§ Question again proposed, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
One of the advantages of legislation along the lines of the Lords amendment is that it would provide all local authorities with the opportunity to ensure that the generation of litter was more concentrated, and concentrated in areas where the authorities could provide litter bins, notices and so forth which would go some way to enlist public cooperation in this major problem.
That aspect of the matter should not be forgotten. The Minister said that the Government's attitude has been con 1568 sistent, and I do not contradict him on that, but there is a genuine problem here, and it is one which should most properly be dealt with by general legislation rather than local Acts. Even at this late stage, I ask whether we could agree to include something along the lines suggested by the other place.
The problem remains serious. The Minister spoke of the danger of road accidents and so on, though perhaps there is not at this stage very much evidence on that score, but the other arguments relating to unfair competition between those who are trying to adhere to the hygiene rules and those who may not be making the same effort, and to litter spread at random along the verges of roads, afford strong reason for our keeping this matter closely in mind and returning to it at an early opportunity.
§ Mr. Speed
I endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). We are a little disappointed at the Minister's attitude, although, to be fair to the Government, they have been consistent both in Standing Committee and in the other place. The Minister will recall that my hon. Friends and I supported a clause of this kind in Committee. The new clause was moved in the other place by my noble Friend Baroness Young, and it was there carried.
I understand that after withdrawal of the clause in Committee in the House of Lords 47 metropolitan counties were asked by circular letter from the Association of County Councils whether they had in their existing Acts powers similar to those which we are now discussing and, if so, what use they had made of them. They were asked also whether they were in a position to exercise such powers if they were included in the present Bill, as the other place subsequently decided.
I understand that most of the 47 counties circulated by the Association of County Councils replied within a fortnight, which indicates the seriousness with which they view the subject. Of the 36 counties which replied, 24 said that similar powers already existed in local legislation. There is a discrepancy between the number given by the Department of the Environment and the number shown up as a result of the inquiries, and I think that this arises because some of the metropolitan counties and other counties merged or were amalgamated under the reorganisation of 1974. I should add that 18 of the 24 counties having the powers said that they made substantial use of them.
As my hon. Friend said, there are several problems here. He paid specific attention to litter. There is the road safety problem also. I do not overstress it, but it is none the less there. There is certainly the matter of hygiene, and many counties, especially of those on holiday routes, for example, in the South-West of England and my native county of Kent—which I believe to be the Minister's native county, too—where we have many cars passing down to the Channel ports, experience a genuine hygiene prob- 1570 lem, especially at this time of year. There is also the question of amenities, which is of particular concern to the national parks, as well as the problem of unfair competition, to which my hon. Friend referred.
I am certainly not one to wish this House or the other place to pass more and more petty legislation or to drive out bona fide free enterprise traders, but the fact is that a lot of the competition represented by roadside traders is unfair because the existing trader in the town or village has to pay his rates and his rent or he has his investment in the building, and he has to conform with all kinds of hygiene and other regulations. It is difficult for a cafe owner, for example, to understand why in some cases a county council is unable or unwilling to act when, from the point 3f view of hygiene and various other matters, roadside traders can apparently carry on in defiance of the law.
We have to be careful that we do not take an enormous mallet to kill what is a small fly, although it is an important one. Is there not some way in which we can perhaps save local authorities and counties the trouble of having either to promote or to add to private legislation? That is why I intervened with the Minister when I did.
There is a problem for the Home Counties, for counties on holiday routes and counties on routes to the Lake District and Scotland. Even at this late hour, I hope that the Minister and his advisers will look at this matter again. I assure him that the Association of County Councils, a reputable and highly responsible body, has been in touch with me about this matter today. Good arguments have been used both in this House and in the other place about this matter. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will take a fresh look at the problem.
§ Mr. Guy Barnett
This has been a very useful debate, and the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) and the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) have made a number of well-justified points. They mentioned, for instance, the problems of hygiene and of litter. I am in full agreement that we have a certain amount of nuisance as a consequence of 1571 small traders. On the other hand, I think it is right for me to put the positive side because it has not perhaps been put to the degree that it might have been during our brief debate.
Some of those who provide the services provide good and useful services to drivers, whether lorry drivers or tourists. The clause would impose a complete ban—the House should be aware of this—on all trunk and principal roads throughout the country, apart from certain general exceptions and specific exemptions issued trader by trader. The House must be a little careful before it takes on board a clause of this kind. The duty of considering the applications made by each trader would be thrust on all the counties whether they wanted it or not. That would inevitably involve a measure of bureaucracy. In addition, the House must realise that there are serious problems of enforcement.
I recognise that there are problems. The hon. Member for Hove mentioned litter. That problem results not only from small traders. The hon. Member will agree that a great deal of litter outside football matches would be no argument for abolishing football matches, although it is a nuisance.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
I am sure the Minister will accept that, on the whole, football matches which generate litter take place in known locations on known occasions. Will not the Minister look possibly for legislation which would introduce a degree of control that would not perhaps go as far as requiring every individual trader to be licensed, so as to reduce the degree of bureaucratic intervention to which he has referred?
§ Mr. Barnett
In my first speech I mentioned the highway legislation which covers the person who trades at the side of the road. There is still a certain problem of enforcement, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman would recognise, whatever form of legislation we have.
I have said that this is a useful debate, and I have been asked by the hon. Member for Ashford to have another look at the matter. I shall do that, because I take seriously certain problems mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. I recognise that in cerain parts of the country, particularly Kent, the problem is diffi- 1572 cult because of the degree to which that county is used by tourists and lorry drivers, as we both well know. On that assumption, and with the commitment that I shall look at the matter during the recess, I hope that the House will agree that the clause ought to be rejected.
§ Question, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment, put and agreed to.
§ Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.