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Mr. Davis : I am sorry, but my hon. Friend has missed the point. I was not suggesting that the Bill's promoters should pay for a verbatim record of the arguments in the other place ; I was suggesting that they might provide us with the arguments, which need not involve a verbatim record. It need only be a summary of the reasons why they consider that the amendments are justified, and would improve the Bill.
Mr. Cryer : I have not missed the point. I was about to suggest that if we rely on the promoters' explanation of such an intricate part of the legislation--as opposed to a verbatim record--the problem is that the promoters have a vested interest. They are paid to promote the Bill. If they gain a reputation for getting a Bill through exceptionally smoothly, they will gain more business. It could thus be argued that any explanation might not present an objective, impartial picture. On the contrary, it might present a highly partial and unbalanced picture, so the House would still not have an adequate explanation.
Mr. Davis : I am impressed by the speed with which my hon. Friend has advanced that argument, but there is another alternative. Perhaps we could agree on a compromise with the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Field). If he were to give his reasons, we might be able to accept his objectivity.
Mr. Cryer : I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. All that we have had so far from the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) are a few points in which he has tried to score off me and a few other hon. Members who are exercising their perfectly proper right, under the careful scrutiny of the Chairman of Ways and Means and Mr. Deputy Speaker. He did not say, "The hon. Member has raised some points. I have a great deal of information and I wish to answer them." I very much regret that that has not happened.
e must bear in mind whenever we consider legislation. If legislation leaves this place with defects and faults, they stand. Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend should give way to the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Field).
One of the problems is that there is a literal interpretation of legislation. The courts are not allowed to take into account the mind of the legislator. However much we might elaborate on it in this place, it is the words on paper--in this case, the amendments--that we shall provide for the Isle of Wight, so we must be careful to ensure that those words are as tightly drafted as possible and can be amply justified in this Chamber before they receive Royal Assent.
Mr. Barry Field : I listened with particular care to what the hon. Member said about the Liberals' judgment. He may agree with me that, since we are considering a Bill that was promoted by the only county council in the country that is controlled by the Liberal Democrats, it is extraordinary that not a single member of that party is here to help the Bill on its way, despite the fact that the Bill enjoys all-party support on the Isle of Wight.
Mr. Cryer : The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely valid point. My comments about elucidating the reasons for the amendments and whether we should consider them should be heard by somebody who supports the political complexion of the council. I am shocked that no Liberal, or Social Democrat --by whatever conundrum of complexity they call themselves--is here to make what might have been a very helpful contribution.
Consideration of the amendments should be deferred. The debate has been extremely useful so far, but I shall give way now to several of my hon. Friends who want to make a contribution to the debate and develop an argument which, for the first time that I can recall under the private Bill procedure, has revealed serious defects. That is not a criticism of the House of Lords. I would shut it down tomorrow, if I could, but that is a separate issue and I do not intend to pursue it.
Mr. Cryer : This is the senior body. They are only the revisers. They are put there by patronage and birth--the worst possible basis for selection. As of right, therefore, we are able to demand a proper approach.
Mr. Skinner : When the hon. Member for Isle of Wight got up, I took it for granted that he would explain one or two things, as he represents the area. I know that he is not a Liberal or a member of the SDP, but I think that he is in favour of the Bill. It is most unhelpful not to have an explanation. In the earlier debate on NatWest, various hon. Members spoke and the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), who is helping the promoters of that Bill,
Column 1269sat there for about one hour and then suddenly popped up and tried to explain it. We managed to glean something from what he said. It would be helpful if someone from the Isle of Wight, or the Government, would explain the Bill. We managed to get some valuable information in the earlier debate, although it came a bit too late, which is why we had to vote at the end of it.
Mr. Cryer : I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. He confirms my view. This debate has been of great use as it has brought to the attention of hon. Members the difficulties with private Bills. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have had a difficult task sorting out and sifting through so many private Bills. It is regrettable that they are the result of the Government encouraging outside organisations to take this route, which was developed for the construction of railways in the 19th century. It is unsatisfactory to use the private Bill procedure for what is basically public legislation. This has been a useful debate, and we should scrutinise the Lords amendments carefully before accepting them.
Mr. Terry Davis : I disagree with the main thrust of the argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), although I share his concern about the lack of reasons for the Lords amendments. I do not go all the way with his criticism of private Bills, especially those produced by democratically elected county councils as a means of experimenting, or providing opportunities to experiment.
My hon. Friend is suggesting that we should have a comprehensive, compendium, miscellaneous provisions Bill for local government once a year. I do not think that that is a good idea, as I shall try to explain when we discuss the carry-over motion for the Birmingham City Council (No. 2) Bill. I think that there is a place for initiative and municipal enterprise and for private Bills to deal with particular local problems.
I disagree most strongly with my hon. Friend's suggestion that the Government are in cahoots with the Isle of Wight county council and others to introduce private Bills to achieve ends which the Government do not have time to introduce public Bills to achieve. That is not the experience of Birmingham Members of Parliament.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill deals with large assemblies and how people can organise them? Does he agree that, if the rules about organising large gatherings differ in various parts of the country, it is extremely difficult for the promoters to know what hurdles they have to clear in each local authority area? Surely it is better to have the same rules throughout the country.
Mr. Davis rose--
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. Before we go any further, I should remind the House that we are discussing not the merits of the Bill, which was given an unopposed Second Reading, but whether we should consider some narrow drafting amendments made by the other place. The merits of the Bill have been decided, without opposition.
Column 1270Member for Bradford, South to dwell at some length on his opposition to private Bills as a way of experimenting and dealing with local problems. I do not completely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett).
Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend says that he is against further consideration of the Bill and against the alternatives suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer). My hon. Friend is saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South is not right, and he threw out the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). My hon. Friend has a duty to explain his alternatives to the House. Even the Leader of the House has agreed that the private Bill procedure must be changed. 12 midnight
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) will resist the temptation to respond to that intervention. We are discussing not the procedure for private Bills but whether we should give further consideration to the Lords amendments.
Mr. Davis : I should dearly love to explain why I disagree with my hon. Friends the Members for Denton and Reddish and for Bradford, South. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover that I have a duty to explain my disagreement, but I fear that I shall have to do so not in the Chamber but in the Lobby. I should much prefer to discuss our disagreements in public, but I accept your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, not to answer the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South. It is a little unfair that he was allowed to put his point at such length, yet other Labour Members are not allowed to disagree with him.
Like the hon. member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field), I agree with the Bill, but that is not what we are debating. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South was unfair and unreasonable in suggesting that we are discussing the principle of the Bill. That is long gone ; we are discussing the detailed Lords amendments. I should like to have heard an explanation of the amendments. Some of my hon. Friends may vote against the amendments, but they will not be voting against the Bill, and that must be said very firmly.
Mr. Skinner : The Clerk told me that there are 19 Lords amendments. It is pretty clear that those amendments are substantial, and they cover almost every aspect of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South was bound to talk in general terms about the amendments because they cover such wide territory--they almost rewrite the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill has a duty to explain, even in general terms, why he opposes further consideration of the Bill.
Column 1271have not the advantage of a record in the other place or an explanation from the promoters of the Bill or from the hon. Member for Isle of Wight.
Like myself, my hon. Friends will have received letters from some Labour Members who support the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill and from some who oppose it. Quite properly, they have set out in letters the reasons for their opposition. When we debate that Bill next week, we shall be able to consider their arguments. I wish that we had had the advantage of a simple explanation of each of these 19 Lords amendments. I am quite happy for such an explanation to be given by the Isle of Wight county council or by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight who, as he said, is not a member of the controlling party on the Isle of Wight. It would have saved much time if we had had an explanation in writing beforehand, as I think all my hon. Friends agree.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : I support the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and argue that it would be better not to consider the Lords amendments at this stage. Conservative Members may well argue why I should support the amendments. Members of the Isle of Wight Labour party wrote to me and spoke to me on the telephone, strongly putting forward their reasons why the legislation should be enacted. They were worried about the problems of controlling large assemblies in open spaces. I pointed out that we have a duty not only to consider their problems and but to safeguard the civil rights of individuals. I pointed out that many of us are concerned about the private Bill procedure, which we hope will be reformed quickly. I pointed out that, by dealing with local authorities piecemeal, the problem was simply moved from one place to another, and that if something was appropriate for the Isle of Wight, no doubt it would be appropriate for other places.
Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : That is not entirely true. There are matters that are germane to London that are not germane to other parts of the country. Some local autonomy and democracy is not outrageous, especially if it is supported by the Labour party.
Mr. Bennett : I accept that there are differences between different parts of the country. However, the problem of controlling large assemblies in open spaces occurs not only on the Isle of Wight but in a substantial number of places in the south-east of England and elsewhere.
The other side of the argument is the right of individuals to assemble in large groups to demonstrate and protest. Getting the balance right is a difficult civil rights issue. On the whole, it is better to have national provision than major local variations.
Mr. Skinner : It is interesting that my hon. Friend is going down the track of saying that local authorities generally should have such powers in Bills of this kind. Only yesterday at Question Time, the Secretary of State for the Environment said that he would introduce legislation or assist local authorities to control these assemblies at acid house parties. If the Government dealt with that general aspect, the whole country would be covered through the work of environmental health officers.
Column 1272I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) has a point. He is a lawyer and studies these matters carefully. It looks as though the Government are going down that track.
Mr. Bennett : I understand that point. The flavour of the month is perhaps the acid house party. The legislation deals with the difficulties caused by pop festivals and similar events. I understand the difficulties faced by a person who finds that a pop festival is being organised close to his home, but we must achieve a balance between the right of the individual to take part in lawful activities and the right of people to live peacefully in their homes. It is difficult to achieve that balance.
I should like to consider our difficulties during the Bill's passage. It is impossible to make sense of the Bill without reading the earlier legislation. When it was to be considered by the other place, the sponsors helpfully included the schedule which referred to section 5 of the Isle of Wight County Council Act 1971, as amended by the Bill. Page 3 of the Bill said what the legislation was doing, which I am sure was very helpful. Unfortunately, the 19 amendments, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) referred, virtually change the original legislation. The problem now is that when we read the schedule, it is extremely difficult to work out whether it is the chief constable or other people who have to give the authority. It would have been reasonable for the promoters to ensure that, when the amendments came to this House, section 5 of the original legislation as amended by this Bill was reprinted in the schedule so that we could now read the balance of the legislation. In addition, either the promoters should have given us a statement, or the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field), who I presume is sponsoring the Bill, should have explained to us that the original Bill did not cover various points, so the changes were required to improve the balance. However, our difficulty is that we cannot read about the proceedings in the House of Lords, so we do not know what arguments were advanced there, and so far, no hon. Member has told us what the advantages of the changes are.
Mr. Skinner : I want to help my hon. Friend. I have been sitting on the Bench where the party that dare not speak its name usually sits. That party controls the Isle of Wight, so I should have thought that one of its representatives would have been able to explain the amendments.
What my hon. Friend has said is alarming. I told my hon. Friend earlier that the 19 amendments, which cover several pages, might rewrite the Bill. My hon. Friend, who has scrutinised the Bill carefully--as he does all such Bills, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker--is saying exactly that. As the Liberals, who have some control of the Isle of Wight, are not explaining the amendments, the Government are not helping and the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) is not doing anything, it is incumbent on my hon. Friend to explain fully why he opposes further consideration of the amendments, which seem to rewrite the Bill. No one else will explain the Bill ; I believe that my hon. Friend could.
Mr. Bennett : My hon. Friend tempts me a great deal, but I must make it clear that I am not a lawyer, so I find it extremely difficult to put the amendments into the existing schedule to find out precisely what is being suggested. However, I had the impression that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight was hoping to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He could carry out that task for us and I should listen to his explanation with great interest.
I am concerned about this matter. I know that you have already said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you do not want us to go into the whole question of the way in which private Bills proceed. However, if we are looking to the reform of the private Bill procedure, I hope that it will be suggested to promoters, first, that it would be better if the Bill were in the right form when it began its progress through the House, and secondly, that, if charges were to be made as a result of advice from the Home Office and the Government, they were made in Committee in the House of Commons, and not at a late stage in the House of Lords and then slipped back here without clear guidance about their intention.
Mr. Barry Field : I am obliged to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), because I have sat here for almost five hours listening to the arguments on the International Westminster Bank Bill and this Bill. The hon. Gentleman has come close to making two points with which I agree. The first is that the private Bill procedure of this House is clearly in considerable need of overhaul and modernisation : I align myself with his comments. The second is that he informed the House that he had received a letter from the Isle of Wight Labour party. I am obliged to him for that remark, because the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) rather gave the impression that, when I make a statement in the House, its veracity might be called into question.
As the hon. Member for Bolsover pointed out, no member of the Liberal party is present tonight, despite the fact that the Isle of Wight is the only county council that the Liberal party controls. It is remarkable that the Liberals are not here tonight to lend their weight and support to what is essentially a county council Bill. The House passed the original Isle of Wight County Council Act in 1971. As the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said, the original Act is intended to control open-air events such as pop festivals. It could be said that the Isle of Wight had one of the first acid house parties in the early 1960s. We have sought our own private Act because of our difficulties in controlling such large-scale open-air events. We wanted to ensure that those events were properly regulated, with proper hygiene arrangements on site and proper controls. As a result of an amendment to the Act, a prosecution was brought last year, but it was found in the magistrates to be defective.
The Lords amendments to this Bill are entirely drafting amendments. They were intended to bring the Bill into line and hopefully ensure that, when it is enacted, it will be possible to prosecute those who do not comply with the Act's requirements.
Column 127412.15 am
Mr. Field : I will give way when I have finished my point. Since I was elected, I have witnessed many bizarre occasions. However, if someone had told me that I would stand here tonight and witness the Labour party supporting the actions of the National Front, I would have been staggered. The failed prosecution to which I have referred, came about as a result of events at the last scooter rally held by the National Front on the Isle of Wight. It is remarkable that the Labour party should support the National Front tonight.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the problem with defending civil liberties is that sometimes we have to defend them for people whom we find totally objectionable? It is very difficult to confer civil rights on people we detest. Will the hon. Gentleman explain how the 1971 Act got into a mess in the first place? The original Act passed through the private Bill procedure, but because that scrutiny was unsatisfactory, the prosecution to which the hon. Gentleman referred collapsed in the magistrates court. Would it not be better to have Government legislation on the issue, as that would be much more likely to stand up in a magistrates court?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I remind the House that the question before us is that the Lords amendments be now considered. We are discussing drafting amendments to a Bill that was given an unopposed Second Reading. It is not appropriate this evening to discuss the merits of the Bill. They have already been decided.
We are discussing the Lords amendments, which are intended to guard the civil liberties of the people of the Isle of Wight against the actions of the National Front. It is extraordinary that the Labour party should be seeking to support the National Front tonight.
Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley) : I have sat here for several hours. I also listened to the proceedings on the Isle of Wight Bill in Committee Upstairs. We listened to the arguments, and at no time did anyone mention that the Bill was intended to stop National Front gatherings on the Isle of Wight. If the Bill is intended to specifically stop the National Front, the Bill should say so. It does not. Tonight is the first time that I have heard it said that National Front members are the only people who organise large-scale gatherings on the Isle of Wight.
It is true that the Bill received an unopposed Second Reading. Tonight, however, I had expected the hon. Member for Isle of Wight to tell us why we should consider the amendments. There is no doubt that the amendments leave a lot to be desired.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I do not want to inhibit the hon. Gentleman from discussing the amendments, but I wonder whether this is the appropriate time to do so. We are discussing whether the Lords amendments should be considered. When we have resolved that matter, the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) and other hon. Members can discuss the substance or the merit of the amendments.
Column 1275certainly shall not sit down, until I have made the points I want to make. Perhaps you should inform one or two hon. Members, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, if they are unwell, they should go home. In Committee, one listens to the barristers and to the petitioners as they make their points about the Bill. One also has the opportunity to ask questions, but, unfortunately, once one has spoken, one is not allowed a second chance to do so. Unfortunately, I was unable to ask the questions I wanted answered because the hon. Member for Isle of Wight did not get off his backside to tell us why the amendments had been made. As soon as he had spoken, however, someone moved the closure. If we are to consider amendments properly, they should be referred back to the Committee that originally considered them.
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : Will the hon. Gentleman be able to give exactly the same attention to all the Lords amendments to the South Yorkshire Light Rail Transit Bill when we come to discuss it?
Mr. Harry Barnes : The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) claimed that it was strange that we were opposing the Bill, given that it had the support of the Isle of Wight Labour party and the political connotations attached to it. No Opposition Member has spoken against the Bill. We are discussing whether the amendments should be considered and procedural matters. We are also discussing whether it is right to go ahead with the Bill in its present form without being given an explanation for its present state.
Mr. Redmond : My hon. Friend makes that point admirably. I went along to the Vote Office to collect the private Bill and the amendments to it. Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain them, and you will recollect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I raised a point of order about Lords amendments being unavailable. I went back to the Vote Office and managed to obtain a copy of the amendments that someone had managed to find somewhere. Originally, I asked to be given all the Lords amendments, so that I could consider them properly to ensure that they were technical, substantive and worthy of discussion. Fifteen minutes ago, we went back and managed to get hold of the Lords amendments to the Isle of Wight Bill.
Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend has little alternative but to look at the 19 different amendments and go through them. We can try to help one another by starting at the beginning and seeing which ones are important, which are less important and which should be opposed. Perhaps they should all be opposed--who knows? In the absence of any, or very little, consideration being given to the matter by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) and the fact that the Liberals who control the council are not here to provide us with information, there is only one alternative left. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davies) touched on it : we must go through the amendments.
Column 1276We do not have a verbatim report from the House of Lords so we shall have to start the process. There are about three pages, and we should quietly go through the amendments--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The rule of the House in these matters is that Members speak only once unless they have the unanimous consent of the House. Repeated interventions that are of the duration of speeches transgress that rule. The other convention of the House is that interventions should be brief.
Mr. Redmond : It is quite obvious that we cannot possibly give the amendments due consideration unless we have time to do so. It may be that they are all acceptable, but they may not be. Unless one is a lawyer--I am not, thank God--one needs more time to consider exactly what a particular amendment means. The Bill may have been there an hour or so later, but it certainly was not there this morning when I went to pick up all the Bills. Therefore, I could not spend a day or so giving due consideration to what, if anything, I should say. It appears that Conservative Members are not interested in passing good legislation. I do not know what would happen if a bad private Bill left this House. Who would rectify it if it proved to be a bad piece of legislation? Would the Secretary of State for the Environment go charging into the courts to secure an amendment? I am not quite sure. Therefore, it is important to give due consideration to the Lords amendments to the Isle of Wight Bill to see whether we should debate them.
When we give them due consideration, the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) might say what the amendments would do.
Mr. Cryer rose --
It is untrue to say, as the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight did, that I support the National Front. Perhaps some Conservative Members have closer links with the National Front than I do, because I do not support it.
Mr. Hind : Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that, if we analyse the arguments of him and his hon. Friends this evening about the Isle of Wight Bill, the availability of the Lords' debates material, the unsatisfactory nature of those debates, the failure of schedules of details on the amendments, the fact that we should debate this in the context of a miscellaneous provisions Bill, they can be seen to be equally valid for every other Bill on the Order Paper? Those Bills include one in which I am sure the hon. Gentleman has an interest : the South Yorkshire Light Rail Transit Bill. Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander? What he is arguing could equally be said of a Bill that he supports.
Column 1277I agree that we need a different system, but we need one that is accountable. Many Bills going through the House should be considered by local councillors. In this case, the Lords have submitted amendments, and we cannot challenge the reasons for them. We cannot ask the Clerks to explain what the promoters or the parliamentary agents may or may not want. Parliamentary agents may have ulterior reasons for their suggestions. If we had been able to discuss them in a proper Committee, we might not have had to spend the night deciding whether to consider the Lords amendments. I will not allow the matter to pass without comment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh) said that he was suspicious by nature. I am not--I like to trust people--but over the past two years my trust has been misplaced and taken advantage of. I come from Yorkshire, and I am a little naive about how the City sharks operate--
Mr. Barry Field rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Question put, That the Question be now put :--
The House divided : Ayes 131, Noes 21.
Division No. 400] [12.32 am
Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Bevan, David Gilroy
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Browne, John (Winchester)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Buck, Sir Antony
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Emery, Sir Peter
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Fishburn, John Dudley
Goodhart, Sir Philip
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Hampson, Dr Keith
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Lyell, Sir Nicholas
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Miller, Sir Hal
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)