HL Deb 19 February 1979 vol 398 cc1577-86

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be read 2a.—(Lord Aberdare.)


My Lords, in examining this very large Bill, I hope that your Lordships will allow me a few minutes in which to express a number of points brought forward from this part of the world. Clauses 39 and 40, which relate to defective electrical installations, are matters which we believe should be included in national legislation. Existing legislation, such as the Housing Act 1957 and also the Building Regulations of 1965, already caters for them and we believe that those two clauses should be deleted from the the Bill.

The restrictive powers on temporary installations in Clause 61 appear to be drawn much too tightly and strictly. In relation to tents, it would prevent schools and bodies such as the Boy Scout's Association, erecting a tent for one day without permission. That was clearly not in the mind of those who drew up the Bill. Further, the fire precautions make that particular activity much too expensive. If necessary they should apply only where temporary structures go up for three days or more.

Clause 69 relates to secondhand goods. Here I should like to draw the attention of the noble Lord, the Lord Chairman to a parallel clause which exists in the Greater Manchester Bill. In the Greater Manchester Bill the sale of secondhand goods is dealt with by Clause 66 and I should like to refer to the problem on account of both Bills. In both cases the clauses are drawn tightly. It would make it extremely difficult for non-charitable bazaars or shops, which are in a state of redundancy and about to be demolished, to be purchased for the purpose of managing them with a view to the sale of secondhand goods for a body which is not necessarily a registered charity. It could have charitable purposes, but if it is not a registered charity it would be outside the Act. I know from personal experience in these matters that a very large number of bodies are anxious to engage in the sale of secondhand goods. I think that the local authorities, especially in view of the inflated prices which obtain for very large numbers of domestic appliances these days, should take account of the fact that a great many people would like to have the opportunity to deal in secondhand goods on sale or for purchase in this regard.

There are further restrictive measures within these clauses which will not allow children to participate. It is unfortunate that those under 16 who would probably like to participate in a function or a bazaar or something of that nature, would, as I read the Bill, be disallowed from doing so.

Clause 76 relates to oil-burning equipment and again there is concern that the clause is drawn much too narrowly. The objection relates principally to the fact that the boiler capacity is set at 3,500 litres which is getting very close to the domestic size. Domestic oil-fired central heating should be excluded. I turn to Clause 77 which deals with the matter of straw burning, so eloquently spoken to by my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley a few moments ago. We believe that that could be included under existing legislation, for instance, in the Drought Act. It is a national issue, not a local issue. As regards Clause 94, dancing and drink-in establishments which already must be licensed for this particular purpose, suggests that the clause may be unnecessary.

I turn to Clause 119. A circular, addressed to your Lordships, from the Lord's Day Observance Society states: Firstly, it has been brought to the attention of this Society that a Private Bill entitled the South Yorkshire Bill has been presented to the House of Lords. Clause 119 gives the power to charge for admission to certain events to be held on Sundays in South Yorkshire". The circular goes on to make representations which, no doubt, will be fully dealt with in the Select Committee.

I should also like to draw attention to Clause 139, where there is objection. The clause is concerned with the liability of directors of companies. Once again, this is a matter which should be considered as part of national legislation and not as private legislation in the local field. Those are the matters which we believe should be the concern of the Select Committee. I am grateful for being allowed to take up the time to put them before your Lordships' House.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for having drawn our attention to these clauses and I shall ensure that they are referred to the appropriate Select Committee.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Select Committee.

5.22 p.m.

Lord HARMAR-NICHOLLS rose to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to whom the Bill is committed that they should not allow Clause 64 (Control of pleasure fairs) of the Bill unless they are satisfied:—

  1. (1) that it falls within the principles for the consideration of private bills set out in paragraph 7 of the Report dated 16th April 1976 of the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Wales on the County of South Glamorgan Bill, and
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  3. (2) that the matter is one which ought to be controlled by criminal sanction rather than by the planning law.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, noble Lords will note that the wording of my Instruction has been marginally altered in order to overcome a technicality which would have left a little ambiguity. The present wording removes the ambiguity that existed before, but there is no material change in the meaning. I seek to prohibit the clause dealing with the holding of any pleasure fair within the district of South Yorkshire without the consent of any district council. Indeed, it goes further than merely wanting to give consent; it wishes to establish that even a fair that has been operating satisfactorily for years and years shall, in future, become a criminal offence attracting a fine of up to £500 unless such consent is forthcoming.

Therefore, I set down my Instruction on four bases. First, I do not think that the provision is necessary at all as local authorities already have sufficient powers to deal with any nuisance that may arise. Secondly, it is wrong to bring this criminal sanction into a matter which has always been looked upon as being purely a planning matter. Thirdly, by attempting to bring in such a restriction by way of a Private Bill, in effect one will be by-passing the normal Parliamentary procedure on a matter which is of national coverage, with no special local reasons which deviate from the national trend. That is a good example of the point I tried to make to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, a few minutes ago. He wanted to make an alteration nationally which was not necessarily of national importance, reinforcing the powers in certain areas. But the operating of fairs and all that flows from it is national—the pleasure and reaction is identical whether it is in Manchester or Merionethshire, which I think were the two examples cited in the previous Instruction.

The fourth reason—which is very similar to the arguments which have been put before during this debate on local Bills—is that when a similar clause to No. 64 was incorporated into the County of South Glamorgan Bill in 1975 your Lordships Committee cut it out. I would reiterate the arguments put earlier this afternoon, that in the face of a clear indication from your Lordships' Committee, after listening to a petition and having gone into the matter, it ought not to be repeated year after year, putting people to the expense and trouble of having to repeat what has already been decided. Therefore, this is another example which I have no doubt the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees will draw to the attention of his colleagues when they look at this particular item.

I do not believe that Clause 64 is necessary because, although it is true that at present under the Planning Act planning permission is not required to use land as a fairground up to 28 days in any calendar year on any one site—at the minute they have that clearance—it is equally true that under Article 4 of the General Development Order 1977 the local authority has the power temporarily to suspend this "exemption from planning permission" for a period of six months if it believes that it has special grounds for so doing. This is a very real power for the local authority to have. I do not think that a local authority needs any further powers in order to clear away a nuisance. However, under the existing powers, which I think are sufficient, having given power to the local authorities, that order also recognises the rights of the fairground operator who can appeal to the Secretary of State for the Environment to have any suspension lifted if he can show to the Minister that the suspension is unfair and unnecessary.

Therefore, I submit that this power, which is available to the local authorities and which brings in the Secretary of State as the umpire, provides all that is necessary to safeguard the interests of local inhabitants. To go further, even to the point of making it a criminal sanction with a £500 fine in one area, leaving the rest of the country free, is not only inappropriate but entirely wrong. That introduces an injustice which should not be tolerated.

Further, I submit that if there is any evidence to show that fairs which have operated for centuries need to be put in this criminal straitjacket, Parliament ought to deal with it in the normal way over the whole of the country. On that ground alone I believe that this particular clause ought to be struck out by the Committee. But in addition, looking at it from the public morale point of view, I submit that it is wrong to bring criminal sanctions into a matter which is surely a planning matter. In all seriousness I would suggest that if we make a practice of bringing technical planning breaches into the courts as criminal acts, we risk adding to the sad, unsatisfactory tendency that people will begin to look at the law with contempt instead of with respect.

Therefore, in addition to this general objection, I maintain that we should look at the actual procedure envisaged in this clause. At the minute the clause requires fairground operators to submit application 35 days before the date on which any pleasure fair is intended. Even the Home Office, which has a vast experience in this matter, must consider this period of 35 days to be unrealistic. In its own model by-laws it requires fairground operators to give only five days' notice. Indeed, the actual model by-law states: shall give to the proper officer of the council at least five days' notice in writing of the intention to hold such a pleasure fair, specifying the dates and the place at which such a pleasure fair is to be held". Therefore, in the view of the Home Office, with its great experience, five days is all that is necessary. Suddenly to jump to 35 days is wrong. The only concession given when this 35 days is asked for is that the fairground operator can have recourse to the magistrates' court. But that concession to the operator is scarcely practicable, for the operator may well be earning his living in another part of the country and will be unable to take the matter to the magistrates' court in sufficient time for it to be dealt with before the fair is due to open. Therefore, it is an arbitrary extension of the time which can only be extremely damaging to those who operate these fairs, which are part of the make-up of the social life of our country. I reiterate the third reason I gave, that even if it could be established that more stringent powers are necessary it should be done in this instance by a normal Parliamentary procedure that covers the whole country.

I would add one final point: the sponsors of this Bill may wish to suggest to the Committee that there is a precedent for Clause 64. They may want to quote Section 246 of the Sheffield Corporation Act 1928. But I should like the Committee to bear in mind that what happened on that occasion, as distinct from what is now being suggested, was that the fairgrounds operators withdrew their opposition to Clause 246 because they were offered an agreement with the Sheffield authorities which was satisfactory to them, and according to which they could hold their fairs in 14 places. Sheffield was a case where mutual agreement was arrived at, which is a different matter indeed to a criminal sanction with a £500 fine such as is now envisaged in the clause for whose deletion I am asking. Therefore, I am suggesting that the four bases of my appeal stand up strongly with tradition and evidence on their side, and the only precedent that can even be whispered is one which is flimsy almost to the point of being irrelevant. I beg to move.

Moved, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to whom the Bill is committed that they should not allow Clause 64 (Control of pleasure fairs) of the Bill unless they are satisfied:—

  1. (1) that it falls within the principles for the consideration of private bills set out in paragraph 7 of the Report dated 16th April 1976 of the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Wales on the County of South Glamorgan Bill, and
  2. (2) that the matter is one which ought to be controlled by criminal sanction rather than by the planning law.—(Lord Harmar-Nicholls.)

5.32 p.m.

Baroness BACON

My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord in this Instruction. I am interested to see that for one day at any rate he is an honorary Yorkshireman. South Yorkshire is an area which I know very well, and I was rather surprised that this clause came in a South Yorkshire Bill, although what the noble Lord has said about Sheffield—something of which I was previously unaware—probably accounts for it, because Sheffield, which was then a county borough, is now a part of the new South Yorkshire Metropolitan County.

I know the South Yorkshire area very well indeed, although I do not live in it but in the south of West Yorkshire. Local government reorganisation broke up many communities. One thing it did in Yorkshire in addition to many others was to break up the colliery areas of Yorkshire. Whereas they all used to be under the West Riding County Council, they are now divided between West Yorkshire County and South Yorkshire County. Except for the big cities like Sheffield and Rotherham, South Yorkshire colliery areas are mostly small towns and villages, as indeed are those in the south of West Yorkshire.

We have recently had in your Lordships' House the West Yorkshire County Bill and this did not include any such clause as Clause 64. What does that mean? It means that, in this area of colliery villages and towns, those parts which are in South Yorkshire will have to apply for permission from the district council, whereas those villages and towns which practically adjoin them but which are in the West Yorkshire County will not have to do so. It seems to me to be a ludicrous position to have this vast area of colliery towns with a law in one respect in one area and a different law in the other. As the Showmen's Guild members are going around with their fairs they will have to think, "Which side of the line am I? Do I need to apply to the district council to hold my fair, or need I not because it is just over some imaginary line?" This will mean great difficulties for the travelling showmen.

Those of us who know the Showmen's Guild know that they are a very responsible body. They have had disappointments over the years, because many of the sites which were traditionally sites for the old-fashioned fairs have become unavailable to them because of building and other reasons. This is going to be one more difficulty that they will have to overcome. Fairs are very popular indeed, particularly in my part of the world. They have been operating for many years, and I would hope that your Lordships' House would not do anything which would mean fewer of these fairs in the future. I therefore hope that your Lordships' House will agree to this Instruction to the Select Committee, because I believe there is no reason for such a law to operate in the South Yorkshire area.


My Lords, I too should like to give my strong support to my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls in the matter of this Instruction. When I became Home Secretary, which was about 17 years ago, I remember being informed by my advisers that, as Home Secretary, I had a statutory power to prohibit the holding of a fair. I was further advised that in the last 200 years no Home Secretary had thought fit to exercise that power, and certainly I was not tempted in that direction. Seriously, however, I cannot see why there should be the element of the criminal law introduced here where, so far as I am aware, planning regulations and planning law entirely cover the point at issue.

5.36 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. It was particularly nice to hear Lord Brooke of Cumnor giving us his advice again. May I say one word to the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, about this Instruction. I have absolutely no reason to advise your Lordships against the Instruction. I am grateful to him for having made a slight wording change which has been helpful, but I still think it right that I should make some comment on the status of the report to which he refers in sub-paragraph (1) of his Instruction.

As he says, this was a report by the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office to the Select Committee on the County of South Glamorgan Bill. It set out certain principles which those Departments hoped would have the agreement of Parliament. These principles that were set out cannot, therefore, be said to guide the consideration of Private Bills by Committees, or to bind Parliament in any way. It is for this House to decide the principles that regulate Private Bills.

Moreover, as it turned out one of those principles set out in this report—the principle in paragraph 7(3), that where a need exists which is common to many authorities the matter should be dealt with by general legislation and not by Private Bill—was not accepted by this House. The House agreed to an Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, the effect of which was that where a proposal was to meet a need common to all, or a great number of, local authorities it should be disallowed only where the Government give a firm undertaking to introduce general legislation to meet that need. I would just make that point because I should not like it to be thought that this report from the two Departments to which the noble Lord referred is really doing more than making a suggestion.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for that remark. He may have noted that in my submission I did not make that point because of the reasons the noble Lord has just put on the record. The report exists, and the report gives an indication rather like the speeches made earlier this evening as to the desirability of doing it. But one has to accept that to make it a general rule which has to be adhered to would not fit in with what I have already argued, that there are certain parts of the country where you have sometimes to make exceptions. I submit that my first point—ignoring the second one—which has been commented on by the noble Lord, is sufficient to bring forth sympathy and, I hope, the right action from this Committee.

On Question, Motion agreed to.