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London Local Authorities Bill [Lords]

Volume 542: debated on Tuesday 13 March 2012

Third Reading

Debate resumed.

Question (21 February) again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I believe that Mr Chope was speaking when we adjourned the debate, and, if I can have his attention, perhaps he will indicate whether he wishes to continue to speak.

I was in mid-sentence, I think, when we finished last time at 10 minutes past 10. On that occasion, as we know, we had in the Chamber the sponsor of the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer). Since then, he has been unwell but he is back today and we are delighted to see him in his place.

The Bill was first introduced in November 2007 and has since progressed through Parliament, although no one would suggest that that progress has been rapid. If and when it gets its Third Reading it will go to the other place so that the many amendments that have been introduced, largely as a result of the broad-mindedness and good sense of my hon. Friend, can be considered. He is to be congratulated on having put pressure on the Bill’s promoters—the local authorities behind it—to compromise on many of the issues on which they did not, at one stage, appear to be willing to compromise. The Bill is now in a significantly better state than when it first reached this House, because it has been amended in Committee and during the three-hour sittings on Report, but it is still an unsatisfactory Bill for a number of reasons.

I articulated in some detail my concerns about the Bill during the nine hours of debate on a series of amendments on Report, and I do not think I can add much to the arguments I deployed in those debates. We are now left with what the Bill looks like after many of those amendments were rejected but others were accepted. All I shall say tonight is that I am glad we have been able to have a full debate on this issue. I am disappointed that there has not been wider participation among Members who represent London constituencies and that we are introducing legislation that will affect one part of the country while ignoring other parts. There is an issue of principle there that the Government need to address. Having said all that, I think the Bill is in a better state than it was.

We have all enjoyed my hon. Friend’s circumlocution on this matter, but can he distil his arguments into a couple of sentences? Is he saying that he now regards the Bill as reasonably acceptable, broadly acceptable or still unacceptable?

It depends. It is unacceptable to me but it is probably acceptable to the majority of Members of the House if one has regard to the debates and votes that have taken place. As with much legislation, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. When people in London find that they cannot go to the public toilet they used to go to without going through a turnstile they might ask, “Where’s that come from? What happened to the private Member’s legislation that outlawed turnstiles in public lavatories right across the country? Why do we now have a separate regime being introduced in London?” I wonder what will happen when they are accused of trying to sell their car on the internet and are deemed to be engaging in street trading by reason of a substantial extension of the definition of street trading. In fact, we have been able to restrict that, through an amendment, so that it will not affect ordinary individual householders as it would have originally affected such individuals in Westminster. People who try to sell their cars on the internet will be adversely affected by this legislation and perhaps when they suffer significant penalties they will contact their local MP.

I still have significant concerns about the Bill, but there have been many Bills before the House that I have had concerns about, not all of which one has been able to amend. If one is fair-minded, one must accept that progress has been made and that there has been a willingness on the part of the promoters and particularly on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green, who has taken the matter forward on their behalf, to listen. That is an important lesson for people who want to bring forward private Bills. There is a lot to be said for a bit of jaw-jaw and discussion and for trying to reach a reasonable compromise. That is probably quite a long answer to the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight), but I feel that after this length of time not much more can be said either in summary or in detail. That is why I am going to resume my place.

First, though, let me say that I am very grateful to all those colleagues who have participated in these debates, not least my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who has made quite a name for himself. In one debate he broke through the one-hour barrier. That is not a novelty for my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), who I think will catch your eye shortly, Mr Deputy Speaker, but for those of our colleagues who have not yet broken the one-hour barrier, this type of legislation is fertile ground for doing so. I commend that process to my hon. Friends.

As always, it is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope). I might well have gone through the one-hour barrier on one occasion or more, but it is not my intention to do so this evening.

The Bill has been considered at some length over several years and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) and the promoters of the Bill on their determination and perseverance in ensuring that it has finally reached Third Reading. The finishing line is in sight, there is not much further to go and the end is nigh.

I have to say that whatever spin is put on the Bill’s provisions, it will give more powers to the local authorities within our capital city and will reduce the freedoms of the city’s citizens and visitors. It will also increase the burden of regulation on our capital’s businesses at a time when they ought to be devoting all their time and energies to improving levels of service, increasing sales and dealing with all the problems that businesses face. They are going to have to sit down and tackle all the new burdens, rules and regulations contained within the Bill.

Let me raise a couple of fresh points. First, given that the Bill imposes new burdens on businesses, I have to ask what has become of the one-in, one-out rule. The promoters have not given any indication of the rules and regulations that are being removed to make way for the new ones in the Bill.

There is one other reason why the Bill, even at this late stage, ought to be rejected. So much has happened in the years since the Bill first surfaced that there must be real doubt about whether it is warranted. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch mentioned the fact that the Bill made its first appearance in 2007. Since then, not only have a number of London local authorities changed their political composition and in some cases their political control, but the Mayor of London has changed, and we are about to enter a further mayoral election.

May I reassure my hon. Friend that the Bill is promoted on behalf of London Councils, not the Mayor of London? Although over the preceding years the complexion of London Councils may have changed, the leadership of all three political parties and all 32 London boroughs and the City of London still wholeheartedly support the Bill, as amended.

I am sure that is the case.

Since the change in the mayoralty of London, a further change has occurred—the passing into law of the Localism Bill. Under the Localism Act 2011 there is a general power of competence for local authorities. Had the Localism Act been around a few years ago, provisions in this Bill might not have found their way into it at all and might now have been rendered completely unnecessary.

As I said in opening my remarks, the Bill has been subjected to detailed analysis on consideration. Some progress has been made and I am pleased to say that the promoters listened to the arguments. The requirement that notices should be served by an accredited person has been removed, which is one small victory for those who highlighted the Bill’s deficiencies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said, the Bill ought not to have proceeded. I agree, but the House is broadly in favour of its content. For that reason I will draw my remarks on this long-running measure to an end.

I support the Third Reading of the Bill, which has been subjected to immense scrutiny. There have been opportunities for detailed discussion of all aspects, including every clause and every line of the Bill.

On the point about scrutiny, will my hon. Friend join me in thanking our hon. Friends the Members for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) and for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), and the hon. Members for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) for their work in scrutinising the Bill? It is fair also to thank our colleagues—for instance, our hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope)—for their principled and resilient scrutiny as the Bill proceeded through the House.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I add my congratulations to the Members who served on the Committee and who have contributed during this debate. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) for his stalwart work in piloting the Bill through this place and making extremely rapid progress since we were both elected in May 2010, considering the slow progress that had been made up till then.

I remind colleagues that the Bill may have entered the House of Commons and the House of Lords in 2007, but its gestation began long before that as a wish list from the 32 London boroughs and the City of London. I well remember seeing a very long wish list prior to the Bill being presented to the House. That list has been considerably reduced.

It is important that we consider the wide range of ideas that emerged on Report. It was suggested that the council officials who were to serve penalty notices should wear a uniform, with a bowler hat, or that they should wear a fine tabard properly approved by the College of Arms. I trust we have accepted that that is not quite what we intended, and that it will not be implemented across London. But many good ideas have been accepted and encapsulated within the Bill, as amended. My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green has acted in a coherent and co-operative way in order to take in the ideas of others, which have been welcomed across the piece.

There can be no denying that there has been a huge amount of scrutiny of the Bill and the powers within it. Among the topics raised on Third Reading was that of turnstiles on public toilets. The purpose is to do away with the need for toilets to be staffed and for the councils to retain the money that will come from the use of the toilets by members of the public. There is nothing new in that in many parts of London, but those toilets are often operated by private companies, as opposed to the public authorities. That will change, and it is important.

Another issue was the sale of cars on the internet. We dealt with that on Report, but it is important that we put on record now what it is all about. At present, if people sell cars on the public highway and put notices in the cars, that is an offence and action can be taken. However, if unscrupulous individuals do not put notices in the cars but just park them on the public highway and advertise them on the internet, no action can be taken. The Bill allows council officers to clamp down on that practice, which is a scourge on many London streets. The measure will be widely welcomed across London.

The Bill has been scrutinised on the Floor of the House, in Committee and in an Unopposed Bill Committee in another place. It adds to the nine previous Bills that London authorities have put through in order to give London boroughs greater powers to take action on issues that matter to Londoners. I am sure the Bill will be welcomed by London residents. They will see it as allowing action to be taken against those who disobey the law. I trust that visitors from the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch, for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who have all contributed to the debates, will not be upset by the outcome.

I thank the Minister and the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) in advance for their support for the Bill, and all 32 London boroughs and the City of London for their support. I trust the House will give it an unopposed Third Reading tonight.

I rise in support of the Bill. It is has taken a long time to get to this stage and, I must say, has received an astonishing amount of scrutiny. I am not sure that I would wish to thank the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) for his contribution in the way the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) did, but he certainly left no stone unturned in his scrutiny of the Bill, and he was ably assisted in that task by his hon. Friends the Members for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) and for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg).

The Bill is an important step. As the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) pointed out, it is supported by every London borough and, indeed, every Member of Parliament who represents a constituency in the capital. For that reason, I hope that it will receive an unopposed Third Reading this evening. It is very much in line with the Government’s call for greater localism and for local authorities to have greater self-determination, which the Opposition support.

The hon. Member for Harrow East dealt with a number of the clauses in his contribution. I think that there was a misunderstanding—if I may put it like that—from the hon. Member for Christchurch, who raised some concerns about the installation of turnstiles in public toilets. He also suggested that cars being parked on highways and then sold over the internet were not a major problem, but I know from the information I have received that local residents have on many occasions been put out by unscrupulous traders who are getting around the law by using the internet inappropriately, so I think that it is appropriate to enable local authorities to address the problem on behalf of the people who elect them.

Some clauses in the Bill have been lost, which I think is regrettable. For example, I think that it would have been helpful if the Bill still included the additional protections that were proposed for people living in houses in multiple occupation and the greater protections for restaurant users. Nevertheless, the Bill is worth supporting and, in view of the considerable scrutiny it has already been subject to, I hope that we will not be detained too long this evening and that it will be given an unopposed Third Reading.

I join all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) on the work he has done to promote the Bill—I am delighted to see him back in the Chamber in good health. I also congratulate and thank all hon. Members on both sides of the House who have contributed to the scrutiny of the Bill. I will certainly not detain the House for long. I have made it clear on previous occasions that the Government maintain a neutral position on the Bill, as is consistent with the conventions and precedents relating to Bills of this kind.

The issue that has been flagged up in the course of the debates we have had is the need for balance between localism, which is of course part of the Government’s policy, and a proportionate approach to regulation. If it is the will of the House that the Bill be passed, I hope that local authorities will exercise their new powers in a proportionate and considered fashion and am sure that they will do so responsibly. We want illegitimate behaviour to be dealt with but, at the same time, do not want the legitimate business activities of Londoners to be penalised. In so far as an attempt to strike that balance has been achieved, if the House considers that to be the case, the Government do not object to the Bill. It has been improved considerably by amendments, as has been observed, and a number of clauses that the Government could not support were removed on Second Reading. If it is the will of the House that the Bill be passed, subject to the aspiration that its provisions will be dealt with in a proportionate and responsible manner, as I am sure London Councils will, the Government do not object.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.