HL Deb 14 March 1990 vol 516 cc1615-33

7.45 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

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

The main provisions of the Bill cover parking control in Part II, special treatment premises in Part III, entertainment in Part IV and a number of different items under the miscellaneous provision in Part V, including burglar alarms, scaffolding on buildings and class of use. Part VI covers liability of directors as related to the other particulars in the Bill.

Although I am convinced that the provisions of the Bill cover only necessary powers and will be of great benefit to the people of London, I am aware that there are petitioners against some parts of the Bill. The Royal Automobile Club, the Freight Transport Association and the Royal Scottish Automobile Club are petitioning against Part II of the Bill. I am not entirely clear where the Royal Scottish Automobile Club stands in relation to central London, but perhaps it feels that a precedent might be set and it does not wish the same thing to happen in Edinburgh. Otherwise, I cannot see its relevance if it is true to its name. It is interesting to note that the AA is not petitioning. I understand that the AA now supports the view that local authorities should control parking in London.

There are many points in the petition that do not show an understanding of the present situation in London. For example, there is a great deal of talk about how we must have only one parking system for the whole of London. When I was on the Greater London Council, we did not hold the view that there should be one regulation for the whole of London. I represented part of outer London where we found that the main need was for parking control for one hour in the morning when communters would fill the area so that residents could not move their cars in or out of their own homes. By introducing that measure, people moved into the good large car park attached to the station which they had previously not bothered to use because it was easier to clutter up everyone else's streets. There has always been a clear need for different timings. The hours of restriction in Covent Garden are now quite different from anywhere else in London. In the Victoria area residents' parking is enforced until 10 o'clock at night. That is proving a great success. It is good for local authorities to have more control in that respect.

That approach frees the police and the wardens to deal with the major roads, which are so important in keeping the traffic moving, rather than the minor roads. The Department of Transport has estimated that the cost of illegal parking in London is now over £200 million in lost benefit. It is believed that there are about 350,000 illegal parking acts in central London every day lasting more than 20 minutes each. We are not talking about the person who pulls up for one second. We are talking about people who are illegally parked for more than 20 minutes. There is a great need for something to be done in that regard.

The RAC view is well intentioned and aimed at helping its members. The RAC state that there would be two separate groups of people looking after matters. The situation would be even more chaotic if the police continued to look after yellow lines and local authorities looked after residents' parking, as was once the Government's view. Surely some local authorities would start busily to remove the yellow lines and make more areas which they could satisfactorily control, or the illegal parkers would all move off the meters and residents' bays on to the yellow lines. I can envisage all kinds of possibilities.

There are no petitioners against Part III. I am pleased about that because that part of local authority control was brought forward under the Local Authorities (No. 2) Bill. There was strong petitioning against that measure at that time. Part III concerns complementary medicine and other forms of special treatment premises. Fortunately, the way the Bill has been drafted means that all those categories which felt that they had legitimate cause before—and I, too, thought that they had legitimate cause—are now covered because it includes any group which will have a proper code of practice and a list of members. The whole idea of this part originally was to prevent the use of premises for prostitution or other immoral or undesirable purposes. Under the exemptions in Clause 8 of the Bill there will be exempt: any member of a professionally constituted body of health practitioners, with a register of members, who are subject to codes of conduct and ethics and a disciplinary board and have professional indemnity insurance"— it is very important to ensure that the public are protected against claims for negligence— and the body concerned has given proper notice to the borough". So far as I understand, we have now resolved the question of treatment centres and there are no petitions against that section.

The cinema bodies are petitioning against Part IV—entertainment. I do not think that the petitions which oppose Clauses 23 and 25 are at all unreasonable. However, the cinemas resent the fact that they will have to pay the cost of having the premises inspected. At present the premises are inspected for fire and safety entirely at the expense of the local authority. The changed community charge means that that cost will be borne entirely by the community charge payers. It seems to me only right that cinemas should pay the correct charge. There is a degree of misunderstanding in that they seem to believe that they will be able to be charged anything, but that is not so. They will only be able to be charged the actual cost of the inspection. That seems very fair.

There is no petition against Clause 24 but I am pleased that it is included in the Bill. It covers private clubs and private places of entertainment, such as small rooms used in upstairs premises. Certainly Westminster knows that many such places exist in the centre of London and I am sure that they also exist in other places. At the moment they are subject to no safety controls at all because they are private and do not have to conform to any standards.

Part V has caused the strongest reactions on both sides. There are two petitions against it: one from the Building Employers' Confederation, which covers a number of different points, and another from Slough Estates. The building employers are opposed to the 20-minute cut out on intruder alarms. In this regard I recently looked at a cutting from the Hampstead and Highgate Express of November 1989 in which it was reported that the residents of West Hampstead eventually took the law into their own hands and smashed a burglar alarm which had been making their lives a misery by ringing persistently. Understandably, I suppose, the man who did it would not give his name. He said that the alarm had gone off in the middle of the night three times in the past month and he had decided that it was time for action. Most of us have had the experience of finding a burglar alarm going off when somebody is away for a long weekend. It can be extremely irritating if there is no way of obtaining access and cutting it off.

The building employers also found it onerous to be asked to take responsibility for scaffolding, and in particular for ensuring that it could not be used as a means of entry in order to burgle the adjoining houses. They think that that is an unreasonable condition to put upon them. I do not find it at all unreasonable. I had to rebuild my own house. The one concern of all my neighbours around was about burglary and entry by means of the scaffolding on my structure. It is common for burglaries to take place when building works are being carried out in the vicinity and scaffolding is convenient for people to shin up easily and thereby pop into any house nearby. It is very upsetting.

Someone has to take the responsibility. The building Employers' Confederation discusses whether it should be the scaffolder who may have left the site or the owner. That kind of point should and quite clearly will be discussed in the committee to which this Bill will be committed. It is important to sort out who will be responsible. Presumably the responsibility will pass from one to the other. There will be a responsibility on persons to produce the correct form of scaffolding in the first place but clearly it would be unreasonable to ask them to come back and maintain the lighting or whatever once they had finished that part of the work. The Building Employers' Confederation in its statement says that although the obligation is on the scaffolder now to ensure that the scaffolding is lit, the scaffolder is never there but someone else sees that it is done. So apparently these things are worked out quite reasonably between the various sections of the building trade.

Those two items were of minor importance and not of the most overwhelmingly major importance in the petitions from the Building Employers' Confederation and Slough Estates. In each case those bodies are very disturbed about the suggestion of a change of class of use. In fact Slough Estates is completely and frankly financially interested. It makes no bones about it—it is its one upset. It feels that it will cause a loss of value. The Building Employers' Confederation put forward a number of other reasons such as the need to retain land for building and so on.

It all boils down to the fact that in 1987 there was a change in the Use Classes Order which brought together office and light industrial premises and put them into the one category. It meant that no planning permission was required to change a small workshop into an office. It is much more profitable for people to let or own office space than it is to let small workshop space. I have had letters on this matter. The first that I should like to mention comes from the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who said that she would have liked to have spoken in support of Clause 29 but she could not be here this evening. In particular she draws attention to the Savile Row tailoring industry. She writes that: recent rent reviews have shown a five-fold increase and landlords are declining to renew leases because it is more profitable to let to an office user". She explains that, as we all know: Savile Row has been the centre for British tailoring of the highest quality and is important for future export growth of British menswear. It is essential that a bespoke tailor should have his workshop adjacent to the place of sale". There is also the possibility under this legislation that Westminster City Council in particular, which is probably the most adversely affected area because that is where office premises are most sought after, would have the opportunity to create specialist industrialist zones. For example, in Covent Garden there are many small hand craft workers who could all lose their places because they would simply be priced out.

Just as I came into the House I was handed a letter from a tailor in Savile Row. There is the Royal Warrant in one corner of his letter paper and on the other—which I found rather interesting—is the warrant of the late Emperor Napoleon III. I have not come across that before on notepaper. His case is much the same as that put by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. He writes that the purpose of this Use Classes Order was: to aid economic development by allowing landlords to change the use of their property without the need to obtain planning permission … The result of the changes … however has been to drive out these specialist workshops as landlords take the opportunity to refurbish or redevelop property for more lucrative office space. He again confirms what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said about landlords refusing to renew leases. He states: The loss of light industrial space will have a detrimental effect on the whole character of the West End and diminish the special role that it plays in the country's economy. Although the changes in the Use Classes Order were designed to encourage economic development, it seems that in London they are actually having the opposite effect". He again mentions that, the West End is unique [as] the shopping capital of our country. The workshops of the Savile Row tailors and other industries contribute to the magic of the West End. They help to attract people from all over Britain and the world"— I confirm that— who are drawn by the diversity and quality of its shops and businesses". Everyone knows that the Department of the Environment has commissioned a review. They also know that the result will be too late to prevent the break-up of the industrial composition of the area. That is why it is so important that the Bill should proceed rather than wait for a review, which will be a case of closing the door after the horse has bolted.

Quite a different letter came from the Association of Photographers. Its address is EC1, not very far from my surgery. It stated that very soon no one will be able to have a small studio because such premises will simply not be available. In that very different part of London people are finding exactly the same difficulties as in the West End.

It has always been the desire in planning terms to retain a mixed economy. When the GLC was moving so much so-called non-conforming light industry out of London, we saw a tremendous reduction in the small workshops and places where people could work close to where they lived. We have a shortage of employment for people who are not suited to office work but who wish to be occupied in other ways and who have skills and crafts which add a fascination to the capital. I therefore believe that it is most important that we should consider the Bill very carefully tonight.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Gardner of Parkes.)

8.2 p.m.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, the Bill, the Second Reading of which has been so ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, contains an interesting miscellany of provisions. I do not imagine that we shall wish to speak on all of them. My noble friend Lord Tordoff will be concentrating on Part II, on the parking provisions. I should like to concentrate on three clauses—audible intruder alarms, Clause 27; scaffolding licences; and class of use. I was struck with the importance of all three.

There is not the slightest doubt about the nuisance caused by burglar alarms that go off for long periods in built-up areas. Indeed I asked a Question on that on 16th October last. The noble Lord, Lord Rea, who will be answering the debate tonight, was kind enough also to answer on that occasion. I asked whether there was a need for the existing code of practice—which seemed to be very largely ignored in practical terms—to be made mandatory and in particular to make it obligatory to have cut-off devices.

I live in the City of Westminster. I have complained several times to the council about these nuisances. I find that I am not the only one. In 1988—which I presume is the year for which it has the latest statistics—it received 300 complaints. The issue of burglar alarms that keep people awake is one about which it receives the largest single volume of complaints. I have not the slightest doubt that it is an important provision. I am delighted that the City of Westminster is putting it forward. I hope that the Government will support it.

When answering my Question, the noble Lord, Lord Reay, stated that he had every sympathy for the views expressed. That does not commit him to anything more than sympathy, but that is what he stated. I believe that the fitting of a cut-off device after 20 minutes is essential. The notification of installation to the police and local authority is also important. The selection of two keyholders is again a vital element. I believe that there should be provision to enter premises by force in certain circumstances, if these devices continue to go off in spite of all these provisions.

I have noticed what the Building Employers' Confederation said in its petition. However, I feel that the trouble caused to people living in these areas is so paramount that I hope a solution will be found and that the measures that are proposed will not be minimised.

On licences for scaffolding, I again fully support what is proposed. I am chairman of a local residents association in Westminster. There is growing concern about the security risk of having scaffolding around, not only to the building that is being renovated—damage can there be done only to the structure—but with regard to neighbouring premises to which greater access can be given. It is essential that the question of security should be safeguarded in the way proposed.

Finally, on the class of use, again I have every sympathy for what is proposed. We are losing too many of these small businesses from London. London is becoming filled with office space and so-called luxury flats. I should have thought that in order to maintain the diversity of activity in the capital there should be a safeguard for small businesses which over the years have developed great skill and renown. As the noble Baroness pointed out, they contribute considerably to our export trade and are a great attracton to tourists. I am fully in support of returning to the position before 1987 whereby this class of use was protected.

I do not agree with the view apparently taken by the Department of the Environment that we should wait for the result of the inquiry. That could take some time, and in the meantime businesses could be closed down. For those reasons I fully support those three provisions in the Bill.

8.8 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes for her explanation of the Bill for which she seeks a Second Reading tonight. But I fear that she is under a number of misconceptions with regard to Part II. I regret that I shall have to explain why I fear that. It would also be fair, although according to our conventions not strictly necessary, for me to remind your Lordships that I am a member of the Royal Automobile Club public policy committee.

When considering Part II of the Bill it is necessary to remind ourselves that the Secretary of State is responsible under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 for regulation of traffic on trunk roads in London. It is the boroughs which are responsible for regulation of traffic on non-trunk roads. But the police and traffic wardens, who are responsible for the enforcement of those regulations on all trunk and non-trunk roads in London and across the country, come under a different authority, the police authority.

My noble friend stated that she could not understand why the Royal Scottish Automobile Club was concerned in this matter. Purely and simply, the Scottish interest is that for the purposes of legislation, the 1984 Act, to which I have already referred, applies in Scotland as in England. There is, therefore, a real interest because anything changed in England by virtue of this Bill could have an effect in Scotland; hence the interest.

We know, do we not, that there are about 8,125 miles of roads in London, including about 250 miles of trunk roads. There are 20 bridges and two tunnels. There are 35 local authorities. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport in his consultation document Traffic in London proposes a special route network upon which parking, loading and unloading and so on would be curtailed. The proposals apply to 224 miles of trunk and about 86 miles of non-trunk or borough roads. If the 35 local authorities were to acquire their own independent powers—Part II of the Bill allows for that—the various powers of enforcement would create an absurd, if not bizarre, situation. There could be 35 different regimes covering trunk and non-trunk roads with differing policies and priorities between the boroughs.

Chaos and confusion would reign. The proof of that lies in the experience that we have with the night-time and weekend lorry ban which operates in London. I believe there are 22 boroughs which participate and 35 which do not. Nobody knows where they are with mile upon mile of roads covered by different regimes. That is a nonsense.

In this Chamber we are continually talking about bureaucracy. Were Part II of this Bill to be allowed in its present form—in any form, I suggest—there would undoubtedly be a duplication of powers; not an extension or a substitution but a duplication. The Bill would confer on local authority civilian staff powers that are presently only available to the police and traffic wardens. In fact the power for local authority staffs to clamp or remove vehicles would exceed the powers currently available to the police and traffic warden authorities. I do not believe that that is a situation to be entertained. It would completely undermine what the Department of Transport is aiming for—an overall transportation policy in London covering Underground, bus, road, rail and so on.

Your Lordships should be greatly concerned that Part II would create a precedent. It would almost certainly encourage other local authorities across the country to seek similar powers of traffic enforcement, again quite independent from the police and the warden service. This would compound the confusion and possible inequities I have spoken about that arise from the fragmentation of an enforcement function. We already have great difficulties as we move across the country in terms of lighting and sign posting. This Bill would add to those difficulties. We could have every local authority throughout Scotland, England and Wales having its own set of rules and regulations—an impossible position when seeking to control and direct traffic.

Finally, I should perhaps draw attention to the diversion of revenues. As drafted, the Bill provides that revenue arising from the additional parking (penalty) charge would go to the boroughs. That could give rise to almost any situation in so far as charges are concerned. Local authorities are under tremendous pressures on their spending and their revenue-raising activities. This Bill would give them a golden opportunity to run riot on the revenue-raising possibilities from motor vehicle transportation.

It is not only I who object to this. The Government in their paper Traffic in London, paragraph 7.17, state: There are also objections in principle to allowing local authorities to use income generated by fines and penalties to enforce permitted parking controls. The proposals would require an entirely new legal mechanism to ensure the collection of unpaid charges. This could involve substantial costs and could take a long time to implement. During this period uncertainty about the future role of the police traffic warden service would remain. The proposals are therefore rejected". I believe that I have outlined to your Lordships sound reasons which have given rise to the Petition of the Freight Transport Association, the Royal Automobile Club and the Royal Scottish Automobile Club. I hope the Select Committee will reject Part II of the Bill.

I want to touch on two other areas covered by the Bill. They relate to charges. We had before your Lordships a few weeks ago a private Bill from the borough of Merton which included power to raise charges for the fixing of traffic directional signs on street furniture. This was rejected largely because it would give rise to almost uncontrolled charging by local authorities for a variety of services. In Part IV of this Bill, to which my noble friend Lady Gardner referred, we come to one of these areas. Again I have to say to my noble friend that she has missed the point. This part of the Bill refers to the cinema licence fee. She said that the petitioners resent paying the cost of inspection for fire and other safety-related purposes. That is absolute nonsense. They do not resent paying for that.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

They are not paying it.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

If they are not paying it, why was it necessary for my noble friend to say that they resent paying it? They have given no indication of resenting payment for inspection of fire and other services. What they resent, and what is in the Petition, is that the Bill in Clauses 23 and 24 alters the current cinema licence fee arrangements which are set by the Home Office.

The threat that the cinema operators fear is derived from the fact that, uniquely among other leisure activities which are licensed by the local authorities, the cinema is subject to censorship. The censorship is imposed by the cinematograph licence. A substantial number of district councils sought to involve themselves in local film censorship activities following the enactment of the Local Government Act 1972. They were then dissuaded from so doing by the high cost to themselves of setting up the necessary procedures.

Disguised in the Bill before your Lordships this evening are these new powers under Clause 24 which, if allowed, mean that the local authorities would then be able to take over the censorship role and charge in the licence fee the huge costs involved which they rejected in 1972. The net result would be that we should have, as it were, a totally unacceptable erosion of the credibility and acceptability of the British Board of Film Classification. That board has the support of the Home Office and, indeed, the film industry. It would disrupt the present national system of film distribution, promotion and exhibition that is based on the existing categories which are allocated to individual films by the British Board of Film Classification.

Lastly, the result would be the closure of a material number of cinemas and an intolerable and unnecessary burden on the remainder. This is at a time when the cinema industry is recovering and proving itself to be a vital social amenity, particularly in some of the deprived inner city and other areas which face social problems. That is the reality of what Clauses 23 and 25 would achieve. It is no good my noble friend suggesting that that is a resentment at paying quite proper charges to have safety and other inspections.

I merely wish to touch upon Clause 29, about which both the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes have spoken. To my surprise I have also received letters from the Association of Fashion Advertising and Editorial Photographers and from four firms engaged in the tailoring business. I should certainly like to underline what my noble friend Lady Gardner said about the maintenance of some light industry and manufacturing industry in the area. We have heard so frequently, have we not, of the necessity to maintain our manufacturing industry. Whether it is the manufacture of shirts or of suits, it does not matter. It is manufacturing—exporting—and it goes towards reducing the balance of payments deficit.

I have little doubt that the committee to which this Bill will be committed will look at all those points. However, I certainly suggest that Part II is confusing, totally unnecessary and quite contrary to government intentions. I am quite sure that the other areas can be taken care of when counsel for the petitioners put their case in more detail.

8.25 p.m.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said, especially as regards parking in central London. If I understand correctly what the noble Baroness said, it was that each borough needed to make its own parking arrangements, and she quoted Covent Garden. However, there is nothing to prevent different parking arrangements being made for different areas of London. I should have thought that that was the obvious thing to do.

I was very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said about scaffolding. I had not actually thought of that aspect. With regard to intruder alarms, I agree that they really are terrible. I know about them to my cost because I was a keyholder in London and I lived about 12 miles from the premises for which I held the key. I have been called out by the police, sometimes at two o'clock in the morning. I had to get into my car, drive up to London, check the building, switch the alarm off and reset it. I believe that on every occasion it was a false alarm. Therefore, the cut-off point of 20 minutes is a very good thing.

One aspect worries me. If you have been for a few drinks or been to a party with the other keyholder and have both had a few drinks, what will happen when the keyholder is called out? You would both have to say that you could not come because you had been drinking and did not wish to break the law. I do not know what would happen in that case, but such things happen.

There was a very bad rail crash at Eltham Well Hall a few years ago. I had been to a party some distance away from where I lived in Finchley. I heard the news. I had not driven to the party, and I then had to go to London. Therefore, I had to hire a chauffeur-driven car because I had been drinking. Subsequently, I was up all night and did not arrive home until the following morning. I know that that is not exactly the same situation as an intruder alarm but it is the same sort of problem. If you get stopped it is no good saying to the police, "I am sorry, I had to come because I am the keyholder and the other keyholder has gone on holiday", or something like that.

In our locality we have a neighbourhood watch scheme. The alarm of some neighbours across the road is sometimes triggered off by the dog and can ring for a very long time. Luckily, that bell is quite quiet and is not too disturbing.

As regards scaffolding, it is obvious that if there is scaffolding people will use it. I thought that if there were ladders you had to put boards up against them and I presume that you could put barbed wire around the scaffolding. I do not know about that.

I intended only to speak about Clause 29. Like the noble Baroness, I received a communication from the Association of Photographers and as I came into the Prince's Chamber this evening I also received a communication from Napoleon III's tailors. I also received a letter from Mr. Barry Reed. He is the chairman of Austin Reed and I have known him for many years. He shows the same concern as other bespoke tailors, although his business is a sufficiently large one and for him the problem is not so great. I should like to read out one paragraph of his letter: The new rules had potentially disastrous consequences for all the craft industries located in Central London, in particular the tailors of Savile Row. Now that their workshops can be converted to office space without planning permission, it has meant that all recent rent reviews have shown a five-fold increase. Worse still. landlords are declining to renew leases because it is more profitable to let to an office user". You can obviously charge more for an office than for light industrial use. I agree with other noble Lords who have already spoken that it would be a great shame for those craft industries to die out in central London because many are world famous.

There is one other point which I should like to make. We know that the Department of the Environment is currently reviewing the Use Classes Order 1987. One letter which I have received stated that since 1987 in their rent review clauses leases refer to B1 users. There is a fear about what will happen if an existing lease refers to that under the old 1987 Act. Will these people be covered by the new Clause 29? If not, they will be in the same position as they currently are.

8.31 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I rise with the feeling that I ought to change my tailor!

We are grateful to the noble Baroness for the way in which she introduced this Bill. It is a wonderful compendium of different matters. When I looked at the part which said "scaffolding licences", I thought perhaps she was bringing the gallows back to Tyburn, and I read that rather carefully. I then realised that it was about something quite different.

I am glad that she raised the point about security of scaffolding. I remember during the 1979 election, when operating from our party's headquarters in the National Liberal Club in Whitehall Place, there was a considerable amount of security for our party leader and others going in and out of the building. Passes were checked, and certain gentlemen appeared with odd bulges under their jackets. The front of the building was being cleaned. Suddenly, halfway through the campaign, scaffolding appeared at the window of the room in which we held our daily press conference. At that point I realised the security threat which could be posed by scaffolding. I am sure the noble Baroness is also quite right in relation to scaffolding on private premises.

As my noble friend Lord Ezra mentioned, I want to deal with Part II of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, dealt with this part at considerable length. I find myself somewhere between the position that he takes and the position the noble Baroness takes. He is perhaps being a little harsh on the Bill. I have considerable sympathies with the views of local authorities in this matter.

The problem of enforcement of parking regulations in the Greater London area is serious. It is a problem we touched on a few weeks ago when discussing a Motion that I had the honour to introduce to your Lordships' House on the traffic situation in London. The question is whether this Bill, as it stands, achieves the purpose of improving enforcement. It goes some way towards it, but some of the objections raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, are valid. They have been set out by the RAC and others and no doubt will be set out in much greater detail and more eloquently by learned counsel—who will be better paid than I am—when it goes to the Select Committee. I do not need therefore to go into it in any great detail.

I shall touch on the question of money raised from fixed penalties going to the local authority. I sympathise with the local authority in that matter. If, by doing that, they can obtain better enforcement, then I would be in favour of it. It is the question of duplication and the confusion in the minds of vehicle users which is the problem.

The RAC, in their petition, say that vehicle users will not know from one area to another whether the local authority and its officers are empowered to levy the additional parking charge, issue fixed penalty notices or clamp or tow away their vehicles. It is that lack of clarity in the minds of the parking public which is the problem with the Bill as it is laid out.

Some local authorities are already taking the law into their own hands. My good friends in the excellent administration in the borough of Richmond on Thames, Hampton Wick and Twickenham, where specific traffic problems are experienced, operate a system of private traffic wardens using notice of intended prosecution with £12 fines. They believe that they are able to pursue that system through the local government general duties provisions. They support Westminster's bid to put it on a firmer legal footing.

Overall, I accept that the problem will be that we shall have a patchwork of applications of the regulations as we move from one street to another; not all of us are exactly sure where the boundaries of one borough or another are drawn in this great city.

That takes us back to the basic question that I raised in the previous debate regarding the need for an overall traffic authority for Greater London. I cannot help but return to that point. With 33 boroughs—or however many there are—we often find difficulty in administering the traffic and parking regulations in an area which is not 33 separate entities, but is a whole city; admittedly, as the noble Baroness said, there are a number of areas in the city. I thought the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, clearly made the point that it should be possible in Covent Garden to have different regulations even within an authority covering a much greater area.

I endorse what was said on the subject of small businesses in the city. It would be a great tragedy for the city if tailors were forced to move out, whether in Savile Row or anywhere else. There are others which are not quite so upmarket, but which ought to be preserved. There are also a number of other small businesses which should not be turned into offices if the city is to live as a genuine entity.

I am afraid that I am ambivalent about the parking restrictions. I see what they are trying to achieve, but I fear that some of the problems the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, mentioned may arise if the Bill goes through in this form. I hope that the Select Committee can iron out these difficulties before it comes back to your Lordships' House for Third Reading.

8.37 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, knowing that I am interested in traffic conditions and transport matters, my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey—who deals with local government and environmental issues—discussed this Bill with me. He made it quite clear that he will leave Part II, on traffic, entirely to me, and that he has no strong views on any other aspect of the Bill. Therefore the noble Baroness need not convince my noble friend Lord McIntosh. He is quite happy for the Bill to go to Select Committee, and for them to deal with the matter.

I hold much the same view as the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. I can see what the Bill hopes to achieve and I greatly sympathise with it. Regarding Part II of the Bill, strangely enough, no one has been in touch with me. I have heard nothing from my friends in the RAC; nothing from the AA; nothing from the FTA. I thought that nobody objected to the Bill and I was surprised to hear tonight that the RAC raised strong objections to it.

Part II of the Bill tries to achieve what all of us want—that is, more effective parking enforcement. Although I do not want to live in Greater London, from the standpoint of the Bill perhaps I should like to be in Greater London. I live in the Epping Forest district council area, where there are a number of police stations—they seem to be more like report stations. We hardly see a traffic warden and we suffer from illegal parking. That badly needs regulation enforcement. If this Bill is passed and I lived in the area, I should like to see the council do something about the parking situation.

On my reading of the Bill participation is optional. A council will be a participating council if it decides to participate. It is not compelled to carry out the provisions. A parking charge, in addition to the initial charge and the excess charge, seems a fairer way of trying to achieve enforcement.

I recognise that one could have different regulations in neighbouring boroughs; but, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, stated, we have different regulations for trunk roads—which are administered by the Department of Transport—and local roads, which are administered by local authorities. We already have that differentiation. There are clear definitions of what is a specified person and a proper person; and Clauses 6 and 7, regarding the removal and immobilisation of vehicles, seem to be satisfactory. I notice also that the fully authorised officer is clearly defined in Clause 2.

There are two Acts affected by the Bill. We have the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988. I have not the slightest doubt that aspects of these two Acts will be considered by the Select Committee. I am quite happy for the Bill to go forward and for those matters which have been raised, particularly those mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and the doubts which I have as well, to be left to the Select Committee to iron out.

I have not the slightest doubt that the Department of Transport has its views and will obviously either present a paper or appoint a witness to put its views before the Select Committee. I believe that the Bill is trying to do something in Part II. I should like to see it go forward to the Select Committee and for the points that have been raised to be ironed out there, because what we want is enforcement in a number of boroughs which do not have it.

I have criticised, as has the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, the absence of a strategic traffic authority in London, but while we do not have that the Bill goes some way towards it. Therefore I should like to see it go to the Select Committee for it to deal with some of the points that have been raised.

8.42 p.m.

Lord Reny

My Lords, it may be helpful to the House if I intervene briefly to give an indication of the Government's view on the Bill. In general, the Government have no objection to the principle of London authorities, as they are empowered to do by statute, promoting the Bill seeking additional general powers for the London area. There are, however, a number of provisions in the Bill which give rise to considerable concern in departments. Like my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth and, I think, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, the Department of Transport and the Home Office have serious misgivings about Part II of the Bill, which concerns new arrangements for parking controls.

The Bill proposes a new "parking charge" in place of the fixed penalty for overstaying the "excess period" at a parking meter or other designated parking place. The Bill would also allow local authority officers to issue fixed penalty notices and to secure their enforcement, whereas at present only the police and traffic warden force may do so. The Bill would further allow local authority officers to authorise vehicle removal and wheel-clamping for breach of parking and traffic regulations. In all these respects, the Bill seeks to divert receipts from fees and penalties to the authorities concerned.

The Government fully accept the need for effective enforcement of parking controls. To that end they have themselves brought forward proposals for change in London in the light of lengthy consideration of the issues with the local authority associations and the police. The proposals were set out in a consultation document Traffic in London, issued by the Department of Transport last December. The period for consultation concluded on 28th February. Replies are still being considered.

In the Government's view, it would be premature to proceed with the proposals in the Bill before the outcome of a consultation exercise on these very issues has been settled. Therefore, the Secretary of State for Transport, with the support of his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, intends to oppose these provisions in a report to the committee on the Bill.

The Home Office has also a number of concerns about Part III (Special Treatment Premises) and Part IV (Entertainment) of the Bill. Part III introduces a licensing system for special treatment premises, which includes massage, manicure, acupuncture, tattooing, cosmetic piercing and chiropody. Neither the Home Office nor the Department of Health has any objection in principle to the proposed powers, although the Home Office takes the view that additional restraints on legitimate trade should only be imposed where there is a clear evidence of need. The Home Office is also concerned about the inclusion of a licensing condition relating to fire precautions which it considers are adequately covered by general legislation.

As to Part IV of the Bill, this seeks to amend the general Acts which deal with the licensing of theatres, cinemas and places of private entertainment. These proposals would have the effect of creating differences between the licensing regimes which apply in participating boroughs in London and those which apply in other parts of the country. The Home Office would want to be satisfied before agreeing to changes of this kind that a difference in treatment can be justified. If not, the better course would be to consider whether any changes of national application to these Acts are necessary. Departments have also raised with the promoters other points of concern in respect of provisions relating to audible intruder alarms (Clause 27), scaffolding licences (Clause 28) and planning: use class (Clause 29).

On Clause 27, both the Department of the Environment and the Home Office have reservations about the provision which imposes restrictions on the operation of audible intruder alarms, a subject to which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, returned this evening. He very fairly reminded your Lordships of the sympathy which I had expressed on the last occasion on which he raised the matter. But even then I think I drew the attention of the House to some of the difficulties which surround any proposals that have been brought forward; although I must say that I had not anticipated the problem that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, brought to our attention of keyholders who had all been drinking.

The proposals in the Bill have implications for the security of property and for police powers and resources. The Department of the Environment and the Home Office have doubts as to whether the provisions as they stand are realistic or practicable.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I quite understand that these departments could have reservations. But I hope that at the Committee stage, if they express those reservations, they will put forward alternative proposals to safeguard people who want to preserve their sleep.

Lord Reay

My Lords, if the noble Lord had contained himself for a moment, I would have said that we accept that burglar alarms can be a serious source of noise nuisance. The Department of the Environment is carrying out a review of noise. Burglar alarms have been identified as a topic for special discussion. The review working party is expected to produce its report in the late summer, and it is hoped that this may contain what, in our view, may be some more practical solutions for dealing with the problem of noise from burglar alarms.

Clause 28 empowers a highway authority to include in scaffolding licences which it issues under Section 169 of the Highways Act 1980 two specific terms. The first is to prevent unauthorised persons from having access to scaffolding or climbing it. The second is to protect the security of the building.

While the Department of Transport can understand the reasons for this clause, they believe it to be superfluous. Subsection (1) of Section 169 of the 1980 Act already provides that, a licence may contain such terms as the authority issuing it thinks fit". Therefore, and subject to the appeal system in subsection (3) of Section 169, there is no limit to the terms which may be included in a licence. Therefore, there is no point, in our view, in arbitrarily providing for two specific terms, as to do so could be regarded as devaluing other terms not included in the clause. The department, therefore, sees no need for Clause 28.

As to Clause 29, the Government are well aware of concerns about the Business Use Class (B1) of the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 which have led the promoters to include this provision. In particular, the Department of the Environment has received representations suggesting that the Business Use Class is fuelling redevelopment pressures for offices, particularly in inner London, and driving up rents to levels which long-standing occupiers of light industrial and workshop space cannot afford. This is a problem which my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes, in particular, dilated on at some length.

The effect of Clause 29 would be to subdivide the Business Use Class (B1) for the purposes of development control in London. In so doing, however, the clause conflicts with present government policy, which is to allow flexible use of premises, and thus foster enterprise, where that can be achieved without significant adverse effects on the environment or local amenities. It would also pre-empt the findings of independent research into the effect of the order, sponsored by the Department of the Environment, of which mention has been made, and the results of which are expected in the summer. Furthermore, to abrogate the provisions of the order selectively by means of a private Act would be procedurally undesirable. For these reasons, the Secretary of State for the Environment opposes Clause 29.

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 departmental reports to the Select Committee opposing these provisions.

8.50 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I should like to thank those who have participated in this very interesting debate. I feel I must respond to a few of the points that have been made. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has given general support to the proposal, and I shall say no more about that. However, I must respond to my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, although I am pleased that he supported Clause 29.

My noble friend's comments on the cinema situation make me believe that he did not read the petition. He said that the people had no concern about the fees—yet they keep referring to that matter all the way through. They bring up, for example, the fact that at present the maximum fee is £173.15. Then they go on to say that, as petitioners, they attach importance to control by the department of these fees. They then describe the difficulties that might arise if excessive fees are proposed. They also refer to, the prospect of the sums in question and the fees". And so it goes on. I could read out point after point along those lines; but nowhere in the whole document do they say anything about censorship. If there was a real fear of censorship, in order for the committee to consider it, as I understand it, that point should have been included in the Petition. I think this point must be a slight red herring.

On the question of censorship, I do not think that there is cause for alarm. I sat on the film viewing sub-committee, which was the censorship body of the GLC, and it was the most agonising duty I can recall. Always, if I was rung up and told that they could not get a quorum, I knew that not only was it going to be a pretty awful film in terms of pornography but so unattractive and badly filmed that none of the men wanted to go and so all the women ended up having to view it. If people were compulsorily obliged to sit through such a quantity of awful films as I have seen there would be no need to worry about censorship because it would turn them off immediately. I believe that censorship in terms of the cinema is a thing of the past. I do not see any suggestion of it in this Bill; nor is there any suggestion of it in the petition.

Parking is a different matter. It does not seem to be appreciated that at the moment local authorities already have the power to tow away vehicles. Outside London they can charge for it but they cannot charge for it inside London. So already there is a difference in the situation as between outside London and inside London.

I recall very clearly a debate in this House, followed by a free vote, when we were considering the introduction as a pilot scheme of wheel clamps. Very different views were held. I was always a great supporter of wheel clamps and I think they have been a success. However, I remember the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, whom I always think of as the man with the golden words, making an impassioned plea about the case of a priest who would not be able to visit someone on their deathbed or a rabbi who might be similarly prevented. It was a fascinating speech to listen to but of course it totally ignored the fact that anyone who was in danger of being wheel-clamped was in the wrong and was parking illegally. Your Lordships will remember that in the end the scheme went through.

I mention the point because the scheme was introduced in a very small area even of one borough in the first instance and when it proved a success there it was extended to another small area of the same borough. From that we have gradually seen it spread. During the debate a statement was made to the effect that other boroughs might see how good the scheme was and other parts of the country might see how well it worked and wish to introduce it; surely that is no bad thing. If it is seen to work so well that other parts of the country view it as a success, surely that means it is effective.

Perhaps also it may not be appreciated that Westminster already has its own traffic wardens, wearing their own uniform and operating in charge of resident parking areas together with other arranged areas. So again what we are suggesting is not new; it is just a variation or extension of what is there already. The very fact that these trunk roads are so important and will require a great deal of additional policing if they are to be turned into priority routes and kept clear means that the staff will not be available for the work they are now doing in areas off those important priority routes. I believe that this is a logical and common sense approach.

One very important point I must respond to is the view expressed that a local authority would run riot in terms of revenue raising. First, it will not have the powers to do that, and, secondly, there is well-established case law which sets out clearly that it will not have the right to charge whatever it likes.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, made some interesting points about parking. He referred to a patchwork. It may be a patchwork, but I think there is a need for a patchwork arrangement rather than uniformity because conditions can vary.

What is important, and what perhaps can be sorted out at the Committee stage, is clear signing of what type of area the motorist is in. I have said in your Lordships' House on other occasions that I should like to see agreement on an international sign for wheel clamping. Outside my home in London I find myself regularly telling foreign visitors not to park there because they will be wheel clamped. If there could be a small international symbol on, say, a lamp-post, no one would need to warn them and of course they would not stay there and risk the danger of wheel clamping. The same applies to any other sort of parking area. Over the years I have seen many areas where cars have been allowed to park in one street just outside a certain type of zone which begins in the next street, and there has been a clear sign saying, "You are entering a restricted parking zone". Signing is terribly important.

As regards an overall traffic authority for London, many of us think that this is the only way we shall ever get agreement on a borough-to-borough basis, because it is very natural for us all to want to pass our problems on to the next borough, and only an overall strategic view will help that.

My noble friend Lord Reay said that the Government were concerned that the receipts would be going into local authority coffers, but of course such receipts would be used for traffic control and would enable a better standard of traffic flow for other people. I believe that that is why the AA have changed their attitude and are now supporting this. They want to see traffic in London moving, and a reduction in the costs.

Intruder alarms were also mentioned, and the noble Lord said there were now powers to deal with them. The present powers which the local authorities have spring from the Control of Pollution Act 1974. One has to have persistent activation of the powers and the procedure is very cumbersome. Notices have to be served and offenders taken to court. It is not at all something about which one can achieve a very rapid result, so I do not feel that the present situation is satisfactory. The local authorities would not be bringing any of these matters forward if they were not unsatisfactory.

The noble Lord also said that the Government wish under the B1 category to foster enterprise and I think the letter that I read out earlier made it quite clear that, although everyone accepted that the intention was to simplify this industrial office use, exactly the reverse effect was taking place. In particular, the procedure is killing small enterprises. The Slough Estates petition said they have 1,300 businesses in London and a portfolio of 664,000 square feet. One must appreciate that people like Slough Estates have had what I would call windfall profits from this change of use, because there is an automatic and great increase in the value of rental from industrial premises. We really cannot allow that to go on for any length of time.

I hope that the House will agree to refer the Bill to the Select Commitee, on which five noble Lords will sit and all the opposed sections of the Bill will be carefully examined. There will of course be submissions from both sides and everybody will be heard. I am grateful to all your Lordships who have participated in the debate.

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