With the House's permission, I should like to make a statement on the possible consequences of the House agreeing to any of the motions committing certain clauses of the Bill about to be debated to a Committee of the whole House.
I should make clear that my remarks are made only in my capacity as Chairman of Ways and Means, charged with the duty of supervising the passage of Private Bills through the House. I have no views on the merits of the clauses in question or, indeed, on the merits of the Bill or of any Private Bill; nor do I want in any way to cast doubt on the right and indeed the duty of hon. Members, where they think proper, to intervene in Private Business in protection of the public interest. The purpose of my addressing the House is merely to make clear what may be the consequences of its agreeing to motions committing clauses of Private Bills to a Committee of the whole House.
The treatment of Private Bills by Parliament has always taken account of the fact that, in the words of Erskine May, page 859:
a Bill for the particular benefit of certain persons may be injurious to others, and to discriminate between the conflicting interests of different parties involves the exercise of judicial inquiry and determination.
The House has, therefore, always allowed the promoters of Private Bills to argue their case either, in the distant past, before the whole House at the Bar or, more usually and for greater convenience, before a Select Committee, and has given the same right to be heard to petitioners against a Bill or against particular clauses in a Bill. At the same time, the procedure of the House enables hon. Members, representing the public interest, to intervene and set aside arguments for or against private interests. Hon. Members can carry out this duty by rejecting a Bill on Second Reading, by giving instruction to the Committee on a Bill to amend it in specified ways, or by making amendments on Report.
By agreeing to the committal motions at present on the Order Paper, the House would be altering this balance in two ways, both of which I think are undesirable. In the first place it would entail providing a further stage at which the public interest alone is considered. This I believe to be unnecessary because, as I have said, hon. Members already have opportunities to impose their views on parties, by instructions, by new clauses or by amendments on Report.
In the second place, it would deny promoters and petitioners a right to be heard; unless at the same time the House reverted to what I would regard as the cumbersome and anachronistic procedure of allowing parties to be heard at the Bar of the House.
If the House were to decide to take these clauses on the Floor, there would be no real gain to hon. Members and the House would risk damaging the essential principles of Private Bill procedure which are designed to protect that proper exercise of"judicial inquiry and determination ".
I should like to emphasise that I have addressed my remarks to the House solely out of a sense of duty as Chairman to appraise hon. Members of the difficulties which might arise.
I have to inform the House that Mr. Speaker has not selected the"six months"amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). He has selected the first motion for an instruction in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), but not those in the names of the hon. Members for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett).
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The statement which has just been made by the Chairman of Ways and Means creates problems for hon. Members who have put their names to some of the motions on the Order Paper. They chose a procedure which is set out in"Erskine May"and appears to be perfectly proper and correct. It is now being suggested that it is not a proper and correct procedure. There is an alternative procedure, which is to move to delete the particular clauses. It is a little difficult for hon. Members who put their names to motions if there is at this stage a suggestion that the rules should be altered in such a way as to make it more difficult for representations to be made, particularly when we have no opportunity to table alternative motions to achieve the same purpose.
About a month ago when we dealt with the West Midlands County Council Bill we had a fairly lengthy Second Reading debate. A business motion was put down by the Government which enabled us to have time to debate some of the amendments. On this occasion, I understand that we merely have the opportunity to debate the Bill until 10 o'clock, with no further opportunity to debate it. I should like your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on whether, if by 10 o'clock we have not completed the debate on Second Reading and on the selected amendments, further time will be made available. If not, may I ask why no business motion was put down on this occasion, as it appears that the Bill is being treated differently from the West Midlands County Council Bill?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It seems to me, in the light of the statement that has been made, that the rights of Back Benchers might be curtailed in the future. In the five years during which I have been in the House, private legislation has been brought before the House in a manner to which some of us object. It is expected to go through on the nod as the norm, even though it may contain objectionable provisions.
We are seeking to stay within the rules of order laid down by the precedents of the House and to use the parliamentary procedures. It seems unfair that we should be criticised for using the existing rules and procedures of the House, even though the consequence of our doing so might be to cause embarrassment to and problems for the Administration. That is not our problem, and it is not our purpose to do that.
Our purpose is simply to achieve our objective, which is to make clear to the promoters that any Tom, Dick or Harry cannot bring forward to the House Private Bills and expect them to go through on the nod. That is our only objective. It seems unfair for someone to attempt to change the rules in the middle of the game. Some of us might be caught short because we have had no time to re-table the motions as we would have done had we received advice from the Chairman.
With all respect to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), it cannot be said that the rules of the game have been changed, because there is no precedent in Private Business for motions to commit individual clauses to a Committee of the whole House. In the early nineteenth century certain Private Bills, but not single clauses, were occasionally committed to a Committee of the whole House, but there is no precedent for this procedure in the case of individual clauses.
I point out to the hon. Member for Perry Barr and the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) that individual private Members have easy remedies in the business of procedure on Private Bills inasmuch as they can, if they so wish, reject a Bill on Second Reading, they can, by giving instructions to a Committee on the Bill, amend it in a specified way, which is the normal procedure, or—this is the final fallback position—they can make amendments on Report.
Nobody has greater respect than I have for the Chairman of Ways and Means, but may I put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the fact that there is no precedent for a certain procedure is not synonymous with saying that that procedure is out of order? A procedure, action or statement is out of order only if it violates the Standing Orders of the House. With the greatest respect to the Chairman of Ways and Means, he has not adduced any evidence to show that the procedure which has been followed by my hon. Friends and myself is in violation of any of the rules and Standing Orders of the House. Nor has he identified, or sought to identify, which of the rules and Standing Orders we are allegedly in breach of.
To say that something is out of order because it has not been done before is, with the utmost respect—and I mean that—a total non sequitur. If we were to have an ipse dixit of this sort placed before the House, I believe that it would have been in accordance with the traditions of the House of always seeking to help one another if that ipse dixit had been uttered some days before we began our debate this evening.
I put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that without further clarification, evidence or argument there is nothing which the Chairman has said which indicates that the procedure we have followed is out of order.
May I add a further point to that of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), for whom I have the greatest respect? I hope that he will forgive me if I say that if he reads my statement he will find that I never used the words"out of order ". Indeed, there is no Standing Order in connection with what I have said. I am quite right, I understand, that there is no precedent for individual clauses to be committed to a Committee of the whole House. With respect, however, I did not say that this was out of order.
As I said earlier, there was in the nineteenth century a method by which Bills were committed to a Committee of the whole House, and it was in connection with this, and the natural sequence of events if we accept that individual clauses were to be committed to a Committee of the whole House, that I drew the attention of the House to what that might entail. If one were to carry that through to its logical conclusion it would mean that I might well be put in the position where I felt I was obliged to provide a motion seeking leave for parties to appear at the Bar of the House, which I think would, in more ways than one, put the clock back and might not be entirely convenient for all hon. Members of the House.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am honoured to move this measure because it is a vital and important Bill, promoted jointly by the Merseyside county council and the five district councils within the metropolitan county of Merseyside—namely Liverpool city council and the borough councils of Knowsley, St. Helens, Sefton and Wirral. The Bill has been introduced to carry out for Merseyside the rationalisation of local legislation which was generally commended to local authorities with the passage of the Local Government Act 1972. Section 262 of that Act provided, in the first place, for the continuance in each new local government area of the local legislation applicable to the old local authorities and, secondly, for the repeal of this legislation at the end of 1979 in the case of metropolitan counties, and 1984 in the case of shire counties.
In Merseyside our local legislation is set out in 300 local Acts and orders relating to the former county boroughs of Liverpool, Birkenhead, Bootle, St. Helens, Southport and Wallasey, and to parts of the former counties of Cheshire and Lancashire included within the boundary of Merseyside on local government reorganisation. Section 262(10) exempted from that repeal certain enactments, including provisions relating to specified undertakings—for example, harbours, markets and public utility undertakings. However, it did not save from repeal provisions relating to road transport works and, in Merseyside, such provisions as the Mersey Tunnel Acts 1925 to 1972, which regulate tolls for passage through the Mersey tunnels, which will cease to have effect on 31 December 1979 unless steps are taken to re-enact or preserve that legislation, as is now proposed in the Bill.
The reason why this total reorganisation has had to take place was explained in Committee by the former Minister for Local Government and Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), whom I am very pleased to see in his place. He will understand, if I explain to him, that none of this exercise would have been necessary without his well-intentioned recommendation to local authorities to clear up local legislation. I think that his words explain what we are doing in this House. During the proceedings on the Local Government Bill he recommended this procedure, for the following reasons:
This should cut out a lot of dead wood and greatly reduce the whole bulk of local law cluttering up the statute book—a tidying-up operation to the benefit of everyone. I am glad that we are taking the opportunity to do that ".—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 9 March 1972; c. 2594.]
We on Merseyside are glad that we have the opportunity to do just that. This rationalisation has occupied, as I understand it, the work not only of those in the county council but of all those officials of the district council. The Bill before the House tonight represents five years' work by those officials.
The cost, of course, has been considerable, and if this Bill were to fail—I find it difficult to contemplate that some Members would wish that it should—it would not just mean a direct cost of £¼ million which it has cost the ratepayers of Merseyside at present on reasonable estimates, but would probably mean a loss to the ratepayers of Merseyside of just under £1 million. Therefore, we are talking of a mammoth exercise which has resulted in the Bill before us. How has this Bill been prepared? In Merseyside the county and district councils got together in the preparation of the Bill, covering the interests of all those local authorities, and submitted their proposals for consideration under the Private Bill procedure. We are considering that tonight. At this stage the House is considering whether the Bill should have a Second Reading so that the case for need on each of the clauses can be put to the Committee in the usual way on the Private Bill procedure, in the light of the evidence which the promoters wish to present.
In presenting the Bill for a Second Reading it may be helpful to those hon. Members who may know"Erskine May"from cover to cover if I say that I do not. I therefore took the opportunity to peruse"Erskine May"for a number of hours yesterday. I found that there was an important distinction—I may well be talking for the benefit of no hon. Member other than myself, but that is probably the best justification for saying what I am about to say—between the Second Reading of a Public Bill and that of a Private Bill. I quote from"Erskine May ", page 939, where it says:
There is, however, a distinction between the second reading of a public and of a private bill: a public bill being founded on reasons of state policy, the House in agreeing to its second reading, accepts and affirms those reasons; but the expediency of a private bill, being mainly founded on allegations of fact, which have not yet been proved, the House, in agreeing to its second reading, affirms the principle of the bill conditionally, and subject to the proof of such allegations before the committee.
That is what we are considering on Second Reading. Obviously, the promoters have been aware that a number of hon. Members have spent a considerable time in researching the provisions of the Bill. Presumably that explains the presence of a number of instructions on the Order Paper.
I should like to refer to the contents of the Bill. In doing so I want to try to refer to all the instructions that have been put forward. Again, I stress that the Bill re-enacts existing local legislation, updating it and, where necessary, improving it. It comes to this House with the support of the county council and of all the district councils that I have mentioned, with no political party having opposed any provision at the time of its passing. The provisions come before the House in that context.
The Bill was deposited in November 1977. I say this to meet the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) who said that promoters of Private Bills must not expect their legislation to go through on the nod. In my view it never does, and one cannot say that about this Bill, of all Bills, which has been seriously discussed in another place.
The hon. Gentleman was referring to my remarks in the context of another Bill—the West Midlands County Council Bill. When we originally shouted"Object"to secure a debate on that Bill, we were accused by Tories in the West Midlands of"butchering"their Bill and wasting all the ratepayers' money, whereas all we wanted was a debate.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If an hon. Member is in order in referring to the speech of another hon. Member on a previous occasion, surely it cannot be out of order for that hon. Member to reply to the reference?
I spent some time reading through"Erskine May ", but I did not find that reference. No doubt it is a very great help this evening.
We on Merseyside feel very strongly about our legislation. I hope that this particular legislation will not be confused with other legislation. I quoted remarks made by the hon. Member for Perry Barr. I now understand the context in which he made them, and I accept that. I hope, that he will accept from me that this Bill has been carefully scrutinised in another place.
It was originally deposited in November 1977, and at that stage it contained 165 clauses. They were subjected to detailed scrutiny. Certain clauses, which were common clauses, were opposed in the other place and were referred to a Select Committee, proceedings before which occupied 11 days. Other common clauses which were unopposed went before another Select Committee of that House and the proceedings on those clauses took a further 12 days. The proceedings on clauses in each of the Bills, which were not common clauses, extended over a further seven days. In addition, there was opposition in another place to those clauses relating to street processions. This was referred to yet another Select Committee, which sat for two days.
As a result of those proceedings, a number of clauses were deleted from the Bill and other considerable amendments made, including amendments to secure so far as possible conformity between the four county Bills which at that time were before the other place. Of course, there was also the carry-over motion on 1 August 1978, and the county Bills were introduced on 7 December 1978.
I think that hon. Members have had a considerable amount of time to consider the proposals, and to make their representations to the promoters. The Bill before the House comprises 144 clauses and five schedules. Of these, 23 clauses relate entirely to the Mersey tunnel undertaking of the county council, and a further 19 clauses are of a general nature providing procedures, savings or other special provisions, determining the scope, manner or application of the substantive clauses.
Part I of the Bill provides the interpretation. Part II contains provisions to which the promoting authorities attach considerable importance. They are the subject of instructions before the House. This part of the Bill provides for Merseyside powers that are substantially similar to those that have been granted since 1972 in part III of the County of South Glamorgan Act 1976 and part III of the Tyne and Wear Act 1976. They enable local authorities to provide modest assistance to industry within the limits of their own budgets. Clause 4 would re-enact the provisions in existing local legislation to authorise the making of loans for the purchase of land, or for building purposes, whether or not the land is acquired from the local authority or is situated within its area.
Clause 8 authorises the local authorities to guarantee the payment of rent or other outgoings on industrial buildings. In part, this re-enacts and extends to the whole county provisions which are now in force in section 5 of the Lancashire County Council (General Powers) Act 1968.
The reason I mention this in such detail is that the attention of the House has been drawn to this clause by a notice for committal in the name of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) and other hon. Members. I therefore felt it right to go into some detail. Powers are also available in respect of commercial premises which fall within the definition of"industry"in the Industry Act 1975, which is applied for the purposes of the Bill.
I am not sure why the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow has tabled this instruction. It may be that he is concerned about the overlap that there may be between other powers. Clause 5 is restricted in scope. In the other House, amendments were made which now mean that the making of these loans is restricted to small firms—defined as firms employing up to 100 persons—for the provision of machinery or equipment.
Notice is specifically given by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael) that the provisions of clause 5 should be considered by a Committee of the whole House. It is appropriate to mention that the proposed power is very similar to a power conferred upon local authorities by section 13 of the County of South Glamorgan Act and also by the Tyne and Wear Act. In the case of Merseyside, as I have already mentioned, as a result of amendments made in another place, the power is now confined to assistance to the small firms that I have described.
Clause 6 will enable local authorities to make grants to small firms in respect of interest on loans, loans made under clause 5 or loans made for the acquisition of land or for building purposes and grants to small firms in respect of site preparation or building works for industrial purposes. Notice to refer clause 6 to a Committee of the whole House has been given by the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) and other hon. Members. Similar provisions, although without restriction to small firms, were confirmed by the Tyne and Wear Act 1976.
Clause 7 requires explanation. It is subject to notice given by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). The clause would enable local authorities to carry out site preparation or improvement work for industrial buildings. Again the powers proposed are instanced in the legislation that I have referred to. In Merseyside's opinion the proposed powers would fill a gap in the range of assistance provided by the Industry Acts and supplement the powers available under the Inner Urban Areas Act 1978.
The Government's White Paper policy for inner cities stressed the role of local authorities in combating serious unemployment and promoting the idea that authorities should be anxious to play their part.
The hon. Gentleman is right about clause 6, and I overlooked that. I am in favour of part II of the Bill. My local authority has similar provisions, and we use them to good effect. I am greatly involved in their implementation. But he has not dealt with my points on clause 7 and 8.
I was about to deal with that, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for spurring me on. The borough of Knowsley has one of the highest unemployment rates but is not designated as an area for special assistance under the Inner Urban Areas Act. That is one of the gaps that clause 7 seeks to fill. Local authorities are able to assess the financial strength or prospects of a firm that may require assistance. That is restricted to small firms under clause 7.
Because we have put down clauses for debate, it does not mean that we are against them. We want to develop them and see that they are part of the national policy. There is an unfortunate practice for firms to say to local authorities that another authority will give them assistance, and there is a trade-off between one local authority and another. In my constituency there is a firm which has said that it has got this, that and the other from Merseyside. It does not want to leave Stockport, and it asks for better things from Greater Manchester to encourage it to stay. This leapfrogging should be carefully debated within a national policy. Within such a policy, Merseyside has one of the best claims.
The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) starts by saying that he does not oppose the clause. He then proceeds with an argument in opposition. Finally, he says that he just wants to consider it carefully. He should consider carefully the serious consequences in Merseyside were the clause not to be passed.
Clause 7 will be carefully scrutinised in Committee, and the onus will be on the promoters to produce evidence to support the clause. If they cannot do that, the clause falls. That is Private Bill procedure, which does not appertain to Public Bills. The advice of the Chairman of Ways and Means was most helpful. We must be careful that we do not prevent people petitioning to the Private Bill Committee if we pass instructions for the debate to take place here. It is possible to raise the issues in a Second Reading debate, which is why I have raised them now.
There are problems with the procedure of the Committees dealing with Private Member's business. Although it is not laid down, the convention is that a member must have no vested interest. A Merseyside Member or anyone else with an interest cannot sit on the Committee. But on the industry clause it is difficult to find an hon. Member without an interest. The clause is conferring a privilege on one part of the United Kingdom at the expense of others. That sort of clause should be considered by the House in a full debate rather than by a group of hon. Members who are supposed not to have a vested interest in the clause.
The independence of the Committee is in its favour. The debate on that clause should take place in debate on an Inner Urban Areas Bill or an Industry Bill, when matters are considered globally. In the Private Bill Committee the promoters must justify the clause for Merseyside, and the onus will be on them. I commend that procedure to the House. I hope that hon. Members will not seek to prevent the Second Reading of the Bill. On Merseyside we feel that these powers are vitally necessary to attract industry and especially small firms.
I am slightly at a loss in moving to part III. Attention has been drawn by the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) to clause 11.
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he and his party are in favour of grants and subsidies to industry? If that is so, he is running counter to what the Leader of the Opposition and the spokesman for the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) have publicly and frequently stated. Will he assure us that he at least in his party is in favour of the continuation of grants and subsidies to industry?
I do not know what books or policy pamphlets the hon. Member for Ormskirk reads. The Conservative Party is in favour of grants and subsidies. On behalf of the promoters of the Bill, I am in favour of the clauses. The hon. Gentleman is politically naive if he imagines that we are all baddies and Labour Members are all goodies. On Merseyside we favour these provisions. I do not want to enter into a party political debate, but the hon. Gentleman has grossly misrepresented the views of the Conservative Party on national policy. He has also laid an instruction on clause 11 in part III of the Bill concerning the provision of parking places in parks and open spaces for the use of persons resorting to them. I do not know whether he is opposing the powers or whether he just wants them subjected to careful scrutiny. Most people in Merseyside visit parks by car. It is vital, particularly where there are sports facilities, that there are adequate parking spaces. That is why the power is needed.
Part IV of the Bill relates to highways and road traffic. Clause 12 includes a common clause to enable local authorities to provide facilities for recreation or refreshment in streets. I need not go through all the relevant clauses, but there is an instruction to ignore any provisions which do not re-enact existing law. It is a curious lacuna of the general law that there is no adequate provision for the numbering of buildings in the streets. The law on that is still under the Town Improvement clauses Act 1847. That deficiency is made good by clause 14.
Part V contains a number of provisions under the heading"Public Health ". On Merseyside we are particularly concerned about the problems of stray dogs in the port area. Merseyside is a sea port. It also has an airport. It is, therefore, desirable that there should be adequate powers to take effective steps in anticipation of the potential dangers of rabies.
Part VI contains 11 clauses relating to public order and safety. In clause 28 the promoters have undertaken to seek leave to make certain amendments, including one to reduce to a period of 28 days the time during which demolition may be delayed.
Part VI also contains clauses 33 and 34 relating to the byelaws on street processions, and the notice given of such street processions. Clause 33 would re-enact and extend to the whole county the powers that were first conferred in the Liverpool Corporation Act 1912 for making byelaws to regulate street processions. The occasion for that Act was the recommendations of a commissioner appointed to inquire into certain sectarian disturbances which had occurred at that time. Those byelaws are still in force and over the years they have established a practice and custom which the promoters of this Bill are anxious should continue. The byelaws are effective to protect the marchers, as well as to secure the orderly behaviour of all concerned. There is no record of any prosecutions ever having been made under these byelaws. The promoters believe that this is a measure of their success.
The existing byelaws specify particular processions which are subject to closer control than others, including those held for the purpose of demonstrating against any form of religious faith or creed. Clearly, the detail of the byelaws may require reconsideration when they are submitted for confirmation by the Secretary of State, if clause 33 is allowed to pass.
Byelaws under clause 33 would also control the application in Merseyside of clause 34, which concerns giving notice of street processions. If this is allowed to pass, it will not come into operation in any district until byelaws have been made which are applicable in that district under clause 33. These byelaws would specify the processions to which the clause should or should not apply.
Clause 34 as it stands requires that any person organising or conducting a procession must give prior notice of that procession to the district council and the chief constable. In the Bill as deposited the period of notice specified is seven days, since this is the period of notice at present required in Liverpool. In Merseyside at present the police force is under strength and arrangements must be made in advance for the adjustment of rest days and other matters affecting the personnel of the force. The chief constable has carefully reconsidered the notice provision. To meet the points that have been made he has advised the promoters that, to be effective, the notice will have to be at least three days. This is a matter on which the promoters wish to give evidence in Committee.
The hon. Member described the Liverpool Corporation Act 1912, and I got the impression that the byelaws applied to any organisation which wanted to hold a procession or a demonstration. Is there any restriction on the organisations concerned? Is there a list of organisations to which the byelaws apply, or do they operate across the board wherever there is a demonstration or procession?
I was about to come to that point in referring to the byelaws. I have a crucial undertaking to give on that aspect.
It may help the House if I detail the way in which the promoters wish to pursue their case for this clause. They have authorised me to give a number of undertakings. First, in clause 34, they will seek leave in Committee to substitute three days' notice for seven days' notice. Second, they will seek to add a provision in clause 134, which deals with restrictions on the right to prosecute, to the effect that no proceedings shall be instituted under clause 34 except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Third, as provided in clause 33(5), there will be exemption for the Salvation Army. Fourth, the promoters will seek leave to add exemption for funeral processions organised or conducted by persons engaged in the business of a funeral director. Fifth, undertakings have been given to the persons concerned that provision will be included in any byelaws made under clause 33 to exclude, both from the byelaws and from clause 34, bona fide processions of the Church Lads Brigade, the Church Army or similar religious organisations, the Boys Brigade, and the Scout Association, the Girl Guides Association or their junior organisations.
The sixth undertaking is that byelaws made under clause 33 may specify the processions to which clause 34 shall apply. These byelaws are subject to confirmation by the Secretary of State and there will be an opportunity for objection to that confirmation. A further undertaking will be given that a copy of any byelaws, when submitted for confirmation, will be sent to the secretary of the churches main committee for consideration.
The seventh undertaking is that the defence of due diligence provided in clause 137 will apply to clause 34. I have a copy of the byelaws. These byelaws have operated successfully on Merseyside. In 1977 there were 102 processions on Merseyside, of which 86 were organised by the Orange Lodge or similar organisations. Thus, hon. Members can see that processions are very much a feature of our life on Merseyside. I have just been handed more up-to-date figures for 1978, when there were 366 processions. Of these, 129 were connected with the Orange Lodge. Fifty were held in Walton, 34 in Garston and only one in Kirkby. I am advised that those living in Kirkby preferred to return to their former homes in Walton and Everton to march there. These marches involve a great deal of police time, and this point has been put very forcefully by the deputy chief constable. To organise rest days and other important needs, the police must have at least three days' notice to make the necessary arrangements. That applies particularly to our big march on 12 July.
The eighth undertaking relates to the proviso that under the byelaws where the police authority is reasonably satisfied that it is impossible for the person organising or arranging any such meeting to give seven—as it was then—clear days' notice, it shall be sufficient for such notice to be given not less than one clear day before the date of the proposed meeting. Therefore, I am authorised to state categorically that it is the intention of the promoters to re-enact those byelaws and, in particular, that proviso.
I cannot give a definite undertaking that the rest of the byelaws will be re-enacted in toto. There are provisions that need up-dating. Under subsection (8) there is a categorical proviso that no person shall carry any lighted torch without the consent of the watch committee. There are other similar provisos which may have had relevance in 1912, but no longer do so.
Subject to the revision of certain byelaws and the addition to and consideration of the final list of processions, I am authorised to say that, so far as the promoters can control the actions of district councils, they intend that the byelaws, in substance and in principle, should be re-enacted.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would have been helpful for hon. Members to have had a draft of the byelaws? In my opinion, having carefully examined the Bills being promoted by county councils, the Merseyside ones are the most helpful. Those of us who have copies of the byelaws can see matters that save the worst features of the Bill, but there is no guarantee that they will be in the Bill. I appreciate the undertakings that are given, but it would have been helpful to see a model set of byelaws before the debate started.
I understand that the byelaws were made available to members of the other place and were referred to there in considerable detail. If hon. Members had researched the matter they would have been able to obtain copies. We are dealing with private legislation. It is up to the promoters in Committee—having obtained conditional approval of the Bill—to make clear their intentions. If I have not done what the hon. Gentleman seeks, I hope that I have laid to rest at least some of his fears.
Despite the proviso of the Merseyside constabulary, they still believe that the normal period of seven days' notice is necessary. It is only to meet the points of hon. Members that they have been willing to undertake that three days' notice may be required. They hope that byelaws that have continued in force in Liverpool and other parts of Merseyside do not fall away at the end of the year and that the helpful practice that has been built up over many years and is now a matter of course—co-operation between the police and organisers of marches will not be lost.
It should be recognised that the provision is vital not only so that processions and marches are successfully organised, but that members of the public are adequately protected, particularly on the highway.
I should like to raise a point that is relevant to what the hon. Gentleman has just said. On 15 July 1977 the Home Office commented in a letter to the co-promoters of the four Bills—I refer to the four Bills because of the common clauses—on the clause relating to the notice for street processions:
Our main concern in considering clauses requiring notice to be given on street processions is that it should not impinge unduly on the traditional right of people to demonstrate, particularly spontaneously, if the occasion arises. Although this clause varies slightly from the corresponding provision in the County of South Glamorgan Bill "—
I understand that is now an Act—
it seems unobjectionable, although the length of notice required is two days rather than 36 hours ".
How does it happen that, on that date, the Home Office wrote to the co-promoters commenting on the clauses referring to two days and 36 hours and not seven days? When was the provision for
seven days put into the Bill? I may be wrong, but it seems that, on the one hand, seven days has been put to the House and an objection has been raised and so we are offered three days, whereas originally only two days were provided for in the Bill. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman could provide me with an answer.
I shall ask for assistance in order to reply to the hon. Gentleman's point. Seven days was put into the Bill because it has always been seven days under the byelaws to which I referred. It is a re-enactment of existing provisions. I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's query before I sit down.
The hon. Gentleman has said that the period of notice has always been seven days. As he well knows, it has not—at least not in my constituency. I agree that there should be co-operation with the police. That is an unexceptionable comment. However, I should like to be provided with strong grounds to show why it is considered necessary to extend the provision to areas in my constituency, for example, Kirkby, Rainford and Aintree. Those areas were not subject to the provision previously, and that has not led to difficulties in the past. There has always been an unusual degree of co-operation between those organising demonstrations and the police. Why has it become urgently necessary to make the provision apply to the parts of Merseyside to which it previously did not apply?
In order to rationalise the legislation—that is the simple answer. According to the hon. Gentleman, notice is not necessary in Kirkby, but I find it curious that the marches do not take place there—only one has—and 367 take place elsewhere. I do not know the answer to that.
I cannot reiterate strongly enough that there have never been prosecutions for spontaneous marches. Hon. Members should realise that there can be technical infringements as soon as a procession is led through the streets. Technical offences such as obstruction are committed immediately. It has never been the intention of those in whom the responsibility for law and order on Merseyside rests to prosecute organisers of spontaneous marches who could not possibly have given the necessary notice. That is why I had hoped that all the objections would have been met by saying that the final decision is to be left with the Director of Public Prosecutions.
I should like to clear up the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). It arose out of documents that I sent to him today. In discussions that took place between my office and parliamentary agents some time ago, not on the merits but on the wording and other matters, the periods of two days and 36 hours were mentioned, but no time had been put in by the promoters. They had dealt with common clauses, and the figures were to be inserted afterwards.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for his helpful intervention.
I do not want to take up too much time, but the hon. Member for Ormskirk was right when he said that there have been differing periods of notice in various parts of Merseyside. For example, in the Birkenhead area the period of notice is two days, in Bootle, Crosby and parts of Cheshire that are now in Merseyside it is 36 hours and in Wallasey and Southport, under Acts passed as long ago as 1927 and 1930, the period is 24 hours.
It was felt that in order to have legislation that applied over the whole of Merseyside we should not have a situation in which a march passing through different districts in the same county should be subject to differing provisions and differing byelaws. I hope that the Bill will rationalise the position and re-enact provisions that have been in force in Liverpool, with the period of notice reduced considerably to three days—with a 24 hour proviso also included—to apply over the whole of Merseyside so that everyone knows where he stands and the longstanding practices can continue.
I am opposed to the whole principle of having to give notice, but I accept that what we are being offered is more acceptable than the original proposal of seven days. I also accept that if we are to have byelaws we need rationalisation so that they are common to the whole county. We cannot have the anomalies that would occur if a byelaw applied to Liverpool but not to areas in my constituency.
However, if, as the hon. Gentleman has indicated, there were periods of notice for Crosby, Bootle, Wallasey and Birkenhead ranging from 24 hours to two days and which, on the hon. Gentleman's testimony, were found to be satisfactory, why has it suddenly become necessary to change the period of notice from two days to seven days and back to three days? Why is a period of 24 hours not sufficient?
When talking about the long-standing practice, I am referring to the position in Liverpool. I am a Liverpudlian and have lived most of my life in the city. I know the problems that we used to have with the Orange marches. They used to go past our house when I lived in Dingle. We now have a rationalisation which re-enacts and clarifies, over the whole area, the practice in Liverpool, where the vast majority of marches take place. That is the most sensible way of dealing with the matter.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) will have the opportunity to outline the views of the police, because they feel strongly that what they have achieved in Liverpool must not be lost.
The list was put together after intensive negotiations and representations. I am not aware of representations having been made by the Woodcraft Folk, who sit on the British Youth Council of which I am president. I have not heard in that capacity that there is any problem for the Woodcraft Folk. However, now that the hon. Lady has raised the matter, I shall look into it with the promoters.
The hon. Member for Ormskirk mentioned provisions being"offered"to the House, as if some sort of trading were going on. I wish to make clear on behalf of the promoters that there is no dealing taking place. The promoters are concerned to keep Liverpool a safe place for marchers and for the public generally and to re-enact provisions that have always been in force. There have never been prosecutions and I cannot remember any march in the past 10 years that has caused problems. The police are desperately anxious that they should be able to continue in that responsible way with the necessary preparations.
I have had a difficult task in speaking to so many instructions. I hope that I have gone some way on clauses 33 and 34 to meet the objections of hon. Members. The promoters and I are aware that we shall never get unanimity, certainly in the House, but I hope that there is sufficient agreement at least to allow the Bill to continue its passage into Committee, where the provisions can be examined in more detail.
I turn to the rest of the Bill, because it would be discourteous to hon. Members who have put down instructions relating to other provisions if I were not to outline the objects of the other parts of the legislation.
Part VII provides a code for the regulation of street trading in heavily built-up areas where it is considered appropriate to exercise such control. Attention was drawn by the hon. Member for Lewisham West (Mr. Price) and others to clause 40, which provides machinery for the designation of streets as either streets in which no street trading is permitted or as licensed traders' streets, that is streets in which markets are conducted by persons holding street traders' licences.
This is a topic which arouses strong feelings in Liverpool. Indeed, it was the subject of a local referendum—perhaps the first in this country—in which I remember taking place when I was a young boy. We believe that we now have the right formula.
Part VIII contains important provisions relating to fire precautions and other safety measures. There seems to be a welter of general legislation of great complexity, including the Public Health Acts, the Fire Precautions Act and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, but the promoters believe that on Merseyside there remain a number of gaps in the general law which are met by certain existing local enactments that are reproduced in part VIII.
Part IX contains new provisions for Merseyside, to enable the fire authority to exercise a measure of control over the stacking of flammable materials, such as rubber tyres or paper, in the open.
Part X makes provision for the registration of night cafes and entertainment clubs for the purposes of securing the safety of persons visiting such premises and mitigating the nuisance that may be caused to adjoining property, particularly in the case of night cafes kept open for the supply of public refreshment between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Part XI makes provision for the licensing of premises made available for dancing, music or other public entertainment and for public boxing or wrestling. They are somewhat similar to the controls exercised by local authorities on cinemas and theatres to secure the safety of the public attending such functions.
Part XII contains only two clauses relating to finance, and I do not think that I need to mention more than that, but part XIII is an important part which would effectively consolidate, with amendments, the provisions of the Mersey Tunnel Acts of 1925 to 1972, under which the county council maintains and manages the Kingsway and Queensway road tunnels under the Mersey.
Part XIV contains miscellaneous provisions, and if any hon. Member wishes to raise questions on the two clauses dealing with taxis and private hire vehicles—I understand that the committal motion in relation to clause 112 is in the name of the hon. Member for Stockport, North and that the motion on clause 113 is in the name of the hon. Member for Perry Barr—it would not be appropriate for me to go into great detail on the clauses at this stage. If hon. Members wish to raise any concerns, I hope that they will allow me to intervene in order to clarify any points that they wish to have explained.
Part XV contains a number of miscellaneous provisions which are applicable only to certain districts, and clause 144 provides for the repeal of numerous local enactments.
I should like to pay tribute to the large number of officials in the district councils and the county council who have spent a tremendous amount of time looking carefully through all the existing provisions and updating them in the way that I have sought to explain. That work often does not receive commendation, but it has occupied a tremendous amount of time and I hope that the House will join me in paying tribute to the officials for carrying out that work.
I have endeavoured to give a bare statement of the contents of the Bill, with particular reference to certain clauses to which attention is drawn in the motions on the Order Paper. I have explained that the Bill is required to deal with a number of miscellaneous clauses, some containing technical points, on which the general law is found to be deficient. It represents the local legislation in Merseyside for which the promoting authorities find a need. Under the Private Bill procedure the case of need for these provisions would normally be considered by a Select Committee. The promoters ask that they should be permitted to put their case for various provisions in the normal way. Therefore, in asking for a Second Reading for the Bill, I regret that due to the action of a number of members the local authorities on Merseyside spent hundreds of hours dealing with various points which would normally be considered under the Private Bill procedure in a Select Committee and which have already been considered in the other place.
I never criticise hon. Members for exercising their democratic rights. On Merseyside there are a number of important local issues, such as getting rid of our high unemployment rate, attracting local industry, reviving our inner cities, breathing life into Liverpool especially, and attracting small businesses and giving incentives to them. Those are the considerations upon which I should have liked the officials in local government on Merseyside to concentrate their attention. We want to bring industry and life back to Merseyside. I hope that after we have given a Second Reading to this vital and important Bill those officials, having clone a tremendous job of work, may now return to those much more important issues.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) on the comprehensive way in which he presented the Bill. However, I do not think that he was justified in some of his criticisms. When he referred to his researches in"Erskine May ", he spoke of the different approaches on Second Reading to Private and Public Bills. When a Private Bill deals with essentially a public matter that is of State interest, such as the maintenance of law and order in relation to processions, different considerations apply. When a matter of great general importance is included in a Private Bill, the Second Reading debate tends to follow what would be the appropriate debate on a Public Bill. However, I do not want to detract from the fine way in which the hon. Gentleman did his job on behalf of the promoters of the Bill.
I should like to deal with two matters that concern me. I refer to clause 34 and the references to the Liverpool Corporation Act, in part II, schedule 3 and schedule 4 to the Bill.
I deal first with clause 34. The arguments for this clause are essentially the same as those for deleting the clause for notices of street processions in the West Midlands County Council Bill. That clause was thrown out by the House. The West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire authorities decided to drop the requirement from their Bills. It is regrettable that the promoters of this Bill have not done likewise.
The promoters of the Bill have made great concessions and have come in a conciliatory manner to the House. The notice has been reduced from seven days to three. Provision has been made for a variety of street processions. The consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions will be required for prosecutions under this measure or for any attempt, incitement or conspiracy. Those are good concessions. However, that does not alter the fundamental objection to the clause.
Private Bills are not the place for public order legislation. The fact that there is this historical anachronism is no justification for continuing them. It is not enough for the promoters of the Bill to argue—as they do, for example, in paragraph 8 of their statement—that similar provisions are now in force in all areas of Merseyside other than parts of Knowsley, St. Helens and Sefton, which were previously in Lancashire. If this House merely re-enacted previous legislation without examining its worth, we should still be hanging people for stealing sheep. It is as simple as that.
The promoters argue that existing byelaws have worked well on Merseyside. Nobody doubts that. They argue that they are generally recognised, not only by local authorities and the police but by the organisers of such marches, to provide a desirable element of control for the good of all concerned.
Let me pay a tribute to the record of Merseyside on marches. In my boyhood, when Liverpool was, to a degree, recognised as the capital of North Wales, the area was famous for its marches, which were always peaceful. We have a good record. Our record compares favourably with that of the West Midlands. There is an element of post hoc ergo propter hoc in the argument. In the same period, other big cities had no such byelaws and managed satisfactorily.
It is important to recall the words of Lord Scarman when he dealt with notices of street processions at the Red Lion Square inquiry:
It cannot be said too often that our law assumes that people will be tolerant, self-disciplined and willing to co-operate with the police. The assumption is still sound: that is why the police go unarmed, and also why, with no legal requirement of notice, the police are notified in at least 80 per cent. of the cases.
Certain people in Liverpool have notified the police of marches. But other people in other areas, when there is no such requirement, also notify the police. It is not clear what this provision in the Bill is meant to achieve, unless it is aimed ultimately at only allowing demonstrations with police permission—which the promoters deny.
Lord Scarman went on to say:
There are some who—law or no law—would never give notice; but they are on the very fringe of our society and should not, I suggest, force upon the law a largely unnecessary requirement, which can at times be an embarrassment to law-abiding citizens. In the few cases where no notification is given the police have so far experienced no difficulty in finding out that a demonstration is planned. An effective demonstration needs a degree of advance publicity: the police are seldom ignorant of what is planned. I do not recommend, therefore, this change in the law.
He was applying this to the whole country, and especially to the situation in Liverpool. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is especially concerned, on behalf of the police, with those who intend to break the law. It is difficult to frame any legislation to deal with that. Although he was talking about proposed national legislation, Lord Scarman's arguments have even more weight in relation to this Bill.
0Under the Local Government Act 1972 we have a wonderful opportunity to sweep away all the obsolete provisions that exist in Private Acts covering places around the country and to replace them with something more attuned to modern conditions. It is not enough to argue that the provisions should remain because they have always existed and have always worked reasonably. It is highly undesirable that matters of public and general importance should be decided by local authorities promoting Private Bills. The powers of the police are of national concern, and should be uniform.
The hon. Gentleman argued that there should be uniformity throughout Merseyside. That was accepted by Government supporters. Let us enlarge on that argument. There should be a national practice in respect of this matter. If there should be uniform practice in Merseyside, why not throughout the country? It is wrong that these matters should be dealt with in Private Bills. If there is a case for notice to be given to the police and for exemptions to be made, it should apply to Birmingham, Leeds and Liverpool—and even to Montgomery, although we do hold many processions there. The matter should not be dealt with under a Private Bill. Private Bills re-enact, often without thought, provisions that were made in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, when conditions were different.
If the House decides to carry out the Instruction in my name, it will not mean the end of public order on Merseyside. We already have a Public Order Act which covers the whole country. It deals with the civil laws of trespass and nuisance, which limit people's right to demonstrate, and to which the hon. Member referred. We have time to look at this matter calmly and dispassionately on a national scale, and that is an aspect with which the hon. Member did not deal. If he is arguing—as he did cogently—that different parts of the Merseyside county should be dealt with in a particular way, why should that not apply to the country as a whole? It is an issue which goes to the root of the matter of law and order. If it is right that the police should have notice—this is disputed by Lord Scarman—surely there is a case for this to be applied to the whole country.
I did not understand the argument of the Home Secretary the other day when we were debating the West Midlands Bill and he said that although he would oppose such provisions in London, he did not oppose them in the West Midlands.
I am very grateful to the hon. and learned Member for giving way. He said that Scarman disputed the fact that notice should be given. If I quote from paragraph 154 of the Scarman report, the hon. and learned Member will observe that Scarman said:
Demonstrators should, whenever possible, give notice to the police and accept limits upon the time and routeing of their demonstration as a necessary condition for the protection of their right to demonstrate.
What we are saying on Merseyside, on behalf of the promoters, is, first, that the invocation of the Public Order Act 1936 has to be the subject of an approach to the Secretary of State for an order banning a particular procession. On Merseyside we are talking about continuing what has, in effect, been in existence in Liverpool and in the rest of Merseyside since 1974, although not in law. But I am informed by the deputy chief constable that everyone has observed this provision as if it were in operation throughout the area.
When the hon. and learned Member disputes our right to have this provision on Merseyside, we respond by saying that we have had it for many years in Liverpool, where most of the marches take place. Let us now re-enact it on Merseyside, because it works.
Lord Scarman discovered that 80 per cent. of marches are notified officially to the police, in any event. I know that it is Lord Scarman's view that this provision is not necessary. It is a provision by which those who are preparing lawful marches can cheerfully abide. It has no effect whatever in dealing with those who intend to break the law or to use a procession as a means of expressing violence in one form or another. If the provision is not necessary, why have it? I do not dispute that people on Merseyside have become used to certain procedures taking place and might continue to use them whether or not the provisions were enacted.
My quarrel is not particularly with the promotors. I take the view that the matter should be dealt with nationally. If Scarman is wrong in his view, the need for notice of processions should be dealt with by a Bill affecting the whole country. It is wrong for law and order provisions to be slotted into Private Acts, as they were in the old days.
Mr. Eldon Grffiths:
The hon. and learned Gentleman is right in saying, with Scarman, that the vast majority of processions are notified voluntarily and that there is no problem in that respect. The problem arises in that small minority of processions where no notice is given, for the precise reason that those concerned desire to cause disruption. There is the rub.
I understand that most troubles have been caused with properly notified marches which people infiltrate and use for a different purpose.
I want to deal now with the exemption which has been rightly given in the Bill for funerals. The greatest problem in the West Midlands was that caused by the funeral of an IRA bomber. It is impossible to legislate for that kind of thing. The provision is entirely cosmetic, and we should be having a debate on whether it is necessary to have this kind of provision nationally. It ought not to be brought in a Bill of this kind.
I was not sure about the hon. and learned Gentleman's position concerning the difficult problem of funeral processions. Was he saying that they ought to be allowed?
I think that the Liverpool promoters are right in exempting funerals from the provision. Nevertheless, there is the one funeral in a million which is used as a means of expressing a certain viewpoint and causing the kind of trouble that the promoters of the Bill have it in mind to prevent.
I want to turn now to a different matter which I have been asked to raise. The Liverpool Corporation Act 1966 was promoted by the old county borough of Liverpool. Its aim was to authorise the lord mayor, aldermen and citizens of Liverpool to construct street works, namely, an urban motorway. The decision was taken at a time when such road building was still in vogue, before the calamitous results of similar schemes in other cities were perceived.
The Liverpool city council apparently does not want this road any more. Its policy and finance committee passed a motion urging the Secretary of State for the Environment to hold a public inquiry. It has even offered to pay half the cost. The city council passed a resolution last week opposing any inner ring road. But apparently the county council wants it, and, as the highway authority, seeks to gather up this Act under its wing through the County of Merseyside Bill, namely, part II of schedule 3 and schedule 4.
The county council is apparently presuming a 44 per cent. increase in motor cars in the city, yet there is expected to be a 24 per cent. drop in population. In the inner city, 270 acres already lie derelict. Much of the recent decay of the centre of Liverpool can be attributed to the proposals for this road. The Liverpool Echo suggested that if the road were built it would be like a Berlin Wall. The county council has changed the title of the road from urban motorway to inner ring road, but the effects will be the same. One thousand jobs would be lost if the project were to go ahead. The money could be far better spent on some of the other pressing problems which face the city.
The Liverpool Corporation Act was moved by the then city council. The present city council opposes it. Yet if these provisions for the county of Merseyside go ahead, it will be helpless. It is only right that it should have the right to decide to put an end to something that it originally promoted. Leaving out all references to the Liverpool Corporation Act 1966 in the County of Merseyside Bill will leave the decision to it. I hope that the Committee will look into this matter in much greater detail.
I am concerned about the major clause in the Bill on street processions. The hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) has performed a useful task. He has set out to establish that the problems of Merseyside are different from the problems contained in the other county council Bills. That is extremely important. A lot of negotiations, if we are not to use the word"dealings ", have taken place behind the scenes about this clause. Those negotiations had gone fairly smoothly. It was then suggested, at least by Cheshire and, informally, by the West Midlands, that they should have the same provision in their Bill as was put into the Merseyside Bill. That immediately presented difficulties for those people who were talking.
The Merseyside Bill is very different from the other Bills. Whatever conclusion is reached tonight, it should be firmly established that a difference exists in two measures. There have been powers within Liverpool, dating back to 1912, which were introduced mainly to deal with sectarian marches. Most of that problem, I would argue, has disappeared. But there is a case for saying that those problems did exist in Merseyside. Provisions were made to deal with them. On the whole, those provisions have worked without causing difficulty.
It is important that the House should recognise that this difference exists in respect of Merseyside. What is decided tonight should be seen clearly as applicable only to Merseyside. It should not be used by other promoters to argue that because the House has agreed this provision for Merseyside it should be extended to other parts of the country.
My hon. Friend is right. I would like to get this clear on the record. Did he not make the point during the carry-over motion on 1 August last year that those who objected to these Bills wanted to separate and distinguish the Merseyside Bill? This point has been made throughout the debates on these Bills.
I accept that. We also made clear in the carry-over debate that not only was there a difference in Merseyside because of the problem of the measures introduced for Merseyside but that there was also a provision in that Bill, but not in other Bills, for byelaws. Byelaws do a great deal to modify the original legislation.
I cannot find much evidence on Merseyside of any problem arising for any organisation within the existing law. It was interesting that the trades council and various other bodies were not actually aware of what the law said but had always given notice. They were acting voluntarily, not knowing that byelaws were in operation.
I should like to mention a case involving an organisation called"Reclaim the Night"which applied to carry out a march today. I can see good reason why the police did not want that organisation to be engaged in a demonstration tonight because a significant football match, I understand, is taking place in Merseyside. I can appreciate the difficulties that an organisation such as"Reclaim the Night"may have experienced.
Yes, I do. I am trying to explain briefly. It is a women's rights organisation which has been worried that considerable parts of large cities have been areas where it has not been possible for women to go alone. That organisation is trying to demonstrate that its members should have the same right as anyone else to go peacefully about any part of a city. Their ideas are reasonable. I understand that similar demonstrations have taken place in parts of London and the West Midlands and that it was intended to carry out a demonstration in Merseyside tonight. I understand that the organisation was told that its demonstration could not take place. I can think of good practical reasons for that decision. I should have thought that for the purposes of publicity, it could have picked a different night. This is the first example I have encountered where there appears to have been difficulties under these regulations.
I have been seeking information on the point my hon. Friend has raised. This may be the appropriate moment to mention it. The people concerned gave full notice of their intention to hold a procession and demonstration for their cause. The deputy chief constable pointed out the difficulties of night processions through those areas at that time. My hon. Friend has referred to other activities taking place. I understand that there was an exchange of ideas and differences of opinion and it was agreed that there would be a meeting tonight, which is probably now taking place in the Rialto in Liverpool, and that further discussions would take place between the chief constable and the organisation with a view to holding a demonstration that would be safer, more appropriate and more public than a procession at night. Negotiations have resolved the difficulty. There has been common sense on both sides.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. I hope that both sides appreciate that free negotiations are taking place. I hope that I shall be assured that under the provisions in the Bill there will no police powers to stop such a demonstration if the organisers insist on it going ahead. However, I stress that there should be co-operation between those who want to hold a procession and the police.
We must ensure that there is a right to hold a peaceful demonstration even if the vast majority of society does not approve of the aims and objects of the demonstrating group. Although I object to the notice, I firmly believe that it is the duty of anyone organising a procession or demonstration to give maximum notice to the police.
I have continually stressed the provision that I should like to see, although I realise that it is difficult to insert it in legislation. I believe that the police should be given as much notice as anyone who is asked to take part in a demonstration. That seems to be the common sense approach. If a person organises a demonstration and he wants to make it a large procession, he will have to issue handbills or send out advertisements. Before that process is started notice should be given to the police.
At the same time, it is important that if organisers want to give their supporters only short notice of a demonstration they should still be entitled to go ahead with the demonstration. Good examples are the demonstrations that took place during the Suez crisis and the Cuba bomb crisis. If there is another major international event, people may feel that they want to demonstrate quickly. In those circumstances three days or two days notice would be totally inappropriate.
Is not there a practical problem? If, for example, two or three different organisations of opposite political ideological persuasions want to hold demonstrations with little notice, each organisation may decide to demonstrate in the same place. It is a difficult problem if they all want to have their demonstrations at the same time in the same place. If that is allowed to happen, it is asking for trouble. One of the arguments for notice is that it allows the police to enable each group of demonstrators to hold its procession in its own way without coming into physical conflict with other groups.
I am informed by the deputy chief constable's office that as far as it is able to ascertain there were no spontaneous marches during 1978 within the area for which the Merseyside police are responsible.
During that period it was illegal in most of the area, with the exception of the part of it that used to be in Lancashire, to hold spontaneous demonstrations, although it is my impression from talking to one or two shop stewards in the area that there have been several occasions when shop stewards have organised demonstrations outside a factory that have led to people marching to other factories. As I understand the legislation, that would be illegal. It is said that the police exercise common sense and do not take any action. I do not think that that is right since it means that those groups which take no notice of the law get away with it and those people who abide by the law are stopped from doing something.
May I have an assurance from the promoters of the Bill that both under the Bill, and under the byelaws, there will be no power to stop a procession other than by the use of the Public Order Act 1936 provided that notice has been given? That is important. In the case to which I have referred the indications were that the demonstration would be stopped. I now know that it was held after negotiation.
The next matter concerns the spontaneous procession. It seems that that is covered to an extent by the byelaws. I wish the promoters could have provided us with an up-to-date copy, though I am assured that my copy is that from which the promoters are working. It is stated that the watch committee, which I now assume to be the police authority, can give authority for the short notice demonstration and that the byelaws can specify that one day's notice be given. Two questions need to be asked here. The watch committee has two jobs. It is supposed to look after the interests of the police and the demontrators. I can understand in this context the concern of a policeman who is told that his Saturday leave has been cancelled because a demonstration has been organised at short notice.
I wonder whether some body other than the police may be more appropriate to act as the arbitrator on whether a demonstration should be allowed to take place at short notice. If under the special provisions of the Bill a demonstration can take place provided that one day's notice is given—the provisions seem to cater for the spontaneous demonstration—can notice be given without specifying a time? That would mean that if an organisation wanted to have a quick demonstration the watch committee, or some authority delegated by it, could approve the demonstration without requiring notification in precise terms.
There appears to be a specific contradiction between the Bill and the existing byelaws. This involves the question whether an organisation, or a person, should be held responsible for a demonstration. Clause 34 uses the words"no person"but the byelaws use the words"person, body or organisation ". The Bill suggests that one person takes on the responsibility for organising a demonstration or procession. It implies that a specific person shall be responsible for everything that happens on the march or demonstration. It would be fairer if that responsibility was shared by a corporate body because it is difficult for an organiser of a demonstration to accept responsibility for the behaviour of everybody who might choose to join in.
I should have thought that specifying a"person, body or organisation"is better than specifying a single person. That would be a substantial improvement.
There is a conflicting opinion about counter demonstrations. The police inform me that they prefer a counter demonstration to be organised for those who disapprove of the aims of a particular demonstration, than for them to stand on the pavement and shout abuse, or, as happens unfortunately on some occasions, hurl missiles at those who are demonstrating. The police prefer a counter demonstation to be kept apart from the original demonstration.
If one insists that notice is given and the organiser of a march give the minimum notice, it is impossible for another group to organise a counter demonstration. That means that there is no opportunity for people to express an opinion against those who are demonstrating. The only opportunity is for them to act in a disorganised way.
There have been many incidents recently when a counter demonstration to a main demonstration has been organised. When those two organisations have been kept apart—often with considerable difficulty—a correct impression has been created about the balance of opinion between the two groups. This has gone wrong when one group processes and another tries merely to disrupt that procession.
I realise that these are difficult matters for the police, but there are advantages in the counter demonstration or procession being properly organised. A provision for giving notice makes the organisation of a counter demonstration difficult, if not impossible.
I see the force of the hon. Member's argument. Does he accept that the type of people who become most excited over processions and who stand on the sidelines jeering and occasionally throwing bricks are, by definition, difficult to organise? It would make sense if one could take the dissenters and put them together behind banners. But life is not like that.
I accept what the hon. Member says. I was not suggesting that events are anything like as neat as that. But if one can find a focus for the counter demonstration it is less likely that people will go to the demonstration merely to be disruptive. When we remember recent demonstrations, we can see that many people strongly object to the views of certain demonstrators but they equally strongly object to violence. They need a peaceful way of expressing their views. Such people will be attracted to a counter-demonstration and prefer that to forming a crowd on the outside of the main demonstration.
Does the hon. Member agree that the three-day notice would give time for the organised counter-demonstration of the peaceful kind of which he appears to be in favour? If he does not think that that amount of time is correct, how much time does he think should be allowed for a peaceful demonstration?
I have obviously not made myself clear. Any time limit makes it difficult for a counter-demonstration to be organised. If the group organising a procession gives the minimum notice—whether it is three weeks or one day—the group which wishes to organise a counter-demonstration cannot give the appropriate notice. Often the group organising the original demonstration seeks publicity before it informs the police and that allows a counter-demonstration to be organised. But if the regulations are applied strictly, whatever the time limit, as long as the minimum notice is given, no other group can legally organise a counter-demonstration. That is one of the problems with any time limit that is included, although in this Bill it is circumvented to a certain extent by the provision in the byelaw which says that down to a period of one day, given the permission of the watch committee, a counter demonstration may be organised.
We are told that a concession was given; that prosecution would take place only with the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions; and also, I think, the fine would be reduced. I do not really see that as a concession, because I am not particularly concerned with those people who break the law. What I want to see is a law abiding society, and therefore I am particularly concerned with those groups of people who would not go ahead with the procession because they believed they were breaking the law. I am not so concerned with the group that would go ahead anyway and therefore might fall foul of the law. Although I see that there are some arguments for that concession, I do not think that it is a particularly useful one.
I should like to press the promoters of this Bill in this respect; if this debate is not concluded tonight and it has to be resumed on another night at seven o'clock, by then they could have their amended set of byelaws so that we could see available specific intentions in those byelaws. That would be extremely useful.
I must stress that I think it is very important that this House should protect the rights of the individual who wants to obey the law and to co-operate with the police. In my view, almost everybody on this side of the House has that feeling, and it is wrong to suggest that in opposing this we are in some way against the police. In fact, we are extremely sympathetic with their problems. What we want to see is a solution that does not cause them difficulty but preserves important rights that in many ways were established in this country at the time of Peterloo: the right to free assembly, the right to free passage through the streets, and the right to free speech.
There is a major objection to this type of legislation, and that is to bring forward a Bill of this nature that applies only to one part of the United Kingdom but has in it a whole set of measures that ought to have been dealt with as a national issue. That point was made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). If the question of processions is to be dealt with, it ought to be dealt with on a national basis.
As for some of the other clauses about which we have some queries, again it seems to me there is a very strong argument for them to be dealt with in national legislation and not piecemeal. Clauses 5, 6, 7 and 8 all deal with industry. I have dealt briefly with them, in an intervention, but one of the worst aspects of the aid to industry being given by local authorities is that it encourages individual firms to trade one authority off against another authority, simply to go round saying that those firms will go to whichever one of them offers the most aid. I think we can see the situation that has developed between countries over shipbuilding, where each country appears to be offering bigger and bigger subsidies to have ships built in their shipyards. It seems to me that a situation could develop very quickly in this country where local authorities would be vying with each other to offer better inducements for industry to go to their area.
I said in my intervention that I thought there was a very strong case for Merseyside to receive special treatment, and of course under national legislation it gets special treatment. But if I look through the provisions in some other Bills—certainly that of Greater Manchester; at the present moment Greater Manchester is asking for all sorts of powers to help industry—it seems to me that we ought to have national legislation on the amount of help that can be given by the Government or local authorities to industries to induce them to go to particular places.
We should agree national criteria as to why a particular area should be able to offer more or less favourable treatment and we should not leave it to local Bills when companies trade one local authority off against the other. In my view, there is considerable danger in having these sorts of powers vested in local Bills. A perfectly reasonable argument can be made for saying that some of the provisions taken out should be put back. Why should the provisions be confined only to small companies with fewer than 100 employees? What about the company that has slightly more?
Clause 11 deals with the provision of parking places in parks. This is an unfortunate development, and I understand that this is a common clause. In this society we tend to elevate the car to a high position, but to give up one-eighth of the area of a park for use as car parking space is unreasonable. My knowledge of Merseyside is not sufficient to allow me to list all the large parks, but giving up one-eighth of the area of those parks to provide car parking space would change the character of the parks. People should be encouraged to walk rather than drive to parks. If we are to have car parking space in parks, that should be done by adding to the area of the park, not by reducing the area which is available for public enjoyment.
The Government should take a certain measure of blame for clause 23, which deals with the control of stray dogs. Since they received the working party report on the subject the Government have done little. Again, this is a national problem. There has not suddenly occurred a major problem in Merseyside. It would have been better to deal with the dog licence fee—which has not been raised for almost 100 years—and to grapple nationally rather than piecemeal with the question of stray dogs fouling the pavements and paths. I could argue about street trading, which is fairly controversial, taxis and the signs on taxis. All these matters illustrate the unsatisfactory nature of legislating piecemeal with varying provisions for each locality.
I hope that the House will give careful consideration to the passage of the Bill, having heard the Chairman of Ways and Means, who seemed to suggest that rather than use this opportunity to debate individual clauses on the Floor of the House we should vote against the Bill on Second Reading if we had a reservation about any clause. The House should be careful about giving the Bill a Second Reading without receiving more assurances from the promoters than we have received.
I hope that I shall not embarrass the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) by saying that I go some way with him in what he said about the need for a national approach to some of the problems contained in the Bill. But I disagree with him that the vast majority of the clauses can or should be dealt with on a national basis, that is to say, in the House of Commons.
The Bill is an enormous compilation of clauses, dealing with everything from the power to order the alteration in the size and shape of chimneys, to the control of rats and mice, the securing of unoccupied buildings, firemen's switches for luminous tube signs, false statements to obtain accommodation, and so on. It would be wholly wrong for the House to attempt to deal with this multitude of detailed matters which are at the heart of local government.
Having served as a local government Minister with my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) I am clear about one thing, and that is that we need to delegate—indeed, perhaps I can say devolve—very much more decision-making in this House to our—[Interruption.]
We need to delegate and, indeed, to devolve, to local government many of the things which are not strictly the business of Parliament and which are far better handled by responsible local authorities than they ever can be by this place. Parliament ought to have regard to major issues concerning the country. Certainly it is not for us to deal with mice or rats or, indeed, as the hon. Member for Stockport, North suggested, the fouling of pavements. I cannot think of a more distasteful subject to be dealt with on a national level.
Will the hon. Gentleman concede that in these Bills about three-quarters of the clauses are what are called"common clauses ", and are included in all the county council measures that are brought forward? If they are common clauses, surely there is an argument for having a national Bill rather than dealing with those matters in separate Bills.
The hon. Gentleman has a point. As one who has been associated with local government at national level, I merely declare that the best approach is to push more and more of the decision-making on local matters down to local government and not to gum up this place with various details of this type.
I am particularly glad to be able to say a few words about Liverpool. I grew up quite close to Liverpool, and I have an intense personal attachment to what is a wonderful city. I can remember, as a child in the middle 1930s, being taken to Liverpool to see the"Berengaria ". When writing the composition in my 11-plus examination, I think it was in 1935, I wrote about the view from the top of Lewis's. I remember what a splendid view it was—at that time. One of the wonders of the world to me as a child was the Mersey tunnel. To be taken through it was a remarkable experience.
Indeed, the overhead railway, as my right hon. Friend suggests, was part of one's youth. I feel an intense nostalgia for what was a splendid city.
Many years later, when I went to Liverpool as a Minister, I remember a very proud moment when I was played up the steps of Liverpool city hall by the police band. I felt all my youth coming back, and I felt intensely proud. At the same time, I am bound to say that, as this Bill clearly demonstrates, Liverpool is a city with grievous problems. There is dereliction, crime and unemployment, all of which stain the reputation of Liverpool.
I can recall that in Government we tried—as indeed the present Government are trying—to meet some of the problems of Liverpool. I remember going there on behalf of the Government and being able to provide to the Merseyside corporation substantial new grants for open space. We agreed to the new dock, the large and very important Seaforth dock. We were able to improve the River Mersey and lower the level of pollution. I mention these matters merely because here we have a Bill where the Merseyside county council is carrying forward a lot of good work to try to deal with some very difficult problems.
I want to deal primarily with the clauses that have attracted attention and which, if I am not mistaken, a number of hon. Gentlemen would like to delete. I say at once that I find clauses 33, 34 and 35 very difficult. I find it hard to judge how best we should proceed. I have consulted the police service about this—the Police Federation, with which I have a connection and which I declare. I should also say to the Home Secretary that some months ago I spoke to the chief constable of Liverpool, for whom I have considerable admiration.
I should like to make a point about the police in general. In regard to public processions, the police are neutral. The fact that they happen to be protecting a procession of the extreme Left or extreme Right ought not to allow anyone to imagine that they are supporting that procession. I well understand that television very often gives the impression that the presence of the police alongside a march implies that they are in favour of it. That is absolutely not the case. The individual police officer, whatever he thinks of the particular procession that he is protecting, is required by his oath of office and by his duty to remain totally uninvolved politically.
Virtually without exception the police observe the oath of office never to become politically involved—to uphold the law without fear or favour, malice or affection. It is important to realise that it makes no difference to the police whether a procession is of the Left or of the Right. They are politically neutral.
The difficulty that I face in regard to these clauses is twofold. First, I do not particularly like legislation by exceptions. I listened very carefully to the list of exceptions, including the Salvation Army. I understand that in Committee there will be introduced exceptions in respect of the Church Lads' Brigade, the Boys' Brigade, the Scouts, the Girl Guides and a number of other bodies.
That is quite right. But I can imagine that still further bodies might like to be excepted. As a matter of principle, I do not like legislation in this House which is handled by exception. Sometimes it is necessary to do so, as we all know from long experience, but I have some reservations about the Bill, where one specific organisation—the Salvation Army—is mentioned and where a number of other organisations are to be imported in Committee. Yet we do not know how many more—it might be the Conservative Party or the Labour Party—might want to be included. Therefore, I am not very keen on this method of procedure.
Similarly, I take the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) about the need for a national approach. I think that the Home Secretary would probably take a similar view. The law is a seamless garment. It cannot differ from place to place. If we are to have effective enforcement, the citizen needs to know that whether he be in Liverpool or Bury St. Edmunds, Leeds or London, the law is the same and that the powers and procedures of the police are identical.
I have never favoured a national police service, but I am very much in favour of a consistent police service, which is recognised by the public to have the same powers, procedures and methods throughout the country. Unless one has that, one is destroying that invisible confident relationship between the police and the public that is crucial to their effective operation.
Does not that also call for a condition in which the police forces in each area are equal? If conditions and laws are supposed to be equal, the strength of the police force in one area ought to be the same as that of another area. The difficulties in respect of Liverpool came about partly because we had the Liverpool and Bootle constabulary, whereas now we have the Merseyside constabulary. The traffic control conditions of a procession in Merseyside, where there is a shortage of men and where there are difficulties about changing shifts, are very different from Metropolitan London, where there is almost a reserve of manpower.
Groups of people are kept together for a particular purpose. I shall not specify that, although it is known to my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk). In that respect there is a kind of reserve in metropolitan London which is not available on Merseyside.
The hon. Gentleman has a point, but he must not tempt me into discussion about the adequacy of police strengths as between one part of the country and another. The Merseyside police have a shortfall in manpower, but the shortfall in the Metropolitan Police is even greater. The Home Secretary is the police authority in the metropolitan area, and he would not accept that there is a reserve in London that is not available in Liverpool. Both forces have problems. The manpower in the police services needs to be increased so that it can do the job. It is not fully able to do so in Liverpool at present.
I support what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the necessity for uniformity of standards. That point was put by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). But the necessity becomes greater when legislating by exception. It is difficult to justify exceptions in some places that do not apply to others. By what logic does one except the Church Lads' Brigade and not the Jewish Lads' Brigade or the Muslim Youth Organisation?
Although we have a gulf between us, the hon. Gentleman has exactly caught my thought. That is why it is objectionable to legislate by exemption, although from time to time it is the only practical way to proceed. That is the first of my objections. If I am allowed to get through my process of logic, I shall end up supporting these clauses, but I want first to illustrate my difficulties in getting there.
My second objection is that I would prefer the matter to be dealt with on a national basis. The present situation is a complete muddle. I have a list of the existing local Act precedents for provision to require notice of public processions, and it is extraordinary. Fourteen days' notice is required in Middlesex, seven in Edinburgh, three days' notice, excluding Sundays, in York and Bourne mouth, two days' notice, excluding Sundays, in Accrington, Llanelli, Birkenhead, South Shields and Aberdeen, 36 hours' notice, or by midday on the next day but one, excluding Sundays, for Ilfracombe, Clacton, Crewe, Redcar, Swinton and Bootle, and so on. It is 24 hours' notice excluding Sundays for Morley, Halifax, Rotherham, Tynemouth, Bath, Bolton and a large number of others. This is a muddle. We need to rationalise and tidy it up on a national basis. If the Home Secretary had unlimited parliamentary time and draftsmen, I am sure that he would prefer some sensible amendment to the Public Order Act to achieve a consistent arrangement throughout the country.
These clauses I confess cause me problems. But on balance I favour their remaining in the Bill and the Bill proceeding, first, because we are living at a time of rising crime, increasing terror, grievous problems of public order and an undermanned and overstretched police service, and anything that would appear to weaken the powers of the police service to maintain public order should therefore be resisted. If the six clauses were struck out, that would weaken the ability of the Merseyside police service to cope. We must stand firmly with them and do nothing at this dangerous time to weaken the powers of law enforcement.
Surely the Merseyside police force today is less under strength than it was when the Tories left office. Also, it has had a 10 per cent. increase in manpower in the past four years. If the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) thinks that this matter is so important that he has had to come here today and present the Police Federation brief, why did he not do the same for the West Midlands County Council Bill on 6 February? I am sure that the hon. Member has been told by the Police Federation to come along here and earn his corn.
I shall ignore that singularly cheap and uncalled for remark. Perhaps I should say, so that the hon. Member will know in future, that there is no Police Federation brief on this Bill. In fact, until this morning, when I spoke to a representative of the federation, it had not considered the Bill. The Police Federation is organised as a national body and its joint central committee would not usually deal with a local Private Bill. I am speaking tonight because I have knowledge of the Police Federation and of Liverpool, and because I have had some experience of local government when I served for four years as a Minister. Perhaps the hon. Member will withdraw his remark.
All that my non. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) asked was why, if the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) takes these matters so seriously—and he made some rather strange remarks about these grievous times and doing everything to protect the police—he was not here when exactly the same clause was under discussion and was debated and voted upon in the West Midlands County Council Bill on 6 February. Surely he felt just as strongly about that.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) feels that it is so important for him to mind my parliamentary business for me. I shall conduct my affairs according to my own judgment. Perhaps he would be wise to do the same.
I turn to my other reason for believing it right that the Bill should stand as it is. I have already said that nothing should be done at this stage to weaken the powers of the police. I know that the chief constable feels strongly about this and that it was with some reluctance that he agreed to reducing the period of notice from seven days to three days. From a police point of view, that is a considerable concession. It is right that this House should not deliberately remove from the police powers which they think necessary for the maintenance of public order.
The question that we must ask ourselves is whether Liverpool is different from anywhere else. Perhaps it is. Historically it is different, because the original Liverpool police were given powers that were quite exceptional when compared with those of all other police services, save the Metropolitan Police. These powers were given mainly because of the port. The Liverpool police had some special duties to perform arising from the importance of the old port of Liverpool. These special powers were built in and continued.
Also, there are special problems relating to the annual parade of the Orange Order. That is an enormous event. In 1977 there were 102 separate processions in the streets of the county. Of these, 86 were organised by the Orange Lodge or by similar organisations and 40 of those started in Liverpool. The 12 July parade starts in Liverpool and is usually about 4,500 strong, accompanied by more than 40 separate bands. It requires the regular deployment of about 600 police officers to secure the maintenance of public order.
No one disputes that the police receive regular notice of processions. The organisers let them know the routes that will be followed, the programmes that they have in mind and, generally speaking, there is a high level of co-operation. So much so that the existing local Act powers which are subsumed into the Bill have not been breached. There has been ready co-operation, for example, between the Orange Lodges and the Merseyside police, and I know no example of the fettering of impromptu processions. I do not like the word"spontaneous"because such processions are usually the most organised.
There are occasions when, although notice should and could be given, it has not been, and that is done with the precise intention that the procession should cause maximum disruption of ordinary life. Those occasions are rare, but they do happen and have led the Liverpool police to say that they think that the notification requirement is desirable.
I do not know whether prosecutions took place for failure to notify. I suspect that there were none, because the police are sensible in these matters. There were undoubtedly prosecutions against individuals who broke the law and caused mayhem. That is as it should be.
I should have preferred to see a national approach in the Bill. There is a need to revise and bring up to date the Public Order Act. Just as a chief constable has to apply to the Home Secretary if he wants to ban a public meeting, so there may be a case for providing that he should come to the Home Secretary if he wants to ban a procession. That would be a national approach and it is one that I should adopt in any proposals for reform of the Public Order Act.
The reality is that we are dealing not with national legislation and the Public Order Act, but with a Private Bill brought in by Merseyside county council, because the local government reorganisation Act laid the obligation upon that council. The council carried out that obligation at great expense and with a great deal of thought.
The issue is simple. Are the objections that I have stated sufficient to justify throwing out the Bill? I do not think that they can be. I hope that the promoters have heard what I and other hon. Members have said about clauses 33, 34 and 35. I am sure that they will take notice of our remarks. However, that cannot be a reason for taking away from the police service powers that it has found to be useful and believes will continue to be useful. It certainly is not a reason to reject the Bill out of hand.
It may assist the House if I intervene at this stage to give the Government's view on clauses 5 to 8.
While the Government welcome the participation of local authorities in promoting industrial development in their areas and have acknowledged the role that they can play, we consider that public general legislation rather than individual local Acts should provide the appropriate framework for this work. We have said that we would be ready to consider proposals for public legislation to give local authorities powers in this area.
The fact is that additional powers taken piecemeal in local Acts serve only to distort the priorities set by the Government for giving assistance to areas of special need, including the assisted areas and the inner cities.
The Government do not wish to deprive the Committee of the opportunity to consider the arguments, but both my Department and the Department of Industry will make clear in our reports our reasons for opposing those clauses which seek to extend the powers already held by local authorities in Merseyside. I would not wish to underestimate the importance that is attached to ensuring that existing regional and inner city priorities are maintained in this and other Private Bills now before both Houses.
Some of my observations on the Bill will be a little less than wildly enthusiastic, and on that account I have perhaps an even greater duty than I would otherwise have to add to the congratulations offered to the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) on his speech in moving the Second Reading. He had clearly done a massive piece of research and given a great deal of thought to the matter. He is particularly to be commended for the patience and courtesy with which he allowed himself to be interrupted so many times by myself and my hon. Friends.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman marred an otherwise splendid speech by a passage at the end in which he seemed to be rebuking my hon. Friends for having a careful look at the details of the Bill. He complained that, because of that careful look, some officers of the Merseyside county council were inconvenienced, had to do a lot more work and were not able to choose the work that they would like to do. The hon. Gentleman got his lesson in the facts of life from the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson).
The obligation on the House to ensure that there is a real, exhaustive, bona fide, careful examination of all the matters that come before us is much greater in significance and much more important to the wider interest than is the personal inconvenience felt, and amount of overtime worked, by officers of the Mersey county council or any other local authority.
However, in spite of that marring of an otherwise splendid speech, the hon. Gentleman has served the Merseyside county council very well. The least that it can do in recompense is to give him the freedom of the county or, even better—and what I would prefer—a permanent season ticket to Anfield.
We have been looking closely at the Bill, and the hon. Member for Wirral should not reprove us for doing so. He must bear in mind that, in addition to the considerations put to him by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, the strange procedure that we have for Private Bills—a procedure rightly described by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery as archaic—ensures that the opportunity for an individual hon. Member to make his views known about the details of a Bill are much less than is the case under the procedure for Public Bills. That is why what could reasonably be objected to in the Second Reading debate on a Public Bill as being a matter for the Committee stage cannot be so readily or justifiably objected to in a Second Reading debate on a Private Bill.
May I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to suggest to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure that when the Committee has finished its current discussions it might take a little time to look at the strange and archaic procedure for dealing with Private Bills, which results in taking up more of the time of the House than is necessary, a great deal more trouble and expense for Bills' promoters than is necessary, and which at the same time does not provide all the opportunities that should be provided for a careful consideration of what is proposed?
The sponsors of the Bill are not responsible for the nonsenses of our procedure. We should not treat the Bill in a hostile way on that account. I put that suggestion to the Minister as I am sure that a proposal or hint from him to the Chairman of the Select Committee would go much further than one coming from me or any other Back-Bench Member.
I shall not intervene in the discussion that was initiated by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery and continued by my hon. Friend the Member for Stock-port, North (Mr. Bennett) and the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) about clauses 33 and 34. I refrain from doing so not because I am not interested in the provisions of and the problems which arise from, those clauses—indeed, I am interested in them—but because I am much less qualified than the three hon. Members whom I have mentioned and many others to deal with the matter. I am sure that there are others who can pursue the complexities of that part of the Bill very much better than I can.
I wish to direct my attention to a few other points. In reply to the observation of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, I say that neither my hon. Friends nor I want, in the least, to prevent the Bill being enacted. We think that it contains many good features and that it is a desirable Bill from many points of view. If it comes about, because we are carefully probing the details of the Bill, that it does not prove possible for us to reach a conclusion on Second Reading tonight, that does not, by any means, kill the Bill. It provides an opportunity for further reflection about some of the difficulties which manifestly exist. Anybody listening to these proceedings for the first time tonight without any prior knowledge or parti pris in advance could easily have understood from our speeches that not all is shipshape and Bristol fashion and that there are some things which need to be looked at a little closely.
In my judgment, it would not be a tragedy if it were necessary for the Bill to come back—I hope with no undue delay—because that would give time for reflection and for the sponsors to consider what has been said and, where they think they have good answers to objections which have been raised, to make those answers known to Members of the House.
In particular, I reinforce the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Stock-port, North that, if that does come about, in the short intervening period the sponsors should make available to us the bye-laws which are referred to in the Bill and which, as hon. Members have said, make the Bill different in a very important respect from some other rather parallel ones that we have had before us for consideration, and which, on the whole, are very much to be welcomed. We should know better how far we could go in welcoming them if we knew precisely what they were. At the moment we do not.
The real difficulty is that although most of us have been able to get a copy of the existing byelaws, what we should like is a draft of those byelaws which the authority would submit to the Home Secretary if the Bill went through with the two clauses in it.
I had appreciated the difficulty, which my hon. Friend mentioned, of having to work from byelaws that were promulgated in 1912, which is a fair old time ago, and before most hon. Members present here this evening were born. I was born a few years before that, but very few other hon. Members present here tonight were born in 1912.
There is no guarantee at this moment that the byelaws which the county council would promulgate if the Bill were passed would be those byelaws, or anything like them. They might be the same, although I should have thought that if it were the intention of the county council that they should be the same it could have saved a lot of time by telling us so. But equally, and more probably, they could be very different. They might be more lenient in some respects, and they might be stronger in some respects. They would have to contain all these exceptions which were reeled off by the hon. Member for Wirral, and perhaps some others as well.
I have already pointed out, in an intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, that there are some obvious incongruities in those exceptions. We really ought to have a look at them and see what they are. If the county council is saying to us"Do not worry, chaps. All your fears will be allayed, all the doubts you have expressed will be resolved and all your sleepless nights will become as sweet as honey because we shall get rid of your fears by promulgating byelaws ", we had better not buy a pig in a poke. We had better see what they are.
My hon. Friend speaks of sweetness and light and of milk and honey. No one is more disarming—and dangerous—than my hon. Friend when he is indulging in sweetness and light and being most reasonable. I happen, with other Merseyside Members to have been deeply involved in this matter since November 1977, and we appreciate that the heart of the objection is clause 34.
Each time some of us make a move towards the opponents of clause 34, whether on seven days or three days, another demand is made; another territorial claim and another statement is put forward. In August, on the carry-over motion, no request was made by anyone for copies of tie byelaws. In all the discussions, until yesterday, there were no requests for copies of the byelaws, probably because there are no model copies of the byelaws. Now hon. Members say"As a further concession we might give you the Bill if we had a copy of the byelaws ". I am only asking my hon. Friend, in the same reasonable way as he approached this matter, to consider the difficulties of those who have persuaded the county council to make many concessions over the Bill. So far at least some of my hon. Friends are not able to support us.
I understand what my hon. Friend is saying. He must not talk about our saying"We will give you the Bill if…". We have no powers to give the Bill. The Bill is not within our gift. Nor is the withholding of the Bill, if there is such a thing, within our gift. I said at the beginning of my observations that none of us is opposed to the Bill. I intend to talk about other clauses, apart from clauses 33 and 34. We believe that some parts of the Bill are ill-considered. There are quite a number of clauses and subsections—
There may not be a possibility for someone like myself, representing a Merseyside seat, to make clear on the record my reply to the kind of allegation made by the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), who seems to regard this patchwork approach to legislation as undesirable. So do I. In that case, there is a strong argument for taking this clause out of the Bill. After all, the West Midlands Bill has already been through the House, and by a decision of the House a similar clause was taken out. The hon. Gentleman did not know that He thinks that this issue is important, but it was not important enough for him to be present for the West Midlands Bill, or even important enough for him to be here to vote against the deletion of that clause.
I want to put on record that I do not want to see the Bill defeated. Everything in the Bill is acceptable and, in many cases, desirable. The hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) has made conciliatory, constructive and helpful proposals. But there are certain proposals in this clause which particularly affect my constituency. In one half, the Ormskirk half, no notice will be required for a demonstration or procession. In the other half, affecting people in Aintree, Kirkby, Lydiate and Rainford, no notice is required at present, but under the Bill notice will be required. This is an anomalous situation. My constituents in the same party, or members of the Conservative Party, within the Ormskirk constituency, can organise a demonstration in Ormskirk and not have to give notice—
I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to my hon. Friend for his brief intervention. What makes me particularly grateful is that it eases my conscience a little. I am well aware that I am speaking on a Bill that is of more direct and immediate interest, on the face of it, to hon. Members for Merseyside constituencies than it is to me.
My justification for intervening and for considering the Bill closely is based precisely on the reason that was advanced so well by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, namely, that these matters have repercussive effects, one on another. Provisions, for example, about aid to industry, which were spoken about by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, are of great interest to all inner city areas, including the borough that I represent, which is working closely on such matters. There is considerable general interest well beyond the boundaries of Merseyside.
There are other Bills—for example, the South Yorkshire Bill, which I shall not refer to in detail—that have similar provisions. We have had discussions about seven days' notice and relaxation to three days' notice. I am confused, and I hope that my hon. Friend will give me his opinions. Why should there suddenly be a relaxation from seven days to three days? That implies that seven days' notice was not important. There is a saving clause—I do not know whether this features in the byelaws—that allows for spontaneous demonstrations. Most strikes and many demonstrations happen spontaneously. It would De a violation of democracy to prevent that happening. Will my hon. Friend drag together the diffused arguments and try to explain to me why there is such tremendous variation? In one Bill we find one provision, and in another Bill there is a different provision. In one Bill there is provision for seven days' notice, and in another there is provision for three days' notice. It is most confusing.
If my hon. Friend had been in the Chamber earlier—I say that in the greatest kindness—he would have heard the explanation. Is it not correct to say that Merseyside Members, in conjunction with the metropolitan council and others concerned, have had concessions made which, as I understand it, satisfy Labour Members of the Liverpool area?
If that is not correct now, it was correct when there was the relaxation of notice from seven days to three days. That is why the concessions were made. The seven days' notice was preferred, but concessions have been made that will satisfy the genuine concern felt by hon. Members about these propositions. I thought that I would get that in as it is obvious that I shall not be called to speak in the debate.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend has canvassed all the Labour Members for Merseyside. I very much doubt whether there is unanimity among them on the provisions in the Bill.
It is the County of Merseyside Bill, but because of the commonality of causes in so many Private Bills these matters are for the whole House to decide. That has been said this evening over and over again from both sides of the House. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) should say, even if he knows, which I am sure he does not, that all Labour Members for a certain area take one view. It should not be implied that that means that every other hon. Member has to fall in line with that view. However, I wish to move on as there are a number of provisions in the Bill on which I wish to comment.
Is my hon. Friend of the view that, apart from it being wrong that Merseyside Members alone should decide the issue—I know that that has not been suggested and that we have not reached devolution for Merseyside—there are important implications for other parts of the country? In London, for example, we are concerned that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis is asking for greater police powers. The enactment of any measure such as the Bill now before us might be an encouragement for him to press for greater powers, which many of us are reluctant to see introduced. Is he also aware that for the first time in many years the Commissioner, who comes from Scotland, has sought to impose a partial ban on the London Labour movement holding its traditional May Day march by altering the line of route against all past traditions and all practices of previous commissioners? Has it not got to the stage where groups of non-Londoners can come to London and impose unacceptable conditions?
I agree that the decision of the Commissioner about the May Day procession was beyond any conceivable justification. I say to my hon. Friend what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery)—that I have laid upon myself a self-denying ordinance about clauses 33 and 34. I dearly want to talk about something else, and I wish that my hon. Friends would not stop me from talking about something else.
I do not want to stop my hon. Friend as I am sure that he has much to say about the other clauses, but since clauses 33, 34 and 35 have been referred to by other hon. Members will he comment on the fact that, whether or not there is dispute between those Members who represent the Liverpool areas, there is a considerable body of opinion within Liverpool which does not welcome them? The president of the Liverpool trades council has written a letter to the legal officer of the National Council for Civil Liberties in which he says that he opposes clauses 33 and 34 because they are unnecessary and represent a limitation on democratic rights. He says that they are against the interests of trade unions and community organisations. He points out that as a matter of courtesy and convenience local organisations which are mainly trade union and labour movement bodies, advise the police, but they see no need for a statutory requirement.
If my hon. Friend will allow an intervention on an intervention, perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) will also confirm that in the evidence given to Merseyside Members by the district Labour Party it used the phrase
clauses for which there is no stautory provision
when there had been statutory provision for exactly the same clauses on Merseyside from 1912. If the district Labour Party does not know the laws under which it operates, it does not know the facts and why should we justify its conclusions?
My two hon. Friends in their respective ways have merely confirmed that which I hazarded a guess a few moments ago, namely, that there is no more unanimity in Liverpool about this matter than there is in many other parts of the country. Liverpudlians are a lively crowd and they tend not to agree with each other about anything. I have heard some dispute as to whether Anfield is a more pleasant part of the city than Goodison. I even know some Liverpudlians who do not think much of the Beatles, so there is no reason to suppose that they will be unanimous about this.
Now, please, may I do what I have been trying to do for the last 10 minutes and say something about part II of the Bill, on which I ventured an intervention when the hon. Member for Wirral was moving the Second Reading, and on which he kindly and courteously gave way? I am not very happy about part II of the Bill. I made a mistake about clause 6 and I apologise for that error.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman in that I may have misled him over clauses 7 and 8. They do not apply to small firms. Clause 7 authorises a local authority to carry out infrastructure works for any industrial undertaking, and clause 8 authorises the guarantee of rents for any industrial building. I hope that that puts the record straight.
I am grateful to the hon. Member. I was about to make the same point. Clauses 7 and 8 could be used for the benefit of powerful companies which should not be financed at the expense of ratepayers. The hon. Member for Wirral said that local authorities can always judge whether there is a genuine need, but I have some reservations about that. Governments of both major parties have made grave misjudgments about whether a putative recipient of public pay really deserves it.
I am not against the proposals in part II. In Tower Hamlets we are seeking to do exactly that. I am much involved in the work of assisting small companies in this and other ways. I am the chairman of the Tower Hamlets centre for small business which exists to encourage and strengthen small businesses. I do not have to declare an interest because it is strictly an honorary office.
Clause 5 and 6 are fine in their support for small firms, but I am worried about whether clauses 7 and 8 can provide benefits for companies which are not deserving recipients of largesse from the ratepayers. I am also worried about clause 9 when taken in conjunction with the other clauses. It states:
This Part shall cease to have effect at the end of 1984.
Let us suppose that on 31 December 1984 a project for assisting a company is in midstream. Let us suppose that the company has made dispositions which depend upon that project and upon assistance from the county council. Let us suppose that a local authority is undertaking building for the benefit of that company, that there is a bit of slippage in the programme and that on 31 December 1984—a date pregnant with significance—the building is only half completed. The council would then have to stop building
under the terms of clause 9. That example induced me to say earlier that parts of the Bill have not been thought through.
I turn to clause 36, which worries me. It gives powers to a police officer to search any person who may be reasonably—
|Division No. 90]||AYES||[10.00 p.m.|
|Alison, Michael||Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Nelson, Anthony|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Neubert, Michael|
|Arnold, Tom||Glyn, Dr Alan||Newton, Tony|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Goodhart, Philip||Ogden, Eric|
|Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East)||Goodhew, Victor||Onslow, Cranley|
|Awdry, Daniel||Goodlad, Alastair||Page, John (Harrow West)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Banks, Robert||Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Bates, Alt||Grieve, Percy||Percival, Ian|
|Bell, Ronald||Griffiths, Eldon||Perry, Ernest|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Grist, Ian||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Hamilton, Archibald (Epsom & Ewell)||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Blaker, Peter||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Raison, Timothy|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hannam, John||Rathbone, Tim|
|Bottomley, Peter||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)|
|Brittan, Leon||Hawkins, Paul||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, C.||Hayhoe, Barney||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Higgins, Terence L.||Rhodes James, R.|
|Brotherton, Michael||Home Robertson, John||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Hordern, Peter||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Howell, David (Guildford)||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Hunter, Adam||Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
|Buck, Antony||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Bulmer, Esmond||James, David||Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Cant, R. B.||Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd)||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Carlisle, Mark||Jessel, Toby||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Jopling, Michael||Shepherd, Colin|
|Churchill, W. S.||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Silvester, Fred|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Judd, Frank||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Clark, William (Croydon S)||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Spence, John|
|Clegg, Walter||Knight, Mrs Jill||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Cockcroft, John||Lamont, Norman||Stanley, John|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Coleman, Donald||Lawrence, Ivan||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Le Merchant, Spencer||Tapsell, Peter|
|Cope, John||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Costain, A. P.||Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Cowans, Harry||McCartney, Hugh||Tebbit, Norman|
|Crawshaw, Richard||McElhone, Frank||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Macfarlane, Neil||Tinn, James|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||MacKay, Andrew (Stechford)||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Dewar, Donald||Madel, David||Trotter, Neville|
|Doig, Peter||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Marten, Neil||Waddington, David|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Mates, Michael||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Mather, Carol||Wells, John|
|Dykes, Hugh||Mayhew, Patrick||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Whitney, Raymond|
|Elliott, Sir William||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Mills, Peter||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Farr, John||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Fell, Anthony||Moate, Roger||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Monro, Hector||Woodall, Alec|
|Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)||Montgomery, Fergus||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Moore, John (Croydon C)||Younger, Hon George|
|Ford, Ben||More, Jasper (Ludlow)|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|Fox, Marcus||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)||Mr. Reginald Eyre and|
|Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Neave, Airey||Mr. Anthony Steen.|
|Ashton, Joe||Blenkinsop, Arthur||Buchanan, Richard|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Bray, Dr Jeremy||Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)|
|Beith, A. J.||Buchan, Norman||Clemitson, Ivor|
|Corbett, Robin||Litterick, Tom||Skinner, Dennis|
|Cryer, Bob||Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Stoddart, David|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||McKay, Allen||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Flannery, Martin||McNamara, Kevin||Tierney, Sydney|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Madden, Max||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Forrester, John||Maynard, Miss Joan||Ward, Michael|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Mikardo, Ian||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Newens, Stanley||Whitlock, William|
|Hardy, Peter||Noble, Mike||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Parry, Robert||Woof, Robert|
|Hooley, Frank||Price, C. (Lewisham W)||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Hooson, Emlyn||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Mr. Andrew F. Bennett and|
|Lamond, James||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Mr. J. W. Rooker.|
|Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Sedgemore, Brian|