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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with the intentions of the amendment. I was not being dismissive earlier; I was merely stating the constitutional convention that consolidation of legislation and establishing priorities therefor are a matter for the Law Commission rather than the Government or the House when they react to one particular Bill.

The situation in relation to water is complicated but I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will agree that local government legislation or the criminal justice system could do with a bit of consolidation here and there. I am sure that there are many other areas that we could think of, even at this time of night, that are rather lacking in clarity for legislators, let alone the average citizen.

It is normal practice at the end of each Bill for us to report to the Law Commissioners about whether issues of consolidation are raised. I shall ensure that the House's views are brought to the attention of the Law Commission. Indeed, noble Lords will be aware

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that the Select Committee on the Constitution earlier expressed concern about the difficulties that were thrown up by the Bill. Although it was reassured by my statement that I should pass those concerns on to the Law Commission, that underlines the need for me to do so. I hope that that will be sufficient for this time of night.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. As he knows, when we originally met to look at the Bill, the matter was a huge problem, because we had to go to one authority, and then look at Butterworth, and then we had to look at something else. I am sincerely grateful for his comments that he will refer the contributions that have been made, particularly regarding the amendment. That is an extremely encouraging note when we are drawing towards a close—although we have not finished—at this late stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

In the Title:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 188:

    Line 11, after "England;" insert "to repeal section 1 of the Metropolis Water Act 1852;"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Water Bill [HL]

11.40 p.m.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That, on Wednesday 9th July, the Water Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House in respect of any new clauses and related amendments dealing with fluoridation and that Standing Order 47 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with to enable the remaining stages of the Bill to be taken on the same day as Committee (on Re-commitment).—(Lord Whitty.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Licensing Bill [HL]

Returned from the Commons with certain amendments not insisted upon, with a Lords amendment in lieu of words left out of the Bill by a Commons amendment agreed to, with an amendment not insisted on but with amendments proposed in lieu thereof, and with an amendment insisted upon and a Lords amendment disagreed to but with an amendment in lieu thereof; the Commons amendments were ordered to be printed.

        House adjourned at nineteen minutes before midnight.

24 Jun 2003 : Column GC59

Official Report of the Grand Committee on the

Local Government Bill

Tuesday, 24th June 2003.

(Eighth Day)

The Committee met at a half past three of the clock.[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lyell) in the Chair.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lyell): I remind the Committee that, if there is a Division in the Chamber, we shall adjourn as soon as the Division bells have rung and resume after 10 minutes. I am advised that there are other activities in the Chamber.

Baroness O'Cathain moved Amendment No. 221C:

    After Clause 116, insert the following new clause—

(1) Sections 2 to 8 of the City of Westminster Act 1996 (c. viii) (control of unlicensed sex establishments) shall have effect, for the purposes of this Act, as if they were incorporated in this Act with the substitution—
(a) for references to Westminster City Council of references to a local authority, and
(b) for references to the City of Westminster of references to the local authority's area.
(2) In this section, "local authority" means—
(a) a county council;
(b) a county borough council;
(c) a district council;
(d) a London borough council;
(e) the Common Council of the City of London;
(f) the Council of the Isles of Scilly."

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 221C relates to the control of unlicensed sex establishments. I should say at the start that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, had previous notice of the amendment by way of a letter and briefing sent on 7th April. My noble friend Lady Blatch mentioned that at Second Reading on 3rd April. It should come as no surprise.

The background to the amendment is the operation of Schedule 3 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. The provisions give powers for controlling sex establishments, as defined by the Act, including the regulation and licensing of sex shops. Many local authorities have adopted that particular piece of legislation and regularly receive applications for the licensing of or renewal of a licence for a sex shop. The procedure for the applications is clearly set out in Schedule 3, and, on the basis of that legislation, the relevant council can refuse or grant an application for a licence or for the renewal of a licence for a sex shop as it considers appropriate.

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Research among local authorities, however, shows that problems are encountered when an application for a licence or a renewal is refused by a local authority and the sex shop continues to trade as an unlicensed establishment. I am told that, on refusal of a licence or renewal of a licence, the shop owners will make certain cosmetic changes to the stock layout in the premises and then contend that they do not fall within the scope of the relevant legislation because the business on their premises is not one,

    "which consists to a significant degree"

of selling sex articles.

The wording that I quoted comes directly from paragraph 4(1) of Schedule 3 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, to which I have already referred. Apparently the owner will argue that a licence is unnecessary. The onus is then placed on the local authority to make a decision as to whether a prosecution should follow relating to trading without a licence. This difficulty has been encountered by many local authorities across the country. My research shows that in Bournemouth in particular, at least two if not three sex shops have been trading without a licence for some 10 years without any further action being taken by the authority.

Towards the end of the 1990s the situation in the Westminster City Council area, which of course includes the infamous area of Soho, became so bad that the council went to the trouble and expense of obtaining their own Act of Parliament, now known as the City of Westminster Act 1996. That piece of legislation gives the council extra powers relating to the closure of premises trading without a sex shop licence. I understand that the council considers this legislation to be of great help in regulating the trade of unlicensed sex shops.

The legislation requires Westminster City Council to come to the conclusion that a premises is being used as a sex establishment without a licence, and as such is trading in breach of Schedule 3 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. The council may then decide to serve a closure notice in respect of the premises. I understand from officials at Westminster City Council that they have found that the service of a closure notice usually leads to the owners of the shop closing the premises and, moreover, that very few such closure notices are tested in the courts. However, when the closure notice is contested, I am told that usually a successful conclusion is reached in those proceedings so far as the council is concerned.

One can understand why Westminster City Council felt that it needed extra powers in relation to the areas for which it is responsible, but I understand also that the chief trading standards officer for a neighbouring authority, Camden Council, would welcome an extension of these powers to cover its area. Camden Council anticipates that if the powers were extended to cover Camden, then both councils, Camden and Westminster, would be able to work closely on enforcement and closure proceedings.

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One difficulty with regard to having a piece of legislation such as the City of Westminster Act 1996 on the statute book is that it simply moves the problem over the local authority boundary into neighbouring authorities; in this case, Camden. The purpose of this amendment is to extend the powers granted to the City of Westminster by the City of Westminster Act 1996 to cover all other local authorities which have adopted the powers conferred on them by Schedule 3 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982.

Members of the Committee will appreciate that this is essentially a probing amendment. It may be that further consideration needs to be given to its implementation, including consideration of whether the City of Westminster Act 1996 should be repealed if the amendment were to be included in the Bill now being considered. Bearing in mind the positive reaction from Camden Council and other councils which have been approached on this over the past few months, it does not seem unreasonable to consider extensions of the powers contained in the City of Westminster Act 1996 to cover all local authorities.

I wish to inform Members of the Grand Committee that, shortly before we commenced our proceedings today, I had a discussion with the Minister about this matter. He is to respond with certain comments that will result in my not pressing the amendment any further at this stage. However, I move it in the hope that we shall be able to solve this problem for the longer term. I beg to move.

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