HL Deb 23 March 1982 vol 428 cc926-8

2.46 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

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

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Aberdare.)

Lord Crawshaw

My Lords, I do not intend to keep the House long, but I thought it might be useful if I raised a local voice at this stage to stress one or two aspects of the Bill. I hope that I have the great honour to speak on behalf of one of our most illustrious counties. I need scarcely remind your Lordships that it is, after all, the home of a host of legendary figures, from Robin Hood to Lord Byron and Harold Larwood. The provisions of Part II of the Bill were introduced before the Government's policy, as set out in the consultation paper Local Authority Assistance to Industry and Commerce, which was published this month. A point here is the size of the small firms to which assistance might be granted.

Rather on the same subject, in Part VII of the Bill a provision would allow the county council to continue to provide for the use of other people artificial cricket pitches and other sports arenas which have been developed by the county playing fields officer, who happens to be a former groundsman at Trent Bridge; so, again, he is very well qualified to do this. The promoters hope to show that this provision will promote no threat to private enterprise in the area.

The Part of the Bill which I particularly wish to stress this afternoon is Part VI. This may be of more general interest to your Lordships and it deals with the licensing of massage parlours and sauna baths. Up to now, the local authorities and the police have co-operated to enforce provisions of local Acts in the interests of public health and morality. In fact, as a result of investigations carried out by the police vice squad and health officers during the past year, licences of four sauna baths and massage parlours—in other words, about one-quarter of the total in the City of Nottingham—have not been renewed, and that is an indication of the problem.

There is a need to consider the interests of the ordinary person suffering from lumbago, rheumatism, sciatica et cetera, who goes in for a rub of camphorated oil or wintergreen and finds himself offered, to his surprise, a whole range of sexual treatments in addition. The owners of respectable premises also work on the licensing system to protect the name of their profession and operation. There is no question of the local authority making money out of issuing licences. The charge hitherto has been 25p, and it is expected to be about £5 in future.

The present system has the support, among others, of Mr. Michael English, one of the local Members of the House of Commons and, as I say, of the police who have on their hands already enough problems with an escalating crime rate, particularly instances of rape. Your Lordships will be discussing tomorrow a Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, concerning the problems of law and order. This is a very pertinent aspect of it. I do not believe that now is the time for any relaxation of the existing laws.

The thought that these licensing laws might be relaxed is the result of the removal of similar power from the Greater Manchester Bill during its passage through this House in 1979. On that occasion, the Home Office expressed the view that such powers were superfluous and that the whole matter could be dealt with under the Sexual Offences Act. I entirely agree that superfluous rules and regulations normally lead to increased bureaucracy, but in this case the number of premises is small and I feel that local authorities should be in a position to keep strict control.

I fear that recent subsequent trends have shown that the original hopes of the Home Office, though laudable, have been misguided. There is no indication at present of the view of the Home Office. There was an inconclusive exchange here on the Local Government Bill on 11th March. The Home Office spokesman did not come out strongly in any direction. Therefore I conclude by saying that I hope that whoever in this House deals with the remaining stages of the Bill, will on this occasion leave these powers intact.

Lord Aberdare

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, for having drawn attention to certain aspects of the Nottinghamshire County Council Bill. There are four petitions against the Bill, two of which are concerned with Part VI which deals, as the noble Lord said, with establishments for massage or special treatment. These petitions will be referred in the normal way to a Select Committee which will certainly, I shall ensure, have available the words which have been spoken by the noble Lord. The other provisions, together with these, if the petitions were withdrawn, would be referred to the Unopposed Bill Committee, and again I should make sure that the noble Lord's speech is drawn to their attention.

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