§ 5.3 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE, DEPARTMENT of the ENVIRONMENT (Baroness Birk)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Baroness Birk.)
§ On Question, Bill read 3a with the Amendments.
§ Clause 26 [Provisions supplementary to s.25]:
Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 36, line 6, after ("authorised") insert ("in writing").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a drafting Amendment designed to make subsection (1) of Clause 26 consistent with subsection (1) of Clause 24. Both subsections deal with the entry of authorised persons on to land in connection with the exercise of powers in the Bill (in the case of Clause 24 for the purpose of making a dangerous tree safe). It is clearly desirable that in both clauses the person 1081 entering on the land should not only be authorised but be authorised in writing.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 36, line 38, after ("shall") insert (", subject to the following subsection,").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with the leave of the House I beg to move Amendment No. 2 and at the same time to speak to Amendment No. 3. Amendment No. 3 (which is the substantive one) remedies a potential injustice regarding the compensation payable to persons having an interest in land on which works have been carried out to enclose dangerous excavations. Amendment No. 2 is consequential. The Amendment arises from discussions that have taken place between my Department and the Lord Chancellor's Office following the insertion of this clause at Report stage. Its purpose is to remedy a potential injustice where compensation to persons having an interest in land on which works have been carried out is concerned; for example, where the edge of the excavation comes so close to the boundary of the land in question that it is necessary to erect a fence on the adjoining land. The Amendment therefore has the effect of permitting compensation to be paid to a person having an interest in land, on which works are sited when the excavation itself is situated on other land.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, I should like to say to the noble Baroness that I think the Government have been a little sparse with their punctuation in these two Amendments. In subsection (3) we have no fewer than 145 words, or words and groups of either letters or figures running to only one semi-colon. Clearly, from the drafting point of view, it is difficult to draft it in any other way; otherwise the punctuation would have been put in for the benefit of those who use this particular clause. I feel it is difficult to read and I hope that the Government will observe my remarks in regard to breaking up sentences.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I shall pass on the noble Lord's remarks. I can only say that those people who will have to read those clauses will be used to this 1082 sort of language; but I sympathise with his point of view.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 36, leave out lines 43 to 45 and insert:
("( ) No compensation shall be payable by virtue of the preceding subsection, to any person having an interest in the site of the excavation in question, in respect of damage attributable to the presence of permanent works on any land other than damage attributable to interference with an easement or profit.").
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to,
§ Clause 27 [Alterations of supplemental provisions of Public Health Acts];
Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 38, line 39, after ("295") insert (",section 313 ").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, subsection (6) of Clause 27 makes it clear that the repeal by this Bill of Sections 295 and 314 of the Public Health Act 1936 does not affect any order made under those Sections which may still be in force. It is possible that orders made under Section 313, which is also repealed, may still exist and these should also be allowed to Continue. These orders amend or repeal local Acts as necessary on the passing of the Public Health Act 1936. Without the Amendment the repeal of Section 313 would allow them to lapse with the probable result that any amended local Act provision would revert to its original, unacceptable form. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 33 [Restoration or continuation of supply of water, gas or electricity]:
§ 5.7 p.m.
Lord AIREDALE moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 43, line 15, after ("council") insert ("if satisfied that the undertakers have given the occupier not less than three days' notice in writing of their intention to cut off the supply,").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is an Amendment to the new clause inserted into the Bill—and for which I am enormously grateful. It is a clause which comes to the rescue in the limited class of case where a tenant has electricity, gas 1083 or water supplied to his premises paid for by him inclusive with his rent and his landlord defaults in payment of the electricity, gas or water bill. The innocent occupier, the tenant, has his supply of electricity gas or water cut off. This clause comes to his rescue in this limited case. At the Report stage a further Amendment was introduced by the Government which took care of these cases not only where there had been a cut-off but even where a cut-off was contemplated; so that the tenant could, in suitable cases, be rescued by the council without going through the tiresome procedure of cutting off the supply and reconnecting it.
§ This Amendment arises from the horror with which I learned from the speech of the noble Baroness in Committee—and although we have discussed this question since on Report, I still have this feeling of horror—that, since the contract is between the statutory undertaker and the landlord, there can still be cases where the tenant, the occupier, only discovers that something is wrong when he arrives home to find his gas, electricity or water supply actually has been cut off. It seems inhumane in a civilised country like this that a perfectly innocent person can arrive home to find that his electricity supply has been cut off without any warning that that was going to occur.
May I explain that the Amendment requires that a statutory undertaker in these cases shall give not less than three days' notice in writing of their intention to cut off the supply if they are to qualify themselves to recover payment from the local authority. One finds in the clause that the occupier, in order to avail himself of this opportunity to be rescued by the local authority when he suspects a cut off, has to give the local authority notice in writing that the electricity is about to be cut off. If he is to give the authority notice in writing, then as night follows day, he must be given notice that he is about to be cut off. What the noble Baroness said about this on Report stage is quoted at column 203 of Hansard for 13th July:
…in those cases where an occupier had some intimation, or guessed, or heard by chance or found out, that the supply was likely to be cut off, we could act there.
I should have thought that was a hopelessly haphazard way of approaching a
serious matter of this kind. It sticks out a mile that these occupiers were entitled to notice that they were going to be cut off. That alone amply justifies this Amendment but that is not my main point. My main point is the inhumanity being inflicted by a monopoly undertaking which is supplying a vital commodity to a user who has done absolutely nothing wrong. The noble Baroness said at column 202 of Hansard in the same debate on 13th July:
…statutory undertakers do not want, nor do they feel it is their job, nor do they feel they have the resources, to act as welfare authorities.
I should not have thought it could be called an act of a welfare authority merely to give somebody notice his supply of electricity was about to be cut off if the electricity bill was not paid.
§ Furthermore, I should have thought it was thoroughly bad business for the statutory undertaker not to give notice because when the landlord defaults, it is the tenant who is much the best risk against whom next to try to extract the money to pay the account. The tenant is in the strong position, if he has the money or can raise a temporary loan, to pay the bill and deduct the money from future payments of rent to the landlord. If the local authority is going to bail out the tenant and seek to recover from a landlord who has already been defaulting in his dealings with the statutory undertaker, in a large number of these cases the ratepayer is going to he landed with the bill and the defaulting landlord is going to get away with it.
The noble Baroness said at Report stage that this Amendment was defective. She used these words at column 203 of Hansard:
The point is that his Amendment does not impose a new obligation on the statutory undertaker. The only way he could bring about the result he wants is by imposing an obligation on the statutory undertaker.
I did not follow that argument then and and I do not follow it now. I should like to cite the parallel case of the houseowner who applies for an improvement grant to improve his house. The law provides that the local authority may at its discretion provide an improvement grant on condition that the owner pays his share of the cost of the improvement. There is no legal obligation on the houseowner to contribute to the cost of the improvement. He need not if he does not want to.
If he does not contribute his share, he does not get the grant. That is a parallel case and this Amendment cannot be called defective upon that ground.
§ If, my Lords, you are thinking purely in terms of people's obligations, you do not always get very far. I am under no legal obligation to stretch out my hand and save a child that has fallen into a lily pond; but I am expected to act with some decent humanity. Likewise, the monopoly statutory undertakers are expected to behave with some humanity to their users who have done nothing wrong. The noble Baroness said at Report stage that there might be administrative difficulties. I can see that in a very limited class of case, where the landlord and his tenant both live in the same building in separate flats and the electricity board are not sure which flat the landlord occupies and which flat the tenant occupies, there can be difficulty. In those few cases the board could take the precaution of sending the printed notice addressed to "The occupier" just to make sure that they brought themselves within this clause.
§ I have to admit that strictly in theory a statutory undertaker which took the view that they were determined not to issue the notices to occupiers and were determined to disqualify themselves from going to the local authority for payment of their bills, in those cases the Amendment would work against the interests of the occupier and would prevent the local authority stepping in and helping him. Those cases would be infinitesimal in number and any statutory undertaker which behaved in that way would quickly find public opinion mounting up against them. They would quickly put themselves in a position where they did not disqualify themselves from going to the local authority for payment when the landlord had failed. In those circumstances I trust that this Amendment will be found acceptable. I beg to move.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, as your Lordships will know, we have been round this course before. The Government opposed this Amendment at Report stage and I will not repeat the arguments to the House at length. No doubt they will be fresh in everyone's memory. I 1086 can summarise them shortly. First, as the clause stands it allows the local authority to help either when the supply has actually been cut off or when, in their opinion, it is likely to be cut off.
I would remind the noble Lord and others that the second part was following representations by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, and other noble Lords for the Government to try to do something. I felt at the time that, if I possibly could, I should do something, and that I would try to get the best possible result. I must give full marks to the noble Lord for trying very hard but, with respect, I must say that at times I find him a little trying. The noble Lord now adds a qualification that the authority could act only if the undertaker has served notice on the occupier.
May I say, first, that in our view this limit on the authority's powers is both unnecessary and undesirable. This would be a step backwards. It would take away from the authority the full discretion to intervene, if necessary, which it would have under our Amendment. Secondly, it would be wrong in this Bill to try to impose any new practices on the statutory undertakers. The noble Lord believes that if his Amendment were accepted the undertakers would amend their existing practices and serve not only the statutory notices on the person with whom they have a contractual relationship but also an extra notice on the occupier, if he is someone different.
I do not believe this Amendment would have that effect. Undertakers, under their present codes, rely on their traditional weapon of disconnection and they would not need to go to great lengths to persuade local authorities to intervene. So, in practice, the authorities' power to help would be severely limited by this Amendment. It is not really good enough for the noble Lord to say theoretically that this or that is so. We are dealing with a factual situation. This is not a question of the Government's taking a less humane view about this: we must not accept something which would worsen the situation but we must try to help it.
Briefly, these were my reasons for opposing the Amendment on Report, and I stand by them now. The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, gave the analogy of 1087 improvement grants. Without going into great detail about them, these do not represent an exact analogy because improvement grants involve only the local authority and the individual; but in this case we have another authority in between, which is the statutory authority; so that this really is not on all-fours. In any case, we should be all the more reluctant to add to legislation concerning disconnection at present, because the whole subject is currently being closely examined elsewhere.
Noble Lords will be familiar with the Oakes Report which was published on 10th June. Its full title is Review of Payment and Collection Methods for Gas and Electricity Bills: Report of an Informal Inquiry. This Report looks at the whole question of procedures for payment of these bills, and one of its recommendations is that disconnection as a penalty for non-payment should no longer be allowed. I understand that the Report and its recommendations are now being considered by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy, in consultation with the statutory undertakers concerned. I really cannot anticipate the Government's decision on this, but the fact that the whole subject of disconnection is now under review would be a very good reason why, at this moment, it would be quite inappropriate to pass this Amendment.
In addition, I would point out that since this is entering into what is obviously a very delicate area, with strong views being expressed about it, I should hate to be in any way instrumental—and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, now that I have given this explanation, will take the same view—in perhaps queering the pitch of the discussions which are now taking place. I would ask him to withdraw his Amendment at this stage and leave matters as they are.
§ Lord AIREDALE
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Baroness finds me at all trying. I did explain at the outset that, far from finding her trying, I was very grateful for the fact that the Government had come so far along the road of helping these unfortunate people about whom I am so concerned. I really wish the noble Baroness could avoid using the phrase "the weapon of disconnection", when she is talking about an occupier who 1088 has done nothing wrong and is having a vital commodity which is necessary to human comfort taken away from him by a huge monopoly. It is the inhumanity of such a situation which concerns me so much.
I am, indeed, glad to hear about the report and the fact that the matter is under review. I am sure it will be helpful to Her Majesty's Government if, when they consider this report, they consider also the discussions that we have had on this subject both on Report and, again, this afternoon, because I think it would help the Government to come to a sensible conclusion. Being somewhat comforted by that thought, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.25 p.m.
Lord SANDYS moved Amendment No. 6:
After Clause 35, insert the following new clause:
§ Prescription of signs, etc., on certain buildings
§ "—(1) This section applies to any substance which in the opinion of the Council is likely to involve special hazard to persons engaged in operations for fire-fighting purposes.
§ (2) The premises to which this section applies are any building or place in the area for which the Council is the Fire Authority used for the manufacture or storage of any substance to which this section applies (including any part of such a building or place) and any premises of which such a building or place forms a part.
§ (3) The Council may in relation to any substance to which this section applies and in respect of any premises to which this section applies:—
- (a) prescribe:—
- (i) warning signs which indicate to such extent and in such manner as the Council think fit the nature and properties of the substance and the precautions to be taken in dealing with that substance in the event of fire; and
- (ii) the size and colour of such warning signs and the materials from which they are to be made;
- (b) subject to the provisions of this section, by notice given in writing require the occupier of any premises to which this section applies within such reasonable time (not being less than 21 days) as is specified in the notice to:—
- (i) affix and thereafter to keep fixed during such period (only) as the particular warning signs are appropriate to the particular premises in such conspicuous position or positions in or on such premises as may be specified in the notice one or more of the appropriate warning signs which have been prescribed by the Council
1089 under the foregoing paragraph and forthwith to remove therefrom any such warning signs as are not appropriate to the particular premises and replace them by appropriate warning signs and forthwith to notify the Council in writing of such removal and replacement; and
- (ii) arrange, to the satisfaction of the Council, for any such substance to be stored in such a manner as the Council may require in the notice:
§ Provided that the power of the Council to make requirements in respect of the manner of such storage shall extend only to requirements for the purpose of reducing any special hazard to which in the opinion of the Council persons engaged in operations for firefighting purposes may be subjected by reason of the nature and properties of any such substance or the proximity of any such substance to any other substance whether or not it is a substance to which this section applies and in making such requirement the Council shall have regard to good custom and practice and to the reasonable needs of any undertaking, trade or business carried on in those premises.
§ (4) The Secretary of State may give directions as to the warning signs to be prescribed by the Council under paragraph (a) of the last foregoing subsection and the Council, in exercising their powers under that paragraph shall comply with any such directions for the time being in force.
§ (5)(a) Where requirements have been made under sub-paragraph (ii) of paragraph (b) of subsection (3) of this section in respect of any premises to which this section applies no alteration which results in a contravention of those requirements shall be made in the manner of storage therein of any substance to which this section applies.
§ (b) Where it appears to the Council that requirements made under subsection (3) of this section are no longer appropriate for the purpose for which they were made the Council may from time to time, by notice given in writing, vary or revoke such requirements or make such further requirements as they consider necessary and any reference in this section to requirements made under the said subsection (3) shall include a reference to those requirements as varied under this paragraph or to any further requirements made by virtue of this paragraph.
§ (c) A notice served under the last foregoing paragraph which varies any requirement made under paragraph (b) of subsection (3) of this section or which makes further requirements shall specify a reasonable time (not being less than 21 days) within which the requirements of the notice shall be complied with.
§ (6) Any person who is aggrieved by any requirement made under paragraph (b) of subsection (3) of this section which relates to the manner of storage of any substance to which this section applies, may, within a period of 21 days beginning with the date on which such requirement is notified to him, require the Council to deliver to him a certificate stating the grounds for the making of such requirement and he may appeal to the Secretary of State within 10 days after the receipt of the certificate.1090
§ (7) Every appeal to the Secretary of State under this section shall be made in writing asking that the requirement may not be made or may be modified in such manner and to such extent as may be set forth in the appeal, and shall be accompanied by the certificate of the Council given under the last foregoing subsection.
§ (8) Where an appeal is brought under this section the Secretary of State may confirm, vary or quash any requirement which is the subject of the appeal and his decision on the appeal shall have effect for the purpose of any requirement as if it had been made by the Council.
§ (9) Before determining any appeal made to him under this section, the Secretary of State may, if he thinks it necessary or desirable, cause an inquiry and report upon the matter to be made to him by such person as he may appoint for the purpose and shall forward to the appellant (whether in person or by counsel, solicitor or other representative) and to the Council, if either so desire, an opportunity of appearing before and being heard by the person so appointed.
§ (10) An officer of the Council authorised by the Council for the purposes of this section shall have the like powers of entering premises for the purposes of this section as are conferred upon authorised officers of councils by section 287 (which confers powers to enter premises) of the Public Health Act 1936 and accordingly:—
- (a) that section shall have effect as if the references therein to an authorised officer of a Council included references to an officer authorised by the Council for the purposes of this section and as if among the purposes specified in subsection (1) of that section there were included the purposes of obtaining information for the purposes of this section, taking samples of any substance stored on the premises, ascertaining whether the premises contain any substance to which this section applies and whether there is, or has been, any failure to comply with any provision of, or requirement of the Council under, this section;
- (b) section 288 (which imposes penalties for obstructing execution of the Act) of the said Act of 1936 shall have effect as if a person acting in pursuance of the powers conferred by the said section 287 as extended and applied by this subsection where acting in the execution of that Act.
§ (11)(a) Any person who:—
- (i) fails within the time specified to comply to the satisfaction of the Council with a requirement of a notice under subsection (3) of this section; or
- (ii) alters the manner of storage in any premises to which this section applies of any substance contrary to paragraph (a) of subsection (5) of this section;
§ Provided that no offence under sub-paragraph (i) of this paragraph which involves a failure to comply with such a requirement as is referred to in subsection (6) of this section shall have been committed by any person until the end of any period within which an appeal under this section 1091 may be made by him in respect of the requirement in question, and, where such an appeal is duly made, until seven days after the appeal has been withdrawn or determined.
§ (b) In any proceedings for an offence under this subsection, shall be in defence for the person charged to prove that he took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of such an offence.
§ (c) If in any case the defence provided by the last foregoing paragraph involves the allegation that the commission of the offence was due to the act or default of another person or to reliance on information supplied by another person, the person charged shall not, without the leave of the Court, be entitled to rely on that defence unless, within a period ending seven clear days before the hearing he has served on the Council a notice in writing giving such information identifying or assisting in the identification of that other person as was then in his possession.
§ (12) Any person who, without reasonable excuse, removes a warning sign which is for the time being affixed in or on any premises to which this section applies in accordance with the requirement made under subsection (3) of this section shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £100.
§ (13) During such time as any substance to which this section applies is stored in any premises to which this section applies being premises which are for the time being regulated by or under:—
- (a) any of the relevant statutory provisions as defined in subsection (1) of section 53 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 174; or
- (b) the Radio-Active Substances Act 1960;
§ (14)(a) The foregoing provisions of this section shall not apply to any premises to which this section would otherwise apply if the interest of the occupier of those premises is a Crown interest or a Duchy interest, but if it appears to the Council that satisfactory arrangements for reducing any special hazard to persons engaged in operations for fire-fighting purposes may not have been made in or on any premises exempted from the said provisions by virtue of this subsection by the display of suitable, practicable and appropriate warning signs relating to any substance to which this section applies or by reason of the manner of storage of any such substance, they may report the circumstances to the appropriate authority, who if satisfied after due enquiry that there is cause for complaint, shall cause such arrangements to be made as the appropriate authority may consider to be practicable to make adequate provision in respect of the matters aforesaid.
§ (b) The fact that there subsists in any premises to which this section applies a Crown interest or a Duchy interest shall not prevent or affect the application of this section to those premises or to anything done thereon so long as that interest is not the interest of the occupier of the premises and the provisions of this section shall have effect accordingly in relation to those premises and anything done thereon and that and all other interests therein.1092
§ (c) The provisions of this section shall have effect in relation to any premises to which this section applies which are occupied for the service of a visiting force as if the interest of the occupier of those premises were a Crown interest and those premises were under the control of the appropriate authority by arrangement with whom those premises are occupied.
(15) In this section:—
the appropriate authority", "Crown interest" and "Duchy interest" have the meanings assigned to them in subsection (7) of section 266 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971;
the Council" means the County Council;
fire-fighting purposes" has the same meaning as in the Fire Services Act 1947;
the Secretary of State" means the Secretary of State for Employment;
visiting force" means any such body contingent or detachment of the forces of any country as is a visiting force for the purposes of any of the provisions of the Visiting Forces Act 1952 and includes any headquarters or organisation for the time being designated by an Ordering Council under section I of the International Headquarters and Defence Organisation Act 1964, for the purposes of that Act; and
warning sign" includes a warning symbol or notice.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Gisborough and myself, I beg to move this Amendment. I must apologise in so doing that, on the face of it, this is a very long Amendment running into several pages. But when I explain that in fact it is taken from another Act of Parliament (that is, the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1975), with only very minor amendments, I think your Lordships will appreciate that it is part of an existing Statute and bears very close examination.
The difficulty about this particular Amendment, which relates to the prescription of signs on certain buildings in relation to fire hazards, was particularly noticeable when we discussed my previous Amendment on 13th July during the Report stage of this Bill. At that time, we had an Amendment which my noble friend and I adduced, which was based on the Teeside Corporation Act, 1971. At that stage, the Government considered that the Amendment was defective, and they further believed that the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provided sufficient powers. In fact the noble Baroness said about it on 13th July at column 212:
The most important point I can make is that the Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission has been advised that these powers are adequate to make regulations covering the provisions proposed in the clause.
Since discussions were taking place with the Health and Safety Commission at that time in regard to these powers, there was an element of dubiety about the existence of the powers, which relate to Section 15 of the Health and Safety Act, and derive from that section. This dubiety is still in the background: nevertheless, I should very much welcome the noble Baroness's clarifications later in this debate.
§ We believe it can be claimed that this Amendment is correctly drafted, that it has no defects in it and that, far from duplicating the situation, it provides a safety net. I believe the noble Baroness may well claim that it is unnecessary duplication; and if she can demonstrate to your Lordships that duplication will exist, may I suggest to your Lordships that perhaps this Amendment might be accepted on the grounds that the Secretary of State, using his powers in the earlier part of the Bill, may order that this section may not be operative. If, however, the noble Baroness is totally convinced that full powers exist, then this will be entirely satisfactory. I am entirely satisfied that our aims are totally parallel. Although we may have different approaches to improving the legislative situation in so far as signs are concerned, our aims are ultimately the same.
§ Finally, in regard to bringing in the regulations, it was understood on 13th July that it could be a year before they were drafted. That added a greater spur to this Amendment, since preliminary arrangements are already in hand in certain parts of the country for carrying this out. Nevertheless, the problem is to some extent remedied, because I understand that the Health and Safety Commission are now able to proceed at once and I hope the noble Baroness will be able to confirm that that is the position. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Lord GISBOROUGH
My Lords, this Amendment results from Amendments moved on Third Reading in another place and in Committee in your Lordships' House. At that time, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said that this was the wrong Bill and that this point should be included in the Health and Safety at Work Act, but it was felt that there would be a delay if that course was adopted. She made 1094 many points, one of which was that the Amendment was incompatible with other legislation, but I believe that most of them are now covered by the subsections in this Amendment. I hope that the noble Baroness will either accept this Amendment or give a very firm assurance that its objects can be achieved quickly through the Health and Safety at Work Act. This is an important matter, as I know she recognises. My Lords, I beg to support the Amendment.
§ Lord MERRIVALE
My Lords, I do not wish to attack the Amendment, but my noble friend is speaking from our Front Bench and he has used the word "we", so I am wondering to what extent this Amendment represents Conservative Party policy. Secondly, I am wondering to what extent he or his colleagues have had consultations with bodies which may be affected by this Amendment. There is one body which has certainly not been consulted—if it had, it would certainly not have supported the Amendment—and that is the CBI. I am certain that my noble friend will agree with that.
This very long new clause is headed "Prescription of signs, etc., on certain buildings", and I am wondering to what extent local authorities would have any knowledge of the requirements regarding, for example, subsection (3)(b)(ii) which states:Provided that the power of the Council to make requirements in respect of the manner of such storage shall extend only to requirements for the purpose of reducing any special hazard".Then a little later the same sub-paragraph states:… the Council shall have regard to good custom and practice and to the reasonable needs of any undertaking, trade or business carried on in those premises.My noble friend Lord Sandys referred to the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1975 and, so far as I can gather, he wants to extend the powers granted under that Act to all local councils throughout the country. But the GLC have not used the powers under the 1975 Act although, if any council has the necessary know-how to implement the powers which my noble friend is trying to introduce, it is the GLC. I do not know whether some local authority such as Clevedon is involved, but I do not think it has the necessary know-how. So I 1095 sincerely hope that the noble Baroness will reject this Amendment very strongly, because, in spite of the fact that my noble friend has used the word, "we", I do not have the impression that this is Conservative Party policy. I should have thought that these were matters which could better be dealt with under the Health and Safety at Work regulations.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is out of order. He moved the Amendment and I believe he has a chance to reply at the end of the discussion on it, which I should have thought was the right procedure to follow. Perhaps we can see whether anyone else wants to intervene, before I reply.
May I first say that I shall certainly be reluctant to enter into any disputes within the Party opposite, and I hope that, no one will be too hard on the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, who seems to have stepped out of his Manifesto. However, I think what I say will get him off the hook, and that everybody will be satisfied. He said that he hoped I would be able to say something which would move the matter forward, and he was quite right in what he said. It is true that since the Report stage there has been a development. The Commission have now instructed the Health and Safety Executive to prepare regulations urgently, and this work has already started. I intended going on to explain why it would be wrong in principle to legislate in this Bill when adequate statutory powers are already available, especially when they are about to be used. But I think that the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, did it very well for me and explained exactly why this provision should not have a place in this Bill. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, will be satisfied that this matter is now being dealt with urgently, and that what he and the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, want to achieve is already happening, and that he will therefore withdraw the Amendment forthwith.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, I think I should reply to two points raised by 1096 my noble friend Lord Merrivale. First, he suggested that there has been inadequate consultation and he referred especially to the CBI, but I assure him that I was speaking to that body only half an hour ago. I had already discussed our policy on this subject with them at an earlier stage, and again this afternoon I intimated our policy on this Amendment. My noble friend mentioned that local authorities have insufficient experience, and he referred to the Cleveland authority. I can disabuse him of any doubts he may have, because that local authority has enormous experience in this field for reasons which I gave on Second Reading.
§ Lord SANDYS
I should further like to remind my noble friend that a very interesting discussion took place at Scotland Yard last week, in regard to the application of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1975 and the operations of the Hazchem scheme in the Metropolitan district. As the experience of the police, in conjunction with the fire service and the local authority, has been extremely happy in regard to this matter, it greatly encouraged me to believe that the Amendment as set out in the Marshalled List was one which should be open to further discussion. Before I withdraw the Amendment, which I propose to do in a moment, I should like to say that it is thanks to the hard work and initiative of the Cleveland local authority that the matter has been raised in such detail. If their efforts are to be rewarded by the speeding up of regulations to be made by the Health and Safety at Work Commission, they will have been well worth while. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.41 p.m.
The Earl of CRANBROOK moved Amendment No. 7:
After Clause 36, insert the following new clause:
§ "Extension to parish and community councils of power to provide nature reserves. 1949 c. 97.
§ (". The powers conferred on a county council and district council by sections 21 and 99(6) of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, shall, with the approval of the Nature Conservancy Council, also be exercisable by a parish council or community council and references in those sections and section 23 of that Act to a local authority shall be construed accordingly.")1097
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, originally I put down an Amendment to Clause 18 which had much the same intention as this Amendment, but the noble Baroness opposite and the Nature Conservancy Council suggested that that was an inappropriate place since it would put nature conservation with recreation. This Amendment has the same intention, but goes right back to the provisions of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act and is almost the ipsissima verba of the clause which first gave local authorities the power to set up nature reserves.
§ I should remind your Lordships that under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act the larger authorities—the county councils and county boroughs—had absolute power to set up nature reserves. Although the smaller authorities—the rural and urban district councils—had that right, it was subject to the consent of the Nature Conservancy Council. It seems then to have been thought that it was likely to become a major local authority function and fairly elaborate provisions were made to settle squabbles between a county council and a district council, both of which wanted to set up a reserve on the same piece of land.
§ In the event, however, that has not happened; not many local authorities have set up nature reserves. Most nature reserves have been set up by the Nature Conservancy Council, the Naturalists' Trust and other voluntary bodies like the RSPB. Those authorities which have set up nature reserves have almost invariably done so—indeed, invariably so far as I know—in co-operation locally with the Naturalists' Trust which provides the expertise. Among them have been a number of urban district councils but not, so far as I have been able to find out, any rural district councils. This is largely because a rural district council was an administrative unit concerned only with administration, whereas the urban district councils, which had a good deal of civic pride, were anxious to see maintained the remaining natural habitats and their associated fauna and flora, such as wetlands created by mining subsidence and interesting parts of the neighbouring coastline; and those they have turned into nature reserves.1098
§ When the Local Government Act 1972 was passed, the smaller authorities ceased to exist; they were all thrown into the new district councils, which are administrative units like the old rural district councils. The urban district councils, which had shown such enthusiasm for nature conservation, became parish or community councils. That came about quite fortuitously but, as I have said, setting up and managing reserves has not become a major local authority function. It has become almost a personal function in these very personal rural areas. It has not grown to be, nor, indeed, of any necessity need it grow to be, a major function; nor is there any necessity for it to be administered over a wide area like education, roads or housing. As I have said, the necessary expertise is available locally through the Naturalists' Trust.
I have sent a copy of this Amendment to the Nature Conservancy Council who have made the following statement:
The Nature Conservancy Council are in sympathy with the proposal that parish councils should be able to establish nature reserves. It is their understanding that this is already being done at one level—i.e. by the acquisition of small parcels of land, e.g. parish copses".
In parenthesis, may I say that they are, I believe, referring to the Open Spaces Act 1906. The Nature Conservancy Council go on to say:
Additionally, under existing legislation county and district councils can establish statutory local reserves on behalf of parish councils".
That is a fact under the Local Government Act. Finally they say:
Departure from this position would have important and wide-ranging implications which the Nature Conservancy Council have not yet had the opportunity to assess in detail".
That is the statement of the Nature Conservancy Council. They welcome the intentions which lie behind the Amendment but they have not yet considered the method proposed.
§ The Open Spaces Act allows a parish council to acquire open space, which is defined as being used for the purposes of recreation or lying waste and unoccupied. It seems curious that it should be recommended in that way, although I am grateful for the recommendation. It shows parish councils what they can do. The Local Government Act allows a local authority to exercise its functions through another local authority. The 1099 Act also allows local authorities to make such arrangements between themselves as they find mutually convenient in arranging who should pay for the carrying out of the function.
§ Both of those meet certain of my points, but the last is the one which the noble Baroness may think is not altogether satisfactory. We know that the district councils do not possess the expertise to do this job. This means that they do not possess the expertise to judge whether or not the proposals of a parish council are sensible. The Nature Conservancy Council have that expertise. Our Amendment—when I say "our" I am not referring to my noble friends who are of the same political complexion but to those who are of the same commonsensical outlook on nature reserves as myself—means that it seems to be better to leave the decision to the Nature Conservancy Council who know what they are about than to the larger local authorities which, ex hypothesi, do not.
§ I hope the Government will be prepared to accept this Amendment. I find it difficult to see how they can possibly find any reason against it, and with hopeful anticipation I beg to move the Amendment.
§ Lord WYNNE-JONES
My Lords, as I may claim to have something of the same common-sensical attitude, in a limited field, as has the noble Earl, may I support the Amendment and ask the noble Baroness who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government to view it sympathetically. It appears that this Amendment does nothing to run counter to the legitimate authority held by other bodies, but it would allow a local body, which has a specific interest in these matters, to designate a small area.
In the work which I was forced to do in order to relieve my ignorance when I introduced into your Lordships' House a Bill dealing with endangered species, I learned that flora and fauna in this country were often threatened because of the disappearance of some local habitat, which might be quite small. This is best known to the groups of enthusiasts in a district, and if they can exercise local influence in order to get something like this done and get the Nature Conservancy Council to agree with them, it would seem to me that something eminently desirable 1100 and something that cannot possibly do any harm is being done. So I support this Amendment.
Lord DE CLIFFORD
My Lords, I too should like to support my noble friend. I think this is the third time that my noble friend has tried to insert this new clause into this Bill, and I am most interested to know how the noble Baroness will deal with it in view of the way in which she addressed the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. My noble friend certainly is persistent. I support this Amendment wholeheartedly. In a situation such as is envisaged in a council the local people become really involved. In this House we pass legislation and on occasions we tend to forget that it affects people. A parish council is the smallest unit of, almost, self-government, and the councils are intensely interested in their areas. When enthusiastic people in a small council such as that will go to the trouble to preserve something, and will go to the Nature Conservancy Council for that purpose, then I feel they should be supported.
I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will look with favour upon this Amendment, which I think will be of great assistance not only to the morale of the people on parish councils but also to the conservation of a great deal of flora and fauna which is becoming more and more threatened every year.
My Lords, I wish to support the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and I can do so with a clear conscience because I voted against the 1972 Local Government Bill from beginning to end; so I am not speaking against my own Party—as the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, mentioned—without having shown my colours beforehand.
I am thinking particularly of my county of Devon. I believe it is now the biggest county, and obviously it cannot get down to the local level of so many parish councils who understand what is happening in their districts. I remember the excellent document which was written by a member of the Party opposite, the late Arthur Skeffington, when he was a Minister in the other House. He wrote Consult the People. I thought it was one of the best documents that had ever been produced. As time goes on 1101 we consult the people less and less, and therefore this is one of the reasons why I support this Amendment.
I also support it because I have personal experience of what can happen. Certain woods in Devon were to be sold for commercial purposes. I and a number of other people were very angry about this, and in two months we raised £8,500 and, with the consent of the local council, gave this sum to the National Trust in order that they might have the woods looked after. That was all done by local people because they were so anxious to preserve those beautiful woods and I am glad to say they are to be preserved for all time. That may be a rather larger project than most, but we want to get the people in those small districts and the community councils interested in their own areas. If, by this Amendment, they can be helped in any way and be given further pride in their areas, I hope the noble Baroness will consider it favourably.
It is not just a matter of the actual conservation but of keeping the whole place tidy. Many districts now have "Best Kept Village" competitions. These particularly interest local people and should be encouraged. If the noble Baroness could accept this Amendment I feel it would give further encouragement to parish councils and community councils. I am an addict of "The Archers" programme on the BBC and when I listen to all the interest that is taken in their local areas by the characters in that programme I think it is a good example of what can be done to help to encourage people in this way. With those few words I hope the noble Baroness will consider accepting this excellent Amendment.
§ Lord CRAIGTON
My Lords, I too should like to support this Amendment. Over the weekend I have consulted a number of local people who are interested and who take part in the local bodies which will be affected by this Amendment, and the unanimous consensus of opinion is that this Amendment must be right because, as the noble Baroness said, the more people who are interested in nature reserves, the better for all concerned.
Whether in relation to any particular area these powers are used at all, and if so, how they are used or by which authority, 1102 is a matter for purely local negotiation. They may not necessarily apply in every area, but there will be areas where this is the complete solution. The main problem with nature reserves arises after they are initially set up. In the first flush of enthusiasm numbers of people are interested, but we who are concerned all the time in nature reserves know that when the interest has cooled the nature reserve has to be maintained and the fences have to be kept in good order and that is a job which is much better done by local people: people who are interested, people who care and people who take a pride in their local nature reserve.
Without doubt—and I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will agree with me—there will be cases where a particular reserve in a particular area is best served by one of the local organisations rather than by a more remote authority. This Amendment will solve, not a great many but a number of serious problems and, in spite of what the Nature Conservancy have said in their letter to my noble friend, I cannot see that it will create any new problems for anyone. After all, the Nature Conservancy Council have the whip hand in the end and we are all grateful to them for what they do.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, this Amendment clearly has strong support on all sides of the House and I think perhaps it will not be a surprise to my noble friend Lord Cranbrook if I add my somewhat muted support while having great sympathy with what he intends to do. In fact on this occasion my noble friend Lady Young and I share the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, in what she said during the Report stage of this Bill. Speaking of the Nature Conservancy Council she said this—and I quote her exact words:While I am anxious to see the establishment of as many nature reserves as possible, my view—which is also the view of the Nature Conservancy Council—is that there should not be a lowering of the standard of what is statutorily classified as a nature reserve."—(Official Report; 13/7/76, col. 188.)In a period when considerable strictures are placed on local government finances, it is a difficult problem to ensure that new powers are granted to a parish council.
While I am very much in favour of the establishment of further nature reserves, 1103 I am just wondering whether this Bill is the right place to do it. My noble friend Lord Cranbrook sought to bring a very similar Amendment before your Lordships under Clause 19 of the Bill; that was under the clause dealing with places of entertainment. I hope he will appreciate the extent to which we admire his continuity, his perseverance and his researches, because I was certainly not aware of the Open Spaces Act 1906, to which he referred, having previously imagined that most legislation in this sphere took place very much later.
My Lords, we believe that the Amendment, while correctly drafted, will not have entirely satisfactory results. We believe that it would be better if there were delegated powers, so that district councils may act on an agency basis for a parish in a particular instance, or, in a similar situation. In this regard, I was very much of the same opinion as my noble friend Lord Craigton. I share his view almost completely in this field. It would be possible within the context of local negotiations to achieve what is desired, but I am rather doubtful whether this particular clause could be inserted in the Bill with total satisfaction.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I have the greatest respect for the knowledge in these matters of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and I admire his persistence, a word I think used by the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford. I sympathise with the aim of the Amendment, and it is therefore with regret that I must continue to oppose the efforts of the noble Earl on this point, although in doing so I find, having a strange political bedfellow, that I have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, opposite, who traced a great many of the arguments which I have used and am going to use on this Amendment.
First of all, as said before, this is not the place for a new clause of this kind. The purpose of this Bill is to give effect to provisions commonly precedented in local Acts. This clause does not appear in any local Act. But that really is not the general basis of my opposition to the clause. It does not depend on that argument, because there are other powerful objections. The distribution of functions between local authorities was carefully considered when the Bill, which 1104 became the Local Government Act 1972, was being prepared. I personally, and the members of my Party, consider that this is a thoroughly bad Act, and I am very glad to have, in this instance, the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, on my side, who said the same thing. Nevertheless, the Act is here, and for the moment it is here to stay. At that point, parishes could then have been given power to set up nature reserves, but this was not done. I must point out that the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, said that the new districts have not the expertise to set up new nature reserves; but these are the successors, with better resources, of the former urban districts, which the noble Earl applauded. So from that point of view there is not a great change except, I would say, for the better.
I believe it would lead to confusion if the same powers were available concurrently at three levels of authority—parish, district and county. To make new powers available to some 10,000 authorities must have implications for public expenditure, both for parishes and for the Nature Conservancy Council. Probably this is part of the reason for their comments. The noble Earl read out the comments of the Nature Conservancy Council. While they expressed in practically the same way as I did the same sympathy with the aims, they also pointed out, as I was going to do anyway, that this is already being done at one level by the acquisition of parcels of suitable land without actually declaring them to be nature reserves; secondly, they can and do ask districts and counties to act on their behalf, and these are the authorities which are the result of the reorganisation. Thirdly, they can ask the districts to enter into agency agreements under Section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972 for the parish to exercise these functions on behalf of the district.
Taking the facts as they are at the moment, and working under the present Local Government Reorganisation Act, I would suggest these procedures in that context are a much more realistic way for parishes to achieve their desired result. However, having said that, I think the noble Earl is probably aware that the National Association of Local Councils have recently submitted proposals on a range wide of matters concerning parishes. When those proposals 1105 are put in, we will consider them, along with others and this no doubt will be one of them. Then, in the greater time available, we shall be able to look more thoroughly into the implications. But, at this moment, for the reasons I have given—and the reasons were expanded by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, on the one hand, and the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, also made some very pungent points on the question of nature reserves—in the present setup to change the organisation, the redistribution in that way would be wrong, and certainly in the context of this Bill. So I hope that the noble Earl—and I think this is his third attempt—will now withdraw his Amendment once again.
§ The Earl of CRANBROOK
My Lords, I hope those of your Lordships who do not sit on either Front Bench will have noticed the extraordinary way in which both Front Benches have reacted to any proposal to alter the status quo. There was a Latin tag. I am not quite certan whether I remember it rightly, but it ran something like aliquot novum pro horrifico—anything new is absolutely terrible. That has been the reaction of both of our Front Benches. There is some excuse for the noble Baroness opposite. She is briefed by her Department, and we all know that the invariable reaction of every Department is to say, No, and scarcely to bother to look for any reason for saying, Yes.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, would the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, give way? This is absolutely untrue. I am arguing this on the basis of an Act of Parliament, passed and put through by the Party of the noble Earl when in Government. I am dealing with that—
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, what I am objecting to is the idea of just being brief, and not reading the brief. This is not true, because I have gone into this carefully. I have great sympathy with the rights of small bodies and individuals. It is for this reason that I am so strongly opposed to the present Local Government Reorganisation Act. It is no good the noble Earl blaming that on this Front Bench.
§ The Earl of CRANBROOK
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. I was trying to find excuses for her, because all I can say about my own Front Bench is that they are acting wilfully, feloniously and with malice aforethought, without the advice of any Department. And if the noble Baroness wishes to put that cap on she is at liberty to do it. I understood that the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bills come out one after the other after every successive local government reform Act, trying to pick up the mistakes made. I rather agree with the noble Baroness that a great many mistakes were made in the last Act, and that this was a major one. This seems to me to be an entirely appropriate place in which to put it. I must apologise to your Lordships, and to the noble Baroness for having been so persistent, but obviously I made a mistake at earlier stages. I chose a method to which both the noble Baroness and the Nature Conservancy Council objected. I had hoped that I had now got a method to which people would not object.
I do not wish to repeat myself too much, but the position here is that we have a number of the larger parishes, and your Lordships should remember that parishes, which when we were young were silly little places like my own, with populations going down to a few hundred, have now gone up to many thousands. There are parishes of varying sizes, from the very small ones right up to parishes with populations of 30,000, and, I. believe, one of even 40,000. These large parishes were formerly urban districts which had the power to do this; they exercised that power and they exercised it admirably. If this was done deliberately in the Local Government Act—I cannot believe it was; I think this came about ambulando while the Bill was going through—it was a grave mistake that this power was taken away from people who had exercised it exceedingly well; there were a very small number of them, but they exercised it well. In the world of nature conservation we cannot afford to neglect the willingness and the sense of people who wish to set up nature reserves, whoever they are.
So far as the control of these reserves are concerned, I cannot help feeling a little cynical when it is suggested that the 1906 Act should be used, because in 1107 point of fact the 1906 Act was exactly like Clause 18 of this Bill, and I was told off for putting down an Amendment to that clause for this purpose. That Act was generally used to provide places for recreation, but there is, fortunately, a phrase in it which talks about places which are wild and uncultivated, and it just brings in these smaller places, as the Nature Conservancy Council says. So at the moment the smaller parishes can use their existing powers. I am ashamed to say that I had not realised this until I learned it from the Nature Conservancy Council. They can use their existing powers under the 1906 Act to set up what are called little places in their parishes. It is the larger ones which I am concerned with, those which controlled the reserves admirably in the past and which I now suggest should do it under the control of the Nature Conservancy. Nothing that the Front Benches on either side have said has led me to believe that this Amendment should be withdrawn.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, before my noble friend Lord Cranbrook withdraws or does not withdraw his Amendment, perhaps I may make three comments on what he has said. I sympathise a great deal with the point that he is trying to make, and I have great sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, over this. When my noble friend said that the purpose of the Bill was to put the 1972 Local Government Act right, he was not quite correct. The purpose of the Bill is to
§ carry out one of the provisions of the 1972 Act; under that Act a certain amount of legislation will run out, both in 1978 and in 1984, and it is essential, therefore, that it should be re-enacted in this Bill. Two general principles govern the Bill. One is that the legislation should be precedented and the other is that it should be non-controversial.
§ So far as the noble Earl's Amendment is concerned, I think we might all agree that this may be a very good thing to do. But the fact is that it is not precedented, and if it were accepted it would be altering the functions as laid down in the 1972 Act. I should think that it was outside the terms of this Bill, and we should get ourselves into considerable difficulty if we agreed with it. For that reason I feel unable to support my noble friend, although I have sympathy with the point of view that he is trying to express.
§ The Earl of CRANBROOK
My Lords, with the permission of the House, may I reply again at the end of the debate. I must say to the noble Baroness that I am unlikely to be here in 1984, when she might do it in my place. I want to see it done now.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 7) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided:— Contents, 53; Not-Contents, 56.1109
|Airedale, L.||Derwent, L.||Robbins, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Drumalbyn, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Ferrers, E.||St. Davids, V.|
|Banks, L.||Gainford, L.||Somers, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Goschen, V.||Spens, L.|
|Boothby, L.||Greenway, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Strange, L.|
|Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Inglewood, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, B.||Kimberley, E.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Byers, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Lyell, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Wade, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Mancroft, L.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Cranbrook, E. [Teller.]||Merrivale, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Monck, V.||Windlesham, L.|
|de Clifford, L. [Teller.]||Northchurch, B.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Gordon-Walker, L.||Pannell, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Peddie, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Hale, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Balogh, L.||Harris of Greenwich, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Henderson, L.||Popplewell, L.|
|Birk, B.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Segal, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Hoy, L.||Shepherd, L. (L. Privy Seal)|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Hughes, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Janner, L.||Slater, L.|
|Caradon, L.||Leatherland, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Castle, L.||Lee of Newton, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Champion, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Stone, L.|
|Collison, L.||Longford, E.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Crook, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Maelor, L.||Vaizey, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Melchett, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Murray of Newhaven, L.||Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller.]|
|Gaitskell, B.||Murray of Gravesend, L.||Winterbottom, L. [Teller.]|
|George-Brown, L.||Oram, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Resolved in the negative and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 38 [Use of spare capacity of computers of local authorities]:
§ 6.22 p.m.
Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 49, line 10, leave out ("as beneficial to the authority as those") and insert ("terms").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this Amendment corrects defective wording in the clause. Our attention was drawn to this by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, to whom we are grateful, because the clause is much better drafted now than it was originally. Noble Lords will remember that the object of the original Amendment was to ensure the sale of surplus computer time by local authorities at a rate not less than another undertaking, notably a commercial firm, would charge. The intention was the same in my original Amendment, but the way it has now been redrafted makes it very much better and more positive and not quite as inverted. I beg to, move.
§ Lord AIREDALE
My Lords, finding a defect in a Government Amendment is rather like winning a hole against Gary Player—not that I have ever done that. I am sure that this is an improvement.
§ Clause 48 [Licensing of private hire vehicles]:1110
§ 6.24 p.m.
Baroness YOUNG moved Amendment No. 9
Page 56, line 34, after ("of") insert ("roof").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 9, and at the same time speak to Amendment No. 10. I appreciate that this again is a course that we have been round several times on this Bill already, but I put down these Amendments again, the principle of which we have debated before, because they are ones on which those who have an interest in private hire cars believe to be of considerable importance.
§ I have read with great care what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said on Report. As I understand it, under what is now Clause 48 a district council, if it so wished, could agree that a private hire firm could indicate the name of the proprietor upon it. What my Amendment seeks to do is to make this something which would, under Statute, happen in all controlled districts. The one point which the noble Lord did not answer last time was that although a subsection similar to my Amendment is included in the Plymouth City Council Bill, and as the whole of this Part of this Bill is taken almost precisely from the Plymouth City Council Bill, why has it not been included in this Bill?
§ As I understand it, it was included in another place and then was taken out. I further understand that there have been no difficulties about the working of this subsection of the Plymouth City Council Act in Plymouth. The major objection raised to it is that members of the public 1111 would be misled into believing that a private hire car was similar to a hackney carriage and was therefore plying for hire. But, as the wording of my Amendment makes clear, it is not my intention that there should be any element of deception at all, which I think would be quite wrong, and that the signs should be such as would not lead a member of the public to believe that the private hire car was a licensed hackney carriage. I believe that this would be for the convenience of the public. I beg to move.
§ Lord AIREDALE
My Lords, I too should like to ride my horse round this familar course once more in support of this Amendment. To be pernickety, I should have preferred that the words in the Amendment, "would lead to public to suppose", were "might lead the public to suppose …" I think that might be preferable, but it is a small point. We have to balance the inconvenience to members of the public, emerging together say, from a theatre, having ordered a hire care and needing to identify it and being able to identify it if it has a sign upon it because they know the firm from whom they hire it, whereas the driver may not know them or be able to identify them, with the other factor that members of the public in the street may think, when they see a sign on this car, that it is a taxi and may hail it and may temporarily be inconvenienced and disappointed because they find it is not a taxi and have to wait a little longer, perhaps in the rain, until a real taxi comes along.
I am not really very concerned about the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that a situation might arise where the car hire firm responds to the person who hails a taxi and illegally, therefore, plies for hire. I should have thought that the police and the taxi trade between them would very soon be able to catch up with any car hire firm which started to adopt that sort of practice. If the odd occasion arose when the hire car got away with it and did ply for hire as a taxi, I would not lose very much sleep over that. Therefore, I am strongly in support of this Amendment.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, the noble Baroness said, and the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, agreed, that 1112 this is an old friend; I well remember the speeches that were made on the last occasion we debated this matter. I will therefore, as briefly as possible, explain why the Government still find this proposal unacceptable. We begin—at least, the noble Baroness and I do—with agreement on the central question of principle involved; that is, we are both anxious to ensure that there should be no element of deception, and in that I entirely agree with her.
As drafted, in Clause 48(2) the Bill grants to a district council the power to attach conditions to the granting of a private hire vehicle licence, including conditions which either require or prohibit the display of signs. The Amendment seeks to limit this power to require or prohibit the display of roof signs, which would lead the public to suppose that the vehicle was a licensed hackney carriage. The clause as worded is intended to aid local authorities in preventing illegal plying for hire by private hire vehicles. It will allow them to control the display of signs form private hire vehicles with a view to minimising the possibility that such signs would lead members of the public to assume that the vehicle was availale for immediate hire. The clause will not however prevent local agreement being reached as to signs which might be permitted with a view to legitimately identifying private hire cars—the point the noble Baroness put to me—and this may be given effect under the Bill by district councils banning all signs other than those which it specifically permits.
The problem with the Amendment is that roof signs are not by any means the only method used throughout the country to identify a vehicle as a hackney carriage or to lead the public to suppose that the vehicle is available for immediate hire. If roof signs only were to be dealt with in the Bill, there would, for example, be nothing at all to prevent some of the less scrupulous operators from displaying illuminated signs inside the vehicle or elsewhere, on the exterior, bearing the words "Taxi" or "For hire", or resorting to other methods of advertisement clearly designed to mislead the public.
Thus, the situation is that, as drafted, the Bill brings in a degree of control, or could do so, over all signs. The Amendment, on the other hand, deals 1113 exclusively with roof signs and, as I have indicated, for that reason—because it would be possible for the less scrupulous to evade the intention; the noble Baroness and I agree that there should be no element of deception and there should be no way in which a person with a private hire licence could pretend that he is available for hire and is therefore a hackney carriage—we believe that the Bill as drafted is right.
The noble Baroness raised the question of the Plymouth City Council Act. To be blunt—and I think the noble Baroness will agree with me here—the position is that we regard this as a forward-looking Bill but not perfect in every conceivable respect; As she knows, we should not have chosen to put this in the Bill in the first instance. But it has been done and we have sought to improve the Bill in such a way as will make the enforcement powers in this clause, and in the Bill generally, capable of being applied in the area of any local authority. Our view is that this is the best way of approach, and I hope that, on reflection, the noble Baroness will agree with us.
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
My Lords, I support the remarks of my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich. It is extemely important that there should be no element of doubt that the vehicle one uses is a hackney carriage. When one realises the stringency of both the training and control involved with these vehicles as opposed to the still quite loose type of control of the private hire car, it is important that the men concerned should have their livelihood protected, and I fear any erosion. It is easy to say that people coming out of a theatre must be able to recognise the vehicles wating for them, but it is equally true to say that people will hail a car going through the city and displaying, quite illegally, a bright sign. I have seen it done. I think that members of the public would be deceived, and as this is a group in the community which has to earn its passage, we should do everything to protect the position of licensed vehicles.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, we are all agreed on the principle and nobody is trying to deceive the public into thinking that a private hire is a licensed hackney carriage. Of course the answer to the 1114 noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, is that under the Bill very stringent provisions will apply to the drivers of private hire vehicles, so I do not think that even her argument would apply, about the possibility of getting a private hire driver not being up to the standard of the driver of a hackney carriage vehicle. I do not intend to press the Amendment because I believe that representations could be made to the local authority which could, under Clause 48(2), achieve what they wish, and I think that that would be the right way to approach the subject. However, it is important that those whose livelihood is directly affected by the Bill should have been the subject of the maximum amount of discussion. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 53 [Drivers' licences for hackney carriages and private hire vehicles]:
§ 6.36 p.m.
The Earl of CRANBROOK moved Amendment No. 11:
Page 60, line 7, after ("vehicle") insert ("housed in any parish or community where in the opinion of the district council it is desirable to encourage the housing of a private hire vehicle in order to provide a better transport service for the inhabitants or").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I do not think there is as much difference between myself and the Front Bench opposite on this Amendment as there was over the last one we discussed. The Amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, moved on Report was intended to cover the cases which I have specified in this Amendment. The only reason I have tabled this Amendment is because, to be frank, the administration of some of our new district councils is a very long way from the small parishes, and I should like it made abundantly clear to them that this is one of the reasons they must have under consideration if they decide to reduce the fees. I do not think I need add more in moving the Amendment.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, perhaps I might explain the point we have reached on this issue. Clause 53 as drafted provides that a district council may charge, for the issue of a licence to drive a taxi or a private hire car, such fee 1115 as the council considers reasonable with view to recovering the costs of issue and administration. The clause further provides that where the council thinks it appropriate, it may, in the case of the driver of a private hire vehicle, charge a lower fee, or no fee. The purpose of this relaxation, although not spelled out in, the Bill—the noble Earl is right about this—is to take account of the circumstances (described by the noble Earl on Report) of remote rural areas having no readily available taxi services and but limited public transport facilities. The noble Earl feared that the imposition of normal levels of fees might cause such public-spirited citizens, who sometimes do this on a part-time basis, to cease their transport activities.
As I said on Report, the Government have every sympathy—indeed, there was agreement throughout the House on this—with the problems of people living in such areas and are concerned to see that increased operating costs resulting from the introduction of licensing should not tend to deprive small and remote communities of such transport facilities as they at present possess. As a result, the Government introduced the Amendment, to which I referred and which was accepted by the House, having the effect of making it clear that where a district council thinks it appropriate, it may charge a lower licence fee or indeed dispense with the fee altogether, and that is now in the Bill.
The noble Earl's Amendment, if carried, would add nothing to the relaxation set out in the Bill. Rather, it would introduce a kind of limitation, in that it would refer in particular to vehicles "housed" in a parish or community where certain factors applied, going on thereafter to refer to the more general case. As I pointed out on Report, the area in which a vehicle is housed or garaged is not necessarily that in which it is operated as a private hire vehicle and a transport service for the inhabitants of a parish may be provided by a vehicle which is garaged outside the parish.
As a result, I do not think that the present Amendment would assist in achieving the objective with which the noble Earl is concerned. I believe that the power which has now been written into the Bill to give the district council 1116 power to waive or to lower the fees meets the point and, although I do not want to be tied too explicitly to this, I shall certainly consider whether, in the circular which will go out to local authorities when the Bill is on the Statute Book, we might perhaps be able to spell something out as far as this is concerned. I hope that that will meet the noble Earl's point. I have attempted to point out why I think that the present form of words is better than what is suggested.
§ The Earl of CRANBROOK
My Lords, if the noble Lord would withdraw the word "perhaps" I should be perfectly satisfied.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I believe that the noble Earl can leave it. I shall do my best to ensure that this point is met.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 75 [Saving fir certain vehicles etc.]:
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Lord AIREDALE moved Amendment No. 13:
Page 72, line 5, at end insert—
("( ) apply to a vehicle used in pursuance of a contract fot the hire of the vehicle for a journey not wholly within a controlled district;").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is an Amendment to Clause 75 which provides saving for certain vehicles et cetera. Its purpose is to confine the application of the whole of this Part of the Bill to journeys which take place wholly within a controlled district. The reason for the Amendment is that, without it, the position of the multiple car hire firms which undertake long-distance journeys will be made very difficult because they will be travelling, for instance, in and from uncontrolled districts into and through controlled districts. Even as between one controlled district and another there may be no uniformity because there are numerous places in this part of the Bill where the particular local authority is allowed to impose its own terms and 1117 conditions. This will make the business of the multiple car hire firms extremely difficult.
§ I do not think that I need apologise for putting down this Amendment again having done so on Report. At that time, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, thought that this point was dealt with in his subsequent Government Amendment and, as so often happens on these occasions, spent so much time describing the merits of his Amendment that he ran out of time or out of steam and never got round to telling me the demerits, if any, of my Amendment.
§ So, here we are, discussing it again. If it is adopted, presumably it will work satisfactorily because, after all, since, as we know so well, the whole of this part of the Bill is practically copied out from the Plymouth Local Act, it was presumably worth while introducing it for Plymouth and Plymouth clearly had no power to impose it on any other outside district. Of course, we do not know how many local authorities will adopt this part of the Bill and it is entirely up to them whether or not they do so. Some will. As a result, we shall have, so to speak, a number of "Plymouths" dotted about the country, each operating a control which Plymouth presumably finds satisfactory for its purposes. So, in putting forward the Amendment, I suggest that for those reasons it ought to work satisfactorily.
§ When we come to the Government Amendment put forward on Report as supposedly meeting the case, that was the Amendment which is now enshrined in the clause as subsection (2). Of course it does not meet the case because subsection (2) only deals with vehicles operated from within a controlled area and does not apply at all to vehicles operated from an uncontrolled area. So there is a lacuna there. Therefore, I put it to your Lordships that the Amendment is required.
§ While we are discussing subsection (2), I hope that we shall be told how this will work: what is to happen to those operators who operate from what is now an uncontrolled area? Of course they will want to have the protection given in subsection (2) and will want to become licensed in some 1118 controlled area so that they will get the resulting protection. How are they to achieve that? In the early stages, there will not be all that number of controlled districts, so what are these operators to do? They will have to find a controlled district and they will be strangers from outside that district applying to the local authority for licences.
§ Does that not make nonsense of the whole system of local licensing operations? Surely, local authorities issue licences to people whom they know something about or about whom they can easily find out because they are local people. If a large number of operators come into a district from outside to apply for licences in order to obtain the protection of subsection (2), will they be welcomed by the local authority and will the latter be at all happy about dishing out licences to these people from outside about whom it knows so much less than it does about its own local people? I just do not know how this system is to operate. Perhaps we can be told. However it is to operate, I suggest that we require the Amendment in any case to save this embarrassment to the long distance operators. I beg to move.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has said, we debated this very thoroughly on Report. The argument that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, used was that if we allowed an Amendment similar to this we should be going against the principle of this Part of the Bill. I have read very carefully what he has said on this matter but what concerns me is the very practical point about places like London where I gather there are 20,000 private hire vehicles. In order to operate the clause, they will presumably have to get themselves licensed somewhere, otherwise they will not be able to operate outside London because they will be in an uncontrolled district. I was glad to hear that that district includes Heathrow. However, there are plenty of other places to which people may wish to travel outside London. I feel that it would be very helpful if the noble Lord, Lord Harris, would explain how he sees operators in London and similar districts working if the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, or something similar is not accepted.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 cover the same territory and so I shall speak to both. The effect of the first Amendment would be to take wholly outside the controls contained in Part II of the Bill any vehicle hired for a journey crossing the boundary of a controlled district, and, as the noble Baroness surmised, the Government remain as hostile to the principle of the Amendment as they were on the last occasion we debated it. If the Amendment were carried, the only journeys which would be controlled under Part II of the Bill would be those performed entirely within a district. Such journeys would have to be performed by a licensed vehicle, driven by a licensed driver, and booked by a licensed operator within the district. That would be the position. But if the Amendment were to he accepted for any journey going outside a district and for the whole of that journey, the hirer would be deprived of the benefits and the protection which the Bill is intended to provide.
This would be a return to the present uncontrolled situation which has itself caused Parliament to add Part II to the Bill. For such a journey, the hirer would be liable to find himself driven in an untested, unlicensed, inadequately maintained or insured vehicle, by a driver of whom nothing is known. That would be the position if the Amendment were carried and, frankly, this is wholly contrary to the general intention of this Part of the Bill. The Bill already provides Clause 75(1)(a) that any vehicles, whether or not licensed, may bring a passenger into a controlled district under a contract made outside it and provided that the vehicle is not made available for hire in the district. This is to allow businesses operated from outside the controlled district to perform journeys into or through controlled districts without the need of licences, and it safeguards the right of vehicles from uncontrolled districts to perform hirings into controlled districts. But I said—
§ Lord AIREDALE
My Lords, are we now on Amendment No. 14? I ask this because I want to move that Amendment separately.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, 1120 I propose to speak to both Amendments, and I shall gladly speak again on Amendment No. 14 if the noble Lord wishes. But both Amendments are objectionable in principle and I am endeavouring to point out why. I think it would be more helpful to your Lordships if I were to make it quite clear now that both Amendments are equally unacceptable so far as the Government are concerned.
As I indicated at the Report stage we cannot agree that a vehicle from an uncontrolled area should enjoy the privilege of offering for hire in a controlled district. Not only would this be quite unfair to the tested and licensed operators, but it would be misleading to members of the public. The remedy lies with the operator in the uncontrolled district. If he wishes for complete freedom of action in all areas, he has only to submit his vehicles for inspection and licensing in a controlled area and to use only licensed drivers. The noble Baroness asks what is the position regarding London—and to go back to a point we debated on the last occasion, the same question can be asked regarding Scotland. The fact is that if they wanted to do this, they would have to cause themselves to be licensed, and it would be for them to determine in their own business interest when that time had arisen. But clearly that is the only way in which, in my view, we can create a fair system of licensing control.
The noble Lord has, I think, suggested that there may be circumstances where this situation could be confusing for the multi-base long-distance hire companies, but I do not think that this should be so. Such a company has only to have its vehicles licensed in any one area in order to benefit by the wide relaxation contained in subsection (2) of Clause 75. This allows that the vehicle and its driver may be used in any controlled district if licences for the vehicle and the driver, issued by any other controlled district, are in force. There will be no problems arising from conditions of licensing, for the only conditions applying to any vehicle are those attaching to its licence. Conditions normally imposed by the councils of other districts to which it goes, or through which it passes, will not affect it, for they do not form part of the licence for the vehicle. The Amendment proposed by the noble Lord would tend to upset the whole purpose of including 1121 Part II in the Bill in the first place and, in my view, is not in any event necessary. For this reason I hope that the noble Lord will decide not to press the Amendment.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Lord AIREDALE
My Lords, I have listened to the Government's reply with great interest, but I do not think that the Minister has begun to answer the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and myself. How do these people in uncontrolled districts set about getting licences in controlled districts? If there are 20,000 operators in London and, say, 15,000 of them want to keep their options open to do long-distance journeys, or at any rate journeys taking them outside London, where do they go for their licences? Let us suppose that the nearest council which has adopted Part II of the Bill is the council that covers Redhill. Do 15,000 London private hire operators descend upon the local council at Redhill and say: "We are applying for licences under Part II of this Act"—
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? We are in a slight difficulty here. I do not have a right of reply because this is the noble Lord's Amendment, but he is asking a question and, if he will forgive me, I think ought to give him the answer. As I said in reply to the question from the noble Baroness, the answer is for the private hire vehicle operator to decide when he wishes to make application to another local authority. Let us take an absurd example and suppose that there are only one or two local authorities in the whole of the country which have used these particular powers laid down in this clause. It will not be to their commercial advantage to do so. It would be a foolish thing to do.
But if it is quite clear, as no doubt will be the situation, that an increasing number of authorities introduce these powers, then when that time arises the operator, within London or, indeed, in Scotland, will, at that moment, decide to apply to a particular local authority. I do not think that all the operators will apply to the local authority in Redhill. I think that they will simply decide that it is to their commercial advantage to do so at a 1122 particular time, and that would seem to be a rather sensible way of proceeding.
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord a question before he continues. Why does he assume—I think rather gloomily—that only so few district councils will take advantage of this provision?
§ Lord AIREDALE
My Lords, I think the answer to that is that so far only Plymouth has sought a power of this kind, but it has been within the power of any other local authority which chose to follow Plymouth's example to do so and no local authority has. I think that perhaps that is the answer to the noble Baroness. But I am not going to be put off my stride by what the Minister said just now. Admittedly, Redhill may not be the only one.
Let us suppose that within driving distance of London there are six local authorities which make themselves controlled districts, and we divide these 15,000 London operators by six. Where does that lead? There would be 2,500 operators going to each of a number of local authorities outside London, saying "We want to register with you in order to get the protection". It is very important that the absurdity of this should be seen. Those operators may say, "We wish to get protection under subsection (2) of Clause 75 and so we are coming to you from London to apply for licences". Each of those six local authorities will say, "We were expecting to issue about 50 licences to people in our district about whom we know something. How are we expected to cope with issuing 2,500 licences to people from London about whom we know nothing?" I suggest that this really makes nonsense of the local licensing system.
The Minister really has not begun to face up to the practical problem that is going to be created here. In all his observations, I think the Minister has only confirmed what I said; that is, that with this Amendment we shall have dotted about the country a number of, so to speak, Plymouths—local authorities which have chosen to adopt this part of the Bill in the way that Plymouth adopted it for themselves—and what is going to be the 1123 matter with that? If it works all right in Plymouth, presumably it will work all right elsewhere.
If that does not solve the whole of the problem that is worrying the Minister, we already know (because he told us in an earlier debate) that the Government have their plans to introduce their own legislation to deal with private hire cars later on. Why not leave that matter to that Bill? As far as we know, these multiple long-distance operators are not causing any concern or trouble; they are not misbehaving, or anything of that kind. Why not leave them alone until the Government have really thought out what they want to do about that aspect of the problem, instead of catching them in this clumsy net which has been created since the Standing Committee on this Bill in another place, and which still bears all the signs of not having been properly thought out? My Lords, I cannot withdraw this Amendment; I am very sorry.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ 7.2 p.m.
Lord AIREDALE moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 72, line 7, after ("district") insert ("or taking them outside a controlled district").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we are discussing this separately although the Minister chose to give me his views upon it in advance, which should be to my advantage, of course. This is an Amendment to paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of the saving clause. The clause saves those vehicles used for bringing passengers within a controlled district from outside—to them the whole of Part II does not apply—but it does not apply in the case of journeys for taking those people outside a controlled district from within it. The purpose of this Amendment is to bring those people within the saving clause, so that, whether people are being brought into a controlled district or are being taken out of it, they are saved from the provisions of Part II.
§ This, again, is a matter which is not covered by the Government Amendment which has become subsection (2), because—and I must say it again—subsection (2) applies only to vehicles operating from within a controlled district, and to those 1124 many which will be operating from an uncontrolled district it will not apply. To take an example of how this matter is going to work out in practice as the position is under the Bill at present, without this Amendment, if a noble Lord who lived in an uncontrolled district had a daughter and wanted to send her to a dance in a neighbouring district, which was a controlled district, by hire car, he could send her in a car supplied by an operator whom he knew and in whom he had confidence because he would be sending her within a controlled district, and the operator could operate because that would save him from Part II. But suppose your daughter went straight to the dance from her work in London, and there she was, in a controlled district, and you wanted to fetch her to your home in an uncontrolled district. Could you send the hire car of the firm that you knew to collect her? As the Bill stands you could not, because you would be taking the car into a controlled district to bring somebody out. So the consequence of this would be that the girl would have to find, in the district where she was, a car hire firm, about which she might not know anything, she would have to negotiate the fare, and so on. What an absurd situation this would be, and what useful purpose would it serve?
§ This matter cannot be of any interest one way or the other to the car hire firms, because over any period of time, surely, the journeys undertaken by an operator in one district are going to cancel out with the journeys undertaken by an operator in the district next door. So it is not going to affect them at all. This is merely going to make the most frightful nuisance and difficulty for members of the public, who will be pointlessly restricted in hiring cars from the firms that they know in order to take members of their family from one place to another. It is really quite stupid, and that situation will be cured by this Amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I dealt with the substance of this matter when I spoke on the last Amendment because I thought it right that the House should be aware of the Government's attitude towards both. To take the particular example given by the noble Lord concerning the problem of one's 1125 daughter in this particular situation, the answer is that one's daughter, the noble Lord will be delighted to hear, can be collected in the same car because the contract will have been made for going there and returning. If the noble Lord will forgive me and allow me to finish, I should at this stage like to answer his Amendment. I think it right to inform the House why the Government do not find this Amendment acceptable.
The position is that exemption is already provided in subsection (1)(a) of Clause 75 to vehicles, whether licensed or unlicensed, used for bringing passengers into a controlled district, and this permits them to perform contracts made outside the district. But to collect passengers within a controlled district must be the prerogative of a licensed vehicle; and any operator wishing to do this, as I indicated on the last Amendment. may submit his vehicles for licensing. That is the way in which he can deal with this particular problem. He cannot be refused on the ground that any numerical limit is applied to the number of licences which may issued, and if his vehicles and drivers are found fit they must be licensed.
If a local authority behaves wholly unreasonably, there is of course an appeal to the magistrates' court. A licensed vehicle may of course freely take passengers or goods outside a district. No control applies to its departure from a district, and the provisions of Clause 75(1)(a) and Clause 75(2) would appear to permit it ready entry into whatever other district it then enters. I think, with respect, that the question of substance is whether we are going to have this form of licensing control. I think this is in fact not an unreasonable approach, and for that reason I hope the noble Lord will not press his Amendment.
§ Lord AIREDALE
My Lords, it really would be helpful if Ministers would pay attention to the speech that is made in support of the Amendment which is moved. It really is not good enough for the Minister to get up and say that there is no problem here because the contract would be to take the girl in both directions, that the contract would be made at the same time, and that no difficulty arises. I took very great care to ask about the case 1126 where the girl goes from her work in London to a dance in a controlled area. She does not have to be taken by the private hire car into the controlled area; she only has to be fetched from it and taken home into the uncontrolled area.
I sought to intervene and to explain this again to the Minister. if he had given way, he might have had an answer to it. I do not know; I do not think he would have had an answer. I do not suppose that he has one now and, as we are on Third Reading, the procedures in this House count for something. The point has not been answered. Here is a clear case where all that is being achieved is the inconvenience of members of the public. Here is a girl who could so easily otherwise have been carried in a car which she and her parents knew about, and who knew the driver, instead of her having to find some other car in a strange place and to negotiate the fare and so on.
Nothing is being achieved by resisting this Amendment except the inconvenience of members of the public. It is a very disappointing affair. I have a good deal of sympathy for the Minister. He has been frank in saying all along that this matter was sprung on the Government and is so largely unconsidered. It will be a shame if it is to go on the Statute Book in this form. It is not doing any good at all. I am not going to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
Before the noble Lord sits down, would he not agree—because most people have been in this situation—that where you are in one place and you have to call a car to take you home and you call the car from the place you know, that that in fact is the most expensive way to do it. Normally, you would call a car at the point where you are to take you back from where you started.
§ Lord AIREDALE
My Lords, I do not see that at all. A car must make a return journey in either event. If it is a question of hiring a car from a chap I do not know to take me home and ringing up a chap at home whom I do know and with whom I have an account, asking him to come and fetch me, I know which of the two I would choose to engage.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.1127
§ Clause 80 [Interpretation of Part II]:
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Lord SANDYS moved Amendment No. 15:
Page 74, line 28, leave out from beginning to end of line 30 and insert—
(""operate "means in the course of business to invite and accept bookings for a private hire vehicle and to control or arrange the journey to be undertaken by a private hire vehicle whilst on hire under section 46 of this Act.")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we now come to Clause 80 which is the definition clause. We have been round this course twice before. The definition of the word "operate" is one which has concerned us for some time. As we have been discussing, on Clause 75, the question of operators and how they act in particular circumstances, the definition of the word "operate" becomes of even greater significance. On two previous occasions, my noble friend and, subsequently, myself suggested that it was to be recommended that the definition be widened. We believe that by adding the second half of the sentence and drawing attention specifically to Clause 46 of the Bill, it acts as a definite signpost and has merit in itself. We believe that the definition clause in many Bills can be widened and improved with benefit. We cannot see why the Government feel that this is to be rejected.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, as the noble Lord has just pointed out, we have had a discussion on this matter before but that is no reason why we should not have another today. We have had a number of previous debates on most of the questions which we have debated today—and, I think, for a perfectly good reason. That is, the circumstances, which we have discussed on a number of occasions—and the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, mentioned them again—in which this Part of the Bill came to be written into the Bill. I will, if I may, although I may be wildly out of order in doing so, thank all noble Lords on both sides of the House who have made this Part of the Bill more sensible and practical than when it arrived in this House.
Having said those gracious words, I am afraid I cannot go on to say that I find that this particular Amendment would make 1128 the Bill a great deal better. Perhaps I may deal with some of the anxieties which may lie behind it. First, there may be concern that the particular provisions do not bite on people in the hotel trade, travel agents and others outside the field of operating licences who, in the course of their normal duties of providing services to clients of their businesses, may also provide a degree of facilities to invite and accept bookings for private hire vehicles.
We would certainly agree with the principle here. It is not the intention of the Bill that the general services provided by the hotel, catering or travel industries be hindered or that licensing requirements be imposed on such fringe activities. Our view is that the persons referred to are not in the private car hire business and do not accept bookings for private hire vehicles, they put would-be hirers into contact with operators or they accept requests for vehicles and pass them on to operators, much as they might accept requests for flowers and pass them on to the supplier. They are not in a position to accept bookings themselves. If they do so, and provide vehicles on their own behalf from resources available to them, then they are clearly in business as operators and require to be licensed.
We believe that to import the concept that to be an operator a person must control or arrange the journey to be undertaken"—that is the language of the Amendment—might allow many operators to escape the control. Some operators keep lists of private owner-drivers who make their vehicles available for bookings through the centralised facilities of the operator. The drivers are not employed by the operator but work on a commission basis. There may be circumstances in which it could be held that the operator leaves it to the driver, who is also the proprietor, to control and arrange the details of the journey. We would certainly want to be wary of so re-defining the word "operator" as to open the possibility that, by this technique, some could escape control. Therefore, for that reason particularly, we would prefer that this Amendment be not made.
There is a second point; that is, that some may argue that if a private hire firm puts one of his staff, sometimes in a uniform, at a desk or something of that sort in an hotel, a railway station 1129 an airport or an exhibition or in some other similar site for the purpose of making vehicle reservations, no requirement as to licensing should arise. Then, we would part company with those taking that view. In our view, such an employee of a private hire organistion represents that organisation and is engaged upon its business. It would, in our view, be wrong to differentiate on the grounds of the scale of the temporary nature of such an arranngement. They are the two reasons of substance why we are reluctant to accept this Amendment. I hope that upon reflection the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, will not press his Amendment.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, before my noble friend decides what he will do about this Amendment, may I clear my mind? I understood the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, to say at the beginning of his remarks that this definition of "operate" would not apply to someone in a hotel who was simply taking the bookings, because it could not be said that he was licensed to operate. Then, I understood the noble Lord to say that, if a licensed company employed a person in a uniform to sit in the hotel and take bookings, he had to be licensed, although it seems to me he is performing precisely the same function as the original person.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, without breaching the rules of order even more than I am afriad I am in the process of doing, I will deal with that point. There is a distinction; the second person is an employee of the private hire firm but the first is not. It is a point of substance, because if you are a uniformed representative of a particular company permanently in the foyer of an hotel, you are clearly an employee of the firm. If you are simply at the reception desk of an hotel, you are not an employee of the firm and therefore would not be caught by the Bill.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for detailing the particular problems that we have encountered at various stages of the Bill. I do not wish to detain your Lordships further; we have covered most of the points. I cannot say that we are wholly satisfied with the situation as it stands; at least we appreciate the diffi 1130 culties which surround it. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 2 [Enactments repealed.]:
§ Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 16:
Page 81, line 51, column 3, at end insert—
("In paragraph 11 of Schedule 8 the words" and 170".")
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with the leave of the House I will speak to Amendments Nos. 16, 17 and 18 together. These are drafting Amendments to tidy up the repeal Schedule. All these repeals are references to enactments which are repealed or replaced by clauses in the Bill. The first relates to Section 170 of the Housing Act 1957 which is superseded by Clause 15 and the second and third to Sections 271 and 323 of the Public Health Act 1936, both of which are repealed by Clause 27. I beg to move.
Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 17:
Page 82, line 3, column 3, after ("sections") insert ("271,").
Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 18:
Page 82, line 5, column 3, at end insert ("and the reference to section 323 of that Act.")
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Baroness BIRK: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Birk.)
§ Lord LEATHERLAND
My Lords, I rise merely to thank my noble friend Baroness Birk for the letter which she sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, and me after we had moved an Amendment to Clause 19. The purpose of that Amendment was to delete from the powers to be given to local authority councils the right to establish riding schools. We moved that deletion for two reasons. First, we felt horse-riding was a very dangerous recreation. We do not want 1131 to featherbed young people (or old people, for that matter) and the noble Baroness and I are both fairly experienced riders. But one reads nearly every day in the papers reports of severe accidents which occur to horse-riders; and we had a reminder of that from Montreal only a few days ago. In the Sunday Mirror a fortnight ago there was a tabulated list drawn up by an eminent neurosurgeon. A number of head injuries were scheduled which occured as a result of various kinds of sport. The neurosurgeon stipulated about 20 sports. For boxing, there were 4 cases; for judo, six and gymnastics, 9. But for horse-riding, there were 162 cases, and six of the people died.
The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, and I considered whether we would bring forward our Amendment again at one of the later stages of the Bill. After reading the letter from my noble friend, Lady Birk—which fell far short of what we desired—we felt that we would leave matters as they were. My noble friend Lady Birk suggested in this letter that as soon as the Bill had passed, she would send a circular to local authorities drawing attention to the problems of establishing riding schools and also of the risks involved, mentioning the high expenditure that councils might have to incur in setting up schools at a time when they are supposed to be following a policy of economy. I thank my noble friend for this promise to send out a circular. I hope that there will be some plain speaking in it, and that it will be couched in terms which will tend to discourage rather than encourage local councils from setting up these riding schools.
§ Viscount AMORY
My Lords, now we have come to the end of our deliberations on this Bill, may I say that I think there are some good things in which will be found extremely useful by local authorities. But I feel the section dealing with hire car services does not fit into the Bill and would have been better deleted. The noble Lord and the noble Baroness have been extremely courteous to us from the Government Front Bench. They have been stern in resisting some suggestions which would have made improvements to this Bill. They were hard on the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, just now. I do not think they gave a 1132 satisfactory answer to the point he raised about the girl friend at the dance. The distance quoted would have been precisely the same either way. Some of the provisions in this Bill will be much appreciated by local authorities and save them a great deal of money over the years in being able to take advantage of this Bill instead of having to promote separate Bills. That was the main object of the exercise. A good deal has been achieved in that direction.
§ Lord AIREDALE
My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Viscount said. If just now I was less than courteous to the Minister, I appreciate that he has been having a most difficult task piloting Part II of the Bill through the House, having to defend so much that is so indefensible. Coming to the general point, as was said in the proceedings on the South Glamorgan Bill, and in support of what the noble Viscount has said, one hopes this is only the first of a series of miscellaneous provisions Bills, because, as has just been said, any general provision avoids the need for provisions in local Acts. The difficulty about provisions in local Acts is that you do not find the local authorities precisely agreeing with one another so that the law on a particular topic, if it is controlled by a series of local Acts, is just slightly different as between one district and another. That is really a great irritation and annoyance; so I would hope that we could have a series of miscellaneous provisions Bills in order to avoid the necessity for a multitude of local Bills having to be promoted.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I do think this is the time to make long speeches, but I should like to thank noble Lords on both sides of the House who have contributed to this Bill. I hope that this "series" does not start too soon or go on too regularly, because this Bill has had a long scrutiny and, because of the weather, it has sometimes seemed even longer.
In spite of what was said by the noble Viscount—and I thank him for his kind words—as far as the Bill is concerned, I think both my noble friend and I have accepted a number of Amendments. A number of new clauses—I will not list them now—have been included as a result of consultation with the local 1133 authority associations, and also as a result of comments and suggestions put forward by noble Lords opposite. On the whole, T think this is a much better Bill than when it came to this House, and I fervently hope that it will lead the way towards preventing most local authorities bringing forward their own private Bills.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I should also like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for the number of Amendments they have accepted. It is always disappointing when one does not get everything that one asks for, but a great many Amendments have been accepted and I personally believe that this is one of the occasions where the true value of the House of Lords as an amending Chamber can be appreciated. I believe that the whole exercise has been worth while and, although it seems to me the Bill is nothing like perfect and I only wish that we had more time available so that we could get it right, nevertheless, I believe it is a great deal better than it was. Finally, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Sandys for his support throughout the Bill.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.