§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The London Local Authorities (No. 2) Bill is promoted by the City of Westminster on behalf of all the London boroughs, excluding the City of London, which always handles its own Bills separately. The Bill is a mixture of items. No one borough has sought to have all the powers listed in the Bill but each power is sought by one or more boroughs. The Bill is supported by the Association of London Authorities and the London Boroughs Association. It results from occurrences in different parts of London which have made people realise that powers are needed to give what many believe is an essential control or to give residents desirable protection.
One man's essential control or desirable protection is another man's unnecessary restriction or excess of bureaucracy. I am well aware that there are two sides to be considered carefully in this matter. The Bill covers many different aspects including helicopters. I have served many committees which have debated the problems of the noise of helicopters. One can argue their desirability and the fact that one does not wish to restrict businessmen coming into London. At the same time one wishes to protect residents and the environment.
Special treatment centres are listed, and I notice that dentists are excluded. I was amused to note that the draftsman has not yet caught up with the new Dentists Act. The Bill refers to the 1957 Dentists Act which has been superseded. I understand however that that is a technical misprint which will be corrected.
It is important that special treatment premises should be licensed or checked as regards sterility of equipment. For example, tattoo parlours can be a source of infection through the use of non-sterile needles. They could pass on Hepatitis B or the AIDS virus: no one would wish to see that happen.
It is important to point out that there is an exclusion provision for reputable bodies. I do not mean only the doctors and dentists who are referred to specifically. There is a wider exclusion. I hope that the many alternative forms of medicine which have become highly accepted and which are providing a valuable service to the community will come forward and establish themselves as being entitled to exemption. They will be sufficiently well controlled by their professional ethics to ensure that the high standards are met. However, it is important to protect the public.
I found interesting the party wall issue. If someone demolishes the house next door and leaves the party wall exposed they must make it weatherproof. There is an obligation at present to do so but there are no standards or conditions attached. The wall could be covered simply with a piece of plastic by one of the 256 cowboy builders. One's own living room could become soaked with damp as a result of the penetration of rain or a high wind could blow away the covering. The boroughs have found that they need such provisions.
A controversial clause is that covering the charging for various skips and services in London. I believe that it would be right to be able to charge for a skip. Often they are left at parking meters so the revenue from the meter is lost. Sometimes the skip is in place for weeks or months. I believe that to be wrong. At the moment London is one huge building site. Wherever one drives there is obstruction. Therefore, there is a case for greater control.
The City of London already has many such powers. In the days when I worked in a surgery in the City of London it was not permitted to leave a skip parked on the footpath for even a day. It had to be delivered, loaded instantly and removed at once. It could be left for no time at all. The City already has such a power but I do not know whether it applies to other boroughs.
As regards Clause 52 I declare my interest as a member of the London Electricity Board. I was slightly puzzled by the power to reconnect. Now that it has been explained to me I understand the clause exactly. There may be cases where electricity bills are unpaid and the authority's only sanction is to cut off the supply. However, in some cases it is not the failure of the individual occupying the premises to pay the bill. He may have paid it as an inclusive item in his rent. However, it may be that someone else responsible for the bill at a higher level had failed to pay it. It is terrible that a person who has paid should be left without electricity supply. Instead of being faced with the present choice of either paying to reconnect the person and possibly losing, under the new power, the local authority will have the right to attach a claim to the owner of the premises in order to recover the money at a later stage.
I have given those few examples because I know a number of noble Lords intend to comment. I shall be interested to hear what they say about the different aspects of the Bill. However, whatever consideration we give to the Bill tonight it will go to a Select Committee if the House is agreeable. The committee will consider every argument in the greatest detail. I have great confidence that by the time the promoters of the Bill have met the petitioners who have points to raise something will emerge which will be of benefit to London.
Moved, that the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Gardner of Parkes.)
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Lord Colwyn
My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend and colleague Lady Gardner for the clear and understanding way in which she introduced the Bill. I look forward to hearing the comments of noble Lords who are to speak, particularly my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard. I was pleased to see his name listed below mine because I am sure that we shall be commenting on the same aspect of the Bill.
The Bill is wide ranging but I must admit that I have no specialised knowledge in respect of most of 257 it. In Part III, headed "Special treatment premises", there is a proposition to give London area borough councils the right to grant or refuse licences relating to special treatment to those practising massage, manicure, chiropody, acupuncture, tattooing, cosmetic piercing, light electric, sauna baths or other special treatments. Effectively that covers most practitioners of alternative and complementary medicine. Your Lordships will know that that is a subject dear to my heart and I believe that it is a vital adjunct to allopathic medicine.
Licences may be refused if the council is not satisfied as to the safety, cleanliness and suitability of premises, advertising, manner of operation, qualifications of the practitioner or safety of the special treatment.
A similar Bill came before the House in 1984. Following a petition against the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill, an undertaking was given on 17th July 1984 by the Greater London Council in consideration of the withdrawal of the petition. An exemption was included in Section 11 and the schedule to the Act. The exemption was similar to that given to doctors and those members of properly constituted bodies who practised acupuncture, chiropractic and osteopathy and others who are required under their constitutions to comply with professional standards.
The GLC was at the time faced with the fact that similar exemptions had been given in Acts produced by the Herefordshire City Council, the Nottinghamshire City Council and the Worcestershire City Council. An exemption is included in the Birmingham City Council (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which has a Second Reading in this House on 20th February.
The only named exclusions in this Bill are, first, for treatment carried out or authorised by a medical doctor; secondly, for acupuncture given by a dentist—although I fall into that category I have no special claims on the Bill—and thirdly, for treatment given by a practitioner registered under the Professions Supplementary to Medicine Act 1960. The exclusion of other practitioners would be a major step backwards in view of the great progress made by therapists in the field of complementary and alternative medicine in the past 10 years towards standardised training and registration.
The Bill as it stands could prevent the public having access to specialists in complementary medicine unless they have the approval of local government officials, many of whom are unlikely to have had any training in or knowledge of the therapies which they are to licence.
If the Bill were enacted we should also have a situation where complementary therapists would be able to practise without a licence in Herefordshire, Nottinghamshire, Worcestershire and potentially Birmingham and in parts of the country where no legislation of this kind applies. However, those practising within the area of the participating councils in this Bill would be caught by the proposed provisions as they now stand and be required to obtain a licence under Part III of the Bill.
I understand the need to have some legislation to enable participating councils to control the 258 management of establishments which could be considered contrary to the public interest. However, I hope that when the Bill comes before the Select Committee, the participating councils will be required to amend it either to continue the exemptions conferred under Section 11 and the schedule to the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1986 or to exempt registered therapists in similar terms to the bodies already mentioned.
The removal of the exemption without any evidence to justify such draconian powers would be a serious diminution of the public standing and reputation of alternative and complementary therapists who are members of properly constituted bodies and would expose them to the risk of liability and prosecution, at the same time affecting their right to practise their calling and their patients' right to choose the practitioner and treatment they prefer.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, on the skill with which she introduced this Bill. I accept the point she makes that the need for powers in these areas arise from genuine happenings. The question I wish to raise is whether these powers are sought for the right people in the right manner or by the proper method of legislation.
The probate, divorce and admiralty divisions of the High Court used to be known, with sexist logic, as wills, wives and wrecks—a somewhat miscellaneous collection. I believe that the matters covered in this Bill are even more miscellaneous. They include helicopters, massage, manicure, osteopathy, acupuncture, cemeteries, party walls, taxis, squares and fairs.
If one looks at probate, divorce and admiralty, one can find a common principle through civilian influence on the law which holds those subjects together. I believe that one can find a common principle which holds together the subjects that I have listed; they are all matters which show the need for local authority licensing. I believe that one can find something further which holds them together; they all deal with the problems created by the disappearance of a regional authority for Greater London.
There is a long series of petitions against this Bill. I have read them with care. They are interesting and powerful. It seems to me that many common themes emerge from those petitions. However, because of the nature of private Bill procedure, the petitioners have not been able to bring out, as perhaps we can, that many points which they make in the petitions go to the whole Bill and not merely to the individual clause against which they are petitioning.
One theme which emerges throughout these petitions is that they deal with cross-London activities which often cannot be adequately regulated on a single borough basis. For example, that point is made by the taxi drivers, whose petition I take seriously. They argue that borough-wide provisions cannot be adequately enforced on a cross-London service. However, I should have thought that what is true of taxis is, a fortiori, true of helicopters. Can your Lordships imagine a helicopter service which 259 does not cross a borough boundary? I do not know how much use that would be. For example, if one imagines a helicopter site in Paddington Basin, which is perfectly possible, one cannot imagine that it will not immediately affect residents of Brent, Kensington and Chelsea as much as those of Westminster. It is not clear whether those who live immediately outside the area of the relevant borough who may be equally affected by the noise have any locus standi in making representations about it.
A similar point is made by the Building Employers Confederation. It says that it operates on a regional basis and needs common standards across that region. That is very much parallel to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, a few moments ago.
The RAC and the AA make the point that there is no body charged on a strategic basis with London's traffic problem. They argue—and I find the argument persuasive—that in a piecemeal fashion this Bill may pre-empt future solutions.
The next theme I find running through many of the petitions is that this matter is more suitable for public than private legislation. Taxi drivers draw attention to the fact that there is legislation pending in their area which this may pre-empt. The British Helicopter Advisory Board draws attention to the point that such matters are in the public interest and best regulated on a national basis by public legislation. It argues that the Secretary of State is more likely to know the circumstances of aviation than the individual boroughs. I do not know what the London Borough of Brent knows about helicopters. I doubt whether it is very much.
The theme of self-regulating professional associations comes out through many petitions. For example, it is brought out by the Acupuncture Association and by the Crematoria and Cemeteries Association. I know that self-regulating professions are out of favour at the moment but that is just the time when I hope that the Committee will scrutinise their rights with more than usual care, because when one is out of favour is when one may sustain injury.
The biggest problem I see in this Bill is that of cemeteries. In passing, I cannot resist commenting on the incongruity of the London Borough of Westminster promoting a Bill on the basis that local authorities are the fittest bodies to have control over cemeteries. That body sometimes shows signs of becoming a sort of Conservative Borough of Brent. Last night I was asked by my taxi driver what business was before this House. I told him about this point and his immediate comment was, "Oh dear". I do not believe that I can improve upon that.
However, there is a bigger problem here. When one thinks of cemeteries one thinks of Gray's Elegy, but that was a country churchyard. The problem of cemeteries in a big town where there is no stable local community and where relatives do not remain in the area to tend the graves needs thought. It is also growing increasingly difficult to run a private cemetery when it will always be the case that the land will fetch a great deal more if it is used for building. That is a problem to which I see no solutions but which I believe has very big ramifications, and I 260 believe it is one that, even more than the rest of the Bill, is an appropriate subject for public and not private legislation.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Lord Marshall of Leeds
My Lords, I too should like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes on the very clear and attractive way in which she has spoken on the Second Reading of this Bill. However, I beg leave to register my opposition to it, particularly to Part IV.
I understand that the Cremation Society of Great Britain and the Proprietary Crematoria Association have already petitioned against the Bill. I should possibly declare an interest by saying that the Cremation Society of Great Britain was founded in 1874 and is incorporated as a company limited by guarantee. It is registered as a charity and has a membership of 10,000. It has pioneered and led the cremation movement ever since its inception in 1874 and its main objective is to establish and promote the practice of cremation.
My interest is that I am the third Member of your Lordships' House who has acted as its honorary president. The previous Members were the late Lord Horder, who was physician to the Royal Family from the time of attending on King Edward VII right through to our present Queen. He was a most distinguished physician. The other president and Member of this House was my immediate predecessor-in-title, the late Lord Greenwood of Rossendale.
The other petitioning body is the Proprietary Crematoria Association, which is an unincorporated association of proprietary interests. It has been in existence for, I believe, 45 years.
The preamble to this Bill recites inter alia that it is expedient for participating London local authorities to have the power to license and control private cemeteries—and I say that because the definition includes crematoria. Clauses 38, 40, 42, 43 and 45 deal with the licensing, enforcement, inspection and control of such establishments by those participating London local authorities.
The cremation movement is most experienced in that particular field and its members have for many years carried on their businesses within an established code of practice prescribed by the Federation of British Cremation Authorities. That code of practice is recognised by the Home Office and has for many years been considered to be a most satisfactory means of self-regulation. It is considered inappropriate for legislation on these matters to be dealt with by private Act of Parliament. Furthermore, if it were considered to be necessary to change the existing national regulations, this would, in my submission, be better achieved by statute governing the entire country; that is, by general legislation under the control of government rather than under that of certain participating London local authorities.
Under the various cremation and burial Acts of Parliament the Secretary of State is empowered to appoint inspectors to oversee the running of crematoria and, of course, cemeteries should that prove necessary. I can tell the House that it is a matter 261 of great pride to the movement that in the 87 years since the 1902 Cremation Act not one Secretary of State has ever found it necessary to do so. In addition of course, the Public Health Act 1936 and the town and country planning legislation also apply to crematoria.
As regards Part IV of the Bill, it is not only unnecessary and undesirable but also unwarranted. I agree with remarks to that end made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I have reason to suppose that the purpose of that part of the Bill, and possibly generally, may not be regarded by Ministers either as too attractive a proposition because the Bill runs counter to the Government's general policies of deregulation. Furthermore it would if passed into law be an unjustifiable restraint on a group of specialist private sector interests. It is for those reasons that I speak against the Bill this evening. I shall he interested to hear the Government's views from my noble friend Lord Arran when he replies to the debate.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I shall be brief because I was told that the House would rise much earlier than is apparently to be the case. First, I thank my noble friend Lady Gardner for introducing the Bill and also my noble friend Lord Colwyn, who has done my job for me, far better than I could have done, because he is what I would call a medical expert. He is an extremely good dentist and, I hear, one who hardly ever hurts his patients, which is a good quality in a dentist.
My father told me that in Ireland—I was a schoolboy at the time—a horse and van would go round the fairs with a gentleman offering painless extraction. Of course, there were also one or two musicians, so called, in attendance and when the painless extraction was taking place they struck up a great tune so that the screams of agony from the patient were not heard. However, I must not continue in that vein.
My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will give way for a moment. I had some experience of dentistry today and there was no horse and cart, no extraction, and none of the horribleness mentioned.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend was a patient of my noble friend Lord Colwyn.
I declare an interest, but not a financial one. I am a patron of the Institute of Complementary Medicine. 1 got into that movement through one or two violent injuries sustained during my life. I am sure that if that organisation had not existed with its various therapists and natural remedies, if that is the right word, I should be far worse off in health than I am.
I have had a lot to do with bureaucrats and I am sure that if borough councils had the power to control the many hundreds of highly trained practitioners—trained largely through the Institute of Complementary Medicine—the NHS would be far 262 worse off, because many of those trained people help patients in the NHS. The Institute of Complementary Medicine carries out about 6 million treatments a year and that is growing by 15 per cent. or more a year.
I quite agree with Clause 25 and with many of the things that the borough councils do. They have the right people to do them as regards, for example, dirty premises. We all now what they are. We have heard about cockroaches in one or two famous West End clubs. The councils are responsible for fire precautions and all kinds of provisions of that nature. They are very adept at them. The officers are highly trained in those and many other spheres like the structure of buildings and the suitability of premises.
With due respect to those officers, however, so far as I am aware they are not highly trained in the various therapies to which I have referred. I believe that there are now seven petitions and no doubt there will be more going before the Select Committee. I presume that the Select Committee will have on it people who know what they are talking about. I am quite sure that it will alter the Bill and that it will be far more favourable than it now is to many hundreds of individuals. Some of them have trained for five or six years in these therapies. I believe that there are 20 natural therapies in all. After the Select Committee the Bill will come back to this House. Many people will be cured by what is sometimes called the laying on of hands. I am sure that there will be a great service done to many thousands of people.
I was very pleased to hear my noble friend Lady Gardner speak about skips. In London one sees quite a lot of them. This is quite off the subject but my noble friend did mention them. They are sometimes to be seen in the same place for three, four or five weeks. In the country with the county councils that cannot happen because one has to pay so much per day to have a skip. Why cannot that be done in London? I am sorry if I have spoken too long. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, who has put the matter far better than I could.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, I hope that my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes will not think me ungallant if I say to her that I am sorry that she has introduced this Bill into your Lordships' House. She described it as a mixture. Frankly, I describe it as an unsavoury collation of cold and unappetising measures of bureaucratic proportions which frustrate most people's aspirations and, to a great extent, business. She said that the Bill was designed in part to deal with certain happenings. But she did not go too far into what those happenings were.
I wish to concentrate on two clauses. My noble friend Lord Colwyn referred to Clause 21. Some years ago there was before your Lordships. House the South Yorkshire Bill that went to a Select Committee. That dealt with an outbreak of hepatitis and the subsequent control of tattooists and acupuncturists. I can see what lies behind that. My noble friend Lord Colwyn described the provisions of the Professions Supplementary to Medicine Act 1960. I wish to draw the attention of the Select 263 Committee to the case of the chiropody professions. Clause 21 excludes a number of highly trained chiropodists in the private sector in membership with the British Chiropody Association. They are almost on a parity with the state-trained chiropodists who are exempted. That does not seem to be fair and just, because those members also have to put up a £750,000 insurance bond.
Much the same argument can apply to the physiotherapy provisions. Exemptions are given in Clause 21 to allow bona fide qualified practitioners' premises to be exempt from licensing. It appears to exclude those physiotherapists who are privately trained and qualified with the SMAE Institute Post-Graduate School of Physiotherapy. It forms a major group within the profession. The membership of that institute had to put up a £750,000 professional indemnity cover.
Clause 21 also makes provision for chiropractic measures. Massage is listed as a special treatment. My understanding is that the McTimoney Chiropractic is a form of treatment and the practitioners are trained by the McTimoney Chiropractic School, registered and insured by the Institute of Pure Chiropractic. As I tried to suggest in my opening remarks, it seems that the provisions in the Bill are far too all-embracing. There has not been sufficient thought given to some particular aspects. My noble friend pointed this out in some particular and some general terms. I merely wish to underline what he had to say in that regard.
I refer to the concluding remarks of my noble friend Lord Marshall of Leeds. He asked whether some of the provisions should be under a local authority Bill or should in fact be a national responsibility. This takes me to Part V of the Bill at Clause 51. I have to declare an interest in that I am a member of the Royal Automobile Club public policy committee which, as part of the standing joint committee of motoring organisations, has petitioned. There is a crying need in London, as elsewhere, for parking space in order to reduce congestion.
I believe that it is absolute folly to close the door on any kind of possibility whether overground or underground, though I know that some people disagree with that. We had this argument when the underground car park was built in Portman Square. It was said that it would destroy the ambiance of the square. That was absolute nonsense because the square was replanted afterwards and it was almost as good as new. Modern technololgy can do this. It is folly to close off any avenue. It is even greater folly to close off avenues when we have the government-led plans being formulated to deal with the problems of London's traffic and parking.
This will apply not only to central London but to boroughs from Hillingdon in the west, Havering in the east, Enfield in the north and Croydon in the south. They are all suffering from congestion. It is the kind of problem that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, described when he spoke of helicopters travelling over boroughs. I draw your Lordships' attention and that of the Select Committee to a paragraph in the paper Transport in London. It says: 264There is more to sensible parking policies than enforcing the law. It is also important to make the right provision of parking facilities. Planning policies will vary between parts of London as to the emphasis given",and so on. There is adequate provision under the existing planning procedures to deal with the difficulties which I suspect the London authorities in promoting the Bill envisage. The Select Committee should reject that part out of hand.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for introducing the Bill. I am certain she will agree that the points made by the noble Lords who have spoken in the debate will be of great value to the Select Committee considering the Bill. However, the sponsors' position has not been helped by the absence of an all-embracing London authority. That was clearly shown by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and is evidenced also in Part II of the Bill, which deals with helicopters.
The preamble to the Bill refers to controlling helicopter movements and helicopter noise in London borough council areas. How can one borough control the movements of helicopters? A helicopter taking off from Hackney will almost certainly have some effect on Waltham Forest. Certainly the noise will have an effect on adjacent boroughs. I am in favour of licensing helicopter movements, but whether we should do so through individual boroughs is another matter.
I should like to refer in particular to Clause 49, which deals with sections of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 as specified in Schedule 3 to the Bill. Schedule 3 lists the 28 sections of the 1976 Act to which Clause 49 relates, either entirely or in part. A detailed scrutiny of the 28 sections of the 1976 Act is required to understand what Clause 49 is about. It relates to the licensing of private hire vehicles and also refers to the position of hackney carriages. I am informed that the proposals could have a damaging effect on London's licensed cab trade. Although we have difficulty at lunch time in getting taxis, there will be general agreement that the London cab system is one of the finest in the world.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, there is also the problem of cross-boundary working, a point stressed by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. Licensing borough by borough would be almost impossible. My most serious criticism is that in framing this part of the Bill there has been no consultation with those working in the cab trade, either through the appropriate section of the Transport and General Workers' Union, which has a vital interest in the matter, or, as I learnt earlier this afternoon, through the Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association.
That is bad enough, but I understand that the Government are at present conducting a review of the taxi and private hire industry and that the findings of the review are expected to be published in two months' time. I understand that the Government will then consult interested parties about the possibility of legislation. I appreciate that the noble Earl who is to 265 reply cannot commit the Select Committee, but the Government should give an assurance that the two bodies to which I have referred will be fully consulted before legislation is considered. It must be absolutely inappropriate to include in this Bill matters which are at present subject to a government review and consultation prior to legislation.
I am given to understand that a petition on this point has been presented. I hope that is so, though I am informed by the section of the Transport and General Workers' Union which deals with cab drivers that it learnt of this Bill only by a chance conversation with a member of one of the London borough councils. I hope that there has been time for it to present a petition.
I hope the Select Committee will consider what I have said on the matter. In view of the Government's review—the Minister can tell the House whether I am correct on that point—in view of the consultation they will have after the report is presented in two months' time and with the possibility of legislation, whatever happens to the rest of the Bill this clause and Schedule 3 should be expunged from it.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, it may be helpful to the House if I briefly intervene at this point to give an indication of the Government's view on the Bill.
It is customary for the Government to adopt a neutral stance on Private Bills, and certainly we have no objection to the principle of London authorities, as they are empowered to do by statute, promoting a Private Bill seeking additional general powers for the London area. On this occasion, however, there are a number of provisions in the Bill which give rise to considerable concern in departments. Some of these were touched on by noble Lords earlier in the debate.
The Department of Transport and my own department object to the proposed powers in Part II of the Bill to license helicopter movements. I understand that those are aimed at curbing noise nuisance, but we consider the provisions to be unnecessary and an undesirable extension of existing legislation. The helicopter noise provisions in the part appear to conflict with the Civil Aviation Act 1982, particularly Section 76. The principle in that section that no action shall lie in respect of an aircraft over a property has been enshrined in legislation since the Air Navigation Act 1920. While the Government support, in general, the promotion of good neighbourly behaviour and steps to mitigate excessive noice intrusion and to minimise the risk of accident by helicopters, we have no evidence to support the need for the proposed licensing regime.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment also is firmly opposed to the proposals in Part IV of the Bill to license private cemeteries. These are unnecessary and at the same time seriously defective. Given the paucity of such cemeteries operated by firms, coupled with the unlikelihood of new entrants to the field, we can see no justification for such a licensing system. Moreover, the proposals include private crematoria of which there are only six in London. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary, who has responsibility for the law and regulations relating to 266 the operation of crematoria, is strongly opposed to the proposal. Cremation authorities are already subject to control through national regulations.
In addition, the wide regulatory powers which are sought in Parts II and IV of the Bill would go against the Government's deregulation policies and would be an unjustifiable restraint on small groups of specialist private sector interests. Indeed, that point was taken up by my noble friend Lord Marshall of Leeds.
All these concerns have been put to the promoters. Departments are awaiting their response. I have to say that if these powers continue to be sought in the Bill, then in the usual way departments will oppose them by a report to the Select Committee on the Bill seeking their deletion.
Departments have also raised with the promoters other points of concern in respect of provisions relating to party walls (Clause 48), private hire vehicles (Clause 49), power to charge for council services (Clause 50) and London squares (Clause 51). In particular the latter provision is considered objectionable as an unnecessary extension to existing controls.
It might be appropriate now if I were to take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, as regards taxi and hire-car legislation. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport is at present reviewing all taxi and hire-car legislation and is looking at this aspect. However, we believe that it is right that this should be dealt with in comprehensive legislation which takes the situation of the whole country into account. Moreover, for private hire cars as well as taxis, we see impossible practical problems if as proposed in the clause different boroughs run different schemes when so many mini-cab journeys cross borough boundaries. I think that that point was also raised by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. Legislation on taxis in London already includes some 14 different Acts. The proposed clause would cut across many areas of existing legislation and create confusion.
I return now to Clause 51, which concerns London squares. The purpose of the planning system is to regulate the development and use of land in the public interest. In the Government's view, the town and country planning legislation provides adequate planning control of development in London squares. Planning permission is required for development on, over or under land, so any development proposal affecting London squares would be so regulated. The London Squares Preservation Act 1931 pre-dated the Town and Country Planning Acts and to extend its scope now, as proposed, would lead to unnecessary duplication of control. My department hopes to persuade the promoters to withdraw the clause.
I have to say that on this and other outstanding issues, if suitable amendments cannot be agreed with the promoters, we shall have no alternative but to submit a report to the Select Committee opposing the provisions. In addition, there are 10 petitioners against the Bill and they will have the opportunity to present their objections to the Select Committee.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, I should like to thank all those who have taken part in the 267 debate on this Bill. I must say that I have found the comments most helpful. I suppose that the Bill is the closest we have had to a "Greater London Powers Bill". I thought that the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, was a most interesting one. He said that he thought the problems had arisen due to the disappearance of an authority covering all London. While he may be correct in some aspects of the matter, many of those problems existed even when there was such an authority. Indeed, I served as a member of that authority. I can say that certainly at that time the local boroughs greatly resented the fact that the licensing powers for late night music and dancing, for example, were vested with the Greater London authority, which they felt was not sympathetic to local needs. Therefore there has always been the argument as to what is local, what is regional and what is national. Moreover, the same point has been brought out in the debate today.
I think that the point made about taxis and helicopters crossing borough boundaries is a valid one. The point was made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has heard me say before that I believe that there is a need for a single London traffic authority. I say that because everyone is always keen to pass all their traffic problems on to the next borough. In fact, it would be most interesting to see what would happen if every borough had powers and passed on all their problems to the borough next door. I wonder where such problems would eventually end up.
I can understand the argument which has been put forward, but the fact that the Bill has been introduced in its present form is an indication of the direct individual problems that boroughs feel they have suffered. Indeed, different boroughs have requested the inclusion of different points in the Bill.
So far as concerns the Building Employers Confederation wanting the same standards to apply everywhere, I think that London has always been somewhat different in that respect. It has had different building regulations and it is only over the past few years that we have seen the disappearance of the district surveyor. In my view he operated a higher standard of building control than that which existed outside London. I was sorry when I saw that district surveyors had been done away with. That again is a point that must be looked at.
The noble Lord, Lord Marshall, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, spoke about the Westminster cemeteries, which is a sensitive subject. The council sought the powers because of the unfortunate experience it had had and because it found that it could not do anything. When I heard the messenger come in to say that my noble friend Lord Massereene's taxi had arrived, I said to him, "Please do not wait", but I should have liked to point out to him that the Bill provides for the control of fares, and that before we had anaesthetics, there was a band to drown the noise of having one's teeth extracted. Even that would come under the control of the Bill.
My noble friends Lord Massereene and Lord Colwyn made the relevant point about the number of 268 people who are highly trained in complementary medicine. Medicine goes much wider than it did. My dental colleague rightly mentioned to me that a few years ago if either he or I had spoken as dentists we should have been accused of advertising. It would have been completely unethical. That is how much even our profession has changed within a few years.
My noble friend Lord Lucas said that I did not go into detail about the happenings in various boroughs. I did not because I thought that no one would want to be here all night. The points were based on actual circumstances. I am sure that many of those points will be brought out and the relevant experiences attached to them before the Select Commitee.
I should like to take issue with the Minister and my noble friend Lord Lucas on car parking and the London squares. I was on Westminster Council when we agreed to allow a car park to be put under Cavendish Square. We were worried about the future of those enormous and beautiful plane trees, but because the square was in the council's ownership—I may be wrong about that—it was able to impose conditions and the trees had to be protected and retained. Those squares, especially in the centre of London, are London's lifeblood. It is a great joy to people living in built-up areas to be able to look out on to something green. Recently in Westminster—I believe that it was Ennismore Gardens, but I am not sure—there was an attempt to take over a square and construct something in it. I believe that attempt was made by a gentleman who did not understand that there was a London Squares Preservation Act. He had come from another country. Someone had sold him the square in the way that people regularly sell Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The London squares are a sensitive issue. What goes under the squares and the protection of trees which have taken a long time to grow are important. One of your Lordships underlined what a desperate need there is for car parking. My GLC borough built a car park beside the railway. No one would use it. The late Sir Anthony Berry was instrumental in having it built. People would not go into it because they had to pay. Even now, research has shown that underground car parks are the least attractive type of car park. People do not mind how high the rate goes at a parking meter above ground. If there is a meter available, they will always choose it rather than go into a multi-storey or underground car park.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, I agree that that is safer, especially for a woman. To be down several floors can be a hazard.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned licensed cabs. I agree with him 100 per cent. that we all have the greatest regard for the London taxi, 269 which of course is no longer black. He pointed out that there has been no consultation, but there is still plenty of time for consultation. As I understand it, the procedure on the Bill will be lengthy. The Minister made the point that the Government make a report upon any aspect upon which they wish to comment. The petitioners can have consultations and 270 meetings and present their case fully in a way that no one can fault.
I ask your Lordships' House to give the Bill a Second Reading so that it may be referred to the Select Committee.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.