Local Government Bill
Lord Campbell of Alloway (Conservative)
My Lords, perhaps I may briefly, and without repetition, support the spirit of the amendment. For the very same reasons as were so well put by my noble friend Lady Blatch, which need no repetition, I hope that the opinion of the House shall not be sought tonight on the amendment. There are problems of costs to the local authorities. The essence of the problem arose when the House accepted Sunday trading—this is a spin-off.
There is a wider dimension, to which the noble Lord, Lord Peston, referred, that requires consideration. If the noble Lord divides the House, I will go with him, but I hope that he does not. I will go with him as a humanitarian gesture which is worthy of support. But I think that it is premature, if I may say so.
I ask the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, to consider one matter to which I draw attention. Look at subsection (3)(c). Why on earth should the criminal law be introduced as a sanction for enforcement when the funds go to the wretched Treasury? What you want is a process of civil law compensation whereby, if the local authority breaches the code or regulations, the person involved says, "Look here, I have suffered damages worth x—say £50, £100 or £150—will you pay me?" If they say "Yes", that is the end of it. If they say "No", he goes to the registrar of the local county court and says, "I want more". The registrar would listen to it all and say, "No, they have given you quite enough; you must pay all costs; so there is a sanction" or "They have not given you enough; I will give you more" and then pay all the costs. The injured person gets compensation by a civil process.
What on earth is the use of giving the Secretary of State powers to introduce criminal sanctions? I ask that that may be taken into account. I have given notice to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, by his series of secretaries in Cambridge or somewhere, that I was going to take this point, so I hope that it does not come as a surprise. If he divides, I will support him as a humanitarian gesture, but, with respect, I think that he would be unwise to do so.