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London Local Authorities Bill [Lords]
Order for consideration read.
Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley) rose--
Mr. Redmond rose--
I should like to know who is in charge of the Bill and I hope that whoever it is will take this opportunity to enlighten the House on the Bill's aims and objectives.
The Chairman : Order. I was about to put to the House the Question that the amendments be considered. If the hon. Gentleman will let me put that Question, he can then make the points that he wishes to make.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the amendments be made.
What does the proposed amendment on all-night cafe s entail? I used to be a lorry driver and when I was working I liked to call into a cafe . I am not sure what restrictions the Bill seeks to place on them and I should welcome clarification on that. I should also like to know the extent of the powers that the Bill gives local authorities to restrict all-night cafes. Many tourists frequent London, our capital city, and they will want the cafes to be open, serving good quality food and tea.
The Bill talks about the restoration of gas and electricity supplies, but I am not sure whether the privatisation of the electricity and gas industries will have any effect on it. I am not sure when it kicked off in the Private Bill Office.
The Chairman : Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying wide of the specific amendments. He should address himself to the amendments ; he may find an opportunity to debate some of the wider issues on Third Reading.
The Chairman : The Question, on the motion before the House, is that the amendments be made. The hon. Gentleman ought to speak to the amendments that are before the House. If, however, he wishes to deal with wider issues, it may be admissible, in a wider debate, for him to do so under the next motion for Third Reading.
Mr. Redmond : I am grateful for your clarification of the proceedings, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I should like whoever is promoting the Bill on the Government side of the House to say why the amendments have been tabled. I understand that the promoters of private Bills are lawyers. I am anxious to know whether the amendments
Column 1109have been tabled on account of bad drafting. I keep asking that question, but I am only getting blank looks from that side of the House.
The Chairman : I do not think that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that, because he has the Floor, no other hon. Member has so far had the opportunity to respond to him. When he has finished his speech, we may find that an hon. Member is in charge of the Bill and is able to answer his question.
Mr. Redmond : But when I sit down you will certainly not allow me to stand up again Mr. Deputy Speaker, if no hon. Member on the Conservative Benches answers my questions. There is no certainty that any hon. Member who is sitting on the Government Benches will be prepared to explain why the amendments have been tabled.
The Chairman : If the hon. Gentleman wishes to comment further after the hon. Member who is in charge of the Bill responds, he may, with the leave of the House, do so. The House will not withhold its consent.
Mr. Redmond : I am grateful for your guidance, Sir. However, as the amendments have been tabled, they will be incorporated in the Bill. If a Conservative Member had clarified the amendments, I should not have had to stand up and ask questions. There have been occasions in the past when we have sought clarification from Conservative Members but have received none. My worry is that by means of these amendments somebody is trying to sneak something through.
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : I am not sure how we can help the hon. Gentleman. He has referred to hon. Members on Conservative Benches. Is he not aware that schedule 1 lists the participating councils? They include every single London borough--both those that belong to the Association of London Authorities, which is Labour-controlled, and those that belong to the Lond Boroughs Association, which is Conservative-controlled. I am sure that all hon. Members would like to help the hon. Gentleman if he could explain which of the amendments cause him concern.
Mr. Redmond : The hon. Gentleman is correct when he says that all the London boroughs are participating, but the lead authority is Westminster. I have grave reservations about an authority that is prepared to sell cemeteries so cheaply, without giving any thought to the consequences. I wonder, therefore, whether Westminster council, the lead authority, will make similar mistakes here.
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : It may assist the hon. Gentleman if I explain that the city of Westminster is promoting the Bill on behalf of the other London authorities. That has been the practice since the abolition of the Greater London council. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that it is a necessary technicality that Westminster is taking the lead. By that means, all the London boroughs, controlled by whichever political party, have been given the opportunity to place this important Bill before the House.
Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North) : If I am able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I may address the House on the amendments to the Bill. That may assist the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond).
Mr. Redmond : I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The tragedy is that earlier I saw no movement on the Conservative Benches. Had there been any movement, I should have remained seated and would have listened carefully to the explanations. My suspicions about the amendments are understandable when one reflects on what has happened in the past. We can only draw conclusions from those events. We must take great care when private Bills are considered. However, the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) has assured me that he will explain why the amendments have been tabled. I intend, therefore, to sit down and to listen carefully to what he has to say. I shall then have to decide whether to divide the House on one or all of the amendments.
Sir John Wheeler : With the permission of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall address it on the amendments before us. They are essentially minor and purely technical, and are designed to improve the Bill. For example, the amendment on page 2, line 16, invites the House to leave out "1989" and to insert "1990". That is the nature of most of the amendments that the House is considering.
However, there is a slightly more substantial amendment at page 8, line 27. It relates to the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority. The promoters of the Bill--the city of Westminster, on behalf of the 30 London boroughs, including all the Labour-controlled boroughs and all the Conservative- controlled boroughs, as represented by their two associations, the Association of London Authorities and the London Boroughs Association--have agreed the contents of the Bill and the amendments that the House has been invited to consider.
The substantial amendment that relates to the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority has been tabled by the promoters because they are anxious entirely to meet the worthy objective of the authority, that the aims of the Bill should be clear and unambiguous. Therefore, I invite the House to approve the amendments. If I am required to deal in greater detail with the purpose of the Bill, I shall do so. However, I have reason to believe that the Bill is supported by the London boroughs and by all the others who are concerned with the good government of London.
Question put and agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That Standing Order 205 (Notice of third reading) be suspended and that the Bill be now read the third time.-- [The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]
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Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : I warmly welcome this Bill on behalf of the borough of Hillingdon, in which my constituency is situated. It is a very useful and important Bill which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) said, has the support of all London local authorities.
I am particularly glad to see clauses 23 and 24, which enable London local authorities to deal with the difficult problems of street trading and licensing street traders to operate in designated streets where it is believed that that is desirable. This is a separate question from the one asked by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond), who was referring to something quite different--night cafe s.
Mr. Shersby : No. As I understand the Bill--this has been the subject of considerable discussion over the past five years or so--it gives local authorities in London the power to license those street traders. Westminster council, on which I had the privilege of serving for about 12 years, has very close contact with street markets in places such as Soho and elsewhere.
I am addressing the House on a quite different matter--street trading in the outer London boroughs such as Hillingdon, where the need for licensing has been clearly identified and is highly desirable. It is encouraging that all the London boroughs have signified their approval not only of this aspect of the Bill but of its many other apsects.
The Bill will benefit not only my constituents but all those who engage in street trading in one form of another by providing a proper system that is clearly understood by those involved in selling food and drink and those who wish to buy it.
I commend the Bill to the House.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : In the past I have taken an interest in street trading matters and I know that the relationship between street traders and local traders has not always been very happy. I have a few questions which I expect the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), speaking for the promoters of the Bill, will be able to answer.
First, I heard what was said about all London local authorities now supporting the Bill. I should be grateful if it could be clarified whether, not only formally but, as far as the hon. Member for Westminster, North is aware, informally, there is no dissent from the provisions of part III, which deals with street trading. There were negotiations on, amendments to and a petition against the Bill on behalf of street traders, who were concerned not just about ice cream trading, which I know was a separate matter, but about street trading generally. The first assurance that I seek is that, as far as anybody concerned with the promotion of the Bill is aware, there is no remaining discontent among street traders.
Sir John Wheeler : I represent a division of the city of Westminster where there are many street traders and I know that on previous occasions there were objections. I have received no objections in respect of this Bill and I am reliably informed by those responsible for the promotion
Column 1112of the Bill that they have had no objections either. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel reassured on that very important point.
Secondly, I wish to make a few comments about the relationship between local authorities and street traders. I speak from experience in Southwark and from having watched the local authority, which is controlled not by my colleagues--we are the official opposition in Southwark--but by the Labour party. Street traders have had a very unhappy relationship with their local authority for many years. Street trading is an integral part of the variety of commerce in London, but an even more important element is that it is part of the continuing employment of people in family businesses. It is often a matter of significant pride to people that they inherit a business that was set up by a father or mother, grandparents, an aunt or uncle, or the like.
Clause 26 deal specifically with provisions governing succession. It provides that, although the holder of a current licence may have given the name and address of a relative to whom he desires the licence to be granted when he dies, retires or gives up his pitch through ill health, the borough council cannot grant that licence until a certain period has elapsed. Have the boroughs given any assurance that they will support rather than oppose the carrying on of businesses in street markets by the relatives of those who currently hold the licences? One controversial issue is that there has been some very sharp practice over the years, wrapped up as non- discriminatory practice but often precluding the carrying on of family businesses by the people who have the most obvious claim to do so.
I am perfectly content that we should expand the possibilities for people to get into street trading. Like many other hon. Members representing London constituencies, over the years I have been approached by people who want to have a stall or a pitch in a street market and have found it difficult to do so. However, sufficient opportunities arise in the normal course of events, so it seems to me to be improper and unjustifiable that people who have built up a market stall as a family business should not be assured that they can transfer the business to a member of their family. Members of the family are defined in clause 26(2). They are all sufficiently proximate in terms of affinity to be eligible.
I hope that I can have some assurance before we end this debate that local authorities are committed to and support the principle that, where appropriate family members wish to take over such a business, the authorities should be positively disposed towards them and not make life difficult.
Thirdly, we now have a set of regulations in substantial detail about designating licensed streets, the way in which applications should be made to local authorities for street trading licences, the conditions that shall be applied, and so on. Street trading requires common sense, as does the relationship between the licensing authority and street traders. It is no good taking an antagonistic and parochial attitude to such obvious problems as how the streets are to be cleaned either during or immediately after a market. These are matters of dialogue.
I wonder whether an assurance has been given to street traders by London local authorities that they will always
Column 1113seek properly to include street traders in the local authority committees, sub-committees and working parties that make the decisions on these matters.
I appreciate that under the new legislation that will come into effect this spring it will be impossible for people who are not elected councillors to be full committee members. I support that. Those who are elected should be ultimately responsible, and it should be impossible to fiddle the numbers by co-opting people. None the less, if local democracy is to work well, it is important for street traders to be involved in the decision-making process. Have assurances been given that street traders will be properly involved? In Southwark, the system has certainly been rigged against them on many occasions, and they have unreasonably been excluded from those parts of the decision-making process in which they have a justifiable case for inclusion--often with surprising ingratitude for what street traders do.
Street traders do not simply set up stalls and sell food, vegetables, clothes and other wares. They often make substantial contributions to the local community. They arrange outings for underprivileged or deprived people and collections of money for people in the community. I have never found street traders to be unwilling to co-operate or to collaborate with people who are reasonable to them. It is a pity that in Southwark things often came to such a sad pass ; there was a great deal of acrimony because there was no proper consultation and dialogue. I hope that some assurance will be given during the passage of the Bill that street traders will be involved in decisions about fees, charges, the siting of pitches and which streets are designated.
The fourth matter on which I seek information from the promoters is whether there was any discussion behind the scenes on the view of local authorities --if there is a collective one--about the fees and charges to be imposed. In my constituency, there is a designated street market in Albion street, which is very near the mouth of Rotherhithe tunnel. It provides for a small number of pitches, but because of population change and the Surrey docks development, the market has not been running for some years now and the number of street markets in my constituency has been reduced.
The variety and benefit of shopping in the locality has been diminished by the absence of pitches and stalls there. One factor which has determined that--although it is by no means the only one--is the fees charged by local authorities. I am not arguing that there should be a centrally determined standard fee for 33 London local authorities. That would be against my philosophy, illogical and probably impossible to enforce. I am seeking information on whether any guarantees have been given that there will be no unreasonable increases that will freeze out street trading.
One conflict that is below the surface of all the legislation is the battle between street traders who want to retain street trading, which is very popular with local people and visitors as part of the commercial life of London, and the local authorities, for which street trading often represents a nuisance. They sometimes deal with it by encumbering it with so many regulations and administrative difficulties that people are dissuaded from trying to get through the process, and then by adding charges and increasing them so unreasonably above inflation that street traders are driven away.
Column 1114Although some people have stalls and pitches in more than one market, more than one borough or all over a large city, most traders make their living from one stall. If they cannot continue in the borough where they are traditionally known, or they are frozen out, that is the end of their business. I hope that assurances can be given about the positive attitude of local authorities in London towards street trading.
The House should take note of the valuable role of street traders. I recall a controversial debate about earlier legislation promoted by the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) on behalf of the Greater London council, which proposed changes to street traders' patterns of occupation and licensing. The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) and I managed to persuade the House to adopt an amendment that was supported by both sides of the House. It was supported by the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) who is now the Minister for Sport, although I do not know for how much longer. We had to take on the GLC, which was acting insensitively towards street traders. I hope that those days are over and that the Bill does not presage a further series of battles--although this time they would be fought local authority by local authority in boroughs where street traders hope to hang on to the important role that they play.
My final point relates to procedure. I was present at the end of last Session when the House passed motions which, for the first time, carried over private legislation into this Session. Perhaps the sponsor of the Bill can tell us how often we have proceeded immediately to consider and approve such a motion--if the Chairman of Ways and Means' motion is approved by the House.
At the end of last Session, the motions were introduced on the basis that it was a precedent and that we had never before reached the stage where so many Bills had been blocked. When we returned this Session, we had a resurrection motion, which was also unprecedented. Unless there have been one or two others since that resurrection motion, the motion of the Chairman of Ways and Means is unusual, to say the least. May we have some information on whether it is unique or unprecedented or whether there have been precedents for considering amendments and moving straight into a Third Reading debate without giving hon. Members the opportunity to consider the Bill as amended? It is unusual.
In a debate last night, when the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was certainly present, we discovered that some statutory instruments that had been debated in Committee only the day before were being considered forthwith without hon. Members having had the opportunity to see the Hansard reports of the debates in Committee. It may be that they were considered in the wrong order and that we considered some tertiary legislation before we had enacted the treaty that made it possible.
These are important matters, and I hope that we are given some reassurance that we are not acting over-hastily. No great disservice would be done to legislation if we could consider it in Committee one day and on Third Reading another day. Even if some hon. Members wished to speak against the amendments or Third Reading, surely it would be better to proceed stage by stage in the traditional way of Parliament, rather than trying to avoid, ambush or hijack difficulty by concertina-ing two stages together.
Column 1115I should be concerned if this was the only opportunity for the House to debate a motion that brings together consideration and Third Reading. I ask hon. Members to reflect on whether that is a wise precedent for private or other legislation, and whether there will soon be the reform of the private Bill procedure that we all expect. 7.49 pm
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : If the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has queries about the procedure, he should have consulted you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as the guardian of the procedure on private business. I assume also that the hon. Gentleman consulted members of his party who control certain London boroughs, and who support the Bill, about the subjects tht he raised. I should like to emphasise that the Bill, which we hope will shortly be on the statute book, is welcomed and promoted by all London boroughs.
Mr. Bowis : I am grateful ; we are indeed on Third Reading. I wish to welcome the Bill in principle and highlight clause 42, which will bring welcome relief to people in London because it deals with discarded shopping trolleys--the misguided monsters of London streets.
Shopping trolleys litter our streets, and it is time we gave local authorities power to deal with them. They are a boon to shoppers, but they are left in the most extraordinary places, not least in my front doorway. I welcome the fact that something will be done to remove them.
Shopping trolleys disfigure the environment when they are left lying around. They pose a danger to blind people, who trip and fall over them, and others with partial or full sight can equally suffer injury. They should not be left lying around. They pose a danger when they are tipped into rivers and streams, thereby damaging the creatures that live in them, not least swans. Many swans have been killed as a result of anglers' fishing lines getting hooked round trolleys and wrapping around a swan's neck, causing it to drown. Today, projectiles are flying around because of the gales and causing damage and danger. We have the opportunity to remove shopping trolleys from our streets, so that, on days such as this, they do not contribute to the damage that the people and property of our capital city are suffering.
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Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting) : I agree with the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) about trolleys. He and I represent adjoining constituencies which, like those of other hon. Members, suffer from the problem of discarded shopping trolleys.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : I have never been able to understand why we do not adopt the French system, whereby one pays the equivalent of £1 when taking a trolley, which is returned when one returns the trolley.
Mr. Cox : The hon. Gentleman has taken the point that I was about to make. The hon. Member for Battersea and I have Texas do-it-yourself stores in our constituencies. The Earlsfield store operates that system, and I rarely see its trolleys discarded. That is a simple method of preventing people from discarding trolleys. I wish to deal with clause 41, the first four lines of which say : "In the case of any market or fair held in pursuance of any statute, royal licence, royal charter or letters patent, or as of right from time immemorial, nothing in this Part of this Act shall affect the sale or exposure or offer for sale of goods in any such market or fair".
I am a member of the all-party Showmen's Guild. Its large membership is made up of members of all political parties and its regular meetings are well attended. Fairs and markets are held throughout the year in the constituencies of hon. Members representing London. Many of them have traditions going back hundreds of years and are part of the history of those areas. Local authorities, irrespective of which political party controls them, by and large welcome fairs, which have large public support. Children and families enjoy the events that fairs and markets offer. Clause 41 outlines what should be the position, but sadly it often is not. The all -party Showmen's Guild held a meeting in the House in December, at which showmen informed us of a problem that they face in Northallerton. However, the problem could equally apply to any part of London. The local authority in Northallerton claims that fairs and markets, which have been held there for hundreds of years, are causing too much congestion. In the eyes of the local authority, they are becoming a nuisance and it does not want them to take place. Hon. members may ask, "Surely the royal statute gives showmen a guarantee. For hundreds of years they have been able to hold fairs and markets in that area, so why should they worry?" Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that, because I understand from the latest information that I have been given that the local authority has become bloody-minded. It is not prepared to hold the meetings that the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain has repeatedly requested to discuss the problem. It is saying to showmen, "We are not concerned about the traditions. Your fairs are causing too much congestion in our area. Therefore, we will no longer allow them."
That has caused much worry, not only to people whose livelihoods depend on fairs and markets but to local businesses, which often benefit from them, because they attract people who spend their money in those local businesses. I understand that this will cost the showmen a great deal of money because they intend to contest the actions of that local authority.
Clause 41 clearly outlines a showman's rights, but when those rights have been outlined before, they have not
Column 1117always been observed. I understand that the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) is the sponsor of the Bill. Will the hon. Gentleman give me and other London Members a clear assurance that what is said in the Bill is what is meant, and that this group of honourable men and women, who follow a tradition in fairs and markets that have existed for hundreds of years, will not find itself in Northallerton? It could cost the guild an enormous amount to defend what has generally been accepted as a basic right. As a London Member, I feel that I have the right to seek the clear assurance that clause 41 will be adhered to by the London boroughs that have supported the Bill.
Sir John Wheeler : I hope to bring this short but useful Third Reading debate to its conclusion. First, let me seek to respond to the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who has expressed an interest in clause 41. He is absolutely right to address the House in such terms : we all know and understand the value and importance of the Showmen's Guild and the contribution that it makes to the quality of life.
The hon. Gentleman asked me to say, on behalf of the promoter, whether clause 41 means what it says. I believe the words therein displayed to be wholly accurate and a proper reflection of what is intended. I believe, too, that the 32 London boroughs will endeavour to operate not only to the letter of the clause but to its spirit as well. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that I have made those remarks in good faith, in the belief that the promoters of the Bill believe that what they propose is proper.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) spoke eloquently in support of the work and life style of street traders, and the House will remember his contributions on previous occasions. I need hardly tell the House that that part of the Bill dealing with street traders seeks to enshrine in law a clear statement of how street trading should be practiced in the 32 London boroughs, and will introduce for the first time scope of the legislation shoe shines and ticket touts, who will also require a licence. The purpose of the exercise is to protect and enhance the activities of the genuine street trader and to keep off the streets of London, to the benefit of the public as well as of street traders, the humbugs and scoundrels to whom we object.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am just passing through the Chamber. I was interested in something that he said about licences for ticket touts. Is it really the case that one can get a licence to practise something which, if not wholly illegal, certainly approaches illegality?
Sir John Wheeler : Our proceedings are greatly enhanced by the passage through the Chamber of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). The Bill would require ticket touts to apply for licences but I have not said whether they would be granted licences. The hon. Gentleman may conclude from that that the Bill may be regarded as a means by which to deal with a difficult and unpleasant social problem.
Let me return to the speech made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey and to his concern for street traders. He is right to say that clause 26 deals with
Column 1118the family relationship of traders who succeed one generation after the other. The Bill seeks to define that succession. Let me try to help the hon. Gentleman by explaining that the intention in the Bill is to protect those who have a proper succession but allow the licensing authority to protect the public interest by preventing the charlatan and the rogue from usurping the privilege. The hon. Gentleman will have noted that clause 30 provides for a developed and detailed appeals system so that the aggrieved person can properly press his claim should he wish to do so.
The hon. Gentleman also asked whether there would be consultation between the 32 London boroughs and the street traders. That is a more difficult question for me to attempt to answer, although I believe that the 32 boroughs intend to have a full and proper working relationship with those who seek to trade within their jurisdiction. As the hon. Gentleman knows, some authorities unfortunately do not seek to establish such relationships at present. We can only hope that the passage of the Bill and the examples of the best in London will encourage those authorities that have been at odds with their traders to find a more satisfactory way of relating to them.
Mr. Simon Hughes : The hon. Gentleman's mention of 32 London boroughs prompted me to check the statement issued on behalf of the promoters. I had assumed that the 32 boroughs and the City were included. Now I see that the City and one borough are not included. Only 31 are mentioned. Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House why the City and one London borough are not to come within the regime?
Sir John Wheeler : I am afraid that I cannot help the House with that question. The House will understand from its knowledge of the history of the corporation of the City of London that its activities are invariably separate and distinct from the rough and tumble of the life of the 32 London boroughs. On my present information, I cannot, alas, tell the hon. Gentleman why one of the London boroughs does not fall within the scope of the Bill. The Bill would nevertheless consolidate and improve a number of measures, and it is to the advantage of the people of London and the boroughs represented that we should approve it.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey also touched on fees and charges. As I understand it, these must be a matter for the constituent local authority, and I have no authority to say what they should seek to do collectively. That must be a matter for them. I invite the House to give this important local measure its Third Reading.