§ 5.53 p.m.
§ The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Aberdare)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be read now 2a.—(Lord Aberdare.)
The DUKE of DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, I very much hesitate to intervene in the Second Reading of this Bill because I am aware that it has the support of the Derbyshire County Council and indeed in particular district councils as well. However, there are two clauses which I look upon with very considerable doubt. I would not dream of intervening unless citizens of the town of Buxton (which is closely concerned with Clauses 15 and 16) had not been to see me and say that they were seriously concerned. I must also at this early stage declare an interest in that my family has had a long connection with Buxton and we still have interests—smaller, alas! than they were—in the town. I hope that your Lordships will not think that I am in any way speaking from my pocket. I speak because I also have some interest in that many years ago I was Mayor of Buxton for two years.
The two clauses in the Bill with which I and other noble Lords are concerned are Clauses 15 and 16. Clause 15 is a very delicate one for me because it allows the introduction of a casino in Buxton. In those distant years of my youth, and the not quite so distant years of my middle age, I have been known to frequent casinos. It would be very improper for me to oppose a casino being built in Buxton on moral grounds and so I will not pursue that other than to say that there are senior citizens of Buxton whose opinion carries great weight in the town who are very much concerned over this issue.
954 On Clause 16, I am in some ways on stronger ground and in some ways on weaker ground in that this concerns the possibility of a bottling factory for Buxton mineral water. I recommend Buxton mineral water very highly; it is extremely good. The factory is in the environs of the Crescent. My close connection here is that my forebear—in spite of having to pay his wife's vast gambling debts—built the Crescent. Without wishing to be a northern chauvinist, it is as fine a group of buildings as anything Bath can produce. They are really splendid. It would be very damaging if a project—however desirable for commercial reasons—was allowed in any way to alter the appearance of the Crescent and its immediate surroundings. Here I feel on strong ground. I hope that it will be possible for the Select Committee to look at both Clauses 15 and 16, although I am aware that I may be speaking against the interests of the elected members of the High Peak District Council.
§ Lord SANDFORD
My Lords, I do not know why, when Derbyshire has had so many eloquent spokesmen of their own they should ask a southerner to speak for them; but in fact the county council have asked me to say a few words and so I will do so. I have also been asked to put a point by the Buxton Civic Society, and I also find myself speaking as a vice-president of the Association of District Councils, so I have to choose my words rather carefully.
The first thing I should like to say is that the Bill as a whole has to be welcomed. The part which has to be welcomed most is Part VIII, dealing with economic development. The county council quite rightly feels that in the absence of any Bill conferring the necessary general powers on county councils emanating from the Department of the Environment, they must take the powers themselves by private Bill to promote economic development in the county. They do so in a number of ways; the most valuable measures I think are those of being able to have the power to confer loans on people wishing to build on land other than that which the county council own, and to give loans to people for things other than buildings—say, for machinery and equipment— in factories which they wish to put up in order to start a new business. That 955 is all very desirable and very much to be welcomed.
If one then takes the concept of economic development and applies it to the town of Buxton, a resort and spa of great historic importance, one has to say—I certainly feel—every source of economic development ought to be considered and, if possible, tapped. I would not have any objections—moral or otherwise — to establishing a casino in a spa and a resort, because I think if we have casinos at all this is the kind of place to have them. Nor would I have thought that it was inappropriate in a spa of all places to bottle the waters, so I do not object to Clause 16, either.
What I want to say is that Buxton is an outstanding conservation area. If these things are to be done, they must be done with very great sensitivity and care for the historic character and nature of the place. It would not be necessary to stress this were it not for the rather ominous fact that the Buxton Civic Society has not so far managed to get into negotiation or discussion with the borough council. I must say that I deplore that. That makes it all the more agreeable to learn how—at a rather late stage—the county council have taken the initiative to bring about a meeting of the parties on I believe the 29th of this month. It should have happened long ago. I am glad it is going to happen before this Bill gets very much further. Those are the observations that I seek to make at this stage of the Bill. I hope very much that the Committee will give very careful attention to those particular points.
§ Lord SOPER
My Lords, had it been my privilege to have preceded the noble Duke who introduced this discussion, I would have endeavoured to say with the cogency which he commanded very much what I will now say in brief in order not to delay your Lordships. There were slight variations of course. I confess and claim no interest and I have no commitment to casinos, not that that gives me any holier position but merely that I have escaped that particular occupation. Therefore I have no interest in them. I am concerned about Clauses 15 and 16. Had Clause 16 been concerned with the production and distribution of Holy 956 Water, it might have somewhat altered my attitude to it; but I believe that both Clauses 16 and 15 break amenity law. It is for that reason that I would encourage your Lordships in this early stage to take an adverse view of those two clauses and I hope they will be removed from a Bill which otherwise may be tolerable—in fact may be quite good.
I believe that the amenities of the particular area called the Pavilion Gardens in Buxton (with which I am not unacquainted) is an amenity which would be impaired if industrial concerns took the place or even were combined with the other activities which I believe are of an artistic and cultural nature. If the "cultural colour" is, so to speak, an "art" shade I believe that industrialisation, even on a minor scale, would produce in that area a more glaring and perhaps a more damaging hue. But it is upon the question of the casino that I have been reminded, having had the opportunity to listen to the observations of a number of citizens who have presented a petition to the Home Office, that there are considerable dangers in destroying the true amenities of that area of Buxton if a casino were there. It would breach—and this is a point that I think is worth mentioning—Section 44 of the Gaming Act 1968, which provides, and I quote:(1) no local authority shall maintain, or contribute towards the maintenance of, any premises in respect of which a licence under this Act is for the time being in force.Is it not a reasonable thing to say that the said council is asking for a dispensation from the provisions of Section 44 of the Gaming Act? If this Clause 15 were enacted, would it not put the High Peak Borough Council in a privileged position vis-à-vis other local authorities?
May I finish by saying that the amenities and cultural opportunities of a place like Buxton would, I think, in all fairness, to some extent be impaired if the various activities associated with a casino were to appear there and play a part within that very delectable and rural scene—an artistic scene as well. Would it not be a danger to the general amenities of Buxton itself if industrial questions were mixed up and industrial features coexisted in a place which I think is essentially one for recreation, for the cultivation of the arts, as it has been, and for the 957 preservation of those blessings which belong to a world where gambling is not practised and indeed where industrialisation is not to be found?
§ Lord VERNON
My Lords, as a resident of Derbyshire, I should like to add a few words in support of what has been said by my two noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord Soper. There is very little more that I can say, except that Derbyshire is not so rich in its buildings, and particularly in its town buildings, that it can afford to damage an exceptionally beautiful town centre such as Buxton has. I very much hope, therefore, in view of what has been said, and in view of the attitude of the Buxton Civic Association—a charitable body with a very keen interest in conservation—that second thoughts will be given to Clause 16.
§ Lord ABERDARE
My Lords, I am very grateful to all your Lordships who have taken part in commenting on this Bill. It makes a change from the usual run of Private Bills which go through without any comment at all. All those who have spoken—the noble Duke and the noble Lords, Lord Sandford, Lord Soper and Lord Vernon—have drawn attention to two clauses in particular: Clauses 15 and 16. I can tell your Lordships that there are petitions against both clauses: they are both opposed clauses and they will therefore go to a Select Committee. At the Select Committee, the promoters of the Bill and the petitioners will be given every chance to put forward their arguments for and against the various provisions of those clauses.
The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, also commented on the clauses promoting economic development. I would say straight away that these are clauses which give us a great deal of difficulty because they should indeed really be in public general legislation and it is very difficult to deal with them individually in private Bills. However, there is emerging between the two Houses, as a result of a number of county councils Bills we have already been through, a sort of consensus of what powers are appropriate to county councils; and I am sure the promoters of this Bill will have regard to what has been allowed on previous county council Bills when they bring their final Bill before the appropriate committee. If your Lordships will 958 be good enough to give this Bill a Second Reading now, I will ensure that the words which have been spoken in the House today are drawn to the attention of the Select Committee when it comes to consider these clauses.
On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to Select Committees.