§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. First, I must apologise to the House in that the print of the Bill has been available only since Thursday of last week. It is a detailed Bill and I realise that the short time available to study it has been inconvenient. The Government have also had to work overtime to update the briefing on the Bill as it now appears in your Lordships' House. However, if the Bill receives a Second Reading today, I shall certainly undertake to make notes on the clauses of the Bill available within a few days to those of your Lordships who would wish to have them.
The main purpose of the Bill is to enact in public legislation those provisions in post-1974 local Acts or Bills which have proved most popular, useful and generally acceptable. Since local government was re-organised as a result of the Local Government Act 1972, all the metropolitan authorities and a number of county councils have successfully undertaken the mammoth task of reviewing all the inherited local legislation applying to different parts of their areas and re-enacting those provisions which seemed worth retaining for the future, adding of course any necessary new powers. A number of other authorities have not yet re-enacted their local legislation. Those planning to do so still have until 1986, when all the remaining pre-1974 local legislation will fall. Some authorities are, I believe, hoping that, as a consequence of this Bill and its predecessor, the 1976 Act, they will not need to promote any local legislation at all; certainly those that still have to legislate will find themselves promoting shorter and less expensive Bills. Also, this Bill, by making large amounts of local legislation unnecessary, will remove a good deal of work from both Houses of Parliament.
The local authorities have played a major role in shaping the Bill through discussions which began even before the 1976 Act was passed. It would be going too far, I think, to say that the local authority associations are completely satisfied with the Bill as it stands. Many of your Lordships who will be speaking in today's debate have first-hand knowledge of local authority matters and will be giving your views, but I know that authorities should like to see one or two more provisions in the Bill. While both my noble friend Lord Bellwin and I will continue to maintain as co-operative an attitude towards any new proposals as the Government did in another place, I do not think that there can be many more provisions which meet the criteria set out when the Bill was first introduced. The criteria were that provisions should be well-precedented in recent local legislation, and should be necessary and uncontroversial. If individual local authorities want powers which are novel or necessary for their particular area, they need to come individually to Parliament to ask for those powers.
Where a provision has proved unexpectedly controversial, as, for instance, Clauses 4 to 6, which deal with closing hours for take-away food shops, we have worked out amendments which, I hope, will satisfy all parties.
Similarly, the question of the licensing of pop 462 festivals was raised in another place. We are certainly listening to the views of the local authorities on this matter, and my noble friend and I will listen with care to the views expressed today by your Lordships. Where amendments which meet our criteria have been introduced we have had no hesitation in accepting them. Clause 31 (the control of fly-posting) is one example.
We have also introduced into the Bill Clause 2 and Schedule 3, which I admit do not entirely follow the criteria for its provisions. However, there has been complete agreement between the local authority associations and the Government about the need for a proper measure of control over what are known as sex shops, and indeed there are a number of authorities which have already completed their post-1974 legislation, which would have sought some form of control had the problem which they now see existed when they were promoting their Private Bills.
I should now like to look at the contents of the Bill. Clause I and Schedule 1 contain a code for the licensing by district councils of public entertainments which involve music and dancing or boxing, wrestling, judo or karate, and which take place indoors. The code is one of the few mandatory provisions of the Bill. This is because we believe it to be essential in the interests of public safety, which is the main aim of the licensing scheme, to have uniform controls on a national basis. We believe that licensing should be in the hands of the district councils, which in all the circumstances we consider are the most appropriate authorities to look after the whole range of matters which must be taken into account when issuing licences.
As to Clause 2 and Schedule 3, your Lordships will know of the great concern about the spread of sex shops and about the lack of any powers on the part of the local authorities to control the number and location of these premises. This concern led the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, many individual local authorities, and Members of both Houses of Parliament to urge the Government to extend nationally the licensing controls proposed in the Greater London Council (General Powers) (No. 2) Bill, proposals for which the Government had already expressed their support in principle.
The provisions now added to the Bill differ from the GLC's proposals in only a few points of substance. They will enable district councils and London boroughs to introduce by a resolution of the council the licensing arrangements which are set out in Schedule 3. The premises subject to control are sex shops and sex cinemas, but the Government have said that they wish to reconsider the inclusion of cinemas in the light of the Cinematograph Bill introduced by my honourable friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd), which received its Second Reading in another place last Friday.
The licensing scheme empowers local authorities to determine the number and location of these places in their areas, and the grounds for refusal are widely drawn. For example, an application could be rejected if the local authority considered that it would be inappropriate to grant it, having regard to the character of the locality, or to the use to which other premises in the vicinity are put, or if the authority considered that the number of such establishments would be 463 excessive in the light of what it thinks appropriate for the locality, and in considering that point the local authority must have regard to objections.
When these provisions were considered in another place there was, I think it fair to say, a considerable measure of support that these premises should be brought under control. The concern that was expressed focussed on three main matters: first, the extent to which a local authority's decision on the number of shops it thinks appropriate for an area might be undermined on appeal; secondly, the extent to which it was right to refer to certain activities on the face of the Bill; and, thirdly, whether the proposals ought to enable local authorities to ban these places altogether.
As to appeals, I gladly repeat what my right honourable friend the Minister of State said in another place; namely, that we have undertaken to consider the point. If necessary, we shall endeavour to bring forward amendments on the matter at a later stage. On the second point, I entirely understand the concern that has been expressed that licensing arrangements might appear to condone the activities of these establishments. Therefore, let me emphasise that Schedule 3 does not make lawful anything that is at present unlawful. Paragraph 25 of the schedule says so in plain terms, and we intend to ask your Lordships' House to give approval to moving the paragraph to the head of the schedule, to bring the point home even more forcefully. If granted, a licence would signify no more than that the local authority had approved the general use of the premises under the control of Schedule 3.
But we are considering whether we can go some way to meet the particular anxiety expressed in another place about appearing to condone the sale of items which encourage sexual violence and cruelty. I think the crucial point is that the definitions in the schedule must be wide if we are to ensure that premises do not escape the licensing controls. Therefore, I cannot guarantee that these words can be removed completely from the schedule. However, we shall see whether we can achieve our objectives by the use of a formula which is less open to understandable objection.
On the third point, about the ability to ban, I have no doubt that many of your Lordships should like to be rid of these establishments entirely. However, I think that that would have to be done in terms of the general law relating to obscenity and allied matters. In this Bill we are seeking to provide local authorities with a very substantial measure of control over these premises. We have proposed in particular that local authorities should have a control over numbers. Provided that a local authority directs its mind to a particular application, and the circumstances of the area to which the application relates, under these proposals there is no reason why the authority should not be able to conclude, if it thought it appropriate, that the area ought not to have any sex shops at all. Clause 3 and Schedule 4 introduce the third licensing system contained in the Bill—this time for street trading. It is adoptive, and provides a flexible system whereby different degrees of control can be exercised over fixed and mobile trading.
464 Part IV of the Bill—that is, Clauses 4 to 7—seeks to give district councils powers to restrict the nuisance which can be caused by the late-night opening of take-away food shops. In the light of the criticisms expressed in Committee in another place, and following consultations, the Government tabled substantial amendments to Clause 4 and 5 which were accepted on Report in another place.
Clause 4 gives a district council power to make a closing order requiring a take-away food shop, which is open between the hours of midnight and 5 o'clock in the morning, to close for all or some of that period, but only if the council is satisfied that this is desirable in order to prevent unreasonable disturbance to residents in the neighbourhood. I would emphasise that the council may invoke this power only if residents in the neighbourhood of the premises concerned have actually complained about being unreasonably disturbed. To safeguard the interests of the operators of these premises the keeper will have a right to make representations to the council before an order is made, and if the order is made he may appeal against the decision to the magistrates' court, and then to the Crown Court. Once an order has been made he may at any time apply to the district council for the order to be revoked or varied.
My Lords, the Government recognise that take-away food shops provide a much needed service to the community, and it is not our intention that they should be subjected to any unnecessary or unreasonable interference in giving this service. But during the past few years the Home Office has received many complaints from Members of both Houses, from local authorities and from members of the public about the absence under existing legislation of adequate powers to control noise and other environmental nuisances caused by late-night opening. During this period three major local authorities—the Greater London Council, Greater Manchester and East Sussex—have successfully promoted Private Bills to control these shops by a system of registration, and a number of local authorities have intimated their intention of seeking similar powers.
In this Bill the proposals are less restrictive than those in the private legislation which I have mentioned. These proposals do not seek to apply a licensing or registration system of control, and, as I have said, the district council's power to make a closing order may be exercised only if there is actual evidence of "unreasonable disturbance"; and in exercising this power the councils will be subject to the oversight of the courts.
The main change made to this part of the Bill in another place was to put back the earliest hour for a closing order from 11 o'clock to midnight. The National Federation of Fish Fryers, which represents the operators of 4,000 fish and chip shops, have said that they are now content with our proposals and, with the additional safeguards which have been inserted, they consider that the provisions represent a reasonable balance between the interests of the operators and their customers, and those of people who live in the vicinity of these shops. The Take-Away and Fast Food Federation, on the other hand, have lobbied strongly for the hour to be put back even further.
My Lords, this is a matter of judgment, and the Government feel that there should be discretion for 465 the district councils to decide at which hour, from midnight onwards, it would be appropriate to impose a closing order. Bearing in mind that the making of an order can be triggered-off only by complaints being made, I hope the House will agree that our proposals have got the balance about right.
I am glad to say that there has been general agreement that the remainder of the Bill contains necessary and useful provisions; and, if I may, I will only list the sections into which it is divided and just describe those clauses which were added on Report in another place. Part V of the Bill contains two fire precautions measures; Part VI repeals the Theatrical Employers Registration Acts; and Part VII contains general provisions relating to the prosecution of offences against by-laws. Parts VIII and IX contain adoptive codes for the registration, first, of acupuncturists, ear-piercers, electrolysists and tattooists; and, secondly, of traders selling food from stalls and containers.
Part X contains three measures relating to the control of highways, including a new clause, Clause 21, which is designed to release the police from the need to obtain the written consent of the Attorney General before prosecuting for offences relating to works in the street. This, we think, will improve the enforcement of the law on the siting of roadworks. Part XI contains a number of public health measures and one new clause. This is Clause 24, which relates to the approval of plans deposited in accordance with building regulations and enables approval to be provisional or by stages of plans which would otherwise have to be rejected or accepted outright.
There has been pressure for this more flexible procedure, not only from the local authorities but also from the building industry. It is a practical measure which we think will save time and trouble on both sides, and it replaces unsatisfactory provisions in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The final new clause comes in the miscellaneous part of the Bill, Part XII. It is Clause 31. I have mentioned it already, and it deals with fly-posting.
My Lords, those are the main provisions of this Bill. I hope your Lordships will take the view that it is in the interests of local authorities, Parliament and the general public that these provisions should be enacted as speedily as possible. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be read a second time.—(Lord Belstead.)
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, perhaps I may first thank the Minister for the way in which he has explained so clearly the purposes and provisions of the Bill, and also for his promise to put the Notes on Clauses in the Printed Paper Office; we appreciate that. This is a bitty Bill, and I am afraid it has to be dealt with in a rather bitty way. We on this side of the House wholeheartedly endorse the objectives of reducing the pressure of legislation on Parliament and saving local authorities the trouble and expense of promoting their own local Acts. Many of the provisions in the Bill are to extend valuable powers throughout England and Wales, and these are to be recommended.
Therefore, it is a pity that the Government are simultaneously weakening local government and local 466 democracy through their fierce financial control, and last week we saw in response to the Burns Report the product of a halfpenny rate proposed by the Government to assist local industry, which will, I am afraid, effectively reduce the opportunities for local industrial promotion. But, be that as it may, in welcoming the Bill in principle I am sure noble Lords are aware that valuable local Acts have very recently been obtained by some local authorities, including all the metropolitan counties. They have been obtained by dint of much trouble and expense. But it is unavoidable for metropolitan authorities because their existing local legislation has been repealed by the 1972 Local Government Act. It would therefore be unfortunate if the Bill, so worthwhile in other respects, were to enact provisions more restrictive than those to be found in recent local Acts. As the Minister pointed out, some of the local authority associations are still unhappy about some of the provisions or omissions, but these, I think, are things that can be dealt with at Committee stage.
This Bill, as its Title proclaims, is a miscellany. I shall not attempt to explore in detail each of the many and varied provisions which it contains, and, again, we shall wish to reserve detailed comment until Committee stage; but there are many parts of this Bill which we welcome most happily. For instance, controls over street trading and controls over refreshment premises and over the take-away shops are some examples. But there are some problems and some omissions to which I should like to refer. Part I deals with the licensing of public entertainment and it imposes a mandatory system applying throughout England and Wales, except for London. The Minister said that he thought that there should be uniform control on a national basis. But I would raise the question here that the introduction of a mandatory power is surprising as, in recent local Acts, district councils have been given the right to choose whether or not to adopt local licensing powers or leave them to the magistrates. This is the case in Acts covering Greater Manchester, Merseyside, the West Midlands, and West Yorkshire, and all of these have been enacted within the last couple of years. Some districts have expressed great concern about taking on these powers because resources are needed to exercise them.
The Association of Metropolitan Authorities has received a number of representations from authorities on this point. Oldham pointed out that there were 200 premises licensed for music and dancing in its area and that extra staff would be needed to carry out the necessary administrative procedures and additional resources for the inspection of premises and enforcement.
In London and the Home Counties (where I am a magistrate), the licensing magistrates deal with the liquor licensing and the local authorities deal with music and dancing. That works well. The complete power of licensing magistrates in other parts of the country also appears to be working well. There are different conditions from place to place and in some areas a local authority would be in a position of licensing itself, for the use of its own premises—which I think should be avoided if possible.
I suggest that, for the time being, why not leave things as they are, if they are working properly? I do not expect an immediate answer; but it is something 467 that the Government should take into consideration. Do not disturb what is working well! I should like the Minister to tell me in reply what consultations have been carried out with the Magistrates' Association and the Justices' Clerks' Society who, I think, feel strongly about this.
Secondly, on the entertainment side, the Bill as drafted will not give local authorities control over open-air entertainment such as pop concerts. The effect will be to remove such powers in many metropolitan areas and it will mean that, in heavily built-up areas such as Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, the local authority will lose its power to refuse or impose conditions on outdoor events. This may subject residents to unreasonable noise and disturbance and also the organisers may make no attempt to provide adequate hygiene, sanitary and first aid facilities. Such controls already exist in London, and they will not be affected by the Bill. Although there are very good reasons why many outdoor events should be allowed without any control at all—and I am thinking of church fetes, political meetings, scouts and children's events, and so on—there is concern about pop festivals. It would be a pity if—and it could work this way—because the local authority was not involved, people on whose land they were asking to hold such events were inclined to turn them down because the authority had no control. Alternatively, where pop festivals are held, any of us with experience must realise the importance of laying down conditions so that they are run properly, not only for the people around but for the participants in the pop festival.
Would it not be sensible for a local authority to have prior notification and be able to lay down some guidelines? I would be against any measure which might make it impossible for young people to have pop festivals, but I think there is a half-way house which might be possible.
The Bill's public licensing entertainment provisions would seem an ideal opportunity to implement some long-overdue recommendations of the Royal Commission on Gambling which reported in July 1978. The local authority powers to impose conditions on the grant of permits for amusement centres or arcades could be, and should be, strengthened along the lines recommended by the Royal Commission. Also, since then, we have had the eruption of the "space machine", and powers of control over amusements machines without prizes such as "Space Invaders" are greatly needed. There has been a massive growth in this type of entertainment over the last couple of years. More and more children spend more and more time and money on them, and it would be a pity to miss the opportunity to legislate, if it can be slotted into this Bill.
My Lords, the most controversial and headline-snatching provisions of the Bill are those in Part II relating to sex shops and cinemas. The purpose outlined in Schedule 3 is not to alter definitions of obscenity or change the law. A new obscenity law with greater relevance to the contemporary social scene is badly needed. That is something that all Governments find it hard to come to terms with, but it is not a matter for this Bill. This is concerned with the rapid proliferation of sex shops and sex cinemas, 468 which have now spread from London to the suburbs and to other parts of the country. The majority of people who do not use them resent them when they exist in large numbers in their own neighbourhood, and some people resent them altogether. However, there is a demand for their wares and, so long as they do not break the law, there is nothing illegal about them—although many may find them distasteful, which is a different point.
What is at issue is whether shops which specialise in the sale of sex material should be controlled. What are the alternatives? They could be banned altogether, but, as the Minister said, not under this legislation. Anyway, I would personally consider that that would be wrong and interfering with individual freedom. They can be left to multiply freely; but the increase in the last few years and the expressions of opinion in another place and by its Members' constituents show that this is causing a great deal of unrest. They can be controlled: using the planning mechanism is one method which many people favour. This would mean changing the planning law and, although that would have some advantages, it would be cumbersome and I am doubtful that that avenue is the right method to deal with this problem.
The provisions in Schedule 3 were originally promoted by the AMA and they were introduced by the Government in another place at Report. The Government are seeking control by licensing. The Williams Committee reported in 1979 and said:We see no reason to dignify pornography with the trappings of a licensing system".That is more or less what the Minister was talking about earlier. This aura of giving the equivalent of a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" or a municipal version of a Royal Warrant bothered MPs and no doubt would bother a number of noble Lords. I do not think that bringing up paragraph 25 of the schedule to the top, will make a great deal of difference to the impact. It may be more logical in the drafting of the schedule, but I do not think it will have the effect that the noble Lord seems to think.
Personally, I would prefer the word permit "to license". I think it has a less encouraging sound to it. I would ask the Minister whether he would consider this small change. Displaying "Licensed by the Westminster City Council" (or whatever it is) across the top of a sex shop gives it a little panache; but to have "permitted by" would be rather different in effect.
We must consider too, the social and ethical implications of the Act, and how what is in Schedule 3 will strike people when they read it—not necessarily in the Act but as it will be reported and quoted. I do not think there is any doubt that people find parts of the schedule offensive, although the intention was not to make them offensive. I was delighted to hear the Minister say that the Government will have another look. May I press him a little towards that course and towards some change there? The particular reference is to paragraph 3 (1) (b) (ii), which speaks of:acts of force, restraint, violence or cruelty which are associated with sexual activity.It may be that the Home Office lawyers feel that there is a need to define it in this way. People will consider, 469 rightly or wrongly, that it gives a sanction for these activities, and they perhaps will see it as straight lawyers drafting bent legislation.
This is not giving or taking away the sale of the "goods" or the "bads", whichever way you look at it. I would argue that it is in fact unnecessary, redundant and confusing, quite apart from any of the subjective feelings one may have about the wording. The objective of this clause of this Bill—and it is a local government Bill—is to control the numbers and location. The Bill should restrict itself to this objective. Spelling out the definition is, I would say, quite unnecessary. If that sub-paragraph ended:other things intended for use in connection with or for the purpose of stimulating or encouraging sexual activity",that would still cover heading (ii), and one would be able to do without that definition. It would also ease a great deal of the uneasy feelings and dislike of that particular provision.
There are other reasons as well, because, if you draw up an exclusive list like this, there is always the danger that something will be left out or that later on people will want to include something. Anything in the second heading would, I really believe—and so do a great many other people, including lawyers—be caught by the first heading. It is also important to simplify legislation as much as possible. This I believe complicates it quite unnecessarily, apart from all the other reasons against it.
If the Minister is going to say: "Ah, but how difficult it is going to be because it will have to be left to the courts to interpret", the magistrates are perfectly able and competent to come to a decision on this. They are used to looking at "hard porn" in a judicial capacity and making a decision on it. When the Indecent Displays Act was going through another place, they found that they could not define the word "indecent", however many tries they had. At the end of the day, Ministers said that the courts would know and the courts would give their own interpretation. I very much hope that we are going to see some movement on this point, because it is a very great pity that this should have been brought in in this way. As it was probably all done rather hurriedly, maybe the Government will feel themselves in a position to rethink it quite considerably.
This also ties up with why it would be unnecessary to spell things out in this way, because how are these shops going to be checked and monitored? It will require staff and money. I know that, as to finance, the Explanatory Memorandum says that any administration work should be paid for by the licence fees extracted from people who are given licences for the sex shops. But, if this is so, I should like to know what fees are envisaged. If they are going to be of such a monumental size, that may be all right for the large chain stores and shops, but there are presumably some individual small shops, and if one is licensing shops and they are accepted as legal, then in this as in any other area it would be very unfair if one pushed out a small trader.
I should like an answer to the question: Where will the money and the personnel needed come from? If the Government have those resources to give to local government, then I would prefer to see them used for schools, social services, housing and other things 470 which are very urgently required. If, when all this is spelt out, there is no way of implementing it because of a shortage of resources, then the law would yet again turn out to be an ass. I should like the Minister to take this back and look at it.
I am confident that many noble Lords feel as I do about this matter, and, with the wealth of legal and other experience in this House, we should be able to send back to another place a schedule the wording of which is effective without having attached to it an offensive and quite unnecessary shopping list.
As the Minister has referred to the Private Member's Bill on sex cinemas, I will not go into that now, except to ask him: is it intended that this Bill, which is now receiving Government support, will supersede the paragraph in the schedule on sex cinemas? How is it going to work? Will the Acts come into operation at the same time if they are going to be separate Acts? How in fact are the two going to work together?
If I may now turn briefly to the more prosaic "nitty-gritty" of the Bill, I want to ask the Minister why, in the clause dealing with acupunture, tatooing, ear-piercing and so on, provision of ultra violet tanning centres for public use has been left out of this good company. There are a great many fears by doctors of what is happening where unskilled people are sometimes dealing with this activity. These sun tanning centres are increasing quite considerably in number. Women and men go along to these places to get a tan either before they go on holiday or instead of going on holiday. It is something which I should have thought could be fitted into this part of the Bill.
On Part XI, I am sure that Clause 27, reforming the control of demolition procedures, and Clause 28, dealing with the protection of damaged buildings, are acceptable in principle. Ancillary provisions are needed for the protection of adjoining buildings and leaving the site safe. Listed buildings are once again left out. In my experience as a Minister I was always being told, "This is not the place for it", whatever the Bill was. But the problem concerned with the demolition of listed buildings is very important, because what is happening is either they go or the papers about them end up on the Secretary of State's desk. Clause 28 is welcome so far as it goes, but I would ask the Minister to explain why local authorities should not be able to recover their costs of undertaking works to prevent unauthorised entry or to prevent the building becoming a danger to public health where a closing order has been made. That would be more logical and fairer to the local authority.
There is a housing matter which is not dealt with at all in the Bill. I hope that the House will agree that it should be. I refer to the reconnection of electricity, gas or water where an owner of a house or a previous owner has failed to pay the bills. The tenants can be left without heat, light or water. This is obviously intolerable. It is a serious problem in inner London where there is still a large concentration of privately rented property in multiple occupation. Local authorities can come to terms with the statutory undertakers for reconnection. But why should local authorities be involved in the responsibility for payment and collection of arrears on defaulting owners' outstanding bills, many of whom have received the money from tenants together with their rent, and some have "done a bunk" 471 or just refused to pay the bills? The situation is very unfair on the tenants and also on the local authorities.
I was delighted by the provisions concerning fly-posting in Clause 31; they represent something that many of us have wanted for a very long time. In general, the effectiveness of many of these provisions will depend on the sanctions which ultimately back them. It is an unfortunate sign in these inflationary times, and I must ask the noble Lord what provision exists for the updating and inflation-proofing of fines for various offences of default. For example, in Clause 26 there is laid down a maximum fine of £250. With inflation as it is, and increasing, this will be quite a small amount.
I have sounded a few notes of caution and criticism but I have not entered into comprehensive detail because Committee is the place for that. We shall be tabling some amendments designed to enhance the provisions of the Bill during the Committee stage, and I am sure we shall join with other noble Lords in suggesting alterations to the "sex schedule"—unless the Government come in first, as I hope they will, and do that themselves.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
My Lords, from these Benches we welcome the Bill in broad terms as a follow-up to the 1976 Act of the same name, and no doubt the predecessor of further miscellaneous provisions Acts. Most of the clauses are precedented by local legislation. It is largely an uncontroversial measure, with the exception perhaps of Part II, dealing with sex shops and cinemas, and Part IV, which deals with the control of refreshment premises.
Broadly, I think the Bill is to be welcomed because it will give local authorities an opportunity of cutting down on their own expenses, and will give Parliament less trouble and less expense in dealing with vast numbers of Private Bills. The main criticism of the Bill will be not so much what is included as what has been left out. I know that the Association of County Councils is concerned about providing a degree of extra control for fire authorities over decisions made on applications for building regulation consent and over the installation of auto-dialler fire alarms; the extension of existing powers over lost property in Clause 34 to aerodromes and aircraft, which for some reason from the Bill are specifically excluded, and the extension of the powers to control one-day sales.
I believe, too, as has been mentioned earlier by the noble Baroness, that open-air entertainments outside London should be required to be licensed in the same way as they are within Greater London. I should be glad to know why the Government do not seem to feel that the same kinds of regulation should apply to the provinces as apply to London, because the nuisance these kinds of entertainment can cause will be known to your Lordships, if not personally, from reading newspaper reports. I personally would support any amendment to bring outside entertainments into the same type of control.
The concern of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, which I share and which has been mentioned by the noble Baroness, is that Clause 1 is mandatory, so that all district councils shall be required 472 to license places of entertainment involving music, dancing, boxing, wrestling, or similar activities. I believe that, like the other clauses, it should be adoptive and I hope we shall have an opportunity of testing this at Committee stage. Local authorities are quite able and well qualified to make the decision as to whether such procedures should apply in their areas.
Again I return to a theme that I have mentioned so often in your Lordships' House: the more freedom we give to local authorities to make their own decisions the more healthy local government will be. I think that this clause also should have been adoptive, although I understand the points that the noble Lord the Minister has made. Nevertheless, this seems to be an unnecessary additional burden to throw on local authorities, which may not all need that kind of legislation. Indeed, I think that while such decisions need to be made they should be taken by the local magistrates. It is a quasi-judicial administrative kind of decision and I would have thought that the local magistrates were those best qualified to make that kind of decision and to deal with such matters, as they so often do in local licensing areas at present.
Part IV, as has been mentioned already, is another area of controversy, and the Government have already extended the period for making a closing order on refreshment premises from the original hour of 11 p.m. till midnight. Since the clause is permissive or adoptive, at this stage I believe that the time now suggested—midnight—is suitable. I believe the people best suited to judge the needs of their own area are the local authorities and local councillors. They are the people who know the kind of problem that may exist in any locality which has late night refreshment places. At this stage it is my view, although I am open to be persuaded otherwise at a later stage, that the local authorities should be able to make their own decisions about these matters. The clause, as amended, seems to me to be about right.
Finally, one cannot avoid the issue of the new Clause 2 introduced in another place, dealing with sex shops and sex cinemas. As the noble Lord the Minister has said, this part has to do with sex cinemas and will probably be dealt with by the Private Bill at present going through another place. Personally, I find the whole matter distasteful, but that is not a good ground on which to base one's attitude towards legislation of this type. If we based our legislation on what I, as a middle-aged solicitor, found distasteful or unpleasant, we could finish up with legislation which is puritan, restrictive and illiberal in terms of modern society. What might be unacceptable to me might be perfectly reasonable and acceptable to someone 20 years younger. What is unacceptable in the North might be acceptable in the South, or vice versa. Most of all perhaps, what is acceptable in the metropolis or in a big city might be totally unacceptable in a market town. So one could go on making comparisons between areas where this kind of activity might be acceptable and between parts of a town where it might be acceptable and other parts where it might be unacceptable.
During the Committee stage I should like to probe some of the definitions in this new clause and schedule, to many of which the noble Baroness has already drawn attention. I think local authorities should be 473 able, if they wished, to make their own decisions about these matters for their own localities. Of course, speaking as someone who was a councillor for many years, this puts a heavy burden on a councillor up for election and faced with a vocal, active, and possibly minority lobby, seeking to prohibit this kind of use. Many of the sex shops, sex cinemas and so on, would not have attracted the opprobrium, the attention and indeed the custom they now enjoy had it not been for noisy and well-publicised picketing by opposing groups of citizens. There is in the area where I live a quite anonymous shop to which I have never really paid any attention. It has the words outside: "The Private Shop". But it started to be picketed by large numbers of irate citizens soon after it opened, which of course caused the whole of the populace in that part of the Wirral to take an interest in those premises. That is the problem which this kind of legislation will create, and I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that the idea of a licence may give it a seal of approval and, if we are going on with this, we might try to seek some less supportive kind of way of describing the means by which these premises are made legal or prevented from being illegal.
As I said, there will be localities and conditions where local authorities will, quite rightly, find such premises totally unacceptable. There may well be others, in parts of towns not usually frequented by members of the public or not within a residential area, where it might be possible to have such premises without causing difficulty within a locality. But, at the end of the day, it is right that local authorities should make this kind of decision and that this kind of premises, however distasteful they may be to some of us, should not be banned out of hand. But this is a difficult and controversial area, and no doubt it will continue to be so in your Lordships' House, as it is in the country generally. However, speaking about the Bill in general, I think it should be welcomed. It does a very great number of very useful things which will be broadly welcomed and, from these Benches, I should like to give the Bill a warm welcome and hope that it can be approved, but amended in some ways at Committee stage.
§ 4.1 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of London
My Lords, I think it will not surprise your Lordships if I say that in speaking to this Bill, which in general terms I welcome, I wish to refer specifically to Clause 2 and Schedule 3. This clause and schedule place many, and particularly those on these Benches, in a difficult position. On the one hand, if we support this clause there are those who—and, as I shall argue, not without reason—say that we are giving a public stamp of approval to sex establishments. On the other hand, if we oppose the clause, there are those who maintain that we are thereby acquiescing in the uncontrolled spread of such establishments.
As I shall be supporting control in a certain way and in certain circumstances, may I first make it clear beyond any shadow of doubt that I wholly deplore the existence of such places, mainly on the grounds that they convey and feed upon a debased and inhuman attitude to sex. They depersonalise it, isolating the physical satisfaction of the sexual instincts as an end 474 in itself. They represent an attitude to women which I find deeply offensive, portraying them as little more than playthings for men. No Christian can, I believe, be opposed to sex as such. It is an integral part of the world which God has created and of which we are part. But for human beings it should be associated with the highest characteristics of man's nature and not with the lowest.
I am well aware that it is sometimes argued that a certain use of pornography may have a therapeutic effect in some cases of psychological disorder, but I believe it is a grave error to allow the kind of sex establishment with which this clause deals to shelter under a kind of therapeutic umbrella. The fact is that these establishments pander to the lowest instincts of man, and to give a degree of approval on the supposition that they will help is to fly in the face of what Christians call original sin.
It is often argued that people are good enough and discerning enough to reject evil and to embrace the good, but that is to flatter us all. One of the main purposes of legislation is to help us to be better and make it more difficult for us to be worse, and we all need its help. If I may—and perhaps this will give some comfort to certain Members of this House—quote the 39 Articles of Religion, even for practising and professing Christians,the infection doth remain in them that are regenerate",and none of us is strong enough to be able to acquiesce in incentives designed to allow the infection to spread. We also have to take into account the fact that the purpose of the sex industry is profit, naked and unashamed. So I hope that in those few words I have made my own position regarding these establishments reasonably clear, before I go on to say something about their control.
I would first ask your Lordships to consider the shape of the Bill. Clause 1 provides a system of licensing for what is, intrinsically, harmless and potentially beneficial,… places used for public entertainments involving music, dancing, boxing, wrestling or similar activities outside Greater London".Clause 3 likewise provides for licensing what is perfectly acceptable under proper control—street trading. Clause 4 deals with the control of refreshment premises —laudable places, albeit needing some control, which provide, in the words of the Psalmist:food out of the earth and wine that maketh glad the heart of man".Clause 13 deals with tattooing and ear-piercing. I do not want to be tattooed myself, nor am I consumed with a desire to have my ears pierced, but I do not think there is anything morally wrong in desiring so to be adorned. This clause simply provides for registration, so that those who wish to avail themselves of these services shall do so at the hands of a reputable practitioner. So if you look at the Bill as a whole, you see that, with one notable exception, it provides the means of control for what, otherwise, are perfectly reputable and decent activities.
Clause 2 is just one clause among a whole list of them. It provides for the licensing of something which I believe to be morally wrong, and which a great many people believe to be thoroughly undesirable. In the context of the rest of the Bill, it is, I believe, inevitable 475 that people will regard these establishments and the attitude to sex which they purvey as, somehow, thereby being made acceptable in our society. I am very grateful for what the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said about the implications of the word "license", and I very much support what she said. But I would go further and say that, within the context of a Bill which is otherwise dealing with the control of what are perfectly decent and laudable activities, this clause will be given quite a different connotation from that which I believe the Government, certainly, and many other people wish it to have.
I was going to say something about the provisions of Schedule 3, paragraph 3(1)(b) referring to,acts of force, restraint, violence or cruelty which are associated with sexual activity",which give me cause for concern. But I am grateful for what the noble Baroness has said, and I shall not develop that point further. However, I hope that the Minister will, as she hopes, take account of the possibility of the revision of that schedule.
It is vital to distinguish, on the one hand, between legislation which is designed to control what is morally neutral, to try to ensure that it is used for the good of society, or what is good but which can be corrupted, to try to ensure that the good is encouraged and the corruption minimised, and, on the other hand, legislation which fulfils the regrettable necessity to control what is intrinsically bad or undesirable. At this stage of the Bill, I do not want to go into any detail, but my general position is this. I accept that control of sex establishments is necessary, but I believe that it must be effected—and I believe that it can be effected—in such a way as to make it clear beyond doubt that it is control of what is an undesirable thing, not simply its approval under certain conditions. Clause 2 as it stands with its heading will certainly not do this but will have the reverse effect. I would prefer that the matter could be dealt with under planning. I find it very odd and unsatisfactory that a church can run into difficulties over planning consent when it wants to put up a notice board to announce the times of services but that apparently the planning laws cannot control the setting up of sex establishments.
If it has to be done in a Bill like this, then I believe something could be achieved by rephrasing headings. For example, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, instead of "Licensing", with its connotation of approval, why could it not read "Restrictions on sex establishments"? The fact that such a change were made would help to draw attention to the fundamentally different nature of what is being controlled. I hope that the heading of "Control" will not be used, as Part IV is headed "Control of refreshment premises". I no more want sex establishments to be put in the same category as refreshment premises than I want them to be put in the same category as places for music and dancing, as they are at present.
I believe that the question of whether we are controlling what is neutral or good, or controlling what is essentially undesirable, bears upon the question of the power of the local authority. In the first place, I think it is right for an authority to have to justify each case if it declines to give approval. That is in the case of something which is morally neutral or good. 476 But the case of what is undesirable, I believe that it is wholly reasonable for a local authority, taking account of public opinion, to be able to say it just does not want that kind of thing to take place in its area and therefore to have the option of refusing each and every application if it wishes. For this reason I support the suggestion that one of the grounds for refusal of licence should be that a substantial number of citizens object. I welcome what the Minister said in this respect and I thank him for it.
I am well aware that in the debate in another place the question of the unsatisfactory state of the obscenity laws has been raised, but I do not believe that we can put off a decision about this matter until they are dealt with. I understand that the Government have no immediate proposals in this respect. To refuse to accept some restrictions now by the exclusion of Clause 2 would, I believe, inevitably be taken as acquiescence in the present state of proliferation. What I believe is essential is that control is effected, and is effected in such a way as to make it clear that it is control of an undesirable activity which is not conducive to the good of society. For this reason, while I do not oppose the provisions for restriction or control I would press for Clause 2 to be amended substantially to take account of the points which I have made.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Baroness Stedman
My Lords, I, too, would like to give a general welcome to this Bill because it will take away from local authorities the need to spend money on raising their own Private Bills. May I take up two of the main points which were raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. The first is the licensing of music and dancing. There seems to be a growing objection to the provision which will transfer the licensing of public music, singing and dancing to local authorities.
There have been very strong recommendations from the Justices' Clerks' Society that while the aim of public music and dancing legislation is essentially to maintain law and order, particularly with the late night discos that go on these days, law and order is primarily the concern of the magistrates and not of the district councils. Many, if not most, of the premises which are licensed for music and dancing also have a liquor licence. This licence is granted by the magistrates.
The problems of noise, of disorder, of the supply of liquor are interwoven, and under the proposed procedure both the applicant and any objector would have to make their case before two different tribunals, with the attendant delay and expense—to the local authorities for the music, singing and dancing licence and to the magistrates for the liquor licence. The function has been taken over by the local authorities in Manchester and Bradford and those local authorities have had to set up departments to issue the licences, whereas the justices' clerks normally run their music and dancing administration along with their liquor licensing administration. They will not be able to reduce their staff if this part of licensing is taken away from them. But I am told that in Bradford the music and dancing licensing was performed by one member of staff in the justices' clerks' department and that now the local authority employ four members of staff to do the same job. At the same time they take up a lot of 477 the time of the justices' clerks' staff in dealing with queries about the liquor licensing position of holders, or prospective holders, of music and dancing licences.
The magistrates' courts sit on most days and they are therefore in a position to issue occasional licences—at short notice, if necessary. The local authorities cannot be in this position unless they delegate their power to their paid officials. That procedure surely cannot be as equitable as a hearing before the magistrates. Another aspect of the proposed licensing is that over recent years the local authorities have expanded their interests in the provision of leisure sports and cultural centres. Therefore they themselves are major holders of public and dancing licences. They will consequently be licensing their own premises. I do not think that that can be seen to be just.
There is also the question of appeal. There is a right of appeal now, I understand, against a magistrate's decision, but it does not appear to be suggested that there should be any appeal against a local authority decision if local authorities take on this work. I support the view that the licensing of premises which are used habitually for public music, singing and dancing ought to remain vested in the licensing committee of the magistrates' court. If that view is not acceptable to the noble Lord, may I ask him whether he would be prepared to consider that magistrates' courts should remain the licensing authority of premises which arc also licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor? I support the noble Baroness in her plea to leave things as they are, but if that is not possible then I shall return to this point at the Committee stage of the Bill.
Also, on Schedule 1, there is the question of licensing entertainments which take place wholly or mainly in the open air. No doubt it is the pop festivals which come under this section. I should like to speak now as the chairman of the working group on pop festivals—one of the chores I was landed with in my days at the Department of the Environment. This group met for almost two years, first under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, who issued a report on the free festivals, and then under me. We reported on the problems in 1977.
We spent many hours and we heard a great deal of evidence on the possible approaches to the problem by changes in the law, by planning procedures and by licensing. We felt that a licensing system could be expected to make it an offence for anybody to be concerned in the organisation or management of, or knowingly to allow his property to be used for, an event which was unlicensed or which broke the terms of its licence. These provisions would assure compliance in most situations where the organisers would be identifiable and would be willing to co-operate. But our problem—and I guess the problem is still there today—is that the so-called free festivals took place often without the landowner's permission and with no identifiable organiser, or with organisers who changed from day to day so that one could never catch up with them. We eventually reached the conclusion that a national licensing system to cover free festivals would be costly and would be complicated to administer. It would often be difficult to enforce because there would be no individuals on whom to serve any notices, and it would be as likely to increase tension in some cases as it would to decrease tension in others. Most of the 478 committee then believed that the balance of the argument lay against the introduction of a licensing system. Some of the committee members felt that, despite its shortcomings, a licensing system might be worth while.
What concerned us most was that if some local authorities were granted the power to license pop festivals then those same powers should be available to all, so as to avoid the situation in which festivals unwelcome in one area could simply move over the border into another area. I should like to know whether the noble Lord can give assurances now that this is the line the Government still take and that local authorities either all have the power or that none of them does, and that together with that power the Department of the Environment are still urging local authorities to make available sites for recreational activities which might be available for pop festivals as for other activities from time to time.
I shall be followed today in this long list of speakers by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, who are both presidents of their local authority associations. I will content myself with saying that the Association of County Councils have expressed their disappointment because over the past four years they have made many representations and suggestions to the Government on items for inclusion in the Bill—and the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, referred to some of these and no doubt the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, will enlarge on them when he comes to speak. The Association of District Councils are also disappointed that enabling powers for local authorities to assist industry and commerce have not been included in this Bill. There is no doubt that district councils want to play a very constructive role, working with local industry and commerce. They want to encourage and support economic development in their areas. They had hoped that the Government would give them the powers and resources to respond more effectively to this problem. There is no guarantee that time will be found in the very near future for another Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, and therefore I hope that the Government will consider the pleas made by local authority associations and will feel able to widen the scope of this Bill before it leaves your Lordships' House.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Lord Sandford
My Lords, I see that we shall have to be careful that the Social Democrats do not steal our clothes! Before elaborating on that I should like to join with others in thanking my noble friend, Lord Belstead, for his lucid introduction to the Bill and the Government for the things which they have included in the Bill. I am only sorry that I shall spend most of my speech criticising them for what they have left out.
The first two lines of the explanatory memorandum state:This Bill provides for matters which are commonly dealt with in local Bills promoted by local authorities.…Many of those local Bills have provided individual district councils with the powers they need to assist the economic development of their areas. That activity—the economic development of their areas—has been for at least the past two years the highest 479 priority of the members of the Association of District Councils. I hope that all Members of your Lordships' House would agree with that choice of priority.
I am sure that Her Majesty's Government share the view that general public legislation in this field of economic development, or the powers of local authorities to assist in it, are gravely defective. It was because they shared this view that in the spring of 1980, nearly two years ago, they asked Sir Wilfred Burns to investigate the matter and to report. His committee was set up in May 1980 and with commendable briskness they reported in June. For some inexplicable reason that report was not published until April 1981. If the noble Lord who is to reply can give us any explanation of that delay, it would be interesting; I have a feeling that it has something to do with the machinery of government.
I recall that when I visited the City of Bristol in the early summer of 1981, I was told that they were then being advised to wait in the promotion of the local Bill which they had in mind, in which they sought powers in this field, because, following the publication of the Burns Report, public legislation was on the way. Indeed, in June 1981 my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment confirmed to the association that he saw the need for this public legislation.
So it is quite natural that there should be keen disappointment that this Bill, designed for this very purpose, has failed to cover the need for these powers. But hopes have recently been raised again by an answer given by my right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Department of the Environment, last Thursday, 11th February, in another place (col. 666, Official Report) in a Written Answer to a Question. That statement has something to commend it, so far as it goes, although it does not go far enough.
Our expectations are by no means fulfilled, and for two reasons. First, my right honourable friend did not make it clear, either one way or the other, whether the Government's intention as he expressed it then will actually be incorporated into this Bill. Secondly, because the intentions expressed by my right honourable friend in his Written Answer fall a long way short of what any member of a local authority feels is called for. The specific point is that the scale of assistance which local authorities can give in the general field of economic development is limited to the product of a ½p rate. My noble friend Lord Mottistone made the point last Wednesday, during our debate on rate reform, that members of the Confederation of British Industry, considering the burden of the rates upon them, felt that they do not get a fair return in the services provided for the rates levied on them.
The situation is well illustrated by the position which would be created if these powers were all that were to be made available to us. Take the district of North Devon. This is an assisted area with heavy unemployment. That district would be empowered to spend no more than £40,000 per annum—the product of a ½p rate. That same district is collecting from its industrial ratepayers only—not from the whole of its non-domestic rates but from industrial ratepayers only—no less than £728,000. So that is £40,000 in return for a rate burden on industry of £¾ million. 480 Take the case of Corby, which is a special development area. That district would be empowered, under the proposals announced by my right honourable friend last Thursday, to spend a sum limited to £35,000. That is to assist an industry which is in a very poor way in Corby, and which has to face a rate burden of £3⅓ million. Let us take a Welsh district—that of Wrexham, which is another assisted area. Industry in that district is contributing £3,351,000 to the rates, but the authority would be limited to spending £52,000 on economic development in that area.
I reckon that anything that my noble friend said about the sense of injustice felt by the Confederation of British Industries is well demonstrated by those facts. My questions to my noble friend arising from all this, are as follows, and there are three. First, are Her Majesty's Government intending to provide what is wanted in this field, and what was described by my right honourable friend in another place last Thursday, in this Bill? Secondly, why do they need to have further consultations about the matter, as my right honourable friend indicated in another place last week, when they have already held those in connection with the Burns Report? Thirdly, would he consider for this Bill a version of the clause which the Association of District Council Councils drafted for Wilfred Burns, and which was incorporated as an annex of that report, setting out the need of the association in this respect, as a substitute for inclusion in this Bill, if the Government do not have any proposals of their own? So much for economic development.
I turn now, briefly, to Clause 2 and Schedule 3—sex shops and so on. This provision was only included in the Bill on 3rd February, and I have not yet had time to discuss it or consult with members of the association at first hand about it on any great scale, but I have already had some discussions. I think the first point to make is that all local authorities, if they are given controls and powers to exercise by Parliament, need those controls to be effective. It is probably true that there may be some among the 333 district councils who, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans, was saying, may be prepared, may even want, to permit the establishment of a sex shop in some area where it is likely to cause little offence. But my impression so far—and this, I admit, is based on a rather limited consultation— is that a great majority of district councils will want to exercise their control so as to eliminate this debased and debasing activity altogether. So I want to be quite clear about the point which my noble friend made at the outset of this debate. Is it a fact that a district council that takes this view will be able to exercise the controls Parliament is proposing to give it in the following way? When a proposal to establish a sex shop comes up, will they obtain from their electorate, if they can, and I think they will be able to do so, a view that their electors do not want that shop in that area, and then, on that basis, to resolve that the character of that particular area is such that one sex shop is too much? If they have to go through that rather labyrinthine process in every instance, so be it, but I want to be quite clear that that procedure is open to them. Otherwise, this control will be very unwelcome.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, before my noble friend 481 sits down, is he aware how very grateful the CBI will be, and indeed I am, for his amplification of the point I was making in last Wednesday's debate on rates, that business ratepayers on the whole are not getting what might be described as value for money? I am deeply grateful to my noble friend for making that point yet again.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, first, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for the fact that, owing to a number of other engagements, I shall not be able to be present for his concluding speech. I echo other noble Lords who welcome this Bill as being helpful. But may I say that, when I first saw Clause 2 of Part II, relating to the licensing of sex establishments, my immediate reaction was that this would give a cloak of respectability to both sex cinemas and sex shops—a cloak of respectability to carry on the activities described in paragraphs 2 and 3 of Schedule 3? It seemed to give approval to a system of licensing which I thought would be highly undesirable. However, when I read carefully the various paragraphs of Schedule 3, I appreciated that that schedule does set out the possibility of considerable control, and, what is more, the laying down of conditions by the local authority, and these are set out in paragraph 12 of the schedule. Therefore, I have concluded that any provision that assists in control of these establishments or assists in laying down conditions as a piece of legislation is well worth while.
May I say that I differentiate between the proper establishments for dealing with birth control and family planning materials and this particular type of activity as described in Schedule 3? The exploitation of sex has been mentioned by other speakers. The large profits are the attraction in this sort of thing, as they are with drug peddling, and I put them both in the same category. Naturally, we shall need to look at the various details in Committee, but I think that I have made my position clear. It is really an extension of the legislation which was before your Lordships only last year in the Bill which was introduced in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, the Obscene Publications Act 1981.
But, even if I am in a minority—I hope not—I believe that this should not be permissive; I believe it should be mandatory on local authorities, bearing in mind that the terms of the schedule do give an authority freedom as to how it will carry out laying down certain conditions. Why also is Part VIII dealing with registration in connection with acupuncture, tattooing, ear-piercing, et cetera, also not mandatory? I had the good fortune to sit on a Select Committee on a local authority Bill which sought these powers. Your Lordships' approval was given for powers of this kind to be put in the Bill. I can recall all the evidence we received, including medical evidence. This is a provision which deals not purely with local circumstances; it deals with what is a health matter. Therefore, I can see no reason whatever why this should not be a national obligation and made mandatory.
I think there will be general agreement on the need for control of late night opening of take-away food shops. I think noble Lords will give general approval to the conditions in Part IV. If these shops are com- 482 mitting a nuisance, action must be taken. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, emphasise that these are providing a very useful and much desired service. Businesses must not be destroyed by a minority of residents against the general wishes of the people in the area. Naturally, we must take account of the noise—cars revving up, banging of car doors—and in addition the litter that is left, not only in nearby areas, but by people on their way home from these take-away shops. I know the stuff that is occasionally tossed over my garden fence—Chinese take-away wrappings and also fish and chip wrappings. Have the Government considered in connection with take-away food shops—not just the late-night ones, but in general—whether something should be done to add to our control of litter? The 1958 Litter Act frankly seems to be useless. Only last Saturday, when I was shopping with my wife in what is a reasonable area, we found that a path which leads from the residential road to our main shopping area, a path bordered with grass and plants, was one mass of takeaway material. Now we have nice packaging, it is a great improvement from the old fish and chip papers that we used to enjoy many years ago, but more of it seems to be dropped. I am wondering whether the Government cannot do something to add to what I regard as the useless provisions of the 1958 Litter Act, even if it is only making compulsory the display of adequate posters and signs in these shops. This is a nuisance which affects not only the people who might be affected by noise: it is a nuisance which affects people some distance away from the shops.
I was pleased to see in Part V the provisions regarding fire precautions. Let me say briefly that, as one who served in the National Fire Service for five years, I am particularly pleased to see Clause 10, which provides for luminous signs for the easy identification of switches dealing with high voltage signs. I am pleased that those particular provisions are to be made mandatory.
Clause 32 provides for the notification of temporary markets—something which I think most noble Lords will approve. But it excludes any control whatever of one-day sales which are held in various parts of the country in various types of hall. I note that the county council associations are very keen that something should be done about this. Many of them are bona fide sales which serve a very useful purpose. But there is always the opportunity—in fact there have been experiences—of a shady individual selling shoddy goods. He has a one-day sale and then he is gone. Nobody knows where he has gone because there has been no registration at all. I hope that the Government themselves may consider introducing a clause or an additional subsection to this clause rather than leaving other nobly Lords to deal with it in Committee.
I was pleased to see the various provisions dealing with street trading and sales from stalls and containers. Those who enjoy watching football matches as I do, particularly on a week night—and I shall miss my favourite team playing in the Cup replay tonight: that is not where I am going—will be aware of the large numbers of containers for hot dogs being landed from a parent vehicle and the obvious need for careful control in the interests of hygiene and health. Having said that, I hope that the controls will not be enforced 483 in such a way that they in any way tend to interfere with the legitimate sales from mobile fish and chip vans or other mobile shops, or with genuine street trading. A few miles from where I live is possibly one of the largest street trading areas in the ountry—High Street, Walthamstow. Street trading is generally part of the life of the town, and I hope that, although we must have these controls, they will do nothing to interfere with proper, genuine trading of that kind.
Finally I turn to Clause 31 which deals with the control of fly-posting. The noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong—and I shall find out from Hansard tomorrow whether I am correct—but I understand that the present legislation enables action to be taken in the form of a prosecution against either the publisher or the person who gains from fly-posting. I hope that the provision in Clause 31 will not be an alternative to action to be taken under the previous legislation. One other point arises—namely, that the local authority has power, if it so desires, to remove or to obliterate posters which are put up by fly-posting. This is a cost to the local authorities. Where the name and address of the individual is known, surely there ought to be inserted in the clause power for recovery, because local authorities should not be put to the expense of having to employ people—their own staff or others —to cover up what are regarded as illegal posters, and yet not be able to pass on the cost.
With those few points of general approval of the Bill, I point out that a lot of work will have to be done in Committee.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Viscount Ridley
My Lords, first I should like to apologise to the House and to my noble friend Lord Belstead for being unavoidably absent at the beginning of the debate, but I look forward to reading what my noble friend said. My intervention on this Bill will be brief, but I hope helpful. It will have nothing to do with pop festivals or sex shops—my experience of either being somewhat limited. But in my research as regards what I might have to say this afternoon, I came across an Act, passed by Parliament in 1650, which is entitled:An Act for suppressing the detestable sins of incest, adultery and fornication".Those sins, my Lords, were at that time to be punishable by instant death, whereas anybody convicted of,keeping a bawdy house shall on first offence be openly whipped, set in the pillory, marked with a hot iron on the forehead with the letter 'B', and committed to prison for three years without bail".One hopes that that Act has by now been repealed by subsequent legislation, but it is nice to speculate what the authors of that piece of legislation would have thought about a modern sex shop had they seen one.
I am concerned with much more mundane matters in this Bill concerning the need to replace Section 262 of the Local Government Act 1972 with general powers for local authorities to deal with certain local problems. That section provides that all local Acts—and there have been a great many—expire at the end of 1984, although the date has now been extended to 1986. It had been hoped that this Bill would avoid the need for councils to promote legislation after that date, especially 484 in non-controversial cases and where the powers which are to be sought are not contested but would, if continued, provide important safeguards.
I therefore ask that the Government will look favourably on amendments which we hope will come forward to include a great many powers for local authorities already possessed by some, if not by all, councils. The reason I ask for this is that in some respects this Bill is defective by what it does not include, as other noble Lords have said, and the more clauses that can now be agreed the better, and the less will be the need for Private Bills in the future. It is important that this should be done not only because of the immense pressure on parliamentary time, of which your Lordships will be very well aware, but also the cost. For example, the cost of three county council Bills which received Royal Assent at the end of last Session were as follows. The Kent Bill cost £200,000; the Derbyshire Bill cost more than £100,000 and as regards the East Sussex Bill the fee for the parliamentary agents alone was, I understand, over £60,000 and the total cost is likely to be well over £100,000. I understand that Berkshire feel that if this Bill is not amended they may need a Bill of their own which will cost quite as much as did some of the Bills which I have quoted.
After 1972 the Government exhorted local authorities to promote rationalisation Bills to replace the private Act powers which are due to disappear. It had been intended to provide a Bill which obviated the need for private powers. Local authorities understandably, in view of the costs involved, expected a general Bill which would cover all the various details generally needed and acceptable to Governments. There was a 1976 Act, as your Lordships are well aware, but that was not the final answer. It was hoped that the Bill now before us would provide all the answers; but if it does not—and it does look as if it is defective—then I hope very much that we may be allowed a third bite of the cherry before the legislation expires. I hope that when my noble friend Lord Bellwin replies, he will be able to tell us whether or not this is the final piece of legislation. I hope very much that it is not.
I would have given examples of the type of thing which county councils are talking about and hoping for, but the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, has already quoted from all my sources. May I, as a fellow sufferer, say in passing how nice it is to hear that he has recovered from the gout which he had last week. I shall not repeat what he has said. I do not believe that any of these matters are, or should be, controversial and all should be readily agreeable to the Government. They have, indeed, mostly been the subject of much discussion between local authority associations and Government officials, and in due course I hope that the House will agree to include some of them; but they are, of course, details which we shall come to in Committee. I say that because I am quite certain that it would save a great deal of time and public money if we are able to meet them. In general I give a warm welcome to the Bill.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Lord Robertson of Oakridge
My Lords, I should like to offer some remarks on Clause 2 and Schedule 3. I appreciate the Government's response to the local 485 authorities' request for powers to control the proliferation of sex shops by a system of licensing. But I would like to mention three reservations. The first concerns the question of local authorities having the power to limit sex shops. I would like to see that power extended to giving discretion to ban them altogether if they should think fit and if this reflects public opinion. Certainly I should not like to see local authorities having to get involved in expensive and time-consuming legislation to fend them off.
Secondly, as has been made very clear, we are concerned merely with a measure which gives local authorities a degree of control over the retail outlets for the trade in sex articles. In no way can the measure be treated as a means of reforming or improving the existing obscenity laws. Accordingly, any attempt to define what sex articles are acceptable and what are not acceptable is out of place and would almost certainly be counter-productive. It is for this reason that I believe it is wrong to have included in the definitions the words in paragraphs 2 and 3 used to describe sadistic material. I have given much thought to this point and, however I look at it, I cannot avoid the simple conclusion that it must be wrong to license sadistic material. Whatever riders are put in the measure and, indeed, whether paragraph 25 comes at the beginning or the end of the schedule—licensing sadistic material confers a degree of approval on it. I can understand the reasons for the inclusion in the definition of these words; namely, that our weak and unsatisfactory obscenity laws could give rise to a situation where it would be quite possible that these things might not otherwise be controlled.
This brings me to my third point which is the need to follow up these provisions with a general reform of the law on obscenity. I much admired the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and felt that there was one bright instance where we had the clear and authentic voice of the Church. In particular, I admired his assessment of much pornography as evil. I would add only one point. When I study some of the worst items of pornography—which I have just occasionally—I get a sense of welling up of the evil that is inside me—that it wants to come to the surface. I believe that this is what happens to many people and when it does come to the surface, real trouble materialises. Control of retail outlets will not deal with this problem. In order to deal with it, we need a reform of the obscenity laws, and action on this is essential. If we do not make efforts to deal with the evil that is in and around us, we shall stand condemned just as much as those who produce and distribute this literature.
In a curious way this was brought home to me at lunchtime when I listened to a talk on the character, Eli. Noble Lords will remember that he was Samuel's mentor. Noble Lords will also remember that he suffered and had to share the same judgment as his wicked sons because, although well-meaning, he did not take effective steps to stop their wickedness. What is needed, and needed urgently, is a clear, adequate and enforceable law to control all aspects of the pornography industry. As a basis, material should be prohibited that fulfils the following conditions: first, that which appeals to a prurient interest; secondly, that which lacks serious social merit; and, thirdly, that 486 which is patently offensive in the treatment of sexual conduct.
Without such a law the measures now proposed even if amended and improved before they become law, will not fully achieve all that is needed. I appeal to the Government to follow up this measure with a reform of the law on obscenity.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, with his lucid and compelling speech on the subject of sex shops. I shall have a few words to say about that in a minute. First, I should like to congratulate the Government on introducing this useful miscellaneous measure which is, I believe, supposed to complete the 1976 Act and cover the position of local authorities when all local Acts finally expire. Of course, this is something much to be desired.
In recent years many noble Lords will have seen the spate of local government Bills—many of them jumbo Bills—coming before Select Committees, and will sympathise with the point made by my noble friend Lord Ridley, of the heavy cost to the local authorities and the ratepayers, as well as the heavy burden on the time of Parliament. So, if that can be obviated in this way, it is very much to be desired. I hope that this measure will meet most local needs, although it is already evident that it will not meet them all. We shall hear various noble Lords move amendments in Committee.
There are just three short points that I want to mention before dealing with the major subject of Part II of the Bill, sex shops. One of them was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. It was the reluctance of local authorities to take on the duty of licensing for music and dancing. I understand that that reluctance is matched by the magistrates, who are reluctant to lose the function. So it will be interesting to hear from my noble friend on the Front Bench in due course how it is that neither is satisfied and why they propose to make a transfer.
Of the other two points I wish to mention, one concerns the street trading code. The Bill makes a provision for an appeal against a refusal of a licence to trade in a "licence street", but it makes no provision for an appeal against a refusal of a consent to trade in what is called a "consent street". This seems a technical omission and I hope that my noble friend will be ready to make an amendment at the Committee stage.
The third point is with regard to repeals. Many provisions in recent local Acts will be superceded by provisions in this Bill. But, apart from the repeals in Schedule 7, the Bill leaves other local Act provisions unrepealed. I wonder why, and whether this could be covered. Obviously it would go some way to meet the objections of my noble friends Lord Ridley and Lord Sandford.
I should now like to say a few words to noble Lords about the licensing of sex shops. I personally welcome this provision. As a Christian, I sympathise with the right reverend Prelate's wise and cogent words on the moral issue, but to me practical politics demand that I should recognise the reality, that there are now 487 literally hundreds of these sex shops—hundreds in London and I daresay hundreds by now outside. Therefore, a measure of control is reality, and that is what this does. Good luck to the Government for having the courage to come forward to do it. It must be encouraging to them that in the Commons there was general approval of this measure, although there were a good many reservations on details.
Of course, the outcry against sex shops, particularly in the Provinces, has become so loud that I think it may even be heard in the Home Office now. No doubt that is why this measure has come forward. I am sure that this is right. I am relieved to see that the schedule provides that existing sex shops must apply for licences just the same as new applications and that they will have no pre-emptive right of getting one. To me this seems to be right.
In contradistinction to the right reverend Prelate, I think that control by licensing is technically correct. Planning control is concerned with a change of use of premises, whereas the establishment of a sex shop in existing shop premises only involves a change of goods sold, and not a change of use. Therefore, licensing by the decision of elected local councillors, who are the best judge of what is suitable in their localities, seems to me to be the right answer.
I have already referred to the general support in the Commons, but what will also have been noted by all noble Lords is that the Commons had little opportunity to debate this important measure. It was added as a new clause on Report stage and discussed late at night. Therefore, there really has been no opportunity for the Government's proposals to be amended in detail. Therefore, here in our House, as often happens, we have a special responsibility in the Committee stage to look at this in detail and ensure that this long and complicated Schedule 3 is as good as we can make it by the time we have finished with it.
There are three points I should like to mention now, one of which has already been referred to by many speakers; that is of course the definition of a sex shop and a sex article in paragraph 3 of Schedule 3. I shall not quote the particular sub-paragraph because it really is most objectionable. There is no doubt, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, said and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that it is astonishing to find in a Government Bill references to sadistic material, and that we are being asked to approve of a licensing scheme which will approve of these particular articles, pictures, and material.
I welcome Lord Belstead's undertaking to reconsider these definitions, but I noted, as I am sure did other noble Lords, that he was not particularly sanguine that he was going to find an improvement. What this implies—and I am sure all noble Lords will observe this—is that in existing sex shops this material is present. My noble friend may well take the same line as his right honourable friend the Minister of State did in the Commons, that these words are needed in order to cover everything stocked by the sex shops. Then my noble friend will have to explain to the House why prosecution is not taken under the 1959 Act, which clearly makes this material illegal. I agree with the noble Baroness that it is objectionable to ask the House, by implication, to approve of this and put it in 488 a Bill.
Let me add to my noble friend that really putting paragraph 25 of the schedule at paragraph 1 is not going to give it any more force than it has now. Obviously the right solution, as other noble Lords have said, is a new Bill to strengthen the Obscene Publications Act 1959. My noble friends and I have been considering this difficult problem for some time and we have drafted something which I shall shortly, if I am allowed to, put before your Lordships. I hope that this may make a contribution in this immensely difficult field where we have to try to achieve some control in a field where opinions differ a good deal, where we can perhaps achieve something which would make illegal, get control, and perhaps reduce in volume (because, goodness knows! the volume at present is really appalling) what is called hard pornography. We must talk about that at some other time.
The other point I wish to refer to is the procedure for appeal on a refusal of licence. Where a local authority has refused an application to set up a sex shop the applicant may appeal to the magistrate's court, with a further right of appeal to the Crown court. I believe that an amendment is needed here. I think that my noble friend is aware of this point. I think he indicated that he was prepared to concede it. The precedent we have in this particular field is the setting up of betting shops under the Gaming Acts. The same machinery existed there. Appeal to the magistrates' court, and a further appeal to the Crown court. Of course, by the time the appeal has got to the Crown court it is getting pretty remote from the influence of local opinion. The result has been, because most of these appeals were betting shops and went to the Crown court, that an absolute rash of betting shops has been allowed to be set up all over our urban areas. Far more than anyone could think to be necessary. But, where there is enough money about, of course people will go to appeal.
There is a danger that, unless we give the local authority a stronger position than the schedule does now, they will not be successful in resisting the appeal in the Crown court, and we shall have a similar experience with sex shops as we did with betting shops. This is very much related to a point asked by my noble friend Lord Sandford in a very clear question. I think my noble friend Lord Belstead indicated that where a local authority judged that by the nature of the locality, and in all the circumstances, a sex shop was not suitable, while they had to consider each application on its merits, they could give a negative answer. We shall wish to hear my noble friend say that again, and make it a little plainer on the face of the schedule.
The final point I wish to mention briefly, a point again that was discussed in the Commons, is the fine. The fine has been set at £5,000 which, on the face of it, sounds a large figure, but those who are knowledgeable in this matter indicated that this really is a bagatelle in this field where so much money is being made. Indeed, as the noble Baroness will remember, the Front Bench speaker from the Opposition in the Commons suggested that imprisonment should be part of the punishment. But this was generally felt to be undesirable in the present circumstances where custodial sentences are so much to be deprecated. But I believe 489 that we should ensure that the fine is something more substantial, perhaps recurring or perhaps a larger figure. Again this is a point we could look at on the Committee stage.
May I conclude by saying that the Committee stage is obviously going to be important here. I and my noble friends will be putting down some amendments which we hope will improve the schedule and strengthen it, and I do not doubt that other noble Lords will too, so that we can ensure that when the schedule leaves us it will be as effective as possible in controlling something which gives a good deal of anxiety throughout the country.
§ The Lord Bishop of London
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him a question? I do not know whether I misheard him earlier in his speech, but I thought I heard him say that, contrary to what I had said, because sex shops existed some form of control was necessary. Would the noble Lord accept that I did in fact, having made clear my position on sex shops, accept that control is necessary and what matters are the terms on which it is provided and the context in which it is done, so as to be the permission of what is regrettable and undesirable rather than the licensing of what is perfectly acceptable?
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I must thank the right reverend Prelate for making that further explanation. If I did not do him justice, I apologise. I do not think our minds are far apart on this.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, I too should like to thank the Minister for his presentation of this Bill, which seems to be a Bill which has a mixed range of issues but which are, many of them, closely affecting people's everyday lives and relate especially to the changing pattern of life. First, I should like to comment on certain of the clauses in this Bill which appear to me to affect today's youth. I feel strongly that any division between the generations is a dangerous situation and an unhealthy one for society, and that it is becoming increasingly important to try to look at new legislation from a young person's point of view with regard to how it will affect him, or her, in the sort of life that the changing world is offering them.
I myself have three teenage children, and I am as concerned as most parents about pressures and anxieties to which today's world exposes them. Therefore, it seems essential to try not to exacerbate such anxieties by controls which they could see as being unreasonably directed against them. With this particular consideration in view, may I comment on Clause 1, which relates to the licensing of places used for public entertainments. As my noble friend Lady Birk pointed out, this Bill would remove from metropolitan authorities the power of decision over the outdoor entertainment, which obviously mainly means pop festivals.
There can be no doubt in any of our minds as to the effect a pop festival must have on the locality in which it is held. Such festivals, by their very definition, require maximum attendance and maximum noise, neither of which are at all conducive to the quiet life of the local residents. So it seems entirely right that local authorities, representing the interests of those 490 residents, should have the power to decide about them. Equally, it should and must be their responsibility to combine a respect for the sensitivities of their local residents with a certain open-mindedness towards the youthful recreation and entertainment. Noble Lords with great experience of this have already given their views and there is little I can add, but I feel strongly that it is not only wrong but also self-defeating for authorities to take a uniformly hostile attitude towards this teenagers' style of entertainment on the grounds merely of disturbance.
I remember clearly the first time one of my children said he was going to a concert. I fondly thought he was referring to Beethoven and Bach at the Albert Hall. Since then of course I have learnt better and appreciate that when teenagers talk about a concert they can only mean a pop concert, and there must be a tremendous number of teenagers like that. We must therefore accept that this is an important and major source of modern-day enjoyment, relaxation and entertainment for the young. Indeed, when compared with some other pastimes young people with too much time on their hands might indulge in, listening to loud music is to my mind a good way to let off steam and can be highly preferable to many other activities. Very often agreement could be reached between local authorities and the organisers of festivals on how to find that balance between the interests of local residents and the interests of the young music fanatics.
In relation to Clause 4, which deals with the question of take-away food shops, again I would point out that these shops now have an important place in young people's lives. The pattern of eating for children has completely changed compared with the days of cottage pie and stew. They have been replaced by the food they get from take-away shops, and really the worst they can do in such places is make a noise and perhaps also make a mess, which again seems to be a much more innocuous way of entertainment for them than many other things in which they might indulge. I believe, therefore, that take-away food shops should remain open as late as possible, with the relevant safeguards, because they not only provide what is needed by people with regular jobs, but, as I say, provide a harmless form of entertainment for teenagers.
I also applaud Clause 15, which requires the registration of enterprises concerned with tattooing, ear-piercing and so on. There is no doubt that a great number of young people, some of them very young and now of both sexes, wish to have their ears pierced. It has become completely acceptable for boys of 16 and 17 to have an ear or both ears pierced, and they are the last possible people who would look towards the cleanliness of the establishment they might go to. While the Bill is concerned with requiring the registration of those engaged in those activities, as my noble friend Lady Birk said, the Government might consider imposing the same requirements for establishments providing ultra-violet sun-tanning and possibly even sauna baths; I should have thought that both those services required a high degree of expertise and should also conform to the rules of cleanliness required by the clause.
On an entirely different point, but again very much affecting the young, concern has been expressed that the Bill does not contain any provision about glue-sniffing. 491 Perhaps it is too controversial a matter and this Bill is not a suitable vehicle. Nevertheless, I urge the Government not to miss the opportunity at least to look at this heartbreakingly tragic habit which is indulged in by some of Britain's least fortunate children.
Clause 31 has been mentioned by various noble Lords. It provides for the control of fly-posting. We should all welcome it, but in my view the provision could go even further, for example to control the results of the use of spray-cans on walls and buildings. Some graffiti daubed in huge lettering can be extremely offensive and I should be interested to know the Government's thinking on that. After all, the Bill would seem a highly appropriate place for such control.
Regarding the controversial part of the Bill, that dealing with sex shops, I admire the Government for taking on the issue and grasping this particular nettle, and although obviously the Bill is not a perfect vehicle for dealing with the problem, nevertheless they are not letting pass the opportunity of trying to improve on the present situation. I suppose that, as this is such a highly moral issue, we should perhaps ask ourselves why we dislike sex shops so much; why do they appear so offensive to us and why do they instil in so many of us a sense of outrage and disgust? I expect that we would all answer that question slightly differently. For my part, I judge them from the following viewpoints: first, I do not like the way they look; secondly, I am totally opposed to the fact that fortunes are made out of a trade concerning the degradation of women; thirdly, I abhor the fact that the sensitivities of so many are being hurt by the presence of such shops in their localities; and fourthly, I am appalled when I think of the coarsening and brutalising effect the exhibition of the kind of wares which they trade must have on young people who no doubt frequent them. After all, a 12-year-old can easily pass for 18 nowadays and I should think that quite a few children pass through these shops, not least because they are curious.
I suppose that if my first requirement were met and sex shops could be transformed from sleazy, down-at-heel-looking premises filled with shifty, unhappy-looking people into highly decorative and brightly painted places full of open-faced, laughing people, then my further objections might slightly diminish. But I am afraid we cannot necessarily count on that happening, so for those of us who find it difficult to wish to ban any institution for which there appears to be a place in society, all we can do is very much welcome the Bill and try to help to see that it contains the necessary provisions to diminish the ill-effects that such an institution can have on the rest of the community.
In that context, there are a few points I wish to make. The first is to support my noble friend Lady Birk in relation to the very word—its use has been referred to by many noble Lords and I believe it plays an important part for all of us and the general public at large—"licence", for it will always convey a form of legitimacy. We have driving, dog and television licences, all of which convey that it is all right and totally acceptable. I urge the Government seriously to consider replacing that word, and perhaps "permit" would be a very much better one to use in that it has a slightly different connotation and could 492 be used in precisely the same way. It would imply that the person wishing to get this permit had to earn it, had to warrant that he deserved it.
In relation to the fine proposed, I know there has been much discussion about the level of the fine, but I should have thought it was most important to ensure that whatever sum is fixed, it should be index-linked, otherwise it might very soon represent a completely false amount. A small point about which I should like information concern Schedule 3 (2); exactly what is meant by "relevant locality" for the establishment of sex shops? I do not understand where such a locality could occur and whether there is not an ambiguous quality about that phrase. Again, I support my noble friend Lady Birk and others who have spoken about the words used in the definition of "sex cinemas" and "sex shops". I feel most strongly that to include such words, which are quite horrific, would seem only to bring about a greater emotive quality and abhorrence to that which already exists without seeming to serve a very great purpose. There are so many useful aspects to the Bill that very much relate to the changing pattern of life that I strongly support it.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs for having brought into the debate a breath of fresh and youthful air. We so rarely here the voice of the young in your Lordships' House. The rarest thing is to hear it directly; it is still rare to hear it indirectly. But this afternoon surely we have heard a message from young people that we have not heard earlier in debate.
That brings me to my first point, that basically this is a Bill to curb the liberties of the subject. It really ought to be called Local Government (Miscellaneous Curbs of the Liberty of the Subject) Bill because it is all to do with licensing; it is all to do with what local authorities already have in the way of powers, or what they want or need to enable us to love our neighbour as ourselves by stopping him from doing the things to which we object. We are all good at that, and I confess to being in this business myself in a small way because I object to people being cruel to animals.
This point enables me to refer to an incident in the progress of the Bill in another place which interested me greatly. It was the attempt that was made to incorporate in the Bill the provisions of the Pet Animals Act 1951 (Amendment) Bill, which I have on two occasions introduced into your Lordships' House, which received a Second Reading in this House for the second time the other day, and which is down for Committee stage on Thursday.
There is a lot in the Bill about street trading, but market places are excluded on the ground that they are not streets. In any case separate statutes apply to market places, and the Pet Animals Act 1951 is one of them. The question raised in another place was whether we could dispose of the matter of the sale of pet animals in market places by incorporating provisions in this Bill. The point was debated for a short while, and the Minister of State indicated that it might receive fresh attention before the Bill completed 493 its passage through another place; but it did not. So I shall explore the possibility of following that up in the later stages of the Bill.
Now I can pass to the new centre of interest in the Bill, the so-called sex establishment and sex shop. I told your Lordships the other day that the Report stage of the Bill in another place would be occupied mainly with the question of sex shops and possibly pet shops, but it turned out that it was all sex shops. Overnight the Bill had been transformed from being an unexciting parliamentary exercise into making the sex shop the superstar of our current legislation. Sex is going to dominate the subsequent proceedings on the Bill; but perhaps it ought to, because it received little enough consideration in another place. They swallowed the lot on the Report stage in one go, and there are many aspects of the relevant schedule which require close examination, but did not receive it in another place. So I hope that we shall scrutinise these provisions of the Bill with some care.
With regard to the general issue of the inclusion of these provisions in this or any other Bill, I suppose that what many noble Lords, including myself, say in your Lordships' House on the issues of the day is predictable. For example, with great respect, I could have said largely what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, was going to say, and no doubt he is now thinking of what he expects I am going to say. Well, probably we are not replenished often enough or bountifully enough in order to get the new point of view, and that is why the speech a few moments ago of my noble friend was so interesting and so pleasant to listen to.
Your Lordships know that ever since I have been in this House I have opposed everything that has come up here to make way for moral censorship, to decide what we shall see and what we shall read. I believe that we must be on our guard against repression and against suppression, while at the same time we must respect the views and feelings of others who may reasonably ask for some safeguard against unnecessary offence. I am not unreasonable in these matters, and I am sure that your Lordships generally are not unreasonable. I thought that the spark of civil liberty shone bright and clear in your Lordships' House, but I am not so sure about it now. That is why one must speak on the question of where these things are leading to, and I shall come to that a little later.
At this stage I would say that had the clauses and schedules regarding sex shops been introduced into the Bill in your Lordships' House we could have taken strong objection to their being brought here directly without much more consultation and consideration elsewhere. The fact that they were introduced into another place at the very latest hour must at least recognise the point that that is the elected Chamber and the Members there have responsibilities to constituents, which we do not have. Nevertheless, we must be ever watchful of our civil liberties in this House, especially when, to deal with evils, Members of another place sometimes rush in a state of panic to introduce reforms which are being heavily pressed from their constituencies.
The people of this country always tend to look for cures. Very rarely are they interested in causes, 494 unless they become a little frightened, unless it is Brixton or Toxteth. Then of course they want to know how it all came about, how it happened, and we have committees of investigation into the root cause of things which disturb our peace of mind greatly. But when the public are being merely censorious they do not care about causes; all they deal with are manifestations, and all they think of is stopping them, leaving it there, not going more deeply into the cause of what is believed to be an evil development.
The hub of the sex industry is in Fleet Street, and sex shops are among their retail outlets. Promotional support comes from some of the multinationals, such as the cosmetics and toiletries industries, the seductive products of which I need not dwell upon. Even the cigarette manufacturers help to stimulate sexual desire and activity by associating smoking with romantic love and manly vigour. What is the "Marlboro country "all about? I cannot leave the religious institutions out of it, either, for they never stop talking about the possible evil consequences of what, in a newspaper the other day, I saw described as the most exciting pastime in the world. This is what we are up against; this is what sex shops are expressing in commercialisation and in merchandise—the stimulation which has been put there through other agencies.
I do not think that we in this House have any claim, by either history or composition, to be the apostles of puritan England. In any case I doubt whether we are really qualified to tell the young what they should do about sex. My noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs is much more qualified in that respect than I am: but I would say that for the most part young people are finding out for themselves. I would add that those who try to help in a practical way all too frequently get abused as being promoters of promiscuity. We have heard all this in your Lordships' House: people who are trying responsibly to guide young people through these pressures, through these complexities and conflicts, are abused as being the purveyors of the means of promiscuity. I think it is deplorable. The truth is that throughout the ages the pursuit of sexual guilt, which has been implanted in all of us, and sexual deviation, which has been reviled down the ages, is relentless and severe in punishment.
Restraints upon liberty and the right to do as we like are unavoidable in a complex and congested community. Our lives are not entirely our own, for we have to learn to live together. I will make big concessions to the cause of social justice, and even bigger ones to the cause of social harmony. But I will make no concessions to bigotry. I lived with it too long as a youth. Nor will I make concessions to the reimposition of the excesses of moral fervour, which I have also experienced in my lifetime. Every move we make in the direction of Part II of this Bill has to be examined from that point of view.
Motives are as important as deeds. Motives indicate where we are likely to be asked to go next; and after each step along this path we should stop, look and listen. If we listen hard enough just now, we hear tramping down the corridor from another place, another Bill which has already been welcomed before it has arrived. These new measures of restraint and control are following too closely upon the Indecent Displays Act last year for the comfort of those of us 495 who are ever vigilant in these matters. So I say, watch for the next move. The Bill has already had its Second Reading in another place.
As long as I can I shall go on sounding the warning that I think your Lordships' House must heed: that it must not connive, co-operate or conspire with reactionary forces if it is to retain its standing in the community as the guardian of civil liberty in this country.
The Lord Bishop of Norwich
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I ask him whether, when he used the phrase "the spark of liberty to be maintained" earlier in his fascinating speech, which we have listened to with the greatest care, he was referring to the definition in Schedule 3, at the top of page 54, which says that "sex articles" concern:acts of force, restraint, violence or cruelty …"?Did he really mean that by allowing those the spark of liberty was maintained?
§ 5.32 p.m.
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, unskilled as I am in the complexities of local government legislation, I have to confess that Clause 2 and Schedule 3 are in fact the star which attracts me to perform in your Lordships' House this evening. Studying the Bill as I have, it appears to me to be the central Government response to a local government request to put a mischief under control in their districts. Accepting it on that basis, one must not criticise it for being what it is not. It is not new criminal law on the subject of obscenity and pornography; it is a response to a local request. Therefore, we cannot presume that that response will be uniform throughout the nation. That would be tantamount to telling local government what it is that they are to resolve under Clause 2 of the Bill.
The way that central Government have gone about it is somewhat circumambulatory, and their circumambulatory approach via the route of licensing has of course led to misunderstanding on the basis that licensing always appears to imply condonation. This particularly applies to the objections which have been raised on the references in the schedule to sadistic and masochistic and deviant forms of sex. I shall come to the details of that later. But I should like to begin by expressing my wholehearted agreement with the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London on the need to make it clear, through the wording of the Bill, that it is possible for local government to resolve, in effect, "We shall have none of this in our area at all", and in Committee I hope to introduce some amendments to the beginning of Clause 2 on the lines of, "Provided it shall be lawful for a local authority, having so resolved "—that is, that Schedule 3 should apply—" to resolve also that no licences should be granted in consequence, and that such resolutions should not be subject to appeal to the Crown Court as provided for in the schedule."
That would, in effect, write into the very beginning of the Bill that a local authority is master in its own house and will not have its intentions interfered with by a permissively-minded Crown Court. This applies particularly to the criticism made by Lord Sandford, 496 who pointed out the intellectual dishonesty of proceeding to place what is in effect an embargo, not straightforwardly but by chivvying the applicant from pillar to post until he finally runs out of the district altogether. What sort of leadership is that? I very much prefer the proposal of the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London.
Now I come to this question of sadism. I want those who perhaps disagree with me on this matter—and I have talked it over many times with my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, with whom I have been fighting shoulder to shoulder for many years—to consider what would happen if the modifications which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London would like to see, and which I should like to introduce, are enforced. It would mean that the embargo which the local authority sought to place on having any kind of sex shop at all would not apply to sex shops which went in for sadistic material. So, instead of being (as it were) restrictive, the Act would all of a sudden become permissive in relation to that class of material. That is why I think that it ought to be in the Bill, and why I would support its inclusion.
I naturally support the views of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, in introducing the Bill, that it would be lovely to move paragraph 25 of the schedule up to the beginning; but, by some manoeuvre or other, could we not put it in Clause 2 of the Bill, making it quite clear that it has a very high status and that nothing would be enfranchised that would be contrary to any other law?
I am speaking last in the debate, and I do not want to take up the time of the House, but I would encourage the Government to take no counsel of their fears. The request for this legislation may mark a turn of the tide. The permissive tide, of which my old friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby is such a staunch advocate, may hopefully be retreating. I believe that immorality does not really make us happy and that indulgence in obscenity leads only to disgust, as expressed so eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs.
My Lords, the Provinces are much less permissive than the metropolis. They regard, rightly, the condition of part of our capital city as a disgrace to the nation, and I agree with them. The Bill is their opportunity to set the nation as a whole a good example, and I should like to see us strengthen their hand in Committee when the time comes.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
My Lords, in standing here for the very first time, I do so with a great deal of trepidation, especially as we have been considering in such great detail sex and sex shops. I will not dwell on that aspect at great length, but in commencement I should like to thank the noble Lord for introducing the Bill and for introducing it in such a simple way that we quite quickly understood the various clauses, bearing in mind that he apologised to us that the printing of the Bill had been delayed.
I think it would be unfortunate if this Bill, so worth while in some respects, were to enact provisions which are more restrictive than those to be found in recent local Acts; and these local Acts have primarily been promoted by the large metropolitan authorities and, in the words of my noble friend Lady Birk, by dint of much trouble, expense and, of course, parliamentary 497 time. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton—and I hope that I do not misquote him—who stressed (as was stressed in the debate last week) that local government is not about uniformity; local government is about government in the localities. Therefore, because the various parts of the country will have different problems to face and different controls that they wish to put into place, there is a greater need for optional requirements; and this is why 1 would support the noble Lord, Lord Evans, on this point, bearing in mind that in many instances the metropolitan authorities have the same problems as London. I think that this is sometimes forgotten when the Government try to get uniformity.
Many noble Lords have made a point of paragraph 1, Schedule 1—the provisions covering licensing of public music, singing and dancing. I am concerned about this legislation being brought in to this particular Bill. As other noble Lords have said this afternoon, in the large metropolitan authorities where much crime takes place, it arises very often from those establishments that have drink, music and dancing licences. I serve as a magistrate in the City of Birmingham. Over 400 magistrates are on that bench; so that by no stretch of the imagination can one say that we are a small, bigoted group of people who want to influence another, larger group of people. Those 400 magistrates see the results daily—and the magistrates in Birmingham sit every day of the week, including Saturdays—when we have brought before us the serious crimes, the "actual bodily harms", the stabbings that take place, especially in the city centre establishments that have drinking and music and dancing licences. I think that the views of the Magistrates' Association and the views of the Justices' Clerks' Society must be taken into consideration. I hope that when we come to the Committee stage of this Bill we shall find the Government willing to accept amendments.
I say this in the kindest of spirits, for it is only since 1980 that these Acts have been put on the statute book. If we look at page 85 of the Bill we see the extent of the repeals. We see the West Midlands County Council Act, the Cheshire County Council Act, the West Yorkshire Act, and so on down the page. All these Acts will be repealed under this legislation. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether these authorities mentioned in the schedules have been consulted: whether there has been discussion by these local authorities publicly in the council chambers; and whether they have consented to the repeal of their legislation.
My Lords, if I may go on quickly to late-night opening and take-away food shops, I go along with the legislation about the control of noise and nuisance. I should like to support my noble friend Lord Underhill when he described much of the nuisance as arising from the packaging and litter, which is a source of great concern to the people in the surrounding locality. One of the first things which happens with late-night closing and take-away shops is a lowering of the standards of the neighbourhood—not because of what is being sold inside the premises but because of the filth and litter that arises from the sale. Perhaps we can look again into this and other points at the Committee stage.
I listened with great interest to what the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, had to say. I should 498 like to emphasise the point that she made with respect to bill-posting. What annoys many people is the use of the spray paint canister—and I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, spelt this out quite clearly—where whole buildings can be desecrated. One goes to tube stations in London and to the underpasses in many large authorities and one sees the effect of paint spraying. One would have thought that some legislation on this could have come along with the bill-posting legislation.
I have a small question on ear-piercing. When it says that people have to be licensed, does this mean that those jewellers—and there are many of them in large cities who provide an ear-piercing service, for, obviously, if one sells earrings and one can get people to have their ears pierced, the two go together—will have to become licensed under the Bill?
I was interested in the problem which faced both the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, when we started to discuss what some people describe as the "star turn" of the Bill; that is, the provision dealing with sex shops and sex cinemas. It seems as though the right reverend Prelate has a problem in that he has to satisfy both points of view with his congregation just as it seems the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, has to satisfy both sections of his electorate. I can understand that the Government have taken into consideration and have taken on board a problem which is a very serious problem. As we have heard today, this is something which has serious moral overtones—and no politician likes to come down on one side or the other on moral grounds. The Government are to be congratulated by trying to meet in the Bill an anxiety which has been ef great public concern for the last two or three years —as has the spread of these kinds of shop, not only in the capital city but up and down the country.
I am not going to go into any great detail about the debate on sex shops. I think that many noble Lords have given their opinions today and that the Committee stage of the Bill will be long, detailed and controversial upon that particular subject. I would go along with my noble friend Lady Birk about our making use of another word, "permit". I also suggested to her another wording which might perhaps be: "Subject to regulations laid down by …" and then followed by the name of whichever is the local authority.
Finally, as a matter of principle, I am concerned about the provision in Clause 36, which is designed, as far as I can read, to empower the Secretary of State to repeal or amend local provisions which appear to him to be inconsistent with, or to have become unnecessary in consequence of, any provision of the Bill.
We on these Benches would like assurances as to the consultation process which the Secretary of State will undertake before he exercises these powers. We seek clarification as to what is meant by "inconsistent" and "unnecessary". Is wholesale repeal of local legislation and provisions to take place? If so, the obtaining of the local legislation will have been a complete waste of time, as I have said, in the main for the metropolitan authorities, which had a much quicker time-scale that they had to agree with than did the Association of District and County Councils.
General legislation will have been allowed to override local legislation, and I see this—and my Party 499 see this—as another move forward to centralism. This was one of the points of the debate that we had last week on local rates. No doubt some noble Lords on the opposite Benches will share our concern that local—and in most cases more extensive—and better provisions should not be lost after token consultation. These are my observations, and I conclude by saying that with my noble friend Lady Birk I look forward to the Committee stage of the Bill and the amendments which we shall he putting forward.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)
My Lords, before I begin to wind up on this debate, may I congratulate the noble Baroness who I understand was speaking from the Dispatch Box for the first time? As always, she spoke very forcefully and if I could not agree with everything she said—indeed, had I done so it would have been the first time—at least one always has great respect for her background and knowledge when she talks, especially in this area.
It gives me great pleasure to wind up on this Bill. I consider it a very useful measure in a very valuable process: the elimination of many thousands of obsolete or unnecessary provisions in local legislation. The result should be a body of local legislation which is relevant to present needs, greatly reduced in bulk, accessible to those who need to use it and capable of modification in later years when further local Acts are passed.
The first Bill of this kind was introduced by the Opposition when they were in power in 1976, and they initiated discussions on the content of the Bill currently before the House. The Government were pleased to continue the work thus begun and bring it to fruition. I should also like to take this opportunity of thanking the local authority associations for their help and cooperation in preparing the subject-matter of the Bill.
A number of points have been raised during this debate which can be discussed in greater detail in Committee. However, I can offer some comments on them now.
Clause 1 and Schedule I have raised the issue of fees for charities but as so little was said on that I can pass quickly over that and come straight to the first point that was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, when talking about licensing of public entertainments. This aspect has been criticised on a number of grounds. The first criticism was that it is mandatory and not adoptive. Secondly, that it transfers licensing powers from the licensing justices in some places which they consider unnecessary. Thirdly, that it will add to local authority costs. Fourthly, that it will permit local authorities to licence themselves. Fifthly, that it does not permit the licensing of pop festivals and removes existing local authority powers to do so.
If I may tuck the first four of those together, since they are bound up in the purpose of this scheme, in the Government's view the main aim of music and dancing licensing is no longer simply or primarily to maintain law and order, although this is without question still one of the aims of the licensing system. We see it very much more as a means of ensuring the safety of the public from fire and the adequate construction and 500 arrangement of the premises, and a measure of how seriously we take the need for proper safety standards is the fact that we are making the licensing code mandatory. Two local authorities, the district and county council, are concerned with structural and fire standards, and it is from those two that we selected the licensing authority. In the end the district council seemed the more appropriate because it would be better able to judge local feelings and the risk of noise nuisance in a particular area.
May I now come to the issue of licensing pop festivals. The criticism there comes from a power to licence open-air events, particularly pop festivals. If I may deal first with the recommendations of Baroness Stedman's report (if I may refer to it as such) that a national licensing scheme is preferable to a patchwork system of controls. This is a conclusion which the Government never accepted. If, as the working party's report concluded, licensing brings with it a number of problems, including enforcement, there can be little virtue or logic in extending it throughout the country. Nor are we worried about the comparison with London. Pop festivals of the size and type which take place in the open countryside simply do not take place in London. The public entertainments provisions which are in force there and which were designed to cover indoor entertainments may work well there.
The question of the repeal of existing local Acts is more difficult and the Government are very alive to the feelings of local authorities who stand to lose current powers if no amendment can be made to this Bill. Therefore, although I can give no undertaking, I want to say that the Government are doing all they can to try and find a solution to the problem. A point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, concerning licensing public entertainments. In general, she was concerned that there was, as she said, no right of appeal against the refusal of a licence. There are extensive rights of appeal to the magistrates' court and subsequently to the Crown court under paragraph 15 of Schedule 1.
Now if I may refer to the subject of sex shops— which I must say makes quite a change from rate support grant, which is my normal field of activity!— may I say I have listened with great interest to the views expressed this afternoon about the proposals in the Bill which would allow local authorities to control sex shops and sex cinemas by means of a licensing scheme.
I think it is fair to say that, in considering the general question of whether such controls were desirable, most of those who spoke were aware of two conflicting currents. Without exception, concern was expressed about the present lack of controls over those premises: in particular, about the manner in which they can appear overnight in the most unsuitable of locations. Those who spoke recognised, I think, that the proposals in the Bill would afford local authorities with a very real measure of control over these establishments, and ore which would be widely welcomed by those authorities grappling with this problem.
I should like to emphasise that in introducing these provisions the Government are responding to widespread concern in the country as a whole. This concern does not come simply from local authorities or local authority associations: it comes from individual 501 Members of Parliament and from many members of the public who have written to my honourable friends in the Home Office in strong and forthright terms about the serious social consequences they see stemming from the unrestricted spread of sex shops. The Government are entirely convinced of the need to respond to this concern and indeed they believe it would have been quite irresponsible not to have done so. The proposals were widely welcomed in principle when they were first debated in another place and we have every reason to believe that they will receive a similarly strong measure of support in your Lordships' House. But of course some, including those who have clearly said they supported the proposals, expressed disquiet about the principle of licensing shops which, as the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London has said and indeed as another speaker also mentioned, are found morally objectionable.
The Government fully understand these reservations, but we think it is essential to stress, as did my noble friend earlier today, that licensing would not afford any legal protection or immunity for a sex shop or a sex cinema. My noble friend Lord Belstead said it, and I repeat it now for emphasis: nothing will be made law ful which is at present unlawful. We are acting to control something and not to allow something which is not allowed at present; but it is impossible to control something unless one is prepared to acknowledge that it exists. The objections of principle to licensing have in the end to be weighed against the practical advantages of providing local authorities with effective powers where at present they have none and in the light of the difficulties in controlling these establishments by any other means, be it planning legislation or the vexed matter of the general law on obscenity.
This Bill is clearly quite inappropriate, in our view, for a reform of the law on obscenity such as the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, would like to see. We feel it would have been wrong for the Government to have attempted to do this either directly or by the back-door method whereby the local authorities could ban these establishments completely on moral grounds, irrespective of local circumstances.
As regards the Government's own long-term intentions on obscenity legislation, I think I must say very firmly that the reality of the situation, as we heard in the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, is that there are very wide differences of view both in another place and in your Lordships' House on the philosophical basis of any such legislation. In this peculiarly contentious field, I suggest that it would be fatal to attempt to legislate in the absence of some general consensus on what society should seek to achieve. We all accept that the line has to be drawn somewhere, but there are as many views on where the line should be drawn as there are Members of your Lordships' House. It will be clear therefore why the Government see no early prospect of legislation in this field; but to defer any action on sex shops until the prospects for general legislation were firmer would surely be to deny many members of the public any immediate remedy for their legitimate complaints.
Turning now from the principle of licensing controls to their practical application, it has been questioned—
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, if the noble Lord will permit me, before he leaves that can he make any comment at all on the proposal made by the right reverend Prelate, as endorsed by myself and as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, on the simplification of procedure whereby a local authority could say:" In our district, no sex shops"?
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I believe there is provision in the schedule for objection, and I will cover that point before I sit down, if I may. There is provision for objection to sex shops' applications for licences. The local authority will take the content of these fully into account in considering whether to grant a licence. There is no need for explicit grounds for refusal or the grounds that people object. There is no reason why a local authority should not come to its conclusion that a sex shop is not desirable— the discretion will be theirs. That is the right they will have, and, unless I am missing the point very much—and I do not think I am—this is indeed one of the objectives of what we are proposing. I hope that in fact will satisfy the point made by the right reverend Prelate and the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to clarify this point? It is a very important one and it would be most helpful were he able to be a little more explicit. Is he saying that a local authority can decide on prohibition as far so these establishments are concerned in its own local authority area? That is the point, and it is one on which I think we should all value the advice of the noble Lord.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I am not certain of the extent to which that can be done. I think the answer is "yes", providing they take into account the particular circumstances of their own area; but it may well be that this is something I shall have to make more clear than I am doing at the moment. I will certainly write to those who have raised the point and also to any others of your Lordships who may feel it is somewhat obscure. Certainly it is important that it should be made clear.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point—this was something that I left out of my speech because of time—are the Government taking into account that a local authority may decide that it does not want sex shops in its area, but sex shops, as they are now, are legal, so are there no rights for the people who want to have sex shops in that area? The Minister will be aware that it was suggested in another place that if there were sex shops in Brighton, Worthing could say that it did not want them. I think that we are getting near a form of repression over this, if we are not very careful.
§ Lord Sandford
My Lords, this is much the most important single point of the whole clause. I think that local authorities must be absolutely clear as to what their powers are going to be before they willingly accept this measure of control from Parliament. It may well be that the approach which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has just suggested, of deciding in advance that they are not going to have sex shops anywhere in the district is going to far. But I would want to be quite clear that 503 a local authority was going to be empowered to take the view that in respect of each particular application it could come to that conclusion.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, so far as I am aware, the answer to that last point is "yes": that is my understanding of it. Should that not be so, then I will make it clear; but that is my understanding of the matter. Perhaps I may now turn to another point which was mentioned by the noble Baronesses, Lady Birk and Lady Ewart-Biggs, when they suggested that perhaps another term, "permit" might be used rather than the word "licence". I would respectfully suggest that this would not meet the point because it is surely wrong to think of licensing as signifying a seal of approval or as a permissive measure. It would be wrong to introduce amendments which might seem so give credence to this view of the concept of licensing. The term "licence" is a standard one which is used in virtually all the control systems embodied in this Bill, and it would be inconsistent to substitute in this particular case another word—I was going to say "for semantic reasons", but I understand exactly the point which the noble Baronesses are making. I feel that, for the reasons given, it is something upon which we could not embark.
Turning from the principle of licensing controls to the practical application, my noble friend explained in moving the Second Reading why it would not be proper in a Bill of this kind to consider providing local authorities with power to prohibit sex shops as a matter of general principle. He emphasised, however—I think that it bears repetition, and this confirms the point which the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, raised—that, if a local authority decided that it was inappropriate to have any sex establishments in a locality and refused an application on that ground, this power, combined with the other grounds for refusal provided in paragraph 11 of Schedule 3, would enable local authorities to exert a high degree of control.
As my noble friend mentioned earlier, the Government are also considering the question which has been raised as to whether the Bill ought to be amended to ensure that a local authority's view as to the appropriate number of sex establishments in a locality cannot be the subject of an appeal. Of course, we shall take fully into account the views which have been expressed about this. But, whatever is done on this issue, there is little doubt, first, that controls are needed; and, secondly, that the Bill provides these very effectively and in a way which does not recognise illegality or pre-empt any future action in this field.
By some obscure Freudian design, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, was the only one of your Lordships who managed to get both animals and sex into his speech. The Government are fully aware of the concern which has been expressed about the sale of pet animals from stalls and barrows in street markets. There have been a number of attempts in Parliament over the years to amend the Pet Animals Act 1951 so as to prohibit their sale. A Bill proposing this is currently before the House, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, knows, since it is his Bill. It received a Second Reading on 28th January and is to be considered in Committee on Thursday, 18th February.
During the Second Reading debate, my noble friend 504 Lord Belstead took a full part in discussion of the Bill. Therefore, I do not propose to go over all the considerations which he suggested should be taken into account in assessing the case for the Bill. These are set out in the Official Report. But I should like to make the following very brief observations. The 1951 Act already places an onus on local authorities to have regard to the welfare of the animals, before a licence is issued to anyone selling pet animals from stalls and barrows in markets. Local authorities are empowered to arrange inspections, and if they are not satisfied they may refuse to renew a licence. In addition, there is other legislation—primarily, the Protection of Animals Act 1911—which is intended to safeguard the welfare of these animals. Apart from Club Row market in the Borough of Tower Hamlets, there have been few complaints, and I am not sure of the extent to which these have been substantiated.
The welfare of animals is a matter to which it is right that we should give continuing careful consideration. However, the proposal to ban completely the sale of pet animals from licensed stalls and barrows in street markets is not wholly justified, when considered against the wider considerations. The issue will, of course, as I have said, be discussed further in the context of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton.
On the point raised by my noble friends Lord Sandford and Lord Ridley about the Government's proposals on additional powers for local authorities to assist industry following the Burns Report, may I just say this? This matter was, indeed, discussed in the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, on Thursday of last week. There has been a consultation paper put about. I think that the reason why we have put out a further consultation paper is that the specific proposals which the Government make in this direction outline five options, and, although I hope that these will not take long, we nevertheless felt it right that we should put this forward in the way we have done. When we receive the response we shall, of course, react quickly.
I feel that, particularly in the areas of the inner cities and so on, where there is a very great need—perhaps greater than in some other areas—for these powers to give the additional½p, it would be of great help, because I would remind my noble friends that in those cases it would be additional to the powers which already exist under Section 137 of the 1972 Act. But I think that we shall come back to that in due course.
I should perhaps refer quickly to one or two other points that were raised during the debate—
§ Lord Sandford
My Lords, before my noble friend leaves that point, can he say whether the Government intend to include in this Bill these provisions to which he has just been referring, or are they still undecided?
§ Lord Bellwin
No, my Lords. The powers will not come into this Bill, because, clearly, we could not delay this Bill any longer. Although I entirely take the point that the response to the conclusions should also not be delayed, I nevertheless have to say that those steps will not be put into this Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, referred to Clause 28 and was concerned about the protection of damaged buildings 505 and the recovery of costs. The local authority cannot recover costs in relation to buildings subject to closing orders or undertakings, because it is thought that such a power would impose an unfair burden on owners who had already lost the use of such buildings by virtue of the order or undertaking. To that extent, the clause restates the existing position in Section 8 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976.
My noble friend Lord Ridley asked whether this will be the last miscellaneous provisions Bill. In view of the relatively short time left to 1986 when, as was said earlier, so many of the powers which local authorities have will fall, I should think that this will probably be the last one before then; and this is in relation to the effects of Section 262 of the 1972 Act.
On the other point which my noble friend Lord Ridley made, about the input of the local authority associations, some of the associations had a greater input than others. But matters which they raised, which were excluded, were exchanged because they often did not meet the criteria, or were only about problems affecting single individual authorities, and we have particularly tried in this legislation to cover situations concerning the generality of authorities.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, asked about the reconnection of services to premises where the owner had not paid his bill. I think we should want to consider what she said as to that, and I will take it away to think about. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, said that Clause 34 should be extended to cover aerodromes. There is existing enabling legislation for this purpose, as my honourable friend the Minister of State recently explained in a letter to the Association of County Councils. On Clause 26, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, asked how the limit of £250 on the cost of works would be kept abreast of inflation, and I would say that it will have to be reviewed from time to time. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, raised a point about powers of recovery. I thought that it was an interesting point, and we shall certainly consider it before Committee stage.
My noble friend Lord Nugent was concerned about the repeals. We accept in principle the need to repeal local Act provisions which are replaced by mandatory provisions in this Bill, or which modify provisions in public general Acts which are also amended by this Bill. We shall discuss this with the local authority associations, with a view to introducing suitable amendments. However, where provisions in the Bill are adoptive, local authorities are generally free to retain their own if they so wish, and these provisions will therefore remain in force.
In conclusion, I thank everybody who has contributed to a very interesting debate. I hope that the Bill will have a smooth, and—dare I say it?—a swift passage, though I have some doubts about that. But if we do not hope then all is lost. Then it will be able to fulfil its objective of eliminating uncertainty for local authorities. It will save them expense and it will save Parliament the time involved in the repeated consideration of similar provisions in numerous local authority Bills. I commend the Bill to the House.
The Lord Bishop of Norwich
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether I may ask him 506 one historical and factual question. I am not sure that he will be able to give me an immediate answer, but I think the question is relevant. Regarding the principle of licensing about which the noble Lord spoke so eloquently, when street corner betting was a problem licensing appeared to be the way to deal with it. My factual question is whether the volume of known betting has increased or decreased since the licensing of betting shops. Similarly, when the problem of back-street abortions became a great moral issue, did licensing increase or decrease the number of abortions? Would the Minister therefore ponder this question philosophically in relation to the licensing of these tawdry, cruel and unpleasant sex shops?
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I am sure that the right reverend Prelate knows that I ponder everything philosophically. To what effect and with what result is a matter of opinion. Would that the right reverend Prelate had asked me for some statistics, relating to block grant, or something of that kind, when I could have shown some knowledge. In the circumstances, I shall have to answer by saying that I do not know the answer to the right reverend Prelate's question, but I will certainly look into it and I understake to write to him about it.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.