If you have plans to fry fish in Gloucester or beat your carpet along Blackpool promenade or transport a dead horse through Hammersmith and Fulham, you should know all these activities are still subject to local bye-laws. But this may be about to change, with the announcement today by Local Government Minister Grant Shapps of plans to give councils a new power to review and revoke outdated bye-laws.
A bye-law is a set of rules made by local government for the "regulation, administration or management of a certain district, property or undertaking". They tend to deal with specific matters and apply to all persons within the area or organisation to which they relate – and only those persons.
They have, historically, been the means whereby local government has been able to take local circumstances into consideration, without recourse to the full weight of Westminster law-making. They has also been, as safety valve, the requirement that they be passed under specific empowering legislation, and be signed off by the relevant Secretary of State.
But no more. The view from the Coalition is that this involvement by central government is burdensome and unnecessary. Local authorities should find it easier to scrap outdated laws: they should also be allowed to use local law-making powers as a means to deal with local problems.
Thus, as David Cameron suggested earlier this year, it should be open to local councils such as those in the Greater Manchester area to ban cheap booze using a bye-law. Other issues, such as skateboarding through shopping centres, might also be subject to the passage of local bye-laws.
In a statement today, Shapps said: "It should not take a rubber stamp from central Government to scrap outdated local laws.
"For far too long, councils have had to jump through hoops just to get things done for residents. That's why I want councils to use this new power I am offering them, and keep a watchful eye out for outdated rules that will soon be so much easier to scrap.
"But people should also be free to contact their council with their concerns and have them addressed easily, so councils should also look to set local byelaws that improve their area - with no ministerial involvement whatsoever.
"This is part of wider Government plans to devolve power straight from Whitehall to Town Halls and to communities, so they can improve the quality of their area for themselves."
Is this true devolution and a necessary tidying up of outdated laws, or a charter for busybodies and control freaks to regulate the minutiae of our everyday lives? From early next year, parliamentary timetable permitting, we are all likely to find out. ®