§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE FOR WELSH AFFAIRS (LORD BRECON)
My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of the Public Health Bill which I introduced into your Lordships' House a fortnight ago. This Bill deals with a number of matters connected with what are sometimes referred to as the environmental health services: sanitation, water supply, buildings, streets, parks, nuisances—subjects which have figured in public health legislation for a century or more.
864 In moving the Second Reading of this Bill I cannot pretend that on the face of it this is a very exciting measure, but, as I hope to explain, it is not less worthwhile on that account. The environmental health services are not only fundamental to the health of the community but also among the most important functions of local authorities. It would not be exaggerating to say that they were the foundation on which our modern system of local government developed during the 19th century. I think we are sometimes in danger of forgetting, or of taking for granted, the immense benefits which have flowed from the sustained efforts of local councils in this field. As one who has served for many years, first as a district councillor and then as a county councillor, I am glad to have the opportunity to pay a tribute to the work of local authorities up and down the country and to commend this measure to your Lordships.
The topics dealt with in the Bill are not new to public health legislation. Indeed, most of the actual provisions of the Bill are not new at all: they are already available to many councils through local Acts, and it is one of the main purposes of this Bill, as the Explanatory Memorandum makes clear, to give general force to clauses which have frequently been included in Private Bills. But before dealing with the contents of the Bill I should like to say a word about its extent.
It does not apply to Scotland nor, except for one very minor clause, to the administrative county of London. Your Lordships will understand my relief that I, a Welshman, am not called upon to explain or to justify proposals which would affect the two separate systems which are enjoyed by Scots and Londoners. London, of course, presents special problems. It has its own Public Health Act, its own building legislation and many other provisions which apply only to the County of London. I will say no more than that my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs will be considering all these matters in the light of the recently published report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London.
865 I hope that it will meet your Lordships' convenience if I devote the greater part of my speech to an explanation of those parts of the Bill which contain new provisions—that is, provisions not based on local act precedents. These are contained in Part II, Clauses 4 to 11, which deal with the subject of building regulations, and in Part V, which deals with the subject of trade effluents. There is also a new provision of much less consequence in Clause 73, which deals with the registration of canal boats. I think all I need say about this clause is that we are taking the opportunity to relieve local authorities of the obligation to make annual reports to my right honourable friend about the enforcement of certain public health provisions regarding canal boats and that this clause, alone of the clauses of the Bill, applies to the administrative County of London.
In addressing my remarks mainly to the new provisions, I would not wish it to be assumed that the Government attach greater importance to these than they do to the rest of the Bill. It is simply that I think some fuller explanation is required of the reasons for bringing forward special proposals for changes in the public health law than for provisions which do no more than incorporate in the general law provisions which already operate in some areas—often in a great many areas.
May I now invite your Lordships' attention to Clauses 4 to 11 which have the general heading, "Building Regulations". The administration of building controls in the interest of public health and safety has always been in the hands of local authorities. The Government have no intention whatever of changing that. Local authorities are the proper people to administer and enforce the controls, and they do it very well. Nor does the Bill alter the nature or scope of the building controls which local authorities are now administering and enforcing. What the Bill aims to do is to improve the efficiency of the present system by making changes in two aspects of the machinery of administration. At present the actual requirements which builders must observe are contained in by-laws made by local authorities. The Bill seeks first to replace these by-laws with centrally made regulations1—regulations which local 866 authorities would, however, administer and enforce just as they do at present with building toy-laws. And, secondly, the Bill would alter the present law about relaxing building requirements in particular cases.
It will, I think, be for your Lordships' convenience if I briefly explain the defects which these provisions of the Bill set out to remedy. The 1,400-odd borough, urban and rural district councils in England and Wales at present each make their own building by-laws, which have a life of ten years, and these require the Minister' s confirmation. Now in modern conditions uniformity of standards is essential to the well-being and efficiency of the building industry, and accordingly the Ministry of Housing and Local Government issue model building by-laws for the guidance of local authorities and require the building by-laws submitted for confirmation by local authorities to conform closely with the model. In this way, substantial uniformity over England and Wales has been achieved, but at heavy cost in time, money and manpower.
The same document, with trifling variations in some places, has at ten-yearly intervals to be adopted, checked, confirmed, printed and put on sale in over 1,400 versions, and any amendments to the model made in between the regular ten-yearly overall revisions have similarly to be adopted individually by the local authorities concerned. This procedure is so cumbrous that it is quite a major affair to amend the model in between general revisions, and if any amendment is made there is invariably a long time lag before the amendment is adopted by even the majority of local authorities. The system thus notably lacks the flexibility so desirable in a period when technical methods of building are constantly altering, and there is an inevitable tendency for building bylaws to be somewhat out of date.
Then again, the existence of separate building by-laws for each local authority area is highly inconvenient for architects and builders. They must consult the bylaws for each district in which they operate. In most cases those by-laws will follow the model exactly, but this cannot always be taken for granted. Inevitably the system means a great deal 867 of useless work. At the time of the last general revision of the Department's model building by-laws some 70 per cent. of the local authorities adopted the model exactly as it stood, so that in a substantial majority of cases the printed by-laws eventually put on sale to the public differed from each other only in having the name of a different local authority on the cover. The same result would be achieved, far more efficiently and readily, by centrally made building regulations, which would apply throughout England and Wales as soon as they were made and could easily be amended in the light of experience or of developing building technique.
Clause 4 of the Bill would accordingly give the Minister power to make building regulations for the same matters that can now be regulated by means of building by-laws, and would repeal the power of local authorities to make building bylaws. It expressly provides that enforcement of building regulations shall be the function of local authorities, and it provides, too, that the building requirements laid down in the regulations may be varied from area to area to take account of varying local climatic and other conditions. The Government fully recognise that a rigid uniformity between North and South, between the centre of big cities and remote rural areas, may not always be sensible. The intention is to have general uniformity, but there is power to write into the regulations such local variations as prove to be really necessary.
Clause 9 requires the Minister to appoint a statutory Advisory Committee and to consult that Committee and other representative bodies before making regulations. It is my right honourable friend' s intention to appoint a Committee whose members will have expert knowledge of all aspects of building operations and the administration of building controls. With their help, and with the assistance of any other bodies he may think it desirable to consult, he will have the fullest possible advice on the difficult and technical problem of framing building regulations and keeping them up to date. Your Lordships will also be interested to note that Clause 4 (7) obliges the Minister to make building regulations by way of statutory instrument which must be laid before Parliament and will be subject to the 868 Negative Resolution procedure. I believe that these provisions will commend themselves to your Lordships as a piece of business efficiency. Perhaps I may venture to recall that a similar change for Scotland was approved by Parliament only last year. The Building (Scotland) Act, 1959, provided, among other things, that building by-laws should be replaced by centrally made regulations.
My Lords, the best possible code of building requirements may have unexpected and undesirable results in its application to a particular building, and this brings me to the second aspect of building controls touched on by the Bill. There is already power in the Public Health Act, 1936, for local authorities to relax the requirements of building by-laws in particular cases, but the Minister' s consent is needed in every instance. In practice, many relaxations relate to matters which the local authorities are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves without reference to the Minister. Clause 6 (2) therefore enables the Minister to say that the power to relax the requirements of specified building regulations shall be exercisable by the local authority. It is intended to use this power widely, and to reserve for the Minister' s decision under Clause 6 (1) only those types of applications for relaxation which are likely to cause particular difficulty.
Clause 7 gives the developer a right of appeal to the Minister against the refusal of a local authority to grant a relaxation. At present, building by-laws may be relaxed with the consent of the Minister, but only the local authority may apply for that consent. If the local authority decide not to make an application the developer has no right of appeal against the council' s decision. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that it is desirable that there should be this right to Challenge the local authority' s decision —a right which was given to developers in Scotland by the Act of 1959 to which I have already referred.
As I mentioned earlier none of these provisions apply to the County of London, where there is a separate system of building control, based on the London Building Acts. I will not detain your Lordships longer on those clauses of the Bill relating to building regulations, but I trust that I have said enough to convince you that all that is proposed is a 869 modest and necessary rationalisation which would be for the benefit of all concerned in building operations.
Let me now turn to Part V of the Bill, which is concerned with a different aspect of public health legislation—with the discharge of trade effluents into the public sewerage system. This Part of the Bill seeks to give effect to certain recommendations made by the Trade Effluents Subcommittee of the Central Advisory Water Committee who examined the operation of the existing law in what we know as the Armer Report. The Sub-Committee included members from all the interests specially concerned in this subject—industry, river boards, Local authorities and technicians. Their recommendations for amendment of the law (which h are to be found mainly in the Public Health (Drainage of Trade Premises) Act, 1937), were unanimous and were unanimously endorsed by the parent Committee.
The principal change proposed in the law may be expressed in quite a few words—although it requires a fair number in the Bill. It would give local authorities the right to fix charges, calculated in the light of present-day conditions for receiving certain effluents into their sewers which they are at present obliged to receive either free of charge or at charges frozen at the level existing in 1937. The background to this is that the Act gives local authorities a general control over the admission of trade effluents. They cannot be discharged into a local authority's sewer without their consent. The local authority may (subject to the applicant' s right of appeal to the Minister) refuse its consent or give its consent with conditions—which conditions may include a charge for the service.
But the Act exempted a whole class of effluents altogether from this control: effluents which were being lawfully discharged at any time during the twelve months before March 3, 1937. The evidence the Sub-Committee received convinced that perpetual exemption in the terms laid down in the Act was wrong. Not only was it wrong to expect local authorities to go on in perpetuity dealing with effluents on terms laid down before 1937, but Parliament, it seemed, had gone beyond its own intentions, and certainly beyond the mere exemption of 870 pre-1937 discharges, in allowing these exempted effluents not just to continue but considerably to increase—for that is the effect of the Act. A trader whose effluent is exempt from control can discharge, every day in the year if he wishes, up to the maximum discharge made on a single day in the qualifying year, even though that maximum may have been quite abnormal.
The Sub-Committee did not think it proper to withdraw the exemption altogether: that is to say, to withdraw the right to discharge and make it dependent on a new consent by the local authority. But they were unanimous that local authorities should be empowered (subject to the trader' s right of appeal) to make reasonable charges for receiving and treating effluents. I know, of course, that this conclusion has its critics among the industrialists: and the Sub-Committee considered very carefully what the Federation of British Industries and others had to say before reaching it.
This recommendation concerning charges is one of the most important in the Armer Report. My right honourable friend has carefully studied it and also the representations he has received since the Report was published. He is aware that it is not exactly welcome to industry —he could not have expected anything else (although it is fair to remind the House here that industry was represented on the Sub-Committee). He is aware too that the local authorities do not altogether like it. They think it might have gone further and abolished the exemptions altogether. But it is something of a testimony to the reasonableness of the Sub-Committee's view that it is criticised from opposite sides. They have taken a middle way, and I suggest to the House that it was the right one.
I have to add only two things on the subject of exemptions. First, in order to calculate charges the local authority will need a variety of information which they have not hitherto had the power to collect in connection with exempted effluents. There is a clause in the Bill to put this right. Secondly, the Sub-Committee were a good deal concerned about exempted effluents which were discontinued, and the question whether the privilege should continue indefinitely as a potential demand on the local 871 authority. They thought it should not, and that the exemption should lapse after a prescribed period of disuse.
I hope your Lordships will forgive me for having dealt at some length with this question of exempted discharges, but it is one of considerable importance to traders and to local authorities. Part V of the Bill deals with some other points raised by the Armer Report on the operation of the Act of 1937. These include points which I have no doubt will come under close scrutiny on later stages of the Bill, but I do not think there would be any advantage in cataloguing them at the present stage.
Finally let me say a word about those clauses which would extend the application of provisions which are already to be found in local legislation. The greater part of the Bill is made up of provisions which are based on precedents in local Acts or—to quote the Long Title on this aspect—the Bill makessuch amendments of the law relating to public health and the functions of county councils and other local authorities as are commonly made in local acts".In this aspect, therefore, the Bill follows earlier Public Health Acts: those, for instance, of 1890, 1907 and 1925, all of which were substantially based on clauses which had previously been included in local legislation.
In doing so the Bill is meeting the recommendations of various Parliamentary Committees—the most recent being the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure (1955) and the Joint Committee on Promotion of Private Bills (1959)—which have recommended the introduction of Government legislation based on local Act clauses. We shall also be doing something to reduce the bulk of some of the local Bills with which some of your Lordships who sit on Private Bill Committees will be all too familiar.
I am sure that your Lordships will not wish me to deal with each clause in detail; nor do I think it would be profitable to pick out any individual clause for special mention. We shall, I (hope, have an opportunity to do this during the later stages of the Bill when I will do my best to answer any specific questions. There are, however, certain 872 general points which might be made on legislation of this kind.
In the first place those noble Lords who have sat on Private Bill Committees and who have made a special study of the subject will notice that the wording and shape of the various clauses often depart from the drafting used in local Acts, and even from the drafting of the model clauses as contained in the handbook issued under the aegis of the Lord Chairman of Committees and of the Chairman of Ways and Means in another place. This is inevitable, I think. That is partly because clauses in a local Act are drafted with an eye to the individual circumstances of the promoting local authority, but they now have to be extended to suit the actual and potential needs of many different types of authority; and partly because when general legislation is prepared it is necessary to harmonise the provisions and their wording with other general legislation and to keep also in mind the possibility of consolidation at some future date. The guiding aim, however, has been to reproduce the substance of the precedents, even though different words may have been used.
The second general point I would make about legislation based on local Act provisions is that, as your Lordships will appreciate, the clauses which are contained in this Bill do not represent more than a small fraction of provisions which have been allowed in one Private Bill or another; nor do they reproduce all the model clauses dealing with public health matters. Not all matters which are dealt with in local Acts are suitable for general extension to all local authorities; that is self-evident. But in addition—and I am sure your Lordships will agree with me on this—it is most undesirable to incorporate any provision into the general law unless there is a real and widely felt need for it.
May I ask your Lordships to consider this Bill as a whole? From what I have said, you will appreciate that the Bill is in essence a measure to adjust—to bring up to date—various provisions in earlier Public Health Acts. No revolutionary changes are proposed. The various clauses deal with matters which have been examined at length in discussions with the local authority associations 873 or through the proceedings of representative committees, or of Parliament itself. They draw heavily on the experience of local authorities in the administration of the public health code as it has evolved over the years and the Bill represents another step in the continually necessary process of keeping public health legislation in line with changing and improving conditions. On this basis I can confidently recommend the Bill to your Lordships' House. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Lord Brecon.)
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, this is not the first time that we have heard the voice of the noble Lord in this House, and therefore I am not in a position to congratulate him on his maiden speech. But it is the first time that we have heard him as a Minister introducing a Bill. Exactly what is the right term for congratulating a Minister who introduces a Bill for the first time I do not know, but I should like to congratulate him on the lucid way in which he explained what I think is one of the most difficult Bills that I have had to read for a long time. It is difficult not so much because of the difficulty of content, but because it contains so many provisions by reference, and by reference to a considerable number of Statutes which, in the privacy of one's own home, one has not readily available. Therefore, speaking personally, I have found it exceedingly difficult to follow the Bill clause by clause, as I tried to do, and I am most grateful to the noble Lord for having explained what he regarded as the important provisions of this Bill.
I think the whole House will support that part of the Bill which deals with the building regulations. The noble Lord was quite right: the Bill is a great improvement in requiring that the Minister of Housing and Local Government should now make building regulations which will be applicable to the whole country, instead of having a situation in which each local authority makes its own building regulations, which may or may not be similar to those of an adjoining authority—certainly one cannot assume they are similar—and which, as the noble Lord explained, cause considerable difficulty to builders, to architects and, of 874 course, to private developers. If it should happen that a private developer wants to develop a property in an area which is on the boundary of one authority and another, I am not quite sure what the position is to-day where the building bylaws happen to differ in a certain respect. So I am sure that this part of the Bill will be welcomed by everyone.
We also welcome the flexibility which the Bill provides so that the Minister can make separate by-laws for different parts of the country, or for different authorities where the conditions may differ. I imagine, for instance, that there will be different sets of by-laws for development in the Cotswolds, where building is mostly of local stone, or ought to be, as against building in the metropolis other than London. I welcome also the fact that there is a certain amount of elasticity, in that relaxation can be claimed for good reason, and that the Minister will be prepared to consider any necessary relaxation. I am sure that is all to the good.
I was not quite clear why the London County Council area has been excluded. It is true that: the London County Council is a most efficient body, as I well know, having been a member of it for 21 years, and that it has a well-tried-out system of building by-laws which has worked extremely well. I could have understood that that would be an argument for letting the London County Council deal with the building regulations throughout the country or for emulating the by-laws of the London County Council, but I cannot understand why it is necessary, when a uniform set of by-laws is being created for the whole country, to leave an arbitrary area, which the administrative County of London is to-day, as an exception and have different by-laws all round. I should be grateful if the noble Lord would kindly explain why the administrative County of London has been excluded from the provisions of this part of the Bill.
Part III deals with a number of Committee points relating to public health, and although they will require careful scrutiny when the Committee stage comes I will follow the example of the noble Lord and not trouble the House with any comments on those provisions to-day. There are some points which 875 require explanation, and possibly amendment, but I want to come at once to what I regard as the really controversial provisions of this Bill relating to parks and open spaces. It is significant that in introducing his Bill the noble Lord never referred to those provisions in terms at all; and it is also significant Chat when one looks at the Explanatory Memorandum prefacing this Bill, there is no statement explaining the provisions of Clauses 48, 49 and 50. I wonder why it was thought unnecessary even to draw the attention of noble Lords, who are very busy and who very often look for an explanation of a Bill in the Explanatory Memorandum, to these provisions.
Clause 48 deals with the case where a portion of a park or open space has been set apart by a local authority for the purpose of permitting games or recreation, and it provides that a local authority may deprive the public of some part of that land which is at present used generally for football, cricket, tennis or other recreation, and permit a private club to use a portion or the whole of this land. The ' local authority may also permit this club to use any pavilion, convenience, refreshment room or other buildings as may be on this recreational land, and the public will therefore be deprived also of the use of these buildings. I recognise that there are limitations contained in the clause on how far a local authority may go, but I may say that Clause 48 gives the local authority complete discretion in depriving the public of the use of this recreational land subject to the limitations contained in the Bill. And there is no appeal against the decision of the local authority under that clause.
The limitations are that not more than one4hird of the area of any park or pleasure ground may be taken away from the public in this way, nor may more than one-quarter of the total area of all parks under their control be taken. Therefore, supposing a local authority have two parks each of which contains, say, six acres, it would mean that they could deprive the public of the use of three acres of that land; and if it should happen that three acres of the land is devoted to general sport and available to the public, they could deprive the public of 876 the whole of the present recreational land and hand it over to a private club. I should like some explanation of why it is thought necessary to do this at all. After all, the general public are the ratepayers. Why should they be called upon to pay for the maintenance of these parks when a portion of them is to be handed over to clubs and they, the public, are to be deprived of the use of it? Further, in many cases these parks and open spaces were acquired out of charitable funds and were intended for the benefit of the public as a whole, or were acquired out of monies provided by the ratepayers. I should be glad to hear what is the justification for this provision.
I come to Clause 49, which enables a local authority to utilise a portion of a park, open space or playing fields for the purpose of a car park. I admit that it leaves out common land. Again there is a limit of one-eighth of the area or one acre, whichever is the less, But underground car parking does not count, so there can be car parking underground as well. This eating into public open space provision for car parking purposes may be permanent, and on the piece of land that may be acquired for parking purposes a local authority may put up buildings—garages, so far as I can see from this Bill; and they may even let the buildings to a private undertaking for letting out for garage purposes. I can well imagine that the provision of parking facilities will be needed in areas which are most likely to be short of open space, and that those will be areas which generally speaking are the most crowded; that is to say, areas where the open space is most needed. It seems to me that it will require a great deal of justification.
I should like to read to the House one of the provisions in Clause 49 which I find it rather difficult to justify. It is subsection (6):The powers given by this section may be exercised notwithstanding anything in section ten of the Open Spaces Act, 1906, or in any other enactment, whether in any public, local or private Act, which provides for the use or enjoyment of any open space or playing field for recreation or any similar purpose.That is going a very long way, is it not? It is not merely a matter of codification of existing legislation; it enables a local authority to ride roughshod over Public Acts of Parliament and over any other enactment which has been passed. And 877 yet the noble Lord did not even think it necessary to draw the attention of the House to this provision.
I recognise that under this particular clause there is an opportunity for people to object, and the Minister may, if he thinks fit, but only if he thinks fit, hold a public inquiry. I am bound to say I find it difficult to visualise what will be the criterion, either for holding a public inquiry or for granting an application of a local authority where there is an objection. If there is no objection, it is automatic. I cannot help thinking that the general rule will be that if a local authority consider it necessary to utilise a portion of an open space for the purposes of providing car parking facilities, the Minister will grant the application unless there is an overwhelming case against it, because it is provided in Clause 49 of this Bill and because subsection (6) of that clause actually provides that this may overrule any Public Act or even any Private Act dealing with this subject.
Now I come to Clause 50, which permits of the temporary closing of parks and pleasure grounds or their use for show or other special purposes up to one-fourth of the total area of all parks or pleasure grounds provided by the local authority. That is, where a local authority owns a number of parks and open spaces, under this provision it is possible to close a certain number of them entirely. Often these are distributed throughout a large area, especially in the case of the major towns, and so it will be possible for a whole locality to be deprived of the use of their open space for a period, several days at a time, including holiday periods, including Sundays, for the purpose of running a fair or other purposes of that kind.
If we take these clauses cumulatively, Clauses 48, 49 and 50, they involve a considerable contraction of the rights of enjoyment of the general public on their much-prized and much-needed open spaces, which in many cases have been acquired under great difficulties. I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Brecon, may say that provisions of this kind are already in operation under a number of Private Acts. I have not been able to examine the Private Acts. Obviously, I do not know in which Private 878 Acts; they are not stated on the face of the Bill and it is impossible for any Private Member of this House to get the necessary information, certainly in the time available. Nor do I know to what extent these powers have been used or where. But the fact that they are in Private Acts is no reason at all why to-day we should pass this measure.
After all, this now comes up to us as a Public Bill. It may well be that in the past the public have not been as vigilant in these matters as they ought to be; it may be that such provisions have even slipped by the scrutiny of Parliament itself. Once a measure of this kind has gone through in a Private Act, then it becomes a precedent, a standard, for others, and others go through because it is already in one particular Act which, it may be, has passed this House and another place without the scrutiny required: just as the noble Lord is saying to us to-day that, because these provisions or similar ones are contained in a number of Private Acts, that in itself constitutes a justification for our approving them to-day. They will require a great deal of scrutiny and of close observation, and we shall want to know a good deal more about where they are in operation, how much open space has actually been taken away, and the justification for them in other places.
I was considering the case of London. London is hopelessly short of the amount of open space that is generally regarded as necessary; that is, about four acres per thousand of the population. If this Bill were to go through and its powers were exercised to the full, it would mean the loss to London of several hundred acres of open space. If the London County Council were so ill-advised as to act on this measure, it could mean the loss of whole parks and open spaces which are so badly needed in various parts of London. We shall be hearing more about these provisions later on, and I do not want to develop the argument any further at this point.
I want to go now, in conclusion, to the Title. This is a Bill which is masquerading as a Public Health Bill. It is a completely misleading Title, because, as the noble Lord himself explained, it is really nothing of the kind. There are, so far as I could judge, only 5 clauses out of 79 which 879 deal purely with public health, and there are four Schedules none of which deals witch public health; they deal mainly with building construction. The Minister mostly responsible for this Bill is not the Minister of Health but the Minister of Housing and Local Government. I would therefore suggest that it might be worth while having another look at the Title to see whether a more realistic one, something which is more closely allied to the contents of this Bill, can be provided. I speak as a lawyer, and if one really wanted to know something about building by-laws or even about trade effluents one would not normally think of looking for it in a Public Health Act. I recognise that there are a number of miscellaneous provisions in this Bill and it might be worth while giving it a Title which would suggest that it contains a large number of miscellaneous provisions.
Because of its helpful and beneficial provisions in a considerable number of respects, we do not propose to object to the Second Reading of this Bill. But the noble Lord the Minister who introduced it and the Government will appreciate from what I have said That we can give this Bill only a very qualified blessing, and there will be much controversy in Committee over a number of its provisions.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, I also should like to congratulate the Minister on introducing his first Bill in this House. Having listened to the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Silk in, I am sure he does not need me to remind him that he has only just started on his journey; he has a long way to go yet. I do not propose to detain the House for long, but I should like to make a few comments on Part V of the Bill, which is the Part that deals with The discharge of trade effluents into public sewers.
My first point is on Clause 52 of the Bill, which implements a recommendation of the Armer Sub-Committee, which stated that local authorities should not have to continue to deal with exempt effluents on financial arrangements made in or before 1937. That appears fair enough, but my comment is that industry should not be asked to do more than make a contribution towards the 880 increased costs borne by the local authorities as a result of changes since 1937. The new financial arrangements should be reasonable and not necessarily involve the full new cost, which might be a great burden on the industry concerned. I also think there should be a short interim period after the conferment of powers to make or vary charges, which should be long enough to give traders sufficient time to consider and explore the possibility of modifying their existing practices. For instance, it might pay some of them to put in a treatment plant of their own to deal with the effluents.
My next point is on Clause 52 (5). Here the Bill gives a right of appeal to the Minister against any new or increased charges. In order to enable a trader to judge whether it is in his interest to appeal, it is essential that the local authority should disclose not only the amount of the proposed charge but also full particulars of the basis on which it is calculated and its relation to the actual cost of treatment. The Armer Sub-Committee recommended that an existing contract between a local authority and a trader should not be terminated by the provisions of any new legislation; but, so far as I can see, Clause 52 (8) of this Bill protects only agreements under which charges are levied. I submit it should also protect agreements where there are no charges, but only conditions.
My next point is under Clause 57 of the Bill. Here a local authority is empowered to vary conditions, with consent, at any time. Surely this is a most unreasonable provision which will seriously interfere with the short-term planning of any business. I appreciate the need for a periodical variation, but I suggest that there is a precedent, I think in the Manchester Corporation Act of 1957, that variations should not take place at less than, say, three-yearly intervals, and that the trader himself should have the right to initiate a variation.
My last point is in connection with Clause 58 (3). On an appeal, the Minister is given power to award the appellant less favourable conditions than he had when he actually went to appeal, and the Minister is given power even to annul the conditions. In my opinion, this power will certainly deter any small trader from 881 appealing at all. Perhaps that is the intention behind the clause. It is only in the Court of Criminal Appeal, I think, that a sentence can actually be increased, which is really what this clause is doing. It seems to me a most undesirable innovation. I hope, my Lords, that I have made my points clearly, and that the Minister will take note of them, because they are of great importance to industry. I may have to come back to some of them at the Committee stage of the Bill. But, in the meantime, with these reservations, I also should like to support the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I should like to join with others in congratulating my noble friend on the lucidity with which he has commended this Bill to the House. I say that at the very outset because the principal object of my intervention is vigorously to attack one of the clauses. My Lords, I have no doubt that the House will give this measure a Second Reading, and will postpone detailed consideration until it is considered in Committee. I am quite content to do this as regards the Bill as a whole, especially as there is further business before the House to which the House wishes to proceed: but, my Lords, I must ask the House to examine in some detail Clause 49, to which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has already devoted his critical attention. May I say that I think there was just one slip which the noble Lord made, or may have made, in dealing with this part of the Bill? I think he was wrong in assuming that this particular clause could be applied to London. This is not one of the clauses that applies within the area of London.
§ LORD SILKIN
May I say that I found it very difficult to make up my mind whether it did or did not? The Bill is not at all clear on the subject—at least, this part of the Bill is not clear. But, whether it does or does not, my argument still remains; and I merely used London as an illustration because I know London best.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I am in such complete agreement with the noble Lord that I did not want the House to make any false point at all, and I am going very strongly to reinforce the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in his objections to this 882 clause. Frankly, my Lords, I hope to satisfy the House that the provisions of this clause are quite monstrous.
First, let me remove a misapprehension which, from conversations with various noble Lords, I know is snared by many. The misapprehension is that this clause merely makes general a provision already to be found in many local Acts. It does not. It is untrue to suggest that this clause merely enacts for the benefit of all authorities the provisions of a model clause which are already available to some. If any noble Lord has that impression, he is mistaken. Any noble Lord can obtain from the Printed Paper Office this volume which I have here, which is the latest edition, the Revised Edition, 1960, of the Model Clauses. He will find that the model clause on this subject is No. 82, on page 56. That model clause has two short subsections: Clause 49 has 12. The model clause consists of 12 lines: the clause that I am attacking contains 12 subsections and occupies well over two pages. This is not to be explained by the point that the Minister made, and which I admit is a true one, that any clause enacting in a General Public Statute a principle that may exist in a particular local Act may have to be rather longer than the section appearing in an existing Statute. This clause, however, has wholesale deviations from the model clause.
Let me give the House a few examples. The model clause, I may say for the benefit of those who wish to examine it, is to be found enacted in some Statutes which received the Royal Assent only this summer: they will find it, for instance, in the Oldham Corporation Act, 1960, Section 55. This model clause contains no mention whatever of land provided as a playing field or for any other purpose under Section 4 of the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937. That is wholly new. Secondly, the model clause is confined to parks, pleasure grounds and open spaces provided by the corporation in question, or under their control. This clause, Clause 49, applies not only to all such open spaces, but also to land owned by any other local authority in the district of the local authority concerned.
The provisions of subsection (2) (b) are wholly new. It is in that subsection, incidentally, that mention is made of a 883 London authority; and it is because there are London authorities that own or manage or are concerned with open spaces outside the London area that they are mentioned in this clause. These then are two differences: the mention of the 1937 Act, and the fact that the clause is not confined to land under the control of the local authority in question. My Lords, the model clause contains nothing at all on the lines of the extraordinary subsection (6), to which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, drew attention. I have not found that in any existing Statute. If the Minister can point out a Statute where it exists he will no doubt refer to it in his reply
Now, my Lords, what is the purpose for which portions of these parks and playgrounds and open spaces can be taken over? They can be taken over for the purposes of Section 81 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960 That section empowers local authorities outside London to provide parking places for the purpose of relieving or preventing the congestion of traffic. There may be some noble Lords who may imagine, at first sight, that what is being done is for the benefit of those who may wish to go to a playground in order to play games there. There is nothing like that in the purpose for which these areas can be taken over. If any local authority desire to relieve traffic congestion in the area of that local authority, they are empowered by this proposed clause to take parking space from a public park, open space or playground, subject to the limitations of the clause.
My Lords, it would be possible to justify any provision remotely resembling this provision only if it were true that, where parking space ought to be provided in a congested city, the first place to which the local authority should look in providing that space would be to an existing park, open space or playground. I submit that the precise opposite is the case. That is the last place to which they should look in providing a parking space. As I say, this does not apply in London, but many noble Lords are very familiar with some of our congested industrial cities. Looking at them, do they really think that there are too many playgrounds, that there are too many parks and open spaces, and that there are not other places which should be primarily looked 884 to when the local authority wish to provide parking spaces?
My Lords, it is an absurd suggestion. The lungs of our congested cities are not too large or too many. I do not suppose there is a noble Lord in this Chamber who has not been concerned in raising money or contributing to public funds expressly devoted to trying to increase the amount of open spaces and playgrounds in our cities. And yet here is a proposal brought forward that one-eighth of these areas, or an acre, whichever shall be the less, can be taken as a parking space to relieve the traffic congestion in the district taken as a whole. Even if it were true—in fact it is completely false—that this clause goes no further than what is provided in some local Acts, there would still be an objection to this clause, for this very simple reason. May I, just as a preliminary, remind noble Lords of what I am sure they know already—namely, that when a clause is described as a model clause, all that means is that it is a model of drafting if the clause is to be incorporated in a Bill. It is not a model of policy to be adopted.
If a clause of this sort were sought in a local Bill, Parliament would be able to consider the case for and against the granting of that power to the local authority concerned. There would be full Parliamentary control. Your Lordships are all familiar with the care taken by both Houses of Parliament in considering this local legislation. But if this general clause were incorporated in the Bill then these parking spaces could be taken out of the parks, open spaces and playgrounds at the will of the local authority concerned, with the approval of the Minister, without any Parliamentary control of any kind whatsoever. And it goes further than that; because not merely can it be done without any Parliamentary control, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has rightly pointed out, it can be done in complete defiance of the express provision of Acts of Parliament passed for the express purpose of protecting the public in the enjoyment of these parks and open spaces.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has already read subsection (6), and I do not propose to repeat it. I would only mention the allusion it makes to the Open Spaces Act, 1906. There are 885 Members in another part of this Chamber for whom the year 1906 has considerable significance. But under that Act of 1906, a number of playgrounds, parks, and so on, were transferred to local authorities. I have no doubt that the view of the Parliament of that day was that they were by the transfer to local authorities giving the public greater safety and security. But what does subsection (6) do? As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, pointed out, it says that they can take these areas for parking spaces, notwithstanding anything in Section 10 of the Open Spaces Act, 1906. Under Section 10 of that Act the authority /had to hold and administer the open space—and now I quote the exact words:in trust to allow, and with a view to, the enjoyment thereof by the public as an open space within the meaning of the Act and under proper control and regulation and for no other purpose.What the Parliament of 1906 did in laying down this principle in regard to land taken over is swept aside, together with anything which may be contained in any Act, public or private. If the authorities want to relieve traffic congestion by taking one-eighth or an acre, whichever is the less, of an open space or playing field, they can defy any statutory provision of any kind set out for the protection of the public.
I do not wish to weary your Lordships. I do not believe that the effects of this clause can be remedied by amendment. If the Bill receives a Second Reading tonight, I propose at once to table an Amendment to leave the clause out of the Bill. In so doing, I honestly believe that I shall be expressing the view of noble Lords in every part of this House. I do not believe that either this House or another place will adopt this clause at all. If I did, I should despair of Parliamentary government.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ LORD GRANTCHESTER
My Lords, I do not propose to detain your Lordships for more than a minute or two, because most of the points I should like to make have already been made. In general, the kind of uniformity which is envisaged by this Bill is desirable and I think that its flexibility will be appreciated I hope that there will be provision for variations from time to time, so that regulations may be kept up to 886 date as changes in building technique occur. In drafting the regulations it will be necessary to consult the Royal Institute of British Architects and recognised authorities in the building trade, particularly the National Building Trades Employers' Federation, and I am glad of the assurance of the noble Lord who introduced the Bill that this will be done.
I think we all know that some existing regulations are archaic and that our builders are faced with difficulties which are not made in the United States or on the Continent and which delay or make building unnecessarily expensive. One example which occurs often is the difficulty of putting a bathroom between two bedrooms. I hope that this sort of regulation will be cleared up by the Advisory Committee. It is important that this Advisory Committee should have practical men on it, and I hope there will be consultation with the building trade not only in making regulations but also in the composition of the Advisory Committee.
I would support what other noble Lords have said about the provisions in Clauses 48 to 50 regarding the use of playing fields and open spaces. I think that no such general provisions, without knowledge of local conditions, are desirable. I believe that the London County Council considered some such general provisions in their last Bill and decided against including them, even though they would have been applicable only in the London area. They are even more out of place in a General Bill of this kind.
If Amendments are moved to these clauses, or if the deletion of some of the clauses or part of them is moved at a later stage, we feel disposed to give those Amendments our support. I should like to ask whether the provision of parking space includes the erection of petrol pumps. I am glad to see the exception in Clause 49 (5). It was the overruling by the Minister of Transport of a covenant and conditions in the lease of Finsbury Square to enable one-eighth of the open space to be used for the erection of petrol pumps that caused the occupiers of the buildings in this Square so much annoyance. I am gratified to know that this will not happen again on land 887 transferred to local authorities outside London, even if the unfortunate act which occurred in a crowded London borough cannot be reversed. I hope that this provision and the general provisions to secure uniformity in this Bill will be made to apply to London in due course, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has suggested. I hope also that the regulations applicable to London may be made subject to review and modernisation from time to time in the way envisaged in this Bill.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ LORD LUKE
My Lords, I should like to make two apologies: first, to regret not being here when the noble Lord in charge of the Bill made his opening speech, but I was detained in another direction; and secondly, for dealing with the Bill as if it were on Committee stage and for not dealing with it, as I should, on a Second Reading basis. I find it rather difficult, on a Bill dealing with pigeons, laundries and boating pools, to make a general speech, and perhaps I may be forgiven if I continue where the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, left off, and repeat some of the things he said on Clause 49.
I think that this is a very objectionable clause. As noble Lords are aware, parking spaces are hard to come by, but so are playing fields and playing grounds. It seems to me that, at a time when space for playing is inadequate in any case and when most people are agreed that it should be increased—both the Albemarle Report and the Wolfenden Report urge that there should be increased space for playing—to take away land from playing purposes and use it for parking purposes is wrong. I am sorry to see that the Government are seeking to encourage local authorities in this wrong direction.
As my noble friend Lord Conesford has already said, it might not be so bad if the parking spaces were solely for the use of those using the playing spaces, but the Bill says nothing about that. If the Bill gave powers to take derelict spaces for parking, that would serve a much more useful purpose. It almost comes to this: which is more important in the public mind—to provide children' s playgrounds, so that cars when in motion have less opportunity to cause casualties, or 888 to take land away from playgrounds for the purpose of parking stationary, and therefore harmless, cars? I think that the children come first. Are the Government going to get hold of easy land for parking and forget altogether how hard to come by that same land was for recreational purposes in the first place?
I should like to quote some figures of casualties. During the first three-quarters of this year there were 580 children killed—a rise of 60 over 1959—and a further 41,162 injured. A more serious aspect is that the figures for September were well above the monthly average— 82 killed, 1,181 seriously injured and 3,860 slightly injured. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents cannot give any evidence to show whether any of these children were killed while actually playing in the street, but I suggest that this evidence should be as compelling for the Minister to make provision for children as the density of motor traffic on the roads makes him provide garages and parking spaces. I would rather see the cars parked in the boating pools provided for in Clause 51 of the Bill; and they might remain static for rather longer there. On the other hand, if we could have a wider definition of "open spaces", it might be useful. If "open spaces" were to include rubbish dumps, unused railway sidings, disused cinemas, misused public buildings, and so forth, and we could use them for creating new parking places, I would give full support to a new clause on those lines—and we might even get a few playing fields spaces out of them, too.
May I make this plea? Let us have the planners for parking spaces on the side of the planners for playing spaces. I should be only too willing to assist in a survey to find spaces for both purposes, because I am sure they exist without taking away space that has already been provided for one of them. We might even visualise dual purpose playing and parking places, one on top of the other, with the children on top of the cars for a change instead of under them. My noble friend Lord Conesford has suggested that he will seek to delete Clause 49 of the Bill, and I should like to support him in that endeavour. But, apart from that, I would say that I welcome the rest of the Bill.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I cannot refrain from rubbing in the points which have just been made about this iniquitous Clause 49. It might be thought that no further criticism was required after the devastating way in which it has been attacked, first by my noble friend Lord Silkin, then by the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and just now by the noble Lord, Lord Luke. But it really is an iniquitous clause, and I must say that I think the Government have been a little less than candid in the way they have dealt with it.
I do not know what the Minister who introduced this Bill, looking back on his speech, which was undoubtedly a very lucid and capable one, feels about the fact that he made no reference whatever to this important clause, or, indeed, to this little group of clauses. I do not know whether to call this a "fast one" or to describe it as an attempt to smuggle something through hoping that nobody would spot what was happening. I doubt whether anything like it has taken place since the famous occasion when the Town Clerk of Gloucester succeeded in getting a divorce provision into a local Bill at a time when one had to have an Act of Parliament in order to be divorced from one' s wife. The story is that it went through because it was a long local Bill and nobody, either in the other place or in your Lordships' House, "spotted" what was going on. Fortunately, the Government have not been so successful on this occasion, and noble Lords have been only too acute and ready to put their fingers upon this very wrong clause in the Bill; and, indeed, some of the clauses in its immediate neighbourhood are almost as bad.
The amenities societies are worried about this clause, and particularly the Commons Society, of which I have the honour to be a vice-president, which is one of the oldest of all the amenities societies in the country and whose job is particularly to defend not only commons but open spaces and recreation grounds. In general, the amenities movement in this country is one to which the Government always pay lip service. I know that there are on the Government Benches some members of the Government who are sincere supporters of the amenities movement, but they 890 always seem to be not there when decisions are being taken to deprive the country of some of its most valuable amenities. I cannot see Why they do not work a little more behind the scenes to prevent these sort of things coming to the light of day.
The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has made it perfectly clear that with some real effort it would be possible to provide the parking spaces that are needed. This is typical of what goes on. You look round for the easiest way of appeasing the motorists, instead of taking some trouble, as the noble Lord, Lord Luke, particularly, has emphasised, to find places—and there are plenty of them about—and make the motorists pay. Go up to Bloomsbury now and see what has happened to the parking meters. Charge people 6d. and they will not bring their cars into Bloomsbury. There are whole areas there with empty parking meters. People who can afford to pay several hundred pounds for motor cars and run them on the roads can afford to pay a few coppers to have them parked at their own expense; and it is there that the Government must look, and not to the general rights of the public in regard to these open spaces, which we have been struggling for half a century and more to preserve for the people of this country.
No doubt it is true that the main impetus of this Bill will be on the urban districts; but it will not be altogether so. The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, referred, I think, for a moment to the village green, which in a way, I suppose, is technically protected by the parentheses in this Bill. But the term "village green", which is not defined, so far as one can see, anywhere in the Bill, probably has a definite legal significance. I believe that your Lordships would be a little surprised if, in the end, you pass this clause (which I hope to heaven you will not!) and then find that all over the country there are bits of green in villages which will not be technically village greens and may well come within the mischief of this clause. You may then find some local authorities taking a large part of them for the purpose of covering them with the motor cars of people who go out to the villages to drink in the public houses, thereby, in effect, driving the children and the old people off these 891 village greens, which are one of the most valuable amenities this country has. I feel strongly about this matter, and I am glad to see that other Members of your Lordships House who have taken part in this debate feel that way, too. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, will carry out his promise to move the deletion of this clause. If he does, I will certainly go into the Division Lobby with him.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ LORD BOSSOM
My Lords, I shall take up only a little of your Lordships' time, but having been a member of the London County Council Committee that re-wrote the Building Act in 1929, having actually prepared the building regulations for two large cities in the United States, and further, in my international architectural practice having to conform with many different building codes, I should like to say a few words about the important new provisions that the Minister is introducing to simplify the methods of control at the present time.
In substance, as my noble friend the Minister described it, this Bill proposes the substitution of one code of regulations for the whole country, except London. At present, the 1,400 local authorities, the borough, urban and rural district councils, can more or less make any regulations they like so long as they have the approval of the Minister. This Bill is not an attempt by the central Government to take power from the local authorities, but rather to provide the smaller authorities with the best regulations that a great authority can provide, such as they now have in Scotland. It is obvious that a steel beam, a brick wall or a reinforced concrete beam is of the same strength in Liverpool, London, Birmingham or Bolton. Different codes give no advantage to anyone. Obviously, some of the smaller authorities are limited in their technical resources and information, and with all these 1,400 codes in existence, to be complied with by all owners, promoters, architects and builders, it means a serious waste of effort, time and money. They have to search out all the minor variations that, for some reason, have been introduced into some of these codes at some time, whereas if all regulations 892 were under one national code it would benefit everybody. It would reduce the cost of building and undoubtedly in due course bring about this principle of uniformity in sanitation, fire protection, exits from buildings, weather proofing,et cetera.Human needs for fresh air, ventilation and light apply equally in every part of the country. For these reasons, I strongly support the Minister in his proposal in this part of the Bill. It will be a benefit to the building industry and to the nation. With the central Government making the regulations and the local authorities seeing they are properly applied, it will be a logical procedure which is long overdue.
The Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London, just published, states:We cannot see the justification for two separate systems, and we think that Greater London should be administered on whatever system is settled for the country as a whole.I believe that this idea is clear to everyone who has examined the matter. It is most desirable, and it is to be hoped that before long legislation will be introduced to include London with the rest of the country.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ LORD BRECON
My Lords, I am glad to think that in general this Bill is likely to meet with your Lordships' approval. Naturally, there are points which will need to be considered much further after this debate, and I shall do my best, when later stages of the Bill are reached, to deal with particular clauses and specific points, because I am conscious of the fact that a number of the provisions in the Bill cannot readily be understood without some knowledge of the background. But I think that this difficulty is inherent in a Bill such as this, whose main purpose is to modify or to extend the provisions of existing Statutes.
The Bill necessarily goes back to those other Acts, so that it is not always immediately apparent exactly what change is in fact being made by each individual clause. A detailed exposition of each provision would have taken an unjustifiable amount of your Lordships' time, and would in any case be out of place on a Second Reading. It was for that reason that I did not attempt to examine everything in this Bill in my opening speech. I certainly did not want to "pull a fast 893 one" or try to get any "quick divorce" in this part of the Bill regarding parks and open spaces. I thought that if I had started to deal with some of those clauses, I might have had to deal with many others. I was well aware that I was not going to get anything by your Lordships, who never miss a chance on these occasions. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I do not attempt to answer now all the points raised during the debate, but naturally I shall study with the greatest care the suggestions made during our discussion this afternoon. However, I should like to refer to some of the points that have been made.
I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and others who said very kind words to me at the beginning of their speeches. I am sure that everybody will agree that the principle of standard building regulations is a good thing. As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, it will provide far greater flexibility and greater uniformity altogether. It was very gratifying to hear that distinguished architect, my noble friend Lord Bossom, so warmly supporting centrally made building regulations. I think that, so far as he is concerned, he would like to see these regulations apply to the County of London. This, I agree, is an important matter, but may I remind your Lordships, as I said earlier, that it is also one of the matters which engaged the attention of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London, and which is mentioned in the Commission' s Report. In the Government' s view, all these many inter-connected questions of London government must now, in the light of that Report, be considered as a whole, and it would be premature to attempt to decide here and now what is the right system of building control for the County of London. London has its own building by-laws, and I think it better to leave that matter until the Report of the Royal Commission has been fully considered. So far as the parks and open spaces are concerned, perhaps I might deal with them at the end of my speech.
May I turn now to Clause 48, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and which empowers a local authority to allow exclusive use by a club of any part of a park? From even my knowledge I think there is a great demand upon local authorities by clubs, such as tennis clubs, football clubs and bowls 894 clubs, where teams get together in the locality, to have at certain times the exclusive use of a club or club-house; otherwise these team games cannot be played. You cannot let everybody just run around if a team game is being played. We are only following the demand of local authorities in this respect. Perhaps I should not quote it, but at the moment there are 87 local Acts which include this provision, and they apply, or can apply, to 320 local authorities.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I can understand giving the facilities occasionally to a club in order that it may play matches and so on. But that is not what the clause does. The clause permits a local authority to give exclusive and permanent use, if it so desires. If it is merely the intention of the Government that a club should have an occasional use, I think that can be met by Amendment, and I am glad to hear the noble Lord interpret the intentions in that way.
§ LORD BRECON
My Lords, perhaps I might have a look at that point and report at the Committee stage. I was not sure that it gave permanent exclusive use.
So far as Clause 50 is concerned, this again concerns the use of part of a park or open space for some public need. It can be given for up to three or four days, and here the local authority, who are in touch with the local people, know what the local people want. If they want to hold a flower show, and there is a great demand and support for it, or a horse show, or perhaps, in Wales, an Eisteddfod, I think the local authority are the people who can decide themselves whether they should allow it or not; whether the park, or part of it, should be closed for a time while the people enjoy the pleasures of the affairs that I have mentioned. I think we can say that the local authorities have asked for these measures. As I have said, and as the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has said, none of these provisions applies to the London County Council.
The noble Lord, Lord Jessel, raised matters concerning trade effluent, which obviously are important matters to industry. The noble Lord agreed that the local authorities should not have to deal with effluents on 895 terms that are 20 years old. But he wants industry to do no more than make a contribution towards the increased cost borne by local authorities since 1937. I think this is a somewhat uncertain demand. A "contribution" might mean anything; it might mean very little. The Armer Committee, whose Report was, after all, based on a careful study of all available evidence from all quarters, thought quite unanimously—and the members included industrialists—that industry should pay reasonable charges for these effluents, and not just a contribution. When you realise that since 1937 industry has had to apply for consent to put effluent into the local authority' s drains and has been paying reasonable charges, I think there is no cause for particular anxiety on this score for the future. It seems to me that no local authority is going to make heavy charges upon industry in ' this respect and stand the risk of perhaps losing it at some time in the future.
The second point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, concerned the agreement where charges are omitted. The object of the Bill is to see that local authorities can make charges for receiving effluents, and if there is an agreement where the charge has already been agreed ' between the local authority and the industry I think that will be continued. If there is an agreement—and I do not know of any at the moment— where a charge is not made, the Government feel that should be changed to allow the local authority to make a charge. The noble Lord complained that the Bill provides for the variation of conditions attached to existing consents, allows local authorities to make those variations as often as they like, but gives no right to the industry to take the initiative and ask for variation. I think that is a point to be considered in Committee, and that I should make no further comment at the present time.
The last point the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, made was about appeals to the Minister and his power to vary a charge and make it more or less favourable to the applicant. There is no idea of discouraging appeals. The object is to enable the Minister on appeal to adopt a basis for calculating charges different from that used by the local authority. The two bases may not be readily com- 896 parable and it may not be possible to say exactly which in the long run will be more or less favourable. But the Minister should ' be free to decide as he thinks fit, without having to demonstrate there and then that his decision is more favourable than the local authority's.
I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, support the uniformity of building regulations. He asked a specific question about parking space;—does it include petrol pumps. The answer is, No. I am happy to give that reply. Also I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, who, I know, takes a tremendous interest in national playing fields, that I will draw to the attention of my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Welsh Affairs, and perhaps also the Minister of Transport, the possibility of taking over more derelict places for parking. I do not think this Bill ever intended to get easy places for parking. I should not like at this moment to answer about the definition of what is really an open space, about which he asks. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, talked about village greens. Under the Bill, Clause 49 (1) (b), town and village greens are excluded.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I appreciate that. But the term "village green" is a very indefinite one, and certainly the Commons Society are worried that pieces of green land inside villages are not technically village greens. There is no definition clause, and I think this raises a serious point which needs to be looked at at the next stage.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, may I point out that the words in the clause are "forming part of a common (including a town or village green)". I think what is troubling the amenities societies is the position of a green that is not technically a common.
§ LORD BRECON
I will draw the attention of my right honourable friend to the points raised and see that they are brought forward at the Committee stage.
When I come to Clause 49, about which noble Lords feel so very strongly, I think I should like to reply as far as I can to-day and then leave it to the Committee stage to deal with the point more fully. I still think that the merits 897 and demerits of this provision would be more suitably considered at the Committee stage. But your Lordships will perhaps allow me a few words of explanation on this subject. Local authorities— that is to say borough councils, urban district councils and rural district councils—all have general powers to provide car parks "for the purpose of relieving or preventing the congestion of traffic". Car parks provided under these general powers may be underground car parks, or they may be in the form of buildings above ground, even multi-storey buildings. These general powers were originally contained in the Public Health Act, 1925, and were extended in 1935. They are now all consolidated in Section 81 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960. Local authorities are not, therefore, being given powers to provide car parks of a kind they were unable to provide before.
What this clause says is that, subject to certain limitations and safeguards, these car parks may be provided in parks or open spaces. I think the limitations that are provided in the Bill are important. Only one-eighth of the area of the pleasure ground or recreation ground, or one acre, whichever is the less, may be used. In all cases the consent of my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is required. Moreover —and here again the procedure is based on the earlier Statutes —no car park may be established under these powers unless public notice has been given in advance and a period allowed to lapse during which representations may be sent to the Minister. The Minister is required to consider any such representations he may receive, and he may, if he thinks fit, hold a public inquiry into the proposal.
Subsection (5) also makes it clear that this power shall not be used, without the consent of the appropriate persons, to override: any covenant or condition under which land may have been given or leased. Powers on these lines have already been included in 75 local Acts and are available, directly or by adoption, to over 300 local authorities— nearly one-quarter of all the borough and district councils in England and Wales. There is indeed a model clause, No. 82, which the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, referred to, covering the point. So your Lordships will appreciate that the clause is not quite the 898 novelty which some of the reports have suggested.
I agree that the clause in the Bill is very much longer and more complex than the model clause. In substance it is the same, however, though it makes provision for a possibility not dealt with in the model—namely, that an authority with power to provide a car park may wish to explore the possibility of providing parking space in a park, pleasure ground or open space owned or managed by another authority. The sort of case where this might happen is where a borough or district council would like to come to an arrangement with the county council for the provision of a car park on part of a park owned or managed by the county council. The county council do not possess, as your Lordships will recall, the power to provide a car park under the Road Traffic Act, but Clause 49 of the Bill makes it possible for the two local authorities to come together and make an agreement on this point.
Another difference I would mention between the model clause and the clause in the Bill is one of clarification rather than of substance. The power to provide a car park includes, as I have just mentioned, the power to construct an underground car park. The precedents for this clause stipulate that no more than a certain proportion of a park or open space may be taken for parking purposes. Clause 49 expands the model clause by saying that this restriction applies to the surface of the park and does not limit the area of an underground car park, so long as the permanent interference with the public' s right to enjoy the pleasure ground is restricted to one-eighth of the surface or one acre, whichever is the less. I offer these words on the clause by way of explanation. It may well be that some of your Lordships will have other points at the Committee stage, and I will certainly do my best to answer them. I hope your Lordships will agree that we may now leave the other details to the Committee stage, and I will do my best on that occasion to answer all your Lordships' questions.
§ On Question, Bill read 2aand committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned during pleasure, and resumed by the LORD CHANCELLOR.