§ 11.28 a.m.
§ Read a third time with the amendments.
§ Clause 28 [Control of demolitions]:
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Depart-
ment of the Environment (Lord Bellwin) moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 33, line 44, after ("as") insert ("authorising any interference with apparatus or works of statutory undertakers authorised by any enactment to carry on an undertaking for the supply of electricity, gas or water.
(3A) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (3) of this section, nothing in subsection (1) or (2) of this section shall be construed as").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Foot, ably argued at Report stage that a provision was needed to make it clear that a demolisher in carrying out works required by a local authority notice would not thereby be exempt from any liability at common law for damage et cetera to statutory undertakers' apparatus. My noble friend Lord Avon undertook to study Lord Foot's helpful remarks, and this amendment is a declaratory provision which I trust meets the arguments of the noble Lord. The noble Lord will recognise that the amendment supersedes the comments of my noble friend Lord Avon in a letter that he wrote to Lord Foot after the Report stage reiterating the Government's initial view on the matter. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 39 [Insurance etc. of local authority members and persons voluntarily assisting local authorities and probation committees]:
Baroness David moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 48, line 28, at end insert—
("(5) A local authority may make provisions for sums equivalent to the sums mentioned in subsection (2) of this section by means of a fund established under paragraph 16 of Schedule 13 to this Act, and any sum so provided shall be treated in all respects as if it were a sum received by such local authority under a contract of insurance made by virtue of section 140A or 140B above.").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Minister will remember that we have had two tries at this already: one by my noble friend Lord Mishcon at Committee stage and one by me at Report stage on Friday last. That was overtaken by Government amendments which now make up Clause 39. However, I achieved a debate on the principle, and because I was bound to withdraw the amendment, I gave a clear indication of intent to return to this matter at Third Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, promised to write to me and he kindly replied on 25th May. We have taken note of what he said and as a result are trying something rather different.
§ The present amendment is drafted differently from that tabled previously. It is no longer declaratory—that is, for the avoidance of doubt—but is framed positively and definitively to confer the desired power. This should avoid the debate getting bogged down in possibly difficult questions about the precise legal position of local authorities in relation to voluntary assistance.
§ Whatever the argument on the exact legal status of volunteers might be, certain points are clear: one, voluntary assistants provide valuable assistance to local authorities, which is acknowledged in the letter I had from the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin; two, local authorities incur expenses in relation to volunteers by way of supervision, use of equipment and materials and in simi- 1261 lar ways; and three, it is proper that local authorities should insure volunteers against personal accidents while engaged as such; that is, on the business of a local authority. That is recognised by the very existence of the Clause 39 provisions.
§ The only argument is about the method of effecting that insurance. We take one view on costs and convenience; the Government take another. Why should not the question be left to the people who are in a position to know; that is, the actual local authorities on the ground who use and insure volunteers? The first line of our new amendment says "may". The Government have not at any time disclosed the reason why they do not want local authorities to use their own insurance funds.
§ In his letter, the Minister suggests that it is expensive to set up funds. But we are assuming that local authorities have already set them up, that they are already in existence. It may be that the reason for the Government's dislike is an inclination towards privatisation. If so, it would be a pity if such an objective were to be allowed to conflict with another Government main objective; that is, the promotion of local authority efficiency and conservation of local authority resources. It would be even worse if it were to conflict with another principle, that of minimum Government interference with or restriction on the exercise by democratically elected local authorities of their powers. I hope that this new amendment will be acceptable to the Government. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, the Government explained their position fully on this matter in Committee, on Report and in correspondence with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and the noble Baroness, Lady David. The new approach—if I may call it that—does not change our view. In the short time available for consideration of this amendment, I confess that I am doubtful as to the precise effect of its drafting.
The amendment appears to recognise the legal views expressed by the Government as to the absence of powers for local authorities to establish a capital fund to provide benefits to volunteers in the event of accidents. The amendment purports to confer a new power on local authorities to establish such funds. However, the amendment refers to the general power to establish funds conferred by paragraph 16 of Schedule 13 to the Local Government Act 1972. This is unnecessary. Any new power should be a free-standing one which is exempted from the more general provisions of paragraph 16, in the same way as loans funds and superannuation funds for which special powers are conferred. In this respect, I would draw the noble Baroness's attention to the closing words of paragraph 16(1).
Furthermore, the amendment provides that a local authority may provide such sums as are referred to in Section 140C(2). These are sums received by way of benefits under a contract of insurance. I cannot see how a local authority could establish a capital fund to make provision for the payment of such sums. These sums will almost always be unquantifiable until agreed between the insurer and the person taking out the contract of insurance. The amendment, I would respectfully suggest, is inadequate in this respect.
What would be required if such a power was 1262 considered desirable would be—and I am certainly not attempting to draft here—a power to establish a capital fund for the purpose of paying benefits, whether by way of lump sums or otherwise, to volunteers who are injured, whether fatally or not, while engaged in assisting a local authority or who suffer from a disease or sickness—whether fatal or not—as a result of being so engaged.
For these technical reasons alone, we feel that we cannot accept the amendment, even if it was considered desirable. I am dealing with this in some detail, because I think that is what the noble Baroness would want me to do. As I have said before, the enactment of a new power to establish such a fund is not in any event thought to be justified in the case of volunteers. If local authorities wish to insure them against accidents, then they should do so by means of a contract of insurance. This is precisely what has been authorised by the local Act precedents. During the Report stage the noble Baroness, Lady David, expressed the view that volunteers would come under Section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972, and that the local authority could thereby establish a fund under paragraph 16 of Schedule 13 to the 1972 Act to insure them.
The noble Baroness also commented that insurance by the local authority of volunteers by means of the clause would be more expensive and time-consuming than use of the kind of fund mentioned. But I have no reason to think that the insurance arrangements authorised by the new Sections 140A and 140B will be more costly and time-consuming for local authorities than setting up a capital fund of the kind proposed in the amendment. It could prove to be more cost effective. The payment of premiums under a contract of insurance will, I suggest, prove to be cheaper than setting up a capital fund, investing it to provide sufficient income, dealing with claims and paying benefits.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? Supposing a local authority has this fund already established, as I understand is the case with a great number of local authorities?
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, some do; and some do not. I know that to be the case. I should have thought that we were here trying to deal with the total situation as it will be in the future to cover all authorities. If evidence is required in support of what I am saying, it should be noted that no fewer than eight local authority rationalisation Bills have included powers to enable the authorities in these different county areas to enter into contracts of insurance against risks to their voluntary assistants.
The Government remain of the view that it is not necessary and arguably not desirable to make provisions in the Bill along the lines of the amendment. This clearly is something where there is room for an argument and a point of view; it is not cut and dried at all. It is really a question of a judgment as to which is the best way of doing something which we all agree should be done. The Government's view is the one which I have expressed.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that careful and long reply. Clearly, trouble has 1263 been taken to look at the situation as it is. I still cannot understand why the Government are so obstinate in not doing what a number of local authorities want; but I do not think it is a matter on which at Third Reading I should divide the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Baroness David moved Amendment No. 3:
After Clause 39, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Nuisance and Disturbance on educational Premises.
§ (1) Any person who without lawful authority is present on premises to which this section applies and causes or permits nuisance or disturbance to the annoyance of persons who lawfully use those premises (whether or not any such persons are present at the time) shall he guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £50.
§ (2) This section applies to premises, including playgrounds, playing fields and other premises for outdoor recreation—
- (a) of a school maintained by a local education authority; or
- (b) of a further education establishment provided by such an authority.
§ (3) If—
- (a) a police constable; or
- (b) subject to subsection (5) below, a person whom a local education authority have authorised to exercise the power conferred by this subsection,
§ (4) The power conferred by subsection (3) above may also be exercised, in relation to premises of an aided or special agreement school, by a person whom the school governors have authorised to exercise it.
§ (5) A local education authority may not authorise a person to exercise the power conferred by subsection (3) above in relation to premises of a voluntary school without first obtaining the consent of the school governors.
§ (6) Except as provided by subsection (7) below, no proceedings under this section shall be brought by any person other than—
- (a) a police constable; or
- (b) subject to subsection (8) below, a local education authority.
§ (7) Proceedings under this section for an offence committed on premises of an aided or special agreement school may be brought by a person whom the school governors have authorised to bring such proceedings.
§ (8) A local education authority may not bring proceedings under this section for an offence committed on premises of a voluntary school without first obtaining the consent of the school governors.
§ (10) This section shall come into force on the expiry of the period of two months beginning with the date on which this Act is passed.").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with this amendment I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 23. This is a new clause drawn up after extensive consultations with the local authority associations, the DES and the Home Office; so I hope very much it will now be acceptable to everyone. If I may explain briefly about the new clause, the concept of "nuisance" and "disturbance" identifies the activities which the original trespass suggestions were aimed at but ensures that the criminal law is used in response to a positive act rather than the mere problem of trespass. It may be argued that civil remedies should still suffice, but the difficulties of using those have been debated at previous stages of the Bill and I hope we have 1264 persuaded the Government that authorities support these powers partly because of the inadequacies of those civil remedies.
§ The Executive Council of the ACC accepted their need and they have therefore been considered by all the shire counties and in recent months some 19 counties have reiterated their support for acquisition of equivalent powers. I said at Report stage that those authorities which possess powers have felt them to be effective, and I mentioned Barnsley. What is more important, some of them and some of those who support them have undertaken local discussions with the voluntary bodies to seek their views. Those who did consult received no substantial objections. It might also be pointed out that the previous by-laws which authorities set applied to both county and voluntary schools, and seemed to cause no difficulty at that time.
§ The drafting is the result of consultation with the department and the Home Office, though regrettably we have not had time to involve the voluntary bodies; but I hope they are adequately safeguarded by subsections (4), (5), (7) and (8). I want to assure the House that there is no question of these powers being sought to undermine the rights which voluntary school governors possess under Section 22(3) of the 1944 Act. Evidence from some voluntary schools suggests that they would welcome powers similar to those of their county colleagues, and that is the reason for their inclusion. It was felt that the general consent provisions of the Barnsley Bill were inadequate. Subsections (4) to (8) make their application to voluntary schools much more specific and, while they still rely on consent, make clear that the authority will act on these powers only if the governing bodies feel it necessary. In any event, Section 22 of the Act already allows authorities powers of direction in voluntary schools, and it was felt that because of their use by LEAs this new clause should be comprehensive but should not interfere with the voluntary rights.
§ Subsection (10) is new, and the Home Office wanted this because they are not willing to create new criminal offences without giving everyone an opportunity to consider how they may react. This means there will be two months before this new clause comes into operation, which gives the necessary time that the Home Office wants. The fine is a modest one of £50, so I hope very much that with all this co-operation the Minister will be able to accept the amendment. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords, I should like to support the noble Baroness in this amendment. The only query I would raise is that the penalty is limited, as far as I can see, to a fine with no alternative. Apart from that, I find the suggested clause wholly admirable.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I, too, should like to give qualified support to the amendment. I am advised on this amendment by the Isle of Wight County Council. We would very much have preferred the noble Baroness's Amendment No. 179 at Report stage, which is like the Barnsley one and also like the Isle of Wight Act on the subject. One the whole, in the Isle of Wight we would rather this amendment did not go through 1265 but, if the Government are going to support it, we would not object.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)
My Lords, when we discussed this problem at an earlier stage, I said that the Government remained to be convinced of the need to bring the criminal law into this area. I also indicated that there were problems associated with the position of voluntary schools and that we had serious reservations about the propriety of creating an offence of criminal trespass or, for that matter, of using by-laws to deal with the sort of problem which we were discussing. I note that my noble friend's support for this clause is qualified, and indeed, I might say that he is always well qualified. However, I hope I can reassure him at this stage. In the short time that has passed since Report stage, I am pleased to say that it has been possible to arrange a meeting between representatives of the local authority associations, officials from the Department of Education and Science and officials from the Home Office, and that, as a result of that meeting, we now have a clearer idea of the sort of problems which arise on school premises.
Our objections to an offence of criminal trespass remain, as do our objections to the creation of a bylaw-making power which would enable local authorities to regulate conduct on school premises—indeed, we understand that the local authorities themselves are now somewhat doubtful about that. However, I am pleased to say that the amendment before us is not open to the same objections of principle as the others which have previously been tabled and seems to us to adopt a more satisfactory approach to the problem. It seeks to penalise only those who have no right to be present on school premises and who create a nuisance or disturbance to the annoyance of others using the premises: in other words, a person's activities must give rise to some identifiable adverse result before he will become liable to prosecution. This fits much more closely with our normal philosophy underlying the creation of new offences and, although I have to say that we have some slight reservations about introducing the notions of "nuisance" and "disturbance" —which are fairly imprecise terms—into a criminal offence provision of this sort, we do not consider those reservations to be sufficient of themselves to justify rejection of this amendment.
The proposed new clause provides the police with a statutory power to remove from school premises a person who is reasonably suspected of committing or having committed an offence under the clause. Authorised officials will also have this power, although it seems clear that in most cases they will not wish to exercise it themselves but will call upon the police. Clearly, if an offence is created, the police will have a duty to enforce it and will respond to the best of their ability to calls for assistance from school caretakers and other authorised persons. I must make it plain, however, that there can be no question of the police being required to patrol school premises in order to enforce this provision. I am sure the House will agree that to do so would be undesirable in principle and would represent an unjustified demand on police resources.
Turning now to the voluntary schools, I can say 1266 that the Government are reasonably satisfied that the amendment now before us provides adequate safeguards for the position of the governors of those schools. The position will be that, if they find themselves faced with problems similar to those increasingly being encountered by local education authorities, the remedy offered by this provision will be available to them also. It will, however, be for them to decide whether or not they wish to make use of it.
To sum up, I hope I have made it plain from what I have said that the Government have some reservations about the need to create a new criminal offence to deal with nuisance on school premises: nevertheless, in view of the very strong feelings which have been expressed on this subject at earlier stages, and of the representations and further information which we have received from the local authority associations we are prepared to accept the amendment now proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady David.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I am naturally very gratified at this final success and I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. I also should have preferred a higher fine but I assumed that Home Office support was necessary, and they thought this was the appropriate fine, so I felt I had better accept it. May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that we had to arrive at some compromise if we were going to get anything, and that is why this amendment does not perhaps go quite so far as he might wish. At any rate, it is very nice to have a success and I am very grateful to everyone who has contributed to it.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 40 [Lost and uncollected property]:
Lord Bellwin moved Amendments Nos. 4, 5 and 6:
Page 49, line 39, leave out ("lost property vests in a local") and insert ("property which came into the possession of a local authority as mentioned in paragraph (a) of subsection (1) above vests in the").
line 43, leave out ("the sale of lost property vest in a local") and insert ("sale of property which came into the possession of a local authority as mentioned in the said paragraph (a) vest in the").
Page 50, line 30, leave out from ("to") to ("and") in line 31 and insert ("property which came into the possession of a local authority as mentioned in paragraph (a) of subsection (1) above, the date when it came into their possession ").
§ The noble Lord said: With Amendment No. 4 I should like to move Amendments 5 and 6. These are drafting amendments arising from the Government's promised consideration of Amendment No. 174ZA, moved and withdrawn by the noble Baroness, Lady David, at Report stage. I am grateful to her for having drawn attention to the matter. The amendments make it clear, when read together with subsection (1)(a), that the clause applies equally to property left or abandoned on local authority premises and to lost property. I beg to move.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, may I just say that I am again very grateful to the Minister and glad that this has been done.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.1267
§ Clause 43 [Definition of certain local authority expenditure etc.]:
§ 11.50 a.m.
Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 52, line 31, leave out ("includes") and insert ("excludes").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 8. As I think it was agreed by all noble Lords at the time, proper preparation for tackling Government Amendment No. 177CA on Report was not practicable, because the amendment was tabled so late that interested parties, such as the CBI who advise me on these matters, were not able to give the amendment proper study. I regret very much, therefore, that I was not able to table this amendment on Report, and thus have outstanding another stage of the Bill for further modification, if necessary.
§ The fact is that the CBI feel most strongly that local authorities should be steered away from acting as mini-finance houses. They should be encouraged to concentrate on helping business by better performance of their main duties; for example, providing good roads, cost-effective rubbish collection and disposal et cetera. Above all, they should have the prime aim of reducing the rate burden on big and small businesses alike, so as to enable them to retain more of their own money for providing any extra finance which they require.
§ I fully recognise that there are a few good schemes of limited financial assistance provided by the wiser local authorities, under the legislation as it stands at the moment. It would be a shame if my amendment, if supported by your Lordships, were to deprive those few local authorities of their ability to help in a minor way. However, the CBI feel most strongly that, if there is to be a gloss on the powers bestowed in Section 137 of the principal Act—and they would have much preferred no such gloss—then it is preferable to make clear to local authorities that they should help business by a more cost-effective performance of their main functions, than by setting up yet another unskilled agency for doling out money directly. Accordingly, I hope very much that your Lordships will join me in supporting this amendment, which is designed to encourage local authorities to stick to their lasts. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Baroness Gaitskell
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him how we can do all the beautiful things that he has suggested by reducing the rates?
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, if I may join in, the noble Baroness tempts me very much but I shall try to resist. I clearly understand what my noble friend is saying and I have much sympathy with the philosophy behind it, but in practical terms the Government could not accept these amendments.
Noble Lords will recall the debate last Friday, during which the Government's proposals on local authority powers to assist industry were discussed and agreed. My noble friend Lord Avon set out the Government's position clearly. Briefly, in the light of the response to our consultation paper, we decided 1268 to table amendments to the Bill on those matters which were generally agreed to be useful and relatively non-controversial and to keep the situation under review. Your Lordships will, indeed, recall from the earlier debate that the Government consider that Section 137 already enables authorities to provide various forms of assistance to industry. However, we were conscious of the doubts felt by some authorities, as reflected in the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Sandford. We accepted the desirability of avoiding doubt where doubt could reasonably be avoided, and for that reason tabled amendments which amend Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972 in such a way as to clarify the matter.
Clearly, the amendments which are declaratory as to the scope of Section 137 of the 1972 Act, and which were agreed on Friday, have proved to be rather more controversial that we would have imagined. This surprises me to some extent because, in effect, they do no more than clarify the existing position under Section 137 of the 1972 Act. They do not introduce any new powers for assistance to industry. Nor do they increase the levels of expenditure available to local authorities for this purpose. My noble friend Lord Avon explained during the debate that assistance to industry would continue to be subject to capital expenditure controls and to the constraints imposed by rate support grant. I should have thought that this would have assuaged some of the concern which my noble friend Lord Mottistone now expresses.
We accept that local authority assistance should not be completely unfettered, and I am quite sure that examples could be given of the effect of using Section 137 with its 2p rate in the case of some authorities. We are talking of tens of millions of pounds in the case of very large authorities, so the point which my noble friend raised is a very valid one, and one with which we have to be concerned. But, even so, we do not believe that local authorities should be entirely excluded from assisting in the local economic development of their respective areas. That is the effect of these amendments and it is not an effect which I could support.
Furthermore, if all authorities were entirely excluded from using Section 137 to assist industry, the consequences could be quite damaging. Our inner city policy could be put at risk. Many of the economic programmes of designated inner city areas, which are supported by the urban programme, are undertaken using the powers in Section 137. I am sure it is not my noble friend's intention that the inner city programmes should be harmed, but that could be the effect of Amendment No. 7. Similar problems could arise with access to European funds.
For these reasons, I feel that we cannot accept the amendments. I hope that my noble friend will be able to withdraw them, especially with my assurance which he has from other remarks I have made on this same subject. One has to watch very carefully exactly what happens in this whole field, and I assure him that we will watch carefully. But certainly with these amendments as they are, we could not accept them.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I should like to support what the Minister has said on these amendments. I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord 1269 Mottistone, on the question of time. It is perfectly true that we got them very much at the last moment, with amendments to Government amendments at Report stage. But we have discussed the subject many times before. We discussed it on an Unstarred Question which was asked by my noble friend Lord Northfield, we have had an opportunity to see the Government's consultation paper and a great deal of activity—which I agree all had to be rather pressured —has gone on.
The Minister is quite right in saying that it should be left as it is now, because that was the general feeling on all sides of the House when we discussed this on Report, with the exception of the reservations which were made, and which have been repeated today, by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. There is now a chance to see how this works out. Enormous sums are not involved and I feel sure that, if this gives an opportunity to activate industry and productivity in certain areas, it will benefit the people concerned in the CBI, as well as local authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, may find that it works out in a very positive way from his point of view.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend Lord Mottistone in this amendment. I have taken no part in this Bill, but it seems extraordinary that ratepayers should have to give financial assistance to private businesses in local authority areas. As I say, I have taken no part in this Bill, so perhaps I should not speak on it. But it occurs to me from my knowledge of certain things that have happened under various local authorities that the way is laid open to—I will not use the word "corruption". However, members of local authorities have friends who are in business and I should have thought that in certain cases this could be unsatisfactory. I shall say no more. Nevertheless, I support the amendment of my noble friend, although I know that the Government will not accept it. But it surprises me that the poor ratepayer, who is absolutely bled, should have to provide financial assistance to support industry in a local authority's area.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend and your Lordships would allow me to comment on what has just been said by my noble friend. This power has been in existence for very many years. It is not a new power which we are talking about. I think I am right in saying that this power to spend a 2p rate has existed since 1866. However, I am open to correction on that. The debate is about how authorities use it. What we have done in the Bill is to clarify certain aspects of it which were uncertain. There can never be any harm in doing that.
What my noble friend has just said is a matter for concern, but this is a question of local authorities adopting a responsible attitude. They can spend a 2p rate on anything at all which they feel it is in their interests to do. To remove that power at a time when local authorities are taking a greater interest in economic regeneration problems than they have ever done before would be a considerable mistake. There can always he abuse. It is up to local people to ensure that it does not take place, and I hope that this is 1270 what they will always do. As I have already said, to take away this power, as has been suggested, and which has always been there, would be a dreadful mistake at this time.
I hope that the fears expressed by my noble friend Lord Mottistone and the CBI will not prove to be justified. I expressed my own reservations a few moments ago and I continue to have them. In the main, however, I am afraid that we could not in any way accept these amendments.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, may I support the Minister from the experience of my own borough where the introducton of small starter businesses, with the assistance of the local authority, is not only providing work but—may I reassure the noble Viscount—bringing in rate income as well. Therefore, this does not represent a hand-out without any kind of recompense. In the borough their physical appearance is right, and they seem to me to be a splendid acquisition.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken, even those who have spoken against me. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard for his support. The problem is that we did not have sufficient time to draft this amendment. I take the point which has been made by my noble friend the Minister: that if my amendment were agreeable to your Lordships it might have a damaging effect upon the good bit of financing which is being carried on in various ways at the moment. A better amendment would have been strike out Clause 43 altogether. However, the Government had only just put it in, so it was clear that they would not agree to that course and we had to think of another way of getting the message across.
We feel strongly that local authority direct financing is a wrong course to take. It is the wrong way in which local authorities should be using their talents. Their talents lie in doing other things, and that is where they ought to concentrate their efforts. If they did that cost effectively, they would be in a position to levy a lower rate, and that is where the money would come from. However, I see that I shall not receive sufficient support in the House for the basic argument represented by this amendment. Indeed, I am not altogether fond of it and would like there to be another stage of the Bill in which to refine it. However, we have already talked about that. Therefore, I shall not detain your Lordships further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 8 not moved.]
§ Schedule 1 [Licensing of public entertainments]:
Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 9:
Page 58, line 39, leave out from ("pay") to end of line 40 and insert ("a reasonable fee determined by the appropriate authority").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 9. I think it will be for the convenience of your Lordships if I speak at the same time to Amendment No. 14, which is the principal amendment, and refer also to Amendment No. 13, standing in the name 1271 of my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, which covers the same point.
§ As many of your Lordships will know, my noble friend tabled amendments at the Committee and Report stages of the Bill to revise paragraph 19 of Schedule 3. This paragraph enables a local authority to require an applicant to pay "such reasonable fee" in respect of the application as it may determine. My noble friend's concern—and it is a very proper concern—is that local authorities should be able, in determining their fees, to take into account all reasonable costs which they incur in operating the licensing controls, including inspection and enforcement costs. The amendment now tabled by my noble friend is identical to that moved on Report.
§ Your Lordships may recall that when this matter was discussed at Report I assured my noble friend that the Government were perfectly satisfied that the present wording achieved this object, and I further explained that the present provision was in standard form and that we were extremely reluctant to cast doubt unnecessarily on other similar provisions by altering this paragraph. I nevertheless willingly agreed to discuss the matter again with my noble friend before Third Reading. Having done so, the result has not led us to change our view that the present provision is satisfactory and that it would in particular enable the local authority to take into account inspection and enforcement costs.
§ None the less, it appeared from the conversations we had and from a letter which we received from the London Boroughs Association—a copy of which was sent to my noble friend—that part of the perceived difficulty lay in the words, "in respect of the application". It was felt, as I understand it, that these words carried an implication that it was only the administrative costs involved in processing an application which could be considered. That would, in our view, be a wholly mistaken interpretation of these words. However, we did not think that the omission of these words would cause any difficulty, and I was therefore glad to be able to say that the Government would table the present amendments to delete the words from paragraph 19 of Schedule 3 and from the equivalent paragraph of Schedule 1.
§ I hope that my noble friend will feel that the proposed amendments go far enough towards meeting his concern about this provision. As he knows, we feel that the concern is itself unfounded, but this should serve to mitigate it. I know that my noble friend would have liked us to go further. However, for the reasons I have already given, I am afraid we could not be persuaded to do that as it would call into question the efficacy of other provisions elsewhere. I hope my noble friend will be satisfied with the distance we have been able to go to help him, and that when the time comes he will not move his amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I must thank my noble friend for the amendment which he has just moved, and in particular for Amendment No. 14 which relates to paragraph 19 of the schedule, about which both sides shared considerable anxiety. What 1272 my noble friend has proposed to do in this amendment, which will remove the words, "in respect of the application", undoubtedly improves the paragraph. As the paragraph reads, it appears that the fee would be only in regard to the expenses concerned with the application. What we are all concerned about—and I know that my noble friend is concerned about it, too—is that monitoring and enforcement should also be covered, because they will be expensive.
To fill out the picture, I should like to give my noble friend and the House a rough idea of the kind of fee which I reckon Westminster City Council, who have by far the most sex shops, will have to charge. They tell me that they expect to have to appoint about 10 enforcement officers and I suppose they will have to appoint a chief enforcement officer as well. These men—and women, if they feel tough enough to do this very unpleasant job—will have to be quite well paid. They will need secretarial staff to back them up. I do not think that one can run that sort of staff, with a chief officer and all, under about £100,000 a year or a figure of that order. On top of that, there are the legal expenses. One does not know how often they will have to go to court, but as soon as appeals take place in the Crown Court, and perhaps beyond, the cost may be very heavy. I say again that the main operators in Soho have boasted that they have a £1 million reserve fund to meet their legal and other expenses. They are not frightened either of fines or legal expenses. We must make sure that Westminster City Council and indeed other local authorities have an effective means of charging the right fee.
Let us look at the numbers involved. I suppose that there are some 200 sex shops in Westminster, there being over 100 in Soho. Supposing the council halved that number and 100 were left. This means that the fee to be paid would be something in the order of £2,000 a year. That seems reasonable enough to us, but whether it would seem reasonable to a magistrates court is another matter. I just make the point roundly that it is going to be quite expensive to operate this licensing system effectively, and we really must make sure that the ratepayer does not have to bear the cost of it, otherwise the system will break down.
That was the motive behind the amendment I moved. I appreciate that my noble friend is in difficulty in that he wants to preserve the standard form. I make the point again that these are not "standard" people; they are going to be a very difficult lot to deal with. They are very powerful financially and they will cause the local authorities concerned a lot of trouble. Still, I accept that my noble friend has done his best. We have discussed this behind the scenes. He has improved his amendment and so, while I would much prefer my own amendment, and think that it would make it absolutely plain that we are concerned that the Government should monitor enforcement as well as the other administrative expenses, I myself would be prepared to accept what I was going to say was half a loaf, but I think is in fact a quarter of a loaf, rather than no loaf at all. It is certainly not something to divide on. With that, I must also thank my noble friend for doing what I know he did; most conscientiously studying the matter to see how far he could go. I shall be content, when the time comes, not to move my amendment.
§ 12.13 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I preferred the version of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, to that of the noble Lord the Minister in Amendment No. 9. The two dangers which I shall describe in a moment are not so great in relation to an application for a licence for entertainment as they are in applying for a licence for a sex shop. The question is, what are these fees for? Are they at the will and pleasure and determination of the local authority, to make what money they like on the side? Are they a temptation for corruption? That report on corruption in local government has not yet been attended to properly. If the fee is to be related to the expenses of the local authority, to ensure that the public are not asked to pay for licensing these activities which have a commercial purpose, all well and good. But if they are to be used by the local authority at their own discretion for any purpose which comes to their minds, then I think that is open to serious objection.
When I was going into the whole question of dogs and dog wardens the Kennel Club drew my attention to the fact that, under the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973, registration is provided for and a fee is payable to the local authority. The variation in fees charged by local authorities for that registration is between £10 and £100. The result is that the Kennel Club took the view that their members should not submit to being exploited, and a large proportion of the members of the Kennel Club have refrained from registering under the 1973 Act. When I came to draft the amendment as to whether registration of a dog breeder would be sufficient to entitle a person to the benefit of the licence for dog breeders, the Kennel Club pointed out many of their members would not be registered under the 1973 Act. That is why I had to introduce a proviso that registration with any recognised canine or dog voluntary society should be a suitable qualification. That is one illustration of what has happened to fees at the discretion of local authorities.
There is also an Act of Parliament dealing with dangerous animals. A licence has to be sought from the local authority for that. I am told—although I do not have the same evidence in this case as I do in respect of the 1973 Act—that the variation in the fees seems to be either according to the local authority or according to the species of the animal. Local authorities seem to charge more for elephants than they do for pumas. There is nothing in the Act that says that the fees should be related to the size of the beast or to its relative danger; it has to do with granting a licence before one may keep a dangerous animal defined in the Act which might be a positive danger to other people around. A condition of granting the licence is that the applicant must have proper safeguards against damage to others.
Now, when we come to entertainment I am sure it will be almost mutual. Local authorities will want to make a profit out of licences for entertainment; but when they come to Amendment No. 14 on sex shops, all the viciousness of local attitudes can be brought to bear and all the dangers of corruption can arise: "You want a sex shop? How big a licence are you prepared to pay? "And while they are at it, "If I can reduce the licence fee below an exorbitant figure, what about something on the side?" This has to be faced in administra- 1274 tion. The Royal Commission on Standards of Conduct in Public Life would not have been set up had it not been for the widespread Poulson scandal, which rocked local government at the time. When we came to inquire into local government, we found numerous other examples of the dangers of temptation which were open to the elected representatives and sometimes to the salaried officials. So do not let us shirk this issue. If local authorities are going to be free to fix their own licensing fees, and the only condition in the Act is the word "reasonable", then I believe that the two dangers I have described should be borne in mind.
My final question is, what is "reasonable"? If one takes out reasonableness in relation to administration, to enforcement and to regulation—which are ascertainable criteria—what then is "reasonable"? Reasonable by reference to what? Reasonable by reference to the ability of the applicant to pay it? Reasonable by reference to fees which are charged for other services? Or reasonable having regard to the undesirable nature of the activity which is about to be licensed? Is that the criteria which are to be followed? I suggest it is important to have some assurances here.
When I was dealing with the dogs business, I eventually proposed that a maximum should be within the discretion of the Minister; that the local authority should not be able to play fast and loose with fees. After all, professional people are in business for fees. Are local authorities in business for fees? With present pressures on local government finance any opportunity of increasing local revenues will obviously be a temptation to local authorities to find out what they can do. So I do not take this as a routine change. We are not just playing with words here; we are dealing with a principle.
What the Minister has done under his amendment is to take out all principles and relate it to one word "reasonable", with no other guide and no other condition and no other discipline. In those circumstances, "reasonable" is what they say reasonable is. What is the remedy of the citizen? Where does he go to have a construction placed upon the word "reasonable"—legal proceedings, with ruinous costs involved, in order to get a definition of "reasonable", in order to save himself from the arbitrary decision of the local authority who happen not to like sex shops and would not have them if they could help it, and, by Jove!, they are going to make people pay if they come? Is this going to be the attitude they are up against? So I suggest that this has far more implications than have been brought into it in the discussions so far.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, on reflection perhaps it was a mistake that we gave permission to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to speak on the two amendments together, because although the amendments are similar in wording (as I think the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and my noble friend Lord Houghton have already pointed out), they are in application completely different. The one referring to Schedule 1, to entertainment, is something which we are used to; we are used to the giving of licences for entertainment by local authorities, drink entertainment, dance entertainment; this is something we are quite used to. The question of enforcement also applies in quite different ways. When we come to Schedule 3, on sex 1275 shops, however, I feel that this is an entirely different matter. We are here, if I may use the phrase, on virgin territory, because this is the first time that we have had this question of licensing of sex shops in this country. All the work and discussion on it has been done in your Lordships' House, because it came up to us from the Commons for us to sort it out.
I very much prefer Lord Nugent's amendment, although we do not always agree on some of the aspects of sex shops. His amendment makes it clear beyond doubt that the question of enforcement should be taken into consideration in relation to the fee. This would also answer one of the questions of my noble friend Lord Houghton, when he queried what is reasonable. If you are able to expand it to the extent that it must take into account the question of enforcement, that also is helpful to the local authority, and again makes it clear beyond doubt that it is no good giving licences unless you have the means, including the financial means, to enforce them.
The difference between these two schedules, Schedule 1 and Schedule 3, is very great. The need for a fee for enforcement is so much more important in Schedule 3. I understand the Minister's point about standard definitions, but we are not dealing with something that is standard and which we have been used to and been able to cope with for some time; we are dealing with completely new factors. I feel it is extremely important; otherwise the people getting the licences are going to be able to laugh or cock a snook at it all, if the enforcement cannot be pretty rigid. If it is pretty rigid it is going to be expensive, and if it is expensive it certainly should not be at the ratepayers' expence. Otherwise I fear it is going to be a very weak vessel in spite of what the Government have said about it.
The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has indicated that he is not going to press ahead with his Amendment No. 13, and probably he is right; although it is marginally better than it was originally, it still is not very good.
I would like to ask the Minister if he can undertake —if we are going to be landed with the Government's new amendment—to see that a circular is sent to local authorities drawing their attention to this particular point of enforcement and advising them that the fees they impose should be high enough to enable them to monitor and enforce the conditions they will be laying down. If we could get that undertaking, I think that those of us who still feel very disappointed that the Government have not accepted Lord Nugent's amendment, or drafted one along the same lines, would feel rather better. It would also do what we all feel very strongly about: it would show the difference between what we are doing in Schedule 1 and what we are doing in Schedule 3.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, I have no quarrel at all with Amendment No. 9 proposed by my noble friend. But I feel that his Amendment No. 14 is nothing like as good as Lord Nugent's Amendment No. 13, for reasons that have already been mentioned by other noble Lords. A "reasonable" fee can very easily be construed by the courts as a very low fee. I feel it is essential that in the Bill the local authorities 1276 should have it clearly set out that the whole cost of administering this schedule can be covered by the fees. As my noble friend Lord Nugent has said, the cost of administering this schedule with regard to sex shops is very likely to be extremely high. If a court suggests that a reasonable fee should only be a fairly low one, it will be the ratepayers who will have to foot the Bill. I personally would like to see my noble friend Lord Elton accept Lord Nugent's Amendment No. 13 and not move his own, No. 14.
My Lords, I have no such fears with regard to this amendment, for the very simple reason that the construction of the phrase used within the amendment, "reasonable fee determined by the appropriate authority", means, as I understand it, that the courts in construing what "reasonable" means can in no way change the determination of the fee, which must be by the local authority, and it is up to them to decide what the reasonableness in terms of size is. The only role for the court, so far as I am concerned, would be the reasonableness within the context of the whole operation of these establishments, and I have absolutely no fear; with that added safeguard of the courts I think the best interests of the country will be well and truly determined.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Morris for that late and lucid support. If I can briefly try and allay your Lordships' fears, I would first thank my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford for his hesitant gratitude. I would then reply, taking your Lordships out of order, to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, with regard to the danger which she foresees. The purpose in amending both schedules is simply that the wording shall be the same, so that an interpretation of the wording in one shall not automatically cast a question on the same interpretation being applied to the other. That is why I am saying that the one schedule follows the other, and it is the principal amendment that I address myself to which deals with the sex shops and the licensing thereof.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, in a most eloquent intervention, drew our attention to the fact that very large fees might accrue from the interpretation of this clause as amended by my amendment, according to both the Government and the aspirations of my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford. Large fees deter from registration and I do not think your Lordships would regret it if the number of sex shops did not proliferate as a result of this interpretation of the clause.
The interpretation of the clause was not, in fact, according to the best legal advice, under any sort of question from the start. The purpose of my amendment was merely to allay the fears of those who, in our view mistakenly, believe that the interpretation was in question. The proper interpretation of the statute, as it will be, is that all reasonable costs can be charged into the licence fee and those reasonable costs include the reasonable costs of enforcement. That is what my noble friend wants to secure; that is what we want to secure, and it is what the noble Baroness wants me to have explained in a circular. I cannot absolutely commit myself to a circular because it is not in my hands 1277 to give it, but we shall certainly look very friendlily on this proposal. We could not order authorities to charge everything that might be chargeable, but we can, if we make the circular issue, see that it draws to their attention that the Bill enables them so to do.
I do not see the difficulties that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, foresees arising as between the difference of the species involved. I do not think that the dangerous animals—and, indeed, they are dangerous animals in the biological sense—who organise the commercialisation of sexual pursuits are on all fours with pumas or elephants. I think that the remedies which noble Lords have said should be available to the public are, in fact, available in the courts. The courts will decide what is reasonable. I have told your Lordships what it means. The courts will interpret whether the fee for enforcement and for supervision is, in fact, a fee that represents the cost or whether it is a fee that represents something else.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, made a sweeping attack on the morality of all local authorities. If those authorities prove to be in the business for profit, that is not reasonable and it would be right that they should be arraigned by the courts, and they so could be. But the danger is that authorities, as my noble friend sees it, will not charge enough to cover. I hope I have said enough to show that they absolutely will be able to charge enough to cover. That is our intention. I am advised that that is exactly what will be achieved by the wording in its original form. We have made it more clearly interpretable in that sense, to lay opinion as well. That is the most that I think the Government can do.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 3 [Control of Sex Establishments]:
§ 12.33 p.m.
Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 10:
Page 68, line 27, at end insert—
("( ) This schedule applies to hovercraft as it applies to vessels.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, as your Lordships will see, the purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the provisions of Schedule 3 would apply to a sex establishment on a hovercraft in the same way as—as a result of amendments approved by your Lordships on Report—they would apply to such an establishment on a boat.
When we were discussing this matter at the Report stage, my noble friend Lord Hawke thought that the the definition of "vessels" would include hovercraft. The definition, however, does not do so. It refers to:
any ship, boat, raft or other apparatus constructed or adapted for floating on water"—
not above it, but on it. This, clearly, would not suffice. If we are to cater for the possibility that a boat in a harbour may be used as a sex establishment, it seems only sensible to provide for hovercraft, too. I hope that your Lordships will agree.
§ On mature reflection—if that is the right word—I do not think that we need embrace aircraft. If they were on the ground, they would not only be manifestly inconvenient and unsuitable but in the most improbable places. If they were flying, then the purpose 1278 for which they were used would not constitute a nuisance for the areas over which they were flying, and it would be a matter for the appropriate authorities to prosecute for any improper behaviour of the aircraft that might result from the use to which it was put. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 11:
Page 71, line 24, after ("the") insert ("business of the").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 11. The noble Baroness, Lady David, commented at the Report stage that a phrase in one of the Government's amendments read somewhat oddly. On looking at the matter again I rather agreed with the noble Baroness and that merely "carrying on" was not tout court the right way of describing what happened in a sex shop. I hope the noble Baroness will agree that the revised wording proposed in the amendment of:
carrying on the business of the sex establishment",
is a distinct improvement. I beg to move.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I am delighted that my comment at Report has made an improvement in the drafting of the Bill, and indeed, in the English of the Bill.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Nugent of Guildford moved Amendment No. 12:
Page 72, line 26, at end insert—
("( ) In considering what is the appropriate number of sex establishments for the purposes of sub-paragraph (3)(c) above the appropriate authority may take into account any premises operating as a sex cinema (within the meaning of paragraph 3 of this Schedule) in the relevant locality notwithstanding that those premises are for the time being licensed under the Cinematograph Act 1909 or are for the time being exempted from the requirement for a licence under that Act by virtue of section 5 of the Cinematograph Act 1952.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 12. This amendment did appear at the Report stage and my noble friend Lord Halsbury very kindly moved it for me because I was detained upstairs as chairman of a Select Committee and was, therefore, unable to say a word about it. I have, of course, had the advantage of seeing my noble friend's reply to my noble friend Lord Halsbury and I do understand the points that he was making.
§ There is quite a complex little problem here. The unsatisfactory situation on the ground which requires to be controlled is such that I think it does justify me taking just a minute or two of the time of the House to explain the problem. The fact is that most of these sex shops operate not just on a ground floor premises but on a number of floors. They operate on the ground floor, the basement, and the upper floors, and the rooms are interchangeable for their various purposes. The ground floor probably sells sex paraphernalia and pornographic literature of all kinds. The basement is usually used as a cinema. The upper rooms are variously used for sex encounter premises and so on which my noble friend thinks is all under control, and I hope that he is right. The fact is that these rooms are interchangeable.
§ We have to look forward to the moment when the 1279 licensing system is introduced. All of these sex establishments will not get licences because there are already far too many and it will then obviously be open to the owner of a sex establishment that does not get a licence to be a sex establishment to say, "Well, that is all right. I will just carry on as a sex cinema".
§ Let me give the facts of how many there are now, because that gives an indication that there is quite a problem. In the little area of Soho there are now 39 sex cinemas; 19 video lounges; 30 video booths; and nine film booths. It is a very flourishing industry. It costs £3 to go into one of these sex cinemas; they are pretty well all in basements at present and conform with no known regulations with regard to fire, health and safety. They really are pretty alarming places and show films of a character which defy description and at which one's mind simply boggles.
§ But, of course, it is not the purpose of this licensing scheme to deal with that. I make the point that there is a large number of places showing films in one way or another, and far more than can possibly be justified. There is no answer to it in saying that these premises can be controlled as if they were clubs, because even the facade of a club is not maintained—anyone can walk in provided he parts with his money. So there is a problem there.
§ The Westminster City Council feels that it needs to have a direct influence on the number of sex cinemas —call them what you like under these various other titles—operating in its area. I just wonder whether my noble friend was right when he said in his last reply that when a local authority—in this case the Westminster City Council—is considering an application it can take into account the sex cinema, video lounge or whatever in any particular premises as a bit of background to the sex establishment. I just wonder whether that is adequate for what is evidently quite a racket going on without any regard to existing laws.
§ I know that my noble friend does not like this amendment; there are all kinds of technical problems about it. But I think that he has an obligation to the House to explain just how this licensing scheme if possible, or any other existing laws, can operate to bring under control what is now evidently a very unsatisfactory situation. I beg to move.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, the noble Lord Nugent, is nothing if not persevering in this field of interest. If he persists, I think that before long we shall have something known as "Nugent's law", and when in future I hear the word "sex", no matter how romantic the conditions in which it may occur, I shall always think of the noble Lord!
I should have thought that local authorities had ample scope to take into account almost anything they like in their decisions on the granting of licences. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, wants them to take into account how undesirable these places are and how objectionable some people will think they can be. He is a sort of leader of the league against sexual stimulation and regards with the utmost displeasure and concern any activities of that kind. I sometimes wonder what would emerge if there was some mechanism in hospitals to reveal the deepest 1280 content of our minds on this question of sex. I think that there would be some most astonishing revelations. Why do people have the attitude they have towards sex, expecially when surely they are losing interest in it? What motivates them? Is there something that, viewing their own past, they think has been rather an undesirable feature of life, or are they concerned about the attitude of the young? It is all most troublesome to me to become involved in these deep discussions on a subject which reveals and expresses such arbitrary, vicious attitudes towards various aspects of the matter. Cannot we leave it alone?
We have had a long discussion on these matters in your Lordships' House due to the fact that the Commons included the whole section regarding sex shops in the Bill on the last day of the Report stage in another place. These sex shops and Schedule 3 never went to Committee in another place. They were shovelled into the Bill and trundled along the corridor here, and between us we have had to try to get the Bill into better shape. It will go back there, so why cannot we just send it back, having done our best with it, and let local authorities take into account anything that they want to take into account in giving their decisions?
The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, is restrictive in everything he proposes about this Bill: they must take into account something which will lead them to take an unfavourable decision of an application; take into account local opinion; take into account the proximity of other similar establishments. I do not want to detain the House, but all I can say is that we have not examined honestly and deeply enough why it is that the demand for this kind of thing has spread so widely in recent years. What has been behind this astonishing growth in the interest in sex? Is it the girlie magazines? Is it Fleet Street? Is it page 3 of the Sun? Is it the greater liberty of young people? Is it the throwing off of shame and sense of guilt about sex, which so many of us were brought up to observe? What it is? Why is it demanded so insistently?
Noble Lords would wish to abolish sex shops if they could and ban them altogether, but they know that it would manifest itself in all sorts of undesirable underground activities. So I beseech your Lordships to call it a day and let us send the Bill, with Schedule 2 as it is, back to the Commons. I think that there are some ridiculous things in it, and, if I get half a minute on the Third Reading, I may just remind your Lordships how silly we are. However, I have said enough on this.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, perhaps I may start at the end of the oration of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, by saying that I shall certainly recall that he has voluntarily restricted himself to 30 seconds on Third Reading on this subject. As to the rest of what he says, I do not want to embark on a philosophical discursus upon what we are doing, but he has asked pertinent questions. In my view, commercial sex is a commodity in which demand is stimulated by supply, and what we have seen is a continual increase in the social acceptability of unusual practices, if I may so call them. If the noble Lord were aware—and I assume that he cannot be aware from what he says—of some of the very shocking and really horrifying things that are now available to be seen in some of these shops, reproduced by video and film, his attitude both 1281 to the Bill and to some parts of the human race might well be changed.
As I said, I did not want to go into a discursus. I freely admit that what we are doing in this Bill is restrictive; that is the intention. There is nothing wrong whatever in that and I make no apology for it. I have a somewhat lengthy and detailed dissertation here before me on my noble friend's amendment. In a moment I shall give way to him and ask whether he would perhaps be satisfied if I were to say that although the Government find this amendment unacceptable, he may be reassured if I confirm that it would be open to the local authority to attach conditions to a sex shop licence prohibiting the use of the premises as a sex cinema. Clearly, in view of the number of premises in the Soho area, which has been discussed today, which have combined use as a sex shop and a sex cinema, such a power would give the London boroughs a considerable measure of control, albeit indirectly, over the number of sex cinemas in their area. If my noble friend wishes—and I am perfectly willing to do this; I do not wish to place him in an embarrasment or to make him feel discourteous if he asks me to do so—I shall address myself to some of the lesser points within that consideration.
The consideration we have before us is the ability of the local authority, in which these sometimes very offensive establishments ply their trade, to control the extent to which they do so by means of moving pictures. It is clear that they can attach what conditions they wish, within reason, to licences for sex shops. This is such a condition. It gives them that control. I hope that my noble friend will find that sufficiently reassuring.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I thank my noble friend. I think it will do just what the local authority needs, which is to control the number, which is clearly excessive now. I very much sympathised with his earlier comments on Lord Houghton's speech. We have discussed this difficult subject at length. We had an obligation to do so. I do not think we need hang our heads in shame for having done so. That the noble Lord should take a different view from me, I have become accustomed to; but he has made the day for me by supporting one of my amendments—this is an accolade I never expected—on the matter of what the reasonable fee should be.
I think we could have done better, but I have accepted what my noble friend has asked us to accept. In the main, we have done right to discuss this subject and the pros and cons. There are two points of view, and it is our job to put them. I do not think that this means that either on one side or the other we have any peculiar motives underlying this, and if our conscience was able to be pinned up on the wall it would look very odd. I think it would probably look equally good on both sides. With those few philosophical remarks, I thank my noble friend for going as far as he has. I think that is helpful. I think that will give them the power to do what they need to do, and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 13 not moved.]
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this with Amendment No. 9. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 12.53 p.m.
Lord Nugent of Guildford moved Amendment No. 15:
Page 77, line 21, after ("brought") insert ("by the applicant or the appropriate authority").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this refers to the right of appeal. As the sub-paragraph is now drafted it says in (5):
An appeal against the decision of a magistrates' court under this paragraph may be brought to the Crown Court".
But all this paragraph 27 refers to the rights of appeal of the applicant. It therefore implies a significant doubt at least that sub-paragraph (5) of paragraph 27 gives a right of appeal to the applicant who has failed and not to the local authority who have gone down in the magistrates' court and who wish to appeal to the Crown court.
§ I know, because my noble friend has been good enough to discuss it with me, that it is the intention of the schedule in this respect to provide for appeal by both the applicant and by the local authority, and it is on that account that I have put down this amendment because it seems to me necessary in order to make it plain that both the local authority and the applicant would have a right of appeal. I beg to move.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I quite sympathise with my noble friend's desire to see that the local authorities have every recourse in any legal contest that is open to those with whom they are contending, and I am happy to reassure him that there is not the slightest doubt that the present wording provides for appeals to the Crown court by both applicants and local authorities. It carries no implication whatsoever (in contrast to provisions which are sometimes found in other legislation) that the right of appeal is restricted to one party: in our view, it simply provides a right of appeal to the party which has lost.
Moreover, any remaining doubt there may be should be dispelled by paragraph 27(9), which provides that the local authority "need not" give effect to the order of the magistrates' court until the time for lodging an appeal to the Crown court has passed. This clearly foresees a situation where the local authority, having lost at the magistrates' court, wishes to consider a further appeal: during that period it would not have to grant the licence (or whatever). It cannot sensibly be argued that paragraph 27(9) applies to the case where the applicant, having lost at the magistrates' court, is considering such an appeal: there would be no point in giving a statutory discretion to the local authority by saying that it "need not" in these circumstances give effect to the decision of the magistrates' court. Similarly, in paragraph 27(10)(b) there would be no need to speak of a "further appeal" if it were not open to the local authority to appeal from the magistrates' court.
The present wording is in standard form and appears elsewhere in the Bill in Clause 5(19), in paragraph 17(3) 1283 of Schedule 1 and paragraph 6(6) of Schedule 4. I would be reluctant to agree to amend this particular provision—even if by itself this would do little harm—because it would thus have implications for the drafting of other parts of the Bill. But that is not really a consideration because the main consideration is that there is no doubt, reasonable or unreasonable, that the right of appeal rests with both parties.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that explanation. I am sure that noble Lords will have noticed that all the earlier paragraphs talk about the applicant, but my noble friend has a good point in that sub-paragraph (9) implies that a local authority can appeal. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 4 [Street trading]:
Baroness David moved Amendments Nos. 16 and 17:
Page 80, line 22, after ("trading") insert ("authorised").
line 25, after ("refreshment") insert ("authorised").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in speaking to this, I should like to speak also to Amendment No.17. We now come to Schedule 4; street trading. Owing to a Government amendment at Report stage, the position is that if you have permission under Schedule 5 for an object for street trading then you do not need permission under Schedule 4. Now five local government lawyers, and experienced lawyers at that, have looked at Schedule 4(2)(g) and (h) and they have read them to mean that if the objects or structures, whatever they are, could be controlled under Schedule 5 then they could not be controlled under Schedule 4.
§ The consequence would be that street trading on the footway would be under Schedule 5 and on the carriageway under Schedule 4. We understand that this is not the Government's intention, and Schedule 4 does not operate in those circumstances where the structure has been specifically authorised under Schedule 5. Because of confusion we want to make this absolutely clear by using the word "authorised" in (g) and in (h) as the Government do themselves in (j), I beg to move.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am sorry not to be able to advise your Lordships to accept this innocuous appearing amendment. I am advised that both the amendments are unnecessary and that the first one is misconceived. In order to be taken under Part V11A of the Highways Act 1980, trading or the operation of facilities must be undertaken in accordance with the requirement of Schedule 5 as to placing the object or structure or providing the facilities. A person who sets up a structure in a highway and trades from it will be causing an obstruction of the highway and will be liable to conviction for the offences described in Section 137 and possibly also Section 148 of the Highways Act 1980. The structure would be liable to removal under Sections 143 and 149 of that Act. This person would simply be trading. This activity would have nothing to do with Schedule 5.
By no stretch of the imagination could anyone say 1284 that where he is trading from an object which he has put on a footway without having obtained any permission under Schedule 5 to the placing of that object for that purpose that he is trading under Schedule 5. Quite clearly, his activity is not an activity under Schedule 5.
The first amendment is technically wrong because trading as such cannot be authorised under Schedule 5; it is the placing of the object or structure which is authorised, not the trading. I hope I have not sounded too brusque in my dismissal of this proposal, and perhaps I should confidently assure the noble Baroness that there is no gap in the provisions of the Bill where she seeks to close one, and I hope she will be content to leave it at that.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I must accept what the Minister said, as I cannot have extra legal advice given me at the moment. It is clearly a matter where the lawyers disagree. In view of the noble Lord's remarks, I have no option at this stage but to beg leave to withdraw the amendments.
§ Amendments, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 5 [Highway amenities]:
Baroness David moved Amendments Nos. 18 and 19: en bloc:
Page 95, line 9, leave out ("standard") and insert ("appropriate").
line 10, leave out ("standard") and insert ("appropriate").
The noble Baroness said: Now we come to Schedule 5, my Lords. These amendments relate to Clause 115F of the Schedule. This schedule relates to the provision of highway amenities and the particular provision covers the charges which a local authority may levy when the works proposed, on which the local authority is consulting, are works proposed by and for some other party. The schedule has been significantly amended since this part of the Bill was written. New arbitration procedures were introduced on Report. Those procedures will require the local authority to represent the interests of a third party should it have been felt that a frontager has unreasonably withheld his consent to a proposed introduction of an amenity on a footway. The costs which the local authority could incur following arbitration could be significant and they will certainly vary from case to case. In a letter to me dated 25th May, the Minister said:
If successful before the arbitration, and the proposal enables an amenity to be provided or used by an individual, then the council's expenses may be passed on to that individual under Clause 115F".
Clearly, we and the Government are at one in wishing to see a procedure whereby any costs incurred by a local authority in going to arbitration on behalf of a third party are subsequently carried by that third party. However, Clause 115F stages that charges may not exceed, "the standard amount". As I said, the costs incurred under arbitration could vary very widely. Costs are unlikely to be standard in those circumstances, and they will certainly not be known beforehand. Local authorities could not draw up a list of standard charges—that is, a scale of charges—nor do I suspect
the Government wish them so to do. The amendments would therefore replace "standard" with "appropriate thus, I hope, making clearer that local authorities will have the flexibility to recover their direct costs in those circumstances and not merely to recover a standard charge.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, the words which the amendments propose to substitute would not affect the meaning of Clause 115F and, in the Government view, would not improve the drafting. They would not in any way alter the definition of the amount in question, whether it be termed "standard" or "appropriate", and would not affect the limitation on the powers of councils to charge individuals for permission to provide amenities. The noble Baroness may have introduced the amendments to overcome an apprehension that the standard amount may be taken to mean a fixed identical amount in every case. I gladly assure her that such an apprehension is ill-founded; subsection (3) makes it quite clear what the term means. The term "the standard amount" is the amount beyond which councils may not charge, unless they are the owners of the subsoil beneath the part of the highway where an amenity is proposed to be provided. I hope that with that additional explanation and clarification she will feel somewhat happier and be able to withdraw the amendments.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, the noble Lord said that "standard" would not mean a fixed charge. Could it, however, refer to a scale of charges? We do not want that.
§ Lord Bellwin
So far as I am aware, my Lords, the same answer applies, although, as with the last series of amendments, we are now into legal definitions. Subject to any correction I may later wish to send the noble Baroness, my interpretation is that the same would apply to a scale of charges. I do not think her concern is necessary and, unless I come back to her on the matter, that is the answer. I do not think there is any difference between the two, and it might help further if I said that no scale is envisaged, and the charges will of course vary from case to case.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, if the Minister assures me that the charge can be varied considerably and that there will not be an expected charge or scale of charges, I hope I have the necessary reassurance, and accordingly I beg leave to withdraw the amendments.
§ Amendments, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 1.6 p.m.
Baroness David moved Amendments Nos. 20 and 21:
Page 97, line 8, leave out ("is not to be unreasonably withheld but").
Page 97, line 8, leave out lines 15 to 27 and insert—
("(3) If any consent to which this section applies is unreasonably withheld it shall be deemed to have been given.
(4) Consent is to be treated as unreasonably withheld for the purposes of this section if:
(4A) Any question whether consent is unreasonably withheld or is given subject to reasonable conditions shall be referred to and determined by an arbitrator to be appointed, in default of agreement within 56 days of the service of a notice under subsection 4a above, by the President of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.").
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Government have been forced to concede that the schedule which they originally introduced was seriously defective in that it gave frontagers, whether or not they bothered to reply, the power of veto over the provision of amenities on highways. If they refused their consent or simply withheld it, the provision of the amenity could not go ahead. The Government have now introduced an arbitration procedure and in a letter to me dated 25th May, the Minister said:
Withholding of a necessary consent may still occur, but it has to be reasonable. Any question whether or not the withholding is reasonable becomes a matter determinable by an arbitration. Our concern as the Bill now stands is that any question could cover the situation where someone merely fails to reply within the specified 28 days. If such a person does not bother to reply, then clearly it is not acceptable that the arbitration process should be gone through, before that failure to reply can be defined as unreasonable and consent therefore granted".
It would appear that the Minister agrees with me, for later in his letter he said that in those circumstances "no question arises for arbitration". My concern is simply that the drafting of this part of the schedule leaves the question open to doubt. I have therefore tabled an alternative version which seeks to do exactly what the Government have sought to do, but I hope in more precise language and leaving no room for doubt.
The amendments also make one other change of consequence in that in subsection (4A) I have added the words:
within 56 days of the service of a notice under subsection 4a above".
I have tabled that because I believe there is still some scope for delay by an unreasonable frontager. The schedule provides that, if the parties cannot agree on an arbitrator, then an arbitrator should be appointed by the President of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. That is a reasonable approach and it leaves open the period during which such agreement must be secured. If a frontager is unreasonable in withholding his consent, he may also be unreasonable in agreeing an arbitrator. Therefore, the period for deciding on an arbitrator should be strictly limited. I have adopted the approach of taking the initial serving of a request for consent as the date from which the period should operate. I have chosen 56 days, as that includes 28 days already allowed in the schedule for the frontager to reply, and another 28 days for the authority to decide that the frontager has been unreasonable, and seek to agree an arbitrator. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, the Government see no reason to delete the words specified in Amendment No. 20 and substitute new subsection (3). The present clause uses words with which local authorities are familiar in other public general Acts. Subsection (4) of Amendment No. 21 is defective. Subsection (2) of Clause 115J provides that, where a person fails to reply within a certain time to a notice seeking his consent to a proposed amenity, he will be treated as having unreasonably withheld his consent. The council will then be free to provide the amenity. The purpose of the clause is to protect the council from the prospect of a veto on its proposals as a result of frontagers choosing not to read letters seeking their consent or not bothering to reply. In all other cases where consent is withheld, or is granted subject to conditions, any question of whether the withholding is unreasonable or the conditions are unreasonable is determinable by arbitration.
By contrast, the effect of subsection (4) of the amendment in respect of paragraph (b)(iii) is to provide that in a case where a frontager simply withholds his consent, that consent is to be treated as unreasonably withheld. There remains no question to go to arbitration. Even if consent is refused for sound, reasonable reasons, it will be treated as unreasonably withheld, and the council will be free to provide the amenity. The only case where this is considered to be a reasonable course of action is where there is a failure to reply to a notice asking for consent, and the existing provision already does that. Other cases should be capable of going to arbitration, but to do that there cannot be circumstances where the question has been predetermined, as is the case here.
As to new subsection (4A), we see no need for the insertion of a reference to a 56-day time-limit. The noble Baroness very interestingly explained the relevance of the 56 days, and I understand that. The present provision in subsection (4) uses words with which local authorities are familiar in other public general Acts. In a case where the council is not satisfied with a refusal of consent, or with the conditions attached to a consent, it may ask the frontager to agree to an arbitrator. If there is no agreement within a reasonable time, then clearly there exists the circumstances in which an arbitrator may be appointed by the President of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.
As with previous amendments, I hope that with that extra clarification, some of which would certainly appear to be needed, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, may I ask whether I now have it clear that if a person does not bother to reply, the matter does not have to go to arbitration? That seems to me the point that we really need to have cleared up.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, if the noble Baroness will study carefully what I have said, she will see that the answer to that question is, yes. In effect what we are saying is that no reply equals no arbitration. That is really what we are saying.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, unfortunately, Third Reading does not give an opportunity to read a Minis- 1288 ter's reply and come back, but having had the noble Lord's assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the two amendments.
§ Amendments, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 1.15 p.m.
Baroness David moved Amendment No. 22:
Page 97, line 44, leave out from beginning to end of line 5 on page 98 and insert—
("(7) The arbitrator may give such directions as he thinks fit as to the payment of his expenses and remuneration and to the costs and expenses of the parties to the arbitration").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is the last amendment on Schedule 5. Under the schedule as presently drafted, if the local authority goes to arbitration, it must pay the costs of the arbitrator; yet if it is being forced to enter into arbitration only because of the unreasonable behaviour of a frontager, surely the arbitrator should have the right to decide that the frontager has been unreasonable and require him to pay some, or all, of the arbitrator's costs. The rest of the amendment may be regarded as unnecessary. I am informed that under the Arbitration Act 1950, an arbitrator is given the right to give directions as to the payment of the costs and expenses of the parties to an arbitration. I am sure that that is correct, but if the schedule remains as it is, it will be another example of legislation by innuendo.
§ When the provisions were introduced on Report, the Minister gave no indication that the 1950 Act applied and that decisions could be taken on such costs and expenses. Presumably, we were to have compendious knowledge on all legislation passed since the turn of the century and to realise that the 1950 Act applied. Subsequently, anyone using this piece of legislation will also be expected to know this relatively obscure piece of information. This kind of drafting brings parliamentary legislation into disrepute. I hope that the Minister will agree with me that we should take a commonsense approach to the matter, and while the provisions should be legally water-tight, they should also be clear and self-explanatory. At present that is not the case. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, in its present form subsection (7), which provides that a council shall pay the expenses and remuneration of the arbitrator, ensures that a council will not trouble a frontager unnecessarily by lightly seeking arbitration. A council will be unlikely to wish to proceed to this stage unless it has a fair chance of success and there is a measure of public interest involved. The individual will not face the risk of having to pay all costs and expenses should the council decide to go to arbitration, and will therefore be in a position to ask for conditions to be attached to his consent without fear of bearing all the expenses of arbitration. Conversely, the council will be in a position where it may be more amenable to accept consents subject to conditions. The provision is precedented by the British Telecommunications Act 1981 and, in my view, strikes a reasonable balance between the interests of councils and those whose consent is sought.
As to the costs of the parties, as distinct from the expenses and remuneration of the arbitrator, it will 1289 be for the arbitrator to decide where they should lie. His general discretionary powers in this respect flow from Section 20 of the Arbitration Act 1950. It is unnecessary for specific provision here on that point. The purpose of Section 31 of the 1950 Act is to apply various parts of that Act to all statutory arbitrations. By giving unfettered discretion to the arbitrator, the amendment would remove the kind of important considerations that I have described.
I should like to say for, I trust, the last time on this Bill, that I hope the noble Baroness has been able to consider what I have said, albeit in the very short time available at this late stage, which I readily acknowledge. Perhaps she will understand why the Government do not want to accept the amendment.
§ Baroness David
Well, my Lords, the answer that the Minister gave did not really deal with the last point I made about how people who are to operate the Act will understand about the two sections from the 1950 Act. Is the Minister able to say that a circular, or some advice, will be issued after the Bill becomes law, in order to explain to those who have to operate it that there is the old Act? I wonder whether the noble Lord can answer that question before I finally decide what to do.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I understand that there is merit in what the noble Baroness says and that the intention is to do just as she proposes. I hope that that will give her the assurance that she seeks.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I thank the Minister very much, and in that case I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Baroness David moved Amendment No. 23:
In the Title, page 2, line 6, after ("committees;") insert ("to make provision for controlling nuisance and disturbance on educational premises;").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment is consequential on Amendment No. 3, which the House accepted, and I trust that it will also accept this one. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 24:
Page 2, line 6, leave out from ("to") to ("of") in line 9 and insert ("amend section 137").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment to the Long Title of the Bill is consequential on Government Amendment No. 177CA, made at Report stage. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 1.20 p.m.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Elton.)
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I wish to make a few comments on the Bill before it finally leaves 1290 your Lordships' House. I will not carry out the threat I made last Friday to harangue your Lordships' House for a quarter of an hour, but I do beg leave to occupy your Lordships' attention, or at least your indulgence, for a few minutes. I must regret the way in which this Bill has been dealt with in both Houses of Parliament. I deplore the fact that a Bill which was intended to be a kind of utility Bill for local authorities has been diverted into a controversial Bill dealing with sex shops and matters associated therewith. What I so much object to is the way in which, on this and allied subjects, Parliament gets to panic stations far too soon. This question really arose as the result of feelings expressed in another place which the Government quickly absorbed and expressed willingness to consider translating into clauses in this Bill. But, of course, what we got was an Act of Parliament, really, in one schedule, Schedule 3—an Act of Parliament on its own.
It was not properly considered in another place. It came here, as other legislation on similar themes have come to your Lordships' House, having been ill-digested in another place, leaving us to tidy up their hurried legislation. I think we should watch this. Governments should not succumb to pressures to incorporate in Bills which were intended for one purpose matters of such magnitude and controversy that they should be separately considered, and which should go through only after more consideration.
I have said that, I have said it before and I will not continue on that line; but I must have been nodding or prevented from being in the Chamber when paragraph 23 of Schedule 3 to the Bill went through at Report stage. That provides for a fine not exceeding £10,000 on a person who, on summary conviction, is found guilty of an offence. When I compare or contrast such a penalty for this sort of offence with fines which are imposed by the courts for abominable cruelty to animals, I feel we have our values very much awry. The offences provided for in paragraph 23 are of admitting a person under the age of 18 knowing the person to be under the age of 18, or of employing a person known to be under the age of 18. For this offence a fine is provided for here of up to £10,000.
I know it was argued in the course of the Report stage last Monday week that you are dealing with firms which are in the money. It is believed that they are making a great deal of money out of commercial sex. Many people are making an awful lot of money out of other things in society—gambling, alcohol, tobacco. There are all kinds of things out of which people are making a lot of money, and they are subject to restrictions, restraints and conditions on the employment of young people. I assume that a fine of this magnitude was put there because it was believed that they are so rich that nothing under £10,000 would have any deterring influence upon them. But when have we begun to fix our fines by a kind of means test?
After all, if we are talking of a capacity to pay, we might impose some very heavy fines indeed for comparatively minor offences merely because they are committed by people with money. But here, when I look at the annual reports of the RSPCA and see what people do to animals—what commercial enterprises do to animals; not individual cruelty, but the organised commercial cruelty of society at the present time to satisfy its demands for one commodity or another— 1291 I wonder whether we have things in any sort of balance at all.
I now want to pass to my final observation on the Bill. I know that, in another place, to discuss on Third Reading what is not in the Bill is out of order. In your Lordships' House some of the tolerances of the 19th century still survive. That is because the Irish never came here. I think that since the Irish abused the tolerances of another place and now pay the penalties in guillotines, kangaroos and all the rest of it, so in your Lordships' House those of us who take advantage of the tolerances of the procedures of the past and the traditional courtesy of the House ought not to abuse them—and I must be careful that I do not do so.
But I am very upset indeed—genuinely upset—at the attitude of the Government towards measures to deal with the problem of stray dogs. Unfortunately, we were on this point late at night each day when we dealt with it, and there is nothing in the Bill. The Government resisted it. I could have understood if they had said: "We already have one cuckoo in this nest, do not bring in another; but we will think about it or we will consider what should be done". But, no, we got a plain negative from the Government on this matter.
What this means, I regret to say, is that voluntary societies dealing with animals must, in my opinion—and it is only my opinion at this moment—reconsider their role in society, particularly in relation to their support in overcoming the deficiencies of administration and in the enforcement of the law. The RSPCA is in serious financial difficulties, and yet it has as a charge upon its resources the destruction of 60,000 dogs and 100,000 cats a year. It has the expense of tint; and it embarks on well over 1,000 prosecutions annually. More than that; it gets well over 1,000 convictions. It sometimes gets from the court an award of some part of its costs of having to bring proceedings; but the result is that the RSPCA is bearing a cost of well over £.100,000 a year by way of prosecutions for cruelty alone.
This, my Lords, is the duty of the police. Numerous Acts of Parliament have been passed dealing with cruelty to animals, with provisions for enforcement, penalties and the rest. But voluntary societies are still left to support the authorities in their duty under statute law. How long can this continue? The Dogs Act 1906 is practically unworkable today as a means of dealing with the stray dog problem. The last Act passed in this regard was at the time of the great Liberal landslide in 1906. I just remember it, it is that far back! Yet we will not give fresh attention to this under the crowded, congested conditions of urban life and so on. I think that the voluntary societies are now bearing this heavy load of expense in support of the enforcement provisions of the law and in filling the gaps that present conditions leave in the capacity of the police towards their jobs. Recently, when a voluntary society asked the Director of Public Prosecutions if he would conduct an investigation into breaches of the law on dealing with the transit of poultry to and from intensive poultry units, he said; "No. I have not got the means and the manpower 1292 for undertaking that task. This is a matter for the RSPCA". That is not so.
Therefore, I express my great regret at the attitude of the Government on these attempts to get the matter dealt with in this Bill—something which is as deserving of attention every bit as much as some of the things already in it. Your Lordships cannot rely on the voluntary societies trying to raise money all over the country in the dimensions now needed to sustain an inspectorate to have all the facilities for the destruction of animals which the police are spared from doing. The police cannot observe the requirements of the 1906 Act in relation to the accommodation—which most of them lack—for keeping animals for seven days and embarking on all the procedures defined in the Act. This is done to a large extent by the voluntary societies.
My Lords, I will finish by passing unanimously—so far as I am concerned—a vote of censure on Her Majesty's Government for their failure to include in this Bill provisions for the control of stray dogs. Passed unanimously!
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I am conscious of the fact that our Scots colleagues are waiting to come on for the next business and I will be brief. I think that this has been a generally good Bill. It has covered a very wide area. It has gone from sex shops, open-air events, fly-posting, Schedules 4 and 5 (and their problems with drafting), lost property, trespass on school property—and all these have had some results coming from them. Another big problem about the Bill has been the speed it has been taken through this House. Even this morning, the noble Earl, Lord Avon, arrived personally with a letter for me in response to something which was raised on Report. I do not blame him at all. I am grateful to him; but it was far too late—and he appreciated that—to be able to do anything about the matter on Third Reading.
Unfortunately, there are issues which have been lost but which will have to be pursued in future, like the direct labour organisations and the disconnection of electricity when tenants pay but the landlords do not pay the Board. We should like to see something done about safety of launderettes, ultra-violet tanning, gaming machines and video games and, at sonic stage—and the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, promised to discuss this with his colleagues in a different department—airport lost property. I thank the Ministers who have taken part. We have been very much outnumbered on this side of the House but we are grateful for the courtesy, patience and the number of letters that we received from the noble Lords, Lord Bellwin and Lord Elton, the noble Earl, Lord Avon, and the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, who disappeared in the middle but who played an active part earlier on.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, in concluding this short debate I should like to acknowledge the considerable efforts that Members of all sides of the House have put into perfecting a piece of legislation of some importance and of some variety. Of course, one must acknowledge the strictures on parliamentary procedure which come from anybody with the distinguished length of service of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. I must point out that any piece of legislation is regarded by parliamentarians as a 1293 species of vehicle on which one embarks whenever one sees an appropriate opportunity. If Schedule 3 embarked at the last stop in another place, it is returning there, since it is an amendment put in by your Lordships, and will be considered there.
As to the question of severity of fines, I think it right that the maximum fine should be adjusted so that the courts can apply the sort of means tests that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, felt were being imposed by Parliament. As to his remarks on the scale of values, I hear what he says. I recognise his right to advance the cause of animals in the context of this debate, albeit they were excluded. We gave him the tolerance that he rightly expected of us. I suspect that he would feel on reflection that the scale and importance of this subject is such that it would be just as inappropriate to include it as a schedule to this Bill as he feels are the regulations on sex shops.
It is not the purpose of my speech to join issue with the noble Lord. Its purpose is to thank your Lordships for patient and detailed consideration of an important measure. It is sometimes the custom to recapitulate in a debate at this stage the alterations that have been made. In view of the hour, I will resist that temptation and merely say that this is a useful measure.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.