Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1969 May 8 Th
Margaret Thatcher

HC Standing Committee [Transport (London) (recommitted) Bill]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons Committee
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC Standing Committee A [470-494]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1110-1146. Extract from the Tenth Sitting. Where MT spoke to an amendment, the debate on that amendment is reproduced in full.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 4868
Themes: Local government, Transport
[column 470]

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Clause, Amendment (o), in line 103, leave out from ‘fine’ to the end of line 109. [column 471]

In line 109 one sees the words, “revoke the licence” . The object here is that any holder who contravenes the terms and conditions of his licence may be punished by fine and also may have his licence taken away.

I want to make two points. First, the revocation of a licence is a very severe punishment. Further, as I understand it there is to be no right to compensation for such a revocation of licence. If an operator has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on a car park—and it can be hundreds of thousands of pounds; underground car parks are very expensive—and expects to have that car park running for the next 20 years it will be absolutely disastrous for him if his licence is revoked without any compensation. That is too heavy a punishment for a breach of terms and conditions. Surely it could be dealt with by a fine alone, and not by revocation.

Mr. Brown

We believe that ample safeguards are provided against unjust or unfair revocation of licence under inspection. An operator's licence cannot be revoked unless he has first been found guilty in a court of law on more than one case. The authority revokes the licence only if it considers that the wilfulness of the offences warrant it. As a final safeguard, there is provision for an operator to appeal to the Minister under Part III of the new Schedule and the Minister may, if he thinks fit, quash the local authority's decision. We cannot accept the Amendment.

Mr. Heseltine

I seriously ask the Parliamentary Secretary to reconsider this point between now and Report. My concern is for the companies who are. likely to invest in off-street parking. There are people with available resources for investment who are bound to be at arm's length with the people operating car parks. It is necessary that there should be a continual outlet for this sort of private investment, where there is going to be a continuing demand in the future.

I agree that in practically every case safeguards exist which would make it very difficult for the licence to be revoked, but in the unusual instance of a group of circumstances coming together which brought about a revocation it would obviously be to the detriment not only [column 472]of the operator but, even more so, the person who has put up the cash to build the off-street parking unit. I would have thought that this fear of revocation, whilst unlikely, would be a marginal deterrent to people who would be expected to commit large sums of capital to this form of activity.

They will not be operating these car parks; they will merely lend money to companies who are going to operate them. The companies themselves will get the licences, and if they were to lose their licences the capital investment in their car parks could become quite valueless to those who put money in.

The Ministry may want to find some way of taking punitive action against those who wilfully ignore the conditions of the licence. There must be ways of doing that while also protecting those who have lent money to the operating companies and who are in all respects innocent of the wilful ignoring of the conditions of the licence.

I do not expect the Parliamentary Secretary to give me an answer now, but it is certainly a matter to which we shall have to return, because it would be plain crazy to prejudice continuing private investment because of people being frightened that they may have lent money to the wrong man, and that he may make a nonsense of it, as a result of which they could lose their money. I would have thought that it was alien to the concept of people financing capital investment if they were not able to get a charge on the capital investment which they have financed.

I would like to find a way whereby, if the licence of the operator was revoked, the people who had invested money would have some way of stepping in and protecting their investment against the security of the car park itself.

11.15 a.m.

Mr. Brown

The sanction is still vitally necessary, particularly in order to cope with an operator who might be tempted deliberately to breach the terms of his licence if he thought the profit he could make by doing so would more than compensate him for any fine that he might have to pay. The safeguards apply equally to people investing in car parks. People with an interest in a car park can appeal. That is the safeguard. I suggest [column 473]that the fact that there has to be more than one conviction before revocation of licence is a safeguard for people who have invested money in this type of thing—people who are removed from the actual management on the ground. But when there is a conviction and it is proved to be the responsibility of the management on the ground, the people who have invested their money in the car park will not have anything to worry about.

Mr. Heseltine

Let us take the unusual situation where the management has decided wilfully to ignore the terms of the licence, for the purposes of increasing profits. We have said that by removing the limit of £100, as the Amendment seeks to do, the fine procedure will be adequate to deal with that management. The Parliamentary Secretary says that there is sufficient protection for those who have invested money in the operation, because they can look to the management.

Let us be quite precise about this. What does that mean in practical terms? A car park is an asset which cannot be used for any other purpose. It has cost a great deal of cash and that cash will, in practically every case, have been lent to the company. The company has value in the asset only so long as it has a licence, and the moment it loses the licence, the asset becomes valueless.

The I.C.I. pension fund, or whatever it is, which has lent money to National Car Parks Ltd., knows that if anything goes wrong with the management of that company it could lose the whole value of its investment in the car park. This doubt must be in its mind when committing capital investment of this sort. In the last resort, if the management does let I.C.I. down, there is nothing that I.C.I. can do. It cannot foreclose on the car park, because it has to foreclose on the company—and the company has not defaulted in its payments of interest, or anything of that sort. If it does foreclose it does not automatically have the licence transferred to it. There is a very real danger here, and it must be sorted out.

I am not now trying to find some way of protecting the private operators who want to play fast and loose with the regulations. That is not my intention at all. I want to be sure that if I were trying to persuade somebody to invest in offstreet car parking with a company of this [column 474]sort—which I might, as an entrepreneur—I would be able to give him a first-class inalienable charge on the assets of the company, which would mean that I must be able to give him some sort of licensing rights in the event of the licensee defaulting. The position is very clear, and I am sure the Ministry must take the point very seriously.

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher

I want to ask the Bob BrownParliamentary Secretary one question. I may not have understood these provisions, but as I understood the hon. Gentleman a moment ago, he said that there would have to be more than one conviction. It does not look to me as if that is so. Subsection (9) says:

“Subject to subsection (14) … and on the conviction of the holder of a licence of an offence under this subsection the local authority may … revoke the licence.”

It looks to me as though it may happen on the first conviction. There is nothing to say that there shall be more than one conviction. In line 105 we read:

“and on the conviction of the holder the local authority may … revoke the licence” .

It looks to me as though it could happen on the very first conviction. There is nothing to say that there has to be more than one conviction. There has to be a conviction, upon which all of these consequences may then follow—and from the revocation there is no appeal to a court of law; the appeal is only to a Minister.

Mr. Brown

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to put right an error in my earlier statement. It is “one, or more, convictions” ; she is right. But clearly, this is a provision that the local authority would not lightly use. In the case of a conviction where nothing was really desperately, deliberately involved I am certain that no local authority would want to revoke a licence. Revocation would be reserved for an offence of a fairly serious nature.

Mrs. Thatcher

I am not satisfied with the Parliamentary Secretary's reply. The consequences of revocation are quite devastating. There is no compensation and there is no appeal to a court of law. If the Minister were to say that he would either provide for an appeal to a court of law upon revocation or see that compensation was paid to those who suffered by the [column 475-476]revocation we might look at the matter differently, but we feel rather strongly about it and I think that we ought to express the strength of our feelings by voting on this occasion.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

The situation is even worse than my hon. Friend has suggested. On summary conviction before the magistrates a licence can be revoked. A local authority can go before a magistrate and point to a breach of condition and can then revoke the licence. It does not even have to go to the High Court.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 8. Division No. 23]

Ayes

Berry , Mr. Anthony

Elliot , Captain Walter

Gresham Cooke , Mr. R.

Heseltine , Mr. Michael

Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret

Noes

Boston , Mr. Terence

Brown , Mr. Bob

Coleman , Mr. Donald

Fletcher , Mr. Raymond

Huckfield , Mr. Leslie

Lewis , Mr. Ron

McBride , Mr. Neil

Ogden , Mr. Eric

Question put, That the Clause, as amended, be added to the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 5. Division No. 24]

Ayes

Boston , Mr. Terence

Brown , Mr. Bob

Coleman , Mr. Donald

Fletcher , Mr. Raymond

Huckfield , Mr. Leslie

Lewis , Mr. Ron

McBride , Mr. Neil

Ogden , Mr. Eric

Noes

Berry , Mr. Anthony

Elliot , Captain Walter

Gresham Cooke , Mr. R.

Heseltine , Mr. Michael

Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret [column 485]

Brought up, and read the First and Second time.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Schedule, Amendment (a), in line 20, at end insert:

‘1A. The Council shall, at the request of any person interested, furnish to him a copy of the draft regulations upon payment of such charge, not exceeding two shillings, as they think reasonable.’

This is a small point, but there are many precedents for it.

Mr. Brown

It seems eminently sensible that the G.L.C. should be obliged to supply copies of draft regulations to anyone interested, but we want to go further than the Amendment. We feel that the G.L.C. should make their provision free of charge to anyone who requests them, and we therefore propose [column 486]to introduce an Amendment on the lines of this one, but without provision for a charge being made.

Mr. Heseltine

That is the most disgraceful reply that I have ever heard. Only a month ago, on the Floor of the House, we discussed a provision to raise the costs of Traffic Commissioners' Proceedings from, I believe, 1s. to 2s. 6d., and we had all the arguments about a reasonable cost for a reasonable service. Here we are given absolute nonsense. At a time when everybody is becoming more aware of costs the Ministry is going to refuse to permit the G.L.C. to charge 2s.

Even I could not claim that this is the straw that will break the camel's back of the national economy, but expressed as a principle—the principle of giving away something for nothing, for which it is [column 487]suggested a nominal charge of 2s. should have been made—this must be one of the most ridiculous things that the Government has done, since about Eleven o'clock.

We should press the Amendment, certainly on the Floor of the House. We must make it clear, on Report, that we are not prepared to accept that this should be given away free, against the wishes of the G.L.C.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman may have words in his ear from G.L.C. colleagues of his between now and Report—because the G.L.C. is quite happy with this proposal.

Mrs. Thatcher

It ought not to be. It ought not to be providing copies of draft regulations free. It is a specific service, for which those who require it should pay the proper economic price.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Schedule, Amendment (b), in line 25, leave out paragraphs 3 to 5 and insert:

‘3. If representations by way of objection to any of the draft regulations are sent in writing to the Council in accordance with paragraph 1(b) of this Part of this Schedule and are not withdrawn, the regulations shall not be made except with the consent of the Minister and the Minister, before giving any such consent, shall cause an inquiry to be held and subsections (2) to (5) of section 290 of the Local Government Act 1933 shall apply to any such inquiry as they apply to such an inquiry as is referred to in subsection (1) of that section, with the substitution for any reference to a department of a reference to the Minister.

4. The Minister may give his consent to the making of any regulations, where such consent is required under this Part of this Schedule, either unconditionally or in terms that he is prepared to consider consenting to the making of such regulations if a revised draft is submitted to him for the purpose incorporating modifications of a specified nature or in other specified circumstances; but where the consent of the Minister requires the submission to him of such a revised draft and he considers that persons other than the Council may be adversely affected by any variation in the revised draft from the terms of the draft regulations as sent to him pursuant to paragraph 1 of this Part of this Schedule, he shall require the Council to give and publish additional notices in such manner as he thinks best adapted for informing all persons so affected of the variation proposed and affording an opportunity to those persons of making further representations in writing to the Council before the expiration of such period to be specified in the said additional notices as the Minister may direct; and paragraph 2 of this Part of this Schedule shall apply with [column 488]respect to any such additional notices given and any representations made under this paragraph as they apply to any notice and representations referred to in that paragraph.’

The Chairman

With this Amendment we can take the following Amendments:—

Amendment (d), in line 65, leave out from ‘not’ to first ‘to’ in line 69.

Amendment (e), in line 71, leave out from ‘representations’ to first ‘of’ in line 72, and insert:

‘received by the Council by the date specified under paragraph 1 of this Part of this Schedule and (where the case requires) to any further representations so received pursuant to paragraph 4 of the said Part, as well as to the report of any person appointed to hold an inquiry under paragraph 3’.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Under paragraphs 3 and 5 the Minister has power to call in such of the draft regulations as he thinks merit special consideration. In this important matter there should be a proper inquiry procedure along the lines of planning and other procedures. It is not good enough for the Minister just to look at it and give his own consideration to it. I see no good reason for departing from the normal procedure, especially as we have already had an example of lack of consultation, on the original Clause 36.

Operators do not trust the Ministry in these matters, and would not like to see the Minister as the sole arbiter of their fortunes. I should have thought that there was every good reason to have a proper inquiry procedure, as there is in all planning matters.

11.30 a.m.

Mr. Brown

The Minister is not prepared to agree to the first point. Representations received against G.L.C. regulations might be trivial, or even mischievous. It would be ridiculous for the regulations to require the Minister's consent, and still more so for the Minister to be obliged to hold a public inquiry first.

The object of the call-in procedure is to give protection to persons concerned with the provision of car parking who may consider the regulations unjust, whilst avoiding the cumbersome procedure of Ministerial consent and automatic public inquiries in all cases where there are objections. The Minister is more sympathetic to the second part of this Amendment, and is prepared to consider it with a view to introducing a suitable Amendment to achieve this purpose on Report.

[column 489]

Mr. Gresham Cooke

In the light of that undertaking, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Schedule, Amendment (f), in line 87, at end insert:

‘otherwise than by reason of a happening beyond the control of the holder of the licence’.

The Chairman

With this Amendment we can also take the following Amendments:—

Amendment (g), in line 91, leave out paragraph 4.

Amendment (h), in line 103, after ‘has,’ insert:

‘otherwise than by reason of a happening beyond the control of the holder of the licence’.

Amendment (i), in line 109, leave out ‘two’ and insert ‘four’.

Amendment (j), in line 111, leave out ‘five’ and insert ‘ten’.

Amendment (k), in line 118, at beginning insert:

‘for any reason other than a happening beyond the control of the holder of the licence’.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

This series of Amendments deals with the period of the licence. We argued earlier that the building of a car park—given all the controls, the paperwork, and so on—can easily take five years or more. In those circumstances there should not be this very strict right for cancellation of consent in two or three years. There should be adequate safeguards for the licence holder.

There may be events beyond his control—floods, and all the rest of it—which affect construction work. We feel that this provision is too tightly drawn, and that there should be adequate safeguards for the licence holder, who may want to carry it longer than five years.

Mr. Brown

The Minister is not prepared to accept these Amendments, even if circumstances beyond the operator's control cause him to decide to discontinue the car park, or not to make a significant number of spaces available. If he makes such a decision and applies it over the period specified in paragraphs 3, 5 and 6 of Part II of the Schedule, it is right that the local authority shall be able to revoke [column 490]the licence. Otherwise a highly unsatisfactory position could arise from “dormant” licences accumulating and making it impossible for boroughs properly to assess the number of parking spaces to be allowed in new licences. This is much the same as a limited planning permission. However, there is nothing sacrosanct about the period laid down.

Mr. Heseltine

If there is nothing sacrosanct about the period laid down, will the Parliamentary Secretary consider extending it to, say, five years? That would make it almost impossible for circumstances to arise of the sort that I had in mind, which might prejudice the asset value of the car park.

In the event of the car park's being destroyed by fire, or something of that sort, it would be necessary for the owners to rebuild it. I assume that it would be necessary for them to get planning permission to rebuild it, since it would almost certainly involve modifications to the original plans. It would be necessary for them to put it out to tender, to get the bill of quantities taken off, and so on.

That might take a great deal of time. It might take more than two years. We have only to consider the possibility of large-scale development in the immediate vicinity of the car park making it necessary to reconsider whether the car park should be rebuilt. One would want the certain knowledge that one would have some sort of security in the event of one's going ahead with a larger-scale operation.

There are the obvious secondary dangers that arise from industrial unrest of some sort. That is unlikely, but we saw what happened with the Barbican site, where very long delays were imposed—quite beyond the control of the developers. That could prejudice a situation of the sort we have in mind.

If the Parliamentary Secretary will not accept our wording I hope that he will find other words to take account of our argument, or will extend the period to, say, five years when the administrative delays to which I have referred would make it almost impossible to finalise the matter in two years.

Will the Minister also bear in mind that this is one more hurdle over which someone trying to raise finance is going to have to go in explaining to those who are thinking of investing money in the [column 491]company. Potential investors must be sure that this is something that they can ignore, and that it will never happen.

Mr. Brown

We recognise the difficulties encountered in the development of this type of property, and some extension of the period might possibly be justified. But a period of five years seems unnecessarily long—and certainly ten years for the completion is out of the question. We might be able to consider the question of increasing the periods of two and five years to, say, three and seven respectively. I will not give any firm undertaking but I shall certainly discuss the matter further with my right hon. Friend.

Mrs. Thatcher

I am grateful to the Bob BrownParliamentary Secretary. Will he also consider the phrase which occurs several times throughout the Schedule:

“ … they may by notice in writing to the holder of the licence revoke it” .

It looks as if the revocation takes place instantly the notice is issued. Would it not be better for the notice to specify that unless the matter complained of comes to an end within a certain period the licence will be revoked? That point may be covered by another Part of the Schedule, but I do not think so, because the same Schedule refers to a specific case of twelve months' notice in writing. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would look at that point at the same time.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

In the light of what the Minister has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Schedule, Amendment (q), in line 162, leave out ‘either’——

The Chairman

With this Amendment we can take the following Amendments:—

Amendment (p), in line 162, leave out ‘or’.

Amendment (m), in line 163, after ‘authority’, insert ‘or the Council’.

Amendment (n), in line 163, leave out ‘each’ and insert ‘any’.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

We are now coming towards the end of the Bill, and [column 492]my hon. Friends and I want to show that we are very kind people. We have been accused of taking a tough line with the G.L.C. on many Amendments but I am happy to say that this one is calculated to assist it. The object is to give the G.L.C. the right to appear in inquiries as between a borough council and an appellant.

There will obviously be disputes between car parking operators and the local authority which will be referred to the Minister from time to time, but it seems to us that the G.L.C. also has an interest and should have a right to appear and put its point of view. These Amendments are put forward with a view to giving the G.L.C. the right so to appear in any dispute between a local authority and an operator.

Mr. Brown

We can go only part of the way to meet the intention of these Amendments. We see no reason why the G.L.C. should be entitled to demand a hearing or an inquiry into an appeal against a licensing decision by a borough. Such a decision is essentially a matter between the appellant and the borough, and it is for them, and them only, to request a hearing or inquiry if they so wish. If the G.L.C. were enabled to require a hearing or inquiry it could saddle the appellant or the local authority with the costs of such a hearing or inquiry, completely against their will. We think this unreasonable.

The Minister is happy to meet the other part of these Amendments, that is, to provide for the G.L.C. to be entitled to be heard at any hearing or inquiry held into an appeal when either the appellant or the borough has requested one. I give an assurance that the regulations to be made for the appeals procedure under paragraph 4 of Part III of the Schedule will provide for this, in the same way as the procedure rules for inquiries in planning appeals provide for certain other parties to be heard at such inquiries or hearings.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Half a loaf is better than no bread, and I think we have the best part of the half. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule added to the Bill.

Schedules 5 and 6 disagreed to. [column 493]

Schedule 7

Repeals

Amendments made:——

No. 92, in page 74, line 11, column 3, leave out ‘(1) to (5)’ and insert ‘(3)(a)’.

No. 94, in page 74, line 25, column 3, leave out ‘paragraphs 2(2) and 5(4)’.

No. 95, in page 74, line 28, column 3, leave out from ‘onwards’ to end of line 32.

No. 96, in page 75, column 3, leave out line 38 and insert ‘section 59(4)’.

No. 97, in page 75, column 3, leave out lines 53 to 56.

No. 98, in page 76, leave out lines 2 to 11.—[Mr. Brown.]

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Mrs. Thatcher

Sir Beresford CraddockSir Beresford, on behalf of all of us on this side of the Committee, I thank you for being such a delightful, charming and efficient Chairman. Although it has been a happy Committee, we think that you may feel that this has some connection with the ease, charm and co-operation which you have had from us all, and the lack of tempestuous nature.

Mr. Brown

I associate myself and the Minister with the remarks of the hon. [column 494]Lady. I am sure that the whole Committee is grateful, Sir Beresford, for the charming manner in which you have conducted our debates. You have been firm, you have been fair, and throughout you have conducted the business with extremely good humour.

I wish also to thank the Opposition for the co-operative way in which they have approached the Bill, giving us the opportunity to get it through Standing Committee as quickly as we have. Last, but not least, I pay tribute to my hon. Friends who, by their forbearance and self-denial, have facilitated the passage of the Bill. I am grateful for the timely and helpful interventions that there have been from time to time from this side.

11.45 a.m.

The Chairman

I thank the hon. Lady and the hon. Gentleman for their kind remarks. It has been a jolly Committee, and I am most grateful to all hon. Members for the way they have co-operated in getting the traffic moving so smoothly. Perhaps I may also thank our Clerk, Mr. Scott, for all the help he has given us. These gentlemen on my right, too, although they are there to keep the Minister in order, have also helped to keep me in order, and I am most grateful to them. Thank you very much indeed.

Committee rose at fourteen minutes to Twelve o'clock.

The Following Members Attended The Committee:

Craddock , Sir B. (Chairman)

Berry , Mr.

Boston , Mr.

Brown , Mr. Bob

Coleman , Mr.

Elliot , Captain W.

Fletcher , Mr. Raymond

Grant , Mr.

Gresham Cooke , Mr.

Heseltine , Mr. Michael

Huckfield , Mr. Leslie

Lewis , Mr. Ron

Marsh , Mr.

McBride , Mr.

Ogden , Mr.

Thatcher, Mrs.