Mr. Gresham Cooke
I beg to move Amendment No. 26, in page 43, line 37. at end insert:
Provided that such accounts as may be examined by any such person shall not include the general profit and loss accounts kept by the holder of the licence for the purposes of his business.
The Parliamentary Secretary will recall the discussion we had in Committee about the powers of inspectors to look at operators' accounts. The hon. Gentleman then said:
“I emphasise that the accounts” —
that is, the accounts to be inspected—
“are not the general profit and loss accounts but only the accounts which the operator will be required to keep by the conditions of his licence … There is no intention whatever that local authority representatives should have a general power to examine all books [column 147]and accounts, including those which a car park operator might keep for his own private business purposes” .—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 8th May, 1969; c. 461.]
The hon. Gentleman gave that excellent assurance. I have put the effect of it into words in this Amendment. I am sure that he will have no difficulty in accepting it.
Mr. Bob Brown
I wish it were as easy to accept the Amendment as the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) suggested. We are not, however, entirely happy about its wording, which might enable an operator to evade the inspection provisions by including all his accounts in his general profit and loss accounts.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want this type of facility to be available to an individual of questionable character operating a car park. The clear intention is that inspection should not include the general profit and loss accounts. I am instructed by the Minister to say that he will carefully consider when the Bill goes to another place how he can make the intention clearer.
I am grateful to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for accepting the spirit of the Amendment and for saying that he will see what can be done. We do not want the accounts to be open to inspection at all, but one-tenth of a loaf is better than no loaf.
Mr. Leslie Huckfield
At last the hon. Members for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) and Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) have given themselves away. They want as little surveillance of these matters as possible because they know that once an operator gets possession of derelict land and a licence he is in a very privileged position. Once he gets hold of a parking permit and permission to accommodate cars, often at exorbitant charges every day, the last thing that they want the taxpayers and ratepayers to know is how much profit he makes.
I disagree with my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I feel that since such privileges are to be conferred on operators of parking facilities in city centres, the first thing that we should know, apart from their charges, is how much profit they are making. I have always said that this kind of operation [column 148]should be confined to local authorities so that the benefit goes to the community and not to private speculators.
In so far as profit is made, the accounts will be available to the inspector of taxes and tax will be paid on it. The inspector is the proper authority for looking at accounts. We do not deny that in any way.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, because that serves only to substantiate my point; namely, that these operators are the sort of people who engage in a whole range of activities. National Car Parks, the favourite example of the hon. Member for Twickenham, operates not only car parking spaces but garages. If this concern is to operate facilities of this kind, it is vital that in the public interest people should know how much they are being milked and being used in making profits and how much those profits contribute to the general profits and losses of the company.
Mr. Gresham Cooke
I do not know why the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) should introduce these unpleasant accusations. I was trying to be friendly and helpful to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who had graciously done what I wished to be done in Amendment No. 25. He has acceded to the principle of Amendment No. 26. I thought that we were in a happy atmosphere.
However, if the hon. Gentleman wants to indulge in that kind of argument, there is plenty of time to do so. I could prove that the Bill is very bureaucratic and widely drawn and gives room for snooping by all sorts of inspectors if wrongly used. However, in view of the pleasant way in which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary dealt with the point, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.