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Commons Chamber

Volume 171: debated on Friday 27 April 1990

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House Of Commons

Friday 27 April 1990

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]


Human Embryo

9.34 am

I want to present a petition on behalf of the Rev. Hilary Armstrong, the parish priest of St. Comgall's church in Bangor. The petition has been signed by the members of his congregation and reads:

We affirm that the newly-fertilised human embryo is a real living being.
Therefore we welcome the statement in the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology…That "the status of the embryo is a matter of Fundamental Principle which should be enshrined in legislation", and its recommendation that the embryo of the human species should be afforded protection in law; And therefore we oppose all such practices as are recommended in the Report which discriminate against the embryo or violate his/her human dignity and Right to life. Wherefore your petitioners pray that the House of Commons will take immediate steps to enact legislation which (a)forbids any procedure that involves purchase or sale of human embryos, the discarding or freezing of human embryos, their use as sources of transplant tissue or as subjects for research or experiment (unless this is done solely for the benefit of the embryo concerned) and (b)forbids all forms of trans-species fertilisation.
My constituents hope that the House will reconsider its attitude to embryo research and pray that this petition is heeded.

To lie upon the Table.

Points Of Order

9.36 am

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that yesterday the Leader of the House, in his usual manner, made a business statement. It was very comprehensive and he outlined all the matters to be debated next week. Many of us raised other issues that we thought should be on the agenda, which is normal practice. This morning, we hear that the Government intend to change one of their major pieces of legislation passed in the past two or three years—the poll tax legislation.

In view of all the speculation and the Prime Minister's private secretary briefing the media about the massive change in primary legislation on the poll tax, I suggest that it is incumbent on a Minister to come to the House to tell us what changes are to take place and whether the Leader of the House will arrange business in a different manner for next week. It is high time that the House was properly informed about these changes. The Government have a penchant for going to the press and running to the television studios, telling the world about possible changes, but they do not come here to tell the House of Commons.

Some time today, you should be informed, Mr. Speaker, about the impending poll tax changes. The poll tax legislation is detested by the great majority of the population. It is high time that we dealt with the matter properly and not outside this building.

Order. I also heard this on the radio this morning. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I am one of those who was not briefed on this matter. I am sure that what the hon. Gentleman has said will have been heard by the Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household, who is part of the usual channels.

Orders Of The Day

Road Traffic (Temporary Restrictions) Bill

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

New Clause 1

Temporary Restriction Of Motor Vehicles On Byways

`After section 14 of the Act there shall be inserted—

"14A.—(1) The power to make an order under section 14 of this Act shall, where the road is a byway open to all traffic, be exercisable for the purpose of restricting use of the road by motor vehicles, or by motor vehicles of any class, if the authority is satisfied that it is expedient so to restrict that use in order to avoid disturbance to the surface of the road or annoyance or inconvenience to other traffic using the road, including in particular pedestrians and equestrians.
(2) The power to make regulations under section 16 shall include a power to make regulations providing that objections to an order proposed to be made under section 14 for the purposes set out in subsection (1) above may be considered at a public inquiry or hearing held to consider objections to an order under section 53 or section 54 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which would have the effect of showing that road as a byway open to all traffic in a definitive map and statement of public rights of way.
(3) In this section "byway open to all traffic" has the same meaning as in section 127 of this Act.".'—[Mr. Andrew F. Bennett.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

9.38 am

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

We have ahead of us a useful day's debate on road traffic matters. By tradition, if a statement is forthcoming, it will be made at 11 am. It would be far more helpful for the Government to ensure that there was a proper statement at 11 am so that we knew what was happening on the poll tax, rather than for some of us to have to raise the matter on points of order at 11 am, which I am sure that you would feel to be unhelpful, Mr Speaker. I hope that you will use your good offices between now and 11 am to persuade the Government that they must make a clear statement so that there is no continued speculation.

That is especially important as there are local elections and the poll tax is a key issue at those local elections. After the local elections, voters should have the first opportunity to know the Government's proposals. It would be grossly unfair to the general public if there were hints about changes that might influence their votes and they were disappointed. I hope that you will use your good offices, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that there is a statement at 11 o'clock.

I understand the problems for the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), being ninth in the ballot. It is a bit like losing £5 and finding 5p—one is not sure whether one has had success. Ninth in the ballot is not the best position. I do not blame him totally for choosing a Bill that came from the Department of Transport, but I am a little disappointed that he did not find out whether the whole country or merely the Department of Transport and local authorities would benefit from it. It is rather a pity that he chose a Bill whose sole aim is to help bureaucrats in the Department of Transport and in local authorities and is not designed to help the general public. In fact, it makes life much worse for the general public.

The National Farmers Union, the Automobile Association and the Ramblers Association are upset about the Bill. I make it clear that, although I have no financial interest, I am a member of the Ramblers Association and I often speak on its behalf. I shall say some things on behalf of the association this morning. The Ramblers Association gives me considerable assistance.

The ramblers are upset about one point in particular. There is a useful group called the rights of way review committee, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst). It is sad that when the Department of Transport was bringing forward the Bill it made no attempt to consult the rights of way review committee to discover its views on the matter. I am a little unhappy about the way in which the Bill has come about.

As the proceedings continue, we may be able to negotiate some compromises, but it would have been far better if all the negotiations had taken place before the Bill was introduced for Second Reading. It would have been much more helpful for me if the hon. Member for Nottingham, South had got on with the negotiations before Easter, when I suggested that he should negotiate with the ramblers rather than leave it until the past day or two.

The problem is that, as Friday approaches and one must speak on a Bill on that day, one must do quite a bit of work. As one starts to dig into most pieces of legislation, one often finds that there is rather more in them than was thought and one begins to think, "Perhaps we should press this point and that point." The purpose of the new clause is to do that very thing.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, South should have put into the package something for the Department of Transport, something for local authorities to reduce bureaucracy, and something for the many people who walk in the countryside. He should have put in something for the farmers who look after the countryside, and he should have at least consulted major groups such as the AA.

The hon. Gentleman should also have been quite clear in saying that this is not a Bill to save money. The worry in my mind and in the minds of ramblers is that, with all the pressures of the poll tax, the Bill will make it easier for local authorities to defer repairing roads, replacing footbridges over rivers, and so on. Of course it would help if at this stage we knew a little more about the Government's proposals on the poll tax and whether the Government propose to keep the main thrust of their legislation, which is to discourage local expenditure—something that I find extremely worrying.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that not only are the Government endeavouring to dissuade local expenditure but we in the north of Ireland, where there is an entirely different rating system, have discovered that there has been falling expenditure on roads for many years and that central Government expenditure——

Order. I realise that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) is still on his preamble, but I am sure that he will stick to the new clause.

I appreciate that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I felt that it was important for the House to realise that it is not a narrow Bill and that there are major implications for expenditure. There is pressure to cut expenditure. I agree with the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs). In Northern Ireland, and certainly in the north-west of England, expenditure on roads and footpaths has been cut. This measure would allow delay. There should be some opportunity for redress. The substantial problem that walkers and others come across is what is now referred to in horrible initials as BOATS.

BOATS—byways open to all traffic.[Laughter.] The Minister may laugh, but it is causing considerable upset to large numbers of people. Perhaps the most famous person who has been campaigning about the issue is Lord Denning, but I shall refer to that matter later. I hope that the Minister will tell us what the Government will do about the problem.

The aim of the new clause is to give highway authorities—that is to say, county council, metropolitan district councils and London borough councils—enhanced powers to make temporary traffic regulation orders to restrict or prohibit the use by motor vehicles of byways open to all traffic. In other words, we are talking about the green lanes and the ancient trackways which at one time had vehicles—usually horse-drawn vehicles—going over them. In recent years, horse-drawn traffic has ceased to go over such byways and they are now often used by horse riders. There are now people who want to ride motor bikes and drive off-road vehicles on them. The clause achieves its aim by inserting a new section 14A into the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. Section 14 is one of the sections to be amended by the Bill. The new clause states that where the authority thinks it expedient, it can put a temporary restriction or prohibition of motor traffic on a byway open to all traffic to
"avoid disturbance to the surface of the road, or annoyance or inconvenience"
being caused by motor vehicles to other users of the way, particularly walkers and horse riders. I am afraid that the measures must be temporary. It would have been much better to table an amendment that would impose a permanant restriction. Therefore, I use the new clause as a vehicle to ask the Government what they will do.

On 23 February, during the Second Reading debate on the Rights of Way (Agricultural Land) Bill, which was introduced by the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), there was a useful debate on rights of way. There were many comments about the problem that horse riders and walkers were suffering as a result of some green lanes or byways being used by off-road vehicle drivers and motor bike riders. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who is a regular attender on Fridays, said:
"I have seen groups of riders"—
by which he means horse riders—
"stampeding along bridleways and fast cars being driven irresponsibly. Drivers rev up their cars and wreck the whole
spirit of the countryside, and the people and animals within it. It should be stopped immediately.—[Official Report, 23 February 1990; Vol. 167, c. 1201.]
I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) in his place. He said:
"It is an anomaly that because a footpath or a bridleway has at some time been used by wheeled traffic it can be used for wheeled traffic today. In the past wheeled traffic might have been a horse-drawn wagon, a medieval bullock cart or even Boadicaea's chariot, but now it means that yobs can drive their wretched jeeps and beach buggies up and down the tracks and churn them up, charging into the crops arid shattering the peace and quiet of the countryside. They can ruin the soil structure of those paths all too easily. Especially with clay, once the soil structure gets deflocculated it is very difficult to restore it."—[Official Report, 23 February 1990; Vol. 167, c. 1207.]
The hon. Members for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) and for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) also commented on the problem.

However, the person who has received the most publicity on this issue is Lord Denning. I believe that he got himself on "Wogan". Lord Denning has been running a substantial battle against Hampshire county council over the use of green lanes. Perhaps it was as a result of Lord Denning's pressure that Hampshire county council called a conference on the subject. About 300 people attended it and put forward a series of recommendations——

I, too, have seen references to Lord Denning and his protest, which I believe was on a fairly narrow subject. My hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong, but I got the impression that Lord Denning was concerned only about his own little path near his own big house. My hon. Friend's new clause is seeking to deal with places such as the High Peak and the Tissington trail and other such trails in Derbyshire and in the Peak district—not too far from the areas that my hon. Friend knows well from his rambling and mountaineering. Is not my hon. Friend trying to protect such trails and biking areas that have been sponsored and provided by the Labour-controlled Derbyshire county council, and not somebody's private drive?

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. There is some strength in his view, although I am sure that Lord Denning would dispute that he is motivated merely by the problems at the bottom of his own back garden, which is not exactly the sort of back garden that most of us know about. Nevertheless, Lord Denning has identified a substantial group of people throughout the country who have properties on the byways that used to be peaceful lanes but which have not been churned up.

I agree with my hon. Friend that a substantial number of such lanes are to be found in upland Britain and that they have major problems. Over the past 30 or 40 years., many such byways have ceased to carry motor vehicles and have become quiet places for walkers and horse riders. Often in the upland areas stones have fallen off walls and have blocked the road. When horses and carts used to travel along them, people picked up the stones and replaced them on the walls, but more recently that has stopped.

The surfaces of such byways were often composed of crushed or pounded stone or clay. Such surfaces are not suitable for modern motor vehicles and are certainly not suitable for off-road vehicles, which quickly churn up the surface, turning it into mud. It is distressing that an authority such as Derbyshire county council, which has an impressive record of trying to restore footpaths and to ensure that they have good surfaces, should find that the byways are quickly destroyed by vehicles. We need some system by which we can keep vehicles off traditional routeways that are not suitable for them.

Perhaps as a result of Lord Denning's pressure—or perhaps as a result of other people's concern, which has been less well publicised—Hampshire county council and the Countryside Commission held a conference on this matter in Winchester last October, which suggested that there should be Government legislation. That is the motivation behind my new clause.

I could give the Minister a series of other examples and could quote what other people have said about the problems but shall refer briefly to only one example of an old Roman road at Betws-y-coed in north Wales—

Yes, very close to the Swallow falls. It is Sarn Helen. It is supposedly a Roman road but as any old track was attributed to the Romans in the past, I suspect that it is, in fact, medieval. Until the 1950s, it was a metal road that ran from the Miners' bridge at Betws-y-coed to Pont-y-Pant at Dolwyddelan. In the 1950s, a substantial flood severed the road a little less than a mile from its start. As a result, it was impossible for the farmers in the area to reach their farms by that old road, which in the past had been the only way up. They found a simple compromise and used a forest road. However, once people started to use the forest road, which had a much more gentle gradient and was much easier to get up, the county council had no incentive to reinstate the missing section that had been worn away. That saved the county council a lot of money. As half a dozen farmers could still reach their farms. Why reinstate the road? One can see the county council's temptation.

Indeed, my worry about the Bill is that if it gives local authorities the right to defer reinstating a road for 18 months, at the end of that 18 months the authority could say, "We have not had much fuss about people not getting through or about reinstating it. Let's go for permanent closure." That example is worrying. If, as in this case, people can get access from the Forestry Commission, the Forestry Commission might rightly feel that a county council should make some contribution towards the upkeep of the road.

Sam Helen has not been used by vehicles for about 20 years. Tarmac has not been laid since then and the top tarmac surface has gradually been eroded by water. It is a pleasant and fairly safe walk. People taking youngsters out into the countryside to practise their map reading encourage them to use it because it is not a route from which they are likely to be easily diverted. As I have said, it is an attractive walk, but in the past two years one or two people have decided that it is a nice place to drive their jeeps. One or two jeeps can turn what is a pleasant path to walk along in both summer and winter into a muddy path.

I shall not go on for much longer because I should like the Minister at least to give us the assurance that something will be done about byways which were used by horse and cart traffic in the past and which have not been used by motor vehicle traffic. I do not know whether the Minister will be able to see his way to amending the Bill in the House of Lords in an attempt to deal with those byways, but if he cannot do so I hope that he will tell us that, following the initiative taken by Hampshire county council and the others who are concerned about this problem, the Government will bring forward some permanent legislation as soon as they can and will deal with BOATS—byways open to all traffic.

I shall listen to the Minister with interest. I hope that he will start the day by making some helpful comments that may speed our progress.

10 am

I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) for airing several issues that interest ramblers, people who ride horses and anyone interested in the open countryside. However, this modest measure is not a natural place for his new clause. As he said, I was ninth in the ballot for private Members' Bills. There is a golden rule that if one is outside the first seven, one should choose a very modest measure—I underline very modest—to have the remotest chance of successfully steering a Bill through the House. The House knows that one is not guaranteed a Second Reading. Indeed, it is most unusual, when one comes lower than seventh, to choose a measure that does not have cross-party agreement. One should choose, not a major measure, but a Bill to deal with a gap in existing legislation or a matter that everyone views as modest and uncontentious but which cannot find its way into the Government's programme of legislation.

The hon. Gentleman's monetary analogy was not quite right. I suppose that I was not sure whether I had a west mark or an east mark. The hon. Gentleman spoke about uncertainty. Having listened to him, I have a funny feeling that I have picked up an east mark this morning.

The hon. Gentleman has been less than fair to my hon. Friend the Minister and the staff of the Department of Transport. Having looked around for a modest measure, I was given their absolute assurance that all the relevant parties had been consulted. Much of the consultation was done in the middle 80s—in 1987 and 1988. The delay was in finding an hon. Member such as myself with an interest in transport who was prepared to adopt not a new Bill but an amendment to an existing measure because a gap in that legislation had been identified.

While it is true that the rights of way committee has not been consulted recently, it was consulted some time ago and there was no reason to believe that what was being done was contrary to its general wish.

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall continue for a moment. It also worries me that the hon. Gentleman spoke of local authorities in such a pejorative tone. The House is always being accused of imposing decisions on local authorities or not treating them with the respect that they deserve. We are told that we should give them the right to make their own decisions as far as possible. About 15,000 orders are made on this matter every year and it would be bureaucratic nonsense to involve the Department of Transport and the Secretary of State even in a minor way in matters that rightly come within the remit of local democratically elected authorities.

All that the Bill seeks to do is to tidy up sections 14 and 15 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. However desirable it would be to deal with the other matters that the hon. Gentleman outlined, what he described in his opening remarks would need a major piece of legislation. I agree with him that over the coming 15 or 20 years, our children and grandchildren will look for a much greener approach to politics and life in general. All the matters that he described will undoubtedly be part of a wider group of green issues, whether they come under the Department of Transport or the Department of the Environment. However, if the hon. Gentleman considers my Bill carefully, he will see that it simply seeks to clean up the present bureaucratic process of repetitious notices and applications. In no way do I seek to give local authorities powers that would undermine the hon. Gentleman's proposals, with which I assure him that I agree.

The Ramblers Association was not consulted and it is not happy with the proposals. It was disappointed that although it got in touch with the hon. Gentleman before Easter, he did not feel that negotiations could start then. He said that we shall have to worry about green lanes for the next 15 or 20 years. That is true, but some green lanes have been crossed by 20 or 30 people on motor bikes or in jeeps or other vehicles and have had their surfaces destroyed. The surface had probably been there for 1,000 years. When that surface has gone it cannot be restored. It is not a problem that we can put off for ever.

I am not in dispute with the hon. Gentleman on that. However, the problem that he describes does not sit well in this amending legislation. The type of anti-social behaviour that he describes is indulged in not only by motor cyclists crossing bridlepaths or footpaths. I represent what is technically described as an inner city seat. Anti-social behaviour of motor cyclists unlawfully using footpaths is a well known and is a major problem for the police. We shall have to address it, but it does not sit properly with this legislation.

My hon. Friend the Minister may wish briefly to comment on the wider implications of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I should be most unhappy if my modest amending legislation were widened into what would clearly be a major piece of legislation.

First, I wish to address the points made about consultation. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) referred to the AA. I have checked and I understand that the Tapwork report—which has nothing to do with the water industry or dancing, but is the traffic and parking consultative working party—consulted a wide variety of people, including the AA. The AA expressed no anxieties. I wonder where the hon. Gentleman obtained his information.

In general, I support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) in support of his Bill. The new clause would extend the temporary restriction powers to matters which would not be proper for a temporary traffic order. The Bill already provides for temporary action to prevent serious damage to the road. Judgments about what constitutes disturbance to the surface or annoyance and inconvenience to others are highly subjective and would take us into different territory.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South will be pleased to hear that I share deeply their respective anxieties about the activities of certain people in vehicles in rural areas. I represent a rural constituency and live in a rural area. I resent most strongly some of the activities of some of those people. I cannot be more firm in my response.

However, as my hon. Friend says, the Bill is not the place to deal with such behaviour. I appreciate the anxieties expressed about protecting the character of byways. Traffic regulation powers can already be exercised to address such problems permanently. Rightly, they involve the normal processes of consultation—public advertisements and so on—which apply to all permanent traffic regulation orders. There is no justification for allowing the more expeditious temporary order procedure to be applied.

I understand that there are procedures available, but they do not seem to work. I am sure that the Minister is aware of how many green lanes are being destroyed. It seems that no action is being taken to protect them. Virtually everyone who has spoken has given examples of the problem. What does the Department intend to do about it?

The hon. Gentleman is right to press me. I cannot be specific at this stage except to say that I hope that he understood from my view, which in this instance i s purely a personal view, that I am endeavouring to do something about the problem.

The hon. Gentleman must wait and see, as my grandmother used to say to me years ago. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been approached——

I did not realise that Asquith was the Minister's grandmother.

Perhaps my grandmother copied what Asquith used to say years ago.

I have sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend have said, but it is not right to include the matter dealt with in the new clause in what my hon. Friend correctly, but unusually described as a modest Bill.

I accept in principle the merits of considering traffic regulation powers when the status of a byway is to be conferred under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. That makes sense. It would be wrong to confuse what are distinct statutory procedures. We are looking at the possibilities of operating the two procedures more closely for administrative convenience. To handle them jointly may require changes in legislation. It would be wrong simply to overlap them as the amendment proposes.

Although the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish has not achieved all that he wants—he made a fair case which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South and I are trying to recognise—I hope that——

Like the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), I have many green lanes in my constituency. I came to the House in the hope of hearing that the Bill would deal with the motorway that runs through my constituency and the temporary orders on it. Surely the two do not lie well together. Am I right on that?

As usual, my hon. Friend has hit the nail smack on the head. I am delighted that he has found the time to leave his constituency today to come and make that point, if no other. He is absolutely correct.

For the reasons that I have given, I hope that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish will understand that we cannot support the new clause and that he will withdraw the motion. I hope to assist the hon. Gentleman when we debate a later amendment because some of his remarks are more relevant to it.

I am a little disappointed, but not surprised that the Government cannot even tell us what they are thinking about in terms of BOATs. The Minister could at least have explored some of the possibilities. I am sure that many people who are concerned about these green lanes would have liked to hear that the Government were trying to take a step forward. The Minister might have told us that the rights of way review committee was looking at the issue. I hope that the matter will be raised with it.

The debate has offered a market to their Lordships. Although we are not sure whether Lord Denning was speaking for his own or for others' interests, I hope that one or two of their Lordships may feel that they can return to this issue, if not to include the new clause in the legislation, at least to press the Government harder on what they will do about green lanes. As I said when I intervened, they are being eroded steadily. When the top surface of such a road is ripped away, the result is mud for years to come. Then the local authority must spend money putting down hardcore, and we know about the problems of priorities for local authorities and their reluctance to spend money on that.

In view of the Minister's comments and his suggestion that at least on one of the later amendments he can be, as he said, helpful—it may be better to say slightly helpful—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 2

Temporary Restriction Of Foot And Horse Traffic For Trials Of Motor Vehicles

'After section 14 of the Act there shall be inserted—
"14B.—(1) This section applies where an authority makes an order under section 14 above to restrict or prohibit the use of a footpath or bridleway for the purpose of avoiding danger to the public which would arise from the holding of a trial between motor vehicles authorised by the authority under section 33 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.
(2) The authority shall have power, as a condition of making the order, to require the person to whom the authorisation has been granted—
(a) to provide an alternative footpath or bridleway for the traffic which will be restricted or prohibited by the order; and
(b) to defray the expenses reasonably incurred by the authority in, or in connection with, the making of the order and the provision and signing of the alternative footpath or bridleway.".'—[Mr. Andrew F. Bennett.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I understand the disappointment expressed at the conclusion of the previous debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). I share that disappointment because I have carefully prepared fairly lengthy notes which I might have been able to turn into a lengthy speech. However, in view of the possibility that the Government will offer us a minor concession, I do not want to take up too much time. I wish to find out what the Government are doing in one or two other areas and new clause 2 deals with that.

I admit that new clause 2 is fairly obscure. There were difficulties drafting it and a I pay tribute to John Trevelyan of the Ramblers Association for his ingenuity and for understanding the law in this area so well that he managed to draft the new clause. Its aim is to get the Government to throw some light on the use of public highways for sporting activities, particularly rallying with cars.

Earlier this year Humberside county council presented a Bill which would have given it powers to close some highways and roads within its area so that the RAC rally or one of the rallies could use them. There was considerable controversy about turning Birmingham into a legal race-track on one or two weekends a year. The fact that it seems like a race-track most days is another matter. People try to legislate for such events through private Bills, of which I strongly disapprove.

10.15 am

The question is what powers the Department of Transport has to close roads for rallies or sporting events? My information is that the powers are a little obscure. What responsibilities does the Department have to provide alternative routes for people on foot or on horseback? Obviously, it is difficult to do that. Substantial numbers of people watch the RAC rally and the organisers want to ensure that they can watch in safety. Clearly, if people are to watch in safety, it does not make sense to allow them to walk across the road on which the rally is taking place. Many people do not read the newspapers carefully and do not realise that a rally is taking place. They may go out for pleasure into an afforested area, which is where the vehicles go fastest and the race is most dramatic, happen to end up where the race is taking place and be distressed to find the road closed.

Can the Minister make a clear statement about the Department's powers to close roads for trials of one sort or another? When the Government close roads for such purposes, what powers do they have to make temporary diversions for people on foot or on horseback? In particular, will the Minister tell us why we still have this odd private Bill procedure? Are the promoters, such as Humberside county council, trying to do something of which the Department does not approve? If the Department approves of the activity, why does it not use its powers to close the roads temporarily?

I am delighted that Humberside county council, in the face of opposition from walkers and others, decided to drop the Bill and not to disturb the Yorkshire moors. Obviously, I am worried about what is going on in the centre of Birmingham and the controversy that is raging over that legislation.

My hon. Friend and I dislike the private Bill procedure in many respects. Does he agree that that procedure could allow the organisers of such an event to overcome local objections to it? It will not be the Department of Transport alone that is involved in road closures—indeed it may have no locus at all in that. It is more likely to be the local authority or, in London, the Metropolitan police, and they may have strong objections. As in other areas, the private Bill procedure is a way of getting round objections from the locality. That is the prime reason why we do not like the procedure.

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is sad that the Leader of the House has not introduced proposals to deal with private Bills. I understand that one difficulty is that he is consulting a whole series of Departments, one of which is the Department of Transport. I sympathise with the Minister for having to be here on a Friday, but if he had to deal with all the matters now being dealt with in private Bills—all the rail Bills and many other proposals—he would probably be the Minister most involved in legislation before the House and spend most of his time in Committee, probably even forgetting where his constituency was, considering the pressures that that would involve.

Some consultation must be going on between the Department of Transport and the Leader of the House as to the Department's attitude to the private Bill procedure. No doubt one of the issues that the Department has been considering is temporary restrictions on access to footpaths and bridleways when used for some trial.

I walk around the Betws-y-Coed area frequently. The Forestry Commission has pushed through a series of forestry roads in that area and they make a pretty good surface on which to walk. Often the older footpaths, which run parallel to those roads or weave a somewhat similar route across the mountainous or forested areas, have fallen into disuse and we are left with a set of footpaths which are difficult to follow and a set of forestry roads which most people use.

The Forestry Commission can earn money by allowing the RAC rally and other rallies to use forestry roads. Because of that, a complicated situation arises as the commission's private roads, through custom and practice, are now used by people on foot or on horseback.

I hope that the Minister can clear up what the Department's legal powers are regarding allowing trials on those roads. I appreciate that the new clause is somewhat obscure, but I hope that it provides an opportunity for the Minister to define exactly the legal powers of the Department regarding rallying—I believe that the technical term is "trials of speed"—on public highways used by people on foot or on horseback.

I am not unsympathetic to the arguments put by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). They are perfectly valid, but I have less sympathy for this new clause than I had for the laudable aims contained in new clause 1.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) made an intervention relating to the Private Bill procedure. From the public's point of view, I hope that he agrees with me that there is great distinction between the procedure and a private Member's Bill. In this House we understand the difference, but the hon. Gentleman's comments could be misconstrued by the public. It would be a great tragedy and a diminution of our democracy if individual Members of Parliament did not have the opportunity one day a week to deal with private Members' Bills.

We know that the distinction between the two procedures is a good and clear one. A private Member's Bill is a public bill and is therefore totally different from a private Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and I have already referred to the problems associated with the private Bill procedure. In 1988 we produced a report containing a series of recommendations about that procedure. As my hon. Friend has already pointed out, however, we are still waiting for the Government to provide an opportunity to vote on those recommendations so that we can do something about that procedure.

The hon. Gentleman, who is usually so amusingly articulate, has demonstrated why the public cannot understand—at the conclusion of his remarks I am sure that they still do not understand—what on earth the difference is between a private Bill and a private Member's Bill.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish spoke of the difficulty of drafting new clauses. Although I am not seeking to make excuses about the adequacy of my negotiations with outside bodies and the Department of Transport, I did not seek to resolve some of the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman before the Easter recess because of the difficulty in drafting. I did not want to spoil a useful clean-up exercise by trying to draft new clauses, especially given my lack of legal knowledge and drafting ability. I am sure that such clauses would have been unsuitable.

I do not claim to be an avid follower of motor trials and I have never been, nor am I likely to be, a participant in such trials. I live in a delightful village, Barton In Fabis, on the city boundary of Nottingham. Between our village and the city we have a superb farm—it is within the city boundaries—which happens to hold motor and cycle trials within its confines. I do not know whether those trials cut across bridleways and footpaths. We can certainly hear those trials when they are held once a fortnight and that is the closest I get to participating.

I do not believe that the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised fit the Bill, which is designed to deal with current procedures relating to temporary traffic regulations. As a result of the Bill it will be possible to prescribe the conditions with which people must comply, and failure to do so will be an offence. That should satisfy the hon. Gentleman.

A single-event trial is likely to last for one day—or, at most, two or three days. In those circumstances, any regulations necessary could be met by a five-day notice. I do not believe that a traffic order would be required. That is a major procedure and could involve an 18-month delay. Clearly that is not what the hon. Gentleman intended. That is another reason why I feel that his remarks, valid though they may be, do not fit with this Bill. It would be wrong to accept a new clause which tries to cover an event lasting one or two days when that would not need a traffic order in the first place.

I do not believe that the new clause is necessary. Even if it were, I doubt whether the power to provide alternative routes, for example, would be welcomed. On whose land would such diversionary routes run? What would happen about consultation and objections? The new clause attempts to cover too wide an area. The hon. Gentleman has already admitted that it is fairly obscure and narrow and I hope that he will agree that it has no proper place in the Bill.

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) and the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) I like to watch motor racing. I participate—or, rather, used to participate—at such occasions myself. I am an avid follower of grand prix and of various other motor racing activities. There is an important distinction to be made between such activities, which are properly controlled and marshalled organisations, and the sort of activity to which the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish earlier referred of uncontrolled interruption of rural surroundings by certain people who think that making a lot of noise in a powerful car is the answer to life's problems.

The Department of Transport has no powers in relation to the closure of roads for motor racing or trial activity. I hope that that clarifies the position unequivocally.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South that the new clause appears to be somewhat tangential to the main purpose of the Bill—even the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish recognised that.

I appreciate that section 33 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 allows motor trials to be authorised that can make incursions on to footpaths and bridleways. As my hon. Friend has said, they are likely to be very short-lived affairs. I doubt whether section 14 orders would be pertinent. A short section 14 notice might be. However, it seems more probable that suitable warning notices, or the presence of race officials—as I said, such rallies and trials are normally extremely well organised for safety purposes and in a wide variety of other ways. It is unlikely that such provisions would be less than adequate in most cases.

Given the likely short duration of trials, it also seems questionable whether the provision of alternative routes should be necessary. Even if it were, the amendment seems to be unacceptable because it appears to give a summary power to provide alternative routes whether or not they are on land in the ownership of the authority.

Detailed provisions exist in law for the diversion and creation of rights of way, with provision for consultation, advertisement and, where appropriate, compensation to landowners.

10.30 am

Does the Minister accept that if such a rally is held, particularly if there is a section through a forest, it can be difficult for people to cross the route? The organisers should make sure that it is possible for people who want to get through that part of the countryside, and happen to be there on the wrong day, to cross the route. As the Minister knows a lot more about such events than I do, he will realise that the cars proceed at fairly frequent intervals, so it is not feasible to allow people to cross the route between cars because one cannot be certain how soon the next car will come along or how quickly a person will cross from one side of the route to the other. The onus should be on the people organizing the rally to make sure that there is ample opportunity for people to cross the route, particularly in places such as the north Yorkshire moors and north Wales.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, and the objective of new clause 2, but frankly we have to apply a measure of common sense. As I said, such rallies tend to be short lived. Clearly if there is a rally involving cars travelling at speed, people cannot walk in front of vehicles as that would be dangerous and should not be encouraged. We have to ensure that the organisations running the events make sure that they are properly marshalled. On those occasions it may be difficult for people walking in the forest, or wherever the rally is held, to cross the route of a rally or a trial. There is an element of common sense, which becomes clear when we consider the issue.

Just before my hon. Friend's intervention the Minister said that there is a well-defined procedure for extinguishing rights of way. Can he tell us whether what used to be a right of way through Downing street has been extinguished? If it has not, are members of the public allowed to walk through there, and if so, how do they get through those gates?

My hon. Friend is tempting me into highways and byways down which I should not go. There was a rather delightful book by Ashley Cooper called, "Cricket Highways and Byways" which addressed the problems——

No, he was not referring to tests, he was referring to the problems experienced by cricketers in rural areas in finding fields and places to play. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about Downing street. It fascinates me as much as it fascinates him, and I shall make some inquiries, but I am afraid that I cannot give him an answer now.

Order. After that out-of-order interlude, we should now return to the new clause.

Perhaps the Minister cannot give me an answer now, but I am sure that by the time we reach amendment No. 2, which deals with penalties, and later amendments, which deal with temporary closures, his officials will have informed him what powers have been used to close Downing street permanently or temporarily.

However tempting it might be, I refuse to be drawn. We should return to new clause 2. Information has arrived, but I shall return to it later as I cannot read the writing.

I know that you wish us to return to new clause 2, Mr. Deputy Speaker. For the reasons that I have set out, I believe that the new clause is deficient and tangential to the Bill. In the circumstances I hope that he will agree to withdraw it.

Although some issues need to be further explored, I was delighted to hear the Minister say that he has no powers to make closures for speed trials on roads. We need more information about bridleways and footpaths, but I shall not press the new clause. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is keen to vote on the matter, perhaps we could defer a Division until 11 o'clock if there is no statement.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2

Short Title, Consequential Repeals And Amendments, Commencement And Extent

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 11, at end insert—

' ( ) In Part I of schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (punishment of offenders) in column 4 (punishment) for the entry relating to section 16(1) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 there shall be substituted "Level 1 on the standard scale if committed by a pedestrian on a footpath, or a pedestrian, equestrian or pedal cyclist on a bridleway or byway open to all traffic (as defined in section 127 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984), or a pedestrian or pedal cyclist on a cycle track (as defined in the Highways Act 1980), level 3 on the standard scale otherwise.".'.
I hope that the Minister will accept amendment No. 2. I realise that he has gone urgently to consult to find out about the closure of Downing street, but I hope that someone will make it clear to him that, if he cannot accept the amendment today, he should urge the other place to accept a similar provision. The amendment deals with the fines that can be imposed if one insists on walking down a road, bridleway or footpath where a closure notice is displayed. Obviously, the Minister has not found out what is going on in Downing street. We are all trying to find out about the closure of the road or footpath there and what is happening about the poll tax. Perhaps we could be enlightened on both matters later.

I understand that if a part of a motorway is coned off or if a major road is closed and some enterprising motorist who thinks that the cones are unnecessary and does not understand why the road has been closed simply moves the cones to one side and drives down the road, that could cause considerable danger, first, because the motorist may not be aware that the road surface is more dangerous than it looks and, secondly, because people might be walking along the road legitimately and might suddenly be faced by a car approaching at speed. There is quite a reasonable argument for motorists incurring a substantial penalty if they ignore a temporary closure notice.

However, I am rather puzzled as to why such a draconian penalty should be incurred by a walker who ignores a temporary closure notice. It could lead to an amazing situation. One might be walking along a footpath and suddenly see a temporary closure notice. If one continues along that path when it has been legally closed, one is committing a criminal offence and becomes liable to a fine of up to £400, although I am not too sure about the scale of fines. On the other hand, if one stops at the side and turns right or left and walks for 20 or 30 yards parallel to the footpath across open land, one is no longer committing a criminal offence. The worst one could be doing is trespassing, and such matters are pursued through the civil courts. It is odd that one should be liable to a heavy penalty for ignoring a footpath closure as if it were a road.

Will the Minister consider the matter and weigh up whether it is logical to impose such a penalty? In my view, it would be virtually impossible to enforce. In my experience of walking in north Wales, I was surprised to discover that recently the Forestry Commission has applied for temporary closure notices where trees are being felled. In the past the Forestry Commission relied on the common sense of the people who were cutting down the trees to shout and make it clear to anyone in the vicinity that it was a good idea to move out of the way when a tree was coming down. If they saw trees coming down, most people would be sensible enough not to walk under or close to them. It may be that insurers have told the Forestry Commission that such a common sense approach could land it in the courts, so it had better go for temporary closure notices instead, which it has been doing.

One of the major problems with temporary closure notices is that some of them disappear. I can think of one case in which the Forestry Commission worked conscientiously to put up five notices on possible paths approaching the piece of land that it was closing. The notices told people that the paths would be closed for two months, but soon after they were put up three of them disappeared. The Forestry Commission replaced them once, but then gave up.

Several people approaching an area that was temporarily closed have tried to get through and found that closure notices were in place. I know of one person who took the common sense view, took no notice of the notices and walked straight through. It was a Sunday and there was no sign of the Forestry Commission felling trees, although it was a little unpleasant to have to walk over some of the felled branches. I suspect that that person—if I read the regulations correctly—was committing a criminal offence. I am sure that he would argue if the case came to court that there were no proper warnings and that in any case he had deviated sufficiently from the footpath because of the fallen trees to have been committing trespass, not a criminal offence.

Many of the notices put up by the Forestry Commission get damaged by the elements and cease to be visible before the order has expired. Under this legislation the notices could stay up for 18 months, but that is ridiculous since they will not remain legible that long. I suggest that the Minister think carefully about whether it is necessary to impose the higher level of penalty on people who take no notice of these orders on footpaths and bridleways. He should also consider the problem of determining when someone is on a footpath or bridleway and when he is not. I am not sure whether the width of a footpath is defined in law, but if someone took no notice of an order and walked a few feet away from the old line of the footpath it would be virtually impossible to bring a criminal prosecution against him.

I am sure that the Minister would agree that it would be silly to include in the legislation fines and penalties that could not be imposed in the courts. If he is keen to get this measure through, he should at least reduce the penalties for offences on footpaths and bridleways—that is only common sense.

The Minister will say that it keeps the Bill simple if the penalties are all the same for all roads, bridleways and footpaths, but I suggest that legislation ought to reflect common sense, not simplicity for the Minister and his officials.

It is perfectly true that the present penalties apply to all traffic regulation order offences, but the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) is missing the point, which is that these are maximum penalties. I cannot conceive of a magistrate failing to take account of the gravity of an offence or of whether it was committed on a quiet Sunday morning. It is equally true that temporary restrictions and prohibitions need not apply to all classes of traffic. Exceptions can be made for pedestrians and cyclists whenever appropriate. If only motorised traffic needs to be restricted, the orders can make that clear, so much of the illustration that the hon. Gentleman gave the House does not apply.

I know of no other road traffic laws to which the remarks of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish would apply. These penalties are prescribed maximums. Surely it is the seriousness of the offence that matters, not by whom it was committed. If, in the opinion of a court, a pedestrian or a horse rider has committed a serious offence, the fact that he was walking or riding a horse does not somehow make it less serious; and merely because a person who commits a minor offence is behind the wheel of a car does not make it a major offence. It is the circumstances that count. I do not believe that most of the cases that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish described would ever come to court.

Day after day, perhaps unwittingly, we may all commit criminal offences without realising it, but we do not all go to court and face the maximum penalty. So I ask the hon. Gentleman to live in the real world and to accept that all the Bill does is prescribe the maximum penalties. It is up to the courts to decide what level of penalty to impose, but I cannot believe that magistrates will say that the maximum is the minimum.

10.45 pm

Of course magistrates will use their common sense, but the whole idea of prescribing levels of fine is to give them some guidance on how Parliament thinks of the seriousness of particular offences. I accept that if someone walks along a motorway, there is a strong argument for hinting to the magistrates that he should be given the highest possible fine, but, in the case of footpaths and bridleways, the House should not be hinting that magistrates should consider the maximum. They should consider much lower fines.

I am afraid that I cannot agree. It would be wrong of the House to second-guess the circumstances. In most of our criminal law, this House sets the maximum penalties, not the minimum sentences. The Lord Chancellor's Department sets out certain guidelines for all our courts, but we set maximum penalties and allow the courts to decide the seriousness of an offence, and that is the proper way to conduct these matters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), in his usual way, has dealt cogently with the argument. There is clear disagreement between my hon. Friend and me and the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), for the reason that my hon. Friend has already enunciated, and I do not have a great deal to add.

It is a central tenet of the criminal law that penalties relate not to the status of the offender but to the nature of the offence. We are talking about maximum penalties. In my view and that of the Government, therefore, it would weaken the deterrent considerably if low penalties were imposed for offences committed by pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders. I hope that, in the circumstances, the hon. Gentleman will agree to disagree and will withdraw his amendment.

I am disappointed with the Minister's reply. To give him the opportunity to sort out what is going on in Downing street, I think that we should divide on this issue.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 7, Noes 27.

Division No. 184]

[10.48 am


Hattersley, Rt Hon RoyWise, Mrs Audrey
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Randall, StuartTellers for the Ayes:
Rees, Rt Hon MerlynMr. Andrew F. Bennett and
Skinner, DennisMr. Tony Banks.
Spearing, Nigel


Arbuthnot, JamesLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Atkins, RobertLightbown, David
Batiste, SpencerLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Brandon-Bravo, MartinMcCrea, Rev William
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterNicholson, David (Taunton)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Norris, Steve
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Carrington, MatthewTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Couchman, JamesThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Garel-Jones, TristanWaller, Gary
Goodlad, AlastairWheeler, Sir John
Hill, James
Irvine, MichaelTellers for the Noes:
Johnston, Sir RussellMr. Graham Bright and
Kilfedder, JamesMr. James Arbuthnot.
Knapman, Roger

Question accordingly negatived.

It appearing on the report of the Division that 40 Members were not present, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next Sitting of the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would you consider having the Division called again? There has been considerable confusion. It is rare to have Divisions at 10·45 on a Friday morning and there was some confusion among hon. Members about what was going on. I spoke to an hon. Member who clearly had no idea what was taking place. When the Division was called, I was at the other end of the building obeying a call of nature. I managed to get back to the Chamber in time. I had been in my place earlier in the morning and I was aware that something might be happening. If the Division were called again, it is possible that the requisite number of hon. Members would pass through the Lobbies. It would be most unfortunate if the Bill, which has wide support, were to fall because of a confused Division. As there is bound to be some dispute about the Division, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will you call it again?

I cannot help the hon. Gentleman in that way. There was no confusion in the minds of the Tellers and the Division was conducted in a proper manner. As fewer than 40 Members voted, it is inevitable, according to our procedures, that the business on the Bill will have to stand over to another day.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is interesting that 40 Members were not present, bearing in mind that there is a Government majority of about 150 over the official Opposition.

Yes, it is private business, but we expect Members, especially Ministers, to be present. There is an absence of Tory Members and Ministers because the Government are in a shambles over their legislation.

You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that when the sitting began at 9.30 am I raised a point of order when Mr. Speaker was in the Chair about further poll tax legislation being suggested by no less a person than the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary as a result of the current poll tax legislation being in disarray. Mr. Speaker did not comment on whether there would be a statement at 11 am.

I am sure, Mr.Deputy Speaker, that you expect Ministers to tell the truth at all times. Earlier this week Ministers of the Department of the Environment were asked whether any changes would be made to poll tax legislation and they stated—their answers appear in Hansard, and one of my right hon. Friends may refer to them specifically—that there would be no changes. It appears that when those questions were being answered in the House the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary was running around Tory Members telling them that everything would be all right and that changes would be made. Is it not——

I am just coming to it, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I ask you to be patient for a moment. This is an important issue.

You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we had, business statement yesterday. You probably heard the Leader of the House announce the business for next week.

Now we are being told that the poll tax legislation is in ruins. It is high time the Government told Mr. Speaker that they intend to make a statement about the poll tax shambles. Let us get rid of it. People outside the House—in your constituency, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and in mine—are demanding that the poll tax be dropped.

Let us have a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to tell us exactly what is happening.

Order. Let me deal with one point of order at a time. There has been no request for a statement. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) must use his ingenuity to raise the matter on another occasion. I hope that he will not do so during private Members' time.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish that I were able to do something to bring back before the House the Road Traffic (Temporary Restrictions) Bill, which has fallen for a number of weeks. I hope that there is some way in which it can be brought back quickly before the House.

This morning, I have been answering constituents' letters about poll tax. When I asked the Minister earlier in the week whether further changes were proposed to the poll tax system, the answer was no. Those who are writing to me are not those who parade in the streets. They write because they cannot afford to pay. What am Ito tell them? Should I write, "Don't worry—there is going to be a change now because the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary has spoken"? It is a serious matter and we must have a statement as soon as possible.

I am sure that the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) will use his ingenuity and his very long parliamentary experience to find a way of raising the matter.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The item of business that we were considering prior to the Division fell because there was not a quorum. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has said, it appears that Conservative Members are more interested in talking outside this place about poll tax than in coming to the House to tell us what is happening. An item of business having fallen, we now have quite a bit of time. Would it not be possible for a Minister to use that time to tell us what the Government are doing about poll tax? The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) could no doubt negotiate with ramblers' organisations and other bodies outside this place and reach agreement with them. His Bill could then come forward on another Friday and get through on the nod.

It is an insult to the House for Ministers to arrange for information to be given outside before it is provided in the House. Surely we should have a statement now. Will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, through the usual channels available to the Chair, impress upon the Government that the last moment for a clear statement on poll tax is next Monday? There are people outside this place who are involved in the local elections, in which poll tax is a major issue. They want to know what the Government are doing. It is not satisfactory for the people to be going to the polls with the hint that the Government will do something about the ridiculous poll tax but not having the benefit of a clear statement from the Government. There will be people who think that they will be had if there are hints of change rather than a clear statement.

Order. There is nothing that I can add to what has been said already. I remind the House that we are in private Members' time. There are many private Members' Bills, and many private Members waiting to discuss them. It would be unfair on the House to continue with these points of order. I have given a ruling. I have told hon. Members that they must find other ways of raising the matter. We must now get on with the business before the House.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There was an extensive debate on the community charge legislation on Wednesday, in Opposition time. It was marked by very successful speeches from both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities, and also by the absence of any alternative policy from the Opposition.

On the point about private Members' Bills, will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker think carefully about the precedent set this morning, when an excellent and well-prepared Bill was cut down and thrust back by at least a number of weeks through the calling of a spurious Division?

I can only say that the Division on the amendment to the private Member's Bill was in order. If the hon. Gentleman wants to draw the matter to the attention of the Select Committee on Procedure, he is free to do so.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The circumstances surrounding the shambles that the Government are in on their poll tax legislation are quite exceptional. Ministers have stated that there will be no change, yet there have been clear reports today suggesting that there will be a change. The poll tax is having a dramatic effect on, and causing great despair to, people throughout the country. We are close to local government election day and there are political ramifications. I beg you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to ensure that everything possible is done to get a Minister to the House to tell us and the people outside exactly what is happening with the shambolic poll tax.

Order. I will take the points of order, but they must be brief. I remind the House that this is unfair to hon. Members who have business on the Order Paper for today.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I assure the House that I feel much better than I sound. I have given due notice to a Conservative member that tomorrow I shall be campaigning in his constituency on behalf of my colleagues. I support the view expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) because I, too, have received letters about the poll tax and I know that tomorrow I will be asked about the current position. I therefore give notice that unless the Government make a statement at 2.30 pm, as they can and should do, I shall advise electors in that constituency that the Government have ambiguous policies, that Ministers apparently do not know what the policies are, and that I——

It is that I support the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South that the urgency of the matter is not confined to letters. That is why there should be a statement at 2.30 pm.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely hon. Members could go through the usual channels to get a Minister to make a statement, rather than resorting to what has happened this morning—a great deal of caterwauling from Labour Back Benchers who got themselves into a terrible position by calling for a vote which then lost a Bill that they wanted. Those are rather strange circumstances.

Whitehall has already stated that reports in the newspapers are based on pure speculation and I feel that that is true. People throw in red herrings and others are willing carriers of them. In the due process of time there will no doubt be a statement, so it would be wrong today to try to force the Government's hand to make a statement based on pure speculation.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I sympathise with the position that you are in this morning. You are trying to protect private Members' interests as the house is due to debate a number of private Members' Bills. I have a particular interest in the Sunday Trading Bill and I hope that the House will find time to discuss it today. I declare an interest as a Member sponsored by the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers.

The general rumours and the statements in the media this morning make us suspect that there will be a change in the Government's poll tax legislation. Some of my hon. Friends have, therefore, drawn your attention to very necessary points, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you are occupying the Chair this morning, I hope that you will consider taking the information already given to you by hon. Members to Mr. Speaker and to the Government and suggesting to them that even if the statement requested at 9.30 am could not be prepared for 11 am—the usual time to interrupt business—it should at least be ready by 2.30 pm so that the whole country can be told of the proposed changes.

I have made this plea to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because Labour Members who have advised their constituents not to pay the poll tax, and who have been criticised for that from all quarters, may now find that they gave the right advice. If the poll tax is changed during the current period, how will councils refund the poll tax already paid? Is it a guideline——

It is not really a point of order for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have a very high regard for you and I say publicly that when you are in the Chair hon. Members have more liberty to make important points, especially those who rarely rise on points of order. You believe that we have the right to raise these points. My plea to you is to exercise your authority by asking Mr. Speaker and the Government to come to the House before the end of business today and to make a statement on this crucial issue.

Order. I have allowed hon. Members on both sides of the House a good run. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) has answered the point for me by making it clear that it is a matter for the Government and not for the Chair. The points raised have been heard by Government Front-Bench Members. We must now continue with private Members' business.

Entertainments (Increased Penalties) Bill

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Clause 1

Increase Of Penalties: England And Wales

11.17 am

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 24, at end insert

'and the term, condition or restriction which is contravened imposes a limit on the number of persons who may be present at the entertainment'.

With this, we may discuss the following amendments:

No. 2, in page 2, line 3, leave out 'subsection' and insert `subsections'.

No. 6, in page 2, line 40, after 'licence', insert
`and the condition is attached under section 41(3)(b) of this Act'.

During the passage of the Bill, which has become commonly known as the acid house party Bill, concern was expressed about its possible effects on genuine promoters of concerts, because my proposals would increase penalties not only for those who fail to obtain licences, but for non-compliance with the terms and conditions imposed by local authorities. The Bill is aimed at catching the organisers of unlicensed events, who often use unsuitable premises such as warehouses, marquees, and even private houses. By so doing, they jeopardise the safety of the many thousands of young people who participate in all-night dancing.

On Second Reading and in Committee, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) argued that the Bill would create a dangerous loophole. I shall explain the implications of removing completely the provisions for imposing higher penalties on organisers who breach licensing terms and conditions. Once in possession of a licence, the organiser would no longer he liable to pay the increased penalty for not having obtained a licence, and he would be subject only to the existing penalties of a maximum fine of £2,000 or a maximum term of imprisonment of three months. That would mean reverting to the previous anomaly whereby the penalty was so derisory and the profits from the events so large that a fine of £2,000 would represent only an incidental expense. An organiser could obtain a licence and then flagrantly disregard all its terms and conditions, placing the safety of thousands of young people in jeopardy. On a Second Reading and in Committee, I promised to reconsider and to devise a formula to overcome that loophole.

I thank the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West for his diligence in discussing the issue with me, and I also thank my hon. Friend the Minister and Home Office officials for their hard work in producing the amendments now before the House.

They restrict increased penalties to organisers who breach the attendance condition. When a council issues a licence, it will stipulate a range of conditions, and the increased penalties will still apply to breaches of any limit on the attendance. There is concern among some people that my amendments weaken the Bill to such an extent that it is not as good as originally drafted. Everyone knows that I should prefer to leave the Bill as it was, but I believe that with the amendments proposed it will be just as strong as it was originally.

There is a temptation for organisers to breach licence conditions to make more money, by admitting more people than the licence permits. It may cover 2,000 people, but a warehouse could—if people were crammed in with a shoe horn—accommodate 10,000. Those additional 8,000 people at £20 a head would generate an extra £160,000. If the maximum fine for such a breach is only £2,000, it would be counted merely as incidental expenditure.

The amendments ensure that an organiser breaking the attendance conditions in that way would still be subject to the increased penalties of £20,000 or six months' imprisonment, or both. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has said that he will be tabling an order to add to our amendments the power of confiscation. Therefore, if a person appeared to go legitimate by obtaining a licence, but then disregarded its terms and conditions, it would not prove so profitable for him—given that his additional £160,000 profit would be confiscated. He would also be subject to a fine and possibly to imprisonment. The Bill as amended remains strong and will undoubtedly deter the unscrupulous operator who is willing to jeopardise the safety of young people.

Concert promoters have expressed concern at the possibility of their being caught by the Bill, which led the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West to advance their views in Committee. In my discussions with concert promoters, I sympathised with their arguments, and in Committee I said that there would have to be give and take on both sides. I have given way considerably, but there remains one possible point of concern for concert promoters.

If, due to circumstances beyond their control, they were compelled to breach the admissions limit, they might find themselves in trouble. For a major pop festival somewhere in the country 60,000 tickets may be issued—and even though provision is made for additional ticket sales on the day of the event, 1,000 people or more might be left without tickets outside the venue. If the decision was made by the organisers in consultation with the police to admit those 1,000 other people, because that would be safer than having them block the roads outside and risk public disorder, technically the organisers would be in breach of the limit on numbers. However, given that that decision would be made with the co-operation of the police and possibly of the licensing authority, it is inconceivable that the promoter would risk prosecution.

Will the hon. Gentleman make clear whether he is referring only to all-ticket events or also to events for which there is only an estimated attendance, with the actual number of admissions being monitored by the police? Unless admissions are strictly registered and there can be no argument about the numbers attending, all kinds of difficulties might arise.

I understand that major events are usually all-ticket. The tickets are numbered and there are methods of counting people in through the gates. Therefore, there can be no dispute about the number of admissions. The majority of people buy their tickets some time before the event, but the organisers make a fair estimate of people just turning up on the day and reserve an additional number of tickets for them. However, if there is a miscalculation and more people without tickets turn up than has been anticipated, someone has to decide that, on safety grounds—provided that more people can safely be accommodated in the arena—it is possible to admit another, say, 1,000 or 2,000 people, to a large-scale event, rather than leave them outside, blocking the roads. Such a decision must be made on the spot by the police and the organisers.

The Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 says:
"It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under this paragraph to prove that he took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid commission of the offence."
If, even after all that, the local authority or the police, in co-operation with the organiser, allowed extra people in and an overbureaucratic person decided to take the matter further, there is, I am told by my legal advisers, adequate defence for that. That would occur only in extreme circumstances.

11.30 am

Safety must be first and foremost in importance. If the change in numbers is not made on the ground of safety, it may lead to a disaster and calls for inquiries, with claims, arguments and the allocation of blame. That disaster would have caused a nightmare for so many homes. Such changes must be made only on the ground of safety.

That point is uppermost in my mind. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that, during the passage of the Bill, and during the many inquisitions to which I have been subjected by the media, I have said that my driving force is to ensure the safety of young people. That is why the amendments home in on the one area in which safety could be jeopardised by unscrupulous operators, and that is why I insist that in this area we retain increased penalties in connection with the control of the number of people who can enter a particular area, whether an outside area or an inside area such as a warehouse or other temporary accommodation, being used for dancing.

I take the hon. Gentleman's point about the concern for safety, which we all share. Nevertheless, it is possible for good intentions to result in bad law. I am still bothered by the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) about proof of numbers and what happens if there is a dispute. I know that the last thing that the hon. Gentleman would want is for the Bill to become a matter of disrepute through errors and controversy. Will events covered by the Bill have to be all-ticket events? If not, which events will be covered? If there is a dispute about counterfeit tickets, what will happen? I am not clear about those points, which are central to this discussion.

If the hon. Lady were to look at the terms and conditions imposed by local authorities, I am sure that she would appreciate that I am merely increasing the penalties, not changing the structure of the law. The terms and conditions are imposed by local authorities and change according to the particular event that is being licensed. The terms and conditions are constructed by the local authority on the advice of fire officers and the police so that provisions can be made for the safety of spectators and participants. The numbers allowed are based on safety—whether the building can be evacuated quickly, for example—and on sanitary arrangements. Even a village hall that is licensed for dancing has a maximum number imposed on it.

For large events, the local authority will usually stipulate clearly the way in which the numbers are to be monitored, either by numbered tickets or by having a correct way of counting people through turnstiles or gates. We are not, of course, talking about obtaining a figure accurate to one or two. With large events, the aim is to get it about right and no one would argue with that. With illegal parties, we are talking not about 1 or 2 per cent. extra people, but about doubling, trebling or increasing even more the number of people. We are talking about people being crammed in and their lives being endangered, with the promoters making a fortune in the process. That is what has been happening at the so-called acid house parties.

The large promoters have a code of conduct. They are drawing up a new code of conduct and they bear safety very much in mind—in fact, they are as concerned as we are. I know that there is general agreement from those promoters with what I am trying to do and that they are happy with the compromise that we have reached. I repeat to the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) that the specific terms and conditions are and must be worked out by local authorities. The House could not dream up a law to cover all the eventualities of organising an event at local level, whether in a field, a warehouse or even in an existing place of entertainment. I know that the professional organisers believe that our compromise is the way in which it should be done.

Is not the point of the Bill that it would simply increase penalties for something that is already illegal and subject to penalties? The point of increasing penalties is to avoid their becoming merely an incidental cost—a flea bite compared with the huge profit that can be made from acid house parties.

That is absolutely true, as I have explained. The main thrust of the Bill is to bring everyone within the law and to ensure that people have a licence before they run an event. We shall hit their pockets if they dare to go outside that law. The problem to date has been that the fine of £2,000 has been wholly insignificant to people who can make £250,000, so such people have ridden roughshod over the law. They have not even tried to obtain a licence and have gone ahead without one. We shall be requiring everyone to obtain a licence.

I want to satisfy the House and my colleagues who have supported me that the amendment will not create the loophole that I was frightened that we might create when we debated the matter on Second Reading and in Committee. Reverting to the existing penalties on all terms and conditions with the exception of numbers is the right way. The only way in which the unscrupulous operator can make the cash to enable him to pay an insignificant fine is for him to allow more people to attend. We have buttoned that up by ensuring that that is one condition that he has to obey. If he does not, he will be subject to the increased penalty of £20,000 or six months' imprisonment and confiscation. It would not be worth his while to break the law and jeopardise the lives of young people. The bona fide operator has nothing to fear and there is a defence if more people have to be let in to an event on safety grounds, on the advice of the police.

My hon. Friend has spoken about penalising the organiser of such parties. Assuming that it is possible to find the organiser—and that may sometimes be difficult—it may be that the event has been organised by several people. If the organisers can be traced, I presume that the maximum fine of £2,000 could not be shared among them, but would be levied on each separately.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) knows that I am not a legal man. I take his point about catching people. The police are confident that the investigative side of their operations can pinpoint people. Much detective work will be needed, because one does not necessarily target the first person who looks as though he may be in charge. These chaps have a long record of hiding behind others.

The cloak and dagger method of organising such events is unbelievably sophisticated. I have witnessed several recently, and I noticed that, without the Vodaphone or the Cellnet phone, the organisers might have been in trouble. The police are collating evidence and information on a regional basis and they have every confidence that they will be able to pinpoint organisers. I do not know whether the organisers would be dealt with separately, but my interpretation is that they would all be subject to the same fine. My legal advisers are nodding that that is the case. I hope that that answers my hon. Friend's point.

The amendments will enable the Bill to proceed to the other place. Having carefully taken account of all the anxieties expressed in Committee, I commend the amendments to the House.

We are here today to increase penalties to help to stamp out acid house parties, which are generally illegal. I have not heard one dissenting voice against substantially increasing the penalties. Hon. Members seem to be in complete agreement on the need for tough action against the unscrupulous promoters of illegal acid house parties whose main aim is to make money, irrespective of the law.

In terms of increased penalties, at the heart of the debate has been the extent to which the Bill should distinguish between the actions of promoters of illegal acid house parties and the actions of traditional, legitimate promoters of musical events. As it stands, the Bill is unacceptable because it fails to target the real troublemakers. It massively increases penalties for legitimate promoters of musical events whose past performance just does not warrant such heavy-handed action. The Labour party shares the views of legitimate concert promoters who regard the Bill in its current form as not only unfair but unjustified. We do not see why legitimate concert promoters should be lumped in with the promoters of illegal acid house parties whose track records are nothing short of appalling and quite irresponsible. 'The amendments would correct the problem, and I welcome that move.

If an event is illegal—that is, with a promoter failing to obtain a licence—the promoter will be liable to enhanced penalties, which are six months' imprisonment and/or a fine of £20,000. If, however, a promoter goes down the legitimate path and obtains a licence but, with prior intent, breaks the terms and conditions of the licence by admitting more people than he should—by printing and selling more tickets—he will also be liable to enhanced penalties. Exceeding the capacity of a venue in that fashion is the only way in which increased penalties can be triggered against a promoter who has obtained a licence. If violated, all other terms of the licence will incur penalties only at the existing level—that is, a £2,000 fine and/or three months' imprisonment.


My legal advice suggests that there could be an ambiguity in amendment No. 4. I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm that the amendment does what the hon. Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) intends. That is to provide that exceeding the capacity agreement in the licence will be the only violation for which enhanced penalties will be invoked, and that violations of any of the other elements of the licence will not invoke the enhanced penalties. My legal advice suggests that the amendment could be interpreted to mean that, if the crowd capacity agreement were violated, that, as well as any other violation in the licence agreement, would be liable to increased penalties. That was not the intention of the hon. Member for Luton, South in drafting his amendment, but I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify that point.

My intention is what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) believes it to be, and that is that increased penalties would merely be for those who broke the numbers rule. If they broke the numbers rule and other rules, they would be subject to the lower fine—that is, £2,000. That is the purpose of the amendments. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman giving me notice of his concern. I am advised that the amendments do what I want them to do, and that is merely to trigger an increased fine for those who break the numbers rule and certainly would not take account of the increased penalties for breaking any other term or condition.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point about his intention. Our legal advice seems to conflict. I should like the matter clarified. If my advice on the interpretation of amendment No. 4 is correct, I would expect the error to be corrected, perhaps in another place. I look forward to the Minister's comments on this rather technical legal matter.

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, will he explain precisely where the ambiguity arises, because I have not been able to find any such ambiguity in my reading of the amendment, untutored as it has been? I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would go into that point a little further.

The advice that I have received from lawyers is that the problem arises because of the word "include" in both the original Act and amendment No. 4. This is complicated legislation. That is why I am anxious that we take more advice and ensure that the legislation fulfils the desires of the hon. Member for Luton, South, with which I utterly agree. I should like to leave that as an open question, instead of suggesting emphatically and finally that the wording is either right of wrong.

The amendment is encouraging because in its intended form it is supported by the Concert Promoters Association, which represents the promoters of such events throughout the country. It is interesting that the association also supports the notion of increased penalties for promoters of illegal—I stress the word "illegal"—acid house parties. The association feels strongly about that. It is encouraging to see concert promoters behaving so responsibly and condemning the outrageous behaviour of some of the people we described in Committee as cowboys.

It is important to recognise that there are times when a promoter has to violate the conditions of the licence in the interests of crowd control. If many additional people simply turn up to an event, what does one do with them? Does one say, "Look, you have to stay outside", because if one does, those people might go to the nearest town and cause trouble in that community. That would be unacceptable. On the other hand, the group of people could be outside the fence and start kicking it down. That would mean further trouble. Careful judgments based on practical experience must be used in such matters and sometimes additional people, over and above the number agreed in the licence, should be allowed into an event to keep the crowd calm and in good humour.

It would be absurd for a promoter to be convicted in such circumstances. Although the licence would have been violated, the promoter would, in my view, and, I am sure, in the view of the courts, have been seen to be acting responsibly. In practice, I would expect a promoter to discuss potential crowd problems with the local police officer who would attend the event and with the local authority official who might also attend. I would expect them to reach an agreement that the terms of the licence could be exceeded in the interests of safety.

In the event of an unco-operative local official or police officer not agreeing to that, the promoter would have a defence in law if, without agreement from those officials, he had to violate the conditions of the licence. I hope that such circumstances would not prevail regularly. One hopes that there would be full co-operation. As the hon. Member for Luton, South said, part of that defence arises from the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 in which schedule 1(12)(3) states:
"It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under this paragraph to prove that he took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of an offence."
Although I am not a lawyer—I note that lawyers are present—I take that paragraph as meaning that in extreme circumstances a promoter could allow extra people into an event because he could show that he took "reasonable precautions" and exercised ''due diligence". Will the Minister confirm that he sees that provision as a defence in such circumstances?

Will the hon. Gentleman also confirm my research that a similar defence exists in Scottish law, in section 7(3) of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982? There should be consistency in the law on such defences. It is important to note that no such defence would apply to events held in central London because the London Government Act 1963 does not contain such a defence. That means that promoters in London would have to rely on the discretion of the courts and the magistracy and that they do not have the defence in law that is enjoyed by promoters who operate in the rest of the country. Clearly that is inconsistent. I should be grateful if the Minister would tell me whether he intends to take steps to overcome that inconsistency in defence and whether he knows of any legislative vehicle that might be passing through the House that could be used to deal with it.

Opposition Members believe that, if these amendments are accepted, they will appreciably improve the structure of the Bill. Accordingly, we shall give them our support.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) has explained, in his usual thorough and balanced way, the circumstances that have led him to propose that the increased penalties for offences against the entertainment licensing laws for which his Bill provides should, where the offences concerned arise from the breach of the conditions of a licence, apply only where the condition that has been contravened is one that imposes a limit on the number of people who may be present at the entertainment.

As my hon. Friend persuasively explained, he has tabled these amendments to meet the Opposition's belief that his Bill, as originally drafted, would, in providing for the same new maximum penalty for the offences of breaching the terms and conditions of an entertainment licence as for holding an unlicensed entertainment, unjustifiably lay open the organisers of perfectly legitimate, licensed events to harsh penalties for trivial or unintentional breaches of conditions and thereby put at risk the continuation of very many of the concerts and pop festivals that they now promote.

As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) will recall, I made it clear in Committee that the Government supported the Bill as it stood and that we considered that it was necessary to provide for substantial increases in the penalties available for both categories of offence. As has been said, the need for increased penalties to deter the organisers of illegal, unlicensed acid house parties was never in question. We supported my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South in his contention that it was necessary at the same time to provide for the same increased penalties to apply when the terms and conditions attached to a licence were breached. He considered, as we did, that without such a provision, the way would be open for an unscrupulous organiser to obtain an entertainments licence from a local authority and then flagrantly disregard conditions imposed, for example for reasons of public safety—which was a point that worried the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) in his intervention—safe in the knowledge that the increased profits that he was likely to make would more than cover the fines under current legislation.

12 noon

As I said in Committee, the authorities will not prosecute for footling transgressions. The courts are well able to distinguish between major and minor breaches of the law and adjust penalties accordingly within the maxima. That is their job and they do it every day. In other areas, their competence in doing it is seldom questioned. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South made clear, he is anxious to meet the fears that some promoters of legitimate licensed events sincerely hold. I believe that they are unjustified. My hon. Friend has perhaps gone further to accommodate them than the Government would have liked. For example, a breach of a licence condition that fixed the permitted noise level at an event will not, if these amendments are accepted, attract the higher penalties for which the Bill provides. If our anxieties about the possible loophole that would be created if the Bill did not provide for increased penalties for breaches of licence conditions are indeed justified this may in time prove a real weakness.

We share with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and all other hon. Members who have spoken on the Bill, including the supporters and Opposition Members who have criticised this aspect of it, the view that the overriding need is to take effective action against unlicensed events. We also recognise the value of providing an increased penalty for a breach of a licence condition in cases where the licensing authority has imposed a limit on the number of people who are permitted to attend the licensed event. I assure the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West that my legal advice is that such a measure would affect only numbers and not other conditions. As he requested, I shall satisfy myself again that the advice that I have been given is absolutely correct.

For the reasons that I have stated, the arrangement in the Bill is less than the Government advised. However, I realise that it is more than the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West wanted. I have been impressed by the statesmanship that he has shown in agreeing to the compromise and the constructive ingenuity of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South, in producing it. In such an atmosphere of agreement and cordiality it would be churlish of me to withhold the Government's blessing, not least because, even if it is changed as proposed, the Bill will still be a great improvement on the law as it stands. It would greatly increase protection for party-goers and attenders of events as well as, most importantly, the general public. In that spirit I commend the amendments to the House. However, we shall keep a careful eye on breaches of other licence conditions. Should our earlier fears prove justified, we shall certainly take action of our own to remedy any deficiencies in the legislation.

I recognise the point made so well by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West about the absence of a "due diligence" or "best endeavours" defence in the London Government Act 1963 and the Private Places of Entertainment (Licensing) Act 1967 to match its reassuring presence in the 1982 Acts that govern public entertainment in Scotland and in England and Wales outside London. The absence of such a defence is not a great practical problem, because, as I said earlier, the authorities will not hasten to prosecute for footling breaches of the law where due diligence has been exercised or where a technical offence has been committed in the interests of safety. The courts are well able to assess degrees of culpability. The scope of the Bill does not, alas, present us with an opportunity to remedy that absence. The Home Office will examine what other opportunities there might be to do so. I can answer the request of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West affirmatively. I should be glad to discuss with him and my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South the possibility of finding a remedy outside the debate.

I have no hesitation in saying that the Bill is a good Bill, even if amended in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South proposes. I congratulate him on bringing it this far and I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West on his contributions from the Opposition Front Bench. I know that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly on the matter. I am glad that he and my hon. Friend managed to come to a constructive agreement. I am sure that the Bill will be valuable and useful and I hope that it will have a speedy passage through this House and another place.

I shall not detain the House for long, although before I heard the speeches that have been made so far I had intended to detain the House for longer. When I read the report of the proceedings of the Committee on the Bill I was much impressed by the criticisms of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall). I was not aware of the careful negotiations and alterations which had taken place. At first glance I did not understand the significance of the amendments, but now I do. They have reassured me.

Labour Members always find it interesting when Conservative Members have to understand that market forces are not necessarily the best regulator in all circumstances and that the untrammelled workings of free enterprise can be damaging. If we are considering people's welfare, we must always seek a balance between market forces and the overriding needs of the community. The Bill is a good example of an instance in which Conservative Members have understood that. There was a danger that they would go too far in their zeal and enter into a measure which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West said in Committee, would have had a detrimental effect on all sorts of festivals which we do not want to damage.

I never go to such festivals. I detest crowds. I am very sensitive to the problem of crowd safety. I had to stand back from the issue and remind myself that those who like such events must retain their freedom to attend them. The House must not simply impose its tastes and preferences on other people.

I came to the debate in a hostile frame of mind, having convinced myself that the Bill would restrict people's freedom. However, I am reassured by the fact that the Government are not keen on the amendments. That in itself commends them to me. I am reassured and impressed by the immense amount of work that clearly has been done by my hon. Friend. I congratulate the sponsor of the Bill, the hon. Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright), on his willingness to accommodate genuine fears. It is much better if we can come to an agreement on these matters.

I continue to have some anxieties on proof of numbers. Of course, we understand the hon. Gentleman's answer on village halls and the imposition of restrictions on them. My scepticism arises because the need to take care about numbers causes problems with judging high numbers. Although I have not participated in pop or traditional festivals, I have participated in demonstrations and know that estimates of attendance, especially at outdoor events, vary wildly. I retain some anxiety about that, but, as my hon. Friend approves of the amendment, I am willing to accept that that has at least been considered carefully.

For once I sympathise with the Government, who are worried about noise levels. Noise causes anxiety, annoyance and distress to many people. I thought long and hard about this and concluded that if the numbers aspect was satisfactorily dealt with, it would have the spin-off of probably taking care of the noise element. Many hon. Members would be willing to look carefully at matters relating to noise in any sphere and in any legislation. I certainly feel that we have not found ways of doing enough to stop noise pollution. Although I am tempted to think that many of these events are noise pollution by their very existence, I must not give way to that view. For those reasons, I am willing to accept the assurances and the work of my hon. Friend.

I should like the hon. Member for Luton, South to deal with one point when he replies. Are we imposing extra work on local authorities? If so, do they have the wherewithal to carry it out? Labour Members are worried that the House is always so willing to impose duties and responsibilities on local authorities while, unfortunately, Tory Members frequently treat us to unedifying displays of hostility towards and criticisms of them. Yet on many issues, such as this Bill, the Government are willing to accept that the local authorities are in the area, understand the circumstances, and so will do the job. Generally speaking, I agree with that, but I am worried about our willingness to give them extra work without ensuring that they have both the staff and resources to carry it out. That is my one remaining anxiety.

My hon. Friend rightly spoke of the burden that may be imposed on local authorities. Is not that particularly relevant, as acid house parties have often been held in premises or on airfields or places where it is doubtful whether contributions commensurate with the nature of the disturbance have been paid to the local authority in rates? In future the uniform business rate will apply. Local authorities could well incur costs which are not covered by contributions, particularly as these events often involve only occasional use. That can put such a promoter at an advantage compared with someone who regularly offers an entertainment in proper premises, and so pays the appropriate contributions to the local authority.

I accept my hon. Friend's valid point. He explained it so thoroughly that I shall not repeat it. It illustrates the need for the Government to ensure that they provide adequate resources through grants for all the duties of local authorities. One cannot expect a local contribution for every eventuality, especially in the circumstances that my hon. Friend outlined. We must learn the lesson that local authorities are essential and the House must ensure that they have the necessary wherewithal. That is perhaps not so much the case on this occasion, but it certainly is on many others.

Is that not a bit of a red herring, because the Bill is only about increasing penalties?

12.15 pm

Yes, the Bill is about increasing penalities, but from listening to the speeches I understand that it is also intended that people will apply for licences. I apologise if I have got that wrong. We want local authorities to do more work. We do not want the organisers of parties to relieve local authorities of work, as it were, by not applying for licences. I do not think that my remarks are improper or unduly protracted. There is a definite interface between the responsibilities and funding of local authorities, and it is legitimate to mention it.

I accept the intentions behind the Bill. The worries that occurred to me as I read the Committee proceedings have been assuaged. I thank the hon. Member for Luton, South, for co-operating with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West.

I shall respond briefly. The hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) said that Tory Members must recognise the need to control market forces. I run a business in the food industry and I am more than aware that we must recognise the law and work within it, not simply respond to market forces.

This is a local authority-led Bill. Local authorities want increased penalties and have campaigned for them, and I have responded to their request. The Bill does not give them more work. It provides the increased penalties to enable them to say and mean no when they refuse a licence. People will not be able to ride roughshod over them. The hon. Lady also mentioned money. In Essex alone, 90 policemen must be employed at weekends to try to control acid house parties. If we get rid of the problem, it will help local authorities in both respects. I know that local authorities will be pleased if the Bill is passed.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 2, in page 2, line 3, leave out 'subsection' and insert 'subsections'.

No. 3, in page 2, line 5, after 'conviction' insert—

'(a) in the case of an offence to which subsection (3A) of this section applies,'.

No. 4, in page 2, line 6, at end insert—

`(b) in any other case, to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to both.
(3A) This subsection applies to—
(a) any offence under subsection (1) of this section; and
(b) any offence under subsection (2) of this section where the terms, conditions or restrictions which are contravened or not complied with include one which imposes a limit on the number of persons who may be present at the entertainment.'.

No. 5, in page 2, line 27, at end insert—

'and the terms, conditions or restrictions which are contravened or not complied with include one which imposes a limit on the number of persons who may be present at the entertainment'.—[Mr. Bright.]

Clause 2

Increase Of Penalties: Scotland 1982 C 45

Amendment made: No. 6, in page 2, line 40, after 'licence', insert—

'and the condition is attached under section 41(3)(b) of this Act'.

Order for Third Reading read.

12.18 pm

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

I thank various people who have helped to get the Bill through the House. In particular, I thank the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) for discussing the problems with me so courteously. That we have come to this arrangement shows that the normal channels, which do not usually work for private Members' business, have worked on this occasion.

I thank the Minister and Home Office officials for their work. I thank my sponsors who have stayed with me, although I have amended the Bill. I thank my private office, for whom the Bill has meant a great deal of extra work. I thank my wife Valerie and son Rupert for allowing me out all night one Saturday to do various bits of research on what acid parties are and their effect on the community.

12.19 pm

First, I welcome the co-operation that has been evident during the passage of the Bill. As a result of that, we have a better piece of legislation.

No one in the House and certainly none of those Members who participated in the Committee are in any way against young people enjoying themselves. We want people to party, but we want to ensure that we protect the venues and that those who promote events do not feel that the risks are so great that they can no longer promote them. If that happened, we could lose a number of our traditional festivals.

The upshot of all this is that everyone has won except one group—the unscrupulous, nasty, illegal acid-house party organisers. They will lose as a result of the Bill.

I know that the Minister does not have too many powers on licensing, but that system must work effectively and properly. Having looked at some of the applications, I am convinced that there are no loopholes and that local authority action is effective, although not consistent throughout the country. I hope that the Minister will be able to send a note to local authorities to get them to gee up their licensing procedures where necessary so that we achieve consistency and effectiveness throughout the country.

I am glad to say that everyone has won—the country, the House of Commons and our people. Our young people will be able to enjoy themselves, but those who ought to lose out will do so.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill acccordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Agricultural Holdings (Amendment) Bill

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Order for Third Reading read—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, and Prince of Wales's Consent, on behalf of the Duchy of Cornwall, signified.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.— [Mr. Alex Cathie]

12.21 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. David Maclean)

The Bill introduced by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) addresses a small but important aspect of the agricultural holdings legislation about which everyone thought there was no problem prior to the Bell v. McCubbin ruling in the Court of Appeal last July.

As I explained on Second Reading, the extent of the loophole revealed by the ruling has not been tested in the courts, but it has caused considerable concern to tenants as they fear that it could have widespread implications and reduce their security of tenure.

Agricultural holdings legislation is an extremely complex area and it is important to consider the availability of land in the landlord and tenanted sector and to encourage future development.

Since 1984 the amount of tenanted land has continued to decline, but at a slower rate than between 1976 and 1984. The June census data is supported by the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers annual tenanted farm survey that shows that, since 1984, there have been more re-lettings than in preceding years, but with a continuing overall decline. The Agricultural Holdings Act 1984 made letting more attractive than it had been since 1976, but it is still not sufficiently attractive to halt, let alone reverse, the downward decline.

It is important to consider the main factors that may have contributed to the decline of the tenanted sector this century. First, there are the socio-economic factors such as the redistribution of wealth, economic depression and changes in class structure. Secondly, it is important to consider the effects of capital taxation, as well as the value of vacant land. Thirdly, it is important to consider the legislation that has given increased security of tenure to the tenant. Different factors have, of course, assumed importance at different times.

A recent landlord and tenant survey conducted by the Country Landowners Association suggested that the main reasons for not letting land at the present time are, in decreasing order of importance, the agricultural holdings legislation, financial and estate management reasons, the political risk, and taxation. At present therefore, the lifetime security of tenure provisions in the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 appear to be the main disincentive. A radical change is needed if the main aim is to increase the amount of land available for letting to stem, or often to reverse, the downward trend in the tenanted sector. Much greater flexibility in the options open to landlords and tenants would seem to be essential.

I recognise that it may be extremely difficult for landowners, aspiring young farmers and existing tenants to reach a consensus on any new proposals—I appreciate that that may not be possible. My colleagues and I will be looking for some signs of agreement on the measures to be taken as the debate unfolds in the coming months. Even more important is any proposal that genuinely addresses the problem and is likely to be effective in increasing the amount of tenanted land. That will call for flexibility and goodwill on all sides. I feel it should be possible to find such a solution on the basis that existing tenancy agreements are not affected. Only an effective proposal will be worth further consideration.

The Bill is important. Part I, schedule 3 of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 applies only to England and Wales and it sets out the circumstances in which a landlord can serve a case B incontestable notice to quit. Until now the vast majority of notices have fallen under case B(a)—that is, on the grounds that planning permission had been obtained to use the land for a non-agricultural purpose. Under case B(b) in the 1986 Act the notice to quit can be given on the ground that the land is required for use other than agriculture for which, otherwise than by virtue of any provision of the town and country planning enactments, permission is not required. It was widely held that case B(b) related only to the Crown. Therefore, it was thought to have limited use, but it was available, for example, to the Forestry Commission if it needed to obtain the possession of land for the purposes of afforestation.

On 13 July 1989 the Court of Appeal, in Bell ν.McCubbin, ruled that under case B(b) a private landlord could recover possession of a farmhouse which had been sublet by the tenant for residential purposes to persons employed outside agriculture and was required by the landlord for his own non-agricultural use. Although the repercussions of the ruling are likely to be much more limited than has been suggested, we understand the tenants' concerns and we recognise the spirit behind the Bill introduced by the hon. and learned Gentleman. I was therefore pleased that officials within my Department and parliamentary counsel were able to assist the hon. and learned Gentleman to refine his original text.

The amended Bill before the House will, it is hoped, make absolutely clear the circumstances when an incontestable notice to quit can be served where land is to go for use other than agriculture. In effect, the Bill provides three circumstances where an incontestable notice to quit can be served under case B. The first is where planning permission has been obtained. That is the same as under existing legislation. The second deals with cases where Parliament has given an effective permission for a particular development. It seems clear that the current Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 also covers the use of land for which an Act of Parliament not dealing generally with town and country planning grants planning permission. That is where the developer does not have to obtain planning permission from the local authority. Those circumstances, together with Crown immunity, are covered by the 1986 Act.

The Bill therefore covers circumstances in which an Act gives planning permission. It provides for private and local Acts as well as the various ways in which Parliament may, in Acts or parliamentary orders not forming part of the general town and country planning legislation, remove the need for a planning application.

As I have already said, we wish the Bill a fair wind. I am glad that my officials have been able to co-operate with the hon. and learned Gentleman in the measure. I hope that the Bill will reassure tenants, and I commend it to the House.

12.29 pm

I start by thanking the Minister and his ministerial colleague the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) for all the assistance that they and officials in their Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have given with the Bill. Although a good attempt was made to draft a Bill which would stand scrutiny in the courts, I am sure that because of the amendments which were made in Committee as a result of the intervention by Ministers it is now a much better Bill.

Agricultural holdings legislation is always subjected to lawyers' microscopes. I feel reasonably sure that they will see a clear image when they apply their microscopes to the Bill. I am also grateful to the National Farmers Union which has given me a great deal of support in the preparation of the Bill and in ensuring that it met the need that the Minister explained a few moments ago. I am also particularly grateful to tenant farmers in my constituency. There are many small tenant farmers in Montgomeryshire in various sectors of farming. They have supported me and expressed their concern about the issues that gave rise to the Bill.

I was grateful to the Minister for his more general remarks about the tenant farming sector. I agree wholeheartedly with him, as I said on Second Reading, that a thorough-going review of agricultural tenancy law is needed. I shall do what I can to encourage a reasonable and constructive view of that issue far and wide in the farming industry, with which I have a close connection, partly because of the nature of my constituency, which I believe is pro rata the most agricultural in the entire United Kingdom, and even more agricultural in employment terms than that of the Minister's constituency of Penrith and The Border.

Agricultural tenancies need to be available on a more flexible basis if we are to have more agricultural tenancies, as we must if the industry is to retain a career structure which entices the ablest young farmers permanently into the industry rather than into what may be better paid employment. With those points in mind, it gives me great pleasure to express my thanks to all involved with the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Horses (Protective Headgear For Young Riders) Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question /20th April] proposed on consideration of Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee).

Clause 1

Causing Or Permitting Child Under 14 To Ride On Road Without Protective Headgear

Amendment proposed: No. 23, in page 1, line 5, to leave out the words

`Except as provided by regulations.'—[Miss Widdecombe.]

Question again proposed.

12.32 pm

We are now dealing with amendment No. 23. Mr. Gary Waller has the floor.

I do not intend to press the amendment. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

I understand that the hon. Member did not move the amendment, so I shall have to put the Question.

Amendment negatived.

I beg to move amendment No. 13, in page 1, line 7, leave out 'on a road' and insert—

'in a place prescribed by subsection (2A) of this section'.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 26, in page 1, line 7, leave out 'on a road'.

No. 14, in page 1, line 22, at end insert—
'(2A) Subsection (1) above applies to horses ridden in the following places—
(a) on a road, and
(b) elsewhere than on a road when ridden as part of a riding school which is open to the public.'.
No. 6, in clause 3, page 2, line 24, leave out from 'Wales' to end of line 25 and insert—
'means any highway and any other road other than a bridleway, to which the public has access and includes bridges over which a road passes.'.
No.7, in page 2, line 26, leave out from 'Scotland' to end of line 26 and insert—
'means any way other than a waterway, bridleway or footpath, over which there is a public right of passage, and includes any bridge (whether permanent or temporary) over which, or tunnel through which, a road passes.'.
No. 18, in page 2, line 27, at end add—
`(c) includes all bridleways, tracks and rights of way.'.

The amendments are concerned with the scope of the Bill and define areas where children under the age of 14 will be required to wear protective headgear when riding a horse. Amendments Nos. 13, 26 and 14 would extend the scope of the Bill considerably from its present form and would make it an offence to ride in fields, riding schools or places other than a road without protective headgear.

While I recognise that there are dangers in riding anywhere without protective headgear, it remains a fact that there would be grave difficulties in extending the Bill in that way. For it to be enforceable the police would have to be given powers of entry, for instance, and my hon. Friends who tabled these amendments might consider that it is undesirable to grant such powers for this purpose. It is also important to bear in mind that a child rider should wear protective headgear on the road because accidents there tend to be more serious than those in a field, because riders may well come into contact with traffic. There are many bad collisions between vehicles and horses on the roads, and people and horses alike can be badly injured.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 would exclude bridleways from the legislation. There is usually no traffic on bridleways unless there is special provision, which is rarely allowed, for a motor rally, and it is highly unlikely that children would be riding horses during one of those. In almost any circumstances one could think of there will be no vehicles on a bridleway, so it would appear consistent with the objectives of the Bill to exclude bridleways.

There could also be confusion in the minds of people who were not sure whether they were on a bridleway or in a field, whereas it would be quite clear to them that they were on a road on which traffic was being driven. That is why I am keen to see amendments Nos. 6 and 7 incorporated in the Bill, and I am glad to know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) finds that acceptable, as, I understand, does my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic.

The form in which the amendments have been tabled may be defective, but I trust that they will be accepted in any case. If they need further amendment to include footpaths—I understand that footpaths can, in certain circumstances, be considered roads under the Road Traffic Act 1988—I am sure that it will be possible to effect such amendments in another place.

First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) for the spirit in which he moved the amendment and for the compromise that he has outlined, which I am happy to accept.

Amendments Nos. 13, 26 and 14 deal with the circumstances in which it would be a legal requirement for a child to wear protective headgear. As amended in Standing Committee, the Bill limits the offence to riding on a road as defined in the Road Traffic Act 1988—a highway or other road open to the public. The amendments would have the effect of requiring the wearing of headgear anywhere. The amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) would extend the offence to apply to riding schools, but the reason for limiting the offence to causing or permitting a child to ride on a road without protective headgear was the grave difficulty of enforcing the requirement to wear protective headgear on private land unless the police were given powers of entry that were considered unacceptable. I certainly regard them as such.

It is also more important that children wear protective headgear when riding on the roads because accidents on the roads tend to be more serious than those in fields. There is no doubt that the head is in much greater danger from hitting a hard road than from hitting a field, most of which are soft because they are cushioned by grass.

The main purpose of the Bill is not compromised by this limitation as children will have to have appropriate hats available. I am happy to accept the compromise position outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley in amendments Nos. 6 and 7. However, the amendments would effectively restrict the requirements to roads other than bridleways and hence exclude the requirement for children to wear headgear on bridleways.

Does my hon. Friend have any statistics on the number of injuries to children on bridleways and footpaths as opposed to roads?

I do not have such statistics, but I accept their relevance. Statistics about accidents to young riders are collected broadly and generally, and we well know that about 75 per cent. of such accidents occur on roads. That is a rough estimate, but in view of my long experience in these matters I ask my hon. Friend to accept it.

It may interest my hon. Friend to know that a study carried out by Dr. Michael Whitlock in the west midlands in 1986 found that 17 per cent. of accidents involving treatment of victims took place in stables, 43 per cent. occurred in fields, 23 per cent. on roads and only 4 per cent. on bridle paths. Therefore, it appears that stables and fields are much more dangerous places than bridle paths.

I think that we are talking about different things. I know Dr. Whitlock and I also know that the statistics which he has collected relate to accidents to children with horses, but not necessarily riding them. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley and other hon. Members will know that people do not ride horses in stables, except when leaving the stables. Many of the accidents that have occurred in stables have not involved children on horse or pony back. That is why I said that about 75 per cent. of accidents occur on roads, and I stick to that percentage.

The Bill as amended in Committee is already narrower than the Bill as presented. Many parents quite sensibly encourage their children to ride on bridleways rather than on roads. That is wise, but bridleways are not always available to children, especially those in urban areas, as I well know, and that must be taken into account. The Bill does that. There is less chance of an accident off the road because of the absence of motor vehicles. However, there is still the risk of an accident if. for example, the horse is startled by a bird or by a child falling from the horse. In such cases there is a risk if the child is not wearing protective headgear. However, in the interests of compromise I accept the prime danger of accidents being likely to occur on roads and in that spirit I accept my hon. Friend's amendments.

The debate on this important matter should be informed by the evidence that is available on accidents. Perhaps the promoter of the Bill could give more details about it, because it is enormously relevant.

I was interested in the figures given by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) about the west midlands study carried out by Dr. Whitlock. The hon. Gentleman adduced those statistics in support of his argument and it is interesting to note that 43 per cent. of accidents happened in fields, 17 per cent. in stables, 23 per cent. on roads and 4 per cent. on bridleways.

There is a danger that the Bill is being excessively liberalised. Where there is doubt about the degree of protection that will be afforded in the light of the available statistics on accidents, we should err on the side of caution and afford maximum protection to young people rather than go the other way and unduly loosen the requirements of the Bill. That would needlessly expose young people to additional accident risk. Unless I have detailed figures that lend support to the contrary argument, I shall be inclined to make the Bill as rigorous as possible, not to make it more liberal.

12.45 pm

It is understandable that many people's perception of this important Bill will be based on experience of rural areas, where most riding takes place. I shall be interested, however, to hear evidence and argument on experience in urban areas, or urban fringe areas, where a certain amount of riding takes place, and where I can well imagine that the risks to young people will be considerably greater. That applies to footpaths as well as roads. I shall be grateful for a response to that point.

There is a world of difference between a footpath across a field in the middle of open space and a footpath adjacent to or running through an urban or industrial area. I know from examples in my constituency where riding is not uncommon in such areas. It often gives rise to certain conflicts between residents and riders. If the wearing of helmets was not obligatory for young people, they would be exposed to particular dangers. I hope that these matters will be borne closely in mind.

The general public will be expecting us to afford the maximum protection to young people. I do not think that they would support the argument that an infringement of liberty is involved. Indeed, they would expect, in the interests of young people, the maximum protection to be afforded to save young people from accidents that can be serious and tragic. That would surely be their view when the safety precaution of the mandatory wearing of protective headgear of a suitable sort would minimise the risk of serious injury.

I support the amendment. I have considerable experience of riding in the countryside. A clear distinction must be drawn in the minds of children, and those who look after children, between the importance of encouraging people to ride as much as possible on bridleways and the dangerous practice of taking children on the public highway. There is no doubt in my mind that it is extremely dangerous in the modern world to ride a horse on the public highway. I know that it is necessary sometimes because it is not possible to get on to a bridleway without travelling the public highway first. Nevertheless, it is a dangerous practice. Children should use the public highway for riding as little as possible. If the amendment were not inserted in the Bill, that distinction would not be as clear.

Figures that have been produced by the British Horse Society show that the main danger to horse riders comes from other vehicles. The society tells us that 41 per cent. of accidents are caused by horses being frightened by a vehicle and then being hit by it. It appears that 6 per cent. are caused by a horse being frightened by one vehicle and being hit by another. Only 13 per cent. are caused by a horse shying from a shadow or a bird. Apparently 3 per cent. involve no other vehicle. It would seem that the main danger comes from other vehicles, and we are not likely to find other vehicles on a bridleway.

There is a difficulty with enforcement. I am sure that, we would all like children to be encouraged to wear hats at all times when riding. All the stables that I have visited make it mandatory to wear a hard hat. Indeed, adults should wear hard hats at all times. A great deal more work needs to be done.

Some adults at the stables that I use do not wear hard hats. I do not know why. I always use a hard hat—indeed, I would not want to ride a horse without one. However, some adults never wear a hard hat and, indeed, actually hate wearing them. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) changed his original intention of having a much wider Bill. If we tried to apply the Bill to public bridleways, it would run up against the problem of enforcement, and a clear distinction would not be drawn. I am delighted that it appears that my hon. Friend is prepared to accept the amendment.

When I put the Question, I hope that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) will make his position clear.

Amendment negatived.

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 1, line 24, leave out '2' and insert '1'.

The amendment would reduce the maximum penalty for the offence from £100 to £50. It would make the penalty point one on the standard scale, rather than point two. However, I understand that the Government intend to alter the standard scale and link it to the incomes of convicted defendants, so in future defendants with substantially larger incomes than other defendants might be subject to a larger penalty than £50.

There should be consistency between the offence in this Bill and that in the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Rear Seat Belts by Children) Act 1988. The penalty for that offence is point one on the standard scale. As I think that the offence in this Bill is of a similar order of magnitude, it would be right to have a similar penalty.

I oppose the amendment. Indeed, I am surprised that it has been introduced because a penalty of £100 is by no means excessive, especially as it is the maximum and would not necessarily always be fully imposed. We have been told of the dangers of allowing a child to ride without wearing a hard hat. We should not say that it is important for the safety of children that they should wear a hard hat and then trivialise the offence by setting a maximum of £50. I do not accept the reasoning of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) about bringing the penalty in line with that for not wearing rear seat belts. His analogy falls down on at least two points.

Although Parliament made it compulsory for children to wear rear seat belts where they are fitted, they are not required to do so in other circumstances. It is not mandatory to have rear seat belts fitted, so many children do not wear them. As a child cannot be compelled to wear a non-existent seat belt, no transgression or penalty is attached. That is why the fine was fixed at a low figure. It would have been wholly unreasonable unduly to penalise car owners who are public-spirited and sensible enough to install rear seat belts in the first place, perhaps even when the child itself had loosened the belt. Heavy penalties in such cases when it is not mandatory to fit rear seat belts at all would discourage people from fitting them. The House took a logical approach in that instance, but the same arguments do not apply in respect of riding safety.

The young horse-rider is in charge of the vehicle, as it were, whereas the child passenger in a car is not. The youngster at the age of daring should be given maximum protection. The case of the 12-year-old horse rider is very different from that of the six-year-old who undoes his or her seat belt. There is much more onus on the owner of the horse, the parent, or the other responsible persons mentioned in the Bill to ensure that a hard hat is worn, because that is the only determining influence that they can exert. Once the child is on the horse, he or she is in control.

The analogy drawn by the hon. Member for Keighley with children in the back seats of cars is therefore wholly inappropriate for at least two reasons. If we reduce the penalty, we shall be belittling the Bill quite unnecessarily. I feel sure that the penalty suggested by the promoter is reasonable. I do not like unrealistic penalties being fixed because that leads to the law falling into disrepute. In this case, I believe that the generality of people would approve of the fine proposed.

I am not impressed by the argument that the basis of the scale of fines may be changed soon anyway and made commensurate with people's ability to pay. We can discuss that if and when such a change is made, and not spoil the Bill for the sake of a hypothetical situation. I hope that the promoter will persist with his original proposal and resist the amendment.

I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) to persist in his view. I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) that the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) has shot his arguments to pieces. We are discussing the serious matter of putting a small child in charge of a vehicle that one cannot necessarily stop when one wants to, as I know to my own personal cost.

1 pm

The Bill is good. We should insist that a child is fully protected. To set a derisory penalty of £50 for not ensuring that a child is protected would be dangerous. The arguments of the hon. Member for Preston in convincing the House that the position is not analagous to that of a child sitting in the back of a car were valid. All of us who have children and who try to strap them into their seats in the back of a car know how difficult it is to keep them in the straps, and they sometimes get out. That must have been considered by Parliament when it set the low penalty. I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North to persist and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley, after listening to the argument, will not press the amendment to a vote.

I concur with the remarks of the hon. Members for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) and for Preston (Mrs. Wise). I am interested in the matter, having had four children and many more ponies at times at home. I know only too well how unpredictable ponies, let alone horses, can be. For that reason, we must stress the seriousness with which we address the issue. We are concerned that parents and all those involved in encouraging young people to engage in riding and horse jumping should ensure that young people have the maximum protection at all times.

I urge the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) not to press the amendment. In Northern Ireland we take great pleasure and satisfaction in the numbers of young people who, during the week and especially on Saturdays, participate in pony gymkhanas and games. It is clearly understood that no one can participate in those events without being properly prepared and equipped for their own safety and also for the sale of the organisers' insurance. For that reason, and for the good reasons already expressed, I urge the hon. Member for Keighley not to press the amendment.

I thank the House for a good debate. We have heard most persuasive speeches from the hon. Members for Preston (Mrs. Wise) and for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs), and from my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh). The hon. Member for Antrim, East seemed to be saying that horses are less reliable than ponies and more likely to be skittish or difficult. I sometimes think that it is the other way round and that the smaller they are, the more difficult they can be. Like me, however, the hon. Gentleman is experienced in these matters and has his own experiences.

The amendment seeks to reduce the maximum penalty from £100 to £50. I chose the penalty of £100 to reflect the seriousness of the offence and to be consistent with the penalty for other offences, such as the maximum penalty for allowing a child to travel unbelted in the front seat of a car, which is also £100. That would enable the court to take a serious view if any adult should cause, as opposed to permit, a child to ride without protective headgear.

I am anxious to make progress and I should make it clear to the House that I have had a discussion with my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) before this debate. I hope that he will accept the arguments of the House, which are persuasive and which persuaded me. However, I have agreed with him in advance that if he persists with the amendment I shall accept it on the understanding that the matter will be reviewed within a year in light of the way in which the Act is working. Although I hope to carry him with me to a £100 fine, on which I have strong views, to get the Bill off the ground, which is of the greatest importance, I am prepared to compromise if necessary.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 24, at end insert—

`(3A) In proceedings against any person for an offence under subsection (1) it shall be a defence for him to show that he has used all due diligence to enforce the execution of this Act and of any regulation made thereunder.'.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 22, in page 1, line 24, at end insert—

(3B ) In proceedings against any person for an offence under subsection (1) it shall be a defence to show that the child, or any person who has responsibility for the child, had a well founded religious or conscientious objection to the wearing of headgear specified in regulations made under this Act.'.

The amendments are concerned with defences. Amendment No. 4 is concerned with due diligence. The fact that an accused person has used due diligence is often regarded as a defence to a charge against him. Thus, under this legislation an adult would not normally be liable because at the time he permitted the child to ride he did not know that the child would ride hatless. In similar legislation in which the offence of allowing something to happen exists, it is normally judged that the accused would not be liable. However, I am a little concerned about the word "normally". There could be circumstances in which an individual who was charged with allowing a child to ride hatless might be convicted even though he was innocent of any offence. Nevertheless, I do not wish to press the amendment to a vote, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consult further with his legal advisers to see whether any possible change is needed in the other place.

To hasten progress on the Bill, I give my hon. Friend that assurance.

Amendment negatived.

Clause 2


I beg to move amendment No. 9, in page 2, line 15, at end insert—

'(1A) Before making regulations under subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall consult any body which he considers to have an interest.'.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 17, in page 2, line 16, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

'(2) No statutory instrument containing regulations under this section shall come into force until it has received an affirmative vote in each House of Parliament.'.

Amendment No. 9 is concerned with consultation as a requirement before the regulations are brought in by my hon. Friend the Minister. Amendment No. 17 is concerned with the form in which the regulations should be passed by the House. I shall be prepared to accept an assurance from my hon. Friend the Minister that he will be able to consult with all parties. Consultation is often a requirement in relation to legislation of this kind, and there are many precedents. I am sure that, if my hon. Friend is willing to give that assurance, it will be acceptable.

I should have liked to have seen the regulations subject to the affirmative procedures rather than the negative procedures of both Houses. There are particularly good reasons why that should be the case. We are entering into a new area of legal prescription, and, in publicising the new offence, it would be useful to have a requirement for a debate to take place, albeit probably at a late hour.

Also, many people who already have protective headgear or riding hats may be required to scrap them to obtain new ones that meet the requirements in the regulations. It may be helpful for hon. Members who have manufacturers of protective headgear in their constituencies to have an opportunity to debate the matter fully. Again, publicity would be useful in that regard. It would be unfortunate if the only way of ensuring a debate in the House were for an hon. Member to pray against the regulations. I realise that there are difficulties in affirmative procedures, but, when regulations were introduced for the wearing of seat belts, there was a requirement for them to be subject to the affirmative procedure. That is laid down in section 195 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. which stipulates that regulations applying to seat belts should be subject to the affirmative procedure. Therefore, there are good reasons why we should use the affirmative procedure. Again, I shall not press my amendments, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will reconsider whether an amendment might be tabled in another place.

My hon. Friend has made a persuasive case and I understand his point. He has been considerate enough to recognise the difficulties that are presented by the procedure to which he has referred. I assure him that, as we shall consult extremely widely, the difficulties that he has mentioned will be removed. I therefore urge my hon. Friend not to press his amendment on the understanding that we shall consult in those terms.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) that, from my discussions with the Department of Transport, I can confirm that, as my hon. Friend the Minister has said, it is clear that the Department will discuss widely before implementation. I know that the Department has already made contact with all sections of the horse world. The House knows that since 1973 I have been a member of the council of the British Horse Society, which is this country's governing body for everything to do with horses, except for horse racing. Therefore, I know that there have already been wide consultations and I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley that, as the Minister has said, those consultations will continue. On that assurance, I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw his amendment.

Although I hope that the form in which the regulations are presented will be given further consideration, on the basis of the assurances that have been given, I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3


Amendments made: No. 6, in page 2, line 24, leave out from 'Wales' to end of line 25 and insert

'means any highway and any other road other than a bridleway, to which the public has access and includes bridges over which a road passes.'.

No. 7, in page 2, line 26, leave out from 'Scotland' to end of line 27 and insert

'means any way other than a waterway, bridleway or footpath, over which there is a public right of passage, and includes any bridge (whether permanent or temporary) over which, or tunnel through which, the road passes.'.—[Mr. Waller.]

Order for Third Reading read.

1.12 pm

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

In this brief speech, I should like to thank all those hon. Members who have given my Bill such close attention both in the House today and previously. I am pleased and grateful that we have been so well supported especially since it has taken a considerable time for the Bill to achieve its Third Reading. As it is a crucial Bill, I should like to say a few words about why I have been so persistent in this matter.

Before doing so, I thank the Government, the Department of Transport and its officials for helping me to draft amendments and for many other kindnesses. I also thank my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic who has been kind and helpful. In that vein, I should also like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) for his great kindness and especially for being prepared to stand in for me today if I had had to leave for another engagement as seemed all too likely at one time.

There will be those who will argue that riders should stay clear of roads as much as possible. I agree with that, but as the hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) has pointed out, it is impossible in many areas because there is not enough countryside left for all riders to stay off the roads. Indeed, there are now over 3 million regular riders in this country. However, I assure the House that many riders keep entirely clear of the roads where they are able to do so in wonderful areas such as Exmoor, Dartmoor and other areas where there is still sufficient countryside. Riders must be able to get to open land, bridleways or private land on which they can ride safely, away from motor traffic, but often the only way of getting to such land is via the roads.

Horse riding is not new. It is perhaps the most ancient sport in Britain and indeed in the world. Horses were ridden on roads before roads became populated with cars. The House has not passed any legislation to take away horse riders' rights. Horse riders continue to have equal rights to use all-purpose roads. I remind motorists of that fact as they often seem to think that they take precedence over horses and it is wrong for them to think that. That is not the legal or moral position. The horse and rider and horse user have as much right to be on the road as any motorist.

Horse riding is not a declining pastime reserved for the rich. The signs are that riding, particularly among young people is becoming more and more popular. The British Horse Society estimates that about 3·5 million people ride regularly—probably weekly. It is difficult to know how many of them become casualties in road accidents because unfortunately comprehensive information is not collected. One study in 1988 suggested that there may be about 1,500 road casualties requiring medical treatment every year. That is about four per day. Not surprisingly, accidents on roads tend to be more severe than accidents in fields or stable yards.

Among those who ride today are about 200,000 adults who learned to ride as children through a scheme for ordinary children and disabled children that I introduced in London schools while I was senior housemaster at the Sir William Collins school in King's Cross in 1964. I took boys from that school who lived in high-rise flats in King's Cross and had no contact with animals because they were not allowed to keep pets—even mice—in their homes.

The then London county council and subsequently the inner London education authority allowed me to set up a scheme to take children out riding.

As the hon. Gentleman says, it was marvellous. I shall never forget it and it continues. We brought riding to disabled children who had no other recreational pastime. Their education was often greatly facilitated by riding. for example, riding is often an incentive for the autistic child to increase its vocabulary to express its reaction to what is happening and to understand more in the way of instruction.

The hon. Gentleman knows that I have supported his Bill throughout. I wish him well in his endeavours. In view of what he said about his scheme—I know something about it—is he not sad that he voted in favour of the abolition of ILEA?

I must not go down that road. As one who served the London county council for three years and ILEA for 20 years and later in a part-time capacity, naturally I was sad to see what was in many ways an excellent employer disappear. However, I believe that the new arrangements that have been made should and can be made to work well. In some ways ILEA failed children——

Order. The hon. Gentleman promised me that he would not go down that road.

I am being led astray, Madam Deputy Speaker.

About a third of all riders are children. That means that more than 1 million children ride regularly, because there are 3·5 million regular riders. It is estimated that only 80 per cent. of child riders wear safety helmets or hats. That leaves one in five—perhaps 200,000 children—completely unprotected when riding. That is a serious situation. About 80 per cent. of children who wear riding hats or protective helmets may wear sub-standard or badly fitting hats. A sub-standard hat, perhaps one that does not confirm to any British safety standard, can offer only limited protection, if that. To wear a helmet that is not properly secured is pointless. It will fall off before the rider hits the ground if the rider falls from his horse or pony. The Bill addresses that important matter head-on, as it should.

Helmets may not prevent death—a rider may suffer multiple injuries—but they reduce the severity of head injury and prevent minor head injuries. Even a seemingly small bump to the head may cause considerable complications. Recovery may never be complete. I have known people who have fallen from a horse become comatose for years. One lady, Jean Sansome, who served the British Horse Society, had an unexplained accident and was comatose for five or six years. She was visited daily by her elderly mother. It was sad to see and I do not want others to suffer in that way.

As time passes I hope that the Bill will have an ever-widening impact. Children who have been required to wear a riding hat will acquire a habit which is vital to their continued success and safety as riders. They will continue to wear one as they grow older. That is the value of the Bill. Children who wear helmets on the road will continue to wear them off the road. I hope that the Bill will increase awareness among adults of the need for protective headgear while riding.

I wear a riding hat regularly. This morning, for the first time, I wore a new protective helmet——

No, in Hyde park. It was comfortable, felt safe and gave extra confidence to this rider, as I am sure that it could to everyone else. I commend the Bill to the House.

1.21 pm

I shall be as brief as I can. I am glad that it has been possible to have a debate on this matter because there was no debate on Second Reading and only a brief one in Committee. Today's debate has been successful because we have had an opportunity to discuss some of the main issues. It is important that there should be debate in the House so that those outside may know that shortly the law will be changed.

I recognise that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) feels strongly about the matter. Hon. Members will be aware that we disagree to an extent. However, we do not disagree about the rightness of children and adults wearing safety headgear on horseback. Our only disagreement is about whether the law should intervene and make it a legal requirement. At all times I am in favour of avoiding using the law unless it is absolutely necessary. There is still scope for personal responsibility. I am certainly against the nanny state. On the basis of this legislation, it would be possible to extend the law into many other areas concerning prescription affecting the responsibility of the individual.

Nevertheless, I recognise that the arguments relating to children are different. It can be argued that sometimes children need protection against irresponsible parents or guardians, and I agree with my hon. Friend to that extent. The case for legislating for children is different and certainly stronger.

We must consider priorities. Every day there are many accidents on the roads that require medical help. Sadly, 161 involve pedestrians, 71 pedal cyclists, 117 motor cyclists and 468 car users compared with four involving horse riders. The Department of Transport has said:
"resources have to be directed at the major road safety problems."
Bearing in mind that publicity, quite apart from legislation, can have a good effect, it would in my view be better to confine legislation to areas where there are large casualty totals.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North is aware that if there had been Divisions in the House today it might not have been possible to obtain a quorum. I hope that he will recognise that a certain amount of goodwill has been expressed today and that compromise is in the air—invariably that is a good thing in the House. I wish him well with his Bill.

1.25 pm

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller); I had similar reasons for objecting to the Bill being given a Second Reading without any discussion several weeks ago. Since that time, many sensible representations have been made to me and many sensible amendments have been made to the Bill.

I agree that children are in a different category from adults and that, in many cases, they should be protected from themselves. For that reason, I wish the Bill well.

An important message should go out from the House today: all riders, not just children, and not just those riding on roads, would do well to wear a hard hat at all times. If that message is sent out, we will have done well.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Sunday Trading Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

1.26 pm

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

Given that my Bill is number five on the Order Paper for today I am delighted that I have some time to bring this important matter to the attention of the House once again. The Sunday trading laws have been debated in the House for almost two centuries and it is fair to say that they have always been controversial. I have no doubt that those who oppose my proposals will seek to speak today.

People who believe that this subject will go away should venture out on a Sunday to visit the busy garden centres, do-it-yourself superstores, video shops and convenience stores. They should also consider what is happening in our courts. The owners of small neighbourhood shops are being prosecuted for selling toilet rolls and a video shop run by a husband and wife was fined for renting a film that could be legally seen at a cinema or broadcast by a television company. A garden centre has been prosecuted for selling garden furniture. Now we are witnessing the personal prosecution of company directors and I have heard it said that they should go to prison, but for what? Merely for selling to the public what the public want to buy in shops and stores that never existed when the basis for our present restrictions was approved by the House 54 years ago.

Matters in the courts have been further complicated by a recent judgment handed down by the European Court on 23 November. Some claim that that judgment has clarified the issue, but leading lawyers, and now judges, disagree. What is more, judges are beginning to complain that they are being required to interpret legislation that should have been reformed by the House long ago. I fear that they will hand out different judgments in different cases because we have failed to grasp the issue. It has become increasingly clear that we may face a constitutional problem in our courts as they struggle to interpret law that the House has failed to reform.

I hope that the House will forgive me if I read out the recent opinion of learned counsel which is important:
"I consider that the court's judgment does impose material legal constraints on the application of the Sunday trading provisions of the Shops Act 1950. The national courts will first have to determine whether the application of the Shops Act in the instant case"—
the case before the European Court—
"would have any effect on imports of goods from other member states. If there is such an effect it must then proceed to the following considerations; it must then decide, as a matter of English law, what are the objectives of the relevant provisions of the Shops Act legislation. That may well be a complex exercise, at least in the first few cases and any subsequent appeals, although eventually, no doubt, clarification will be established. The courts will then have to consider whether in the instant case the adverse effect of the Sunday trading laws on EC imports is disproportionate in the sense that the adverse effect on such imports could he reduced or eliminated altogether by other legislative provisions which would no less effectively meet the relevant objectives. That may be a complex exercise which may produce different results for different products and different types of retail outlet. Again, although a body of decisions may evolve over time, the process will be longer and more complicated. Lastly, the court may have to consider the motive for the prosecution. A discriminatory prosecuting policy could also render a prosecution contrary to Community law."
Evidence has often been put before the House that the laws that restrict Sunday trading have never been observed and certainly have never been properly enforced. Figures put before the House by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Home Department show that in 1988 there were only 444 prosecutions. There are 514,000 shops in England and Wales, according to an examination of the returns made by valuation officers at the Inland Revenue. Research shows that on average, at least 12 per cent. or 60,000 of those shops are open for business every Sunday, with almost all of them selling some or most of their goods illegally under the present law.

There are 401 local authorities with a statutory duty to prosecute and as a handful of those authorities take out several prosecutions against single companies it is easy to conclude that there is not an average of even one prosecution per authority per year.

Local authorities such as the city of Coventry admit that between 400 and 500 shops are open and trading illegally—or 15 per cent. of the total number of shops. The local authority said that many of those shops "stock non-permitted goods", yet it admits that in 1989 it prosecuted only eight traders covering 11 shops and stores. Although 15 per cent. of the shops in Coventry are open, only 2 per cent. of that number were prosecuted.

The city of Cambridge, having prosecuted a large do-it-yourself superstore, while ignoring a large garden centre next door, and after it was pointed out that councillors had decided to open shops at Addenbrooke's hospital, has now decided to prosecute those shops with a view to closure. Yet the council is still prosecuting only a small proportion of the more than 11 per cent. of its shops that are open and breaking the law.

The city of Southampton, having decided to employ a full-time enforcement officer, finds that he has prosecuted shops on a new quayside development which was developed for the sole purpose of attracting tourism to Southampton. The shops were opened to meet tourist demands. If those shops have to close, no doubt tourists will be less inclined to make Sunday visits. Yet Southampton still prosecutes only a small proportion of more than 150 shops that are open and trading illegally.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that as long as that is the law, it should be obeyed? Moreover, local authorities are obliged to enforce the law in a fair, thorough and even-handed fashion, and, where that is not happening, it is regrettable.

I cannot take issue with the hon. Gentleman's comment that local authorities should be prosecuting in a fair, open and even-handed manner. However, that is not what is happening. Local authorities are seeking to make an example of particular large companies which they feel may be more susceptible to conviction than small shops, and they do not wish to offend those people who keep small shops and trade illegally. Of course I wish to see the law upheld, but the law is not being upheld at present. It comes ill from Opposition Members who have a substantial number of colleagues who do not wish to obey the law in regard to the community charge to hold forth about upholding the law.

South Somerset district council——

You have just admitted yourself that the shops that are open are blatantly breaking the law. When you referred to the community charge——

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he should speak to the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) through me. He should not accuse me of all these things.

I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker.

In the hon. Gentleman's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), he suggested that some Opposition Members might refrain from paying the community charge. It may prove in due course that their advice is right, because it appears that the Government are going to change their mind about the community charge.

The question is whether shops—large, small, grocery or corner shops—should infringe the Shops Act 1950. I know of the hon. Gentleman's regular and loyal support for the Prime Minister, who has often preached from the Dispatch Box that we should not break the law, so he, she, and all Tory Members should be upholding the Shops Act. The fact that many shops are breaking the law and that not many local authorities are prosecuting does not justify breaking the law.

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman's long intervention allows us a clear insight into his views, for which he is well known and well respected. I am not advocating breaking the law. My Bill seeks to change a law that is obsolete, in disarray and in disrepute, by virtue of the fact that so many of our shops open with apparent impunity against its enforcement. I am seeking to introduce a Bill that would sensibly alter, in a compromise fashion, the basis of Sunday trading——

The hon. Gentleman has expressed his opinion that the Shops Act 1950 is held in disrepute. Is he aware that on 23 November 1989 the European Court of Justice upheld the validity of that Act, which certainly does not suggest that it is held in disrepute?

The hon. Gentleman may not have been in his place when I mentioned that judgment; I said that it was held in some quarters to have clarified the law, but the lawyers are already disagreeing about whether it has. We could have a fruitless but long-winded argument about whether lawyers ever agree on anything.

South Somerset district council—Yeovil, to those who do not know where it is—has taken out 100 prosecutions in three years against two traders. Some of the summonses were issued without the council even bothering to collect evidence—yet South Somerset collects rents from five shops that it owns which break the law every Sunday and which have never been prosecuted.

Furthermore, when taking a decision to prosecute another trader, councillors were given incorrect advice by their officers. They were advised that comments by a Crown court judge in Northampton were a judgment, binding upon local magistrates, from the Court of Appeal.

I give hon. Members these details from four local authorities to show just how complicated and unfair the position has become. We have a duty to find a balance between the reasonable needs of the consumer, the desire of traders to open their shops and stores, the wish of shopworkers to work and the wish of some to keep Sunday as a special day with a different rhythm from other days of the week.

In 1984 the House gave a majority of 120 to a motion accepting the Auld committee report, which came down firmly in favour of sweeping away all restrictions, thus giving England the same basis of law as Scotland has enjoyed for many a long year. However, less than two years later the House rejected the proposals put forward by the Government in their Sunday Trading Bill which was intended to give legislative power to those recommendations.

Mindful of that decision, many of us think that it is possible to strike a compromise between all the different points of view. I accept that a compromise is never satisfactory, but the present crazy situation that I have described cannot be allowed to continue. Equally, the attempts by some people to create a re-hash of the existing law will lead to the widespread closure of shops and stores that are now open. That will be to the inconvenience of shoppers and will cause inescapable harm to workers, who will lose jobs and wages.

My Bill is based on a series of principles that can be supported by many people on both sides of the divide. First, the law should reflect today's pattern of life which has changed dramatically since the passing of the current Act in 1950 and very substantially since the principles were first put into legislation in 1936. Any change should take the form of deregulation and liberalisation of the present law to reflect what is actually happening rather than to apply further restrictions which might in any case become unenforceable in the same way as the present Act.

The special nature of Sunday should be respected by maintaining some limits which would deter many shops from opening, thereby meeting only the observable needs of people rather than trying to define them. The interests of employees should be protected. That is important both for those who want to work on Sundays and for those who do not. The emphasis should be on the smaller family and community shop rather than allowing the opening of all the shops on the high street.

The first provision in the Bill is to allow all shops to open between 12 noon and 6 pm. That achieves three objectives. First, it keeps the morning free from commercial activity. Secondly, it will of itself limit the number of shops that will find it viable to open and thirdly, it still leaves plenty of time for the shops that are open to satisfy consumer demand. From my examination of the statements of many leading retailers, I am confident that there would be only a limited demand for opening during that period. We would quickly find the adoption of the pattern that pertains in Scotland where the total absence of restrictions has found its own level. Many shops and stores open on three or four Sundays before Christmas in response to consumer demand, but they remain closed on Sundays for the remainder of the year. Research shows that about 23 per cent. of all shops in Scotland avail themslves of the opportunity to open throughout the year.

The second aim of the Bill is to amend the tourist provisions. It proposes that we take away the limits and allow local authorities to decide which shops may open under orders that they make. The provision in the current Act severely limit what can and cannot be sold, with the result that orders are clearly not observed or enforced. In addition, the Bill allows for the number of Sundays to be extended from the present 18 up to a maximum of 35. That should cover the season for most resorts. In many areas of the country such an extension would be of tremendous benefit to local economies and to tourists.

I am especially impressed by the submissions from the English tourist board and the British Tourist Authority which show conclusively that tourists would spend much more in shops if opportunities were available. For example, areas such as Covent Garden which attract many home-based and foreign tourists could freely open their shops. At present such shopkeepers risk prosecution, largely as a result by an orchestrated campaign of complaints by the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

The Bill's third provision is primarily concerned with smaller shops. That is a most important area because such shops represent 98 per cent. of those that are currently open on Sundays. They range from tiny newsagents to moderately sized convenience stores.

The hon. Gentleman talks about 98 per cent. Is he referring to turnover or to numbers of establishments?

Numbers of establishments.

I appreciate that to many people a floor area of 3,000 sq ft may seem large, especially when compared wth the shops that existed in 1950 or, more particularly, in 1936. If the House is to make good law, however, it is necessary to observe the reality of what happens today. Well over half of all shops that open on Sundays and break the current law are in excess of 2,000 sq ft. To set any size below that would automatically eliminate them. Furthermore, the demands of the market place are pushing many more businesses to convert to that size. That is especially so for petrol filling forecourts where there has been a tremendous growth in the number of shops that are open for long hours, to the great convenience of the consumer. Size is important, and any size limitation will always produce borderline cases. I am assured by those who run businesses that their assessment is that 3,000 sq ft will be adequate to meet the demands of today and of tomorrow.

It is necessary to retain some listing of goods, and we find that 85 per cent. of all shops are below 3,000 sq ft. Observation of what the large convenience store is selling shows that most of the items listed in paragraph 5 of schedule 1 are included. There are also specialist shops such as those that rent video cassettes. I understand that about 2 million video cassettes are rented every Sunday, three quarters of them from specialist shops, nearly 5,000 of which open every Sunday. The remaining quarter are rented from convenience stores, corner shops and garage forecourt shops.

The Bill makes provision for taking certain types of shop out of the reckoning altogether. It appears that garden centres are non-controversial. Even those who oppose Sunday trading seem willing to allow them to open. As they are so varied in both size and the range of items that they sell, it seems sensible to take them out of any restrictions whatever. Similarly, there are the specialist shops that cater for all forms of recreation activity, including caravanning, boating, cycling, flying and plain driving. It seems important to deregulate them entirely by taking them outside any restrictions. They meet observable needs and demands.

There are other areas that are related to recreation and tourist activities, including churches, cathedrals, galleries, museums, historic houses, gardens, caves, caverns, zoos, aquariums and sports centres. They all cater for those wishing to undertake leisure and recreation activities in the home or in the garden, for social gatherings, for travelling and visiting and for pleasurable activities that are associated with the entire family being together.

The protection of shop workers is a controversial issue. I understand why the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), who sits on the Opposition Front Bench, with his long opposition to the opening of shops on Sundays, views the protection of shop workers as one of the most important factors to be set against the proposals that are contained in the Bill. What does the Bill have to offer? If we are to allow relaxation of our laws and allow shops to open and to trade on Sundays because we observe the needs of customers, we must ensure that the granting of that freedom does not intrude into the lives of shop workers and their families. First, we must ensure that those who now work on Sundays have conditions that ensure that they do not have to work for seven days a week. It is proposed in the Bill that no worker should be asked to work for more than five-and-a-half days a week, and that when they do work on Sundays they receive premium payments and-or time off in lieu.

Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that it is only shop workers who are deprived of the opportunity to work at the rates of time-and-a-half or double time? Engineers and anyone employed in manufacturing industries, who are, spuriously, so dear to the Opposition, can work on Saturdays and Sundays, Sunday evenings and Monday mornings. Those employed in the transport industry, which is, spuriously, so dear to the heart of the Opposition, work day and night. Why is it that shopkeepers should be deprived of an opportunity to earn extra income in a range of ways?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. I understand that shops that currently trade on Sunday have no difficulty in finding staff who are keen to earn additional money. That is important.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that shop assistants are among the lowest-paid workers and that there is exploitation of the need of, for example, some mothers to earn any money in addition to their income, especially those on the lower income levels, to support and sustain their children? What assurance will there be for those shop assistants who have very strong conscience grounds for not working on Sundays? What protection will they have if an employer unfairly dismisses them?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asked that question because it makes it clear that his opposition to the Bill is not based on a reading of it. Had he read it, he would know that schedule 2 is devoted to a code of practice that will ensure that shop workers are not discriminated against. In particular, paragraph 3(f) refers to those who have strong religious grounds for not working on Sundays. The schedule provides a well-argued code of practice to protect shop workers against exploitation and discrimination.

I do not wish to damage the hon. Gentleman's opportunity to proceed, but I assure him that I have read his Bill. My experience of codes of practice is that they are not necessarily sufficient to protect employees.

A code of practice such as that in the Bill would protect workers against discrimination. I have no doubt that if an industrial tribunal were faced with a case of someone who had been discriminated against in the way suggested by the hon. Gentleman, it would without any doubt find in favour of the employee.

I must make progress. When I have finished, there will be time for other hon. Members to make their speeches. I have been generous in giving way.

I have said that those who work on Sundays must not be expected to work for seven days and that they must be adequately paid by premium payments or by time off in lieu. We must ensure that no one can be forced to work on a Sunday, or that if they do refuse that they cannot be discriminated against.

The problem must not be exaggerated. Many who now work on Sundays are Sunday-only workers. The proportion varies from shop to shop and store to store. There is evidence that the number who work only on Sundays can be as high as 80 per cent. I have spoken to senior executives in multiple stores north and south of the border that open on Sundays.

There are many problems with the suggested code of practice. I wish to press the hon. Gentleman on two points. First, what about the position of those applying for a job? What guarantee is there that they will not be asked, "Will you work on a Sunday", and that if they show any reluctance they will not be told to look for work elsewhere? Secondly, what about promotion to senior positions? We are concerned about all shop workers, including managers who will be obliged to turn out on Sundays. How will the code of practice protect their fair chances of promotion? It is in the nature of shop supervision that a senior person will need to work on a Sunday. Will not those people be badly affected?

The hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) probably knows that I run a business that operates seven days a week perfectly legitimately and legally, because it is part of the licensed trade.

I thought that the hon. Gentleman was meant to be a Member of Parliament.

I shall not go down that path. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) should know better.

When people come to me for a job, I point out to them that they will normally be expected to work on Sundays because a seven-day trading week operates in that business. People who apply for such jobs will obviously know that shops that open on Sunday may well expect them to work that day. One cannot protect job applicants in the way that the hon. Member for Oxford, East suggests.

It is hard to imagine there not being some discrimination between the potential manager who is prepared to work on Sundays and the potential manager who is not prepared to do so. In organisations in which the normal working week includes Sunday, employees ho are willing to work that day are almost bound, by the nature of things, to receive preference when promotions are being considered. One cannot protect against that.

No, I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman again.

The code encompassed by schedule 2 offers protection for people who do not want to work on Sunday in their present jobs. If the Bill receives its Second Reading, which I suspect it will not, I should like to see added to it a provision requiring local authorities to make observance of the code of practice a precondition of allowing Sunday opening under the wider provisions of the Bill. In other words, I want a system of local authority licensing for shops opening on Sundays, which would provide an easy method of policing and enforcing the new law.

In 1986 I supported the Government in their attempts to implement the recommendations of the Auld Committee. A number of right hon. and hon. Members had meetings with Church people and others who opposed the Government's proposition. I well remember a meeting at a church in my constituency on 14 February 1986, attended by 200 people. Although it was St. Valentine's day, love was not really in the air.

I began by inviting my audience to indicate whether on Sunday they shopped at their corner shop, bought Sunday newspapers, or used petrol stations, restaurants, or pubs. I asked which of them, being short of a pot of paint, would not visit the local do-it-yourself superstore so that they could finish the job in hand. I asked whether they expected workers in the emergency or transport services, for example, to work on Sunday.

By the time that I finished my market research on that occasion, every hand in the room had been raised at least once, and many hands were raised several times. It as clear that those people were happy to see others working on a Sunday if it was to their convenience. At the end of the evening I was told, "You have won the argument, but unfortunately one cannot be rational about some things and one takes an irrational decision." That told me a great deal about the motives of those who seek to perpetuate the existing anomalies and unenforceable provisions of the Shops Act 1950.

I am dismayed by some of the disinformation that has recently come from the Keep Sunday Special campaign. Its glossily produced spring leaflet states:
"Mr. James Couchman, MP introduced a Private Member's Bill on 8 January in a renewed attempt to sweep away all legal restrictions on Sunday trading."
I am said to have been a strong supporter of the Government's attempts to amend the law in 1986. It is a shame that the Keep Sunday Special campaign should sell its argument short by putting out what is a blatant untruth. At that time the Bill was neither published nor printed and was in an early draft form. The organisation cannot have known what was contained in the Bill and those who have read it for today's debate will know that far from seeking to sweep away all regulations on Sunday trading, it seeks to put in place a sensible framework for shops to be allowed to open so that willing sellers can sell goods to willing consumers. Although I am a realist and realise that today's debate will probably not proceed to a Second Reading vote, I wanted to put——

Will the hon. Gentleman refer to a letter from the Keep Sunday Special campaign on 30 March 1990? Will he refer to the third paragraph, which says:

"There is therefore the likelihood that the Sunday Trading Bill will get a debate and although it is not, at this stage printed, our understanding is that it will follow the 1989 Bill tabled by Mr. Steven Norris MP."
Surely that is a wholly different reading of information from the one that the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) gave to the House a moment ago.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I do not possess the letter of 30 March from which he has just quoted. I quoted from the Keep Sunday Special campaign update of spring 1990. I am afraid that the Keep Sunday Special campaign is obviously putting out different information at different times to different people, and that is confirmation of what I have just said.

I want other hon. Members to have the chance to speak before the end of this brief debate, but I want to illustrate to the Government that it is possible to find a package of compromise proposals that will meet the needs of those who want to open shops, work and shop on Sundays, and will take account of those who have genuine concerns about the nature of Sunday. To that end, I want to report to the House that even in the brief time since the Bill has been printed, the proposals have received backing from a substantial number of important organisations that are involved intimately in the question whether shops should be allowed to open on Sundays. I instance the following: the British Incoming Tour Operators Association, the British Videogram Association, the Consumers Association, the Horticultural Trades Association, the National Association of Shopkeepers, the National Federation of Consumer Groups, the Garden Centre Association, the Video Trade Association, the National Consumer Council, qualified support from the newly-formed OPEN—Outlets for Providing Everyday Needs, support from the Petrol Retailers Association, the Camping and Outdoor Leisure Association, the National Federation of Consumer Groups and the Federation of Sports Goods Distributors. That is the result of having talked with those organisations briefly this week. I wrote to them and received confirmation that they support the Bill. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to persuade his colleagues that the Bill or something close to it would enable them to carry out the Government's election manifesto commitment in an honourable way which will give equal weight to the interests of consumers, workers and traders.

It will be necessary for me to leave the Chamber a few minutes before the end of the proceedings at 2.30 pm because my wife is very unwell and I have to take her to her hospital appointment. I hope that the House will forgive me for what might otherwise be taken as a slight.

2.3 pm

I am sure that the whole House wants to express to the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) our best wishes for the health of his wife and we are sure that he regrets having to leave our proceedings. No one will criticise him for doing so.

The hon. Gentleman referred approvingly to the Auld committee which came down in favour of complete deregulation of shopping. The Union of Shop Distributive arid Allied Workers which sponsors me, although, I hasten to say, with absolutely no personal benefit to me, when giving evidence to the Auld committee was disposed to try to reach compromises on the matter. The union's willingness was thrown back in its face and it became absolutely clear that the supporters of Sunday trading wanted total deregulation and nothing less. Although the hon. Member for Gillingham has come to the House with sweet talk about balance, his Bill is the thin end of a very damaging wedge. He could have made a similar speech if we were asking for total deregulation.

The hon. Gentleman referred to legislation dating back 50 years and told us how things had changed since then. "We have new kinds of shops—video shops, for instance," he said. Of course we have new kinds of shops. Of course there have been changes. Some changes have made the reason for our Sunday trading law even stronger. Not only do we have different kinds of shops but there have been vast changes in shopping hours and in conditions faced by shop workers. I make no apology for speaking vehemently in support of continued protection for shop workers.

At present, unlike in 1950, shop workers can be required to work very late in the evening. There are no adequate transport facilities. They are told that it is just tough if they have difficulties late at night. Shop opening hours have been extended in such a way that it is impossible to check exactly how many hours many shop workers are working. They are expected to be wholly at the disposal of their employers. If it suits an employer they will work part-time and their part-time hours will be cut to keep them outside the Employment Protection Acts. Conversely, if it suits employers, they will be expected to work as many hours as the employer sees fit. Since 1950, shop workers' conditions have deteriorated in material ways.

Hon. Members may not know that although we do not have 24-hour shop opening, we have a good deal of night shift work in shops. The hon. Gentleman talked about shop workers' wishes. I know of shop workers who work all night filling shelves in supermarkets. The hon. Gentleman might think that they wish to do that, but they work then because they can work at no other time—for example, because of lack of child care. Many women look after their toddlers during the day, fill shelves all night, and look after their toddlers again the next day. Of course they do not do that every night of the week. Who could? Women, even the women members of USDAW, are not superhuman. To do that work two nights a week, which is quite common, is an extraordinary burden to bear.

The hon. Gentleman talked about shop workers' wishes. I shall believe him when the Government do something to give real protection to shop workers.

Does my hon. Friend agree that Conservative Members who support Sunday trading have seriously undermined their own case by supporting Government moves to weaken the ability of the wages council to protect the interests of shop workers? The sentiments that we heard from the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) would be okay if he had not been in the Lobby supporting the Government's attack on the wages council.

Yes, I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend and thank him for his intervention, which is relevant to some of the points that were raised by the hon. Member for Gillingham about protecting workers. The wages councils used to be able to protect workers on matters such as bank holidays and customary holidays, but that protection has been stripped from them. A Government who do that—and hon. Members who support that—cannot be taken seriously when they talk today about protecting the rights of shopworkers.

The hon. Member for Gillingham has included a code of practice in his Bill, but it applies only to "subscribing employers". I have read his Bill carefully, but I have not seen any requirement for shops which would open on Sundays to he "subscribing employers". The Bill states that a "subscribing employer" is
"an employer who has expressed in writing to the Industrial Society that he subscribes to the Code of Practice and whose name appears, for the time being, on a list of subscribers kept by the Industrial Society".
That is an inadequate form of protection. We read the hon. Gentleman's code of practice, only to find that it is voluntary, to an extent that tops all other ideas of voluntary codes of practice——

Towards the end of my speech, I said that I should like some form of licensing by the local authorities of those shops which are to open on Sundays so that the local authority could impose the code of practice on anyone who was to be given such a licence.

I am pleased the hon. Gentleman would like that to happen. Although I noted his point, I had previously read his Bill and his wishes are not reflected in it. Who better to get his wishes incorporated in his Bill than the promoter? The hon. Gentleman may well have such desires, but they must be somewhat less than firm because if they were not, they would already have been encapsulated in the Bill.

If, by some chance, my Bill were to be given a Second Reading today, I should wish to see such amendments made in Committee.

The hon. Gentleman does us and himself no credit if he thinks that we would be willing to go down that road. The purpose of a Second Reading debate is to give a preliminary fair wind to the provisions that are before us—those in the Bill. If hon. Members other than the promoter say that they will seek to move such amendments in Committee, we shall take them seriously, but if the promoter has not felt sufficiently strongly about a point to include it in the Bill when it is drawn up, we can say either that his desires are not firm or that he has found some snag in his proposals, which is why he has not included such a provision. The parliamentary draftsman might have said, "No, you cannot include that in this Bill." If the hon. Gentleman had wanted to include such a provision, he should have included it in the Bill in the first place. I am not interested in pious hopes.

In any case, the hon. Gentleman's code of practice has other flaws. He wants to give protection to young persons, and who does not want to do that? Opposition Members certainly want to do that, but the Government do not, and neither does the hon. Gentleman. I served on the Committee that considered the Employment Act 1989, which stripped existing protection on young people's hours of work. Young people now have no protection as to the hours that they work. They may work any hours of the day and night, including any type of shift work, and on any day—their only protection relates to Sundays.

Does the hon. Lady agree that the absence of such protection for young children has a damaging effect on their education and creates endless problems for teachers?

To be fair to the Government—although I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the protection of children is inadequate—the protection to which I referred, which has been removed altogether, relates to young people over school-leaving age. However, they may be as young as 15½ years old. School-leaving age can be 15½ years entirely legally because of the accident of their birth date. The Government not only withdrew protection on hours of work from under-18s but amended the definition of young person from 16 years to school-leaving age. That brought in more than 100,000 young people who leave school legally under 16 years of age.

When the hon. Member for Gillingham talks about protecting young people in Sunday working, all I can say is that I welcome his conversion but I wish that he had been converted somewhat earlier and had joined us in the Lobby on the Employment Bill. His code of practice completely exempts store managers, assistant managers and other supervisory staff. I identify most with non-managerial staff because I have never been a manager, but I have not reached the stage at which I believe that managerial staff are somehow sub-human and should not be protected. If shop assistants should be protected, their managers and supervisors deserve no less protection of their family life and rights as working people. They are still working people. Many of them realise that to such good effect that they join USDAW.

So far, I have concentrated on shopworkers but I must also speak for many children whose family life would be disrupted if Sunday working were increased.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned other people who work on Sundays. Of course other people work on Sundays, and we make use of their services—we are willing to use transport on Sundays and to call a fire engine on Sundays—but it is perfectly consistent to say that the number of people who work on Sundays should be kept to a minimum.

The hon. Gentleman's Bill is the first stage in making Sunday virtually the same as any other day of the week. There has been much talk about premium payments, but these payments are made to other workers such as engineering workers or people in the emergency services only because Sunday is a special day. If Sunday ceased to be a special day, premium payments would be rapidly eroded. Those of us who want to keep Sunday special want to do so for the sake of shopworkers, their families and other workers who need to work on Sunday and who receive at least some financial recompense which would he lost if Sunday working increased.

I have spoken about shop workers but I also want to mention the attitude of some important retailers. The hon. Gentleman read out a great list which implied that the whole of the retail trade was on his side. That is not true. For instance, Marks and Spencer, an important retailer in Britain employing a great many people, is hostile to Sunday trading. That hostility may be based on some of the arguments that I have put forward. It is also based on a knowledge of its position as a retailer. It has studied the example particularly of the United States of America where, broadly speaking, Sunday trading is legal. Retailers have found that people's incomes do not rise to enable them to shop every day of the week, so people simply transfer their shopping from one day to another. The shops who do good trade on Sundays find that they do not do good trade on other days of the week, so they close on those other days. It may be thought that so long as shops close on some day or other it is okay, but for a family person, especially a mother, it is not the same to be off on a Tuesday or even a Monday as it is on a Sunday when the children are off. Marks and Spencer found that there was not sufficient trade to spread it over seven days and concluded that it did not want an extension into Sunday trading.

We are often told of the revelry in the shops on Sundays and every day of the week on the continent of Europe. We were told at wearisome length that the provisions of our Shops Act 1950 were undoubtedly in contravention of the Treaty of Rome. When a case finally came to the European Court, it was decided that our Shops Act did not contravene the Treaty of Rome but was compatible with it. Therefore, the matter is entirely for our national laws and decisions. Moreover, it became clear that other European countries also have restrictions on shop trading hours, despite what we are repeatedly told. They may be different from ours, but they are nevertheless restrictions. It is not true that there is unrestricted shopping on the continent of Europe among our EEC partners. It is not even true that there is unrestricted Sunday trading. Those of us who have travelled, for example, in rural France know that however easy it may be to shop on Sunday morning, it is a different story on Sunday afternoon or Monday. In practice, their hours of opening, whether legally or customarily, tend to be more restrictive than ours.

My hon. Friend has eloquently put the case for shop workers at all grades and mentioned the knock-on effect of Sunday trading to the detriment of the pay and conditions of other workers and traders. Will she comment on another group of people who are particularly at risk through deregulation—residents in the vicinity of shops and shopping precincts? At present Sunday provides the only peace and quiet that they get. That is particularly true near big do-it-yourself stores which have outdoor areas with music and tannoys going which wreck their peace and quiet. Does my hon. Friend agree that deregulation of Sunday trading would not be in residential and amenity interests and would be wholly abhorrent?

My hon. Friend makes a good point which has not yet been made in the debate. Other consequential effects will also disturb the peace of those residents. There would undoubtedly be a great increase in heavy transport because many of the vehicles which take goods to shops are large. If Sunday trading comes to our high streets and side streets to any appreciable extent, so will heavy lorries at wholly unsuitable times on Saturday nights and Sundays to the great detriment of residents' peace and quiet.

For all those reasons—for shop workers in particular, for many children, for the peace of people who live in the vicinity of shops, and for the protection of other workers who have to work on Sundays and get premium payments because it is a special day—the case against giving the Bill a Second Reading is unanswerable.

One important factor must be considered regarding the protection of the consumer. Those who want to extend trading hours never talk about the increase in overheads that would result. If it were true that the system would operate on the basis of premium payments, the increase in overheads would be even greater and, inevitably, those increased overheads will mean increased prices. Consumers who say "Yes, I would like to shop on a Sunday" should ask themselves whether they are prepared to pay higher prices for doing so. In many cases I am sure that the answer would be no.

1.25 pm

I am sure it comes as no surprise to hon. Members that I, as a minister of the gospel, object to the Bill. I know that there are many different reasons for such objection, but I make no apology for mine.

I came to the House seven years ago and I remember clearly the opening speech I heard. It was made by Sir Peter Mills and he was commending the Queen's Speech to the House. He told the House that at the end of the Gracious Speech Her Majesty had said:
"I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels."—[Official Report, 22 June 1983; Vol. 44, c. 44.]
I had heard Her Majesty say that, but having sought to have God's blessing upon our deliberations, now, once again, we are seeking to flout God's laws. The House will have taken a retrograde step if it passes a Bill that destroys the Sabbath.

I agree with a queen who once said that the secret of this country's greatness was an open Bible. I believe that the honouring of that Bible and the word of God will bring blessing upon the nation.

Sir Peter Mills said that any country that left out God would not enjoy God's blessing. The country should remember that because, whether we like it or not, there is one who is a greater sovereign than earthly sovereigns. We commence each day with acknowledgement of that fact when we gather in the House to seek God's blessing upon our deliberations.

The true objective of the Bill is total deregulation. The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) toned down that message, but that was his deliberate intention. In his heart and mind, the Bill represents the first step of a hidden agenda; he desires to take further steps. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman would hide his intention from us when confronted with it. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman is no longer present and I understand why.