'(1) A local authority may resolve that Schedule (Sex establishments) to this Act is to apply to their area; and if a local authority do so resolve, that Schedule shall come into force in their area on the day specified in that behalf in the resolution (which must not be before the expiration of the period of one month beginning with the day on which the resolution is passed).
|Meaning of "sex establishment"|
|1. In this Schedule "sex establishment" means a sex cinema or a sex shop.Meaning of "sex cinema"|
|2.—(1) In this Schedule "sex cinema" means any premises, vehicle or stall used to a significant degree for the exhibition of moving pictures, by whatever means produced, which—|
|(a) are concerned primarily with the portrayal of, or primarily deal with or relate to, or are intended to stimulate or encourage—|
|(i) sexual activity; or|
|(ii) acts of force, restraint, violence orcruelty which are associated with sexual activity: or|
|(b) are concerned primarily, with the portrayal of, or primarily deal with or relate to, genital organs or urinary or excretary functions;|
|but does not include a dwelling house to which the public is not admitted.|
|(2) No premises shall be treated as a sex cinema by reason only—|
|(a) if they are licensed under the Cinematograph Act 1909, of their use for a purpose for which a licence under that Act is required; or|
|(b) of their use for an exempted exhibition as defined in section 5 of the Cinematograph Act 1952 (which relates to exemptions from the requirements of that Act for non-commercial organisations) by an exempted organisation within the meaning of section 5(4) of that Act.Meaning of "sex shop" and "sex article"|
|3.—(1) In this Schedule "sex shop" means any premises, vehicle or stall used for a business which consists to a significant degree of selling, hiring, exchanging, lending, displaying or demonstrating—|
|(a) sex articles; or|
|(b) other things intended for use in connection with, or for the purpose of stimulating or encouraging—|
|(i) sexual activity; or|
|(ii) acts of force, restraint, violence or cruelty which are associated with sexual activity.|
|(2) No premises shall be treated as a sex shop by reason only of their use for the exhibition of moving pictures by whatever means produced.|
|(3) In this Schedule "sex article" means—|
|(a) anything made for use in connection with, or for the purpose of stimulating or encouraging—|
|(i) sexual activity; or|
|(ii) acts of force, restraint, violence or cruelty which are associated with sexual activity; and|
|(b) anything to which sub-paragraph (4) below applies.|
|(4) This sub-paragraph applies—|
|(a) to any article containing or embodying matter to be read or looked at or anything intended to be used, either alone or as one of a set, for the reproduction or manufacture of any such article; and|
|(b) to any recording of vision or sound, which—|
|(i) is concerned primarily with the portrayal of, or primarily deals with or relates to, or is intended to stimulate or encourage, sexual activity or acts of force, restraint, violence or cruelty which are associated with sexual activity; or|
|(ii) is concerned primarily with the portrayal of, or primarily deals with or relates to, genital organs, or urinary or excretory functions.|
|(4) In this Schedule—|
|"the appropriate authority" means, in relation to any area for which a resolution has been passed under section [Licensing of sex establishments] above, the local authority who passed it;|
|"the chief officer of police", in relation to any locality, means the chief officer of police for the police area in which the locality is situated; and|
|"the relevant locality" means—|
|(i) in relation to any premises, the locality where they are situated; and|
|(ii) in relation to a vehicle or stall, the locality in which it is or is to be situated when it is used as a sex establishment.|
|Requirement for licences for sex establishments|
|5.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this Schedule, no person shall in any area in which this Schedule is in force use any premises, vehicle or stall as a sex establishment except under and in accordance with the terms of a licence granted under this Schedule by the appropriate authority.|
|(2) Sub-paragraph (1) above does not apply to the sale, supply or demonstration of articles which—|
|(a) are manufactured for use primarily for the purposes of birth control; or|
|(b) primarily relate to birth control.|
|6.—(1) Any person who—|
|(a) uses any premises, vehicle or stall for any business or other activity requiring a licence under this Schedule; or|
|(b) proposes to do so, may apply to the appropriate authority for them to waive the requirement of a licence in respect of that business or activity.|
|(2) An application under this paragraph may be made either as part of an application for a licence under this Schedule or without any such application.|
|(3) An application under this paragraph shall be made in writing to the appropriate authority and shall contain the particulars specified in paragraph 9(2) to (6) below.|
|(4) The appropriate authority may waive the requirement of a licence in any case where they consider that to require a licence would be unreasonable or inappropriate.|
|(5) A waiver may be for such period as the appropriate authority think fit.|
|(6) Where the appropriate authority grant an application for a waiver, they shall give the applicant for the waiver notice that they have granted his application.|
|(7) The appropriate authority may at any time give a person who would require a licence but for a waiver notice that the waiver is to terminate on such date as may be specified in the notice.|
|(8) The date to be specified in a notice under sub-paragraph (7) above shall be not less than 28 days from the date of service of the notice.|
|Grant, renewal and transfer of licences for sex establishments|
|7. Subject to paragraph 11(1) below, the appropriate authority may grant to any applicant, and from time to time renew, a licence under this Schedule for the use of any premises, vehicle or stall specified in it for a sex establishment on such terms and conditions and subject to such restrictions as may be so specified.|
|8.—(1) Subject to paragraphs 10 and 22, below, any licence under this Schedule shall, unless previously cancelled under paragraph 15 or revoked under paragraph 16(1) below, remain in force for one year or for such shorter period specified in the licence as the appropriate authority may think fit.|
|(2) Where a licence under this Schedule has been granted to any person, the appropriate authority may, if they think fit, transfer that licence to any other person on the application of that other person.|
|9.—(1) An application for the grant, renewal or transfer of a licence under this Schedule shall be made in writing to the appropriate authority.|
|(2) An application made otherwise than by or on behalf of a body corporate or an unincorporated body shall state—|
|(a) the full name of the applicant;|
|(b) his permanent address; and|
|(c) his age.|
|(3) An application made by a body corporate or an unincorporated body shall state—|
|(a) the full name of the body;|
|(b) the address of its registered or principal office; and|
|(c) the full names and private addresses of the directors or other persons responsible for its management.|
|(4) An application relating to premises shall state the full address of the premises.|
|(5) An application relating to a vehicle or stall shall state the place where it is to be situated when it is used as a sex establishment.|
|(6) Every application shall contain such particulars as the appropriate authority may reasonably require in addition to any particulars required under sub-paragraphs (2) to (5) above.|
|(7) An applicant for the grant, renewal or transfer of a licence under this Schedule shall give public notice of the application, identifying the premises or specifying the place where the vehicle or stall is to be situated when it is used as a sex establishment, in such form as the appropriate authority may prescribe—|
|(a) where the application is made in respect of premises, by displaying the notice on or near the premises in a place where it can conveniently be read by the public, for 21 days beginning with the date of the application; and|
|(b) by advertising not later than 7 days after the date of the application in a local newspaper circulating in the relevant locality.|
|(8) An applicant for the grant, renewal or transfer of a licence under this Schedule shall, not later than 7 days after the date of the application, give notice of the application identifying the premises or specifying the place where the vehicle or stall is to be situated when it is used as a sex establishment, to the chief officer of police in the relevant locality.|
|(9) Any person objecting to an application for the grant, renewal or transfer of a licence under this Schedule shall give notice in writing of his objection to the appropriate authority, stating in general terms the grounds of the objection, not later than 28 days after the date of the application.|
|(10) Where the appropriate authority receive notice of any objection under sub-paragraph (9) above the authority shall, before considering the application, give notice in writing of the general terms of the objection to the applicant.|
|(11) The appropriate authority shall not, without the consent of the person making the objection, reveal his name or address to the applicant.|
|(12) In considering any application for the grant, renewal or transfer of a licence the appropriate authority shall have regard to any observations submitted to them by the chief officer of police and any objections of which notice has been sent to them under subparagraph (9) above,|
|(13) The appropriate authority shall give an opportunity of appearing before and of being heard by them—|
|(a) before refusing to grant a licence, to the applicant;|
|(b) before refusing to renew a licence, to the holder; and|
|(c) before refusing to transfer a licence, to the holder and the person to whom he desires that it shall be transferred|
|(14) Where the appropriate authority refuse to grant, renew or transfer a licence they shall, if required to do so by the applicant or holder of the licence, give him a statement in writing of the grounds upon which their decision was based within 7 days of the decision.|
|10.—(1) Where, before the date of expiry of a licence, an application has been made for its renewal, it shall be deemed to remain in force notwithstanding that the date has passed until the withdrawal of the application or its determination by the appropriate authority.|
|(2) Where, before the date of expiry of a licence, an application has been made for its transfer, it shall be deemed to remain in force with any necessary modifications until the withdrawal of the application or its determination notwithstanding that the date has passed or that the person to whom the licence is to be transferred if the application is granted is carrying on at premises, vehicle or stall in respect of which the licence was granted the functions to which it relates.|
|Refusal of licences|
|11.—(1) A licence under this Schedule shall not be granted—|
|(a) to a person under the age of 18; or|
|(b) to a person who is for the time being disqualified under paragraph 16(2) below; or|
|(c) to a person, other than a body corporate, who is not resident in the United Kingdom or was not so resident throughout the period of six months immediately preceding the date when the application was made; or|
|(d) to a body corporate which is not incorporated in the United Kingdom; or|
|(e) to a person who has, within a period of 12 months immediately preceding the date when the application was made, been refused the grant or renewal of a licence for the premises, vehicle or stall in respect of which the application is made, unless the refusal has been reversed on appeal.|
|(2) Subject to paragraph 22 below, the appropriate authority may refuse—|
|(a) an application for the grant or renewal of a licence on one or more of the grounds specified in sub-paragraph (3) below;|
|(b) an application for the transfer of a licence on either or both of the grounds specified in paragraphs (a) and (b) of that sub-paragraph.|
|(3) The grounds mentioned in sub-paragraph (2) above are—|
|(a) that the applicant is unsuitable to hold the licence by reason of having been convicted of an offence or for any other reason;|
|(b) that if the licence were to be granted, renewed or transferred the business to which it relates would be managed by or carried on for the benefit of a person other than the applicant who would be refused the grant, renewal or transfer of such a licence if he made the application himself;|
|(c) that the number of sex establishments in the relevant locality at the time the application is made is equal to or exceeds the number which the authority consider is appropriate for that locality;|
|(d) that the grant or renewal of the licence would be inappropriate, having regard—|
|(i) to the character of the relevant locality; or|
|(ii) to the use to which any premises in the vicinity are put; or|
|(iii) to the layout, character or condition of the premises, vehicle or stall in respect of which the application is made.|
|Power to prescribe standard conditions|
|12.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this Schedule, the appropriate authority may make regulations prescribing standard conditions applicable to licences for sex establishments, that is to say terms, conditions and restrictions on or subject to which licences under this Schedule are in general to be granted, renewed or transferred by them.|
|(2) Regulations under sub-paragraph (1) above may make different provision—|
|(a) for sex cinemas and sex shops; and|
|(b) for different kinds of sex cinemas and sex shops.|
|(3) Without prejudice to the generality of sub-paragraphs (1) and (2) above, regulations under this paragraph may prescribe conditions regulating—|
|(a) the hours of opening and closing of sex establishments;|
|(b) displays or advertisements on or in such establishments;|
|(c) the age below which persons may not be admitted to or employed in or in connection with a sex establishment;|
|(d) the visibility of the interior of sex establishments to passers by; and|
|(e) any change of a sex cinema to a sex shop or a sex shop to a sex cinema.|
|(4) Where the appropriate authority have made regulations under sub-paragraph (1) above, every such licence granted, renewed or transfered by them shall be presumed to have been so granted, renewed or transferred subject to any standard conditions applicable to it unless they have been expressly excluded or varied.|
|(5) Where the appropriate authority have made regulations under sub-paragraph (1) above, they shall, if so requested by any person, supply him with a copy of the regulations on payment of such reasonable fee as the authority may determine.|
|(6) In any legal proceedings the production of a copy of any regulations made by the appropriate authority under sub-paragraph (1) above purporting to, be certified as a true copy by an officer of the authority authorised to give a certificate for the purposes of this paragraph shall be prima facie evidence of such regulations, and no proof shall be required of the handwriting or official position or authority of any person giving such certificate.|
|Copies of licences and standard conditions|
|13.—(1) The holder of a licence under this Schedule shall keep exhibited in a suitable place to be specified in the licence a copy of the licence and of any regulations made under paragraph 12(1) above which prescribed standard conditions subject to which the licence is held.|
|(2) The appropriate authority shall send a copy of any licence granted under this Schedule to the chief officer of police for the area where the sex establishment is situated.|
|Transmission and cancellation of licences|
|14. In the event of the death of the holder of a licence granted under this Schedule, that licence shall be deemed to have been granted to his personal representatives and shall, unless previously revoked, remain in force until the end of the period of 3 months beginning with the death and shall then expire; but the appropriate authority may from time to time, on the application of those representatives, extend or further extend the period of three months if the authority are satisfied that the extension is necessary for the purpose of winding up the deceased's estate and that no other circumstances make it undersirable.|
|15. The appropriate authority may, at the written request of the holder of a licence, cancel the licence.|
|Revocation of licences|
|16.—(1) The appropriate authority may, after giving the holder of a licence under this Schedule an opportunity of appearing before and being heard by them, at any time revoke the licence—|
|(a) on any groung specified in sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 11 above; or|
|(b) on either of the grounds specified in sub-paragraph (3)(a) and (b) of that paragraph.|
|(2) Where a licence is revoked, its holder shall be disqualified from holding or obtaining a licence in the area of the relevant authority for a period of 12 months beginning with the date of revocation.|
|Variation of licences|
|17.—(1) The holder of a licence under this Schedule may at any time apply to the appropriate authority for any such variation of the terms, conditions or restrictions on or subject to which the licence is held as may be specified in the application.|
|(2) The relevant authority—|
|(a) may make the variations specified in the application; or|
|(b) may make such variations as they think fit; or|
|(c) may refuse the application.|
|(3) The variations that an authority may make by virtue of sub-paragraph (2)(b) above include, without prejudice to the generality of that sub-paragraph, variations involving the imposition of terms, conditions or restrictions other than those specified in the application.|
|18. An applicant for the grant, renewal or transfer of a licence under this Schedule shall pay such reasonable fee in respect of the application as the appropriate authority may determine.|
|19.—(1) A person who—|
|(a) knowingly uses, or knowingly causes or permits the use of any premises, vehicle or stall contrary to paragraph 5, above; or|
|(b) being the holder of a licence under this Schedule, in the course of his business employs at the premises, vehicles or stall in respect of which the licence is held any person known to him to be for the time being disqualified from holding such a licence; or|
|(c) being the holder of a licence under this Schedule, without reasonable excuse knowingly contravenes, or knowingly permits the contravention of, a term, condition or restriction specified in the licence; or|
|(d) being the servant or agent of the holder of a licence under this Schedule, without|
|reasonable excuse knowingly contravenes, or knowingly permits the contravention of, a term, condition or restriction specified in the licence; shall be guilty of an offence.|
|(2) Any person who, in connection with an application for the grant, renewal or transfer of a licence under this Schedule, makes a false statement which he knows to be false in any material respect or which he does not believe to be true, shall be guilty of an offence.|
|(3) A person guilty of an offence under sub-paragraph (1) or (2) above shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £5,000.|
|(4) A person who being the holder of a licence under this Schedule fails without reasonable excuse to comply with paragraph 13(1) above shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200.|
|(5) Where an offence under this paragraph committed by a body corporate is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate, or any person who was purporting to act in any such capacity, he, as well as the body corporate, shall be guilty of the offence.|
|(6) Where the affairs of a body corporate are managed by its members sub-paragraph (5) above shall apply to the acts and defaults of a member in connection with his function of management as if he were a director of a body corporate.|
|20. If a constable has reasonable cause to suspect that a person has committed an offence under paragraph 19(1) above he may require him to give his name and address, and if that person refuses or fails to do so, or gives a name or address which the constable reasonable suspects to be false, the constable may arrest him without warrant.|
|21.—(1) A constable or an authorised officer of a local authority may, at any reasonable time,—|
|(a) enter any premises in the authority's area in respect of which a licence under this Schedule is for the time being in force; and|
|(b) inspect any vehicle or stall in the authority's area in respect of which such a licence is for the time being in force, with a view to seeing—|
|(i) whether the terms, conditions or restrictions on or subject to which the licence is held are complied with; and|
|(ii) whether any person is being employed in the course of the business carried on at the premises, vehicle or stall who is for the time being disqualified from holding a licence under this Schedule.|
|(2) Subject to sub-paragraph (3) below, a constable or an authorised officer of a local authority—|
|(a) may enter any premises in the authority's area; and|
|(b) may inspect any vehicle or stall in that area, if he has reason to suspect that an offence under paragraph 19 above has been, is being, or is about to be committed in relation to the premises, vehicle or stall.|
|(3) No power conferred by sub-paragraph (2) above may be exercised by a constable or an authorised officer of a local authority unless he has been authorised to exercise it by a warrant granted by a justice of the peace.|
|(4) Where an authorised officer of a local authority exercises any such power, he shall produce his authority if required to do so by the occupier of the premises or the person in charge of the vehicle or stall in relation to which the power is exercised.|
|(5) Any person who without reasonable excuse refuses to permit a constable or an authorised officer of a local authority to exercise any such power shall be guilty of an offence and shall for every such refusal be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200.|
|22.—(1) Subject to sub-paragraph (2) below, any of the following persons, that is to say—|
|(a) an applicant for the grant, renewal or transfer of a licence under this Schedule whose application is refused;|
|(b) an applicant for the variation of the terms, conditions or restrictions on or subject to which any such licence is held whose application is refused;|
|(c) a holder of any such licence who is aggrieved by any term, condition or restriction on or subject to which the licence is held; or|
|(d) a holder of any such licence whose licence is revoked, may at any time before the expiration of the period of 21 days beginning with the relevant date appeal to the magistrates'court acting for the petty sessions area in which—|
|(i) the premises in respect of which the application is made are situated; or|
|(ii) the vehicle or stall in respect of which the application is made is or is to be situated when it is used as a sex establishment.|
|(2) An applicant whose application for the grant or renewal of a licence is refused, or whose licence is revoked, on any ground specified in paragraph 11(1) above shall not have a right to appeal under this paragraph unless the applicant seeks to show that the ground did not apply to him.|
|(3) In this paragraph "the relevant date" means the date on which the person in question is notified of the refusal of his application, the imposition of the term, condition or restriction by which he is aggrieved or the revocation of his licence, as the case may be.|
|(4) An appeal against the decision of a magistrates' court under this paragraph may be brought to the Crown Court.|
|(5) Where an appeal is brought to the Crown Court under sub-paragraph (4) above, the decision of the Crown Court shall be final; and accordingly in section 28(2)(b) of the Supreme Court Act 1981 for the words "or the Gaming Act 1968" there shall be substituted the words ", the Gaming Act 1968 or the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982".|
|(6) On an appeal to the magistrates' court or the Crown Court under this paragraph the court may make such order as it thinks fit.|
|(7) Subject to sub-paragraphs (8) to (11) below, it shall be the duty of the appropriate authority to give effect to an order of the magistrates' court or the Crown Court.|
|(8) The appropriate authority need not give effect to the order of the magistrates' court until the time for bringing an appeal under sub-paragraph (4) above has expired and, if such an appeal is duly brought, until the determination or abandonment of the appeal.|
|(9) Where a licence is revoked or an application for the renewal of a licence is refused, the licence shall be deemed to remain in force—|
|(a) until the time for bringing an appeal under this paragraph has expired and, if such an appeal is duly brought, until the determination or abandonment of the appeal; and|
|(b) where an appeal relating to the refusal of an application for such a renewal is successful and no further appeal is available, until the licence is renewed by the appropriate authority.|
|(a) the holder of a licence makes an application under paragraph 17 above; and|
|(b) the appropriate authority impose any term, condition or restriction other than one specified in the application, the licence shall be deemed to be free of it until the time for bringing an appeal under this paragraph has expired.|
|(11) Where an appeal is brought under this paragraph against the imposition of any such term, condition or restriction, the licence shall be deemed to be free of it until the determination or abandonment of the appeal.|
|provisions relating to existing premises|
|23.—(1) Without prejudice to any other enactment it shall be lawful for any person who—|
|(a) immediately before the appointed day was using any premises, vehicle or stall as a sex establishment; and|
|(b) had before that day duly applied to the appropriate authority for a licence for the premises, vehicle or stall under this Schedule, to continue to use the premises, vehicle or stall as a sex establishment until the determination of his application.|
|(2) In this paragraph and paragraph 24 below "the appointed day", in relation to any area, means the day specified in the resolution passed under section [Licensing of sex establishments] above as the date upon which this Schedule is to come into force in that area.|
|24.— (1) This paragraph applies to an application for the grant of a licence under this Schedule made before the appointed day.|
|(2) A local authority shall not consider any application to which this paragraph applies before the appointed day.|
|(3) A local authority shall not grant any application to which this paragraph applies until they have considered all such applications.|
|(4) In considering which of several applications to which this paragraph applies should be granted a local authority shall give preference over other applicants to any applicant who satisfies them—|
|(a) that he is using the premises, vehicle or stall to which the application relates as a sex establishment; and|
|(b) that some person was using the premises, vehicle or stall as a sex establishment on 22nd December 1981; and|
|(i) he is that person; or|
|(ii) he is a successor of that person in the business or activity which was being carried on there on that date.|
|Saving for criminal law|
|25. Nothing in this Schedule—|
And the following amendments to the proposed new schedule:
'Provided that nothing in this Schedule contained shall impose upon the appropriate authority a duty to grant or renew any licence.â€™.
The new clause and the schedule fulfil the undertaking that I gave in Committee to bring forward proposals on Report to enable local authorities in England and Wales to control sex shops and sex cinemas by means of a licensing scheme. It was in the light of that undertaking, which I am glad to say received a warm welcome from both sides of the Committee, that the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) withdrew the new clauses that he had tabled.
The general background to the new clause and schedule is, I suspect, familiar to those right hon. and hon. Members who have received representations from their constituents about sex shops opening, or threatening to open, in their constituencies. A number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Romford (Mr. Neubert), for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) and for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) and the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell), spoke with some feeling on this on Second Reading, as did my hon. Friends the Members for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy), for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill), for Faversham (Mr. Moate), for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton) and for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) and the right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes). I think that it would be fair to say that the tenor of all their speeches was broadly to support the notion of introducing licensing schemes to tackle the problem.
The number of establishments has significantly increased over the past 18 months or so. That has understandably caused a great deal of concern and resentment among local communities. That has been especially true where the establishments have opened in particularly unsuitable locations—near a school or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North found in his constituency, next to a church.
The local authority has usually found itself powerless to intervene in any way, because sex shops have invariably opened in premises that were previously being used as ordinary shops, and that has meant that planning permission has not been needed. I explained in Committee why planning controls were not particularly effective in this context, and I think that the Committee accepted my explanation.
The lack of any effective powers by local authorities to control the number and location of the establishments, and the pressing nature of the problem in Soho, led the Greater London Council and Westminster city council early last year to propose the introduction of licensing controls in Greater London. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary expressed his support in principle for the proposal.
It was our view initially that we should wait on experience of the GLC's proposals before deciding whether it would be desirable and practicable to introduce similar arrangements on a national basis. We were impressed, however, by the strength of the many representations which we received from right hon. and hon. Members, the local authority associations, individual local authorities and members of the public, urging us not to delay. As a result, too, of the close collaboration between the local authority interests and the Home Office in the preparation of the GLC's proposals, we were satisfied that control by licensing was indeed practicable. Accordingly, when the hon. Member for Rotherham tabled his new clauses in Committee we felt able to give the undertaking which is now fulfilled by the new clause and the schedule.
I should like, first, to say something about the thinking behind the new clause and the schedule. They seek to provide a means of control over premises whose activities are not in themselves necessarily unlawful but which may reasonably be felt to warrant regulation. What we seek to do is broadly to enable local authorities to ensure that undesirable elements are not concerned with the operation of sex shops and that the character of their areas is not adversely affected by these activities.
Most of the hon. Members who spoke on this matter on Second Reading made it clear that they were seeking not complete prohibition of the premises, but a reasonable measure of control. To achieve this objective it is obviously necessary to acknowledge in legislative terms the existence of the premises. That is unavoidable. The Government fully understand, however, that there may be some whose objection to the premises is so strong that they find this degree of acknowledgement—even in the context of a measure designed to impose controls—unacceptable. I respect the strength of feeling that lies behind that view, but I feel bound to say that, on the evidence to date, there are a great many more who feel that that argument is outweighed by the need for the sort of local controls which the new clause and the schedule would provide.
The same argument was used about betting shops compared with illegal betting in the early 1960s. As a result of the Act dealing with that matter betting shops spread at a rate which the Act's proponents had never intended, simply because the quarter sessions decided that demand was not a factor that had to be taken into account. Will that happen in this case?
Clearly, in this case numbers are of the essence of the licensing scheme that we are introducing. I do not see why the scheme should follow that path. The decisions about licensing will be made by the local authorities, which will of course be sensitive to the desires of those who live in their communities.
I was one of those who asked on Second Reading that the matter be dealt with, but why is it being dealt with in this cumbersome way? Why not merely change the planning designation? For example, if a chip shop were established in what had been an ordinary shop it would be in a separate planning category. Why could not that have been done, instead of using this cumbersome way, which appears to license not only sex shops but the most vicious perverted violence?
We discussed in Committee whether the matter could be tackled through the planning mechanism. The problem is essentially that changes in articles stocked do not necessarily constitute a material change of use.
Moreover, planning considerations are meant to cover only planning grounds and not the other kinds of judgments which I think are essentially what the provision is about. Therefore, we believe that the planning approach is not the right one.
I want to make it absolutely clear that the granting of a licence would not confer any immunity from the general provisions of the criminal law. This is made explicit in paragraph 25 of the schedule. The grant of a licence would merely signify that the licensing authority had approved, in the light of the criteria set out in the new clause and schedule, the general use of the premises. The establishments concerned would continue to be subject to, for example, the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981. It would be a great mistake to argue, as I think some outside the House have sought to do.. that these proposals confer some advantage on the pornography industry. That is certainly not an opinion which the sex shop proprietors themselves share. This is not a permissive scheme, but a scheme for controlling and licensing sex shops.
The new clause makes it clear that it is for each local authority—that is, each district council or London borough—to decide whether it wishes to adopt the licensing scheme in its area. Where licensing arrangements are introduced, the premises which will be subject to control are sex shops and sex cinemas, which are jointly termed "sex establishments". These premises are defined at some length in paragraphs 2 and 3 of the schedule. I readily sympathise with those hon. Members who may instinctively jib at these definitions, but it is clearly important that the definitions should leave no obvious loopholes.
Broadly, a sex cinema is defined as premises used to a significant degree for the exhibition of films or videocassettes which primarily portray or deal with, or which are intended to encourage, sexual activity or associated acts of violence. Sex shops—again, broadly—are premises which trade to a significant degree in articles of any description which are similarly concerned with these activities or which are made or intended for use in connection with, or for the purpose of encouraging, these activities. The latter part of this definition is intended to cover the paraphernalia which, I am told, are often stocked by these premises.
I should add two important qualifications. Ordinary cinemas are specifically exempted from the definition of "sex cinema". They are already subject to licensing under the Cinematograph Acts, which allow the cinema licensing authority to exercise control over what is shown. Secondly, there is a specific exemption, in paragraph 5(2), in respect of articles primarity relating to birth control.
A more general point concerning sex cinemas is that the need to include these premises in the proposed licensing arrangements may be greatly diminished by the Cinematograph Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd), which has its Second Reading on Friday week. The principal object of that Bill will be to bring bogus commercial cinema clubs—which are to all intents and purposes the sex cinemas of these proposals—within the cinema licensing arrangements. If this were achieved, those premises would be removed automatically from the scope of the licensing arrangements set out in the new clause and the schedule. The Government may accordingly wish to reconsider at a later stage whether it is necessary to apply these proposed licensing controls to cinemas. Much will depend on whether any mischief can be identified which is not caught effectively by my hon. Friend's proposals and which can be dealt with only under these licensing arrangements.
I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will find it helpful if I now run through, as briefly as possible, how the licensing arrangements would work once they had been adopted in a given area. Any existing sex shop or prospective sex cinema proprietor would have to apply for a licence. He would have to give public notice of the application and inform the police. The local authority would be required to have regard to any objections that it received.
The application would be refused if the conditions set out in paragraph 11(1) were not met; for example. if the applicant was under 18. The local authority would have discretion to refuse the application on one or more of the grounds set out in paragraph 11(3). These are that the applicant is unsuitable by reason of having been convicted of an offence or for any other reason; that the business would be managed by or carried on for the benefit of a person who would himself be refused a licence; that the number of sex establishments in the locality would be excessive; or that it would be inappropriate to grant the licence having regard to the relevant locality, to the use to which any premises in the vicinity are put or to the layout, character or condition of the premises concerned.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is his intention that the penultimate provision to which he has referred, and which is contained in sub-paragraph (c), is intended to enable local authorities to prohibit all sex shops in their area if they deem it inappropriate to have any? If that is his intention, to clarify the matter and to avoid further dispute, would it not be prudent to provide a paragraph in the schedule stating that local authorities shall not, in any circumstances, be obliged to grant licences?
My hon. Friend has raised an important point, which I shall deal with later. Broadly speaking, the answer is that if a local authority can satisfy the provision of the schedule, particularly with regard to locality, it will be possible for it to prohibit all sex shops. However, it must satisfy those provisions and cannot simply lay down, as a matter of moral principle, a policy banning sex shops under any circumstances.
I am coming to the question of existing premises.
Existing premises would have no right to a licence. However, when licensing arrangements are first brought into force, premises in use as a sex establishment on 22 December 1981—the date on which I announced the Government's intention to introduce licensing controls—will have to be given preference over new premises. That will not affect the licensing authority's ability to determine the appropriate number of sex establishments in a locality, which could be fewer than the number of existing establishments.
Essentially the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) is that, as far as numbers are concerned, if a sex shop is there already it will have an advantage. However, if it does not meet the other requirements of the provisions the local authority will be able to refuse a licence. There would be no guarantee if the shop were in an unsatisfactory locality—as my hon. Friend has postulated—that it would get a licence.
My hon. Friend has misunderstood me. The only priority given to an existing sex shop is that where there is a dispute about numbers and it is the view of the local authority that there are too many sex shops the sex shop that is already there will be first in the queue for a licence and have first priority in licensing. However, if it is felt that the sex shop is in the wrong place the local authority will be able to refuse a licence.
The local authority would have power to waive the requirement for a licence in any case where it considered it unreasonable or inappropriate to require one. This would provide a safeguard in the event of other premises being thought to fall within the scope of the definitions. The purpose of the waiver provision would be to avoid bringing in cases such as medical book shops or sex clinics, for which there may be a justification, and which the Bill is not designed to control.
Under paragraph 22 an applicant refused a licence would be able to appeal to the magistrates' court and thence to the Crown court. Where a licence is issued it would be subject to such terms, conditions and restrictions as the licensing authorities prescribed. These might cover, for example, the hours of business, the age of admission to the premises, the visibility of the interior and displays in or on the premises. The licence would run for not more than 12 months, when an application would have to be made for renewal. The local authority would then be able to consider the position afresh and would be able to refuse renewal on any of the grounds on which it could refuse an initial application for a licence. The local authority and the police would have powers to enter and inspect licensed premises at any reasonable time and to enter and inspect unlicensed premises on a warrant. Offences would be tried before a magistrates' court only and would be punishable by a fine of up to £5,000.
It means the district councils, the second tier of local authorities. In the metropolitan areas it would be the metropolitan district, and in the county areas the county districts. It does not mean the top tier of local government. Is that clear?
I am afraid that it is not quite clear. Is the right hon. Gentleman trying to explain that this means that the district councils in the metropolitan area will decide this as a district council and not have to rely on the county council to decide for them?
Yes, that is right.
I firmly believe that the scheme that I have tried to outline will provide local authorities with the measure of control for which they have been pressing. I am confident that the criteria on which licensing applications will be considered are widely drawn and will enable local authorities to exercise firm and effective controls which fully and fairly reflect local circumstances and feelings. We cannot tackle the whole question of the obscenity laws in the Bill, but we can effectively meet a real and specific public anxiety, and that is what we are doing.
The right hon. Gentleman is leaving the question whether local authorities can refuse a licence for any sex shop. I should like to ask a further question, although perhaps he will deal with this later. I should have thought that under paragraph 11(3)(c) of the schedule it could be held that it was inappropriate to have any sex shop in such an area and any licences could be refused.
I have tried to suggest that that may be so, but the council cannot simply say, regardless of the locality or the provisions of the schedule, that it will not have any sex shops. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Let me just answer the right hon. Gentleman.
The council can argue that it believes that the locality as a whole is unsuitable to have sex shops. That could be challenged in the courts by someone who sought a licence for a sex shop, but the argument would have to be on the merits of the locality rather than in terms of a general desire to have or not to have sex shops. I remind the House that we are talking about the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, not a general law on obscenity.
The Bill is not the right vehicle to deal with the whole question of whether sex shops should be allowed. However, it is the right vehicle for introducing a scheme by which local authorities, with their concern for their particular areas, with the characteristics of their localities, and so on, are able to introduce this kind of measure.
Having tried to outline the general position, I think that it would be helpful to the House if I were to make a number of comments about the other amendments. Obviously hon. Members will wish to speak to their own amendments, but it might help our debate on what is a fairly tangled subject if I outline the Government's approach to the amendments to be debated in this grouping.
I start with amendments (a) to (d) tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney). I believe that these amendments would have an unwelcome effect. It is, in my view, essential that the definitions of sex establishments should be as comprehensive as possible and that they should contain no obvious loopholes that can be exploited by persons wishing to evade the controls imposed by the licensing arrangements.
I understand the disquiet that some hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East, feel about granting licences in respect of premises that may trade in offensive material. This disquiet, as I have tried to explain, is based largely on something of a misunderstanding about the effect of granting a licence. It would not confer any right on an individual to trade in any material that contravened the provisions of the general criminal law. That is what paragraph 25 makes clear.
I should like to try to help clarify the position. My right hon. Friend says, I believe, that unless the schedule sets out comprehensively—including rather gross Ianguage—what it is that the Government wish to prevent, the result might be shops that one would be unable to prevent. The schedule has to be comprehensively worded to enable local authorities to ensure that sex shops so described are not allowed.
My hon. and learned Friend does my job for me very well. That is the point that I was about to make. If we do not include the various activities that may be perfectly lawful at present within the scope of the provision, those activities will be outside the terms of the controls that we are introducing. The effect will be, unquestionably, to weaken control at a time when there is a strongly expressed public desire for a tightening of control.
It would be absurd if premises trading in the less offensive material were made subject to the proposed controls, but other premises, trading in the more offensive material, escaped simply because we fought shy of mentioning that material in the relevant definitions. The latter premises would then be able to continue to open freely in sites of their own choosing. One could reach a situation in which a sex shop, debarred under a licensing control imposed by the local authorities from trading in what I might call the sexual activity side of things, could nevertheless indulge, without any restrictions, in trading in those activities which, I think it is generally accepted, would be regarded as more offensive.
I hope that my hon. Friends will appreciate that while I understand the sentiment that lies behind the amendments. I do not believe that what they propose would be a helpful or practical measure for the House to take on board.
I now refer to amendment (e), which is designed to leave out what I might call the waiver provision. I do not share the apparent views of my hon. Friends that paragraph 6 affords a loophole sufficiently serious to undermine the effect of the schedule. The definitions in paragraphs 2 and 3 of the schedule cover a wide range of material varying from that which primarily portrays or deals with sexual activity to material of a more extreme character. Premises need only trade to a significant degree in such material to be subject to licensing controls.
The definitions have to be wide if we are not to allow premises that should be subject to the licensing authority's control to avoid the licensing arrangements entirely. This obviously carries a risk—it is, I think, more than a theoretical risk—that other premises might be held to require a licence that are not remotely comparable with the sort of premises and difficulties with which the schedule is designed to deal. A possible example is a medical bookshop or premises specialising in marriage guidance that sell material relating to sexual relations in marriage. It would be unreasonable in this situation to require such a shop to be Licensed. There may be other examples where local circumstances are such that it would be wrong to insist on a licence. We believe, therefore, that it is sensible that there should be the possibility for local authorities to waive the requirement for a licence.
I do not believe that there is any reason to fear that the flexibility afforded by the provision would be abused. I cannot imagine that any local authority that had decided to operate a licensing scheme would grant exemptions to premises that are clearly shops of the sort at which the schedule is directed. They do not have to have a licence scheme. If, however, they want a licence scheme it means they are concerned about the problem. I do not consider it remotely likely, therefore, that they would indulge in frivolous use of the waiver provision.
I now refer to amendment (f), proposed by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) and his hon. Friends. Again I think that there is some confusion about the nature of the proposed controls. The licensing authority, in issuing a licence, will be approving not the sale of particular items, but merely the general use of the premises. The grounds for refusal, consistent with a scheme of licensing control, are concerned not directly with the particular items to be sold on the premises, but rather with the suitability of the applicant and the suitability of the premises. These grounds are set out in paragraph 11(1) and (3).
It would be a contradiction in terms to provide a licensing system for trade in certain articles and then to prohibit the licensing authority from issuing a licence in respect of the premises concerned. On this ground alone, as I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree, the amendment is seriously defective. It could not make sense to introduce a licensing system that covers a certain activity and then to say that under no circumstances is the granting of a licence allowed. That is surely not a proposal that the right hon. Gentleman can put forward.
The right hon. Gentleman says that he can. I shall be interested to see how he does so. To me, there seems to be a considerable logical flaw in his argument.
I deal now with amendment (g), again proposed by my hon. Friends the Members of Essex, South-East and for Peterborough. The amendment provides that nothing in the schedule imposes any obligation on a licensing authority to grant or renew a licence. If my hon. Friends are seeking to make it clear that a licensing authority is not forced to grant or renew a licence where it considers that there are grounds for refusing an application, I assure them that their amendment is wholly unnecessary. Nothing in the schedule could possibly be read as imposing such an obligation. If, however, the purpose is to suggest that a licensing authority should be able to disregard the procedures and criteria set out in the schedule for considering applications, I do not think this could be reconciled with the provisions of the schedule.
Is not the trouble that if a local authority and most of the citizens of a local authority do not want any sex shops, and the local authority rules that it will not give licences in any respect to anyone, the decision can be overruled, under the terms of the schedule, by the local Crown court? Is it not the case that the local authority would have no right to say that it was advancing the views of most of the residents of the area? It is surely that matter that needs to be accommodated.
It is possible for a local authority not to grant licences for sex shops in its area, but it has to act in the light of the character of the locality. It would have to argue in court that the locality of the area made it unsuitable for sex shops. In putting forward that argument it would be likely, I should have thought, to have regard to the feelings of the local community. I cannot say how the courts would respond. I should have thought that they would take very much into account the clear evidence that might be produced that those who lived in the community felt that it was damaging to the area to have a sex shop. I believe that that is as far as it is proper to go in a provision of this nature.
I come now to amendment (h). I understand the desire of my hon. Friends the Members for Essex, South-East and for Peterborough that full account of the views of local residents should be taken by the licensing authority. However, I am satisfied that that objective is already secured by the schedule. Paragraph 9(12) provides that the licensing authority
shall have regard to any observations submitted to them".
I fear that an obligation on the licensing authority to hear in person every individual who objects to an application would pose a substantial burden on the authority. Indeed, I suspect that in the Soho area the effect might be that some premises could continue in operation for much longer than would otherwise be the case, simply because of the demands placed on the authority by the need to hear objectors in person. It could also be argued that, if objectors were given the right to be heard, one ought also, in equity, to afford the same right to those who wish to speak in support of an application. I am not aware of any precedent in licensing matters for the provision suggested by my hon. Friends. I believe that such arrangements are appropriate only in the kind of full-scale local inquiry that we associate with a proposed motorway or similar development.
I suggest to my hon. Friends that there is no reason to think that the voice of the local community will not be heard in the absence of a right for each individual objector to appear before the licensing authority. We should avoid imposing on local authorities what might prove an onerous burden, probably to little purpose, and might possibly even frustrate for some time the purposes of the legislation.
I assume that the purpose of amendment (i), proposed by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, East and his hon. Friends, is to make it more difficult to challenge an authority's decision to refuse an application for a licence by reason of paragraph 11(3)(c). If that is so, the amendment is either unnecessary or a source of confusion. It is unnecessary in that an authority that is acting reasonably will not need the protection of the words in the amendment. Moreover, in so far as it suggests to local authorities that whether they are acting reasonably is for them alone to decide, it would cause confusion. If the amendment were carried it might encourage local authorities to adopt an unreasonable attitude in their operation of paragraph 11(3)(c) and to refuse applications on grounds that could not be sustained on appeal.
In amendment (j) my hon. Friends the Members for Essex, South-East and for Peterborough seek to introduce substantial objections by local residents as a ground for refusal of a licence. The licensing authority is required by paragraph 9(12) to have regard to the objections that it receives to an application for a licence. The substance of
objections could well be relevant to the decision of a licensing authority to refuse an application on the ground, for example, that it
would be inappropriate, having regard … to the character of the relevant locality
or that it considers that the number of sex establishments in that locality would be excessive.
In that sense, the licensing authority is clearly obliged to have regard to substantial objections. However, I do not believe that it would be wise or appropriate for licensing decisions to be taken, as I think is probably the intention of the amendment, solely on the ground of the number of objections received. The purpose of providing a scheme whereby objections may be lodged is that those objections may contain matters that are relevant to the criteria on which an application must be judged.
To do otherwise would turn the licensing scheme into a head-counting exercise, with objectors—and, in equity, supporters—concerned only with the number of signatures that can be secured on petitions. I do not believe that that could be reconciled with the carefully drawn criteria provided in paragraph 11. I repeat, however, that I am sure that the weight of local opinion would play an important part. In principle, therefore, I feel that the amendment, which to my mind is also somewhat ambiguous, should not be accepted.
Amendment (k), is in the names of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, East and his hon. Friends. The Government have given a good deal of thought to the appropriate penalties for offences created by the schedule. We believe that the most appropriate and effective penalty would be one that reflected the high financial rewards associated with the activities involved. For that reason we have provided an exceptional maximum penalty of £5,000 on summary conviction.
We believe that the provision of a power of imprisonment would be difficult to reconcile with the general need to reserve such powers for the more serious offences. This is particularly important when new offences are being created. In this connection I remind the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), first, of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) in the debate on Her Majesty's prisons on 2 December. Referring to the policy of reducing maximum sentences, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said:
We shall convince the public of the efficacy of that policy … only if we examine the purposes of imprisonment in a more rational and objective way than they have been examined in the past. We must move away from the idea that sentences must inevitably and always be either a fine or a custodial sentence."—[Official Report, 2 December 1981; Vol. 14, c. 279.]
Perhaps even more relevant are the words of the hon. Member for Halifax, who supports the amendment today, in relation to the Indecent Displays (Control) Bill on 1 May 1981, when she said:
It is now the established official Opposition view that, wherever possible, offenders should not be sent to prison if that can be avoided …
In introducing new legislation with new penalties, we must study the matter in the context of the serious prison crisis".—[Official Report, 1 May 1981; Vol. 3, c. 1056–57.]
I thought that the Minister might raise this aspect of the Opposition's policy of keeping people out of prison. He himself has said, however, that people in the business of sex establishments are making vast amounts of money. He may believe that the fine provided will frighten or deter them, or that they will find it difficult to pay, but we do not believe that it will have any of those effects. It is a booming industry making a great deal of money, and such a fine will have no effect at all on these people. If the Government were to raise the fine to a sum that would really deter and frighten them off, imprisonment would not need to be considered. I hope that that will be done when the Bill goes to the House of Lords.
I am glad that the hon. Lady seems to be backing away from the proposition that a prison sentence is an appropriate penalty. I think that the House will agree, as the hon. Lady says, that these people are making, or hoping to make, a great deal of money out of this business. If they transgress the law, the place to hit them is in their pockets. I think that that is common sense. The question thus becomes one of the size of the fine. As I have said, the Government are proposing an unusally heavy fine of £5,000, and we believe that it is right to do so. It is worth remindig the House that if sex shop owners persist in unlawful activities they may be prosecuted time and again and suffer a series of fines.
There is one other element to which we must pay regard. As I understand it, if one moves to still higher fines, it may be argued that it would not be appropriate for these offences to be dealt with in magistrates courts. We believe that that is the best place to deal with them, particularly in the interests of speed. Whether such cases would appropriately be dealt with in that way would be put to the test if we decided upon a heavier fine. We therefore believe that we have reached the correct decision in this respect, and I hope that on reflection the House will agree.
I have tried to explain why we have brought forward these proposals and to allay the very understandable concern of those who dislike the whole business and wish that we did not have to deal with it in legislation of this kind. I appreciate how deeply and properly my hon. Friends and Opposition Members are concerned about this phenomenon, which is widely disliked, but I hope that on reflection the House will feel that it is right to bring in a licensing scheme of this kind.
I hope that the House will accept that the words "licensing scheme" do not imply that it is a scheme designed to legalise or permit, but rather one that is designed to control these activities. The use of the word "licence" to imply irresponsibility and permissiveness is clearly not appropriate in this case. This measure will directly reduce the harm and damage caused by the proliferation of sex shops and by the placing of such shops in the wrong type of location.
I therefore hope that the House will accept that our approach is right. I felt it right to go through the arguments that have been put in the debate. I hope that after giving careful consideration to what I and others have said the House will feel that we are on the right course and will support the proposals.
I rise to speak first from the Opposition Benches by agreement with my hon. Friends the Members for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) and South Shields (Dr. Clark), who are leading for the Opposition on the Bill, as this is a general debate on the Government's new clause 1 and new schedule and the proposed amendments, three of which are in my name supported by my hon. Friends the Members for Halifax and South Shields.
I wish to make some general comments about new clause 1 and Government amendment No. 70, which is the new schedule. I support the new clause, which empowers local authorities to license sex shops, or to refuse a licence if they feel that that is appropriate. I hope that that power will be used frequently. My support is not without one or two reservations to which I shall come later, but I believe that the new clause and the new schedule are necessary.
Hitherto, such shops have been confined to city centres, but they are now beginning to spread to the suburbs, and to become far more obvious to ordinary people, and to be capable of causing considerable offence. Not surprisingly, they arouse strong feelings. They outrage the moralists among us. They also arouse fears among those who do not necessarily take such a moral stand because they may attract undesirable types and possibly have an impact on criminal activities and sexual assaults in the area. Finally, they arouse the opposition of the militant feminists among us who fear that they promote a role for women as objects of pleasure rather than as rounded personalities in our society.
Under the existing law these shops are dealt with rather like a greengrocer's. If premises have been granted planning permission for use as a shop, a sex shop can be opened there without prior notice or anything of that sort. No planning permission is needed. Just as they may be used as a butcher's shop, an ironmonger's or a greengrocer's, so those premises can be used as a se) shop. At present, there is far less control of these premises than, for example, an off licence.
These provisions do not stop sex shops, but they allow for local authority licensing. Therefore, they make possible a public debate on behalf of the citizens affected before these shops are established. We can then decide whether they are wanted at all, whether there are too many and whether they will be offensive when set up. In addition, because of the opportunity for the licence to be called in and renewed, there is an incentive for the shops to be run with care and discretion.
I hope that local authorities will ensure maximum publicity for all the applications they receive under the new clause and the accompanying new schedule so that the maximum public debate takes place about these premises before they are established or not. I am glad to note the provisions in paragraph 9(7)(a) and (b), which provide for publicity. I hope that local authorities will not consider themselves bound by the minimum commitment to publicity, but will do their utmost to ensure that applications are well and truly considered by everyone who wants to take part in the debate before an application is granted.
I turn to the amendments. Amendment (k) to Government amendment No. 70 stands in my name and the names of my hon. Friends the Members for South Shields and Halifax. I do not intend to speak at length on this amendment, because the case for it was put beautifully, succinctly and clearly by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax when she intervened in the Minister's speech. It is not necessary to add to the case that she put forward.
I am sorry that the Government cannot accept my hon. Friend's argument, but I hope that the points she put forward will be considered. Perhaps the Government will change their mind and take action at a later stage of the Bill.
The object of amendment (f) to Government amendment No. 70 is to prevent sex shops selling or dealing in articles in any way stimulating or encouraging cruelty or violence. The basis of the definition of "sex shop" in the new schedule is any premises where sex articles or other things are purveyed in one form or another for encouraging or stimulating acts of violence or cruelty. I paraphrase the definition, but that is what local authorities will be given the power to license.
Sex shops may be denied a licence because they are purveying articles or things designed to promote or stimulate cruelty. It also follows by implication in the legislation that the sale of such implements designed for sexual violence or the infliction of sexual cruelty may be licensed. It says so explicitly in the new schedule. As sex in this context is almost entirely physical, the Bill envisages the sale of, or dealing in, implements directed towards the promotion of physical violence or cruelty among certain sections of the population. Do the Government really know what they are doing? Have we really thought the whole thing through?
The last time I agreed with the Daily Express was when it wrote its last anti-Common Market editorial. Therefore, my agreement with the Daily Express does not happen every day of my life. Yesterday, it contained an editorial with which I agreed. As my agreement with that newspaper is such an unusual event, I shall indulge myself by quoting a paragraph of that editorial for the edification of the House. It states:
The inevitable effect of having sadistic and masochistic equipment for sale by official licence will be to increase the sale, and use, of such equipment which will, equally inevitably, be used to hurt, mutilate and corrupt the young, the foolish, the vulnerable and the weak.
I am sure that that is absolutely true. We must stop it. Until we have had more time for reflection on these matters I am prepared to allow the sale of articles concerned with force and restraint in sexual activity, because there is an element of ambiguity in the meaning of both words—perhaps not much, but I want to be as tolerant as possible.
I am not opposing the display of material that may lead to cruelty or violence in a sexual context, because it is difficult to separate the sort of display that is meant to give an artistic message in a properly constructed artistic production from the sexual connotations that we are now discussing.
In the dictionary that I consulted, "cruelty" means the "infliction of suffering". It also included in the definition the word "merciless". "Violence" was considered to be
very great force in action … unlawfully to hurt or harm".
Those dictionary definitions may not necessarily be adopted by the courts when considering the interpretation of this legislation, but they show the general drift of the English Ianguage and what we, as a House of Commons, will be putting our names to if we allow the new schedule to go through unamended.
The prime reason for the existence of the House is to protect the citizens of Britain from the infliction of violence and cruelty. For example, if a man gets a kick out of branding prostitutes, he might be able to go to a sex shop and purchase a branding iron to inflict injuries on prostitutes. That is an example of the sort of thing which could easily be allowed under the schedule as it stands.
There may be other Acts controlling the sale of implements in this area, but if the schedule goes through unamended there will be a clash between the words in those Acts and the licensing provisions under the schedule. One does not know, and the Minister does not know, what view the courts will take of those provisions.
I understand why the right hon. Gentleman wants to restrict the ability of shops to sell these articles. In paragraph 5(7) of the schedule, as constituted, there is a power to impose conditions. Perhaps that power is sufficient to meet his requirements.
I am not content with the imposing of conditions on the sale of implements which deal in violence and cruelty. There ought to be an absolute prohibition on the purveying of such articles through this sort of shop
The Minister commented upon my illogicality. I am in favour of bringing into the Bill dealing in implements which may inflict sexual cruelty or violence. If not, they will be dealt with on the same basis as potatoes and brussels sprouts. As they have been brought into the Bill by means of the schedule, I am in favour of an absolute prohibition on the licensing of shops which sell those types of implements.
The draftsman might find it very difficult to combine the idea of the sale of implements capable of inflicting the pain involved in sado-masochistic activities with the actual prevention of cruelty and violence. There may be a considerable drafting problem. If so, the sale of sadomasochistic implements through shops of this sort will have to be stopped until we can find a better way of tackling the problem.
The permissive society allows us all to be free to condemn activities which we feel to be inappropriate. We try not to use the force of the law to stop people from enjoying their own lives in their own ways. However, there is a limit to that, too. Damage or harm may result to our fellow citizens as a result of people having the freedom to enjoy their own lives in their own way. When we get to the point where the House of Commons is willing to bless the sale of or dealing in articles which can inflict physical violence and cruelty on our fellow citizens, we have not only reached the frontiers of the permissive society; we have stepped over them. We are on very dangerous ground.
The last amendment in my name and the names of my hon. Friends is a probing amendment. I am putting it forward to draw the Government's attention to the problem. I want to find out whether the power conferred on the authority by the proposed new schedule is an absolute one within the terms of paragraph 11 and its various sub-paragraphs, or whether it is a power which has to be exercised with reasonableness, such as might be challenged in a court of law. Can any of the powers of licensing by the local authority be challenged on the grounds of reasonableness? If so, the licensing authority will have to show that it is behaving reasonably. Experience shows that that test may thwart the whole operation of the legislation that we are discussing.
For a local authority to decide whether it is acting reasonably in refusing permission, it may need to have recourse to the courts, and that is very expensive. My borough council has had experience of this in trying to administer the Gaming Act 1978. It can refuse a gaming establishment a licence if it thinks that it is reasonable so to do. That Act—the last Gaming Act—was passed before the present Secretary of State for the Environment became involved in local authority finances.
We are all aware that resort to the courts is expensive. The only way in which case law on reasonableness could be built up would be by taking people to court. That would cost the local authority money. Most local authorities these days do not feel that they have the money to take gaming establishments to court, so they do not go to court, and the operation of the Gaming Act 1978 is greatly frustrated. I should like the Minister to consider whether the operation of the Bill may be frustrated in a similar way unless a controlling provision of the sort that I have suggested in my amendment is written into the new schedule.
I am not asking the Minister necessarily to accept my amendment; I simply want him to turn his mind to the problem. It may be that, with the best will in the world, even if he accepts our views concerning substantial fines, the measure will become very difficult to operate because of the lack or local government finance.
I hope the Government will think again about what the Minister said in presenting the case for the new clause and the new schedule. I do not think that we shall want to press the matter to a Division, provided that the Government give us assurances that between now and the later stages of the Bill they will consider these problems with a view to seeing whether they can take suitable action.
I am much obliged to the Minister for giving answers to a speech that I have not yet made to arguments that I have not yet advanced. I must tell him that I am not deterred. I think we are both agreed on one thing. There can be no doubt about the pressing need to stop the proliferation of sex shops. The are now springing up like poisonous fungi all over the country. Judging by the press—and in particular the local press—from north to south and from east to west there has been a strong and growing reaction against their development.
It is not simply that people's instincts make them revolt against the filth peddled in sex shops, degrading the people who peddle it and the people for whom it is peddled. In the view of the communities most closely affected, such establishments degrade their neighbourhoods.
Two such establishments have opened in largely residential areas in my constituency. One of them is situated in a narrow, busy high road close to a primary school. Parents, teachers and residents are rightly outraged that there can be no effective control over such establishments and that this sort of thing can happen with impunity. They were shocked to find that the local authority, to which they turned, was powerless. Like other hon. Members, I have been urging my right hon. Friend for some time to introduce legislation to deal with the matter once and for all. I warmly welcomed the Government's undertaking, therefore, to use the opportunity of the Bill to provide effective control.
I was not aware of what was proposed until last Saturday. That left little time for amendments to be put down and for the proper scrutiny of a matter which is supremely important to our constituents. Now we have seen it, the proposal falls far short of what many of us were entitled to expect. We have before us proposals for licensing—let us not run away from the wordßžor permitting sex shops and, in certain circumstances, for waiving even that requirement.
I could scarcely believe my eyes when I read clauses 2 and 3. A sex shop or a sex cinema is defined as a place where material is sold or moving pictures are shown that are intended to stimulate or encourage not merely sexual activity—if it had stopped at that point we would not have worried too much about it—but acts of force, restraint, violence and cruelty associated with sexual activity. It is a novel idea, is it not, that encouragement of violence and cruelty in sexual activity, hitherto regarded by the vast majority of decent citizens as criminal, should be singled out and permitted in establishments where licences have been obtained?
That is my hon. Friend's fourth intervention in the debate. I have been a Member of Parliament for a long time. It is not likely that I would have read the Bill and omitted to spot that provision. All that my hon. Friend's intervention has done is to lengthen my speech. I shall turn to that matter in due course and show that, for once, my hon. Friend is not correct.
The right hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) is right. We wish to see such activity stopped once and for all. The word "licence", in plain English, means that something is permitted subject to a piece of paper being provided. The Government should have banned altogether the portrayal of violence and cruelty and the sale of material designed to encourage such activity. They have not done so. It is proposed, therefore, that we shall write into our law, for all citizens to heed, that such depravity is permissible in certain circumstances. As one of my constituents said to me yesterday, "The Home Office must have taken leave of its senses."
Of course, clause 25 provides that, where any such activity is clearly unlawful under the existing law, it remains so. If the activity could lead to violence that ends with someone's death—which is murder—the clause would not be necessary because we know that muder is unlawful. My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) is right to say that what was unlawful before will remain so. That is a great comfort. However, we must ask whether the sale of such material is unlawful in every case. Unfortunately, because of the ineffectiveness of our obscenity laws, some of this activity is not unlawful. The Home Office and the police know that that is so.
Hon. Members may recall some cases where juries have failed to convict because of the confusion in the law over which successive Governments have presided and have not had the courage to tackle. I need not remind the House that the solution propounded by the unfortunate Williams committee was decisively rejected by both Houses. It was rejected by this House last autumn—
I freely forgive the hon. Gentleman on your behalf, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I do not wish to be hard, because I can see the Government's difficulty. They wish to respond to the genuine anxiety that was expressed in Committee. They believe that the Bill gives them an opportunity to take at least one step in the direction of bringing a serious problem under control. I do not agree with that. What they have set out to do is not enough. Astonishingly, they even provide an exemption from licensing in clause 6, which in my view provides an open door to corruption. It may be asked whether there is an alternative to giving local authorities a simple power to license. It might be argued that they will be able to refuse a licence or that they need not renew one that has already been issued, and would that not end the sex shop menace?
The pornographers already established in this highly lucrative trade do not seem to think so. The lid was taken off about a fortnight ago by Mr. Patrick Sergeant, the distinguished city editor of the Daily Mail. He quoted a man described as the highest paid company chairman in Britain who drew £325,000 in salary last year and pension contributions—he is only 32 years old—of £418,000, and whose chain of sex shops earned £2 million last year and is expected to earn £3.5 million this year.
The hon. Lady has made an extremely valuable point. Mr. Sergeant goes further and sets out what this man has openly asserted:
Sex will be the growth industry of the 'eighties just as betting shops were in the 'sixties, and casinos in the 'seventies. Councils will be able to license sex shops later this year.… I am sitting on a goldmine. … We do lose stock from police raids but it's not a major problem. We build it into our costs and so the public end up paying more than they should. Our profit margins are high.
Those people are laughing all the way to the bank. As the hon. Lady and the right hon. Member for Lewisham, East have made plain, the punishments proposed in the Bill are derisory in the face of the vast and increasing profits made out of this filthy trade. Here we have a licence to print money on a scale that exists nowhere else in Britain.
If we do not press the amendments, but allow the Bill to go forward, subject to certain assurances from the Minister, some tolerance may have to be exercised for some time, but licensing sex shops is bad in principle because it implies social and, indeed, parliamentary approval of a fundamentally corrupt and corrupting enterprise.
Licensing is bad in principle, too, because pornography relies for its effect on the degradation of women, and for that reason it is specifically designed to undermine society. Because the powers in the Bill allow for sex shops to flourish in areas where local authorities, for one reason or another, will not refuse a licence or are prepared to issue waivers, this vicious trade will be more concentrated. That is a likely effect of the Bill.
The Bill does not make it possible for a local authority to close down all shops in its area forthwith. It does not make it clear that a local authority can refuse to tolerate the existence of such establishments. For that reason, one can imagine the pornographers going to court and arguing that the refusal of all applications in a local authority's area is unreasonable behaviour because Parliament has enacted a licensing scheme. It will be argued that Parliament has said not that all shops may be closed down; merely that in certain circumstances a licence can be refused. I can envisage clever lawyers advancing that argument in the courts. They would say that if Parliament had intended to close all sex shops in a certain town or city, it could have done so, but it had chosen to do otherwise.
There is one way out of the problem for my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. Instead of trying to anticipate my arguments, he should have waited, listened to what all hon. Members had to say, given an assurance that the Government had had second thoughts and that the opportunity would be taken in another place to stiffen up the proposals and give local authorities the power to clamp down on this evil trade. If my right hon. Friend agrees to do that, I am prepared not to press the amendments to a Division. My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) will express his own view on that shortly. My attitude to the amendments, therefore, will turn on what my right hon. Friend has to say before the conclusion of the debate.
All hon. Members recognise the nuisance presented by sex shops. I recognise the nuisance, because there is a sex shop belonging to Conegate Ltd in the middle of my constituency which is an eye sore to all the residents in the neighbourhood and which has caused great offence. Even greater offence was caused by Conegate's writing to the local newspaper and asking residents whether they would like a few more. That sort of cheek must be stopped, and I hope that the Bill will stop it.
Most of our problems would have been solved if the recommendations of the Williams committee had been implemented. I do not recollect the House taking a decision about them. Successive Governments have avoided this area, and the Williams committee presented us with a first-class opportunity to legislate over the whole area and to deal with the problem of balance in our society towards matters such as sex shops. Not having done that, the Government have resorted to a post hoc reaction to the agitation on Second Reading by presenting the new schedule. I do not oppose the schedule, as far as it goes. We need some way of controlling sex shops. We cannot control them by interfering with the town planning regulations on change of use, because local authority planners have no criteria for knowing what sort of difficulties will be caused by a sex shop. Different criteria apply when considering whether to have a fish and chip shop or the problems caused by an off-licence.
The issues arising from sex shops are largely the moral agitations that are whipped up in the area about the products that the shops purvey, and whether the local area wants them. A local authority can make that type of judgment but it cannot apply to sex shops the judgments that it makes on planning applications. Therefore, I am in favour of licensing in the manner suggested in the schedule, but against licensing through the town planning provisions.
As I said in a number of interventions and as other hon. Members have mentioned, we have been here before. At the end of the 1950s there was considerable agitation to do something about the scandal of illegal betting shops. The then Conservative Government produced licensing proposals which they said were intended to deal with the problem by restricting the growth in the number of betting shops.
Initially, the magistrates—not the local authorities—did their best to restrict the growth by licensing the existing illegal shops but not allowing an increase. There was so much money involved that in every case the betting shop proprietors decided to appeal to the quarter sessions. The quarter sessions—in this case it would he the Crown court—made the final decision. There was no appeal to the High Court against the decision of the quarter sessions. The chairmen of quarter sessions—here it would be the Crown court judge—were divorced from the pressure of public opinion and took a different view about the need for licensing. The general thesis of decisions by quarter sessions chairmen throughout the country was "Parliament has said that it is all right because it has accepted that there can be some betting shops. Therefore, the only issue is whether we think, according to the criteria in the Bill, that it is right to allow this particular one."
The one criterion that was rejected was that a public demand had to be shown. The fact that an area seemed to have a large number of betting shops was no answer on the demand point, because the new shop might be willing to compete effectively. Therefore, a large number of betting shop applications were allowed.
The hon. Gentleman is right in part, and I do not dispute that. However, public demand did have to be established. I was involved with several hundred such cases. The essence was to establish by evidence that there was a demand that was not satisfied in the locality. However, that was a matter of illegal gaming which was made legal. The aspects that arise in this Bill are different.
I was also involved in a number of such cases and I can tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that, although that was his experience at quarter sessions, my experience was that the factor of demand had to be shown—in the sense that two or three people could be called to say that a betting shop was needed—but to equate it, demonstrating that demand had already been saturated by the existing betting offices, was no answer to the application, because the chairman would argue "There may be enough offices to deal with every individual who wants to go, but he may want to go to a different office. There ought to be proper competition."
Therefore, because there was so much money involved, people kept making applications. The result was that, instead of limiting the growth of betting shops, that legislation swelled the number until there was a betting shop in almost every street in the country. It was only when demand was thoroughly saturated, and some shops were not making money, that the number of betting offices declined.
Unless we do something about paragraph 11 that is what will happen. We want to reduce the number of sex shops. The local authority, under public pressure initially, will refuse the licence. The case will then be taken to the Crown court, which is more likely to grant a licence. Once such a pattern is begun, the local authority will not feel able to refuse a licence after a Crown court judge has rejected its argument in relation to an earlier application. That will undermine the edifice.
We can deal with the problem by restricting the right of appeal against a local authority's decision on how many sex shops it wants in its area. If a local authority decides that it does not want any sex shops at all, that should be a matter for the local authority and not for a Crown court judge. There should be no right of appeal against that part of the criteria. I could make that provision in an appropriate amendment to paragraph 11(3)(c). I did riot table such an amendment because I did not realise that we were to discuss the Bill until it was too late. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) has tabled such an amendment. We might wish to vote on it to show the nature of our opposition. If we vote on amendment (g) and the House carries it, the provision might not be suitable for the general shape of the schedule, but it could be changed in the Lords. In any event, we should then have expressed our view.
The issue is fundamental. If we let the opportunity go by we shall leave the same loophole as we left in the Gaming Bill. I hope that the Government have second thoughts. I am sure that there in no real difference of view between us. The Minister's only argument was that a local authority must be able to justify its refusal within the criteria in the Bill. He said that a local authority should not have the right simply to say that it did not want any sex shops in its area. I take the same view as a number of other hon. Members and ask "Why not?" The issue is primarily one for local authority expertise. A local authority reflects the shape of public opinion in an area. If the public do not want any sex shops in an area and make that plain to the local authority, there is no reason why there should he any sex shops in the area.
We are dealing with civil liberties. Some people would like a sex shop nearby so that they can buy their dirty books. We have had arguments about that in the past. We are talking of a small minority. A local authority might feel strongly that that minority must be overruled because of the will of the majority. We can and should take such decisions from time to time. It is a political decision. It is a decision for a local authority, not for a Crown court judge. No Crown court judge can make such a decision, but I do not see why the local authority should not have the opportunity.
The schedule should contain a provision to allow a local authority to decide not to have any sex shops in its area. I believe that that is the intention of amendment (g) and perhaps we should approve it.
I wish to make a brief speech because the main points have been expressed already. Despite what was said by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), it would be a mistake for the Home Secretary to gain the impression that there is not a great deal of gratitude that something is being done. Many hon. Members on both sides have pressed for something to be done. They have been told consistently by Home Secretaries from both sides of the House that it was impracticable and that nothing could be done. It would be a shame if the Minister thought that there was not in the House and outside great appreciation that something is being done.
Having had the doubtful pleasure of Messrs. Conegate establishing a sex shop on the seafront at Southend in a particularly pleasant area, I am aware of the public's total frustration. People believe that nothing could be done and that it was useless to go to a councillor or a Member of Parliament because the law made no provision for control of any type.
The hon. Member for York was a little unfair when he compared sex shops with betting shops. At the time of that legislation, betting shops were unlawful and we moved towards licensing and approval. Nothing controls sex shops and there is nothing to prevent a person from setting up such a shop, so long as the premises have planning permission for the retail trade.
I have referred to Messrs Conegate. I declare an interest because the gentleman concerned owes me £100. I had the pleasure of appearing on a television programme in which he sought to show that the people of Southend wanted a sex shop. I said that they did not and challenged him to conduct a referendum on the issue. I said that I would give him £100 if he was right so long as he would give me £100 if he was wrong. We have exchanged six letters and I am afraid that he has not responded to the challenge. He rejected any referendum and said that the only test that he would accept was if I resigned my seat and fought it against a sex shop candidate. That shows that the gentleman is a rather devious person who is making a great deal of money. I doubt whether I shall ever see that £100.
I have three questions to ask the Minister. First, what does the Minister have in mind in terms of a reasonable fee for a local authority to charge for a licence application? Most applications and refusals will result in court action which could be expensive for a local authority. May we have an assurance that he believes it reasonable for the fee to take account of the fact that most refusals will have to go to court and involve the local authority in considerable expense? It would be sad if councils gave in too easily or did not respond simply because of excessive legal costs.
Secondly, is the Minister certain that paragraph 11(3) (c) of the new schedule would not mean that a local authority would not be able to refuse the first sex shop licence in its area? That section states that a ground for refusal can be
that the number of sex establishments in the relevant locality at the time the application is made is equal to or exceeds the number which the authority consider is appropriate for that locality.
That might create difficulties for a council which wishes to refuse the first licence. It should be taken into account.
Paragraph I1(3)(a) states that there is a ground for refusing a licence to an individual if
the applicant is unsuitable … by reason of having been convicted of an offence or for any other reason.
Is that deliberately wide to make it easier for a council to reject an application? I have never seen a provision drawn so widely. It gives full right and authority for a council to reject an application by an individual for any reason whatsoever. I wonder how an individual can appeal if a local authority can turn him down for any reason.
The Government have been restricted by the short title of the Bill. I share the views of those who would like to ban sex shops, but that would be an unusual step to take in such a Bill. A licensing arrangement is about as far as the Bill can be stretched. I welcome the measure as a first specific move. I hope that consideration will be given later to the broader issues.
I hope that the Minister will answer my three questions. In spite of all the complaints from Mrs. Whitehouse and others, the Minister should accept that in Southend and elsewhere people realise that the Government are making it possible for local authorities to take action. Individuals will be able to make representations which could result in action. I congratulate the Government on doing something and giving the people some power.(g)
Sex shops and sex cinemas are sad and coarsening places, especially because of some of the wares they sell and films they show. We should not believe that it is only the militant feminists among women who are offended by the very presence of sex shops. My wife, daughter and secretary are far from militant but they are all nevertheless appalled by the coarsening that society has received from sex shops. That is the risk and why I support the Bill in principle.
However, I am a little puzzled, as was the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), why this should have been brought in as an amendment to an existing Bill rather than being a separate Bill. Some situations require a specific Bill to control establishments. The Bill does not really control them because it does not set out to do so, but is permissive.
I am concerned, as are other hon. Members, particularly about paragraph 11. There was a proliferation of betting shops in the 1950s and 1960s and I draw hon. Members' attention to the proliferation of bingo and amusement parlours over the past 12 to 18 months. For example, a petition of over 2,000 in the Norbury area to prevent such a shop failed to achieve its objective, even after Croydon council raised specific objections to it. The matter went to the Crown court and on that basis was allowed. Unless there is a specific interdiction against this sort of thing and a power for local authorities to refuse sex shops, the same thing will happen. It will not be said that there are already one or two in the high street; it will be done on the same basis as the proliferation of betting shops and bingo parlours.
Establishments will be taken to the Crown court and it will not matter whether 2,000 or 200,000 local residents do not want a shop in their localities. It will depend on the Crown court's judgment, and, in most cases, I fear that that will be in favour of a sex shop being opened.
Amendment (k) deals with fines. We know that the director of such a company earns a salary of £350,000 a year and an astronomical figure in pension rights. He is only in his early thirties and remarkably fortunate. A fine of £5,000 or £10,000, would be but a drop in the ocean and petty cash to him. We must have a sanction on people operating these establishments illegally and against the public's interests. The sanction of a fine on a man earning that sort of salary is impotent and useless. We must provide a greater sanction. Therefore, I suggest that the House supports amendment (k) or that the Minister gives careful consideration to putting a similar provision into the Bill in another place.
In principle, my party supports the Bill. It is high time that such legislation was put into operation. We are sorry that that was not done before. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) recently showed me a sex shop which had opened in his constituency very close to a school. In my constituency, another sex shop has opened close to a secondary school. If there had been sufficiently effective legislation to prevent that, those two sex shops would not have materialised.
We welcome the amendment, although we suggest that it is slightly too late and is not strong enough to stop the proliferation of sex shops which has already occurred in Soho and the centres of other cities and which I fear may, as a result of this legislation, take place elsewhere in Britain.
Croydon, South is inhabited by one of my great personal friends who is not here today and I was thinking of him by mistake. It is a pity that the former Liberal leader is not here because he would have been a great ally of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon). It would have been hilarious to hear his arguments on why there should not be a sex shop in the Orkneys.
The real question, which I shall deal with later, is that there are localities throughout England, Wales and Scotland which could legitimately and properly say, in the minutes of a council meeting, that they did not want any sex shops. There have been many misunderstandings this afternoon, but I agree with a good part of the argument advanced by the hon. Member for York when he dealt with what is a political decision rather than what is a decision for the courts.
Nobody in political life expects much gratitude, but it is a bit hard on the Government, who have been pressed for the past 12 months to introduce effective control over the placing, siting and existence of sex shops—not their contents—to be attacked because they have not gone further.
One must explain why the Government could not conceivably have gone further. Some 10 years ago, I remember going into this matter a great deal with my right hon. and learned Friend the present Attorney-General and we wrote a pamphlet on it. The first stage one deals with is indecent display. Thanks to the admirable efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury), that was finally turned into law during last year under the Indecent Displays (Control) Act. As that Bill went through, it became plain that, while we would stop the indecent displays, there was a spawning of sex shops, not only in Soho and Victoria, but, by a firm called Conegate, all over the country. I remember The Birmingham Post raising that with me in March or April last year. That company opened shops in Leeds and 70 throughout the country.
Consequently, strong representations were made by all hon. Members. I found it a little surprising to have to make a representation in my own area, when a sex shop was being opened in Margate. It might have one sex shop, but we would not want a spawn of them. We certainly would not want them in the more salubrious quarters of Broadstairs and Ramsgate, or in villages and other places.
Let us follow what happens. After indecent display has been dealt with, the question of sex shops arises. Finally, the Government will finally be forced, in due course, to deal with pornography. Therefore, there are three separate aspects of the legislation. This one deals with the second and not with the contents of the shops.
I appreciate the feelings of my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and others that the Bill ought to, but does not, contain such provisions What happens? The measure we are dealing with would have been best dealt with by the Department of the Environment through the Town Planning Use Classes Order. I suggested that, but it was turned down by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. It has been suggested that it was turned down because town planning deals with sites, but that is not true. As a town planning counsellor of many years standing, I know that the issue involves not only sites but policy objectives, including the attitude of the local electorate. It would have been possible to say that someone who wanted to run a sex shop had to get planning permission. Again, there would have been an appeal to the Minister.
The difficulty lies in the definition of "sex shop". The Bill seeks to prevent the proliferation of sex shops but unfortunately that means that a "sex shop" must be defined. The new schedule begins by giving the meaning of "sex cinema". However, we all have different ideas about the meaning of "sex cinema". If we all sat down and wrote out our definitions, there would be 15 or 20 different versions. What is a "sex shop"? A sex shop may contain only magazines. However, many sell the paraphernalia of sex, such as vibrators and other objects, both lewd and otherwise. There is a massive trade in such goods.
The House may well want to stop such trade, but this is not the occasion. The Bill is not concerned with the contents of such shops. When dealing with hard porn, I hope that the Government will find a way of introducing a measure to deal with that. However, that will prove even more difficult. Any definition of pornography immediately involves matters such as those set out in paragraph 2(2)(ii) of the new schedule and including acts of force, bondage, violence, masochism and sadism. We must immediately consider which of those we wish to stop and where the line is to be drawn.
Some years ago, when the late Reginald Maudling was Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and I saw him about our definitions. The Home Office told us that it was sorry and that we had tried hard, but that our definitions were not good enough. No one has come up with a definition to stop hard porn. One day, I hope that we shall come up with a solution, but this is not the occasion. It is not right to criticise the Government for a brave and noble effort to enact a Bill designed solely to meet public pressure.
Unfortunately, definitions must be given. I received a letter from the Festival of Light and I support its attitude. Indeed, I support Mary Whitehouse's approach to many aspects of the issue and she knows it well. However, both Mary Whitehouse and the Festival of Light are wrong. They do not understand that we are not giving permission, but enabling a local authority—if it sees fit—to license establishments which, for the purposes of definition, have had to be defined as "sex cinemas" or "sex establishments". That is all that the Bill does.
The definitions are set out in unattractive verbiage, and conditions have been laid down. Local authorities must understand that it would be impossible to allow sex shops on the condition that they exclude all the paraphernalia. If local authorities did that they could be thrown out of court immediately. They cannot do that. What is the difficulty? I am sure that hon. members do not want small tobacconists that sell Playboy and some of the other magazines to be outlawed or treated as sex shops. Many tobacconists sell a large number of sex magazines. We do not want them to be considered as sex shops. Therefore, we must be clear. The local authority can then make a decision.
Local authorities must consider the various aspects carefully. For example, they must consider planning. Although it may be suitable to site a sex shop in the centre of a town, it is quite unsuitable for it to be sited in a residential area. In Leeds, Conegate sited a sex shop slap next door to a residential area. I am delighted to say that all the ladies of Leeds picketed the shop. That is the type of picketing that I support, not the other sort.
Why does the hon. and learned Gentleman think that it may be more acceptable to site such premises in the centres of our cities? Surely his argument in respect of other areas is equally, if not more, valid in respect of city centres. Thousands of people may pass the shop in the high street every day.
People expect to find the broader aspects of life in areas such as Soho and Paddington. I am sure that there is an area in Birmingham where people with that taste expect to be able to find a few naughty books to read. However, such shops should not be foisted upon people, for example, in the Orkneys. I am worried because much of the trade has moved into the countryside. It may be necessary to consider carefully the remarks made by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon). Paragraph 11(3)(c) of the new schedule says:
that the number of sex establishments in the relevant locality at the time the application is made is equal to or exceeds the number which the authority consider is appropriate for that locality.
It follows that there must be a number more than zero—and therefore one—that the authority considers appropriate. I am afraid that that is so.
It may be said that a local authority should find something appropriate for the locality, but the distribution of district councils varies enormously. The whole of Thanet comes under Thanet district council, and the council covers Margate, Broadstairs, Ramsgate, Birchington and Westgate. A local authority might propose to allow one sex shop in Margate and one in Ramsgate and say that that was sufficient for the locality, but what about an area that does not want a sex shop? Are judicial or political decisions involved? That is always the question when it comes to gaming and sex. The answer is that it is a mix. In many country areas, local authorities should be entitled to say that they do not want any sex shops. It is easy to state that, but it is not easy to make the decision. It will be interesting to hear what the other place thinks. It is very good on this type of thing and on mulling over the problems that may arise.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East is not here. I had hoped that my argument would persuade him. I had the temerity to raise this matter only because of my 12 to 15 years' experience of working in this sphere.
The analogy of betting shops was nearly relevant. Betting shops were allowed because betting had to be taken off the streets. We had no option. I remenber working on the Bill. A limit had to be set and that was done on the basis of what was reasonable for the locality. I agree with the hon. Member for York that in some instances the Crown courts made the wrong decision. I agree that in certain cases they could easily make a wrong decision under the Bill. It is difficult for a recorder or a judge to judge such matters without considerable local knowledge, but, as the House knows, he does not have to. Evidence is called before him which gives him the knowledge and the local feeling, which he has to gauge.
On balance—although I am open to persuasion—I believe that the Government should consider whether local authorities should have the right to outlaw sex shops altogether. That might mean that the Government will want to ask local authorities and district councils for their opinions. Perhaps the Minister can say whether local authorities and district councils have said that they are satisfied with the Bill as it stands, or whether they want the opportunity not to have sex shops in their areas.
I am sorry to have taken up the time of the House but I hope that what I have said clarifies a subject which can be easily confused yet on which there is almost a complete consensus both inside and outside the House.
I have news for the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies). Conegate does not have 70 sex shops. It has 120. I have that on the authority of the retail director of Conegate, who wrote to me on 22 January. That illustrates how rapidly these establishments are mushrooming.
I support the Government's new clause and the new schedule, because I strongly object, as do my constituents, to the way in which sex shops portray women. I shall dwell for a moment on that aspect, because it was in my constituency that the recent case of the Tottenham rapist occurred. He has now been convicted by the courts and sent to Broadmoor. That chap physically assaulted and raped a dozen women in Tottenham, Wood Green and Hornsey. My constituents believe that that sort of behaviour is encouraged by the establishment of sex shops, which generate such attitudes towards women.
Sex shops portray women as simply available for sex, as mindless bodies with no views of their own and no position in life other than as sex objects to be used for the pleasure of men. I reject that completely. I am against the establishment of sex shops in areas where the local community does not want them.
I take issue with hon. Members who have referred to the sort of areas in which it might not be appropriate to site sex shops. It is not only in the more salubrious areas—the Highgates and the Muswell Hills of my own borough of Haringey—but in areas such as Tottenham that local residents do not want these shops. They want the local authority to have a direct measure of control over what happens in their community.
I strongly support, as, I suspect, do many others, the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon). He said that local authorities must have the opportunity to say "No" to all sex shops in their areas. I hope that the Minister will consider that point carefully and seek to amend the schedule to make it a political decision so that local people will feel that those whom they elect to look after their community have a direct say in controlling what happens there.
When dealing with this matter, as well as considering the point of view of women we must consider civil liberties and the arguments about censorship. I have no doubt that the balance of the argument comes down strongly on the side of those who wish to control these establishments. In this case the civil liberties argument is not strong.
I shall give an example of the way in which Conegate Ltd. has been operating. It shows the sort of people with whom we are dealing. The firm now has 120 shops in the country and a head office in Wardour Street in Soho. It has other shops in Lewisham, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle), in Camden Road in Camden, Tottenham and elsewhere.
In the shop in Tottenham, a magazine entitled "Rapier" is sold. It is hard to believe that that shop would have the cheek to sell a magazine entitled "Rapier" in an area where there have just been many physical attacks on women by the Tottenham rapist and a number of other people. My constituents are extremely worried. They want the right to walk the streets in the area without fear of the threat of physical assault. I know people who have been attacked twice in one evening. I do not want to see the encouragement of that activity by the sale of such magazines in shops.
Conegate Ltd. provides opportunities for prostitutes to operate. The shop in Lewisham was recently raided by the police and was the subject of a court case. When two women who had been accused of daubing the shop with paint were acquitted by the magistrates court it was revealed in the national newspapers that Conegate had been operating a list of sexual contacts in the shop, the heading of which was
Phone them and … them".
When I passed the firm's shop in Camden today I noticed a sign outside stating that a contact list was available inside. Therefore, it is not a straightforward retail establishment, but one that is seeking to purvey the sale of a commodity.
Those people also lie about the way in which the shops operate. I received a letter from Conegate dated 22 January, signed by Mr. B. J. Richards, the retail director. I do not know whether he is the man who is receiving £300,000 a year and who has been referred in the debate, but he said that the firm tried to cause the least possible offence to the local community. He said that the shop front was plain and that it would not cause offence to local people, although it was located near a girls' secondary school. That is untrue. The front of the shop in Tottenham, as at the head office in Wardour Street, is a black window with a portrayal of a scantily clad woman, which one looks at through a keyhole. On the outside of the shop there is also a description of the material that is sold inside. That could hardly be regarded as a plain front causing no offence to local people. Moreover, that shop in Tottenham is just by a bus stop.
I can show how cheeky the firm is by quoting a passage from Mr. Richards' letter:
We have been informed by neighbouring traders that the net effect of their sales
—that is, the sex shop sales—
has been positive as a result of our shops drawing into an area people who would not otherwise have visited their shops".
That shows the extent to which the firm will go to defend its commercial interests. It lies about the shops and the frontages, and it talks in a way that is completely misleading.
I want to say a word about the attitude of the Haringey local authority to the development that has taken place in Tottenham. On 12 January the planning and development committee of the London borough of Haringey considered objections to the siting of the Conegate shop in Tottenham High Road. The planning officer reported to the planning and development committee that the local authority had no power to prevent the shop from being opened because the owners of the shop did not have to apply for planning permission. Thus, the local authority had no control. That is what the new schedule and clause seek to alter. The planning committee decided by resolution that it did not wish to have any sex shops in Haringey. It was a unanimous decision of all the councillors who were present, both Labour and Conservative. The local authority should have the power to prevent sex shops from opening in that borough.
These shops are a gross insult to women, and they are big business. They make a lot of money. Their owners will stop at nothing to prevent interference by the Government or local authorities. Indeed, in the letter that I quoted from Conegate, the retail director says that he does not believe that Parliament would seek to control the existence of sex shops.
Another spokesman for the company, Mr. David Reid, was quoted in the local newspaper, the Tottenham and Wood Green Weekly Herald, as saying:
Women have exploited their sexuality from time immemorial. Every time they wear make-up they are exploiting their sex, and they exploit men by allowing them to have sex in exchange for a new coat or something. The average man is conned by women, and I do not believe our material degrades women or exploits them sexually, as protesters would have us believe".
What a remarkable quote that is from an allegedly responsible spokesman for a major company, and how outrageous it is that we have to put up with these shops in our locality.
I strongly support what the Government are seeking to do. This action was urged on them by Labour Members in Committee. I hope that the House this evening will pass the new schedule and clause. I hope, too, that the Minister will give a concrete assurance that the proposals will be amended in another place so that local authorities have the power to ensure that no sex shops are present in any area. In my view, it is the democratic right of elected local councillors to take that type of decision. If the matter goes to the courts, there is the prospect of a proliferation of these shops throughout the country, which no one wants.
I, too. welcome the new clause and commend the Government on tabling it in response to considerable pressure not only from Members of Parliament but from constituents. I had an Adjournment debate on the matter earlier this Session, and it is a pleasure to see the change that has taken place during the past weeks. I congratulate the Government on their initiative.
There has been debate about whether this is a control or a licence measure. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Minister that it is a control measure. If there were no sex shops and we were passing this measure, it would be a licence, because it would encourage people to set up something that is not already present. However, the plague is already with us and it is getting bigger. The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) was right when he said that Conegate now has 120 shops, and it shows no signs of stopping. If we pass this legislation tonight we shall be controlling and restricting, rather than giving a permissive licence. It is important to say that and support the Government's view on the matter.
The measure is permissive in one respect, in that it permits local authorities to decide for themselves whether to become licensing authorities. That, too, is right. I do not like sex shops and associated activities of that nature, but we should not indulge in censorship. To force local authorities to take certain actions would be a measure of censorship. Tonight we are seeking to restore the balance between the rights of people who have and the rights of those who have not and who do not wish to be subjected to the proximity of a sex shop.
Nevertheless, having said that, and having stood alongside my right hon. Friend the Minister, I must add that there has been public disquiet during the past few days about some of the provisions of the schedule. I want to draw my right hon. Friend's attention to one or two of the matters which form the basis of the amendment which my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and I have tabled, on which my hon. Friend has already spoken so eloquently.
We are concerned about the reference in the schedule to
acts of force, restraint, violence or cruelty".
My right hon. Friend did not say, but I think hon. Members understand, that he has been put in this dilemma because of the inadequacy of the 1959 obscenity law. The difficulty is that we have no assurance, because of the interpretation of that law, that these sado-masochistic acts, which we so deplore, would be found illegal under that legislation if prosecutions took place. We find ourselves saying that we do not like these things, we wish that they were illegal under other legislation, but that frankly we are not sure, so we have to put them in here. By so doing, we give the impression, if not the actuality, that, as a House, we are sanctioning these things. My right hon. Friend rightly said that we are not sanctioning them. He should accept that the disquiet that I am expressing is not an idiosyncratic disquiet but one that has been expressed widely during the past few days. If the Bill has been misunderstood, it has been misunderstood by many people.
There is a genuine problem. We tabled the amendment not because we want to make the control any less tight—we want the control to be as tight as possible—but because we want to give the impression that we are not in some way condoning these activities. My right hon. Friend understood our intention. I suggest that it would help the House if he undertook to have another look at the wording with a view not to loosening it, but to resolving some of the ambiguities.
First, it is not clear to me what is the difference between sexual activity, which is under paragraph 2(1)(a)(i), and acts of force, and so on, associated with sexual activity, under paragraph 2(1)(a)(ii). If an act is associated with sexual activity, is it not sexual activity? In other words, is it necessary to have two definitions?
Secondly, it would be helpful if my right hon. Friend would look at a way to try to indicate that it is only those acts of force, restraint, violence and cruelty which may be legal under other legislation that would be the basis for the granting of a licence.
Thirdly, it would be helpful if my right hon. Friend were to put paragraph 25 at the beginning. It has been slipped in at the end. Of course, it provides legal cover, but it does nothing to dispel the misunderstanding. If my right hon. Friend were willing to consider, even in the other place, giving more prominence to the fact that there is nothing in the Bill that would render legal anything which was otherwise illegal, that would go some way to help to dispel any misunderstanding.
I turn now to the other amendment that we tabled, which has occasioned so much debate and met with complete agreement, as my right hon. Friend will have noticed, on both sides of the House. I refer to amendment (g), in line 97, at end insert—
Provided that nothing in this Schedule contained shall impose upon the appropriate authority a duty to grant or renew any licence.
The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) has already adequately dealt with this point, but I should like to add one piece of information which has not been mentioned for my right hon. Friend's consideration. We come back to this disreputable business under the title of Conegate. A senior executive of that firm is now openly boasting that his firm will undermine the whole intent of the Bill by taking action in the High Court against any authority which says it will not have any sex shops in its locality. It will use the argument that my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East has already advanced—that if Parliament had wanted it to be impossible for there to be any sex shops, it would have said so, and that, as it has not said so, we must presume that there will be some. That course of action is already being openly advocated by senior executives of that firm, which already controls 120 of these shops in this country.
My right hon. Friend does not need to consider for very long before realising that if 15 or 20 local authorities in this country were taken to the High Court simultaneously, the effect on other local authorities would be pressure to introduce a number of sex shops, whether or not they wanted them, in order to avoid this type of prolonged and expensive legal manoeuvring. In that case the whole purpose of the Bill would be undermined. It would be undermined legitimately and legally, but this would show the loophole which many of us believe exists in the schedule.
I commend our amendment to my right hon. Friend. It may be that the wording is not right, but if he were to indicate that he is willing to consider it with a view to making suggestions in another place that in itself would be satisfactory.
I put it to him that he has not explained why he should be reluctant to accept an interpretation of "locality" which embraces the whole of a local authority's area and why he should be willing to accept an interpretation of "locality" as only part of the area. "Locality" ought surely to be acceptable in large measure as well as in small measure. If so, I think that it would undermine the point that my right hon. Friend was seeking to make earlier.
Turning to our amendment (h), I understand what my right hon. Friend said about allowing objectors to appear personally. It could be argued that their local councillors can appear on their behalf. It cannot, however, be argued, I think, that local councillors could appear on behalf of the chief officer of police. Therefore, if my right hon. Friend is not willing to accept the amendment in toto, perhaps before the Bill arrives at another place he will consider the possibility of at least allowing the chief officer of police to appear before the local authority to give evidence. That would certainly not be a time-consuming matter.
Finally, on amendment (j), my right hon. Friend has listed three reasons why a local authority may refuse to grant or renew a licence, and we have suggested a fourth—
substantial objections by residents in the relevant locality.
The wording in the schedule is:
It does not deal with the change to the character of the locality which might be occasioned by the introduction of a sex shop. 1t is only the people in the locality who are able to talk about the change of character.
Lest my right hon. Friend thinks I am talking in generalities, let me give one example. He knows, because we have discussed it, the great unhappiness there is in Peterborough about a sex shop which has been opened by the famous Conegate group. The shop is beside a school, as seems to be typical; beside a church, as seems to be typical; and in a residential area, as seems to be typical. Consequently, house values in that area have dropped. It might be possible to argue that the character of a locality was such that it was acceptable for a sex shop to be opened, but the change of character is equally important, and only the local residents can testify to that. Therefore, I commend our amendment to my right hon. Friend in the hope that he will give it further consideration.
We welcome this measure. The Government are to be commended on it. We support the Bill. Any suggestions that we have made for change are entirely in the spirit in which the Government have moved the new clause and in an attempt to take it further and to close the loopholes that are perceived. We in no way intend to be critical of the measure, which is to be welcomed.
In Committee we reached fairly general agreement that there was a case for making it possible for local authorities to license sex establishments, and the Minister agreed to look at the matter. His proposals have taken us all somewhat by surprise, partly because of their length and complexity and partly because they were available for us to see only a short time before the beginning of this debate. Clearly, far more consideration should be given by the Minster to these proposals when they go to the other place.
The criticisms of the principle of licensing sex establishments are similar to the reservations and misgivings which were attached to the Indecent Displays (Control) Bill. It was very difficult to predict exactly what the effect of that legislation would be, and I believe that no one can accurately predict what the effect of this legislation will be. It is suggested that these licences could give sex establishments the stamp of respectability, that the licence, being a mark of local authority approval, could lead to their proliferation, as has been prophesied by certain sex establishment owners. The fact that the industry is booming and prosperous could make it possible for every high street to have a licensed sex establishment along with the betting shop and the public house.
Alternatively, it is suggested that the provision could send sex establishments underground and make matters worse. We must wait and see how the legislation operates. I believe that every hon. Member hopes that it will make it possible for local authorities to control, by having a powerful mechanism to do so, the location and number of such establishments in a particular area.
One matter has united speakers on both sides in the debate. A strong feeling has been expressed that the Bill is muddled and vague on what we all wish to see, which is that local authorities should have the power, which must be clearly expressed in the Bill, to say that they do riot want any sex establishments in their areas. That includes authorities in whose areas no establishments now exist. They must be able to maintain that position. It is not clear that under the Bill they have the power to do so. The Minister may believe that they do, but it is not clear to hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. The matter must be clarified when the Bill goes to another place.
I strongly support amendment (f). Restricting sex establishments with licensing is one thing, but we propose something else, which is that no licence should be available for the purpose of "encouraging violence or cruelty". The Bill makes possible the sale of articles stimulating or encouraging acts of violence or cruelty by the licensing of that very activity. We must exclude the licensing of such premises, as the amendment provides.
We do not want to ban all sex establishments, but the House can and should refuse to condone the licensing of establishments which sell articles encouraging acts of violence or cruelty. We are not making their sale unlawful, but that does not mean that we must legitimise their sale and allow the licensing of premises selling them. If the House does not pass the amendment it will be condoning that activity in the pursuit of violence and cruelty.
Parliament should take this opportunity to state clearly that we find unacceptable the encouragement within an Act of any kind of violence or cruelty. In our legislation we should establish standards of behaviour, and I do not believe that this part of the Bill does that.
The fact that in the Bill the violence or cruelty are associated with sexual activity is no reason or excuse for licensing the premises. Nor is the fact that the articles are being sold lawfully any excuse. The acts of violence and cruelty referred to in the Bill have been condemned by several women's organisations, but they have also rightly been condemned by men. The degradation of women degrades men, too. Violence and cruelty should be condemned by both sexes, wherever they occur and for whatever reason. They have no place in the Bill. These activities should on no account be seen to be condoned by the House.
The hon. Lady must answer the following crucial question. If the activities to which she objects, as many people do, are nevertheless legal, if they are not a breach of the law, which is the case, how can it benefit society to say that we shall have a scheme for controlling the other sexual matters that the Lady is prepared to see in the Bill but that we are not prepared to have a scheme for controlling the matters to which she takes objection?
The consequence of the hon. Lady's point of view would be that sex shops could sell without any limitation the items to which she objects most strongly. The point of a licensing scheme is that, although I entirely accept that it does not ban those items, it introduces a means of controlling them. That must surely be a gain.
An activity or pursuit can be legal and lawful, but that does not mean that we are under an obligation to condone it and allow it to be licensed by a local authority. The two matters are separate. The Minister is unable to appreciate the obvious point. I found his brief reason for not accepting amendment (f), in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle), inadequate and unconvincing. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will now respond to my right hon. Friend's eloquent speech, which was reasonable and persuasive. The Minister must reconsider the matter before the Bill goes to another place.
I am aware that other hon. Members wish to speak, but I think it would be helpful if I intervened now, after the speech of the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill). The debate will be interrupted at 7 o'clock and I do not pretend that it will be easy in the few minutes before then to answer all the many important points that have been made.
I think that I can fairly claim that there is general support for our provision, but hon. Members on both sides of the House would like to go further. They want in particular to try to find ways to use the provision as a way to ban altogether activities which they understandably dislike. That is perhaps the most important theme of those who are not completely happy about the Bill.
The provision cannot be a vehicle for reforming the general law of obscenity. The point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), who has strong views about the matter but who recognised in his kind words that we are not concerned with the complete reform of the law of obscenity. We are using a Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill to set up a scheme by which local authorities can license—by which I mean control—activities which are offensive to many people. That is a clear gain, and it is what we must be about. We cannot go much beyond that.
I find it difficult to know how to argue further with the hon. Member for Halifax about the point which she has just made. I cannot understand the logic of her position. I suppose that she is saying that she would rather make a moral gesture, saying "We shall have nothing to do with these things in legislation", at the price of allowing them to operate as they are operating now, without any check. We are introducing a means by which local authorities can control activities which are distasteful to their constituents and to many of ours.
I see that the hon. Lady is pointing to her right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle), thereby claiming to share illogicality with him.
It will take a little time to try to answer the other points that have been made in the debate. The hon. Lady spoke about the proposed penalty in the Bill. It is an abnormally high fine, but that is not the end of the story. It has been argued that those who run sex shops are very rich and that to them £5,000 is a flea bite. As I tried to say earlier, the fine will be repeated if they continue to commit offences.
I have also been asked what happens if those running sex shops go on operating in spite of having been fined. Another remedy which is available would be to obtain an injunction to prevent them from carrying on. If an injunction was obtained to prevent them carrying on their activities after they had lost the case then they would be in contempt of court and would be liable to imprisonment.
It is superficial to think that the fine of £5,000, which is high, is necessarily the end of the matter when people are patently and flagrantly determined to persist in their operations.