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Orders Of The Day

Volume 79: debated on Friday 17 May 1985

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Local Government (Access To Information) Bill

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

New Clause3

Consequential Amendments And Repeals

  • '(1) The enactments mentioned in Schedule (Consequential amendments) to this Act shall have effect with the amendments there specified, being amendments consequential on the provisions of this Act.
  • (2) The enactments mentioned in Schedule (Repeals) to this Act are hereby repealed to the extent specified in the thud column of that Schedule.'. — [Mr. Squire]
  • Brought up, and read the First time

    9.37 am

    I beg to move, that the clause be read a Second time.

    No. 42, in clause 2, page 21, line 16, leave out from beginning to end of line 17.

    No. 44, in clause 4, page 21, line 24, at beginning insert

    'Except for this section and section (Consequential amendments and repeals) in so far as it relates to paragraph 2 of Schedule (Consequential amendments)'.

    No. 47, new schedule — Consequential amendments — 'Defamation Act 1952 (c. 66)

    1. —(1) The Schedule to the Defamation Act 1952 (by virtue of which, among other things, newspaper reports of all proceedings at meetings of local authorities and their committees are privileged unless admission to the meetings is denied to representatives of newspapers and other members of the public) shall be amended as follows.

    (2) At the beginning of paragraph 13 (interpretation) there shall be inserted "(1)" and for the definition of "local authority" in that paragraph there shall be substituted the following "'local authority' means —

  • (a) any principal council, within the meaning of the Local Government Act 1972, any body falling within any paragraph of section 10011(1) of that Act and any local authority, within the meaning of the Local Government (Scotland) Act1973;
  • (b) any authority or body to which the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 applies; and
  • (c) any authority or body to which sections 23 to 27 of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 apply;
  • and any reference to a committee of a local authority shall be construed in accordance with sub-paragraph (2) below."

    (3)After paragraph 13(1) there shall be added the following sub-paragraph—

    "(2) Any reference in this Schedule to a committee of a local authority includes a reference—

  • (a) to any committee or sub-committee in relation to which sections 100A to 100D of the Local Government Act 1972 apply by virtue of section 100E of that Act (whether or not also by virtue of section 100II of that Act); and
  • (b) to any committee or sub-committee in relation to which sections 50A to 50D of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 apply by virtue of section 50E of that Act."
  • Defamation Act(Northern Ireland) 1955 (c.11, N.,1.)

    2. —(1) The Schedule to the Defamation Act (Northern Ireland) 1955 (which makes similar provision to the Schedule to the Defamation Act 1952)shall be amended as follows.

    (2) At the beginning of paragraph 13(interpretation) there shall be inserted "(1)" and for the definition of "local authority" in that paragraph there shall be substituted the following —

    "'local authority' means —

  • (a) any authority or body to which sections 23 to 27 of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 apply;
  • (b) any principal council, within the meaning of the Local Government Act 1972, any body falling within any paragraph of section 100II(1) of that Act and any local authority, within the meaning of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973;
  • (c.) any authority or body to which the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 applies;
  • and any reference to a committee of a local authority shall be construed in accordance with sub-paragraph (2) below."

    (3) After paragraph 13(1) there shall be added the following sub-paragraph—

    "(2) Any reference in this Schedule to a committee of a local authority includes a reference—

  • (a) to any committee or sub-committee in relation to which sections 100A to 100D of the Local Government Act 1972 apply by virtue of section 100E of that Act(whether or not also by virtue of section 100II of that Act);and
  • (b) to any committee or sub-committee in relation to which sections 50A to 50D of the Local Government (Scotland) Act1973 apply by virtue of section 50E of that Act."
  • Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960(c.67)

    3. —(1) The Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 shall be amended as follows.

    (2)In section 1(1), the words "local authority or other" shall be omitted and for the words "an authority or other body" there shall be substituted the words "a body".

    (3) Section 2(2) shall be omitted.

    (4) In the Schedule (which defines the bodies to which the Act applies) for paragraph 1 (a) there shall be substituted the following paragraph—

  • "(a) parish or community councils, the Council of the Isles of Scilly and joint boards or joint committees which discharge functions of any of those bodies (or of any of those bodies and of a principal council, within the meaning of the Local Government Act 1972, or a body falling within paragraph (a), (b) or (c) of section 100II(1) of that Act)".
  • (5) In paragraph I of the Schedule, paragraphs (aa) and (ab) (as inserted by the Local Government Act 1985) and (d) shall be omitted.

    (6) In paragraph1 (h) of the Schedule, for the words "police authorities" there shall be substituted the words "bodies to which sections 100A to 100D of the Local Government Act 1972 apply, whether or not by virtue of section 100E or 100II of that Act".

    (7) In paragraph 2 of the Schedule, paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (f) shall be omitted.

    Police Act 1964 (c. 48)

    4. In section 3 of the Police Act 1964 (police authorities for combined areas) after subsection (3) there shall be inserted the following subsection —

    "(3A) Meetings of a combined police authority which is (as well as one which is not) a body corporate are open to the public, and documents relating to such meetings are open to inspection by the public, in accordance with the provisions of Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972."

    Local Government Act 1972 (c. 70)

    (5) In section 100 of the Local Government Act 1972 (which applies the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 in relation to all committees of local authorities)—

  • (a) in subsection (2), the words from "to any committee constituted" to "101(9) below and" shall be omitted; and
  • (b) at the end of that subsection there shall be added the words "or section 100E(3)(a) or (b) below (whether or not by virtue of section 100II below)".
  • Local Government Finance Act 1982 (c. 32)

    6. In section 18 of the Local Government Finance Act 1982, in subsection (5)(auditor's report to be supplied to members and

    newspapers) after the word "excluded" there shall be inserted "(a)" and at the end of that subsection there shall be added the following words, that is to say, "or under section 100B(6) of the 1972 Act (which makes similar provision); or

    (b) from the documents open to inspection by members of the public under section 100B(1) of the 1972 Act (agenda and reports open to the public before a meeting);

    and Part VA of the 1972 Act shall have effect in relation to the report as if in section 100C(1) (d) of that Act (by virtue of which only so much of a report as relates to proceedings open to the public is open to public inspection after the meeting) the words 'so much of' and from 'as relates' onwards were omitted.

    (6) In subsection (5)above, 'the 1972 Act' means the Local Government Act 1972.".'.

    No. 48, new schedules— Repeals

    Chapter

    Short title

    Extent of repeal

    8 & 9 Eliz. 2 c. 67.Public bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960In section 1(1), the words, "local authority or other". Section 2(2). In the Schedule, paragraph 1(aa),(ab) and (d) and paragraph 2(a), (b),(c) and (f).
    1972 c.70.Local Government Act 1972.In Section 100(2)the words from "to any committee constituted" to "101(9) below and".
    1973 c. 65.Local Government(Scotland) Act 1973.Section 44.'.

    It may be somewhat strange that the first group of amendments that we tackle consists exclusively of consequential amendments arising from other amendments. That may need explaining to people outside the House, but the tell-tale clue is the magic words "new clause 3", which enables various repeals to take place.

    It may be for the general benefit of the House if I cite but one example rather than stumble at considerable length through all my notes. The Defamation Act 1952 currently provides that newspaper reports of proceedings at meetings of local authorities and their committees are privileged unless access to the meeting is denied to representatives of the press and members of the public. As a direct result of various clauses in the Bill, the 1952 Act will be extended so that there will be qualified privilege for newspaper reports of all proceedings of sub-committee meetings of local authorities as well as meetings of the local authority and its committees, in exactly the same circumstances as before.

    That is but an example of the effects of the amendments. I shall go into greater detail only if so requested by hon. Members.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    Clause 1

    Access To Meetings And Documents Of Principal Councils And Certain Committees And Sub-Committees

    I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 8, leave out 'PRINCIPAL COUNCILS' and insert 'CERTAIN AUTHORITIES'.

    With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 25, in page 10, line 32, at end insert—

    'Application to new authorities, Common Council, etc 100II—(1) Except in this section, any reference in this Part to a principal council includes a reference to—

  • (a) the Inner London Education Authority;
  • (b) a joint authority;
  • (c) the Common Council;
  • (d) a joint board or joint committee falling within subsection (2) below;
  • (e) a combined police authority which is a body corporate.
  • (2) A joint board or joint committee falls within this subsection if—

  • (a) it is constituted under any enactment as a body corporate; and
  • (b) it discharges functions of two or more principal councils;
  • and for the purposes of this subsection any body falling within paragraph (a), (b) or (c) of subsection (1) above shall be treated as a principal council.

    (3) In its application by virtue of subsection (1) above in relation to a body falling within paragraph (a), (b), (d) or (e) of that subsection, section 100A(6)(a) above shall have effect with the insertion after the word "council" of the words "(and, if the meeting is to be held at premises other than those offices, at those premises)".

    (4) In its application by virtue of subsection (1) above, section 100G(1) (a) above shall have effect—

  • (a) in relation to a joint authority or a combined police authority, with the substitution for the words from "ward" onwards of the words "name or description of the body which appointed him"; and
  • (b) in relation to a joint board or joint committee falling within subsection (2) above with the omission of the words from "ward" onwards.'
  • No. 28, in page 11, line 11, at end insert—

    "principal council" shall be construed in accordance with section 100II above.'.

    No. 45, in page 21, line 25, leave out clause 5.

    This group of amendments concerns extensions of the Bill to various new bodies such as joint authorities, ILEA, including the new form of the Inner London education authority, and combined police authorities. Amendment No. 1 deletes the words "PRINCIPAL COUNCILS" and inserts "CERTAIN AUTHORITIES" in recognition of the fact that part VA when linked with amendment No. 25 will apply to bodies other than principal councils as defined under section 270 of the Local Government Act 1972.

    Amendment No. 25 adds new section 100II to the Local Government Act 1972. Under subsection (1), the Bill's provisions are extended to the new ILEA, joint authorities created under parts III and IV of the Local Government Bill, the Common Council of the City of London and the joint bodies which are bodies corporate —for instance, the joint planning boards in respect of national park areas constituted under schedule 17(I) of the 1972 Act and combined police authorities which are bodies corporate.

    The amendment does this by treating these bodies as principal councils for the purposes of the Bill. The application to combined police authorities which are bodies corporate stems from the fact that, of the 10 combined police authorities, nine are bodies corporate under section 3(1) of the Police Act 1964 and one—Hampshire and the Isle of Wight —is a committee of the constituent county council under section 3(4) of the Police Act 1964. At present, therefore, the provisions of the Bill apply to the latter but not to the other combined police authorities which are bodies corporate and therefore not committees.

    It would be anomalous to have one combined police authority subject to the Bill's provisions and not the others. By extending the provisions to combined police authorities which are bodies corporate, the amendment recognises the anomaly which exists as a result of the extensions of the provisions of the 1960 Act to section 101(9) committees by section 100 of the 1972 Act.

    I hope that my hon. Friend can restrain herself for a moment, because I may well deal with her question in the balance of my opening comments.

    Subsection (2) defines the joint board or joint committee as one
    "constituted under any enactment as a body corporate"
    which
    "discharges functions of two or more principal councils'.
    It includes as a principal council for this purpose the new ILEA, the joint authority and the Common Council of the City of London.

    I understand my hon. Friend's comments on the way in which the provisions dealing with bodies corporate will apply to this Bill. Does my hon. Friend expect that at some time in the future the Bill will be extended to those authorities that are not bodies corporate, such as the district health authorities and the new water authorities? I believe that that would be a highly desirable move.

    Even at this relatively early hour my hon. Friend has touched on a matter which I am sure will strike a sympathetic chord among hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber. Were Ito follow my hon. Friend with a deliberation on the advantages and disadvantages of her suggested course of action, I would be rapidly ruled out of order by you, Mr. Speaker, because my Bill cannot extend to all those bodies. I am, however, happy to join my hon. Friend in expressing a wish that there should he legislation in due course to extend these measures to bodies such as those that she described.

    Subsection (3) modifies the requirement in new section 100A(6) (a) that
    "public notice of the time and place of the meeting should be given by posting it at the offices of the council"
    by providing that notice should also be given at the premises where the meeting is to be held, if it is not held at the council's offices. While principal councils under the 1972 Act will have prominent, well-known offices, the offices of some of the bodies introduced by subsection (1) of the amendment may be less conspicious. For example, a joint board's offices might simply be a room in the council's offices.

    Subsection (4) provides the necessary modifications to the requirement under new section 100G(1) (a) —to maintain a register stating
    "the name and address of every member of the council for the time being and the ward or division which he represents"
    in relation to a joint authority or combined police authority which is a body corporate and in relation to a joint board or joint committee. Similar modification is not required in respect of ILEA, where it will be possible to state the division which the elected member represents, or in relation to the Common Council of the City of London, where there are electoral wards. The effect of the modifications is that for joint authorities and combined police authorities the body which appointed the member must be registered. For joint authorities, the body will be a London borough.

    Amendment agreed to.

    9.45 am

    I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 12, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—

    '(b) information the disclosure of which to the public is prohibited by or under any enactment, other than the Data Protection Act 1984, or by the order of a court'.

    With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 21, in page 9, line 14, at end insert—

    '(2B) The Data Protection Act 1984 (and, in particular section 26(1) of that Act) shall have effect as if the following words were added at the end of section 34(5) (personal data exempt from nondisclosure provisions in certain cases), namely, "or
    (c) made in the course of proceedings which, by virtue of section 100A(1) of the local Government Act 1972, are open to the public at a meeting of a principal council or a committee or sub-committee of a principal council ('principal council' and 'committee or sub-committee of a principal council' being construed in accordance with Part VA of that Act)".'.
    No. 29 in clause 2, page 12, line 10, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—
    '(b) information the disclosure of which to the public is prohibited by or under any enactment other than the Data Protection Act 1984, or by the order of a court.'.

    The amendment concerns an important area of data protection and trade secrets. Amendment No. 2 replaces section 100A(3) (b) by deleting the words

    "obtained by or furnished to the authority in pursuance of any power or duty conferred or imposed by or under any enactment where",
    and adding the words
    "other than the Data Protection Act 1984, or by the order of a court".
    The existing section 100A(3) (b) forbids disclosure of information protected by the law and specifically collected by a council. One purpose of the amendment — the reason for deleting those words —is to cover information of the type incidentally collected by a council and not simply obtained by or furnished to it in pursuance of a power or duty. An example is in relation to the various prohibitions on disclosure of trade secrets. Under various Acts an officer of a local authority has the power to enter a factory. He may incidentally gain information about trade secrets. If so, the Acts impose a criminal offence on his disclosing that information except in the course of his duties. It is therefore necessary for section 100A(3) (b) to be wide enough to prevent disclosure of such information incidentally obtained.

    The other purpose of the amendment —the addition of the words
    "other than the Data Protection Act 1984, or by the order of a court"—
    is, in the case of the Data Protection Act 1984, to make it clear that the category of confidential information under section 100A(3) (b) does not cover information the disclosure of which is prohibited by that Act.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way yet again. I am sorry if I am being a bit of a pest, but it is important to clarify what is being said. Local authority officers may not fully comprehend what my hon. Friend is saying. Earlier this week, it was drawn to my attention that a local authority officer might have access to secret trade information which is gathered by, say, the chemical industry. The officer might not recognise that the information could pose a danger if the contents were exposed to public scrutiny. The contents might be in danger of being misinterpreted by the people reading it. Does my hon. Friend intend that explanatory notes will go out to authorities to emphasise the importance of making this part of the Bill fully understood by those who will have to operate under it?

    My hon. Friend has touched on a serious point. I hope that she will accept, with her wide experience in local government prior to becoming a Member, that local authorities in general have been very responsible in handling trade secrets and allied matters. I submit that the number of occasions on which a body corporate can complain that its trade secret has been released is small. I am sure that that will continue, because local authorities act responsibly. I, too, by chance, have had discussions with the chemical industries on this matter. They will be happier with the position that results from this amendment. As my hon. Friend says, they were concerned 'not just about trade secrets but about licence details and so on, for dangerous chemicals, and the fact that such information might fall into unauthorised hands. It is important that the local authority should be protected in that way.

    I cannot tell my hon. Friend the exact form in which local authorities may be advised, but I have strong indications that one or more local authority associations are likely, following the passage of the Bill into law, to be advising their members as to the areas to which authorities should be paying attention.

    Amendment No. 21 adds a new subsection (2B) to section 100H, which in effect amends the Data Protection Act 1984. The purpose of that Act is to prevent the disclosure of personal data or information extracted from that data. Disclosure in breach of the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1984 is a criminal offence and may also lead to the registrar removing the name of a data holder from the register. It is an offence to hold data without being registered. Data are defined as information recorded in a form in which it can be processed by equipment operating automatically in response to instructions given for that purpose.

    Section 34 of the Data Protection Act contains exemptions from the disclosure provisions. There is an exemption if the disclosure is required by or under any enactment. Accordingly, it is considered that disclosure in any documents required to be made available under the Bill —minutes, reports, background papers and so on —would not contravene the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1984. However, section 100A merely deals with whether the public have a right to attend a meeting; it does not deal with what is required to be said or disclosed at meetings. The Bill allows the public to be excluded, depending on the information which may be disclosed at the meeting. It should not depend on whether or not that information has been extracted from data. Accordingly, the amendment is necessary to provide that the disclosure of information extracted from data in the course of a council meeting is not a contravention of the Data Protection Act 1984.

    Finally, in the case of a reference to the "order of a court", if somebody had given a local authority information in confidence, he may in the right circumstances be able to obtain an injunction from the court against the authority, if it appeared that the authority were intending to disclose the information without proper cause. An example might be the details of a secret chemical process, in the circumstances that I mentioned earlier.

    If an order is made, it is right that the public should be excluded from a meeting during discussion of the item of business in which the information is likely to be disclosed. In many cases, it is likely that the information would fall into the categories of exemption under schedule 12A, so the authority would already have the power to exclude the public. The amendment is necessary to cover information which may not be covered under schedule 12A and to make it clear that the public should be excluded.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move amendment No. 97, in page 4, line 11, at end insert— '(3A) An item of business may not be considered at, a meeting of a principal council unless either—

  • (a) a copy of the agenda including the item (or a copy of the item) is open to inspection by members of the public in pursuance of subsection (1) above for at least three clear days before the meeting or, where the meeting is convened at shorter notice, from the time the meeting is convened; or
  • (b) by reason of special circumstances which shall be specified in the minutes, the chairman of the meeting is of the opinion that the item should be considered at the meeting as a matter of urgency.'.
  • With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 95, in clause 2, page 14, line 11, at end insert—

    '(3A) An item of business may not be considered at a meeting of a local authority unless either—
  • (a) a copy of the agenda including the item (or a copy of the item) is open to inspection by members of the public in pursuance of subsection (1) above for at least three clear days before the meeting or, where the meeting is convened at shorter notice, from the time the meeting is convened; or
  • (b) by reason of special circumstances, which shall be specified in the minutes, the chairman of the meeting is of the opinion that the item should be considered at the meeting as a matter of urgency.'.
  • I meant to say earlier that hon. Members will no doubt have noticed that, for each of the references to English legislation, there is a parallel reference to Scottish legislation. If I do not immediately refer to that on each and every occasion, I am sure that on balance hon. Members will be prepared to assume that each of the amendments is being moved in parallel in that sense. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who is on the Front Bench, will be particularly relieved to have that piece of information.

    The sponsors and I have had a number of discussions with local authority associations to try to find a form of words which would cover urgent business but, by the same token, not create a form of words through which it would be possible to drive the proverbial coach and four by allowing matters to be tabled at the last minute, and thus in practice to frustrate one of the purposes of the Bill, which is to allow members of the general public an opportunity to see reports and agendas in advance of the meetings.

    The amendment introduces a new subsection (3A) of section 100B. It provides:
    "An item of business may not be considered at a meeting of a principal council unless either— (a) a copy of the agenda including the item (or a copy of the item) is open to inspection by members of the public in pursuance of subsection (1) above for at least three clear days before the meeting or, where the meeting is convened at shorter notice, from the time the meeting is convened; or (b) by reason of special circumstances, which shall be specified in the minutes, the chairman of the meeting is of the opinion that the item should be considered at the meeting as a matter of urgency".
    The effect of the amendment is to prohibit the consideration of any late item of business unless it has been open to public inspection in accordance with paragraph (a) or unless
    "by reason of special circumstances…the chairman of the meeting is of the opinion that the item of business should be considered at the meeting as a matter of urgency".
    In the latter case, the reason for considering the item of business must be specified in the minutes. It takes account of the views expressed by the local authority associations, which, in relation to the difficulties which could arise in connection with the preparation of the summary report after the exclusion of exempt information, consider that the word "record" would be more appropriate than the word "account".

    Does the hon. Member not feel that in paragraph (b) of amendment No. 97 the provision for the opinion of the chairman to be the only deciding factor as to whether there are"special circumstances" leaves the matter wide open, and could remove the safeguards which he is trying to built: into the Bill?

    The hon. Member has been an assiduous supporter of the Bill and it is good to see him here with us this morning. He makes a valid point. There is inevitably, perhaps, an area of compromise here. Whatever the form of words upon which we were to settle, we would have to recognise that there would need to be at the very least the right to take matters as a matter of urgency, and that ultimately the interpretation of that would lie, so to speak, in the self-same hands of councillors and officers, as suggested by the amendment.

    I recognise what the hon. Member says as being a possibility, but I hope that in the post-legislation atmosphere in which we shall be operating councillors and members of the public will be able to highlight such matters, particularly if they seemed to be taking place as a matter of course, and thus shame the relevant authority into behaving in a more responsible manner. As I said, I accept what the hon. Member says as being possible. It is equally a possibility in several other clauses. All I can do is to set a framework and hope that the House will recognise the problems under which we operate.

    I share the concern that has been expressed about paragraph (b). of the amendment, not because I do not think that it is necessary —indeed, I think it is exceedingly necessary — but from my experience in local government I know that there are occasions when certain items are put to a chairman and that, if they are not taken through committee at the time in question, they inevitably cause delay to the work of the local authority and affect the good management of the local authority in general. I believe that some provision such as this is necessary in the Bill. I am merely concerned that the phrasing of the provision may be open to misinterpretation. I can offer no solutions whatever.

    My other concern is that the amendment does not specifically refer to those matters which might be brought before a committee, in the opinion of the chairman, as a matter of urgency, and which are also matters which would be taken in private by the local authority. That is a device that those of us who have years of experience in local government could easily use if we wished to exclude information from the eyes of the general public.

    I wish to draw attention to those matters. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) has already said, it is impossible to stop up every gap in any legislation. The possibilities of misuse should be fully understood at the beginning, so that local authorities know that we in the House would take a rather dim view of a local authority that did not put into practice the spirit of the Bill. That important point should be made. The intention encapsulated in the amendment is important and should not be used and abused by local government, easy though that might be.

    10 am

    I should like to ask the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) why what is provided in amendment No. 97 is not applied to sub-committees, unless I misunderstand the Bill. I have seen open examples of this in the past few days. The use of subcommittees is much more open to abuse than meetings of principal councils. Indeed, the more one applies pressure on the main meetings of the council, the more business is hidden away in a committee, and the more one applies pressure to the committee, the more business is hidden away in sub-committee. Had the hon. Gentleman thought of applying the same principle to sub-committees as is contained in amendment No. 95?

    I sympathise with the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) trying to puzzle his way through some of the amendments, because they are complex. My clear understanding is that elsewhere we have agreed that a meeting of a principal council will include, in this context, a committee and sub-committee—for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman rightly gives, that the provision must apply to all meetings, not merely the council meeting itself. I accept his point and assure him that my understanding is that the matter is covered.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 5, line25, leave out from 'not' to 'of' in line 26 and insert 'provide members of the public with a reasonably fair and coherent record'.

    With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 4, in page 5, line29, leave out from beginning to end of line 30 and insert 'the part, as the case may be, which provides such a record without disclosing the exempt information'.

    No. 30, in clause 2, page 15, line 25, leave out from 'not' to 'of' in line 26 and insert

    'provide members of the public with a reasonably fair and coherent record'.

    No. 31, in clause 2, page 15, line 29, leave out from beginning to end of line 30 and insert

    'the part, as the case may be, which provides such a record without disclosing the exempt information'.

    As keen-eared listeners will have noted and kindly not pointed out, I inadvertently referred to amendment No. 3 in my speech on amendment No. 97. I am grateful to the House for not pulling me up.

    This is a minor group of amendments. Amendments Nos. 3 and 30 have the effect of deleting the words
    "reasonably fair and coherent account"
    and substituting
    "reasonably fair and coherent record".
    Amendment No. 4 is consequential.

    The purpose of these minor amendments is to take account of the views of local authority associations. Throughout the proceedings on the Bill there have been detailed discussions with local authority associations, which I have much welcomed. I should like to pay tribute to them. Their advice has been invaluable and their co-operation, as we have gone through each stage of the Bill, has been critical. They felt that in connection with the preparation of the summary after the exclusion of exempt information the word "record" would be more appropriate than the word "account".

    Amendment agree to.

    Amendment made: No. 4, in page 5, line 29, leave out from beginning to end of line 30 and insert

    'the part, as the case may be, which provides such a record without disclosing the exempt information'.—[Mr. Squire.]

    I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 6, line 40, leave out from 'council' to end of line 43.

    With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 6, in page 7, line 8, leave out '(if any)'.

    No. 7, in page 7, line 21, leave out from beginning to end of line 34 and insert—

    '(3) Any reference in this Part to a committee or subcommittee of a principal council is a reference to—

  • (a) a committee which is constituted under an enactment specified in section 101(9) below or which is appointed by one or more principal councils under section 102 below; or
  • (b) a joint committee not falling within paragraph (a) above which is appointed or established under any enactment by two or more principal councils and is not a body corporate; or
  • (c) a sub-committee appointed or established under any enactment by one or more committees falling within paragraph (a) or (b) above.
  • (4) Any reference in this Part to a constituent principal council, in relation to a committee or sub-committee, is a reference—

  • (a) in the case of a committee, to the principal council, or any of the principal councils, of which it is a committee; and
  • (b) in the case of a sub-committee, to any principal council which, by virtue of paragraph (a) above, is a constituent principal council in relation to the committee, or any of the committees, which established or appointed the sub-committee.
  • No. 8 in page 7, line 40, leave out from 'council' to end of line 42.

    No. 14, in page 8, line 10, leave out from beginning to end of line 22.

    No. 22, in page 9, line 38, leave out from 'of' to 'and' in line 40 and insert

    'a committee or sub-committee of a principal council'.

    No. 26, in page 10, line 33, at end insert—

    "committee or sub-committee of a principal council" shall be construed in accordance with section 100E(3) above;
    "constituent principal council" shall be construed in accordance with section 100E(4) above'.

    No. 27, in page 11, line 11, leave out from beginning to end of line 19.

    No. 41, in clause 2, page 21, line 4, after 'below', insert

    'other than a committee constituted under the enactment specified in paragraph (d) of that section'.

    No. 71, in the schedule, page 23, line 45, leave out 'or constitued by'.

    No. 72, in the schedule, page 24, line 1, leave out from beginning to end of line 10 and insert—

    '

    (b) in the case of a committee, to—
  • (i) any constituent principal council;
  • (ii) any other principal council by which appointments are made to the committee or whose functions the committee discharges; and
  • (iii) any other committee or sub-committee of a principal council failing within sub-paragraph (i) or (ii) above; and
  • (c) in the case of a sub-committee, to—
  • (i) the committee, or any of the committees, of which it is a sub-committee; and
  • (ii) any principal council which falls within paragraph (b) above in relation to that committee.'.
  • Although many amendments are in this group, only a couple are what might be termed major amendments. All the others are consequential. These amendments deal with the definition of committees, subcommittees and so on. Amendment No. 5 deletes the words in section 100E(1) (b) relating to committees or subcommittees constituted under an enactment specified in section 101(9) of the Local Government Act 1972. The purpose of the amendment is to simplify the definition of a committee or sub-committee of a principal council. That has been made possible because of the extension of the Bill to cover other bodies —for example, the Common Council of the City of London and combined police authorities. It means that the Bill now covers all committees and sub-committees constituted under the enactment specified in section 101(9) of the 1972 Act as well as all committees constituted under section 102 of that Act.

    Amendment No. 7 deletes the words after subsection (2) (c) in section 100E and also subsection (3) of section 100E, and replaces them with new subsections (3) and (4). New subsection 100E(3) defines which committees and sub-committees of a principal council are covered by the Bill. They are, first, in paragraph (a).
    "a committee … constituted under an enactment specified in section 101(9)"
    of the 1972 Act, or a committee or joint committee appointed by principal councils only under section 102 of the 1972 Act; secondly, in paragraph (b)., joint committees established by two or more principal councils under enactments other than those covered by paragraph (a); and, thirdly, in paragraph (c), sub-committees established
    "under any enactment by one or more committees falling within paragraph .(a). or (b) ".
    New subsection 100E(4) replaces the existing section 100E(3) in defining what a constituent principal council means in relation to a committee or sub-committee.

    The purpose of the amendment is to introduce another part of the simplification of drafting in relation to committees and sub-committees. It applies the Bill to joint committees established by two or more principal councils under enactments other than section 102 of the 1972 Act. That is because there are several Acts, apart from that section of the 1972 Act, which empower councils to set up joint committees. All those Acts cannot be listed comprehensively as many are local Act powers; for example, the Humber Bridge Act 1973 and the Clifton Suspension Bridge Act 1980. New section 100E(3)(c) will cover joint sub-committees set up by two committees. An example is joint social services sub-committees under section 4 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970.

    All the other amendments are consequential and, despite my delivery, and not necessarily having said so, I assure the House that these are clarifying and simplifying amendments.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 6, in page 7, line 8, leave out (if any)'.

    No. 7, in page 7, line 21, leave out from beginning to end of line 34 and insert—

    '(3) Any reference in this Part to a committee or subcommittee of a principal council is a reference to—
  • (a) a committee which is constituted under an enactment specified in section 101(9) below or which is appointed by one or more principal councils under section 102 below; or
  • (b) a joint committee not falling within paragraph (a) above which is appointed or established under any enactment by two or more principal councils and is not a body corporate; or
  • (c) a sub-committee appointed or established under any enactment by one or more committees falling within paragraph (a) or (b) above.
  • (4) Any reference in this Part to a constituent principal council, in relation to a committee or sub-committee, is a reference—
  • (a) in the case of a committee, to the principal council, or any of the principal councils, of which it is a committee; and
  • (a) in the case of a sub-committee, to any principal council which, by virtue of paragraph (a) above, is a constituent principal council in relation to the committee, or any of the committees, which established or appointed the sub-committee.
  • No. 8, in page 7, line 40, leave out from 'council' to end of line 42 — [Mr. Squire.]

    With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 49, the schedule, page 22, line 12, at end insert—

    '1A, Information relating to a particular employee, former employee or applicant to become an employee of, or a particular officer, former officer or applicant to become an officer appointed by—
  • (a) a magistrates' court committee, within the meaning of section 19 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1979; or
  • (b) a probation committee appointed under paragraph 2 of Schedule 3 to the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973'.
  • No. 59, in the schedule, page 23, line 4, after '1', insert'1A'.

    This group of amendments is concerned with magistrate and probation committee employees. They add paragraph IA to schedule 12A, part I, paragraph references already in section 100F(2). At the moment, a councillor may not automatically see documents which disclose exempt information of a description falling within this paragraph. Paragraph 1A of schedule 12A, part I, covers information relating to employees of magistrates courts and probation committees. It is needed because county councils are the paying authority for those committees and may therefore have to discuss information relating to a particular employee of such a committee.

    Such information would not be exempt under paragraph 1 of part I of the schedule because the persons concerned are employees not of the local authority but of the committees referred to. I see no reason for councillors having an automatic right to see papers on those matters, any more than they have an automatic right to see them on employee matters. Therefore, with this sample amendment I am bringing employees in magistrates courts and probation committees into line with all other staff.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move amendment No. 10, in page 8, line 4, after '8', insert '8B'.

    With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 52, in the schedule, page 22 line 31, leave out '

    or (b) a collective agreement'.
    No. 53, in the schedule, in page 22, line 32, at end insert—
    '8B. Information relating to any consultations or negotiations, or contemplated consultations or negotiations in connection with any labour relations matter arising between the authority or a Minister of the Crown and employees of, or office-holders under, the auhority.'
    No. 62, in the schedule, in page 23, line 19, leave out from 'services' to end of line 20.

    No. 63, in the schedule, in page 23, line 20, at end insert—

    '5. Information falling within paragraph 8B of Part I above is exempt information if and so long as disclosure to the public of the information would prejudice the authority in those or any other consultations or negotiations in connection with a labour relations matter arising as mentioned in that paragraph.'
    No.65, in the schedule, in page 23, line 30, leave out from beginning to end of line 31.

    No. 68, in the schedule, in page 23, line 33, at end insert—

    '"labour relations matter" means—
  • (a) any of the matters specified in paragraphs (a) to (g) of section 29(1) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 (matters which may be the subject of a trade dispute, within the meaning of that Act); or
  • (b) any dispute about a matter falling within paragraph (a) above;
  • and for the purposes of this definition the enactments mentioned in paragraph (a) above, with the necessary modifications, shall apply in relation to office-holders under the authority as they apply in relation to employees of the authority'
    No. 75, in the schedule, in page 25, line 5 at end insert—
    '9A. Information relating to any consultations or negotiations, or contemplated consultations or negotiations, in connection with any labour relations matter arising between the authority or a Minister of the Crown and employees of, or officeholders under, the authority.'.
    No. 83, in the schedule, in page 25, line 33, at end insert—
    '5. Information falling within paragraph 9A of Part 1 above is exempt information if and so long as disclosure to the public of the information would prejudice the authority in those or any other consultations or negotiations in connection with a labour relations matter arising as mentioned in that paragraph.'.
    No. 85, in the schedule in page 25, line 40, leave out from beginning to end of line 41.

    No. 88, in the schedule, in page 25, line 43, at end insert—

    '"labour relations matter" means—
  • (a) any of the matters specified in paragraphs (a) to (g) of section 29(1) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974(matters which may be the subject of a trade dispute, within the meaning of that Act); or
  • (b) any dispute about a matter falling within paragraph (a) above;
  • and for the purposes of this definition the enactments mentioned in paragraph (a) above, with the necessary modifications, shall apply in relation to office-holders under the authority as they apply in relation to employees of the authority.'.

    We now come to industrial relations matters, although I hope that we shall not use the opportunity to break out into any unofficial action.

    These amendments restrict the automatic right of a councillor to see documents falling within paragraph 8A of schedule 12A, not least because, as with the previous group of amendments, there is currently no automatic right—I stress the word "automatic"-to see papers on these matters.

    Amendment No. 53 provides more comprehensively than the existing provision in paragraph 8 of part I of the schedule for exempt information in respect of labour relations matters. It covers:

    "Information relating to any consultations or negotiations, or contemplated consultations or negotiations, in connection with any labour relations matter arising between the authority or a Minister of the Crown and employees of, or office-holders under, the authority."
    The term "labour relations matter" is defined in part III of the schedule.

    Amendments Nos. 52, 62 and 65 are consequential.

    Amendment No. 63 adds a new paragraph to part II of the schedule qualifying paragraph 8B of part I. Paragraph 8B includes information relating to consultations or negotiations in connection with labour relations matters as exempt information. New paragraph 5 provides that information is exempt under paragraph 8B only so long as its disclosure to the public would prejudice the authority in consultations or negotiations referred to in that paragraph or arising under it.

    In short, information is capable of protection under paragraph 8B only so long as disclosure would prejudice the authority in relevant consultations or negotiations. With your wide experience of these matters, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure that you and other hon. Members will appreciate that there are various stages in industrial relations negotiations and that matters which may be deemed exempt and confidential at one stage may be expected to become non-confidential and able to be released at a later stage. While the local authority as employer is considering its position, it seems right that it should be protected in this way.

    Amendment No. 68 defines the term "labour relations matter" used in paragraph 8B of part I of the schedule. The definition reads:
    "'labour relations matter' means—
  • (a) any of the matters specified in paragraphs (a) to (g) of section 29(1) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 (matters which may be the subject of a trade dispute, within the meaning of that Act): or
  • (b) any dispute about a matter falling within paragraph (a) above".
  • I wished to achieve a generally accepted definition and I submit that that set out in the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974, regardless of the way in which individual Members may feel about the Act itself, is a useful bench mark in this respect. Amendment No. 68 further provides:

    "for the purposes of this definition the enactments mentioned in paragraph (a) above, with the necessary modifications, shall apply in relation to office-holders under the authority as they apply in relation to employees of the authority."
    This provision is necessary because section 29(1) of the 1974 Act deals with disputes between employers and workers.

    Subject to those comments, the remaining amendments are consequential and, I submit, clarify what is and is not to be regarded as an industrial relations matter.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move amendment No. 11, in page 8, line 4, leave out 'and 9' and insert '9 and 10'.

    With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 12, in page 8, line 4, after 'of', insert 'Part I of.

    This is the third and final group of amendments dealing with restrictions on council members' automatic rights. It deals with a small but important aspect concerning the prevention of crime. Paragraph 10 of part I of schedule 12A concerning the prevention of crime is being added to the list of categories of exempt information which councillors may not automatically see.

    10.15 am

    The purpose is to prevent a councillor investigating on behalf of an interested constituent and beyond his remit as a member of a functioning committee or subcommittee legal advice available to the council of which he is a corporate member. I do not suggest for one moment that this land is peopled with councillors who would act in that way, but it is clearly possible that a member of the public facing potential criminal proceedings by a local authority might, through his or her local councillor, seek to obtain information surrounding that in a way which might frustrate the enforcement of the law and the punishment of criminal activity. To protect that position, but recognising that this places some small restraint on councillors' lawful activities, it seems right and proper that councillors should not have automatic access to such information. The purpose of amendment No. 11 is to make that clear.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendment made: No. 12, in page 8, line 4, after 'of, insert 'Part I of'.— [Mr. Squire.]

    I beg to move amendment No. 13, in page 8, line 6, at end insert—

    '(2A) The Secretary of State may by order amend subsection (2) above—
  • (a) by adding to the description of exempt information to which that subsection refers for the time being; or
  • (b) by removing any description of exempt information to which it refers for the time being.
  • (2B) Any statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (2A) above shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'

    With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 24, in page 10, line 30, leave out from begining to 'subject' in line 31 and insert—

    '(4) Any statutory instrument containing an order under this section shall be'.
    No. 33, in clause 2, page 17, line 45, at end insert—

    '(2A) The Secretary of State may by order amend subsection (2) above—
  • (a) by adding to the descriptions of exempt information to which that subsection refers for time being; or
  • (b) by removing any description of exempt information to which it refers for the time being.
  • (2B) Any statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (2A) above shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'.
    No. 40, in clause 2, page 20, line 10, leave out from beginning to 'subject' in line 11 and insert—

    '(3) Any statutory instrument containing an order under this section shall be.'.

    I hope that the House is not becoming bored with this near-monologue. These amendments cover important areas and I am grateful for the patience of the House.

    Amendment No. 13 gives the Secretary of State power to amend section 100F(2) relating to the whole area of exempt information. It provides that the Secretary of State may, by negative resolution order, vary the categories of exempt information in schedule 12A which councilors may not automatically see. The purpose of the amendment is perhaps obvious, in that section 1001 gives the Secretary of State power, by negative resolution order, to vary the categories of exempt information in schedule 12A. Section 100F(2) dealing with councillors' rights, or lack of them, clearly relates to certain paragraphs in part I of schedule 12A and there is a need to be able to vary those references as well.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendment made: No. 14, in page 8, line 10, leave out from beginning to end of line 22. — [Mr. Squire.]

    I beg to move amendment No. 15, in page 8, line 30, at end insert—

    '(1 A) A principal council shall maintain a list—
  • (a) specifying those powers of the council which are for the time being delegated, otherwise than temporarily, to officers of the council and exercisable accordingly from time to time by those officers; and
  • (b) stating the title of the officer to whom each of those powers is for the time being so delegated;
  • and for the purposes of this subsection powers are delegated "temporarily" if they are delegated for a specified period not exceeding six months.'.

    With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 17, in page 8, line 37, after 'above', insert

    'the list maintained under subsection (1A)above'.
    No. 34, in clause 2, page 18, line 12, at end insert—

    '(1A) A local authority shall maintain a list—
  • (a) specifying those powers of the authority which are for the time being delegated otherwise than temporarily, to officers of the authority and exercisable accordingly from time to time during that period by these officers; and
  • (b) stating the title of the officer to whom each of these powers is for the time being so delegated;
  • and for the puposes of this subsection powers are delegated "temporarily" if they are delegated for a specified period not exceeding six months.'.
    No. 36, in clause 2, page 18, line 21, after 'above', insert
    ', the list maintained under subsection (1A) above'.
    No. 43, in page 21, line 18, leave out Clause 3.

    I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold) will be following this closely, as the purpose is to amenc the new clause introduced by her and accepted by the Standing Committee with regard to the delegated powers of officers.

    The amendment provides:
    "(1A) A principal council shall maintain a list—
  • (a) specifying those powers of the council which are for the time being delegated, otherwise than temporarily, to officers of the council and exercisable accordingly from time to time by those officers; and
  • (b) stating the title of the officer to whom each of those powers is for the time being so delegated;
  • and for the purposes of this subsection powers are delegated "temporarily" if they are delegated for a specified period not exceeding six months".
    I do not suggest that six months is necessarily ideal. As always, there is no doubt a range of opinion. After discussion with the local authority associations, however, and especially in view of difficulties that may arise in the summer holiday period, my initial proposal of three months was replaced by a six-month period, which was regarded as better and safer.

    The amendment replaces the present clause 3, which would be impracticable in that it would cover every type of delegation made by a council, including the thousands of temporary delegations. The amendment seeks to overcome the problem by limiting the list to delegations made for a period exceeding six months and by excluding delegations to do something on one occasion only.

    The list is open to public inspection at the council offices by virtue of consequential amendment No. 17. Many authorities already publish the information in any event, but I remind the House, and especially hon. Members who were not members of the Standing Committee, that the purpose of these provisions is to ensure that there is a regular opportunity for members of the council to review the delegated powers being exercised by officers and to establish whether they are inadequate, sufficient or excessive vis-à-vis their own powers and those exercised by other local authorities.

    The hon. Gentleman referred to amendments Nos. 15, 17 and 43, which stand in his name. Has he any comments to make on amendments Nos. 34 and 36, which do not stand in his name? When dealing with previous batches of amendments he has similarly not referred to amendments that have been tabled by others. Does this mean that the amendments will not be moved, or does it mean that he accepts them?

    I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was in his place when I referred to amendments Nos. 34 and 36. They represent the Scottish equivalents— not that I would ever suggest that anything in Scotland could ever be an equivalent—of the proposed English and Welsh legislation of which I am speaking.

    When I was in local government, I was one of the few who believed in delegation. I should have welcomed a great deal more of it. I believed that the locally elected members were there to determine policy and that, once policy had been determined, it was not sensible for them to spend hours of public time and considerable public money scruitinising every decision that they had made when that work could well have been delegated to officers.

    I am concerned about the amendment — I am probably not understanding it fully—as it provides that delegated powers will have to be reviewed over a period. I accept that it is proper that delegated powers should be published—that is what I wanted in the first place—but the idea of consistent and continuous review concerns me.

    Experience has told me that if individuals are given opportunities to claw back responsibilities which they have delegated in the past, they will often think to themselves, "Perhaps it would be quite nice to have that bit back again." This extends — in my view, needlessly — the work that is done by local authorities, and leads them to expend more public money unnecessarily, thus encouraging those who would otherwise be pursuing matters of major policy to delve into minor matters that are better given to those who are employed by the authorities and paid by them.

    I am worried that local authorities, and especially elected members, spend far too much time trying to duplicate the work of those whom they employ. For this reason, I am slightly concerned that the proposed amendment to the original idea, which provides an opportunity to scrutinise what has been delegated, should imply that the elected members might claw back some of their earlier responsibilities.

    I accept that with this amendment, as with many others and as with the Bill itself, there is a question of balance. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold) is right to emphasise that. In taking the entirely neutral view that all hon. Members take when considering the activities of local authorities, it would be fairly easy for me to produce a list of authorities which seem at first sight to give excessive delegated powers to officers. That list could be balanced by a second list of other authorities where individual councillors seem to regard themselves as equivalent to officers, as evidenced by the time that they sit in the council offices and the energies that they there expend.

    Being an old-fashioned thing, I tend to side with what I take to be the implications of my hon. Friend's intervention. I accept that the essential role of councillors is to take strategic decisions and that council officers are there to administer and to carry out councillors' decisions. If the amendment is accepted, it will not seek to impose any particular balance. It will allow councillors to review the delegated powers to ascertain whether they are doing too much or too little.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move amendment No. 16, in page 8, line 31, leave out from beginning to end of line 35 and insert—

    '(2) There shall be kept at the offices of every principal council a written summary of the rights—
  • (a) to attend meetings of a principal council and of committees and sub-committees of a principal council, and
  • (b) to inspect and copy documents and to be furnished with documents,
  • which are for the time being conferred by this Part, Part XI below and such other enactments as the Secretary of State by order specifies.'

    With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 18, in page 8, line 37, leave out 'made' and insert 'kept'.

    No. 35, in Clause 2, page 18, line 13, leave out from beginning to end of line 19 and insert—

    '(2) There shall be kept at the offices of every local authority a written summary of the rights—
  • (a) to attend meetings of the authority and of committees and sub-committees of the authority, and
  • (b) to inspect and copy documents and to be furnished with documents,
  • which are for the time being conferred by this Part, Part XI below and such other enactments as the Secretary of State by order specifies.'.
    No. 37, in Clause 2, page 18, line 21, leave out 'made' and insert 'kept'.

    The amendment is directed to a summary of the public's rights and the powers of the Secretary of State to amend. It provides for a principal council to keep in its offices

    "a written summary of the rights … to attend meetings of a principal council and of committees and sub-committees of a principal council, and … to inspect and copy documents and to be furnished with documents which are conferred"
    by part VA, as proposed, and part 11 of the 1972 Act and such other enactments as the Secretary of State may by order specify. The amendment will replace section 100G(2) and represents a compromise when set against my original intention that the Bill should oblige councillors to publish a summary of the public's right of access to information under all enactments. I now accept that such a requirement would not be practicable in view of the diversity of legislation involved.

    The amendment widens the summary of rights to the extent of adding an order which gives the Secretary of State power to specify which enactments other than the Bill and part 11 of the 1972 Act are to be covered. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has it in mind to issue such an order should the Bill become law, and that that will be done after discussions with relevant local authority associations.

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
    (Mr. William Waldegrave)

    I confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will exercise his power as my hon. Friend has said and will make an order that will list the relevant enactments. It is important that the consultations that precede the making of such an order should be widespread both with the local authority associations and with other interested parties.

    The consultations which my right hon. Friend will undertake might be somewhat extended to cover consultations with local authorities about further information which might be made available by the Department to help with the working of the Bill, which we hope will shortly be an Act. Without making any specific commitments, may I say that there may be room for consideration of advice from my Department. The Government have made strenuous efforts to reduce the number of circulars sent to local authorities, on the ground that circulars are part of the nannying that local authorities, on the whole, do not want. However, in the context of a new enactment, we shall discuss with authorities whether it would be helpful to them to be given some advice and explanation. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be willing to take part in such discussions.

    I congratulate my hon. Friend on the great skill and care with which he has wended his way through extremely complex amendments. Of course, there are plenty more to come. I congratulate him also on the progress that he is making. The speed with which we are progressing represents the fact that my hon. Friend, my officials and those concerned with the Bill in general have worked together closely and effectively. Our consideration of the Bill this morning is really the tip of the iceberg. A great deal of work had to be done to enable us to make such speedy progress, and I congratulate my hon. Friend.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 17, in page 8, line 37, after 'above', insert

    'the list maintained under subsection (1A) above'.

    No. 18, in page 8, line 37, leave out 'made' and insert 'kept'.— [Mr. Squire.]

    10.30 am

    I beg to move amendment No. 19, in page 9, line 6, after 'may', insert 'subject to subsection (2A) below'.

    With this it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 20, in page 9, line 14 at end insert—

    '(2A) Subsection (2) above does not require or authorise the doing of any act which infringes the copyright in any work except that, where the owner of the copyright is a principal council, nothing done in pursuance of that subsection shall constitute an infringement of the copyright.'.

    No. 38, in clause 2, page 18, line 34, after 'may', insert

    'subject to subsection (2A) below'.

    No. 39, in clause 2, page 18, line 42, at end insert—

    ' (2A) Subsection (2) above does not require or authorise the doing of any act which infringes the copyright in any work except that, where the owner of the copyright is a local authority, nothing done in pursuance of that subsection shall constitute an infringement of the copyright.
    (2B) The Data Protection Act 1984 (and, in any particular, section 26(1) of that Act) shall have effect as if the following words were added at the end of section 34(5) (personal data exempt from non-disclosure provisions in certain cases), namely,", or
    (d) made in the course of proceedings which, by virtue of section 50A(1) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, are open to the public at a meeting of a local authority (within the meaning of that Act) or a committee or sub-committee of a local authority in relation to which sections 50A to 50D of that Act apply by virtue of section 50E of that Act"; '

    In responding to the comments made on the last amendment by the Minister, for which I thank him, it might be of interest to hon. Members to know that we are now slightly past half way through the amendments that have been tabled, which news will be treated either with horror or amazement, according to taste.

    This is another important group of amendment.; because it is concerned with the whole question of copyright, and the amendment introduces a new subsection to cover copyright. It provides that there is no duty to supply copies where to make a copy would infringe the copyright in the document. It does not apply where the owner of the copyright is the principal council, as copyright will not be infringed if the owner of the copyright consents to the copy. Councils should not be allowed to refuse to furnish copies by refusing to give that consent.

    The purpose of the amendment is to prevent the Bill from overriding copyright law. An example of how that could happen, were the amendment not accepted, would be copies of plans with which councils are supplied in connection with applications for planning permission or building regulation approval. The architect will own the copyright in such plans, and his copyright would be infringed if the council reproduced the plans, for example, by supplying copies to the public pursuant to the rights in section 100D or to councillors pursuant to section 100F.

    Will the amendment help to do away with the nonsense that goes on in the education world, when people who take copies of music from which children sing in schools are uncertain whether they must pay copyright dues to the Performing Right Society?

    Up to now I have regarded my hon. Friend's interventions as helpful. I regard any intervention that expects me to make an immediate judgment on anything involving not merely children but teachers to be so loaded with implications that I hesitate to commit myself. I cannot comment on the subject. Sheltering perhaps behind a predictable response, I can only tell my hon. Friend that nothing that I am proposing here will affect the existing position.

    Although my hon. Friend says that I am highlighting an existing abuse, I fear that I am not tackling it in this measure, so that, if the position is unsatisfactory, that may continue to be the case following the passage of my Bill.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) must have been astonished at some of the areas in which his Bill has had to make him become expert, though I doubt if, when he set out on this route, he thought that he would have to become an expert on copyright law. That shows how complex is legislation of this kind, and I congratulate him again on wending his way through it.

    Copyright law is one of the most complex matters with which my hon. Friend has had to wrestle in the Bill. The point to be resolved is whether the measure, in providing for local government information to be open to the public, should override existing copyright law, or whether that law should remain unaffected. There are two schools of thought on that.

    The Government believe that my hon. Friend is wise to have opted, at least for the time being, for the latter course and to have left the present law unaffected. That seems to be the right decision in the context of the Bill. The rights and interests of a significant number of third parties, other than local authorities and persons wishing to have information, would be affected by a change in the copyright law.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold) mentioned architects as one example. It would not be practicable to assess the precise merits or demerits of such a change without consulting properly the kinds of bodies that would be expected to represent the interests of those who would be likely to be affected.

    In the education world a dispute has been going on for a number of years about the way in which copyright operates in relation to educational information for children in schools. That issue has presented, and still presents, many problems, and although I am now some distance from the argument, two or three years ago there were great problems in that area. While I accept that they are probably best not dealt with in the context of this measure, I hope that the Minister has taken note of the point.

    I too remember, although with less depth of experience than my hon. Friend, this problem when we served together on the national advisory body for local authority higher education, and I recall it being a matter that affected polytechnics. I also have some tangential contact with it now because of my responsibility for the ordnance survey, which gives various copyright privileges to schools; for example, its maps are important.

    I will follow up my hon. Friend's remarks with Government colleagues who are more directly responsible in this area. While it does not affect the Bill, it is an important issue and I will ask colleagues to write to my hon. Friend to clarify the position, and I will send her details of the ordnance survey practice, which is important in this context.

    If we were to have made changes to the existing copyright law in the Bill, we should have wanted to consult, for example, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the British Property Federation, the Joint Contracts Tribunal and the Law Society; and I have no doubt that we should want to add others to the list.

    In the time available for the preparation of the Bill, and with the many other complicated matters with which my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch has had to deal, there has not been a chance—it would not have been realistic to expect him to have had the chance — to consult in the necessary depth on this issue, and in the time remaining to him it would be impossible for him to do that. I am glad, therefore, that my hon. Friend is agreeing that it is sensible for his Bill to maintain the existing position, rather than to tackle a matter the ramifications of which could prove even more intricate than those with which he has had to deal. The course that he is recommending to the House is therefore sensible.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 20, in page 9, line 14, at end insert—

    '(2A) Subsection (2) above does not require or authorise the doing of any act which infringes the copyright in any work except that, where the owner of the copyright is a principal council, nothing done in pursuance of that subsection shall constitute an infringement of the copyright.'.

    No. 21, in page 9, line 14, at end insert—

    '(2B) The Data Protection Act 1984 (and, in particular, section 26(1) of that Act) shall have effect as if the following words were added at the end of section 34(5) (personal data exempt from non-disclosure provisions in certain cases), namely, "or
    (c) made in the course of proceedings which, by virtue of section 100A(1) of the Local Government Act 1972, ae open to the public at a meeting of a principal council or a committee or sub-committee of a principal council ('principal council' and 'committee or sub-committee of a principal council' being construed in accordance with Part VA of that Act)".'.

    No. 22, in page 9, line 38, leave out from 'of' to 'and' in line 40 and insert

    'a committee or sub-committee of a principal council'.—[Mr. Squire.]

    I beg to move amendment No. 23, in page 10, line 13, at end insert—

    '(6) The rights conferred by this Part to inspect, copy and be furnished with documents are in addition, and without prejudice, to any such rights conferred by or under any other enactment'.

    It will be convenient for the House to consider at the same time amendment No. 91, in clause 2, page 19, line 41, at end insert—

    '(6) The rights conferred by this Part to inspect, copy and be furnished with documents are in addition, and without prejudice, to any such rights conferred by or under any other enactment.'.

    This is a minor amendment designed to avoid doubt that the rights under the Bill to inspect copy, and to be furnished with photocopies of documents, should be additional to, and without any prejudice to, rights to inspect documents under any other enactments. For example, the Local Government Finance Act 1982 has a number of provisions in that respect.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 24, in page 10, line 30, leave out from beginning to 'subject' in line 31 and insert—

    '(4) Any statutory instrument containing an order under this section shall be'.

    No. 25, in page 10, line 32, at end insert—

    'Application to new authorities, Common Council, etc.
    100II—(1) Except in this section, any reference in this Part to a principal council includes a reference to—,
  • (a) the Inner London Education Authority;
  • (b) a joint authority;
  • (c) the Common Council;
  • (d) a joint board or joint committee falling within subsection (2) below;
  • (e) a combined police authority which is a body corporate.
  • (2) A joint board or joint committee falls within this subsection if—
  • (a) it is constituted under any enactment as a body corporate; and
  • (b) it discharges functions of two or more principal councils;
  • and for the purposes of this subsection any body falling within paragraph (a), (b) or (c) of subsection (1) above shall be treated as a principal council.
    (3) In its application by virtue of subsection (1) above in relation to a body falling within paragraph (a), (b), (d) or (e) of that subsection, section 100A(6)(a) above shall have effect with the insertion after the word "council" of the words "(and, if the meeting is to be held at premises other than those offices, at those premises)".
    (4) In its application by virtue of subsection (1) above, section 100G(1)(a) above shall have effect—
  • (a) in relation to a joint authority or a combined police authority, with the substitution for the words from "ward" onwards of the words "name or description of the body which appointed him"; and
  • (b) in relation to a joint board or joint committee falling within subsection (2) above with the omission of the words from "ward" onwards.'.
  • No. 26, in page 10, line 33, at end insert—

    "'committee or sub-committee of a principal council" shall be construed in accordance with section 100E(3) above;
    "constituent principal council" shall be construed in accordance with section 100E(4) above'.

    No. 27, in page 11, line 11, leave out from beginning to end of line 19.

    No. 28, in page 11, line 11, at end insert—

    "principal council" shall be construed in accordance with section 100II above. '.-[Mr. Squire.]

    Clause 2

    Access To Meetings And Documents Of Local Authorities And Certain Committees And Sub- Committees In Scotland

    Amendments made: No. 29, in page 12, line 10, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—

    '(b) information the disclosure of which to the public is prohibited by or under any enactment other than the Data Protection Act 1984, or by the order of a court.'.

    No. 95, in page 14, line 11, at end insert—

    '(3A) An item of business may not be considered at a meeting of a local authority unless either—
  • (a) a copy of the agenda including the item (or a copy of the item) is open to inspection by members of the public in pursuance of subsection (1) above for at least three clear days before the meeting or, where the meeting is convened at shorter notice, from the time the meeting is convened; or
  • (b) by reason of special circumstances, which shall be specified in the minutes, the chairman of the meeting is of the opinion that the item should be considered at the meeting as a matter of urgency. '.
  • No. 30, in page 15, line 25, leave out from 'not' to 'of in line 26 and insert

    'provide members of the public with a reasonably fair and coherent record'.

    No. 31, in page 15, line 29, leave out from beginning to end of line 30 and insert

    'the part, as the case may be, which provides such a record without disclosing the exempt information'.-[Mr. Squire.]

    I beg to move amendment No. 32, in page 17, line 43, leave out '6, 8 and 9' and insert

    '5, 7, 9 to 11 and 13 of Part I'.
    This is a simple amendment designed to cover the Scottish position concerning members' rights. It is identical to the matter discussed on amendments Nos. 11 and 12.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 33, in page 17, line 45, at end insert—

    '(2A) The Secretary of State may by order amend subsection (2) above—
  • (a) by adding to the descriptions of exempt information to which that subsection refers for the time being; or
  • (b) by removing any description of exempt information to which it refers for the time being.
  • (2B) Any statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (2A) above shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament. '.

    No. 34, in page 18, line 12, at end insert—

    '(1A) A local authority shall maintain a list—
  • (a) specifying those powers of the authority which are for the time being delegated otherwise than temporarily, to officers of the authority and exercisable accordingly from time to time during that period by these officers; and
  • (b) stating the title of the officer to whom each of these powers is for the time being so delegated;
  • and for the purposes of this subsection powers are delegated "temporarily" if they are delegated for a specified period not exceeding six months.'.

    No. 35, in page 18, line 13, leave out from beginning to end of line 19 and insert—

    '(2) There shall be kept at the offices of every local authority a written summary of the rights—
  • (a) to attend meetings of the authority and of committees and sub-committees of the authority, and
  • (b) to inspect and copy documents and to be furnished with documents,
  • which are for the time being conferred by this Part, Part XI below and such other enactments as the Secretary of State by order specifies.'.

    No. 36, in page 18, line 21, after 'above', insert

    ' the list maintained under subsection (1A) above'.

    No. 37, in page 18, line 21, leave out 'made' and insert

    No. 38, in page 18, line 34, after 'may', insert

    'subject to subsection (2A) below'.

    No. 39, in page 18, line 42, at end insert—

    '(2A) Subsection (2) above does not require or authorise the doing of any act which infringes the copyright in any work except that, where the owner of the copyright is a local authority, nothing done in pursuance of that subsection shall constitute an infringement of the copyright.
    (2B) The Data Protection Act 1984 (and, in any particular, section 26(1) of that Act) shall have effect as if the following words were added at the end of section 34(5) (persona]. data exempt from non-disclosure provisions in certain cases), namely,", or
    (d) made in the course of proceedings which, by virtue of section 50A(1) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, are open to the public at a meeting of a local authority (within the meaning of that Act) or a committee or sub-committee of a local authority in relation to which sections 50A to 50D of that Act apply by virtue of section 50E of that Act";'.

    No. 91, in page 19, line 41, at end insert—

    '(6) The rights conferred by this Part to inspect, copy and be furnished with documents are in addition, and without prejudice, to any such rights conferred by or under any other enactment. '.

    No. 40, in page 20, line 10, leave out from beginning to 'subject' in line 11 and insert—

    '(3) Any statutory instrument containing an order under this section shall be. '.

    No. 41, in page 21, line 4, after 'below', insert

    'other than a committee constituted under the enactment specified in paragraph (d) of that section'.

    No. 42, in page 21, line 16, leave out from beginning to end of line 17. — [Mr. Squire.]

    Clause 3

    List Of Delegated Powers

    Amendment made: No. 43, in page 21, line 18, leave out Clause 3.— [Mr. Squire.]

    Clause 4

    Extent

    Amendment made: No. 44, in page 21, line 24, at beginning insert

    'Except for this section and section (Consequential amendments and repeals) in so far as it relates to paragraph 2 of Schedule (Consequential amendments) '.—[Mr. Squire.]

    Clause 5

    Application

    Amendment made: No. 45, in page 21, line 25, leave out Clause 5.— [Mr. Squire.]

    Clause 6

    Commencement

    10.45 am

    I beg to move amendment No. 46, in page 21, line 28, leave out 'take effect' and insert 'come into force'.

    This is a drafting amendment that alters the wording to what I am advised is the standard terminology.

    Amendment agreed to.

    New Schedule

    'Consequential Amendments

    Defamation Act 1952 (c. 66)
    1. — (1) The Schedule to the Defamation Act 1952 (by virtue of which, among other things, newspaper reports of all proceedings at meetings of local authorities and their committees are privileged unless admission to the meetings is denied to representatives of newspapers and other members of the public) shall be amended as follows.
    (2) At the beginning of paragraph 13 (interpretation) there shall be inserted "(1)" and for the definition of "local authority" in that paragraph there shall be substituted the following " 'local authority' means—
  • (a) any principal council, within the meaning of the Local Government Act 1972, any body falling within any paragraph of section 100II(1) of that Act and any local authority, within the meaning of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973;
  • (b) any authority or body to which the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 applies; and
  • (c) any authority or body to which sections 23 to 27 of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 apply;
  • and any reference to a committee of a local authority shall be construed in accordance with sub-paragraph (2) below."
    (3) After paragraph 13(1) there shall be added the following sub-paragraph—
    "(2) Any reference in this Schedule to a committee of a local authority includes a reference—
  • (a) to any committee or sub-committee in relation to which sections 100A to 100D of the Local Government Act 1972 apply by virtue of section 100E of that Act (whether or not also by virtue of section 100II of that Act); and
  • (b) to any committee or sub-committee in relation to which sections 50A to 50D of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 apply by virtue of section 50E of that Act."
  • Defamation Act (Northern Ireland) 1955 (c.11, N.I.)

    2. — (1) The Schedule to the Defamation Act (Northern Ireland) 1955 (which makes similar provision to the Schedule to the Defamation Act 1952) shall be amended as follows.
    (2) At the beginning of paragraph 13 (interpretation) there shall be inserted "(1)" and for the definition of "local authority" in that paragraph there shall be substituted the following—
    " 'local authority' means—
  • (a) any authority or body to which sections 23 to 27 of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 apply;
  • (b) any principal council, within the meaning of the Local Government Act 1972, any body falling within any paragraph of section 100II(1) of that Act and any local authority, within the meaning of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973;
  • (c) any authority or body to which the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 applies;
  • and any reference to a committee of a local authority shall be construed in accordance with sub-paragraph (2) below."
    (3) After paragraph 13(1) there shall be added the following sub-paragraph—
    "(2) Any reference in this Schedule to a committee of a local authority includes a reference—
  • (a) to any committee or sub-committee in relation to which sections 100A to 100D of the Local Government Act 1972 apply by virtue of section 100E of that Act (whether or not also by virtue of section 100II of that Act); and
  • (b) to any committee or sub-committee in relation to which sections 50A to 50D of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 apply by virtue of section 50E of that Act."
  • Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 (c.67)

    3. —(1) The Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 shall be amended as follows.
    (2) In section 1(1), the words "local authority or other" shall be omitted and for the words "an authority or other body" there shall be substituted the words "a body".
    (3) Section 2(2) shall be omitted.
    (4) In the Schedule (which defines the bodies to which the Act applies) for paragraph 1 (a) there shall be substituted the following paragraph—
    " (a) parish or community councils, the Council of the Isles of Scilly and joint boards or joint committees which discharge functions of any of those bodies (or of any of those bodies and of a principal council, within the meaning of the Local Government Act 1972, or a body falling within paragraph (a), (b) or (c) of section 100II(1) of that Act)".
    (5) In paragraph 1 of the Schedule, paragraphs (aa) and (ab) (as inserted by the Local Government Act 1985) and (d) shall be omitted.
    (6) In paragraph 1(h) of the Schedule, for the words "police authorities" there shall be substituted the words "bodies to which sections 100A to 100D of the Local Government Act 1972 apply, whether or not by virtue of section 100E or 100II of that Act".
    (7) In paragraph 2 of the Schedule, paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (f) shall be omitted.

    Police Act 1964 (c. 48)

    4. In section 3 of the Police Act 1964 (police authorities for combined areas) after subsection (3) there shall be inserted the following subsection—
    "(3A) Meetings of a combined police authority which is (as well as one which is not) a body corporate are open to the public, and documents relating to such meetings are open to inspection by the public, in accordance with the provisions of Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972."

    Local Government Act 1972 (c. 70)

    (5) In section 100 of the Local Government Act 1972 (which applies the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 in relation to all committees of local authorities)—
  • (a) in subsection (2), the words from "to any committee constituted" to "101(9) below and" shall be omitted; and
  • (b) at the end of that subsection there shall be added the words "or section 100E(3)(a) or (b) below (whether or not by virtue of section 100II below)".
  • Local Government Finance Act 1982 (c. 32)

    6. In section 18 of the Local Government Finance Act 1982, in subsection (5) (auditor's report to be supplied to members and newspapers) after the word "excluded" there shall be inserted "(a)" and at the end of that subsection there shall be added the following words, that is to say, "or under section 100B(6) of the 1972 Act (which makes similar provision); or
    (b) from the documents open to inspection by members of the public under section 100B(1) of the 1972 Act (agenda and reports open to the public before a meeting);
    and Part VA of the 1972 Act shall have effect in relation to the report as if in section 100C(1) (d) of that Act (by virtue of which only so much of a report as relates to proceedings open to the public is open to public inspection after the meeting) the words 'so much of and from 'as relates' onwards were omitted.
    (6) In subsection (5) above, 'the 1972 Act' means the Local Government Act 1972.".'.—[Mr. Squire.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Schedule

    Repeals

    ChapterShort titleExtent of repeal
    8 & 9 Eliz. 2 C. 67Public bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960In section 1(1), the words, c. 67. to Meetings) Act 1960"localauthorityor other". Section 2(2). In the Schedule, paragraph 1(aa), (ab) and (d) and paragraph 2 (a), (b),(c) and (f).
    1972 c. 65.Local Government Act 1972.In Section 100(2) the 1972. words from "to any committee constituted" to "101(9) below and".
    1973 C. 65.Local Government (Scot-land) Act 1973Section 44.'. — [Mr. Squire.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    Schedule

    Exempt Information

    Amendment made: No. 49, in page 22, line 12, at end insert—

    '1A. Information relating to a particular employee, former employee or applicant to become an employee of, or a particular officer, former officer or applicant to become an officer appointed by—
  • (a) a magistrates' court committee, within the meaning of section 19 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1979; or
  • (b) a probation committee appointed under paragraph 2 of Schedule 3 to the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973'.—[Mr. Squire.]
  • I beg to move amendment No. 50, in page 22, line 24, at end insert '(other than the authority)'.

    With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 60, in page 23, line 8, leave out from 'paragraph' to end of line 9 and insert

    'if it is required to be registered under—
  • (a) the Companies Act 1985;
  • (b) the Friendly Societies Act 1974;
  • (c) the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts 1965 to 1978;
  • (d) the Building Societies Act 1962; or
  • (e) the Charities Act 1960.'
  • No. 67, in page 23, line 33, at end insert

    ' "financial or business affairs" includes contemplated, as well as past or current, activities'.

    No. 73, in page 24, line 36, at end insert '(other than the authority)'.

    No. 80, in page 25, line 21, leave out from 'paragraph' to end of line 22 and insert

    'if it is required to be registered under—
  • (a) the Companies Act 1985;
  • (b) the Friendly Societies Act 1974;
  • (c) the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts 1965 to 1978; or
  • (d) the Building Societies Act 1962;
  • No. 87, in page 25, line 43, at end insert—

    '"financial or business affairs" includes contemplated, as well as past or current activities.'.

    This is an important area. It concerns the information that may or may not be released by a local authority in respect of business and financial matters or other information coming into the authority's possession.

    Amendment No. 50 makes it clear that the words "any particular person" in paragraph 6 of part I of the schedule, which term includes the body corporate, do not include the local authority in question. The financial or business affairs of the local authority will thus not be exempt information.

    Amendment 60 is most important. It amends paragraph 2 of part II of the schedule, and qualifies paragraph 6 of part I, which makes
    "Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person"
    —including a company—exempt information. Paragraph 2 of part II as it stands provides that such information
    "is not exempt information unless it was obtained by the authority in the course of negotiations for a contract."
    I have had a number of discussions on this area. I am satisfied that the wording needs clarification for the benefit of local authorities as well as for those who deal with them. The amendment removes the reference to "negotiations for a contract" and provides instead that information is not exempt under paragraph 6 of part I if it is required to be registered under the Companies Act 1985 or other specified enactments. The intention is that information about the financial or business affairs of a person or company shall be exempt unless it is already required to be publicly available by virtue of the specified enactments. The amendment thus widens considerably the category of exempt information under paragraph 6 of part 1 of the schedule.

    Hon. Members of a more radical nature may be disappointed, but I hope not. It seems to me to be a fair compromise to require that information that is already required to be made public, under, for instance, the Companies Act 1985, should fairly and properly still be regarded as public information even though it may have come into the hands of the local authority by another route.

    We would be treading in very difficult territory if we suggested that information not otherwise required to be made public by a company under any existing legislation should none the less be subject to deliberate or accidental release by a local authority—so far as one can legislate for the accidental. That would bring in a number of other questions that I cannot cover in this measure.

    I hope that hon. Members will realise that, although it is a compromise, the route suggested in amendment No. 60 has the advantage of clarity, which must be very important, especially to local government officers dealing with requests.

    Amendment No. 67 inserts a definition of "financial or business affairs", which term is used in paragraph 6 of part 1 of the schedule. It defines the term to include
    "contemplated, as well as past or current, activities".
    It would thus include the forward planning of a person or company with regard to financial or business matters, details of which had been disclosed to the local authority. The amendment is designed to avoid doubt on that point.

    This is a very important group of amendments. I admit that I am marginally disappointed by my hon. Friend's compromise, although I accept that information that can now be disclosed under the Companies Act 1985 is—if there must be a compromise —the right information to be subject to disclosure.

    Local authorities face certain difficulties in their negotiations with companies, especially in relation to development. Many local authorities today are in the business of development, especially urban authorities that are anxious to redevelop and improve their towns because of the age of the buildings and the new requirements of the community. Today, nearly all those negotiations are carried on not only with private sector companies, some of them major ones, but also with financial institutions in order to secure funding for the project.

    Such negotiations could be completely undermined if they were dragged out into the open long before the concluding negotiations had been undertaken by the local authority, the funding institution and the developer. At such a stage, such negotiations are very delicate. People are often in competition. The local authority is charged with responsibility for getting not only the best development for its town but also the best deal for the people whom it represents. The authority is both seeking finance from financial institutions and making a contribution from public funds, by donation or negotiation of land.

    It is therefore important that safeguards should be built in to enable local authority officers, if not local authority members, to participate in the early stages of negotiation and, to some extent, the medium-term stages, in a climate that provides for stability and sensible negotiation. No financial institution, and certainly no private developer, will risk putting plans on the table if those plans could be undermined immediately by competitors because of disclosure at an early stage of the development proposals.

    Let us suppose that a local authority wished to build a new public library, block of offices or shopping centre. If design and development were disclosed at an early stage the local authority officers could not make progress, especially as they are charged with looking after the public sector, as well as protecting those who come to them from the private sector in terms of the way in which finance is to be arranged. I make those points clear, because it is important that they should be put on the record and so that the Bill, which I hope will shortly become an Act, will be understood as well as possible.

    Having said those few words, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) will acknowledge that I accept his compromise, but with some reluctance.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move amendment No. 51, in page 22, line 30, leave out from 'acquisition' to third 'or' in line 31 and insert

    'or disposal of property or the supply of goods or services'.

    With this, it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 66, in page 23, line 31, at end insert—

    ' "disposal", in relation to property, includes the granting of an interest in or right over it'.

    No. 74, in page 25, line 3, leave out from 'acquisition' to the end of line 5 and insert

    'or disposal of property or the supply of goods or services'.

    No. 86, in page 25, line 41, at end insert—

    "'disposal" in relation to property, includes the granting of an interest in or right over it,'.

    This group of amendments is fairly simple and essentially tidies up the wording, leaving out "acquisition" and inserting

    "or disposal of property or the supply of goods or services".
    The effect is to delete the word "development" in paragraph (8) (a). It is unnecessary to refer to "development", since that is encompassed within
    "the supply of goods or services".
    It is also, in a sense, undesirable, because "development" is not referred to in paragraph (7). It is preferable that paragraphs (7) and (8) should refer to the same matters in this respect.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 52, in page 22, line 31, leave out

    'or (b) a collective agreement'.

    No. 53, in page 22, line 32, at end insert—

    '8B. Information relating to any consultations or negotiations, or contemplated consultations or negotiations, in connection with any labour relations matter arising between the authority or a Minister of the Crown and employees of, or office-holders under the authority.'—[Mr. Squirej

    I beg to move amendment No. 54, in page 22, line 32, at end insert—

    '8A. The identity of the authority (as well as of any other person, by virtue of paragraph 6 above) as the person offeing any particular tender for a contract for the supply of goods or services.'.

    With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 70, in page 23, line 38, at end insert—

    '"tender for a contract" includes a written statement prepared by the authority in pursuance of section 9(2) of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 (estimated cost of carrying out functional work by direct labour)'.

    No. 92, in page 25, line 5, at end insert—

    '9A. The identity of the authority (as well as of any other person, by virtue of paragraph 6 above) as the person offering any particular tender for a contract for the supply of goods or services.'.

    No. 94, in page 26, line 6, at end insert—

    "tender for a contract" includes a written statement prepared by the authority in pursuance of section 9(2) of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 (estimated cost of carrying out functional work by direct labour)'.

    These amendments cover direct labour organisations. As has been remarked, we are certainly covering a range of areas today. As I believe my hon. Friend the Minister has said, it is quite extraordinary how many other aspects of life have been drawn into a Bill that started with very simple intentions.

    Amendment No. 54 inserts a new paragraph (8A) into part I of schedule 12A. It provides that the identity of the authority as the person offering any particular tender for a contract for the supply of goods or services shall be exempt information. The intention is to put the authority in the same position as any private contractor in this respect, where the authority's direct labour organisation puts in a bid in an endeavour to secure work which the authority wishes to have carried out.

    The words in parentheses—
    "(as well as of any other person, by virtue of paragraph 6 above)"—
    make it clear that the identity of a private contractor tendering for a contract is exempt information under paragraph (6) of part I of schedule 12A. Contractors are generally concerned that the amount of their tender, where it is unsuccessful, should not be revealed and it is the practice of many authorities to publish lists of unsuccessful tenders and tenders in a way that prevents the two from being related.

    The term "tender for a contract" in new paragraph (8A) is defined in part III of the schedule to include a written statement prepared by the authority in pursuance of section 9(2) of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. That is the section covering the estimated cost of carrying out functional work by direct labour. The reason for this is that the local authority cannot enter into the contract with itself, in the form of its direct labour organisation. The direct labour organisation cannot, therefore, tender for a contract, but under the terms of section 9(2) of the 1980 Act it puts forward a statement of estimated cost.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move amendment No. 98, in page 22, line 33, leave out paragraph 9 and insert—

    '9. Any instructions to counsel and any opinion of counsel (whether or not in connection with any proceedings) and any advice received, information obtained or action to be taken in connection with—
  • (a) any legal proceedings by or against the authority, or
  • (b) the determination of any matter affecting the authority, (whether, in either case, proceedings have been commenced or are in contemplation).'
  • With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 93, in page 25, line 6, leave out paragraph 10 and insert—

    10. Any instructions to counsel and any opinion of counsel (whether or not in connection with any proceedings) and any advice received, information obtained or action to be taken in connection with—
  • (a) any legal proceedings by or against the authority, or
  • (b) the determination of any matter affecting the authority,
  • (whether, in either case, proceedings have been commenced or are in contemplation).'

    So far we may have discussed subjects that have led us to enter rather dangerous waters—or perhaps, if I am lucky today, I should say that have led us to walk on rather dangerous waters—but this group of amendments, which seeks to look at the whole question of legal privilege, may well, in the opinion of many non-barristers and lawyers, lead us into the most dangerous waters of all.

    In essence, the amendment represents a small extension of legal privilege. It substitutes a new paragraph (9) for the existing one. As one might expect me to say, it follows, again, considerable consultation. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister most warmly for the fulsome co-operation of his staff at the Department of Employment—

    I apologise for that mistake. I was not suggesting that my hon. Friend had been transferred. His staff have been of outstanding assistance to me in relation to this and many other amendments under discussion.

    The addition of the opening words
    "Any instructions to counsel and any opinion of counsel whether or not in connection with any proceedings"
    marginally widens the extent of the legal privilege; while the addition of the words in the added sub-paragraph (b) makes information exempt not only where legal proceedings are in train or contemplated, as in subparagraph (a), but also where a matter affecting the authority is for determination, or a determination is contemplated other than in a court of law. Sub-paragraph (b) applies only where the determination of the matter rests with some person or body other than the authority. It is intended to give the authority privacy in preparing its case for an inquiry, such as a compulsory purchase inquiry, or in making written representations, or representations before somebody appointed by the Secretary of State to hear them.

    In an area in which many people could dance on the head of the proverbial pin, the amendment nevertheless represents another reasonable compromise which protects the legitimate interests of counsel to be able to lake and discuss possible courses of action without revealing that prematurely, and also grants the public access to information to which they have a right to expect access.

    I hope that I am not dancing too finely on the head of a pin, but perhaps the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) could clear up one point. It is difficult to interrelate some of the amendments. The House has already agreed to amendment No. 32, and it would appear that members of a council would not necessarily have the right to receive advice on exempt information.

    A recent case involving Strathclyde regional council was the subject of some notoriety or prominence in the press. The auditor of the local government accounts advised the leader of the council that certain payments made under social work legislation to miners and their families were illegal. A report was drawn up by the director of social work, and the leader of the council discussed it privately with the leader of the Conservative group, the leader of the alliance and with the Scottish nationalist groups on the council. Apparently, other members of the council were not made aware of the contents of the report.

    Would members of the council still not have the right to see such a report? The leader of Strathclyde regional council interpreted the position as meaning that, when the auditor made a report to him, it was to him personally and not to the council. He thought that it was his duty not to divulge it to the council. Under the legislation. would members of the council be able to exercise a right to see the terms of such an auditor's report, as well as the report drafted in response to it from the director of social work?

    In responding to that important point, I should perhaps underline that the protection that the amendment seeks to give arises only where legal action is in train or is contemplated. The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that in such conflicts, legal action will. or will not, be ultimately involved. But the point that he has made is important, and I confirm that the information will be exempt information being in the category that is initially protected from the automatic right of councillor access.

    I invite the hon. Gentleman, although I do not think I need to, to glance at authorities other than his own, where I fear that he will readily see that the opposition party— I make no allegations about the nature of that opposition because I am not even sure that it will always be other than my own — could, or just one councillor could, by obtaining the sort of information that we are talking of here, where legal action is contemplated but the matter has not been resolved, prevent the local authority from carrying out a proper and reasonable discussion of its actions on behalf of the community. That would have the net effect of frustrating what, arguably, many would want, because of premature disclosure.

    As I have already said, this is an area in which, however many lawyers we have, we shall always have one more judgment. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that timing is important as well as access. In time, if something untoward happens, the fact of that would need to be reported, because where the action is passed it would be a matter of record and would then be published. I regret that I cannot comment in detail on the Strathclyde matter.

    Amendment agreed to.

    11 am

    I beg to move amendment No. 55, in page 22, line 35, at end insert—

    '9A. Information relating to the proposed service by the authority of a notice under any enactment.'

    With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 64, in page 23, line 20, at end insert—

    '6. Information falling within paragraph 9A of Part I above shall cease to be exempt information by virtue of that paragraph if—
  • (a) the notice there referred to is served; or
  • (b) the authority finally decides not to serve the notice in question.'
  • No. 76, in page 25, line 9, at end insert—

    '10A. Information relating to the proposed service by the authority of a notice under any enactment.

    No. 84, in page 25, line 33, at end insert—

    '6. Information falling within paragraph 10A of Part I above shall cease to be exempt information by virtue of that paragraph if—
  • (a) the notice there referred to is served; or
  • (b) the authority finally decides not to serve the notice in question.'.
  • This is another important but small amendment, which covers the serving of notices by a local authority. It inserts a new paragraph 9A in part I of schedule 12A. The effect is to make information relating to the proposed service by the authority of a notice under any enactment exempt information. The intention is to enable the authority to consider the case for such a notice — for example, an enforcement notice under the planning Acts — and reach a decision in the matter without the person on whom it would be served becoming aware of it in advance in circumstances where, perhaps not unnaturally, he or she might take steps to thwart the authority's purpose. The provision is thus designed to protect the authority's action, not the person against whom the action might be taken.

    The paragraph is qualified by new paragraph 6 of part II of the schedule to ensure that the information is exempt only for as long as the authority's action might be prejudiced as I have described.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move amendment No. 90, in page 22, line 36, after 'action', insert 'taken or'.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 56, in page 22, line 36, leave out 'by the authority'.

    No. 57, in page 22, line 38, leave out paragraph 11.

    No. 77, in page 25, line 10, leave out 'by the authority'.

    No. 96, in page 25, line 10, after 'action', insert 'taken or'.

    No. 78, in page 25, line 12, leave our paragraph 12.

    The amendment deals with crime prevention matters which arise as a consequence of the Bill. The three amendments seek to tidy up and clarify.

    Amendment No. 90 inserts the words "taken or" after "action", so that the paragraph will read:
    "action taken or to be taken in connection with the prevention, investigation or prosecution of crime".
    The effect of the amendment is that action already taken, as well as that which it is proposed to take for the purposes stated, will be exempt. If that were not so, the purpose of taking such action might be frustrated by the subsequent leaking of specific information.

    Amendment No. 56 deletes the words "by the authority" in paragraph 10, so that any information that the authority might have about action to be taken, whether by the authority or anyone else—for example, the police—is exempt information. The amendment is designed to provide for sensitive operational information — for instance, intended police action on a series of drug raids —which the chief constable might wish to convey to the local authority but could hardly do so if it were to become public knowledge.

    Amendment No. 57 deletes paragraph 11 of part I of schedule 12A which designates as exempt information arrangements for the security of premises or persons. I, and those whom I have consulted, feel that that paragraph is unnecessary in that the matters that it covers fall completely within paragraph 10—action in connection with the prevention, investigation or prosecution of crime.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 56, in page 22, line 36, leave out 'by the authority'.

    No. 57, in page 22, line 38, leave out paragraph 11. — [Mr. Squire.]

    I beg to move amendment No. 58, in page 22, line 39, at end insert—

    '12. The identity of a protected informant'.

    With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 69, in page 23, line 38, at end insert—

    ' "protected informant" means a person giving the authority information which tends to show that—
  • (a) a criminal offence,
  • (b) a breach of statutory duty,
  • (c) a breach of planning control, as defined in section 87(3) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, or
  • (d) a nuisance,
  • has been, is being or is about to be committed.'

    No. 79, in page 25, line 13, at end insert—

    '13. The identity of a protected informant.'.

    No. 89, in page 26. line 6, at end insert—

    "protected informant" means a person giving the authority information which tends to show that—
  • (a) a criminal offence,
  • (b) a breach of statutory duty,
  • (c) a breach of planning control, as defined in section 84(2) of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972, or
  • (d) a nuisance, has been, is being or is about to be committed.'.
  • I would be the first to say that I do not find the words "protected informant" the choicest. I have struggled without success to find words that would convey the relevant meaning, but I regret that I have failed to do so. "Protected informant" is the best that I have been able to come up with.

    The amendment adds a new paragraph 12 to part I of the schedule. It makes the identity of a protected informant exempt information. The term "protected informant" will be defined in part III, paragraph (2) of the schedule, under amendment No. 69. It means

    "a person giving the authority information which tends to show that—
  • (a) a criminal offence,
  • (b) a breach of statutory duty,
  • (c) a breach of planning control ․or
  • (d) a nuisance, has been, is being or is about to be committed."
  • Will my hon. Friend consider that the words "rat" or "canary" might be more suitable for what he seeks to describe?

    I am conscious, as I know that my hon. Friend is, that the animal lobby in the House and outside is strong. Were Ito follow his suggestion, I am sure that I would receive even more letters than I might receive as a result of putting into statute the words "protected informant".

    The purpose of the provision is to prevent persons in a position to give the authority information that it requires from being inhibited from doing so by fear that their identity will become known to the person committing the offence.

    The only thing that worries me about this is that it could lead to a considerable increase in the number of what I would describe as mischievous informants, who might think that they were raising issues which might fall into the categories that have been listed as a criminal offence or a breach of statutory duty or, more worringly, a breach of planning control or nuisance. In my experience as a member of a local council and a Member of the House, there are a number of such people around who sadly find little else to do but to try, rather mischievously, to stir up trouble. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider that point when he looks at the provision for a protected informant.

    As I have come to expect from her, my hon. Friend makes a valid point. She will know that laws already exist to which people who persistently or outrageously behave in that way will be subject. Behind the rather jocular way in which I have spoken so far, all hon. Members will recognise that some letters should go to the local authority because they show for the first time that something serious may be taking place. Indeed, we have received a few such letters ourselves. If someone suggested to a local authority that a serious crime had been committed, it would be outrageous if the identity of that person were revealed. Therefore, we need to extend protection in that area to ensure that the source of such information continues.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 59, in page 23, line 4, after '1', insert '1A'.

    No. 60, in page 23, line 8, leave out from 'paragraph' to end of line 9 and insert

    'if it is required to be registered under—
  • (a) the Companies Act 1985;
  • (b) the Friendly Societies Act 1974;
  • (c) the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts 1965 to 1978;
  • (d) the Building Societies Act 1962; or
  • (e) the Charities Act 1960.'—[Mr. Squire.]
  • I beg to move amendment No. 61, in page 23, line 12, after 'would', insert 'be likely to'.

    With this it will be covenient to take amendment No. 82, in page 25, line 25, after 'would', insert 'be likely to'.

    This is a simple amendment which inserts the words "be likely to" after "would", so that information is exempt so long as disclosure would be likely to give advantage to a person entering into a contract with the local authority. The amendment is designed to provide a more easily satisfied test than the absolute certainty that disclosure would confer such an advantage.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 62, in page 23, line 19, leave out from 'services' to end of line 20.

    No 63, in page 23, line 20, at end insert—

    '5. Information falling within paragraph 8B of Pan I above is exempt information if and so long as disclosure to the public of the information would prejudice the authority in those or any other consultations or negotiations in connection with a labour relations matter arising as mentioned in that paragraph.'

    No. 64, in page 23, line 20, at end insert—

    '6. Information falling within paragraph 9A of Part I above shall cease to be exempt information by virtue of that paragraph if—
  • (a) the notice there referred to is served; or
  • (b) the authority finally decides not to serve the notice in question.'
  • No. 65, in page 23, line 30, leave out from beginning to end of line 31.

    No. 66, in page 23, line 31 at end insert—

    ' "disposal", in relation to property, includes the granting of an interest in or right over it'.

    No. 67, in page 23, line 33, at end insert

    ' "financial or business affairs" includes contemplated, as well as past or current, activities'.

    No. 68, in page 23, line 33 at end insert—

    '"labour relations matter" means—
  • (a) any of the matters specified in paragraphs (a) to (g) of section 29(1) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 (matters which may be the subject of a trade dispute, within the meaning of that Act); or
  • (b) any dispute about a matter falling within paragraph (a) above; and for the purposes of this definition the enactments mentioned in paragraph (a) above, with the necessary modifications, shall apply in relation to office-holders under the authority as they apply in relation to employees of the authority.'
  • No. 69, in page 23, line 38 at end insert —

    ' "protected informant" means a person giving the authority information which tends to show that—
  • (a) a criminal offence,
  • (b) a breach of statutory duty,
  • (c) a breach of planning control, as defined in section 87(3) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, or
  • (d) a nuisance, has been, is being or is about to be committed.'
  • No. 70, in page 23, line 38, at end insert—

    '"tender for a contract" includes a written statement prepared by the authority in pursuance of section 9(2) of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 (estimated cost of carrying out functional work by direct labour)'.

    No. 71, in page 23, line 45, leave out 'or constituted by'.

    No. 72, in page 24, line 1, leave out from beginning to end of line 10 and insert—

  • ' (b) in the case of a committee, to—
  • (i) any constituent principal council;
  • (ii) any other principal council by which appointments are made to the committee or whose functions the committee discharges; and
  • (iii) any other committee or sub-committee of a principal council falling within sub-paragraph (i) or (ii) above; and
  • (c) in the case of a sub committee to—
  • (i) the committee, or any of the committees, of which it is a sub-committee; and
  • (ii) any principal council which falls within paragraph (b) above in relation to that committee.'.
  • No. 73, in page 24, line 36, at end insert '(other than the authority)'.

    No. 74, in page 25, line 3, leave out from 'acquisition' to the end of line 5 and insert

    'or disposal of property or the supply of goods or services'.

    No. 75, in page 25, line 5, at end insert—

    '9A. Information relating to any consultations or negotia-tions, or contemplated consultations or negotiations, in connection with any labour relations matter arising between the authority or a Minister of the Crown and employees of, or officeholders under, the authority.'

    No. 92, in page 25, line 5, at end insert—

    '9A. The identity of the authority (as well as of any other person, by virtue of paragraph 6 above) as the person offering any particular tender for a contract for the supply of goods or services.'

    No. 93, in page 25, line 6, leave out paragraph 10 and insert—

    '10. Any instructions to counsel and any opinion of counsel (whether or not in connection with any proceedings) and any advice received, information obtained or action to be taken in connection with—
  • (a) any legal proceedings by or against the authority, or
  • (b) the determination of any matter affecting the authority,
  • (whether, in either case, proceedings have been commenced or are in contemplation.'

    No. 76, in page 25, line 9, at end insert—

    '10A. Information relating to the proposed service by the authority of a notice under any enactment.'

    No. 96, in page 25, line 10, after 'action', insert 'taken or'

    No. 77, in page 25, line 10, leave out 'by the authority'.

    No. 78, in page 25, line 12, leave out paragraph 12.

    No. 79, in page 25, line 13, at end insert—

    '13. The identity of a protected informant.'.

    No. 80, in page 25, line 21, leave out from 'paragraph' to end of line 22 and insert

    'if it is required to be registered under—
  • (a) the Companies Act 1985;
  • (b) the Friendly Societies Act 1974;
  • (c) the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts 1965 to 1978; or
  • (d) the Building Societies Act 1962.'—[Mr. Squire.]
  • Clause 6

    Commencement

    I beg to move amendment No. 81, in page 3, line 15, leave out 'England and Wales only' and insert 'the United Kingdom'.

    The amendment simply corrects a mistake, and normally I would move such an amendment formally, but since this might be the last occasion on which the House, probably to its relief, will hear from me this morning, I should like to make a few extra comments.

    I want to thank the House for its patience this morning. I pay tribute to my fellow sponsors. I should like to thank Mr. Des Wilson of the Freedom of Information Campaign, and Mr. Ron Bailey and his team, who have assisted me many times in the last few months.

    I thank the local authority associations, which have had to respond promptly to my urgent requests. I have met their representatives many times to try to clarify the legislation, which they recognise to be important. All of them have been constructive in their approach. They have sought to understand the thrust and sense of the Bill and have given it their full support.

    I do not intend to summarise the purposes of the Bill, because that would be an abuse, but it is an attempt to spread more information—

    Order. I allowed the hon. Gentleman a little latitude, recognising that he would want to thank those who have assisted him, but he must avoid turning the debate on this amendment into a Third Reading debate.

    I should not dream of doing that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I respond immediately to your well-merited correction. I hope hon. Members feel that they have done a good day's work. I hope, too, that the legislation will be a tribute to the House and a starting point for other measures of a similar nature.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made:

    No. 82, in page 3, line 15, leave out 'England and'.

    No. 83, in page 3, line 15, leave out 'and Wales'.— [Mr. Squire.]

    Schedule

    Exempt Information

    Amendments made:

    No. 84, in page 25, line 33, at end insert—

    '6. Information falling within paragraph 10A of Part I above shall cease to be exempt information by virtue of that paragraph if—
  • (a) the notice there referred to is served; or
  • (b) the authority finally decides not to serve the notice in question.'
  • No. 85, in page 25, line 40, leave out from beginning to end of line 41.

    No. 86, in page 25, line 41, at end insert—

    ' "disposal" in relation to property, includes the granting of an interest in or right over it,'.

    No. 87, in page 25, line 43, at end insert—

    ' "financial or business affairs" includes contemplated, as well as past or current activities.'

    No. 88, in page 25, line 43, at end insert—

    ' "labour relations matter" means—
  • (a) any of the matters specified in paragraphs (a) to (g) of section 29(1) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 (matters which may be the subject of a trade dispute, within the meaning of that Act); or
  • (b) any dispute about a matter falling within paragraph (a) above;
  • and for the purposes of this definition the enactments mentioned in paragraph (a) above, with the necessary modifications, shall apply in relation to office-holders under the authority as they apply in relation to employees of the authority.

    'No. 89, in page 26, line 6 at end insert—

    ' "protected informant" means a person giving the authority information which tends to show that—
  • (a) a criminal offence;
  • (b) a breach of statutory duty;
  • (c) a breach of planning control, as defined in section 84(2) of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972, or
  • (d) a nuisance,
  • has been, is being or is about to be committed.'

    No. 94, in page 26, line 6, at end insert— '

    "tender for a contract" includes a written statement prepared by the authority in pursuance of section 9(2) of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 (estimated cost of carrying out financial work by direct labour)'.—[Mr. Squire.]

    Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 58 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

    Dangerous Vessels Bill Lords

    Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

    Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 58 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, without amendments.

    Town And Country Planning (Amendment) Bill

    changed from

    Town And Country Planning (Protection Of Trees And Woodlands) (Amendment) Bill

    As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

    Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 58 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

    Sexual Offences Bill

    Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [10 May], That the clause (no publicity before finding of guilt) proposed on consideration of the Bill, not amended (in the Standing Committee), be read a Second time:

    'Pending or during any proceedings under this Act it shall be an offence to mention publicly, publicise or broadcast the name or names of anyone accused under its provisions before such time as such person or persons is found guilty.'—[Mr. Marlow.]

    11.15 am

    Question again proposed.

    I was on my feet when the debate on the new clause was adjourned last Friday. The new clause was proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). Its purpose is to protect from press publicity persons who are charged, but who might later be found to be innocent, of any of the offences with which the Bill deals.

    If the chances of the innocent being charged were small, the need for protection from publicity would be less of a priority. For that reason, and because I hope that we shall be able to agree a course of action which renders the danger of mistaken prosecution less likely, I shall stray a little wide of new clause 8.

    There has been a great deal of unhappiness about various parts of the Bill. The Minister has agreed to the withdrawal of clause 3, which I thought to be misconceived. Clause 4 increases penalties for various sexual offences and that meets with the approval of the whole House.

    Clause 2 puts the man soliciting in the street in the same jeopardy of prosecution as a woman soliciting a man in the street and as a man soliciting a man in the street. That seems fair.

    The only other clause about which I and other hon. Members have serious reservations is clause 1 which places the male motorist soliciting a woman in greater jeopardy than the male motorist soliciting a man or a female motorist soliciting a man. That seems wrong and requires explanation.

    The Minister argues that the clause is justified and that the insertion of the word "persistently" into that clause would make the law difficult to enforce. I do not accept that. I do not believe that the police find it difficult to enforce the laws on female prostitution, under which a woman has to be cautioned formally three times, or the law covering the man who is suspected of importuning. That offence has to be "persistent". I understand the Minister's argument, and hope that he understands mine.

    If the Minister were prepared to allow another place to examine the new clause with particular reference to the doubts and anxieties which I described last week, if' he undertook to maintain an open mind on the subject and ensured that the House of Lords at least had the opportunity to consider the new clause or another amendment, I should be happy to leave the matter to the judgment of my hon. Friend the Minister and their Lordships.

    I am still certain of the strength of my argument, but I cannot say that my certainty is matched by that of other hon. Members. There seems to be widespread indifference and hon. Members appear to believe that there is nothing to worry about. I wonder whether it is correct for one hon. Member to pursue his own strong feelings on the subject, especially if there might be an opportunity for fresh consideration in another place.

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
    (Mr. David Mellor)

    My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) has spoken handsomely this morning in accordance with the highest traditions of the House. I thank him warmly both on my behalf and on behalf of the Bill's promoter, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes), who unfortunately cannot be with us today.

    I am sure that we now have a way forward. Last week we were able to clear away most of the difficulties that lay in the way of the Bill making progress. I was always uneasy about clause 3 and was content for it to be removed.

    I appreciate the strength of the arguments about the way in which the Bill will be applied and enforced, and I gave undertakings about making full disclosure of the facts so that we should know how many people were arrested in each police area, how many prosecutions arose on those facts — a comparison of those figures would show whether arrests were being made only for the independent prosecution service not to be prepared to turn them into prosecutions — the number of prosecutions and the acquittal rate. All those would be sensitive indicators of whether the law was being correctly enforced.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West also asked whether arrangements could be made to ensure that our thorough and useful debate in Committee about whether the use of the word "persistently" would or would not inhibit clause 1 having its full effect was considered in another place. I am happy to give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. I shall make it my business to ensure, so far as it is within my powers to do so, that the other place has the opportunity to consider the amendment to which my hon. Friend is attracted. There are many distinguished Members of the other place with great experience of the law and other issues which emerge naturally in considering a measure such as this. I believe that they will have ample opportunity to go over the ground, as we did in Committee, and obviously we shall look at the result of their deliberations with great interest.

    I remain of the view, as the Criminal Law Revision Committee was, that the reason for proposing a clause 1 which is distinct from clause 2 is that the only way to end the menace of kerb crawling is to send out a clear message that any act of kerb crawling renders an individual liable to prosecution. It also remains my view—it is also the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Drake—that the importation of the word "persistently" would weaken that clear message that we wished to send out.

    I know that the sponsor of the Bill in another place will argue that the word "persistently" should stay out of the Bill, but it is just as important to know what is a reasonable ground for argument as it is to know one's own mind. I am quite clear that it is a very important topic. It involved five hours of consideration in Committee, and I hope very much that the debate in the House of Lords will cast further light on an important area of the Bill.

    I do not wish to add to what my hon. Friend the Member for Drake said about new clause 8, but I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the latitude to welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Derby-shire, West said, to agree with his proposal as a step forward, and to hope that that step forward will commend itself to the House and that in the time remaining to us today we shall be able to send the Bill on its way to the other place.

    With leave of the House, perhaps I may be allowed to add a final comment.

    I am present today to support the Bill, and I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) was not able to be present to hear the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) accepting the feeling of the House about his extensive observations last week on the word "persistently". I am sure that the appropriate way to proceed is for the amendment on that matter to be considered in detail in the other place. My hon. Friend said last week that he did not intend to talk out the Bill. I am grateful to him for his statement this morning that he is prepared to see the matter considered in the other place rather than the Bill being rejected in this House.

    I hope that what we have heard so far this morning augurs well for the progress of the Bill and that it will be considered by the other place in good time during the present Session.

    Like my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope), I am delighted that the Bill is being considered again today. I am especially pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) has been able to contribute to its progress by offering a palm leaf to the Bill's supporters. The failure of the Bill to complete its Report stage last week gave rise to a great deal of concern among my constituents in Leicester, where kerb crawling is a serious problem, and I regretted that I was unable to attend that debate. However, I am certain that the progress of the Bill today, beginning with the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West, will reassure my constituents that there is a great chance of the Bill reaching the statute book. I know that the people of London and Southampton also have experience of the problems caused by kerb crawling and that they, too, are looking forward to the Bill completing its Report stage today.

    Question put and negatived.

    New Clause 11

    Conduct Of Police

  • '(1) A person shall not be convicted of any offence under sections 1, 2 and 3 solely on the evidence of a police constable or police constables.
  • (2) Any officer exercising a power of arrest in respect of sections, 1, 2 and 3 shall be in uniform.'.—[Ms. Richardson.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

    With this motion it will be convenient to consider the following:

    New clause 9— Requirement of evidence—

    'It shall be a requirement that no case shall be proven under sections 1 to 3 of this Act on the basis of police evidence alone. '.

    New clause 10—Police officers to wear uniforms—

    'Any officer exercising a power of arrest in respect of sections 1, 2 and 3 shall be in uniform.'.

    Amendment No. 74, in clause 5, page 2, line 34, at end insert—

    '(3) For the purposes of sections 1, 2 and 3 of this Act "woman" shall not include a constable acting in the course of her duty.'.

    The new clause brings together the subject matter of new clauses 9 and 10.

    Again I find myself in the rather uncomfortable position of being at one with the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), whose views normally I find somewhat different from my own.

    By means of new clause 11, I am anxious to ensure that no one will be trapped. If there is the possibility of a conviction purely on the evidence of a police constable, without corroboration, difficulties may be caused to people who are quite innocent, who are not kerb crawlers and who simply stop to ask the way or to greet a friend, for example.

    I feel even more strongly that it is the public's right to be protected in the sense that anyone stopped by a police officer should recognise that person as being a police officer. Police officers not in uniform could be argued to be acting as agents provocateurs. They could be trawling round looking for someone to arrest. I am not suggesting that the police make a habit of doing that, but we have heard from time to time of a policeman thinking that he has not enough cases for the evening and that it would help his record if he stopped a few more people.

    Like other hon. Members, I was glad when a few minutes ago the Minister acknowledged that there were doubts in people's minds about the effect of certain provisions of the Bill on civil liberties and that he hoped that some of these matters would be debated in the other place. I do not intend to press my new clause, but I believe that it brings out some of these difficulties.

    During our consideration of a Criminal Justice Bill some years ago, I recall that I was successful in moving an amendment designed to ensure that police constables should be in uniform. I was pleased that that principle was seen to be correct. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says about it. I accept that there are some occasions when— perhaps some jobs in which—it is necessary for police constables to be in plain clothes. However, I do not believe that such duties include police officers being on the look-out for kerb crawlers or for people harassing others in the street. My impression is that plain-clothes police officers tend to be used more in the criminal element of detective work, when there may be a case for them being out of uniform.

    We had a similar argument when discussing the old sus laws. There was even more danger there, because plain-clothes police officers could stop people under that law, which most of us regarded as reprehensible. A few organisations outside the House are worried by some of the aspects of the Bill, some of which we explored last Friday. For example, the National Association of Probation Officers has reservations about the Bill, and I think that the use of plain-clothes police officers may be one of them.

    I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

    11.30 am

    I thank the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) for what she said about my earlier speech. I should make it clear, when saying that we would monitor the use of the powers of arrest, that there is of course no power of arrest under the clause as it stands. It is exercised if the general arrest conditions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act are met; otherwise, proceedings are by summons. But we can monitor the issue of summonses, whether proceedings are taken and so on, so that does not reduce the effect of the undertaking that I gave but makes it clearer. What I said earlier might have led people to think that I was asserting that there was a power of arrest specifically in the clause, which there is not.

    The point about agents provocateurs has exercised the House several times during the past 12 to 18 months. It has been before the House in the context of the male importuning offence and now arises on this offence. I wish to restate the Government's position. We deprecate and deplore the use of agents provocateurs. Beyond that, we aim to ensure in our discussions with police forces throughout the country that their orders carry into effect the extent of public concern that would arise if agent provocateur tactics were employed. On previous occasions, I have read police force orders to the House, and the Metropolitan police force orders were changed recently to give effect to the will of the House and of others that entrapment techniques should not be employed.

    I have also made it clear that we attach importance to the necessity, when the Bill becomes law, for an extension of the Metropolitan police and other police force orders to include the need to obtain, whenever possible, an independent witness to give evidence before the courts.

    During our last debate I reminded the House of the existence of the rule that every effort should be made to get a complainant to give evidence. Where that was unsuccessful, the name and address of the complainant should be noted, as should the reason why that person was not prepared to co-operate. That would be a safeguard because those matters could be fully explored at the trial.

    On clauses 1 and 2, it is extremely unlikely that a prosecution could be brought successfully without the co-operation of the complainant. Clause 1 requires that there should be an act of solicitation, which means that in almost every case the actual words used would have to be given in evidence before the court. Someone who was merely asking for directions would not be liable to be convicted, because the words used could not possibly bear the interpretation of being an act of solicitation.

    If women who were not prostitutes were walking down the street on their way home and were accosted, for the most part they would come to court and give evidence. It would be difficult to imagine a prosecution succeeding if they did not. That is eminently right and proper. The only case where that might happen is where the person propositioned was a prostitute. The likelihood then is that the prostitute would be unwilling to go to court, for the obvious reason that she was not in the least offended by the approach. The case would depend on whether there was other evidence relating to the act of solicitation that made clear beyond peradventure that an act of solicitation had taken place.

    The Criminal Law Revision Committee considered that point and acknowledged that that evidence might come about if, for instance, a known prostitute, having been approached by someone in a car, got into the car and drove off with that person. That would constitute a prima facie case. Of course, more than one interpretation could be put on that and the matter would have to be explored in court. It would be an isolated case, and for the most part there would need to be an awareness of what was said. It is unlikely that an individual who was not the person propositioned would be close enough to hear the words. Therefore, safeguards are built in.

    If we are aware that in many cases the individual will not come to give evidence because the person accosted is a prostitute, other ways must be found to enable the law to take its course. It might be that plain-clothes officers keep observation. Otherwise, where known prostitutes congregate in a community, it is hard to envisage how else the law could be enforced.

    Obviously there would be times when the police felt that action must be taken because the problem was getting out of control. My hon. Friend suggested that there would be an element of surveillance. What would prevent someone who is known to a prostitute—perhaps a relative or a friend—from driving up to her, picking her up and taking her away? If that happening is under surveillance, is it not more than likely that that person — who was not soliciting her or picking her up for so-called immoral purposes—would be charged? How can my hon. Friend prevent that?

    I have sought to tell the House candidly of the grey area that always exists on the fringes of any offence. I am sure that it is unlikely that any prosecution could be mounted unless the actual words used were clearly heard by the complainant or by some other person prepared to give evidence.

    If someone drives up to a known prostitute and the prostitute gets in the car, that would be a basis for further police inquiries. Presumably the individual would not be arrested on the spot unless the general arrest conditions were met. Almost certainly the number of the car would be taken and further police inquiries would ensue. A decision whether to prosecute would be taken on the basis of the answers given by the person involved. If he gave an explanation consistent with innocence and a link was established, it is unlikely that a prosecution would be brought.

    As my hon. Friend will know from his vast experience in these matters—[Laughter.] I am sorry, my words did not have an edge to them. I was trying to be kind to my hon. Friend, but perhaps I should not as it always leads to difficulties in the long run. I meant that my hon. Friend has experience of criminal law matters. He knows that whenever a criminal sanction is attached to any particular act there are bound to be difficult grey areas. No one can absolutely guarantee that the law will not be used in a particular way. One has to strike a balance of convenience. Given the extent of the problem in many parts of Britain, the balance of convenience must mean that one has a clear anti-kerb crawling law and that one tries to take account as much as possible of the potential for difficulties, even though they can never be entirely solved.

    I do not think that it would be appropriate to send the message to Tooting, Leicester, south Hampshire, north Plymouth or parts of London that, because we are worried about the unusual events which were set out in the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), we shall not give any respite to communities which have become the haunt of prostitutes—places like Bedford hill—and where the gravest distress is caused to the public. A balance must be struck. It was a balance that led the Wolfenden committee in 1977, as I candidly admitted to the House, to say that there was not sufficient evidence to show that a kerb crawling offence should be created. This led the Criminal Law Revision Committee to say that, of all the people who had written to the committee and to its policy advisory committee, only one group sought to argue against a kerb crawling law. Our point is that the balance of convenience has shifted.

    I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree with me that a law is needed to minimise the risk of innocent people being not only prosecuted but found guilty. This is a particularly sensitive area. If innocent people are prosecuted, many other people will think that they are guilty, whether or not they are. A person's reputation can be severely damaged. It is even more important in this area than in many other parts of the criminal law to ensure that people who should not be charged are not so charged. My hon. Friend says that these circumstances may be rare — nevertheless, those circumstances might arise and individuals might be apprehended by the police and might protest that their role was one of those that I have described.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and the Law Society have expressed their misgivings on the question of persistence. If a person is picking up his sister or relative, he will stop once. If a person is looking for a prostitute, he might stop twice. If there is persistence, it is probably fair to assume that he is soliciting a woman. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State wants a deterrent. Surely, if a person speaks to two women in this way and is therefore liable to be arrested for persistence, that is a sufficient deterrent. What does my hon. Friend intend doing when the matter is considered in another place?

    I said earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West, whom I congratulated on the handsome way in which he has conducted himself in the House this morning—a congratulation which I am longing for the opportunity to extend to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North — that we shall arrange for a debate in the other place on persistency. I acknowledge that there is an issue, but I remain firmly of the view that, balancing one set of important issues against another, the Criminal Law Revision Committee was correct to assert that, if we really want to do something about kerb crawling, there must be a clear and unequivocal offence.

    I do not believe that the somewhat fanciful suggestions by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North in the context of the general way in which people look at these aspects — his reference to a prostitute's brother being arrested for soliciting her because he was taking her home after a hard evening's work—amounts to a reason why we should not introduce this law. I made it clear to my hon. Friend that, in normal circumstances, where the facts gave rise to a suggestion that an offence had been committed but the actual words could not be heard, arrest would not take place. There is no power of arrest attached to this. An arrest would take place only if the general arrest conditions stated in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 were involved.

    I imagine that, normally, the car number having been taken, the individual would be interviewed. If he were a relative of the prostitute, it is unlikely that any police officer in his right mind would want to summons him. If the explanation were inconsistent with the evidence, a prosecution might well be mounted.

    The Prosecution of Offences Bill, on which we have all worked so constructively, has received all-party support to a most gratifying degree. Under that legislation, a police officer might wish to bring a prosecution. Whether or not the prosecution came about and there was any publicity about the case—I appreciate the sensitivity of publicity —would depend on the objective decision of a lawyer who would have no interest in pursuing the case. He would not be someone whose amour propre was affected by whether or not there was a case.

    11.45 am

    My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North is talking about an isolated incident. The matter was fully covered in Committee. There was a division of view, as there always is on issues that lie near the borderline. I have acknowledged that it would be more than proper for the matter to be reopened in another place. I shall remain of the view, as the Criminal Law Revision Committee did after seven years' study of the matter, that the word "persistently" would gravely damage the legislation to the point of making clause 1 a dead letter.

    I shall obviously, since we must all abide by the views of others in a democratic Parliament, examine the decision. If the other place takes a different view, I shall look at it. My noble Friend who speaks for the Government in the other place will tender the same advice as I do. I shall use my best endeavours to ensure that there is good participation in that debate and that some of the distinguished lawyers there give us the benefit of their opinion. We shall then at least know—whether or not we are on the winning or losing side of the argument—that, in a matter which occupied five hours in Committee, had considerable debate on the Floor of the House and was considered in the other place, we had done the best we could against a background of recognising, as the Criminal Law Revision Committee did, and I think the public do, that the time has come for us to take the plunge and to have an offence of this type. Whenever we change the law we have to take a certain amount of downside risk. Usually there is a compelling reason for not changing the law, unless there are good reasons for doing so. My case is that there are clear reasons for doing so.

    A person may get out of his car and walk a short distance to ask someone a question. How far can such a person move from his car to avoid being charged with kerb crawling?

    This would be a matter of fact and common sense in each case. No period is delimited, but the person would have to be in fairly close proximity. To fall within the provisions of clause 1, the person would have to have just got out of the car. No doubt the parameters will be more tightly set by case law. It is unlikely that a person who had travelled a substantial distance would fall within the provisions of clause 1; he would be more likely to fall within the provisions of clause 2. This will, of course, be a matter for the judge to determine.

    There seem to be two circumstances. The first is where a man solicits a prostitute, or she solicits him. In that circumstance, the prostitute will not give evidence. If there is to be any prosecution at all, it will be on the uncorroborated evidence of a police officer. The second circumstance is where a person solicits an innocent woman. It seems to me, from my experience of south London—I have lived within a few miles of Bedford hill for most of my life and I know the problem there—that it is highly unlikely that an innocent woman will wish to give evidence in court. There is a very good reason. If the case is rejected, that may reflect badly on the woman. Once again, one is driven back to prosecutions made on the uncorroborated evidence of a police officer. That officer would have to be in plain clothes, because no one is his right mind would ever proposition a woman for prostitution when he is standing next to a uniformed police officer. In both cases, one is driven back to prosecuting on the uncorroborated evidence of a police officer. There are, of course, associated difficulties where the evidence on whether solicitation took place is pretty flimsy.

    I partly accept what the hon. Member says, but there are several points on which I differ from him. Although I have used the argument in this House in rejecting any suggestion that the Bill should require that there should always be a third party to give evidence, because I accept that some women will not want to give evidence—everybody who has considered this area of the law has always so concluded—for the most part I believe that women who are not prostitutes will want to play a part in cleaning up their area. I was left in no doubt that that is the feeling of many women in the Bedford hill area. It is unlikely, except in the clearest circumstances, that the evidence would be compelling unless the complainantt were prepared to give evidence in a case where the complainant is an ordinary member of the public.

    I am as sensitive as the hon. Gentleman to the issue that we are discussing, because I have had similar experiences in dealing with the criminal law and in the criminal courts. The safeguard is in the requirement in clause 1 that there must be an act of solicitation. Words have to be used that are not capable of any other construction than that they are words of solicitation.

    The merit of the Bill as drafted is that it sends out the clear message that kerb crawling is against the law. I do not approach the matter on the basis that there should be thousands of prosecutions throughout the country—no one has any wish for that—but there is at present a very grey area in the law, apart from the use of the rusty old blunderbuss of the Justices of the Peace Act 1361. People go kerb crawling because they do not clearly and unequivocally know that it is against the law. Some of them are then arrested and some are not; it is an arbitrary process.

    To be fair to everyone, in the opinion of the Criminal Law Revision Committee—endorsed by my hon. Friend the Member for Drake and myself and, I believe, by a majority of the Members of this House — Parliament should send out a clear message that kerb crawling is illegal. That would have a deterrent effect.

    It is important to recognise the danger points of one's own case. I have always candidly recognised, throughout the passage of the Bill, that, where the person solicited is a prostitute, she will not be prepared to give evidence. I have given the example that was given by the Criminal Law Revision Committee, and I have embellished it for the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North. I have mentioned the circumstances in which actions falling short of clear evidence being given of the actual words used could lead to a prosecution. I have also pointed out how unlikely it would be that someone who had a good reason for driving off with a prostitute would be brought before the court. It must be a matter for judgment.

    I return to the interesting question of the use of the police, on which I was embarked when—

    I know that my hon. Friend wants to clarify a point. He can do it when I have clarified the point raised by the hon. Member for Norwood.

    Mr. Marlow rose—

    Order. The Minister has made it amply clear that he is not giving way at the moment.

    I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a moment, when I have dealt with the intervention from the hon. Member for Norwood.

    The use of uniformed policemen and the existence of a clear law will in many areas be perfectly sufficient to stop the problem. I think that that will almost certainly be the way that most police forces will tackle the problem. It is the way that the Metropolitan police intend to tackle it. A clear assurance was given in a letter that I read in Committee. The Metropolitan police said that they would not use women in plain clothes as decoys in the circumstances that we are discussing.

    Where the problem of kerb crawling is so persistent that the presence of uniformed policemen is necessary, doing nothing else but that sort of duty, so that the whole balance of the force in distorted, there may well be a case for plain clothes observation. I have made it clear—and force orders have made it clear—that anything which amounts to the use of an agent provocateur would not be tolerated. A woman provocatively dressed would plainly be outside that rule. However, it is equally clear that if in certain circumstances a woman, dressed normally and behaving unprovocatively, exercises her right to walk down a street as a policewoman and is doing nothing different from what the residents of the streets around would be doing when walking home from work or for some social pursuit, that does not fall within the definition of agent provocateur and is not an incitement to anyone to commit the offence.

    As I have already made clear, there will be circumstances in which police officers alone will give evidence. If there is a complainant, the police will have to give evidence as to why the person accosted has not come to court to give evidence. That is already provided for in force orders relating to male importuning, and similar provision will also be made for the offence of kerb crawling.

    I should have thought that for the most part it would be difficult for prosecutions to proceed without the co-operation of the woman concerned. In those circumstances where prosecutions take place, I am not prepared to say that in any but the small minority of cases we cannot have faith in the police to do their work properly. I recognise that there is always a problem in relation to police powers.

    I am reluctant to advise Parliament to take a view that is based on the assumption that the uncorroborated evidence of police officers cannot be satisfactory. We have a well-motivated police force. As the hon. Member for Norwood knows from his work in Brixton, every effort is being made to ensure that there are in the police men of the greatest integrity. I think that they can be trusted to enforce the law on kerb crawling. The alternative of not having a law has become unthinkable, given the scale of the problem.

    This is the last point that I want to raise this morning. If my hon. Friend can satisfy me on it, I shall be grateful. Can my hon. Friend say that he will cause an amendment to be tabled in the other place? Obviously, he will listen to the arguments, but will the Government request their supporters, irrespective of the arguments, to support the clause as it stands, or is it possible that the Government's position will change, and that pressure will then not be applied to Government supporters?

    I remind my hon. Friend that this is a private Member's Bill and that there will be no Whip in the Lords, any more than there is here. I am not prepared to change my advice concerning the use of the word "persistently". There is a genuine argument about it. I have ventilated my side of it with as much vigour as I am able to bring to bear on the argument, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West has consistently —I would even say, persistently—put forward his view. I dare say that there will be advocates of both positions in the other place.

    I have said that my desire is for a genuine free discussion to take place in the other place. I feel confident that it will. My noble Friend who represents the Home Office in the other place—assuming that he agrees with me, as perhaps he will—will make a speech and will, I imagine, offer exactly the same advice as I have offered. It will then be for the other place to determine whether it accepts that advice.

    Is the Minister expecting a policeman or woman to decide on a person's intent? If so, it is getting very close to the old sus law, which has been a great aggravation in my area, where a police officer, seeing someone do something or say something, draws the inference that it is against the law. Frequently in such cases the police can be wrong. For example, I have often tried the handle of someone else's car, thinking that it was mine, only to find that it was not mine but one like it. Similarly, a person asking a passer-by a normal question may well look rather suspicious. A policeman or woman may draw the inference that a kerb crawling or soliciting offence is being committed. It would be placing a considerable responsibility on policemen or women if they had to decide on the intent of a person. It would be particularly difficult where the complainant was not prepared to give evidence, or did not feel sufficiently aggrieved to wish to give evidence.

    12 noon

    I come before the House with clean hands on the subject of the sus law. I disliked it when I was a member of the Bar, and when I was elected to the House I wanted it to be changed. I am proud of the fact that I was a member of the Committee that removed it from the laws of England. I spoke out in favour of doing so. I repeat what I said to the House last week, that I am not in the business of putting back into the law in my sixth year in this place something that I was pleased to take out in my first year here.

    However, a clear distinction can be drawn between this offence and the sus law. The reason why the sus law was so disliked by me and many others was that it dealt with a generalised suspicion falling short of anything that could be called an actual offence. Therefore, almost inevitably, while it purported to be objective, it lent itself to a subjective definition. As such, it became increasingly unpopular. I believe that it should have been removed from the laws of England a good long while before it was.

    This offence is different. It requires an established act —a solicitation—to take place. It is unlikely that a successful prosecution can be brought without evidence that is clear and acceptable to the courts being given of the actual words used, except in clear circumstances when a known prostitute has got into a car with somebody, and there is no explanation for that other than the purposes of prostitution.

    Therefore, there is little scope for mischief-making here. I have already referred to the force orders which require, in the case of importuning, and in this case if the Bill is passed, that a complainant must be asked whether she will co-operate. If she says no, her name and address must be taken so that they can be made available to the defence if a prosecution is brought. The reason for her not wanting to co-operate must be set forth in a way that can be cross-examined upon.

    If the woman says, "I was not in the least put out by this," and she is an ordinary constituent, not a prostitute, I cannot think that any police officer would want to make an issue out of it. Even if a police officer were over-zealous enough and minded to do so, I ask the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Roberts) to accept that one of the reasons why we are making a lot of parliamentary time and resources available for the independent prosecution system is that, under these new arrangements, which will be in place soon, such a case cannot be brought before a court unless an independent lawyer, accountable to the Director of Public Prosecutions, is prepared to look at the evidence and say that it is a proper basis on which the case can be brought before the courts.

    It will no longer be a matter for the police to determine whether a prosecution is brought; it will be a matter for the lawyer. I hope the hon. Gentleman will conclude that the margin for abuse in the circumstances that I have laid down is much narrower than under the old sus law, which he and I jointly are glad is no longer part of our criminal law.

    This has been a helpful debate. I am glad to have had the opportunity to make my position known, as clearly as possible, on important points about enforcement. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) for saying that she would be content to withdraw her new clause. I hope that what I have said will make her feel that that is appropriate.

    I do not wish to delay the House, as I support my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes). However, I should like to refer to the new clause.

    Until 18 months ago, I would have agreed with the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson). When the Nottinghamshire experiment began, I was concerned because police ladies were acting as decoys and being used to bring forward offences and charges for kerb crawling. Since then, Leicestershire constabulary has embarked on a similar campaign. As it is in my city of Leicester, I went to see the chief constable and expressed great concern. The WPCs in Leicestershire are attractive ladies, and I was particularly concerned that in some way innocent people might be tempted down the wrong road.

    I met the chief constable, Alan Goodson, and discussed the matter with the head of the CID. The operations carried out by Leicestershire constabulary reassured me to a great extent. I do not wish to give away too many of the operations, but suffice it to say that there was photographing of the ladies and continual supervision in the areas in Leicester known to have a red light district. Successful convictions have resulted. There was a purge against kerb crawling in the city of Leicester, because we had so many worries. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Spencer) confirmed in his speech last week, the people of Leicester were very worried.

    Many successful convictions were recorded. It is interesting to note that the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) mentioned the risk to innocent people. I understand that in the majority of cases those who were successfully charged and convicted had a history of having committed this offence. That should reassure the hon. Member for Barking. Of course, I share the concern about entrapment and the agents provocateurs, but one must ask oneself what those people were doing in the area in the first place. In both Argyll square and the Highfields area of the city of Leicester, one-way systems and the blocking of streets are being introduced to stop people from going into that area, except those who are visiting relations and so on. Therefore, I am confident that the police operations will not lead to concern. However, there will be cases when a WPC out of uniform will give evidence because the proposition was made direct to her.

    We want to end street prostitution. I support the Bill. I feel certain that the police rules, standing orders and force orders for supervision and surveillance of any street crimes and offences will be strictly adhered to. I have every confidence in the police. Therefore, I cannot support the new clause.

    As I said at the beginning of the debate, I shall not press the new clause to a Division. However, the remarks by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) caused me concern. He described precisely what I was trying to avoid. He said with some triumph that the operation that he has just described has been extremely successful in trapping kerb crawlers by the use of agents provocateurs. I have a great feeling of unease about that. It may have resulted in prosecutions of kerb crawlers who were up to no good, but that approach is nasty. I should not want to be associated, in withdrawing the new clause, with anything that went along those lines. I was reassured by what the Minister said, but I hope that the police force does not follow the experiment in Leicestershire. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

    Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

    I beg to move amendment No. 27, in page 1, line 12, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

  • '(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—
  • (a) on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding 3 on the standard scale (as defined in section 75 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982); and
  • (b) on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding the maximum applicable to summary conviction under this section.'.
  • No. 28, in page 1, line 13, leave out 'summary conviction' and insert 'conviction on indictment'.

    No. 29, in page 1, line 13, leave out '3', and insert '1'.

    No. 30, in page 1, line 13, leave out '3' and insert '2'.

    No. 31, in page 1, line 15, at end insert—

    '(3) No person shall be proceeded against under this section unless and until they have received three or more formal cautions for soliciting a women for the purposes of prostitution.'.

    No. 42, in clase 2, page 2, line 4, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

    '(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—

  • (a) on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale (as defined in section 75 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982); and
  • (b) on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding the maximum applicable to summary conviction under this section.'.
  • No. 43, in clause 2, page 2, line 5, leave out 'summary conviction' and insert 'on conviction on indictment'.

    No. 44, in clause 2, page 2, line 5, leave out '3' and insert '1'.

    No. 45, in clause 2, page 2, line 5, leave out '3' and insert '2'.

    No. 46, in clause 2, page 2, line 7, at end add—

    '(3) No person shall be proceeded against under this section unless and until they have received three or more formal cautions for soliciting a woman for the purposes of prostitution.'.

    No. 61, in clause 3, page 2, line 10, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

    '(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—

  • (a) on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale (as defined in section 75 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982); and
  • (b) on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding the maximum applicable to summary conviction under this section.'.
  • No. 62, in clause 3, page 2, line 11, leave out 'summary conviction' and insert 'conviction on indictment'.

    No. 63, in clause 3, page 2, line 11, leave out '5' and insert '3'.

    No. 64, in clause 3, page 2, line 11, leave out '5' and insert '4'.

    I have not responded until now to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister earlier, but in the light of what he has said I am happy for the issue of persistence to be considered with an open mind in another place. I think that that is probably the right way to proceed.

    Amendment No. 61, which I do not intend to press to a Division, seeks to make trial by jury available to defendants who prefer it to a summary hearing in a magistrates court, although a magistrates court hearing will be available for those who prefer it.

    In considering street offences generally, the Criminal Law Revision Committee considered that, although the sentence for male importuning was light enough to bring the offence into the category normally triable by summary hearing only, the possible ruin of the defendant's career if convicted justified allowing recourse to trial by jury if the accused so wished. I believe that the same argument applies in this case.

    I believe that the penalties for all these offences are relatively light, not because the offences are not regarded as serious but because it is well understood on all sides that the simple fact of a conviction and the surrounding publicity is the real punishment. Because the true punishment—the wrecking of a person's reputation and career—is so severe, and because comments made from car windows to women on the street are so liable to misinterpretation that there is always the possibility of a mistake, it is important to bear in mind that there will be many prosecutions which ought not to result in conviction.

    For those reasons, I believe that defendants should be able to opt for trial by jury if they wish. I do not think that it is the mood of the House to press the matter to a Division and I do not know how my hon. Friend the Minister will respond, but I believe that the matter should be put on record and, I hope, reconsidered in another place.

    My hon. Friend is quite right to raise this genuinely important point, which has exercised my mind as well as that of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. One is pulled in two directions on this. First, one recognises the difficulties that a conviction for such an offence would pose for certain categories of people. Equally, however, one recognises that the aim of the Bill is not to provide draconian penalties but to set the penalties at a relatively modest financial level, on the basis that the aim of the legislation is more to deter and to provide the opportunity for convictions to be entered in proper cases rather than thinking in terms of imprisonment or the like.

    12.15 pm

    There are precedents for allowing trial by jury in cases which do not attract a sentence of imprisonment. Being interested in the matter, I asked for the precedents to be dug out, and they are very few and far between. I also have to bear in mind the not unworthy consideration-if I do not the Lord Chancellor will see to it that I do —of the enormous and increasing pressure on Crown court time. Relying on memory for the statistics, I believe that in the past 12 months alone Crown court business has increased by about 15 per cent., so careful thought must always be given before adding to that.

    The amendment raises a genuine issue which may well arise appropriately in another place. On balance, I believe that it is appropriate for these offences to remain as suggested in the Bill, especially now that new clause 3, which was perhaps the gravest problem in this regard, has disappeared. Nevertheless, I should certainly not be unhappy for the matter to be considered in another place. My hon. Friend has raised a genuine issue, which has been a matter of some consideration on my part. Although he has said that he is content not to pursue the matter, it was well worth raising and may properly be rescusitated if the other place is minded to do so.

    In the light of what my hon. Friend the Minister has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    The next amendment is No. 65, in page 2, line 15, leave out clause 4.

    Mr. John Fraser rose—

    My point relates to leaving out clause 4, Sir.

    I refer to the substituion of a number of life sentences and 10-year sentences for existing two-year sentences. First, the law relating to young boys and the law relating to young girls is inconsistent, in that the penalty for indecency with a young boy is 10 years but with a young girl only two years. Parliament clearly needs to remove that inconsistency, and I understand the reason for that.

    In discussing the substitution of life sentences, I should make it absolutely clear that I no way seek to diminish the importance of heavy sentencing for interference with another person's person. Nevertheless, one must be very careful about the introduction of life sentences, for two reasons.

    First, a life sentence is extremely heavy and carries even worse penalties than a fixed sentence from the point of view of possible release, remission, parole and so on —all of which are far more in the hands of the Home Office than they are in the context of a big sentence. There is an element of discretion which is not present in relation to fixed penalties.

    Secondly, if one imposes a life sentence—the same sentence as for murder, the most serious crime of all—the effect may sometimes diminish the importance attaching to a life sentence if in practice it is not intended that a life sentence should actually be served.

    That being so, we should not pass a clause introducing life sentences without the most cogent reason for introducing the concept of life rather than imposing an extremely heavy fixed sentence of, say, 40 years. Personally, I should have gone for a very long fixed sentence rather than life imprisonment. I hope that the Minister will respond to that very point, as I believe that it is extremely important.

    I appreciate why the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) has raised this issue. The Criminal Law Revision Committee has recommended that we should change the penalties and I believe that there is a cogent reason for doing so.

    The hon. Gentleman has not challenged the proposed penalties for indecent assault. It has been recognised for some time that the offence of indecent assault can reflect a serious sexual problem on the part of the offender. Representations have been made by High Court judges when the issue has arisen in tragic circumstances. The fact that the offender has not been able to carry the offence further is often due to the way in which circumstances developed and not to any lack of intent on his part. It is felt that the maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment does not enable the court to pass a sufficiently lengthy sentence in cases where it is plain that the offender is likely to return to offending when released.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes), the promoter of the Bill, referred in necessarily veiled terms—none of us would want to refer to such matters too openly—to a tragic case in the west country in which an individual had exhibited a sexual problem and had been sentenced to two years' imprisonment—the maximum penalty—following a conviction for indecent assault. Within a few months of being released he committed the most horrific murder—I have read about 1,000 files in my time at the Home Office dealing with life sentence matters—of a respectable middle-aged woman who was taking a cliffside walk.

    The High Court judge who tried that case properly drew the facts to the attention of the Home Secretary and observed that the murder would not have taken place if the court that dealt with the indecent assault had had the power to impose a longer sentence. It follows that a person who is sentenced to a longer sentence will have longer in which to get out of that period of his life. Although we know that quite lengthy sentences for sex offences can lead to recidivism, there is a healthy body of opinion behind the proposition that two years' imprisonment is too short a sentence in some instances.

    I note that the hon. Gentleman is good enough to indicate assent.

    There are difficulties surrounding the offence of attempted rape. I deal with life sentence matters within the Home Office, and I am aware of all the arguments that the hon. Gentleman has advanced. The life sentence is the most severe penalty known to the criminal courts. It offers no inevitable prospect of release, but we know that in most cases of murder or non-murder offences the individual is released. He will be released on licence, which makes him subject to recall if certain circumstances arise. A life sentence is an extremely severe penalty.

    It has become widely recognised that a life sentence will often be appropriate for two sorts of non-homicide offences. The first such offence is arson where there is evidence of persistence and the second is rape. I have read the facts in multiple rape cases, and it is true that they are often committed by those who have served a determinate sentence and where it was clearly in the judge's mind that the only possibility of providing protection for the public was to sentence the offender to indeterminate life. That sentence is usually accompanied—rightly, in my view—by the indication that the offender will be released when it is safe for that to happen. That moment may well come, and, if and when it does, the offender should be released. We have a sophisticated system of internal and external assessment which enables the Parole Board regularly to consider cases and to make recommendations. Sophisticated analyses must be undertaken to assess risk when the case of a rape offender is under consideration. I look for come support to the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson).

    It is in accordance with the public mood against rape that the life sentence should be available for rapists. It should not be passed on the generality of rapists. but it should be reserved for especially serious rapes, including multiple rapes. I could list a number of cases committed over the past 10 years in which men have committed a series of horrifying rapes, or in which someone has served two or three separate sentences for rape or other sexual offences and has shown that that conduct has become a way of life and that only a life sentence will suffice. It is plain that a life sentence would not be appropriate in the generality of cases.

    If someone is convicted of attempted rape, the individual concerned has to have the intention to commit the full act. The fact that he does not succeed—again I look to the hon. Member for Barking for support — might be due not to any lack of intent but to circumstances beyond his control. For example, the man might be interrupted or the woman might be strong enough to beat him off. Women will react differently when attacked. Some women think, quite rightly, that the best way to ensure that no serious violence is occasioned is to submit. Others will fight back bravely, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.

    It seems to the Criminal Law Revision Committee and to me that if a hardened sex offender, perhaps with previous convictions for rape, makes a serious attack on a woman which, through no intention of his, becomes only an attempt, it is an anomaly that the judge should not be able to pass a sentence of life imprisonment for the protection of the public. The hon. Member for Norwood is a criminal lawyer and he will know that the difference between the full offence of rape and an attempt may be only narrow.

    We have thought long and hard before advocating increased penalties, but we believe that it is an appropriate step to take. I hope that my explanation has been helpful and that the hon. Gentleman recognises that there is some force behind the argument.

    I thank the Minister for his explanation. Such a major change in the law should not be allowed to pass lightly. I accept the Minister's explanation and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment, which was moved for the purpose of discussion.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    12.17 pm

    I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

    I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) will be delighted when she learns of what has taken place this morning.

    Indeed, my hon. Friend may be surprised. I know that, like many other supporters of the Bill, she was extremely disappointed last week when it became apparent that we would not be able on that occasion to complete all the Bill's stages.

    I have had to deal with kerb crawling as a representative of the Wandsworth authority and as a Southampton constituency Member. I can say with great confidence that when the Bill is enacted it will improve the quality of life for many people throughout the country. Those who will benefit especially are those in inner city areas, where improvements in the quality of life are all-important.

    Concerns 'have been expressed about the Bill, especially about civil liberties. The Criminal Law Revision Committee considered the issues and came to finely balanced conclusions on how to deal with what is clearly a nuisance in a way that would not mean that innocent people were brought before the courts. The committee strove to ensure that the innocent would not be harassed. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the committee for the way in which it produced its report.

    Shortly after the 1983 general election I wrote to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on this issue. He said that the Government did not feel able to legislate at that stage as they were awaiting the report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. I met him and expressed my concern that the committee's report should be expedited. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) raised the issue in an Adjournment debate. I have been pressing the Minister to expedite the report. He succeeded in persuading the members of the committee to bring forward their report rather sooner than they otherwise would have done. It is a great tribute to the committee that it has shown such flexibility. I am sure that it will be surprised when it learns that its proposals are being debated now during the course of considering whether the Bill should receive its Third Reading, when so often the proposals of those concerned with the criminal law take many years to reach the statute book.

    We are in the happy position of being about to give the Bill its Third Reading. My hon. Friend the Member for Drake decided that of all the issues that she might have taken up on being lucky in the ballot, she would take up this one, and many of her constituents, like many of mine, are grateful to her for having done that.

    We should not have reached this stage but for the great support of the Minister, whose guidance and good counsel have helped enormously. Although I was not a member of the Standing Committee, I am aware of the careful way in which the various amendments were examined, and the way in which the Bill has been drafted has contributed to its success.

    The measure covers a relatively narrow issue, and my hon. Friend is to be congratulated on having restricted it in this way. Had she introduced a Bill, as a private Member's measure, more extensive in scope, it would have encountered considerable difficulties, because there are sharply differing views among hon. Members on both sides of the House about how to deal with the general question of prostitution.

    There has been much discussion during the passage of the Bill about whether the element of persistence should be incorporated in clause 1. I shall not add to what the Minister said on that, save to comment that that issue has been carefully considered by the Criminal Law Revision Committee, and I am confident that whatever the final outcome when the subject is considered in another place the balance of legal opinion will prevail, and that that will result in the measure being in the best possible form.

    I appreciate that people are concerned about the need to incorporate a provision relating to persistence, but I believe that such a requirement would result in the law being less effective. One of the great benefits that will flow from this legislation is that we shall not need to use the law relating to breach of the peace to deal with this nuisance. That law has been used in some cities—it has not been used in Southampton, although there has been pressure on the police to use it—but it is wrong that old statutes and the common law should be used and extended in a way that nobody ever intended. It is better that such issues are dealt with specifically.

    I do not believe that if the element of persistence had been incorporated in clause 1 it would have dealt effectively with the nuisance caused by kerb crawlers. I am pleased, therefore, that the agruments on that issue, which I accept have been serious—I do not doubt the sincerity of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris)—have not prevented the Bill from reaching this stage.

    It would have been a great pity if, on that issue, the Bill had failed to reach the statute book, because it is clearly difficult for my hon. Friend the Minister, when so much legislation is being brought in by his Department, to guarantee that such issues will be taken up by the Government in Government time. Nevertheless, we are grateful to the Department and to my hon. Friend for providing the advice and back-up that have helped the Bill reach its present stage.

    Earlier this week, in proposing a new clause to another Bill, some might say that I was rather carried away. I spoke for over 40 minutes. I do not wish to speak for 40 minutes on this Third Reading, because the arguments have been deployed on previous occasions.

    I am very pleased, and a little surprised, to find myself associated with the Third Reading of the Bill after a relatively short time in the House. The Bill covers a subject about which I was specifically asked before the general election, and I was questioned about it in detail during the election campaign. I have received a large number of letters and representations on the subject since the general election. It is one of the few subjects on which there is unanimity on the Southampton city council. Both the Labour and Conservative groups on the city council support the proposals in the Bill. There was, consequently, great disappointment in Southampton last Friday when it seemed that the Bill might not proceed further. Having read a London local newspaper, I know that there was also great disappointment in Wandsworth, especially among those living in the vicinity of Bedford hill. I hope that as much publicity will be given to the Third Reading of the Bill today as to the disappointing failure of the Bill to reach its Third Reading last week.

    I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Drake is not here for the closing stages of the Bill. I am sure, however, that I speak for her when I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Minister and his officials and advisers in steering such a careful course. I pay tribute, too, to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West for the very fair way in which he has approached the issue today. He has a serious concern about the Bill and has ventilated it at length. His readiness now to allow the matter to he dealt with in another place reflects well upon his integrity. I am sure that other supporters of the Bill will appreciate that as much as I do.

    The Bill will improve the quality of life for a significant number of people in our inner cities, and I commend it to the House.

    12.38 pm

    I will not detain the House for more than a minute or two. At one point in his speech, I thought that the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) was going to beat his own record.

    I still have considerable reservations about the Bill, but the debates of last week and today have provided some reassurance that the doubts expressed about the Bill may be dealt with elsewhere. I refer, for example, to the Minister's assurance concerning clause 3 and to his assurance that there would be opportunities to monitor how the legislation worked. Such assurances are better than nothing. Today, he has said that he will try to ensure —as we should all try to do—that there is an extended and exploratory debate in the other place on the question of persistence. Such a debate would be very helpful.

    I still believe that there are sufficient police powers to cope with the offence of kerb crawling as we want it coped with. I am still not sure that the Bill is necessary, and I hope only that it will not result in innocent men or women being caught up in a piece of obviously well-intentioned legislation—I have no doubt about the good intentions—that may give the police extra powers of which they could take advantage to disadvantage already disadvantaged groups in our society.

    12.40 pm

    Although the debate has at times been ill-tempered —not so much today as last week—it has achieved a great deal. It has persuaded hon. Members on both sides of the House to look hard at legislation that was in danger of being enacted without proper scrutiny. It has also resulted in the dropping of a quarter of the Bill—clause 3 — and has persuaded my hon. Friend the Minister to give some helpful undertakings about policing and review. The debate has also persuaded him to see that there is a proper and fair debate on the question of persistence in the other place.

    That debate on persistence will be important. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) put the argument more fairly than some have done for not requiring an element of persistence. He said that the argument for not requiring such an element was that it would make it more difficult for the police to do their job. Of course it would do that. Any requirement that evidence be produced makes it more difficult for them to do their job. The question is whether we would, by importing an element of persistence into clause 1, make it impossible for the police to do their job. Having looked at section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act and the prosecution of female prostitutes legislation, I am quite satisfied that, even with an element of persistence, it is perfectly possible for the police to do their job effectively. I hope that the other place will reach the same conclusion.

    The major problem with the law on sexual offences in this country is, perhaps, its piecemeal nature. Some of it is derived from common law and case law and some of it is statute law that has been enacted over the centuries. It is piecemeal, inconsistent and anomalous. It is also difficult, complicated and quite hard for the public to understand. In part, I believe our law on sexual offences is too permissive; an example of that is the case of men accosting women for sexual purposes. However, in other areas our law on sexual offences is not permissive enough. There is a great need to have a general review of the law on sexual offences.

    The law on prostitution generally needs to be tackled. We in this country are not quite prepared to go as far as to make prostitution illegal. Indeed, it would be impractical and wrong to do so. We are not quite prepared to acknowledge that prostitution has always existed and always will exist. At the same time, we are not quite prepared either to say how it should be carried on. On every occasion we are eager, sometimes in statute, to say how it should not be carried on. That causes great difficulties, inconsistencies and anomalies in the law on prostitution.

    The Bill adds to those inconsistencies and anomalies because it is one more prohibitive measure that is directed towards a trade that needs, if not regulating, reforming in a general review of the law on prostitution. We await the Criminal Law Revision Committee's recommendations.

    It is clear that the House is not minded to pursue such a general review. I do not expect Government legislation reforming the law of prostitution generally in this Parliament or the next. We must each decide whether it is right to hold the general public to hostage in areas where kerb crawling is a serious problem. We must decide whether it is right to tell people that we shall not give them a law on kerb crawling until the Government and the public are prepared for an overall review of prostitution. I do not think that it is right to hold communities to hostage in that way.

    It is imperfect, it is piecemeal,; but, with reluctance, I think that we should give the Bill a Third Reading.

    12.46 pm

    I am still opposed to the Bill because it does not deal specifically with kerb crawling. It deals with the offence of persistently soliciting women for prostitution and other sexual purposes. Such a Bill cannot possibly deal with the problem of prostitution, but it could have dealt specifically with kerb crawling if some amendments had been accepted.

    I oppose the Bill on four grounds. First, it restricts individual freedom. Secondly, it will lead to innocent men and women being prosecuted. Thirdly, many other serious offences and crimes need the attention of the police. Fourthly, the Bill gives special powers to the police which could easily be abused.

    12.47 pm

    I speak entirely in a personal capacity in this subject. I took the trouble to consult my local authority and women's groups in the Labour party about the Bill. The unanimous conclusion was that the Bill was unacceptable because it risks infringing civil liberties. I explained earlier how that might unintentionally happen.

    I remain sceptical about arrangements under which prosecutions might take place as a result of uncorroborated police evidence. My concern is to protect civil liberties and to try to ensure that the reputation of the police is protected. I do not wish their reputation to be sullied because of the way in which they prosecute and have to operate the law. The sus law not only caused injustices but it did a grave disservice to the police. I think that this legislation will have a similar effect.

    I do not deny the problem of the innocent person being accosted, annoyed and frightened by people who kerb-crawl with a view to making contact with a prostitute. The problem has afflicted south London for many years. The widespread view is that that activity must be stopped, but I fear that the way that we are going about tackling the problem will create as many problems as it cures.

    The Bill not only protects an innocent woman, but for the first time makes it an offence for a man to solicit a prostitute. That is not the harm to which the Bill addresses itself. Although the Minister said that solicitation would normally be by words, I can think of many cases where soliciting has been implied by conduct—for example, a woman sitting in a window.

    Prostitution is not illegal. What is illegal is conducting a brothel or disorderly house, or soliciting. It sometimes takes courage to say such things, but I echo the words of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) that the law of prostitution and the way in which it is conducted needs to be re-examined. The Bill will not put an end to kerb crawling and prostitutes being on the streets. Those prostitutes are often young, have often had an extremely unhappy childhood, are subject to gross exploitation and their lives ofen end early because of involvement in drugs, violence and other matters.

    I do not want to see that situation continue. Nevertheless, prostitution will continue and the Bill will not stop people soliciting on the streets. The Government, or somebody, must look again at the law of prostitution and the way in which prostitution is conducted. If there were a less offensive way of prostitutes making contact with their customers, removing exploitation and so on, that would remove prostitution from the streets, which is what the supporters of the Bill really want.

    Therefore, we would be making a mistake to think that the Bill will cure the problem. It may even create problems. As the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West said, we need a long-term look at the way in which prostitution is conducted in order to remove the evils of which people have complained in these debates. Prostitution must be conducted in a more civilised way, because it simply will not go away.

    12.51 pm

    I am glad of today's demonstration that there is life after death. Most hon. Members were deeply troubled that this important Bill appeared to have had its life terminated last week. It is an extremely happy situation that, because other business has not taken up a great deal of time today, it has had further time on the Floor of the House, and the intervening days have given time for reflection, thus enabling the Bill to make progress. I hope that it will be given its Third Reading and that it can say, as did Mark Twain when reading his own obituary:

    "The report of my death was an exaggeration."
    The Bill will do an enormous amount of good. I think that that will be the view of the overwhelming majority of hon. Members, despite the fact that those praising the Bill have been slightly under-represented in today's debate. It will certainly be the view of the overwhelming majority of people in Britain, particularly those who live in urban areas, increasingly troubled, as many urban areas have been in recent years, by the problem of kerb crawling.

    In my contributions to the debate, I have sought to hold firm to two matters — first, to ensure that the House, having made up its mind to do something about kerb crawling, did something effective about kerb crawling; secondly, that the House, when passing a law that creates a new criminal offence, should do so having regard to the problems that creating a new criminal offence inevitably brings in train and that appropriate safeguards should be offered to ensure that the innocent are not caught up. I believe that that has been done.

    The House owes an enormous debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes). My one sadness about what has otherwise been a joyous morning for many of us is that she is not here to enjoy this moment of triumph. She was unavoidably engaged in important matters elsewhere. Nevertheless, the decision to take up the matter was hers, she piloted the Bill through the House with great skill and I know that all hon. Members will join me in thanking her for her efforts.

    A clear message now goes out from the House that kerb crawling is unlawful. That is very important, because it will have a deterrent effect, which is what we want. Those living in parts of the inner urban areas that have been taken over at night by kerb crawlers will now know that any such activity is contrary to the law. I believe that the number of people involved in kerb crawling will fall dramatically as a consequence. A combination of this clear law with proper policing by uniformed police officers should act as a substantial deterrent.

    Where someone commits the offence — actually drives and solicits—the way in which the law is framed carries the clear safeguard that any reasonable person would want, because an act of solicitation is required.

    It was necessary to make male solicitation an offence whether the person solicited was an innocent woman or a prostitute. I say that because the nuisance of kerb crawling applies at a number of different levels. It is not just a nuisance but a humiliation for a woman walking home to be solicited in this way. It is perfectly proper that she should be protected. In the view of many, that protection is long overdue.

    But it goes further than that. Even if the woman concerned is a prostitute, it is quite incorrect to say that no nuisance or annoyance is caused and that no harm is done. The harm is done to an area which becomes known as a red light area in which women cannot safely go out at night unless they are to be accosted. The pleasure of living in an area and the amenities of an area are removed if it becomes a place of resort for prostitutes and their clients. That is why a message has to go out that kerb crawling is unlawful. It is because of the detriment not just to individuals but to whole areas.

    The hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) made a number of comments demonstrating her scepticism about some parts of the Bill. However, I thank her and some of her hon. Friends who, although they are opposed to the Bill, do not intend to block its Third Reading. That is very fair, and I have endeavoured to meet fairness with fairness by making significant and important concessions.

    No one must allow the Bill to leave the House under the impression that it is in any sense ill thought out. If careful thought can lead to a careful, proper Bill, no Bill will have left the House more carefully thought out and with a better chance of making effective law than this one.

    The Criminal Law Revision Committee took seven years to conclude its deliberations on this issue. The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) said that we should clarify the law on prostitution. The Criminal Law Revision Committee is still looking at that, and we hope to have its report by the end of the year.

    We should not underestimate the skill and care which the Criminal Law Revision Committee brought to its task, nor the distinction of its members and the balance of its membership. It has a most distinguished team of judges serving on it, including Lord Justice Lawton, the doyen of criminal lawyers on the bench; another lord justice of appeal; two High court judges, one of them now a lord justice of appeal; four circuit judges, one of them a woman; a stipendary magistrate, herself a woman; the Director of Public Prosecutions, which must be of significance for those who are troubled about safeguards; Mr. Michael Hill, QC, the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association and a distinguished defence lawyer; Sir David Napley, whose experience in the criminal law is extensive and who for the most part has been a defence lawyer, so any aspect of unfairness to the defence would not be lost there; and Professor Smith, perhaps our foremost academic criminal lawyer. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West, who said that he would have liked a better, Home Office Bill, that, honest to goodness, this is the best Bill that those considerable minds—the most distinguished team of criminal lawyers that we could assemble—could bring forward.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said today. I hope that he will take some comfort from the fact that really and truly there could be no better Bill to deal with the problem of kerb crawling.

    Recognising that the problems are not only legal but social, a policy advisory committee was established to advise the Criminal Law Revision Committee. It consisted of a much broader range of people than lawyers—such as assistant chief probation officers, a journalist, a consultant psychiatrist, a headmistress, a social worker, a lecturer in sociology and Lady Serota, the former local government Ombudsman. They advised the Criminal Law Revision Committee on the social aspects of what we know to be a complex problem.

    Therefore, we are left with a Bill that sends out a clear and unequivocal message that kerb crawling is contrary to law. That will act as a deterrent. I believe that those who have looked to this House for relief from kerb crawling will find it in this Bill. I welcome it and I very much hope that the House will give it a Third Reading.

    It is a triumph for my hon. Friend the Member for Drake that it has been possible to resuscitate the measure. I believe that it will be a triumph for the House to pass it into law. Assuredly, it is a reform that is much needed and much desired in many parts of the country.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

    Freedom Of Probate Bill

    Order for Second Reading read. 1.2 pm

    I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

    I am moving Second Reading of the Bill because the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) is unfortunately indisposed today. It is a modest little Bill, but it contains a great principle—that lawyers cannot be above the law and cannot be witness to restrictive practices. It enshrines the great principle that the Government have followed, that no interest group is above the law and that, to the greatest extent possible, all the people should be enabled to act for themselves in the speediest way possible without coming across restrictive practices.

    Can the hon. Gentleman explain why, if this is such a terrific Bill, he did not append his name to it when he had the opportunity?

    I cannot speak for the hon. Member for Ipswich. No doubt he had his reasons for asking certain people to append their names. I am deeply honoured to be given an opportunity to move this important, if small, amending Bill—[Interruption.] I did not catch what the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) said. As he is obviously taking a close interest in the Bill, he will no doubt wish to make a lengthy speech after I have sat down.

    Probate is a serious issue, which often comes into people's lives at a time of great distress. Clearly many ordinary people do not have to deal with probate if they are the subject of small estates. However, many middle-income families, perhaps with property still tied up with building societies, can find probate difficult to understand at a time of great distress. This simple Bill seeks to open up and make probate much simpler for ordinary people to see their way through the morass of law at a difficult time.

    Probate is concerned with the administration of wills or, in the absence of a will, obtaining letters of administration. Probate can either be contentious or non-contentious. Approximately one quarter of the applications made in 1977 for grants of probate or for letters of administration were made by applicants in person. As I said, many ordinary people do not come across probate.

    If a case is contentious, it is covered by section 20 of the Solicitors Act 1974. The overwhelming majority of probate matters are not contentious. In such cases, section 23 of the Act applies. This Bill seeks to amend that Act. Section 23 states:
    "If any person to whom this subsection applies, directly or as an agent of any other person, whether or not that other person is a person to whom this subsection applies—
  • (a) takes instructions for a grant of probate or of letters of administration, or
  • (b) draws or prepares any papers on which to found or oppose any such grant,
  • he shall, unless he proves that the act was not done for or in expectation of any fee"—
    this is the point that the Bill addresses, because if the act is done in person it is not being done for a fee—
    "gain or reward, and without prejudice to any other liability or disability to which he may be subject under this or any other Act, be guilty of an offence".
    The Bill seeks to amend the restriction on people other than solicitors acting in probate matters if they are doing so for a fee. Under that section, it is an offence if that person takes instructions for reward. The effect is that solicitors alone may, for reward, apply on behalf of others for a grant of probate or letters of administration and may take instructions for that purpose. The principle of the Bill —I believe that the Government accept the arguments for a similar principle in relation to house conveyancing — is that the market should be opened up to people other than solicitors. This is an important principle which I think most progressive lawyers would accept.

    It is common practice for a testator to nominate a trust corporation as the executor of his will. The Bill is primarily concerned with that position. The expression "trust corporation" includes the Public Trustee, a corporation appointed by the court to be a trustee and a corporation entitled under rules made under the Public Trustee Act 1906 to act as a custodian trustee. A corporation is so entitled if it is incorporated in the United Kingdom or any other member state of the EEC, is authorised by its constitution to undertake trust business in England and Wales, and has an issued capital of £250,000, of which not less than £100,000 has been paid up in cash. Examples of such trust corporations are the Public Trustee, part of the banking system and insurance companies. In effect, the Bill will allow such trust corporations to take part in probate.

    A trust corporation is like any other executor and is entitled to administer the estate in respect of which it has been appointed. However, as the trust corporation receives a fee for being an executor and is not a qualifed person for the purposes of section 23 of the Solicitors Act 1974, it cannot prepare the executor's affidavit, which is the document on which the grant of probate is founded. A trust corporation, being a body corporate, cannot, like an individual executor, apply for probate, as an application is a court proceeding. It must, therefore, act through a solicitor.

    As the present law is restrictive and, in effect, gives a kind of monopoly to solicitors, it is not surprising that the Law Society objected when the matter was being looked at by the Royal Commission. In the evidence to the Royal Commission on Legal Services by the Association of Corporate Trustees and the Committee of the London Clearing Banks, it was said that
    "trust corporations should be permitted to apply for grants of representation without the intervention of a solicitor."
    One would, of course, expect the London clearing banks to say that. The association said that
    "all necessary preparatory work is done by the trust corporation concerned and the solicitor's functions are, in this respect, largely formal."
    I am sure that the Government will welcome the principle of the Bill, and I am looking forward to hearing the Minister's comments. Where the solicitor's work is largely formal, he should not be allowed to preserve a monopoly. We want to open out all the legal services as widely as possible, whether in relation to house conveyancing, probate, or anything else.

    I have been listening to my hon. Friend with some interest. Would he take his argument a stage further and say that where the work of counsel appearing in the Crown court is largely formal—for example, undertaking cases in which there is a plea of guilty—that work should also be open to competition?

    My hon. Friend has made an interesting point. I believe that he is a solicitor. I, unfortunately, am a barrister. I detect in my hon. Friend's remark a slight tilt at my profession. I do not know whether he intended it. I have often appeared in court, having been given a very slender brief by the solicitor briefing me, so that I have had to do all the work, and I have wondered why the solicitor should be paid at all. If I may say so, I believe in a unified profession. I see no reason why a solicitor should not appear in the High Court. I believe in opening up the legal profession. It is a great principle, worthy of the Government and the principles on which the Conservative party was elected.

    I do not see why there should be restrictive practices in the legal profession any more than in the trade unions or anywhere else. I do not think that the Government can reasonably take a hard line against restrictive practices in the trade unions and still insist that if I want to become a barrister I must eat a certain number of dinners, as I had to do. The Bill is in line with what I believe in and what I hope the Government believe in.

    It is not surprising that, when the Law Commission was considering the issue, the Law Society opposed it. I do not blame it for that. The Law Society exists to protect the interests of solicitors. Solicitors have enjoyed a monopoly and it is not surprising that they should wish to oppose this progressive measure. They have opposed any relaxation of the present restrictions.

    The Law Society has said that difficult questions of law could arise in the administration of an estate. That sort of thing is always said. When a Royal Commission is looking at ways of opening out the legal profession, the Law Society always says that difficult questions of law arise. However, that did not seem to the Royal Commission to be a strong point. The Commission said that
    "in the interests of their clients and also to protect themselves from charges of breach of trust or negligence trust corporations are punctilious in seeking legal advice when the need arises."
    That is why I do not understand the objections to banks and building societies taking a greater part in the conveyancing process. I believe that they would be as punctilious as any solicitor in dealing with such matters.

    The Royal Commission said:
    "The Law Society also said that a trust corporation was not under the same duty as a solicitor to the client and to the court".
    That may be an interesting point, and my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight), who is a solicitor, may want to deal with it. It is true that the local solicitor has a particularly close relationship with his client, and that is perhaps a fair point for the Law Society to make.

    The Law Society also said that the fees charged by trust corporations
    "were not subject to any control and might, from the date of death, be quite different from those in force when the testator made his will. Trust corporations have for a long period been allowed to administer estates for reward."
    The Royal Commission did not find, in the evidence put before it, any grounds for a general change in that respect. However, it considered that some control should be exercised over charges. I hope that it could not be said by those who oppose the Bill that it will somehow open up the gates against trust corporations overcharging. That is not a valid objection. They are responsible bodies, such as banks, and so on. I do not see that happening.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As everyone on the Government side of the House seems to be nodding agreement, and as no Opposition Member is moved to dissent, I wonder whether we might vote on the Bill now and get on with one of the more important Bills that come later.

    I shall have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. What is being said is perfectly in order.

    I am horrified that the spokesman for the Liberal party should have said that. Here is a worthy measure trying to give people in distress an opportunity to circumvent the delays engendered by the law, and the only member of the Liberal party who has bothered to turn up on a Friday is objecting to it. That is absolutely disgraceful.

    The hon. Gentleman has clearly not been listening to his own speech, but he did not even listen to my intervention. I am totally in favour of him having his way. Why does he not agree and sit down so that we can vote in favour of the Bill?

    It would be an insult to the House if an important Bill were not debated properly. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that if my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, unfortunately he intends to oppose the Bill. I am sorry about that, but my hon. Friend is an honourable Member of the House. I know that he is deeply concerned about these issues, has studied them closely and wishes to give a detailed speech to explain why he opposes the Bill. That is a matter of great regret to me. I feel bound to explain why this worthy measure should go through. I may not win, but I retain the hope that my hon. Friend will be convinced by my argument. I know that he is listening closely to my speech.

    Surely it is reasonable that a trust corporation, approved for the purpose by the Bank of England, should be permitted, in non-contentious cases, to apply for probate of a will, in which it is named as executor, without the intervention of a solicitor. That is all that this modest measure seeks to do. It is attempting to open up the probate business.

    The implementation of that recommendation requires amendment to section 23 of the Solicitors Act 1974, which I have already quoted, and the granting of a right of audience to the proper officer of a corporation sufficient to enable it to perform that function. The Royal Commission emphasised that its recommendations were confined to non-contentious cases. I emphasise that, too. It is a different situation when large estates and contentious probate matters are involved. However, the vast majority of cases in probate are non-contentious. The Royal Commission also said that there should be a requirement that if a probate case becomes contentious the trust corporation must cease to have the right of audience and be required to appear in front of a solicitor.

    Let me outline what this short measure seeks to do. Clause 1 proposes that
    "section 23 of the Solicitors Act 1974 (unqualified persons not to act in preparation of papers for probate etc.)"
    should be amended. Clause 1 (a) provides that
    "for the words 'Subsection (1) applies to' in subsection (2) there shall be substituted the words 'Subject to subsection (3) subsection (1) applies to'."
    I know that some hon. Members here today are not lawyers, and the Bill may seem difficult to understand. However, it is clear. All that it is seeking to do is to introduce a new subsection (3) into the Solicitors Act 1974 so that, whereas the law will stay as it is in contentious cases, in uncontentious cases the new subsection will be slotted in. The new subsection (3) states:
    "Subsection (1) does not apply in any non-contentious or common form probate business in which an approved trust corporation acting by and through any officer of that trust corporation authorised for the purpose by that trust corporation or its directors or governing body is the applicant or, as the case may be, one of the applicants for a grant of probate or administration."
    Wrapped in legal language, as it must be, that provision simply gives effect to the very simple principle that I have enunciated.

    This is a small, slim Bill, but I believe that it enshrines a great principle. I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading today.

    12.20 pm

    I rise to seek clarification because I am not a lawyer and, although my accent may suggest otherwise, I am affected by the Bill because I live in England, although that was not always the case.

    I wonder whether the Bill will assist people in the circumstances in which I found myself some years ago when my father chose to die in England and leave an estate here while I lived in Scotland. Telephone engineers do not tend to accumulate vast estates, and at the end of the day the difficulties of trying to get probate in England were just not worth it and I left things as they were. There is probably still about £200 lying in a bank somewhere in Kent because even in those days the legal fees involved would have been a great deal more than that. I was the only son of a father who died without any surviving relatives. His brother and sisters had died, so I was the only person who could have claimed the estate. Will the Bill help a person in that situation?

    Will the Bill help a properly qualified Scots solicitor seeking to apply for probate in England? When my father died my Edinburgh solicitors were unable to act for me. They would have had to instruct an English solicitor on my behalf, but as they were good Edinburgh solicitors, and as Scots are canny people, they advised me not to proceed with the matter because the entire estate would have been eaten up by the legal costs and I would have been left with considerable residual costs.

    The Bill appears to limit the category of people who can apply for the easier procedure to officers of trust corporations. I am. concerned about the many small cases in which the surviving relative, often in a shocked state and fairly horrifying circumstances, merely wishes to tidy up the estate. My case arose in the middle of the famous miners' strike and even the lift at the crematorium was out of service because of the power cuts. Many people find themselves in similarly difficult situations. I hope that if the promoter is able to speak again in the debate he will comment on that aspect.

    I should also like to know why the provisions are limited to approved trust corporations as defined in clause 1(4). When the words "non-contentious or common form" appear in the same sentence one wonders whether the Bill is quite the liberalising measure that the hon. Gentleman suggests. Like the hon. Gentleman, I am concerned about closed shops. My union does not have one, but the Law Society has a very effective one. I wonder whether officers of approved trust corporations are not just solicitors in another form, or people who probably are solicitors but are being paid from a different source rather than by the client direct. That is the suspicion at the back of my mind.

    I should be interested to hear why the hon. Gentleman thinks the Law Society operates a closed shop. I should have thought that that term was more applicable to a rule or regulation preventing people from being employed unless they belonged to a union. The rules of the Law Society require that a person may practise as a solicitor only if he has passed certain examinations. There is a distinction, is there not?

    I am an engineer, and some engineers are allowed to practise at certain levels of engineering only after passing examinations. The Institution of Electrical Engineers does not then take decisions about the fees that we may charge, act as a court over us, negotiate our conditions of service or do many of the other things that the Law Society does. It is not, therefore, the same as the other professional institutions with which I am involved and am describing.

    I am open to correction by hon. Members who are more qualified in such matters, but I understand that, while the Law Society sometimes operates rather like a trade union, at other times it assumes a quasi-judical function. It cannot be equated with, say, the Institution of Electrical Engineers, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and various other bodies with which I am associated. To that extent the Law Society operates a closed shop. It certainly operates to protect the monopoly of solicitors in dealing with certain types of work. Hon. Members are aware of the lobbying that occurred on behalf of the Law Society when my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) introduced his House Buyers Bill.

    I am sure that the Law Society will continue vigorously to protect the interests of its members in matters affecting lawyers, and I make no complaint about that. That is its function. Our job, however, is to consider how reasonable that representation is in the context of the way in which people must deal with members of the legal profession.

    I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that there are some Conservative Members who believe that the Law Society should be in the same position as the Institution of Electrical Engineers, for example, that there is an anomalous situation and that the legal profession should be opened up. The hon. Gentleman has made some strong points against the closed shop in the legal profession. May we assume from his remarks that he is against the closed shop generally?

    I was not implying that Conservative Members were not equally concerned about the issue. That is clearly not the case. My union, the National Communications Union—I declare my interest, but only to the extent of our attitude to the closed shop—does not operate a closed shop. We have 95 per cent. membership without one. An advantage of that is that we need not have people in the union whom we do not like, people who might cause us other difficulties.

    I do not want to stray into the whole issue of why some unions need a closed shop. My union is an industrial body and is basically a one-industry union. We have one employer, and it is easy to make arrangements, so that the level of organisation is high. In other areas, such as retail distribution, that is not the case, and the level of organisation is lower.

    The closed shop principle for trade unions is different because non-unionists often accept the advantages which trade union members enjoy without paying for them, in the same way as some people accept taxation benefits and try not to pay their tax. That is why the closed shop principle is considered to be important, although I, too, would like to see it interpreted more liberally. That does not apply to the professions, which cheerfully have a tightly rigged closed shop; so tightly rigged that they not only do not have any voting, but also in many instances restrict entry. They can ruin a person's career by the activities of what are little short of kangaroo courts.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I hope that I did not imply that I was unaware of the need for the closed shop and the arguments in its favour. I do not like people riding on my back. I pay my union subs, the union negotiates a pay rise and all its members receive it. When I was a branch secretary, some of my colleagues were Jehovah's Witnesses. They did not wish to be members of the union, for good religious reasons. The three in my branch paid the equivalent of their union subs to a charity. They gave me the opportunity to nominate a charity, but I told them to choose the charity to which they wanted to donate. They all chose a different charity. One selected the Cancer Research Campaign, the second decided to support the British Heart Foundation and the third decided to support a missionary charity. These three people did not ride on anyone's back, and I respected them for that.

    I support the Bill, but I recognise that it has shortcomings. I share the view that it does not go far enough. A few years ago I had the task of trying to wind up a small estate. It was impossible for the matter to be contentious as there was no legal heir other than myself. There are many similar cases. I was unable to wind up the estate as I could not meet the costs involved.

    Unfortunately, I did not qualify for legal aid. I was not quite that poor. I would have qualified for legal aid if I had been trying to do something rather more substantial than wind up a small estate. I do not think that legal aid provision is sufficiently wide, pervasive or generous to enable the public in all cases to obtain the legal advice that they need. We have a National Health Service and I am convinced that we need a national legal service.

    My hon. Friend will appreciate that law centres are being threatened, in addition to the restrictions that are placed on legal aid. Law centres should be funded nationally, but the Lord Chancellor is refusing to do so. The Government are refusing to fund the centres and 55 will be closed in the next year or two unless local authorities pick up the bill. They are unable to do so because they are being rate capped.

    The law centre at Gateshead is in exactly that position. The Tyne and Wear metropolitan county council provides the major funding of the centre, but the council will cease to exist in April 1986. The local authorities cannot afford to fund the centre. As my hon. Friend rightly says, they are being rate capped and they are short of money. I am an ex-city treasurer and I know that the funding of the Gateshead law centre does not amount to the product of a 1p rate in the borough. However, it seems that that does not matter. There are many other things that we would like to support, but we are unable to do so. The law centre is one of the services that will have to go unless the Government or others pick up the tab.

    If law centres were properly funded, they would be able to assist in overcoming the problem that I have been trying to explain. Unfortunately, they will rapidly cease to exist, except those that are run on a voluntary basis by solicitors who are prepared to give up their own time. I know that this happens, and that it will continue to happen. but the service is bound to be patchy. If someone is able to have access to that help and advice, it will be a matter of luck., depending on where he lives.

    I appreciate the free legal advice scheme which the Law Society operates. It is true that that helps very many people. However, it is only a matter of one interview and one letter, and that is not sufficient to gain probate even in a simple case. Substantial costs remain.

    The banks must do well out of the situation. There is about £200 lying in an account in Strood in Kent which I will not and cannot touch. The money has been there for nearly 14 years. There must be money in bank accounts all over the country on which banks receive interest and which no one else can touch because it is too expensive to get probate. The bank might consider operating a national scheme. They could easily fund it from the interest that they receive from unclaimed moneys lying in accounts.

    I hope that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to take the Bill too far. Does he hold that anyone should be allowed to handle anyone else's probate? That would be dangerous. I see why the hon. Gentleman wishes to extend the Bill, but there must be some restriction, and at least one can trust a trust corporation.

    The hon. Gentleman spoilt an otherwise helpful intervention by his last sentence. Unfortunately, in a number of cases, that has been proved objectively not to be true. I am not trying to take the Bill too far, but it is very important that people in tragic circumstances who have an uncontentious claim to probate and administration should be able to establish it.

    I am not an expert on this, but if the hon. Gentleman were to accept some free advice from me and apply for probate himself he might be able to look forward to a nice summer holiday. The sum of £200, plus the interest accrued over a number of years, should give the hon. Gentleman a lovely holiday.

    I have been told that free legal advice is worth exactly what one pays for it. However, in this case, I am prepared to disregard that saying. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right. It is probably through laziness that I have not done so, but many years have passed and I do not wish to stir up some old memories. Individuals may apply for probate, and I am quite capable of doing so. However, many people are not. There is a problem. To take up the point made by the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), I was not arguing that I should be allowed to set myself up in a corner shop in Blaydon shopping precinct under the sign "Get your probate here". I do not suggest that anyone should be permitted to do that. We must make certain that people get the best professional advice when they need it. My argument is that, somehow or other, the system seems to become very expensive very quickly. We have quick and cheap divorces these days. Perhaps we should also have quick and cheap probates in uncontested cases. Some arrangements could and should be made to make that possible. I did not mean to imply that anyone should be able to deal with matters of probate. That would be very dangerous. I do not wish to lead people down that path.

    Perhaps, however, the Bill does not go far enough. I hope to hear something helpful from the right hon. and learned Gentleman about this, and about some of the other matters to which I have addressed myself.

    The Bill is a modest measure, but it is welcome. I do not denounce it for being modest. There is an old Scottish saying to the effect that one should make haste slowly. Perhaps more progress may be made by a series of modest measures than by a single blockbuster which would upset the Attorney-General's and the Lord Chancellor's Departments. I hope that the Government will accept this welcome measure. I hope also that the Government will give us some assurances about the other matters I have raised.

    1.39 pm

    The House should ask what the purpose of the Bill is. I know that for many months my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) has felt passionately about this subject. I also know that he has done a lot of research on it and that he is delighted to have had the opportunity to introduce the Bill today.

    The first question is: what can be done to reduce costs? The first thing that people can do is to make a will. When an estate needs to be wound up, problems often arise because the deceased failed to make a will. However, it does not just end there. The will needs to be made in a proper manner.

    I well remember a case some years ago of a bank manager—who one would have thought would have known better—who went, I believe, to Woolworths and bought a will form which then cost 6d. He made out the will form himself. I think that he had been separated from his wife for about 15 years, and in his will he said something like, "My wife and I have lived apart for many years, and I wish to bequeath to her in this will only that amount that the law indicates she should have, had I not made this document." He then died, and the interpretation placed on the will was that if he had not made it his estate was such that the wife would have got everything, and so she did get everything. A man of intelligence and position who should have known better thus made a will whose effect was quite contrary to his intentions.

    If we wish to ensure that the public obtain value for money and that costs are not run up unnecessarily on an estate, we should try to ensure that wills are properly drawn up, and properly attested. Ultimately, it is a question not only of trying to cut costs but of ensuring that the public are protected.

    I understood my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle to say that if a trust corporation is allowed to carry out the work in winding up an estate without having to employ a solicitor, it will be cheaper. My experience is that that is not so. If people say in their will that they would like a bank to act for them, the costs charged are often far higher, even discounting the cost of the solicitor employed by the bank. Thus, I suspect that my hon. Friend's measure may not cut costs at all.

    I think that my hon. Friend has missed the point. If someone goes straight to a solicitor, the solicitor may well be able to act more cheaply than a bank. But the Bill is saying that if, for some reason, someone wants to start with a bank, and the bank does all the work, it should not be incumbent on it to go to a solicitor at the last moment just to conform to the Solicitors Act 1974.

    I accept that there is some weight to that argument, but my hon. Friend would be wise to take into account several points. For example, what happens if a difficult question of law arises when administering the estate? It may be that a solicitor should be called in then. My hon. Friend touched too briefly in his opening remarks on the charges that a bank can make. There is no control over the charges that trust corporations can impose, but there is control over solicitors' charges. The Bill would be more acceptable if it contained a mechanism to ensure that somebody could supervise the charges that such trust corporations may make.

    I am also concerned about the provision granting a right of audience to some person in a trust corporation.

    In answer to an intervention of mine earlier my hon. Friend said that he was in favour of widening all professions. He went on to say that he was even in favour, if I understood him correctly, of breaking the banisters' monopoly. I fear that he may have been carried away by his own rhetoric on that point. If a private Member's Bill seeks to break the barristers' monopoly, it will be interesting to see whether he is one of its sponsors.

    Be that as it may.

    The hon. Member from the Opposition Whips' Office made a number of valuable points.

    Much as I would like it, the Opposition Whips' Office is not represented in the House by a Member. I am the hon. Member for Blaydon.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I could have said that he was the Member for the Kremlin bar, but that might misrepresent the valuable work that he does in the House.

    I am not being facetious when I say that I have some sympathy with the case which the hon. Gentleman put forward. I am sorry to hear that he has a sum of money locked away in a bank account. Let me say in all seriousness that I would gladly undertake the legal work for him for nothing if he were prepared to donate half the sum to the Conservative party.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his offer, but my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) has just worked out how much that £200 has turned into, and the hon. Gentleman's proposal does not have a chance.

    I suspected that at the end of the day that might be the case.

    Insufficient attention has been paid to the Benson report. It dealt with the problem in page 226 under a paragraph headed "Litigation". I do not want to read out all the report; I am sure that interest in the subject is such that every hon. Member present has read it from beginning to end. In essence, its conclusion was that we should do something along the lines of the Bill.

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