to the House was perhaps even better performed by assisting in upholding law and order in the Province than by taking part in the debate. Reports from the Province show that their judgment was well founded. I trust that the Government's generosity in acceding to our request will be available on a future occasion, even if we do not tonight exert the opportunity to the full of spending two and a half hours considering the order.

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, two and a half hours within the scope available for discussing an Order in Council is not adequate to deal with the legislative problems which such an order presents. Only something resembling a Committee stage of a Bill would enable us to deal with the important items included in the order.

I followed the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument on that topic, but it seemed to lead him to the inevitable result that there is no substitute for legislation, and that we shall have to find means of legislating for Northern Ireland in the same way as we legislate for the rest of the United Kingdom, though preferably, and in the interests of all, at the same time.

However, in the meantime, so long as we have to use the Order in Council procedure, it should not be beyond the combined wit and good will of the Government, the Opposition and the Ulster Unionist party to devise some means of utilising the Northern Ireland Committee so that, in a more orderly fashion, we can make a closer approach to the benefits and advantages of the opportunity to consider the several provisions of a Bill separately and in circumstances in which it is still possible for the Government, without loss of face, to propose amendments.

I appreciate that the Government have been anxious to exhalt the functions of the Northern Ireland Assembly. There can be no dispute about the amount of work which the Committees of that body have put into the consideration of Orders in Council, but there is one fatal flaw in any such consideration or in any such function of the Assembly. Since it does not possess powers, it does not have that means of exercising responsibility in debate and bringing the force of that debate to bear on the Government which is possessed by this House and its Committees.

I hope that the Government will heed what has been put forward by the Opposition as illustrative and instructive as to future legislative improvements and progress. My hon. Friends will deal with the several matters within the Order in Council, so far as that is practicable.

2.48 am
Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North)

I support the order because it proposes to strengthen the powers of councils. Some of the proposals might appear to be a trifle mundane, but the order is welcome because it is an attempt by the Government to give a little more credibility to district councils and so enable them to justify their existence by accepting more responsibility in their civic duties.

Some of us would say that such additional powers might not be fully exercised because of the provocative presence of Sinn Fein in the council chambers. That presence is viewed as creating a situation for the disruption of council business, condoned by a Government who have not the courage to proscribe Sinn Fein and thus give potential murderers and terrorists a respectability that no other Government in the world would countenance. Now that councils will have to cope with the imposition of people who treat all forms of government with contempt, I trust that those members who are loyal to our position within the United Kingdom will combine together in every way to uphold the traditions of local government and to provide a full and complete service to the ratepayers of the Province within their areas of responsibility.

As a British subject living in part of the United Kingdom, I believe that we should always have the same cares and responsibilities together with the same benefits as our kith and kin on the mainland. It is with that in mind that I welcome the proposed new provisions which bring us into line with those in Great Britain. I refer to articles 23 and 24. Although not in themselves significant, they are significant with regard to the principles of automony for the future of local government in the Province.

The input of other bodies in the licensing of places of entertainment, sex establishments and closing orders in connection with premises supplying meals or refreshment is also to be welcomed, as is the strengthening of existing council provisions under articles 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22 and 25 which take into account a wide spectrum of functions, including crematoria provisions, removal of graffiti, advertising on council land, spare capacity of computers, erection of bus shelters, delegation of functions to officers, mode of voting at council meetings and regulations as to burial grounds.

I am glad that in part II of the order the Government have appreciated the need to ensure that the highest safety regulations will apply to places of entertainment, that there is now a statutory obligation for councils to consult the fire authority about every application for a licence, that this is to be extended to private clubs offering entertainment and that the order is to be amended to include any sports that the Department may subsequently determine. I am also pleased that the Government have accepted the need to ensure that persons applying for the grant, renewal or transfer of an entertainment licence are fully covered as regards public liability insurance. In my view, it is essential that such insurance policies cover all risks and that the policies are inspected to ensure that they comply with such conditions as are warranted.

With regard to schedule 2 and the licensing of sex establishments, such places have been defined as sex cinemas or sex shops. Concerning a proposed sex cinema compared with an established cinema registered under the Cinematograph Act 1909 and the Cinematograph Films Act 1957, it should be pointed out that under existing council powers a registered cinema can be prevented from showing a film which, in the opinion of the council, has sexual connotations causing offence to public decency, whereas presumably no such rules will apply to a licensed sex cinema. Such an anomaly could lead to accusations of discrimination from proprietors of registered cinemas who may believe that such films would attract larger adult audiences.

On the definition of sex shops, to the comment from the Assembly about paragraph 6 of schedule 2, that it would appear that an opportunity has been missed to include control of striptease establishments and live sex shows, the Government replied that the control of such establishments was a matter for the police under the laws regarding indecency. I would also include sex parlours and brothels in that category. Such places of sexual activity are known to be functioning almost openly in many parts of Belfast. There appears to be reticence by the law to take such action as is necessary to close those places. I am not suggesting for a moment that councils should seek powers to license such establishments, but care would have to be taken to ensure that the activities of sex shops were not extended to include other sexual services, such as I have just described.

As regards part III of the order, I am concerned about the number of what I call shebeens that are flourishing in certain parts of the city of Belfast. These are not licensed premises within the meaning of the Licensing (Northern Ireland) Act 1971. There appears to be no restriction upon the number of hours that they can remain open. It is suggested that they provide an around-the-clock facility. The activities of some of the persons using those premises cause great offence to nearby residents, particularly in the early hours when these people are inebriated and full of Dutch courage. They roll about all over the place, mouthing obscenities and threats, and relieve themselves against the houses, doors and windows of nearby residents. Councils should be forceful and, after the investigation of complaints, use the closing order provisions against these premises. I am pleased to note that the councils will not reveal the names of those who lodge complaints against the keepers of these establishments. However, it is imperative for steps to be taken to protect confidentiality as there are some council members who believe that shebeens and drinking clubs should be supported.

Part IV of the order deals with the control that can be exercised by district councils over encampments of travelling people. I am completely opposed to grants, facilities or other provisions being made available to travelling people or gipsies. They have descended upon Northern Ireland like locusts and they desecrate everything that lies in their path. They leave behind dirt and filth that has to be cleared up and paid for by the taxpayers of Northern Ireland. The free health service, the Government handouts and the comparative prosperity of the Province over the Republic of Ireland from whence they came is the reason for their presence. When there is so much poverty among our own people, I deplore the vast sums of money that a benign Government have lavished upon these parasites in our midst. The working party that was set up to advise on site provision for this army of marauding nomads would have been better employed devising ways and means to combat the deprivation that faces those solid Ulster citizens who have made their contribution to the Province throughout the whole of their working lives.

Let us consider the cost to the taxpayer of the Government pandering to these so-called unfortunates. A few years ago the council set up an encampment for them in Springfield, Belfast, despite the fact that the travelling people did not want and would not use it. It cost the Government £232,371. The camp was never used, and it was left derelict. No gipsy went near it. That ground is now being used for much needed housing.

The new proposals call for the expenditure of £778,000 on a site on the Monagh road that is close to the original encampment, but one hopes it is far enough away to ensure that the local population is not contaminated. Despite this expensive provision, I do not believe that it will be a success. It will be used only when it suits the gipsies. When they have wrecked it, they will move on, wherever their wandering feet take them.

I also object to the part that the local council is being forced to play. It is wrong that the running costs of such an expensive provision should fall upon the ratepayers of the Province. The Department of the Environment provides 100 per cent. of grant aid to district councils on the mainland to provide sites for gipsies, and the county councils provide the district councils with funds to run and manage them. We do not have county councils in Northern Ireland, so the Government should not push their commitment to the travelling people on to the local council, but should fund the operation completely. I am also opposed to local councils having to remove unlawfully parked caravans and their occupants. I would not object to councils removing them from council land, but my experience is that gipsies almost always park on Department of the Environment land, which is effectively Government land. The Government should also accept that responsibility as part of the package.

We get many excuses for unauthorised parking. I have experienced some in north Belfast. It was months before we could get gipsies to move from a site which was required for urgent housing. We had sickness, mechanical breakdowns, pregnant women—everything that could be dreamed up to frustrate the legal system.

I support the order and broadly agree with most aspects of it. The issues covered by it are not contentious. I am pleased that there is to be control of tattooing and ear-piercing. Too many novices are taking up ear-piercing. There is always a danger if cleanliness is not of a high order, so the measures in article 14 are welcome.

I agree with the miscellaneous functions of councils in the order. I approve of such steps and hope that more and meaningful powers will soon be conferred on district councils.

3.1 am

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

Sir Patrick Macrory said long since that if he had known that Stormont would be abolished he would not have made his proposals for the conduct of council affairs in Northern Ireland. It has taken an inordinately long time for the implications of that remark, and all that was done by the Macrory report and its acceptance, to seep through into action to get more power back down to the people.

I served on my local council for a long time. There was an enormous amount of frustration there. When I consider what has developed in Northern Ireland — the street groups and non-elected groups that act for the people—I conclude that they came into being simply because there was something badly wrong with the heart of our local government structure. Although I welcome the return of powers, minor though they are, in this order, much more than can possibly be covered in an order such as this must be done. The longer that job is put off, the greater are the difficulties for everyone concerned in the Province.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) said, there is so much in the order that one could easily take twice two and a half hours and still not cover it in detail and get the changes that should be made. In regard to licensing laws, the change in the Irish public house in the past 15 or 20 years has not been gone into in sufficient depth. When I was a boy, and even as a young man, a public house in Northern Ireland was a place where one went for a drink, and quite often got very drunk. They have become places of mass entertainment, and the people who live in surrounding areas are now much worse off.

That is perhaps outside the scope of the order, but it is something that will have to be considered very soon. A step is being taken in the right direction in the order when one reads about the licensing of various types of entertainment. I note that the Government say that it is possible to extend the licensing requirements to other types of entertainment not listed in the order and that this will be done by order. May we be informed by the Minister exactly what the procedure will be? Will the order be debatable, or will it be one of those unfortunate instruments which go through the House so frequently without any debate? Quite often measures such as this are slipped through the House, and we who represent the people of Northern Ireland feel that some discussion is needed on them. I should not like to think that these lists will be extended for several types of entertainment without a full debate and a thorough examination of what is being done to the community and to society in Northern Ireland in general. What will the procedure be? I am not desperately clear about what is meant by "entertainment machines," but I suspect that they are the one-armed bandits which have inundated establishments in many parts of Northern Ireland, most of them illegal. All of them seem to swallow 10p pieces, especially when they are used by children, at a most alarming rate. Every Member of Parliament and every council in Northern Ireland is receiving complaints about these machines, which take far too much hard-earned money, to the detriment of family life. I hope that this is covered by the order and that something serious will be done.

Mr. Chris Patten

I trust that we will deal with that particularly important issue in the Betting and Gaming Order when the House has an opportunity to consider it. I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said about the importance of the subject.

Mr. Ross

Clearly, it is the more innocent type of machine which is covered by the order.

On the question of entertainment licences, I am in general agreement with what has been said, both in the Assembly and in this House, about comprehensive insurance to cover entertainment, but a number of functions take place in Northern Ireland annually and I am curious about how they will be affected. I am speaking about the one-off fund-raising activity which takes place in the church hall, possibly for the church itself, possibly for a charitable orgainsation. Barn dances run by young farmers clubs are very popular in the country' and are usually an annual event. I am curious about the type of licensing control that will be needed for such entertainment and the type of public liability insurance required. I should not like to see such fund-raising entertainment stopped, but the law should be should be constructed in such a way that people do not render themselves at a disadvantage and do not put themselves into bankruptcy as a result. A clear explanation of the legal position should be given to those who organise these very enjoyable occasions.

Paragraph 4 of schedule 2 deals with the licensing of sex establishments. This is to be welcomed. Such establishments offend most people in Northern Ireland. I am curious about whether the Government would raise serious objections if council after council decided that no sex establishment was the right number for its particular area. Have the Government a view on that, or will they be awkward when councils turn them down, as most of them will? When discussing an order which gives more power to councils and councillors, I resent the suggestion from some quarters, especially from the Assembly, that we should have a local ballot. Councillors, like Members of Parliament, are elected to exercise their own discretion and judgement, to act upon it and to take the electoral consequences of their actions. They are not elected to pass the buck to somebody else. I have always thought that holding local ballots was a way of passing the buck and of being able to hold up one's hands like Pilate and say, "Here I am, whiter than white. I did not do anything wrong. It was all those people out there." People who stand for elections are saying that they are willing to make decisions, no matter how hard those decisions are. If they are not prepared to make decisions, they should not stand for election in the first place.

Articles 5 to 7 deal with the control of carry-outs. These are useful establishments, but they are like the lamp posts outside the front door. One always wants them outside somebody's else's front door, preferably half a mile away. I have recently been involved in a battle in my own village against the opening of such an establishment. Carry-outs are useful to the community at large, but are heartily cursed by those who have to live close to them. I do not think that there is a simple way round the problem.

This brings us back to the whole question of planning control in commercial centres. For the moment I am speaking of the annoyance caused to residents in small towns and villages by establishments such as carry-outs and sex shops. Carry-outs should be licensed and tailored into the community in such a way that their usefulness is retained and their worst features diminished so that they are not a problem to those who have to live close to them. It is a question of the control of the planning of the commercial centre of towns and villages.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is reciprocity, in that from time to time the planners make the mistake of giving planning permission for housing—often housing for the elderly—to be built close to carry-outs. Is he aware that in my own town there is a determination apparently by the planners to allow sheltered accommodation to be built right in the middle of a commercial area? Is he aware that they are determined to thwart the efforts of the council to prevent this from happening?

Mr. Ross

I was not aware of the case that my hon. Friend has mentioned, but in my local town of Limavady the planners allowed a large pub to be built on the corner of a housing estate. Neither I nor the council thought that that was a wise place to put it. We were told at that time that there was no planning reason to prevent it. I hope that things have improved in recent months because of the requirement that the planners must take more account of the amenity value of an area and the damage that might be caused by allowing developments similar to those that took place in the past. The problems of residents will be eased to some extent by the requirement that notice be given of what is to be built on adjacent land.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

My hon. Friend has almost opened up a debate within a debate on the topic of carryout shops. Does he agree that effective control of carry-out shops is not possible unless there is also effective control of mobile shops, which are often in competition with the carry-out shops, and which are often an even greater nuisance in the neighbourhood? Areas such as parts of my constituency adjacent to the Republic produce many cases where the owners of carry-out shops have a just complaint when the regulations are enforced against them, but apparently little or nothing is done to control the activities of the mobile shop, which moves in during the late hours of the night and operate through the early hours of the morning and then disappears again across the border.

Mr. Ross

I appreciate what my right hon. Friend says, but when he is talking about a mobile shop in this context he is really talking about a carry-out.

Mr. Powell

A mobile shop selling beefburgers.

Mr. Ross

My right hon. Friend is talking about a mobile carry-away beefburger shop, and not a grocery van, which was a familiar and useful asset to country life in the past. I am just coming to the whole matter of street trading and car park trading. I have had correspondence with the Minister on this issue. We get folk moving in and setting up shop, sometimes in an old van, and carrying on a full-scale shopping enterprise on some housing estate, in a car park or on a street corner, to the detriment of the local ratepayers in their places of business, who suffer grievously from it.

One has also to remember the growth in the past 10 years of roadside selling, and sometimes from farm shops by farmers of farm produce and other horticultural products. This is now a common feature throughout the British Isles. What, if anything, is to be done about that? We need to get that problem sorted out before it gets bigger. I get worried when I see long lines of traffic pulling up to buy fruit and vegetables at the sides of main roads. It is not a very safe practice, but we all indulge in buying the stuff, and that helps to keep them in business.

The closing hours of shops are to be between 12 midnight and 5 am. There is a general welcome in Northern Ireland for the fact that this order appears to have closed the loophole of Saturday night and Sunday morning opening. When that loophole was there, traders were able to carry on business throughout the night. My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker), who is not with us, was very incensed about that and is particularly glad, like the rest of us, that it has been brought to an end. Can the Minister tell us whether any shop at all can sell between 12 midnight and 5 am? In other words, is there anywhere left for the all-night shop, or is it a matter of the licensing not being hard and fast and if someone wishes to do so he can allow all-night shopping, for some aspects of commerce? In articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 we come to the matter of gipsy camps. I shall not take up the time of the House by echoing all that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North, but I applaud what he said. These people have changed in nature over the years, and recently on the east side of Glenshane a large number of caravans appeared and stayed for three or four weeks, all of their occupants apparently selling furniture. How on earth they sold furniture which had been out on top of the van getting soaked on wet nights I am not too sure, but they seemed to be doing it.

We also have the problem of people who camp in Londonderry city at the end of the bridge on DOE land. These people have been a constant annoyance to traders and local residents. The area is an absolute mess and something will have to be done about it. It is the Minister's business to get something done about it when they camp on DOE land. They are a heartbreak, and the sooner they go back to where they came from, the better everybody in Ulster will be pleased.

Mr. Maginnis

Will my hon. Friend accept that while there were a number of what are known as travelling indigenous people in the area, we were encouraged by the department to provide sites for them? Having accepted the department's diktat on that, we then found that the department added to the requirement and suggested that we should leave some vacant sites for people passing through the area. Even if we have DOE land properly fenced and get rid of these true nomads, we shall have to provide sites for them. Is that not complete nonsense?

Mr. Ross

Yes, I accept that. These folk are the drones of society. I recall the stories told over the last 30 years of them all coming over the border whenever a baby was due so that the child could be born in Northern Ireland and qualify for all the benefits of British citizenship, which it would not have done otherwise. To describe them as useful citizens is untrue. I believe that they are a drag on society. They are not only unsightly; many of them are totally dishonest. I wonder what steps have been taken to try to see whether they are engaged in gainful employment and at the same time are getting the maximum benefit that they can from social security.

One of the articles is concerned with the removal of graffiti. "Graffiti" is a fairly wide term nowadays, so I took the opportunity to discover what a dictionary said about it. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Down will know more about this than I do, but I find that it goes back a long way—certainly to Greek and Roman times — and is scratchings on walls. Nowadays it is not looked upon as scratching on walls. It is a very much wider term. When the order was being drafted, I hope that some care was taken to ensure that the word covered paint on walls and roads and all the rest of it. Most of us find it unsightly, and, although I do not mind seeing the occasional lamp post or kerbstone painted red, white and blue, I hate to drive along miles of road trying to read what is written on the road—much of it not very polite—by various factions. The only remedy is for the road to be sprayed, but all that happens is that they come back and do it again.

I hope that sensible efforts will be made to reduce the incidence of what I describe as wall paintings and wall slogans, rather than graffiti. They are a most annoying feature of life, and I prefer not to see things plastered with paint, anyway. If it is well done, that is good enough, but more often than not it is simply rubbish of the worst kind. Anything that can be done to remove it will be welcomed by the vast majority of our citizens.

Another article is concerned with the erection of bus shelters, and a number of questions come to mind which the Minister should answer. I wish to qualify the position of the Department of the Environment after the order is approved. Is it to stop the very limited work that it was doing and unload the whole burden of providing bus shelters on to councils? How are we to get the efforts coordinated? Who is to be the co-ordinating body? How are we to ensure that a bus shelter at point A is put up by the council, one at point B is provided by the D of E, and one at point C by Enterprise Ulster or someone else? All these people have been working at it, and I hope that the Minister and his Department have sorted out all the ragged edges, because I can see certain problems ahead. Why are we being given no Government money for the councils to do this job? There is no point in saying that councils should erect shelters if they are not given some encouragement to do the work.

Article 24 makes provision for allowances for the vice-chairmen of councils. Among the electorate — not among the councils—I find a fair amount of disquiet at this proposal, bearing in mind that some councils seem to be willing to make both their chairmen and vice-chairmen full-time officials of the councils. I am surprised that this proposal has got through without any argument. I should have expected it to be looked at with a fairly jaundiced eye and that the chairman's allowance would be regarded as sufficient to cover the vice-chairman whenever he was acting for the chairman. The electorate has become increasingly worried about the amount of money spent on chairmen's allowances in many councils. It is a source of grumbling discontent, and the Minister should take an interest in it.

Article 28, which replaces articles 81 to 86 of the principal Act, has far-reaching implications. The Minister said that it brought the law regarding the recovery of money, and wrong decisions, into line with the law in England. The order states that in any action to recover money wrongly spent, the court shall take into account the ability of those who have made the wrong decision to pay. I was worried when I first read that, and I have reread it several times since, but my anxiety has not lessened.

Many councillors, especially from the Sinn Fein camp, do not have any property or means, and would be more than happy to twist and use the system. They would happily go to court, be found guilty, complain about it and say, "We do not have any money to pay and, therefore, the courts can do nothing about it." The courts should not consider the wealth or poverty of an individual who breaks the law. That is not the point. The point is whether the law has been deliberately flouted and broken. Yet we have written into this new legislation a loophole or great big barn door for the evil to drive through. If the Minister is being handed a note saying that the provision is maintaining the status quo, I am sorry that the opportunity was not taken to close the barn door rather than leave it wide open. I admit that there were no Sinn Fein councillors on the council when that provision was first drafted, but they have been there for a month or two now and it is time to reconsider it.

Housing services are mentioned in the explanatory document on article 30. Surely this should come under Housing Executive legislation rather than under local government legislation, or do the Government intend to give a measure of control over housing back to councils, which I would welcome? That is overdue, and the councils have a great deal to say about that.

Article 36 states that planning law applications will apply only to new burial grounds. This means that the present 100 yd rule will cease to have effect. I recall the council in Limavady trying to get a new municiple burial ground. At the last minute we were prevented from getting a suitable site because one person living within 100 yd of the site complained. The council had to buy building land at a vastly increased cost to provide the burial ground needed for the area. Why is the 100 yd rule now to cease to have effect, and what are the practical implications for people on the ground? It is a serious matter and we need to know exactly where we are.

My final point relates to article 40 and the filling of a casual vacancy of a certain type. That brings me back to the point that I have made, but which does not seem to have got through to most hon. Members, and certainly not to the Government. In a proportional representation system, the mere fact, especially in new boundaries and groupings, of a death or disqualification followed by what is in essence a first-past-the-post form of election can change the political complexion of the council. This is one of the great weaknesses of PR, to which insufficient attention has been paid. People have not addressed themselves to the problem. The end result is an open invitation, under certain circumstances, to the IRA to murder. This is a matter which frightens the daylights out of anyone who thinks about it seriously, because if a certain person loses his life, by murder or accident, the whole complexion of several councils in Northern Ireland can be changed. The Government must examine this matter seriously and quickly, and do something about it.

3.30 am
Mr. Chris Patten

The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) began by noting that we were considering these important matters at an extremely late hour. I sympathise with what he said, and therefore find all the more commendable the diligence with which, as is customary, a number of right hon. and hon. Members have pursued the interests of their constituents and of the Province.

I note what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said about legislation in Northern Ireland, and I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He mentioned closing orders on take-ways and said he would have liked us to have given councils power to operate, as it were, after 5 o'clock. In our response to the Assembly's views, which reflected the opinions of Belfast city council, we pointed out that we were trying in the order to achieve a reasonable balance between the interests of residents, traders and customers by repealing existing restrictions on the hours during which meals or refreshments may be sold and replacing them with council powers to order the closure of particular premises during the hours about which local residents had complained of being unreasonably disturbed. Premises are currently permitted to open at 5 am. We took the view that there was not a strong argument for changing that. We are not aware of any complaints about disturbance caused between 5 am and, say, 8 am. We believe therefore, that any extension of closing hours would unnecessarily upset the balance which, as I said, we have tried to strike between the various interests.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to bus shelters and grants, a subject which was also raised by the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross). Article 21 is not intended to impose a duty on councils to provide bus shelters. Some councils have already erected shelters, and that article provides them with the necessary legal authority for having done so.

The Department of the Environment's small allocation of funds for bus shelters will be fully taken up for the foreseeable future in carrying out a limited programme for shelters at key points. I am afraid that we do not have the money to do more, and I would not regard the provision of additional funds for this purpose as so considerable a priority as others I might mention.

The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) referred to the legislative proposals made by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West and pointed out why — and I am sure that the House understands — a number of his right hon. and hon. Friends are unable to be here tonight pursuing points which they pursued vigorously in correspondence and at meetings not only with me but with my predecessor.

The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker), in a wide-ranging speech, referred to the control of sex shops and the relationship between the provisions that we are enacting in that regard and the control of similar establishments. The control of striptease establishments and live sex shows is a matter for the police under the laws regarding indecency, and that goes for some of the other activities and entertainments to which the hon. Gentleman referred. As the hon. Gentleman may know, proceedings were taken recently against a strip show in a public house in Armagh. A heavy fine was imposed under section 9 of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) 1968, and the performances ceased.

The hon. Gentleman referred to drinking clubs, as did the hon. Member for Londonderry, East. I very much hope that we will be legislating on clubs as well as liquor licensing in the next Session. The Secretary of State and I regard it as a priority that we should do so, for a large number of reasons relating to social order and weightier matters.

The hon. Member for Belfast, North, with whom I always dislike to disagree, referred to itinerants and itinerants' sites. I shall say a little more on this subject, which I think is particularly important. Whatever the hon. Gentleman was saying, we have to scrutinise the appalling conditions in which many travellers now live. I am aware, as I use the word "traveler", what a misnomer that often is. We are talking about two groups of people—those described rather ineptly by the sociologists as the static travellers or static itinerants and the groups who travel who are, indeed, itinerant. Some of those who are static have been static in Northern Ireland for years.

It may be that there are arguments concerning social security fraud which we need to pursue. There are certainly arguments that I have taken up with my opposite number in the Republic to our mutual advantage, or rather to the mutual advantage of taxpayers in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. Nevertheless, the majority of people whom I am concerned to help fall into that curiously named category, static travellers.

We must also recognise the difficulties posed for individual communities by the present state of the law and by present practice. I can think of a number of examples, in Down Patrick, Londonderry, Belfast, Newry and other places where communities have been put under considerable pressure. I believe that in the policy that we are carrying through in the order we have the balance right. It is a carrot and stick policy. We are not imposing a statutory obligation on councils to provide sites, as has been imposed on councils in England, Wales and Scotland; we are offering to designated councils—those which have provided sites or those in whose areas no sites are necessary—additional powers of rapid eviction. We are also offering to those councils which provide sites extremely generous capital grants more or less on the lines of those provided in Scotland, and more generous than those provided in England and Wales.

I have allocated out of my budget £2 million in the public expenditure survey period in order to provide sites for all the static travellers whom we have been discussing, 112 families or thereabouts in Northern Ireland, which should deal with the problem.

Hon. Members say that we should also help with running costs. I do not think that it would be reasonable to go further than has been done in Great Britain. We are being as generous as we can be with capital grants. It is reasonable that district councils should bear some share of the financial responsibilities, with the support that they get from the Department of the Environment through the general grant.

I should deal with one further aspect of policy—

Mr. William Ross

Did the Minister mention a figure of £2 million? Surely that would build them a house apiece.

Mr. Patten

I am afraid that some of the costs of providing a serviced site are not much below the cost of building a house. For example, the cost of the site proposed on the Monagh road, currently being considered by the Belfast city council, is extremely high. One reason for the high cost is the site itself. It was chosen partly because of the difficulties incurred with previous sites. The Public Accounts Committee drew attention to the problems that we brought down on our heads there and in Londonderry. It is partly in response to the Public Accounts Committee and its observations that we have tried to produce a policy that is more coherent and makes greater sense.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

I wonder whether the Minister is applying sufficiently rigorously his dual classification of the travellers. I shall illustrate that briefly by contrast. There is in Newry a site that has almost always been traditionally occupied by travellers or gipsies and which it is proposed to deal with by the provision of a deliberate site some distance away. On the other hand, in Downpatrick there appeared on the Flying Horse estate a whole colony which had not been there before. Clearly that is not a phenomenon that we should think of dealing with by the provision of sites. The anxiety of my hon. Friends is that we might be providing sites in the latter case, thus encouraging and even duplicating that kind of movement.

Mr. Patten

We are talking about providing sites for —and I repeat the unfortunate words—static itinerants who were surveyed by the working party set up by my distinguished predecessor at the Department of the Environment. It established a need for about 112 sites. It is to the achievement of that objective—the provision of those sites—that I have allocated the money to which I referred earlier.

I hope that the Department will be helped in its policy by the work of the advisory committee on travellers that we are setting up to assist us not only in the development of policy but in improving relations between travellers and the community.

The hon. Member for Londonderry, East referred to one or two matters which I hope will be dealt with in our legislation on liquor licensing, the registration of clubs and betting and gaming. He wondered whether, if councils argued that the right number of sex shops in their districts was nil, the Government would intervene to set a higher figure. I assure him that that would not be our intention. It is for the councils to decide whether nil is the right number.

The hon. Gentleman referred to one-off church functions fund-raising activities, social events, dances, and so on. A church organisation will be able to apply for an occasional licence for a modest fee and will not be required to incur the cost of advertising the application. Most churches will already have insurance to cover their buildings. I am sure that responsible councils will ensure that the organisers of such functions will be made aware of the new law, and suitable publicity will follow the making of the order.

The hon. Gentleman made a Burkean point about local polls, with which I entirely agree. He referred to graffiti. I assure him that the order covers slogans on walls and roads—particularly those referring to me!

The hon. Gentleman referred to allowances for vice-chairmen. We are bringing the law in Northern Ireland into line with that in Great Britain, but I take the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Before the Minister leaves the matter of graffiti, could he do anything about persuading the parliamentary draftsman to treat "graffiti" as what it is, a plural and not a singular? There is a solecism in the order as it stands.

Mr. Patten

I note the right hon. Gentleman's point. I think that it is a solecism that occurs occasionally in legislation elsewhere—for example, when references are made to referendums. However, I shall bear that point in mind should I legislate on graffiti in the future.

The hon. Member for Londonderry. East also referred to surcharges. I take his point. Having had some experience of dealing with appeals in those instances, I think that it is preferable, as happens on this side of the water, to proceed through the courts rather than to proceed almost straight away, or at the end of the line, through the Minister. Where a councillor would not be financially able to repay a surcharge, he would still be subject to the penalty of disqualifaction, which needs to be borne in mind.

A point raised by the hon. Member for Belfast, North, which was touched on in the speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West, related to wider local government matters, which I am sure we shall have many opportunities to discuss, not least in the debate later today. I hope that it is not too vain to say that I know almost as much about the present local government scene in Northern Ireland as anybody else. I have visited 24 out of the 26 district councils, several on more than one occasion. I have met the mayors and chairmen of councils on several occasions, delegations of councillors and, of course, the clerks of councils. My experience leads me to make three observations on the present scene.

First, the majority of councillors and councils have worked consistently in the interests of the whole community that they were elected to serve, regardless of their legitimate political differences. One thing that always unites any council visited by a Minister is the awareness that the Minister is not doing as good a job as the council would like him to do, and not spending as much money as the council would like him to spend. That work on behalf of the whole community will continue to be carried out by most councils and councillors.

Secondly, I recognise how distasteful it must be for members of constitutional parties to have to share council chambers with those who endorse violence. I have found it distasteful in the past to visit some council chambers where members of Sinn Fein were present. Nevertheless, I think that, in the interests of the whole community, all of us have to go on working to make local government as effective as possible. It would be wrong for me to stop visiting councils because Sinn Fein is represented on them. It would be equally wrong for councillors to stop working in local government because of the existence of that party in council chambers.

Thirdly, those who use the present local government scene to score crude political points are not doing local government in Northern Ireland any good, nor are they doing their own political case any good.

Mr. William Ross

The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office, as I understand it, always give notice when they intend to visit a council. How do they intend to take care of their security if councillors are to be told when the Ministers are coming?

Mr. Patten

That is the sort of issue that it would be injudicious of me to explore in this debate or in public at all. Whether one is driving on the M4, visiting councils in Northern Ireland, or even holding one's regular constituency surgeries, one is, above all, dependent on the non-stop activity of one's guardian angel.

I hope that the order will help councils and councillors to do an even better job than many of them are doing, and all too little appreciated. It is perhaps an inevitable feature of the present scene that only those councils that are distinguished by head banging get any attention, and not those that try to carry out, to the best of their ability, the sort of responsibilities covered by the order. I hope that they will get a little more coverage in carrying through this order, which I commend to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, which was laid before this House on 20th June, be approved.