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Manchester City Council Bill [Lords](By Order)

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 12 June 2008

Order for Second Reading read.

Before I call the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd), I should inform the House that although we are dealing principally with the Manchester City Council Bill, it will be in order for Members to refer, where appropriate, to any or all of the six Bills listed on the Order Paper.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Following your ruling, can you intimate what will happen at the end of the proceedings? Will the Bills be voted on seriatim, or will they be voted on together?

While a blocking motion is in place, they will not be voted on at all. We will see how the debate proceeds, but the position is not as it would be if we were discussing private Members’ Bills. This is a different procedure, and the blocking motion prevents the Question from being put on the Second Reading of the other Bills.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I suppose I should congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) on his assiduity in managing to bring us six Bills for the price of one—a six-for-one offer of which many street traders would be proud.

I shall try to be relatively brief. The Manchester City Council Bill and the five other Bills on the Order Paper seek to achieve a number of common purposes. There are slight variations between them, but essentially their purpose is to control street trading in six geographical areas, and to deal with a point of contention by regulating in a way different from that specified in the Pedlars Act 1871. The role of pedlars is, I think, the meat of the argument.

Let me deal first with the way the Bill affects licensed street traders. In my city, the council has to a large extent worked in tandem with street traders, who are licensed under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 and work within the framework of that legislation. On occasion, however, matters of concern arise. From time to time, it is obvious that even those with legitimate street trader licences are operating outside the spirit of the Act. The council is now asking for a power that already exists in London, Liverpool and a number of other cities: the power of seizure and forfeiture of goods that are being sold against the clear interests of the general public, such as counterfeit goods or goods that simply do not do what the traders claim that they do.

Can the hon. Gentleman be more specific about the type of goods involved? As we know, many pedlars sell a vast range of goods. Is the hon. Gentleman referring to white goods, goods brought in from overseas, or goods that are potentially illegal?

Any of those might be involved. I should emphasise, however, that I am not yet talking specifically about those who use the pedlars licence. I am talking about those who apply for street traders licences. The distinction is important, as the meat and drink of the Bill applies to pedlars.

One of the other councils bidding for a change in the rules is Leeds city council. It is controlled by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, so I think there is some political consensus on the matter. I understand that it is possible to obtain a pedlars licence from the police for £12.25, and then go to sell goods not in Leeds but in Blackpool. Would it not be better if the council controlled its own streets, and could use the street trading laws to regulate what is sold on the streets to ensure fairness for everyone in the vicinity?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, but I shall come on to the specific question of pedlars shortly, as I first wish to clarify the situation concerning those using the street traders licence.

Seizure and forfeiture are specific powers that are used in, for example, London to clear away the unregulated—those who abuse the street-trading licence system. The example is often given of hamburger and hot-dog sellers who operate in a way that is inconsistent with the licence and that causes public nuisance.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that anybody who regularly crosses Westminster bridge, as I do, would recognise the weakness even of seizure and forfeiture, because there are hamburger stalls on that bridge almost continuously, yet they do not seem to be seized or forfeited?

I cannot, of course, speak on behalf of Westminster or Lambeth councils—I am not quite sure where in relation to the dividing line between them on the bridge these rogue traders operate—but the power does exist across London. The hon. Gentleman is assiduous in putting forward his points of view, so I am sure he could raise this matter with the Westminsters and the Lambeths in order to make sure they use the powers they have. I join him, however, in saying that the powers should be used—and Manchester, Leeds, Canterbury, Bournemouth and others want these powers under the street trading legislation.

The second change to normal street trading would be the issuing of fixed penalty notices. They have been found to be useful to prevent acts such as littering. That is a relatively light penalty in the grand scheme of things: it does not revoke licences, but it does allow the local authority to have the control to prevent unnecessary public nuisance and to bring to the attention of traders the need to conform properly to their wider social duties.

The final significant change in street trading licences is the extension of the current definition of simply “goods” to “goods or services”. In my city, an issue has arisen to do with the provision of services such as teeth whitening. Many people think that, regardless of whether the provision of teeth-whitening services on the streets is desirable, that ought to come under the same form of regulation as the sale of goods such as wristwatches on the streets. Bringing in parallel provision for services and goods is a simple and necessary step, and I hope that there is agreement on it.

I cannot resist rising to say something about teeth whitening. There is ample legislation to deal with that through trading standards and in other ways. Let me explain what I find curious about the hon. Gentleman’s position. There are a very few councils that wish to extend their powers—penalties and so forth—but the majority of the councils in this country do not. I know that the hon. Gentleman represents Manchester and this is a Manchester Bill and he probably feels obligated to carry it forward, but has he not questioned why just a few councils want to do this, and the rest seem to be able to manage?

There are a few councils before us today, but there is an increasing demand for these issues to be dealt with through national legislation rather than individual private Bills. Although six councils have applied for these powers today, London, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Medway, Maidstone and the whole of Northern Ireland have already sought equivalent powers. The hon. Gentleman refers to there being just a few councils, but if he adds up the total population base of those before us today and those who already take these powers, he will discover that we are talking about quite a large slice of the country—and, more importantly perhaps, a large slice of those conurbations that see themselves as being affected by, and attractive to, those who want to use, and are occasionally prepared to abuse, the street licensing system.

Perhaps I could add to that point. The problem for a number of councils, including Canterbury city council, which I represent, is that disproportionate numbers of pedlars have descended on the city and at times in the summer our high street is completely blocked by vast numbers of them. Given that all three parties are now nominally committed to localism, surely allowing local authorities the power to have a dispensation in these matters is a good thing.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, which partly answers the question asked by one of his colleagues a few moments ago. The real issue is not why so few or so many councils want this power; it is that, where councils want and need this power, there is great sense in ensuring that it is available. That is what we are debating today, and I am delighted that this clearly is not a party political debate—it is a debate that joins together Members from across the Chamber.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the reason I proposed my Pedlars (Street Trading Regulations) Bill is because, apart from the six Bills before the House today and the seven that have already gone, there is, according to the Private Bill Office in this place, potential for 50 more of these Bills to be introduced? The Local Government Association has conducted a survey on my behalf, and we have received 74 responses from local authorities that very much want a Bill of this kind.

That is a helpful piece of information. Of course, my hon. Friend has played a significant role in trying to get this concept at least debated in this Chamber and more generally.

Perhaps it would be opportune if I were to turn to the area of greatest interest: the role of pedlars. The Pedlars Act 1871 gives a wonderful definition of a pedlar as

“any hawker, pedlar, petty chapman, tinker, caster of metals, mender of chairs, or other person who, without any horse or other beast bearing or drawing burden, travels and trades on foot and goes from town to town or to other men’s houses, carrying to sell or exposing for sale any goods, wares, or merchandise, or procuring orders for goods, wares, or merchandise immediately to be delivered, or selling or offering for sale his skill in handicraft”.

Even the strongest promoters of the role of the pedlar would accept that that definition is a little out of date and antiquated; it refers to a time long gone. However, the legislation that regulates pedlars is that Act of almost 140 years ago.

I concede a point to the hon. Member for Christchurch, who I know has taken a keen interest in this matter. I do not want the remarks that I make today to be construed, in any sense, as dismissing the role of all pedlars, because there are pedlars who are perfectly legitimate traders seeking to provide a small service that adds colour to all our streets. I accept that the danger, as with any piece of legislation, is that we might make this legislation too heavy-handed. We do not want it to drive out the role of the genuinely desirable pedlar within that context. When Bournemouth borough council and Manchester city council presented their Bills to the upper House, they both gave certain undertakings about their recognising the need to treat with a light touch the role of those legitimate pedlars.

It must be accepted, as the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) said a few moments ago, that in some circumstances pedlars abuse the licence. Some pedlars operate way beyond anything either for which the pedlars licence was intended or even that it is accepted in modern times as trying to achieve. Pedlars can be a nuisance on our streets and, because of the way the pedlars licensing system operates, they operate in a very different way from legitimate street traders.

A pedlars licence can be obtained virtually anywhere in the country by anyone claiming to have good character and who is resident in the area for no more than one month. I am told that the checking by the police, who issue pedlars licences, is minimal and the concept of “good character” is not properly defined. Any pedlar given a licence in any part of the country can move to any other part of the country with the same licence and operate as a pedlar. That means that pedlars operate under a very different framework from those with street traders licences. First, the pedlars licence is massively cheaper, and some may say that that is an advantage. Those with a pedlars licence have a commercial advantage over street traders, and that is seen as unfair by those who operate market stalls or who have proper street licences. They not only pay a bigger fee and make a contribution to the community more generally, but accept a tighter framework of regulation on their operations, in accordance with local need.

The hon. Gentleman seems to be attacking the Greater Manchester police authority for not complying with its statutory responsibilities in respect of the issuing of pedlars certificates. Can he tell the House how many pedlars certificates Manchester police have issued in the past year? In Dorset, by contrast, thorough checks are made on people who apply for pedlars certificates, so it may be an issue for the police rather than for Parliament.

It may be a matter for the police, but in my city the problem is that it is not necessarily the Greater Manchester police who issue the pedlars licences to the pedlars who peddle on the streets of Manchester. I am delighted to learn that pedlars in Dorset are reliably checked, and no doubt we welcome every Dorset pedlar on the streets of Manchester. It may be that the pedlars who cause the nuisance and who run off with their goods when approached—and when asked if they pay tax, run even more quickly—are not from Dorset, but from other areas where the character check is not as rigorous as that performed by the estimable Dorset police force.

The hon. Gentleman is making a cogent case. Is not the real problem that, whatever one’s view of pedlars—under the present legislation they are entitled to peddle—it is very difficult to bring a prosecution against someone who abuses the rules? They have to be monitored and warned, and it is time consuming and expensive for any police authority to bring a prosecution against them. It is therefore very difficult under existing legislation to do anything about the small number who bring the rest into disrepute.

The hon. Gentleman is right and that is the nub of the problem. Let us accept happily that many pedlars operate in a way of which we would all approve. However, there are those who abuse the pedlars licence in various ways, such as by their trading methods or by selling items of dubious value. The innocent customer may be unable to obtain redress in the event of product or service failure, because the pedlar is long gone by the time the product is found to be defective. Sometimes, as in my city and, obviously, in Canterbury, the individual’s behaviour is assertive or aggressive—or the collective behaviour of a group of pedlars leads to the same level of social deterioration. In any case, it is difficult to enforce any sanction under the present legislation.

The police do not see this as a priority. In my city, they are quite busy with a number of other issues. It is more appropriate that it should be for the local authority to enforce the legislation through other means, but they need the power to do so—

The hon. Gentleman has left the most important example off his list, although he mentions some valid problems. Pedlars are meant to be mobile, but many stay in one place. A council can take a view on how many street licences it should issue, but then finds that many people claiming to be pedlars stay on its high street, and that is the problem.

Again, the hon. Gentleman moves me on to my next point. That is what is unfair about the pedlar who abuses the system. Stall holders who pay business rates, operate in a proper framework of regulation and demonstrate a proper desire to work with the local authority and the wider community face competition, which they accept goes with the street trader licence, albeit that the licence carries fewer overheads and all the rest. Street traders and shopkeepers find themselves disadvantaged when they are in competition with the pedlar, who has no regulation and can effectively sell what he wants because of the almost total lack of control that we have discussed. The problem in all that is that the ability to control the pedlar is minimal.

Although the concept of peddling is, in common-sense terms, one of constant movement—the door-to-door trader, or even the person who walks the streets with helium-filled balloons or miniature kites, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) is concerned about—the person with the fixed stand on wheels has to move only every 20 minutes, as case law has demonstrated. As long as the stall is effectively mobile enough to move a matter of yards down the street, the person can avoid the street trader legislation and, as a pedlar, producing a peddling licence, can say, “I am operating within the technical limits of the law.” The technical limits of the law are not fair to the proper street trader or stall holder.

Has not my hon. Friend put his finger on one of the major logistical problems of enforcing the legislation as it stands, which is keeping track of whether pedlars are moving every 20 minutes or not?

In the end, that is the real issue. Do we really want the police to spend huge amounts of time chasing round and checking after 19 minutes and 59 seconds whether the pedlar has moved far enough away to guarantee that they fit the framework of the Pedlars Act? Of course, it would be nonsense to ask for that to be done. Both the local authority and the police would end up spending massive amounts of time, sometimes intensely in short bursts, to try to rectify a problem that would simply come back again as soon as the intense effort disappeared. That is central to the case.

I am interested in the genesis of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill. When he originally discussed it with his council, did he discuss the alternatives? Has he discussed the alternatives with those on his Front Bench? Would it not have been better to bring forward national legislation to deal with the problem across the entire country rather than dealing with it one council at a time? Surely if we deal with it one council at a time, we could be merely transporting the problem to a neighbouring council.

Both parts of the hon. Gentleman’s question are legitimate. That would be desirable, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister is listening to that plea, which he will hear from all sides of the debate. The most sensible way forward is to have a national framework. It is better in any case, because—let me be honest—I would not recommend the private Bill process to anybody. It is arcane and difficult and it gives disproportionate influence to those who oppose the Bill. They are right to exercise that opposition—I am not complaining—but it would be better to have the debate in the context of a national framework, which could allow local variation. Not all local authorities would need to buy into it if they did not want to—it would not be mandatory. A national framework would be better.

To pick up on that point, a general law, of which the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) is an example, would allow councils to adopt that measure through byelaw. It would allow secondary legislation to create a national model and it would increase transparency for those itinerant traders who move across borders. They would not know whether there was a law enacted, but they would know what type of law it would be if it were.

The hon. Lady is right and what she says very helpful, as it shows that there is joined-up, cross-party agreement on the need for action. I hope that the hon. Member for Christchurch and my hon. Friend the Minister will accept that there is no downside to our moving forward together on this matter.

Is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am about the utter waste of public money involved in all this? Each of the Bills before us costs its local authority about £100,000, given the amount of their officers’ time that is taken up. The one for Newcastle is alleged to have cost nearly £200,000.

If anyone could do the calculation faster than I, it would be my hon. Friend. An awful lot of pedlars licences would have to be sold to get back the £100,000 that it costs to promote such a Bill. It would make a lot of sense not to go through the private Bill procedure and to have national legislation instead, but at the moment we have a patchwork: some authorities have got their private Bills through the House already, and, as has been noted, many more are in the pipeline. The private Bill procedure is not a sensible way to introduce common standards of this type. A different approach would be better.

The hon. Gentleman is being very convincing. He has convinced me that we should drop these Bills here and now and look to the Government for some national legislation. The financial savings would be enormous, and we would not be puzzling over the reasoning now.

I am reasonably grateful for that intervention. If the hon. Gentleman could promise me that he will persuade my hon. Friend the Minister to agree to what I am proposing before the end of today, I would cheerfully go along with him. In the short term, however, I must keep my promise to the beleaguered citizens of the city of Manchester and its good traders—whether they are shop traders, street traders or pedlars—that we will introduce proper regulation to deal with rogues by pursuing the private Bill before us.

The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful argument. I hope that we get an opportunity later to speak to the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, which is very similar to the one for Manchester. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) is about to leave the Chamber, but before he does so I hope that I can convince him on the need to rely on local legislation in the absence of proposals from this Government, or from the Conservative Government who will follow after a general election. Each council that has to put up with illegal pedlars has to pay out far more than £200,000. Every prosecution costs at least £1,000, but each pedlar who is found guilty is fined only £100. Does my hon. Friend—I mean the hon. Gentleman—agree that that is absolute madness?

I can be the hon. Gentleman’s hon. Friend today, that is okay. Of course I agree with him, and he is right to say that the problem facing the people of Bournemouth exactly parallels the cases described by the hon. Member for Canterbury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (John Battle), and others. Exactly the same problem affects my own city.

I hope that I have done enough to show how the changes proposed in Bill will have an impact on street trading, and I am pleased that we have begun to debate the specific difficulties to do with pedlars.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has told the House why he favours this Bill. In the interests of balance, will he say why some people in Manchester have petitioned against it? I believe that they include a Mr. David Murphy.

As far as I am aware, there has been one petition in relation to Greater Manchester. It was presented to the other place, when the Bill was being considered there. The petitioner—quite rightly under our procedures—had the opportunity to be heard by Members of the other place, and it is important that people who object to a proposal are able to make their case there. In fact, I think the individual named wanted to get rid of the parts of the Bill dealing with pedlars.

I understand the arguments for pedlars and the arguments of those who seek to defend the rights of legitimate small traders. None of us wants them to disappear. As I said, the sellers of mini-kites and those who add fun and flavour to a hot day by selling children’s balloons cause little nuisance and none of us would want that activity to be snuffed out. However, we want recognition that some people with a pedlars licence abuse the system—people who grab their goods and run down the street quickly when approached by the local authority. Such people are difficult to apprehend and control. They are engaged in activities that are not in the public interest; they sell inadequate goods and services and offer no redress to the customers they short-change. They operate in a way that the right hon. Gentleman would not countenance from traders in shops in his constituency. He should not expect the people of Canterbury, Bournemouth, Leeds or Manchester, or any of the areas that already have the powers or want them, to forgo regulation simply from the romantic view that all pedlars must be a good thing—they are not.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who is being generous in giving way. May I press him a little more on the situation in Manchester? The Bill applies only to the city of Manchester. He did not answer my question about how many pedlars certificates had been issued by the Greater Manchester police authority. In fact, I can provide him with the answer—204 were issued last year. Were the hon. Gentleman’s Bill to become law, those pedlars would not be able to operate in the city of Manchester with the freedom they have enjoyed hitherto, but they would be able to operate elsewhere in Greater Manchester. Will that not merely transfer the problem, just as under the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill problems in Bournemouth would be transferred to Poole or Christchurch?

I think I should allow the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) to answer the question about Christchurch.

The city of Manchester is the centre of a conurbation and an historical retailing hub, and it is the place that is the most attractive to pedlars. There is an out of town shopping centre—the Trafford centre, which is quite well known—but it is private property and no pedlar would be able to enter it to operate as a pedlar. One of the anachronisms in the legal status is that where people may be a real or potential nuisance, a private shopping space can refuse to allow them on the premises—the Trafford centre almost certainly would—but in public spaces, such as the city of Manchester, there are no regulations for moving pedlars on, whatever nuisance they cause.

I accept that there are decent pedlars whom none of us would want to snuff out, but there are others who abuse the system in all the six areas whose Bills we are discussing. The rogue pedlars—the difficult pedlars—not only give a bad name to those we want to support, but they cause great public nuisance either simply by their presence or by their unacceptable trading activities.

The hon. Gentleman has obviously looked closely at the potential impact of the legislation. Other places have introduced similar legislation, so can he describe its impact there to help some of us on the Conservative Benches to make up our minds? How many pedlars in the Manchester area have had their licence revoked, for example?

It is not really a question of revoking pedlars licences. The point has been made several times, but I will repeat it for the hon. Gentleman’s consideration. It actually does not matter how many pedlars licences are issued by the Greater Manchester police, because the people who peddle in Manchester may come from Dorset, Devon or Northumberland. A pedlars licence is national, which is one of the difficulties, because although it is necessary for street traders to be licensed locally, a pedlars licence can apply anywhere.

When a trader is licensed locally, there is local control—the sort of localism of which most people in the House would probably approve. With the pedlar, that localism does not apply—people with accents rich and varied from the many parts of this great nation of ours can come into Manchester. The problem is that among them are the people who sell dodgy watches, counterfeit goods and goods and services that simply do not work and rip off the public, or the people whose behaviour—through aggression or simply through sheer volume—is unacceptable.

That problem has been controlled in areas where the powers have already been taken, such as here in London. Despite the concerns of the hon. Member for Christchurch about Westminster bridge, be there nothing so fair, the truth is that the powers have been used successfully, for example, to control pedlars and to prevent their setting up hotdog and hamburger stalls, which traditionally caused a nuisance in this city.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for being generous with his time, but I do not understand one aspect of what he says about rude or aggressive people or people who sell illegal things. The Bill will not stop that. Those people will simply continue their trade and run away even faster when the police or trading standards officers come to get them. That has been proved in London and elsewhere, where the problem has continued. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) said, I think—I may be taking words out of his mouth—that 200 traders come to his constituency from overseas, mainly from Poland and so on.

An awful lot of traders come from overseas, including Poland. I correct myself; it was my fault, not my hon. Friend’s. That situation will continue regardless of the legislation before us. It will happen anyway, will it not?

If there is a properly recognised local licensing scheme, whereby individuals have to apply to the local authority in the area in which they seek to trade, it will give the local authority significantly more power to determine who is there. If the hon. Gentleman is asking whether such a scheme will prevent the person who operates without a licence coming in, I should say that it will not of itself prevent that. However, it will give the local authority clear powers regarding the circumstances in which such people can be moved on.

The current problem is not the person who operates without a licence, but that, very cheaply and easily, people can obtain a pedlars licence and purport to trade sensibly. It is very difficult for the local authorities to control under the law as it currently applies.

I thank the hon. Gentleman again for giving way—he is being very generous with his time. Is he not concerned that in Manchester, for example, an annual street trading licence costs £625 a year, whereas a pedlars licence costs, I believe, £12.25? A severe blow could be dealt to somebody who is trying to go about an honest and honourable business.

I am concerned, but not necessarily for the reason that the hon. Gentleman invites me to be concerned. I am concerned because the legitimate street trader, who in Manchester pays £625 and operates in conformity with the rules and regulations agreed by the local authority and the street traders, is in competition with somebody who does not conform to those standards, who undercuts the street trader and who operates more marginally with respect to regulation. In those ways, the hon. Gentleman draws attention to an important point: the unfairness is not necessarily against the pedlar who might face an increased licence fee, but against the street trader and the shopkeeper who face competition that, on occasions, is more than a little dubious. The hon. Gentleman rightly draws attention to that economic impact, but in almost the opposite way to that which he intended.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene once again. Is there not another issue in Manchester, whereby the local authority would want to restrict trade by any trader in a particular location, perhaps because it was dangerous? The authority could prevent people who have a street trading licence from trading there, but not pedlars.

That is correct. In fact, in one part of my city, there is an agreement with the street traders that there is no street trading at all. The street traders accept that, but of course, there is no restriction on the pedlars. They therefore become a nuisance to the extent that those same street traders invade areas that are designated and accepted as being for other purposes.

I have opened this debate and we have already had a lively exchange. I hope that that the hon. Member for Christchurch has been reassured about the intention behind the Bill and that his remarks will be more succinct than they would have been had I not given way to him and his colleagues. That would be appropriate, given that Members from other parts of the country whose Bills are before Parliament today want to say a few words.

I shall resume my seat having said this: I really hope that the House will accept that although issues such as the need to protect the good pedlar may unite us—although we may be divided on how to do that—the most appropriate way to move forward is to let the Manchester and Bournemouth Bills, which have been petitioned against, go through the special Committee process and to let the other Bills go forward to the unopposed Bill Committee, as they are not objected to. In that way, proper examination can take place of the merits of the Bills, which would allow those with doubts to pursue them in a way that allows proper examination.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Earlier, he made a point about costs. If what he has just described happens, it would mean that council tax payers in the boroughs involved would incur expenditure that could be avoided if the Minister made a statement that this would all be taken back by the Government and that there would be national legislation.

I am glad that I am bringing the hon. Gentleman with me, at least on part of the issue; I look forward to his joining me completely. Yes, I hope that the Minister can announce some way of making progress nationally, as that would give significant help to most of us, but I am not sure that I expect such an announcement today. If it happens, I shall be very happy. If not, those linked to the six private Bills and the areas to which they refer will legitimately want progress to be made in this Chamber—today, we hope—so that a more intense debate can take place in the parts of our parliamentary scrutiny processes that can get to the meat and drink of how we regulate and in a way that is consistent with all our ambitions.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Has Mr. Speaker received notification from the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) about whether he has taken the Chiltern hundreds or any other office of profit under the Crown?

I am afraid that I am unable to assist the right hon. Gentleman in that respect; I have no such knowledge. As and when there are developments, I understand that they will appear in the Votes and Proceedings of the House.

For the sake of complete accuracy, I should add to the ruling that I gave in response to the point of order raised earlier by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). I assumed that he was referring to what would happen to the Bills if the three-hour period had been completed, and the advice that I gave was correct in that sense. However, if proceedings on the first Bill that we are discussing were completed within the three-hour period, and before all the time had been exhausted, it would then, of course, be possible for the House to proceed to the second and subsequent Bills. I hope that I have made the position entirely clear.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you clarify something that arises out of what you have just told the House? Are you saying that, if the debate on the Manchester Bill were concluded before the allotted time, you would allow us to debate the other Bills, or that you would seek to put the Questions on the other Bills?

If the proceedings on the first Bill had been entirely completed, there would be scope for further debate on the other Bills in such remaining time as existed. I hope that the matter is now clear.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your clarification. I apologise that I was a minute late for the beginning of today’s proceedings. Obviously, I want to support the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill. When should I speak on that? Should my contribution be part of the discussion of the Manchester City Council Bill, or should I wait until the business on that has concluded?

I gave a ruling on that at the very outset. The Bills are being debated together, so it would be perfectly in order for the hon. Gentleman to seek to catch my eye at any time.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I oppose the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, and not the others. The six Bills before us are all slightly different. Would it be in order to speak now about the difference between the six Bills?

I am glad that I have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am mindful of the fact that the sponsor of the Manchester City Council Bill, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd), is present; I congratulate him on opening the debate. My hon. Friends the Members for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), and for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) are here to represent their areas. The right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) and the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) are here as they have an interest in Leeds. I do not believe that anyone connected with Nottingham is present. [Interruption.] I had forgotten; importantly, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) is here to represent the interests of Reading. I congratulate all of them.

The private Bill procedure being used by the House today is arcane. For the sake of absolute clarity, it is totally different from the private Member’s Bill procedure. I have great knowledge of private Bill procedure, because within a fortnight of coming to this place, I was approached by my party’s deputy Chief Whip, who asked what I was doing in a fortnight’s time. Rather naively, I said, “Nothing in particular.” He said, “Then I’d like you to serve on the Committee considering the British Waterways Bill.” A year and a half later, we were still debating that private Bill, so I understand what is involved in the procedure relating to the private Bill that the hon. Member for Manchester, Central has brought before the House.

I also understand the great difficulty that the local authorities involved face in trying to get their Bill enacted under that arcane procedure. Probably one of the greatest services that we could do those local authorities, the House and the country today is to try to press the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to hold an overarching review of the way in which the market system works. The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) did the House a huge service by introducing a Bill under the private Member’s Bill procedure. Unfortunately, his Bill faltered, but I think that he was on the right lines. He wanted an amendment to section 3 and schedule 4 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 to regulate the problem across the country. Previous private Bills on the same subject that have been enacted did exactly that. They—and, on the whole, the six Bills before us—insert the provisions of the Pedlars Act 1871 in paragraph (2)(a) of schedule 4 to the 1982 Act, so that pedlars are included in the schedule. I think that that is what the Bill of the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East sought to do.

With his legal mind, my hon. Friend has gone right to the heart of the issue. What he says surely explains the debate that we have had across the Chamber on national versus local. The problem is that there is a piece of national legislation that rides roughshod over local rules and regulations. That is why, locally, we have to find a way of getting round the problem piecemeal, although the most sensible thing to do would be to have a national framework that allowed each council to decide what to do locally, on this matter and on others.

My hon. Friend is exactly right. Today, if we get a commitment from the Minister, we will have advanced a huge amount. I suspect that the sponsors speaking for the councils involved would then not be too upset if their Bill fell through.

A host of people are trying to intervene on me. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East, was first.

If the Minister today supported the seeming consensus that there should be a review of the legislation, would my hon. Friend be willing to take up the issue in 2010, when it is clear that there may be a change of Government?

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend on two counts. I can assure him that I have the utmost confidence that there will be a change of Government, whenever the Government choose to call a general election. On the assumption that we will assume government shortly, I can give my hon. Friend an assurance that we will want to look at the problem in the round, with a view to deciding whether a change in legislation is appropriate.

If the Minister were willing to do some work on the issue now, it would not be in vain because we would pick it up after a general election.

My hon. Friend has pressed the Minister, and I am confident that the Minister has some good news for us. It would be very useful if the Government did the right thing, which would save us the job when we come into government.

On a serious point, if the hon. Member for Manchester, Central is right that there are in the pipeline up to 50 more Bills similar to those that we are dealing with today, all of which the Chairman of Ways and Means will have to find time for, I do not know how the House will deal with them, not to mention the cost to those 50 local authorities. Given the cost of the six Bills before us, it would be much more sensible for the Minister to initiate an overarching review of the process. I press him strongly on that and hope he will have some good news.

A picture is developing over the days and weeks. Earlier we debated dangerous dogs and although the critique from those on the Opposition Benches was first class, all the Opposition promised was a review. The hon. Gentleman’s critique so far is first class, but all he is promising is a review. What role will the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) play in influencing the outcome of that review?

That is a little unkind. The hon. Gentleman should address his remarks to his hon. Friend the Minister, who is in a position to do something about the problem. I am in a position only to offer prospectively to look at it. I am sure we will be able to do that.

My hon. Friend is aware that Bills on Newcastle upon Tyne, Liverpool, Leicester, Medway, Maidstone, the whole of Northern Ireland and London have already passed. They are all slightly different, as my hon. Friend knows. Will the framework agreement mean having to ask all those councils and the Greater London authority to scrap all that, go back to the drawing board and start again?

My hon. Friend asks me a technical question. My own view on the matter is that if we reviewed the framework on a national basis, most of the private Bills would be unnecessary and would be revoked. As I said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Manchester, Central, it would be much better to deal with the problem in the round, on a national basis, for a number of reasons—partly because some of the miscreants can go from one place to another, get a certificate for £12.50, undercutting all the street traders, whose average licence costs £500, £600 or £700, do a bit of peddling in one place, say, in Manchester city, and move on somewhere else close by, do their peddling and, if they are of that bent, cause a problem in another area. The problem must be dealt with in the round, or it causes distortion and moves the problem from one area to another.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his major policy announcement. When the policy is developed, will he ensure that he has with him a transcript of the debate on Radio Solent this morning, in which it became apparent that there is tremendous public sympathy for lawful pedlars? There would be much concern at his remarks about almost making miscreants equivalent to lawful pedlars. Rogue traders and lawful pedlars are two different categories.

I regret to say that I cannot listen to every local programme, so I was not able to listen to the programme from the Solent, but when the study is undertaken I have no doubt that those undertaking it will want to pay close attention to the transcript of Radio Solent’s programme.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, as I wish to make it clear that we on the Conservative Benches and, I am sure, the Government and the Liberal Benches as well, do not in any way want to stigmatise lawful pedlars. I make that clear. It is only the small minority who cause a nuisance. It is they who have caused us all to be here this afternoon. That is the problem that we need to deal with.

Will my hon. Friend not be blown off course by the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) because it is quite clear that a review is the way forward? If we are to legislate, we should do so on the basis of evidence that has been properly collected and collated, not merely on the basis of the whingeing of a few chief council officers who are unhappy about not getting their hands on the fees paid for pedlars certificates because they were bought elsewhere.

My right hon. Friend’s remarks are very important. I can assure him that we will not be blown off course by anybody. We will want to take evidence from anyone who wishes to give it to us, frankly, including—and I am absolutely certain of this—my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, who is a great expert on this subject and will no doubt have a great deal to say in giving evidence.

Much has been said about pedlars. One fairly easy way of dealing with the problem is to include them in a schedule, which in my view would give a local authority a power, not a duty. In other words, each local authority would have the power to take action against pedlars if they caused a problem in their area, but they would not be obliged to do so. We should look carefully into that.

It is interesting in that context to look at the Pedlars Act 1871. It may come as a surprise to most people—it certainly came as a surprise to me—that this Act, drawn up more than 100 years ago, contains a definition that is effectively the nub of what we are debating today. I refer to section 3 of the Act:

“In this Act, if not inconsistent with the context, the following terms have the meanings hereinafter respectively assigned to them; that is to say,—

The term ‘pedlar’ means any hawker, pedlar, petty chapman, tinker, caster of metals, mender of chairs, or other person who, without any horse or other beast bearing or drawing burden, travels and trades on foot and goes from town to town or to other men’s houses, carrying to sell or exposing for sale any goods, wares, or merchandise, or procuring orders for goods, wares, or merchandise immediately to be delivered, or selling or offering for sale his skill in handicraft”.

That is a wide-ranging definition and the opportunities for mischief within it are correspondingly wide.

That is why I say to the hon. Member for Manchester, Central that it is very difficult to bring a prosecution—precisely for some of the reasons that he adduced—because it means watching people. Somebody—the police or somebody else—has to watch such people, see how long they stay in one place before moving on, ensure that the goods they sell are of merchandisable quality and that they do not abuse the street-trading regulations. They must be genuine pedlars. I gather that they have to be warned at least once and if they commit an offence a second time, which involves more monitoring and more watching, the police may be able to bring a prosecution. It would be interesting to know from the Minister how many prosecutions have been brought for contraventions of those market laws, not only by pedlars, but by other market traders. We should remember that these Bills deal with market traders as well as pedlars.

My goodness, I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson), who has not intervened before.

Will my hon. Friend explain exactly what he means when he talks about local authorities having the power, but not the duty, to act in these cases? Does he mean council officers going out and seizing goods; does he mean informing the police; does he mean informing trading standards officers? What exactly does he mean?

My hon. Friend will be aware that a number of Acts contain powers for local authorities to do things, but not duties to do so. What that actually means is that if the proper standing orders and resolutions were passed in their particular council, an authority would be able to make use of an Act’s provisions, which, as I have argued, should be overarching. Those provisions will be framed in such a way that the councils will be able to regularise the activities of pedlars and other market traders along the lines that I have suggested. We do not want to make it an absolute duty on every local authority to have to exercise those powers if they do not wish to do so. For example, if the councils of some of my hon. Friends, perhaps including my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East, feel that they have a problem, they would have the ability to exercise regulatory powers against pedlars and other market traders, but they would not be obliged to do so.

The powers, as I have said, are currently contained in that definition of pedlars. The problem, as has been amply demonstrated, is that pedlars can get a certificate for £12.71 on very little evidence of good character and then peddle in any area of the country they want. That is fine if they do the job on a genuine peddling basis, but if they misbehave—and the opportunities for misbehaving under that definition are huge—it is difficult to prosecute.

One of the definitions in the six Bills, which are all slightly different, is of “perishable goods”. What happens if perishable goods are seized by one council, but another council has a different policy? The person concerned will sue the council that has seized the goods, because they will have a right to do so. Until we sort out that mess and a framework is put in statute, the difficulty will be people not understanding what they are meant to be doing and therefore having recourse against the council.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He, too, is a great expert in the subject, so I am sure that he has read the transcript of the Opposed Private Bill Committee in the other place. Noble Lords touched on that precise problem, which is one reason why it needs to be dealt with nationally, so that it is quite clear how goods that are seized, and perishable goods in particular, have to be dealt with. That would probably involve keeping them in cool conditions for up to 24 or 48 hours, to allow for appeal, after which they would be destroyed. However, those are matters that we would want to take evidence on in our overarching review, to ensure that the proposal was workable.

My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. The fact that a genuine pedlar applies for a licence in one part of the country and during the year trades in another is not of itself offensive or behaviour that should be outlawed. Does he accept that he inadvertently misled the House when he said that a pedlar can get a certificate with very little evidence of good character? As I understand it, the police check their database when an application is made. It is not for the applicant to prove his character. If the police see that he does not have a record, he clearly is of good character.

My right hon. Friend makes a number of points. I stress again that we on the Conservative Front Bench—and, I am sure, those on the Government Front Bench—do not in any way wish to stigmatise pedlars. Those who go about their business in a lawful way are fully entitled to do so. The problem is that those who cause a nuisance are likely to be shifted from one area to another. If they find that the policing regime in one area is too onerous, they will move to another area where the police are overstretched and do not have time to deal with the problem.

Although he did not actually say this, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch indicated that the Manchester Bill applies only to Manchester city. If the Manchester city police were to police the matter rigorously, the pedlars and other street traders—we are not talking about just pedlars—would move on to Greater Manchester or nearby areas. That is the crux of the problem and why it is so difficult to deal with the problem locally.

My hon. Friend is in danger of misleading himself about the complexity of the law relating to pedlars. It is the view of Philip Hyde, in his seminal work “Local Authority Licensing and Registration”, that the law in this area is pretty clear.

The law may be clear, but I am sure that the learned gentleman to whom my hon. Friend refers has not said that it is easy to secure a prosecution against someone who has committed a crime.

I will happily give way, but for the last time, as I want to give other hon. Members a chance to speak.

The hon. Gentleman’s exchange with the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) is interesting because the problem is that the pedlar’s behaviour can be perfectly legal but still amount to nuisance. The issue is not the law’s lack of clarity, but its lack of effectiveness in giving remedy to communities that suffer the excesses of those pedlars who are indifferent to their needs.

The hon. Gentleman made a particularly interesting point in his speech: when the definition of pedlars in the 1871 Act was framed, people were much less mobile. There were no motor cars; one could not simply hop in a motor car and go from Manchester to Bournemouth and cause a nuisance there. We live in a totally different age and face a different problem from the one faced by our forefathers when the Act was introduced.

The hon. Gentleman made the interesting point in his previous intervention that one or two or even half a dozen pedlars might not cause a nuisance, but if several hundred pedlars are present in one point, which I understand is the issue faced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East, the scale of the problem is very different. Pedlars are also a problem, even if they are acting within the law, if they undercut the lawful competition of ordinary street traders. As has been said, a pedlar can get a pedlars certificate for £12.71, whereas the average licence for a street trader is between £500 and £700—a different order of magnitude. Different laws apply to street traders from those that apply to pedlars. On the whole, the law for pedlars is easier than the law for street traders, which is quite onerous in many respects.

If the Bills fall today, will the Minister undertake on behalf of the Government to have a comprehensive, overarching look at the whole issue of street trading, including market traders and pedlars, with a view to bringing forward legislation when time allows? Does he agree that dealing with the matter on an authority-by-authority basis is unsatisfactory, for the reasons adduced in the debate today—notably, the distortional effect and the different regimes encompassed by each individual local authority Bill? If he will undertake a review of the whole subject, how long does he expect that to take, and when might he conclude a review and bring forward legislation? If we can get solid answers to those problems, he will have moved the whole matter forward. The House would then congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East on having originally raised and tried to solve the matter on a national basis, which is surely the approach on which the Government ought to make progress. We look forward very much to hearing the Minister’s comments.

It is a genuine pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), whose opening remarks reminded me of the one previous time that I engaged seriously with private Bill business. It was on the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill and a particularly traumatic experience, because a combination of the chief executive of the City of London and my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) ensured that that Bill took an awfully long time to get through the House. As a result of that formative experience, I have studiously avoided private Bill business up to now.

Nevertheless, it is a pleasure to represent the Government in this debate, not least for the opportunity to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd). I was almost tempted to say that he made an extremely cogent case for the Bill that he sponsors today—I say “almost tempted” because, as he will understand, it is a tradition that Governments do not offer views on private Bills. That, and the fact that he lumped me in with the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), makes me hesitate to endorse completely the points that he made. Nevertheless, he dealt with many of the points that Opposition Members raised with him.

The Government have reflected on the opinions set out in letters to my Department from town centre managers and bodies representing licensed street traders, and on how the proposed legislation might alter the framework of law that affects street trading, and indeed the very old statute that relates to certified pedlary. I understand why some local authorities favour the changes set out in the Bills, and I recognise that some face particular difficulties with street trading. It is true that some of the difficulties may be caused by certified pedlars, but difficulties may equally be caused by traders acting outside either street trading or pedlar legislation.

Unsurprisingly, some of the views stated in the debate echo the sentiments expressed by some noble Lords who contributed to the debate on the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill and the Manchester City Council Bill last November in the other place. As has been made clear, a number of interested parties believe strongly that there should be additional national street trading legislation.

As well as the views expressed on one side of the debate, other views of course need to be considered. I am sure that some hon. Members have constituents who make their living as certified pedlars and whose livelihoods may be affected by changes to the law. Equally, some constituents whose interests are represented by hon. Members will benefit from the activity of legitimate pedlars. Their views must also be considered.

As I made clear, it is not my role to offer a view on behalf of the Government on the contents of the private Bills. It is my specific role to confirm my view that the Bills’ promoters have undertaken a full assessment of their compatibility with the European convention on human rights and that we do not see a need to dispute their conclusions.

The hon. Member for Cotswold and, I suspect, one or two others raised the specific issue of the number of similar private Bills affecting the regulation of licensed street trading and certified pedlary. Seven private pieces of legislation affect street trading in addition to the Bills under discussion. However, hon. Members should bear it in mind that that is in the context of 410 city and borough councils in England and Wales. In saying that, I acknowledge that further similar private Bills may be introduced later this year. In addition, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) has led a campaign, including through the private Member’s Bill that he has introduced, for a national street trading Act, creating additional local authority powers to regulate street trading and pedlary.

The evidence at the moment for national legislation across all 410 local authority borough and district councils in England and Wales remains unclear. I have no doubt that there are particular problems in some areas, as some hon. Members have alluded to in the debate. However, it is not clear whether they are spread nationwide. In principle, it is our view that they are local matters best tackled in communities by local authorities.

Is the Minister saying that the matter is to be dealt with by local authorities and that he will therefore endorse the Bills? If he is saying that there is not enough evidence for a national decision to be made and a national Bill to be put through, how does he square the circle with the fact that some areas of Britain—namely places such as the whole of Northern Ireland and, indeed, London, Medway, Liverpool and Leicester—have already had this legislation? We find ourselves in a strange position that surely needs to be reconciled.

What I said was that the evidence in favour of national legislation is still unclear. As for our view as a Government, I have made it clear that the Government have no particular view, as is traditional in the case of private Bills.

The Minister says that it is unclear whether we need national legislation, and I agree that a uniform piece of national legislation giving all councils these powers immediately may not be what is required. However, enabling councils to adopt the powers by means of secondary legislation—a byelaw, for example—would allow local decision making while also maintaining a transparent framework.

Clause 2 of my private Member’s Bill would give local authorities the power to adopt the measures in this Bill in the way suggested by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather).

As I said earlier, my hon. Friend has led a very effective campaign in favour of national legislation, but I repeat that my view and that of the Government more generally is that the evidence is unclear.

What evidence does my hon. Friend need to be persuaded of the validity of the case? As has been pointed out, some authorities are already able to exercise the powers sought by the six that we are discussing.

My hon. Friend’s point is similar to the point made by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather), although he made it in a different way. If he will allow me to make a little progress, he may welcome some of what I am about to say.

We should not forget that local authorities are already able to tackle illegal street trading, and street traders selling counterfeit or dangerous goods. Last November in the other place, Lord Bach observed that enforcement officers already undertake activity to regulate the streets. In practice, that means that they can conduct initial advisory discussions with unlicensed traders, that they can counsel those traders to obtain the necessary licence or pedlars certificate, and that they can—and do—tell them the consequences of continuing to trade outside the law. They can take action resulting in a fine of up to £1,000 against a persistent unlicensed trader who has already been subject to oral and written warnings.

Last November, the Government introduced the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill. Part 3 will, where appropriate, allow local authorities and other regulators to impose a range of administrative sanctions as an alternative to criminal prosecution when enforcing existing legislation. The Pedlars Act 1871 is within the scope of part 3, and the new powers—including, in particular, fixed monetary penalties—could be used by local authorities as an alternative to prosecuting those involved in pedlary without a licence. When implemented, the powers in part 3 may reduce the need for the promotion of individual private Bills.

I have reflected further, however, on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East, on the debate in the other place back in November, and on the fact that, as a number of Members have made clear, there is considerable—albeit not uniform—interest in further powers throughout the local authority world. As a result, I have initiated a research project led by Durham university, which will consider the current position, whether the existing powers are sufficient, albeit underused, and what—if any—different powers would be useful to the tackling of problems relating to street trading in our towns and cities.

Should the evidence resulting from that forthcoming research project demonstrate that there is a case for national legislation, we will assess the options available to us. Towards the end of the year, we will publish a report on the Department’s website setting out the research findings and the Government’s views on the appropriate next steps. It would not be right for me to commit to national legislation before we have the evidence base to justify the case for that. It is clear that there are particular problems in particular areas, which is why a series of local authorities have brought forward individual Bills to deal with the problems that they feel exist in their areas. It is for the House to take a judgment on the merit, or otherwise, of those Bills.

The announcement the Minister has just made is, of course, welcome, but can we be clear about the ground rules? The central problem with pedlars is that they are supposed to move but some of them choose to cluster in very large numbers at a limited number of locations, thereby effectively acting as street traders, not pedlars. I urge the Minister to say that if it can be shown that a number—albeit, perhaps, a small minority—of areas have a problem, that should be sufficient grounds for moving to the sort of national framework for which many Members on both sides of the House have called?

As I have said, we will be conducting research. The hon. Gentleman raises a fair point, and the Durham university researchers who will be conducting the research for us will, of course, want to refer to our debate today. I will make sure that his point, and other specific and important points that other Members have raised, are drawn to the researchers’ attention.

I am sure that the whole House will welcome the Minister’s remarks as a significant indication of progress. Nevertheless, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) raises an important point. Few people argue for national legislation in the sense of uniform legislation from one end of the country to the other. Most people argue for a national framework that allows for local variation. In that context, it would be helpful if the Minister could ask the Durham university research team to look at specific problems, and it would also help if they were to look in particular at the geographical areas under discussion in today’s six Bills. Will he draw their attention to the fact that they can consider as part of their conclusions the need for variation within that national framework, so that, for example, Manchester does not need to have the same framework as Reading or Bournemouth, if that is appropriate?

I assure my hon. Friend that all the points made in today’s debate will be drawn to the researchers’ attention. We are asking them to build the evidence base—to take a look across England and Wales at what powers are already available and whether they need to be changed. It will then be for the Government to reflect on the evidence that Durham university collects. I have no doubt that there will be continuing interest in the House both on what is drawn out as a result of that research work and on how we go forward if there is indeed a case for further action.

Although the Minister’s announcement goes some way towards beginning to address the problem, the process sounds very long-winded. Meanwhile, certain local authorities have a real problem. They are involved in huge expenditure in bringing these Bills before the House today, and that has a public expenditure implication. This is still a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. What does the Minister intend should be done in the interim while his research is taking place?

We hope that the research will be completed by the autumn and, as I said, we expect it to be published on the Department’s website by the end of the year, so that interested parties, including Members of the House, can examine it. If there is sufficient evidence of a national problem, clearly the Government will have to reflect on what further action, if any, they should take. I recognise the need to draw the evidence together to see the scale of the problem. As is perhaps the situation now, it might be found that there are particular problems in particular places and it should still be the responsibility of individual authorities to make a judgment as to whether they need extra powers.

In initiating this national review of the evidence base by Durham university, I am not seeking to cast aspersions on the case that the sponsors of the Bills are making today. It is for the House to reach its own judgment, in the traditional way, on the case that each of the Bills makes, and the Government remain neutral. As I have said, I recognise the concerns that have been raised, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East, who led in that regard, and we shall look at the national situation. I have made it clear that the evidence base remains unclear at the moment. We are seeking to clarify that by launching the research project in the way that I have described.

I must press the Minister a little more on this matter. Seven local authorities have gone through this arcane and tortuous private Bill procedure, six Bills are before us today and we are told that a further 50 are in the pipeline. That has huge public expenditure implications and it also demonstrates the size of the problem. To follow up the question asked by the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell): how much more evidence do we need? Local authorities would not be spending taxpayers’ money on a whim; they would not be doing that unless they thought that they had a real problem. So, the Government have a problem and I ask the Minister the question again: how much evidence does he expect Durham university to be able to produce to convince him that there is a national problem that needs addressing?

With respect, I point out to the hon. Gentleman that there are some 410 local authorities in England and Wales, and nothing like close to a majority of them are seeking to introduce private Bills. On occasion, when local authorities have particular problems, it is for them to consider what actions they can take to deal with those problems. That is the principle of devolution and the principle behind the legislation that enables local authorities to take the specific actions required in their areas. Nevertheless, I recognise that there is a case for examining whether there is a need for national legislation and for examining the national evidence base. The evidence is unclear, which is why we are seeking to clarify the situation.

Could the Minister let the House know whether he has received any representations from the police asking him to make any changes in law of the nature that are being proposed today?

All sorts of people have made representations to us, and I have no doubt that representations of all sorts will have been made to the promoters of the Bills before us today. I also have no doubt that Durham university will want to draw on a range of sources in pulling together the evidence base for deciding whether to take further action.

The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) was not present at the start of the debate, so if he will forgive me, I shall not give way to him. I shall, however, give way to the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger).

Will the Minister draw the researchers’ attention to the Macrory review of November 2006, many of whose recommendations the Government have accepted? It addressed statutory obligations and tightening up the way in which statute on the regulation of the likes of pedlars and on the penalties is used and enforced. Does he agree that that should be a starting point?

As I have made clear, the whole of this debate will be drawn to the attention of the researchers, and the point that the hon. Gentleman makes will be taken into account in the work that they do.

I hope that I may help my hon. Friend and the House. When the Manchester City Council Bill was considered in the other place, representatives of the Greater Manchester police gave evidence in support. Their view is not untypical of police forces throughout the country, but it would be helpful if the Durham research team were specifically charged with researching the police’s view and whether they want to be rid of this duty because they now regard it as a burden.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) will welcome that intervention. On my hon. Friend’s specific point about the police helping the researchers with the evidence base, I should make it clear that we want those researchers to seek out every possible source of evidence to help to draw their analysis together.

In 1999, Westminster council had a private Bill to deal with this problem, with the result that people moved 10 yd further down Westminster bridge, so that they were in Lambeth. It was 2004 before Lambeth brought forward a Bill to sort out the issue for the whole of London. The history of this goes back nine or 10 years. I hope that the researchers will look at the tensions between legitimate pedlars, who have certificates, and street traders, who think that they are being priced out. The knock-on effect needs to be addressed.

From my research in preparation for this debate, I recognise the considerable history behind this issue. I take my right hon. Friend’s point about the legislation that has been introduced previously. The points that have been made in this debate will be made available to the researchers. Ultimately it is a decision for the Government, in the first place, and the House, more generally, as to whether we need to take further action after we have seen the conclusions reached by the researchers.

As I have made clear, the Government’s view is that the evidence base remains unclear. We are seeking to bring clarity to the issue, and that is the specific task of the Durham researchers. The research will be made available to all Members and those outside who are interested through publication on the Department’s website.

Will individuals and organisations be able to gain access to the researchers to provide them with evidence, and will the Minister publish the terms of reference for the research?

Work will formally commence soon, and we will make the details available on the Department’s website. I hesitate to commit the researchers to meeting every individual who wants to give evidence, but if the hon. Gentleman knows of individuals who want to provide evidence, he should tell them that they can write to the Department and we will ensure that the letters are passed to the researchers.

I commend the Government’s position to the House and I take this opportunity to encourage local authorities, hon. Members and other interested parties to engage with our researchers to help us to establish clearly the national evidence base for this situation.

I support the passage of the six Bills today, and if the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) presses his blocking motion to a vote I shall oppose it.

I share the concerns that Members on both sides of the House have expressed that this is not the most sensible way of proceeding, given the sheer number of councils that have either brought forward private legislation or, as the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) said, might have plans to do so. As I have said several times during the course of the debate, a national framework, as suggested by the Conservative spokesman, would seem most sensible and would meet the Minister’s concerns about giving local authorities the priority to decide what they wished to do in their area. It would give the councils the flexibility to adopt the legislation through a byelaw. That would add extra transparency, which is a concern when there are so many slightly different variants. If they were wildly different, it would make it easier for itinerant traders to understand the differences between areas, but because they are only slightly different, especially as there is an issue about whether councils adopt any legislation, it can be confusing. The mark of good legislation should always be that it is easy to understand whether or not one is complying with it, and that is very important.

The hon. Lady, with her eagle eye, will have spotted that the Minister said that if the research found there was a “national problem”, the Government would consider whether they needed to act. As has been reported, the problem is by its nature likely to be local and possibly sporadic. The research will not find a national problem, but that does not mean that there should not be a national framework of the type that she describes.

That is why it is important for the Minister to publish the terms of reference for the research. I hope it will be flexible enough to allow the Minister to make a decision on passing national legislation that enables councils to adopt the power or not, regardless of whether the problem is national. From the representations that have been made today, it is clear that the problem is concentrated in particular areas. The Minister needs the flexibility in his decision making.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) explained the procedure for applying for a pedlars licence and how it differs from the process of applying for a street traders licence. Obviously, the licence differs in cost, but it also differs in terms of the relative stringency of the criteria that people are required to meet and of the body that enforces action against the person applying for the licence. That is one other point that has not been brought out in the debate so far.

Has the hon. Lady had any representations on the inconsistency of pedlars certificates? They vary from one police authority to another and when enforcement action is taken careful checks have to be made on whether the certificates are genuine or not.

I had not heard that. Another issue for a council trying to take enforcement action is that a pedlars licence might have been issued somewhere else. Although a council might have a good relationship with local police, it might not have such a close relationship with the police on the other side of the country, who might apply the criteria slightly differently. That makes it difficult for councils to take enforcement action against a pedlar who might be breaching the law.

The Conservative spokesperson also spoke about the difficulty of enforcing action against pedlars who are breaking the law. There are a number of reasons for that, one of which has been referred to by the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East. The criteria are uncertain. That was certainly an issue that Brent council mentioned to me. Obviously, there is a different legislative framework in London, but the council told me of the difficulties that it had had because it was unclear how the courts would interpret the definition of a pedlar. The hon. Member for Manchester, Central spoke about meeting the letter of the law if a pedlar moves around every 20 minutes. My council explained the difficulties caused by a pedlar who might move to the other side of the road in the afternoon, and say that they were moving around. For councils, because of the expense of taking action and the uncertainty of the criteria that courts might use, it is very difficult to decide whether to take action against a pedlar who is effectively operating as a street trader.

There are also wider issues. The hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) mentioned that the pedlar might operate entirely legally but be trading somewhere where the council might want to regulate that activity. The problem may not be that the law is being broken but simply that councils want to regulate what is happening in their areas. For instance, a pedlar might be causing an obstruction or inconveniencing people—or, as has been mentioned, it might be dangerous to trade in certain locations—but it is impossible to take enforcement action against someone with a pedlars licence.

The Minister took solace in the fact that a Bill going through the House means that financial penalty notices could be issued to pedlars. However, pedlars are by their nature itinerant, so would it not be extremely difficult to enforce that procedure?

I agree. That Bill is about to enter Committee, so there is a lot of detail to be worked out. A pedlar may not be breaking the law, which is why these Bills have been brought forward, and why the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East wants to tighten the definition of “pedlar”. The Government supported the London Local Authorities Act 2007 because it tightened that definition, with the result that people are exempt only if they trade from home to home. The aim of all the different Bills is not to outlaw pedlars but to make the definition much tighter, so that people who effectively operate as street traders are brought within existing legislation.

We in London already have the benefit of that legislation, as I said, and my local council has told me that it has made a difference to how it can deal with problems in the borough.

I do not represent a London seat, but does the hon. Lady have any idea how many prosecutions there have been in Brent? How many people have been prevented from trading? What has happened to perishable goods? Other hon. Members have asked many similar questions this afternoon, so does she have any information on these matters?

I am afraid I have not done that sort of research, although I can give anecdotal information from my area. Perhaps the Minister might be willing to provide that information, and I am sure that his Department will be able to collect it.

Wembley stadium is in Brent, and the major football tournaments that are played there regularly cause problems with people trading illegal goods. Brent council had a particular problem during Euro 96, when pedlars with licences from Newcastle were trading in fake goods and other illegal wares. When the council seized the goods, the people selling them were able to come back the next day because they had pedlars licences from Newcastle. As a result, it was impossible for the council to take effective action. The pedlars caused a nuisance to local people, and made the area very unsightly.

I am very interested in what the hon. lady is saying, but has she found out whether the people involved were prosecuted? If they were, they would never be able to get pedlars certificates in the future because they would not be considered to be of good character.

The people involved were itinerant. The fact that they came from somewhere else, constantly moved around and did not give clear identities made it almost impossible for Brent council to prosecute. The council said the law as it stood was completely unworkable, but it is confident that the new provisions will enable it to deal with people in a different way. For example, people who trade in one place—in this case, outside Wembley stadium—are classed as street traders, and that makes it much easier for the council to take the action that local people want it to take.

The aim is not to criminalise all pedlars. The ones who operate effectively as street traders are being brought under the street trading legislation, and that is what most hon. Members present this afternoon are asking for. No one wants to criminalise people who sell from house to house: the aim is to bring those who do not conduct their business in that way under existing street trading law.

I support the Bills before us, but I have a couple of detailed concerns about the way they are drafted. As with similar pieces of private legislation, they allow councils to hold seized goods for up to 56 days before proceedings must be instituted. That contrasts with the legislation that applies to London, where local authorities are allowed to hold seized goods for only 28 days. They can hold vehicles for only two days, unless a repeat offence is involved. If goods are held for eight weeks without proceedings being instituted, or even an undertaking that they will be, there is a danger that the procedure is the punishment. That is not good legislation, so we need to iron out those details. Perhaps the wording can be changed to ensure that authorities have a duty to release goods as soon as there is a decision not to proceed. There are many ways of dealing with the situation—it is just a matter of detail—but it is of concern to me.

The Bill has no provisions in respect of an appeals procedure. Normally, fixed penalty notices allow a person to discharge their liability for conviction for an offence by paying money to an authority. There are examples in many pieces of legislation, such as the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990, and the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, which provided for penalty notices for graffiti and fly-posting. In all those cases, individuals can discharge their liability for conviction by payment, and if they want to appeal they can do so through the criminal courts. Parking offences are a different matter as they are, in effect, decriminalised and a civil offence: there is an appeals procedure through local councils, and enforcement action can be taken through civil courts if people do not pay their fine. There is a tribunal system and ultimately people can take their case to an independent parking adjudicator.

There are different ways to proceed. I think the right way would be an appeals procedure through the criminal courts, because we are considering criminal rather than civil offences, yet there is no provision in the Bill for an appeals procedure. We need to consider that. We shall be debating similar things in the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill, where I have similar concerns about the lack of enforcement procedures. The measures are analogous in respect of the way we deal with fixed penalty notices.

With those few objections, I express my support for the passage of the Bills.

I shall attempt to speak for a few minutes—if my voice lasts that long.

Like many Members, I come to the debate as someone with a record of pursuing consumer protection issues, and because I want to defend the rights and welfare of legal traders. I came to the issue several years ago when I was contacted by a former constituent. I appreciate that anecdotal evidence is not always the best basis for taking a view on legislation, but in this case it prompted me to look in more detail at the legislation that applies to pedlars. If I may detain the House for a few minutes, Members will see that my constituent’s words speak for themselves:

“We are a small flower business trading from a shop…in Leeds. This shop has been trading flowers for some 30 years and provides a great service and focal point to the centre of Leeds.

Over the past year an illegal street trader”—

a pedlar—

“and an associate have been selling flowers from an oversized makeshift cart”—

in Leeds—

“some 100 yards up the parade from our shop. This inevitably has had a grave impact on our sales as he is able to undercut our prices as he has no rent, Council Tax or insurance to pay. The street traders licence (peddler) only allows him…to stop at the point of sale but in fact he occupies the same spot as a permanent fixture.

The Police and Leeds City Council are looking into this and have tried to help but whatever action they have, or are taking has so far had no impact as he remains trading in exactly the same place. It seems that he is blatantly able to flaunt the law”—

I think my constituent means “flout the law”—

“by bypassing any regulations at the expense of innocent paying shop traders.”

When I have finished the quote, as I am coming to the crux of the matter. The letter continued:

“The impact of his illegal actions has been so great that we are looking to close the business after Christmas with the loss of employment of 5 people.”

My constituent calculated that he lost about 40 per cent. of what his takings had been before the pedlar began that illegal action, much of that trade having taken place in the run-up to Christmas and around Valentine’s day and mother’s day.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that case law is absolutely clear? The situation that he describes is a person operating outside the legal scope of a pedlars certificate. A notice from Dorset police makes it clear:

“If you do not move around between sales or if you set up a pitch or stall you will be liable to prosecution and seizure of your goods.”

That is what should have happened in the case to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and penalties should have followed.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention; he leapt in a little bit too quickly, because I am coming to the reason why what he said is not a realistic representation of the position.

I warmly welcome the Bill, which has been brought forward by Manchester city council, and the Bills from the other five councils. I just wanted to put it on the record that the problems that they experience are experienced in other areas. City of York council has asked me to attend the debate in order to express my support for the principles behind the Bills.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and welcome his support.

The case that I have just quoted prompted me to examine the issue in more detail. Although I cannot pretend in any way to be the peer of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), the detail that I discovered makes me an ardent supporter of the legislation under discussion. The situation is like a game of cat and mouse, but I am not sure who is the cat and who is the mouse. One would normally expect the enforcement authorities to be depicted as the cat, but in some respects the traders whom they try to pin down are the cats, and the police, the courts and the council turn out to be the mice. That is what gives rise to the frustration that has generated not only the enacted private Bills that now benefit other parts of the country, but the Bills before us and the 50 that we understand are in the pipeline. Councils have reached the end of their tether on the issue. They have lobbied us and found that, currently, as has already been said, the only possible way of proceeding is to go through this very convoluted and—let us face it—expensive process.

My back-of-an-envelope calculation, for what it is worth, shows that private Bills already cover a sizeable chunk of the country—one tenth, perhaps more. The six authorities that are pursuing their Bills will add to that mass, and if there are 50 in the pipeline, a significant proportion of the population—even though it might still be a minority—must be covered by the various authorities concerned.

Some defenders of the existing legislation have made great play of the current licensing arrangements, but in reality those people who have tried to get to grips with it and seen the arrangements in operation in our areas know that they are ineffective and that the police do not have the resources to enforce them—nor should we expect them to. We have twice heard the definition in section 3 of the 1871 Act—I do not intend to repeat it—but my perception is that the issuing of a pedlars certificate does not follow any national guidance or procedure. It is based on a police officer issuing the certificate, which, as we know, may then be used anywhere in the country. There may be exceptions, but many certificates are issued on the basis of nominal checks. There is no procedure to follow up on certificates that have expired, and the National Association of British Market Authorities has considerable evidence of forged and out-of-date certificates being used to support pedlars’ activities.

The police and trading standards officers have also told NABMA that many unlawful street traders using pedlars certificates are involved with crime syndicates, and that very large sums of money are involved—either directly, from the sale of counterfeit goods, or as a front for more sinister activities. I appreciate that we do not want to attack legitimate and reasonable pedlars, but it is often difficult to address those wider issues in the public interest without there being some fallout or innocent victims. The question for the House is always one of balance.

Has the hon. Gentleman any idea of the number of occasions when pedlars have been charged and convicted for forging certificates, as defined by the legislation on pedlars? Has he considered that legislation, which makes it clear that there has to be a standard form and that there are set procedures for police authorities?

No, I cannot respond to that, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman did not expect me to be able to. We are getting into the minutiae; the problem is that in doing so we expend even more resources on an issue that could be addressed through the Bill—and certainly through a more national approach to this issue; there is cross-party support for that.

I understand that there is no database to check the validity of the certificates. Obviously, as has been said, one issued in Blackpool could be requested by a police officer in Bournemouth. It is said that pedlars have a duty to exchange or give refunds on goods with which customers are dissatisfied, in much the same way as other traders do. However, we know from practical experience that pedlars frequently go out of business or simply disappear after making seasonal sales of poor-quality products—products without kitemarks, for example. We are all aware of instances when vulnerable members of the public have purchased a toy for their grandchild only to find that spikes or leaded paint had been used to make them. The traders who sold such toys are usually long gone when anyone seeks so-called after-sales service.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is being very generous. The problem with his argument is that even if we get framework agreements or whatever we want to call them, even in respect of Canterbury, Bournemouth or wherever, the practices will continue, no matter how good the policing, trading standards or regulation. We have no evidence that things have changed in London, Northern Ireland or anywhere else in which this has been in force. Has the hon. Gentleman any confidence that what he is saying will be correct?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I think that matters would be considerably improved. The provisions would reduce the parameters within which the traders we are talking about can operate. If we all accepted the hon. Gentleman’s argument, we could go home for the whole of the year; we legislate all the time against offences and activities that continue despite the legislation. We have a law against murder, but unfortunately it still happens.

Does my hon. Friend agree that whatever areas such Bills cover—Newcastle, for example—there has been a dramatic effect on this type of trading? Bills such as this give local authorities the powers of seizure, which immediately stop the trading and deter the sort of pedlars we have been discussing today from ever peddling in that town or city again.

I am sure that my hon. Friend is absolutely right. I cannot conceive that the authorities that have pursued such legislation in the past and those that are pursuing the legislation that we are discussing today—including Leeds city council, which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) said, is controlled by Liberal Democrats and Tories—would embark on this time-consuming and expensive process if they did not feel it would make a substantial difference. In fact, if they put money into something found to be ineffectual, they would probably be open to investigation by the district auditor.

I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is being very generous. The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) is more knowledgeable than most of us on this issue, but the problem is that there is as yet no evidence, as far as I am aware, on the statistics. I am prepared to be proved wrong, but I looked quickly to see whether there was any. I have just asked the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) whether there was any such information from London, and she was not aware of any. That is one of the problems—we just do not know. Okay, we can say that it is early days and that Durham university may come up with more information, but it is not a convincing argument to say of such legislation, “Well, it must be making a difference; that’s why we introduced it.” Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that the way to do such things is based on logic, argument and statistics?

Part of the problem with the hon. Gentleman’s argument is that it is difficult to represent some of the issues in statistics unless we ask enforcement officers and the police to say how much time they have spent pursuing a particular issue. If we simply consider those who have been pursued under the existing legislation who might have been better dealt with under the new legislation, the statistics are probably quite marginal. We have to have confidence in the professionalism of police officers, trading standards officers and council officers, and in bodies such as NABMA, which try to come to grips with the issue, year in and year out. The evidence may sound anecdotal, but the problem is that the statistical case will never be as watertight as the hon. Gentleman seems to want it to be.

I put it to my hon. Friend that Westminster city council had legislation passed in 1999, and it has not come back to the House to change it. Perhaps if hon. Members consulted that council, they would find that its experience demonstrated that the legislation gave it a satisfactory resolution that other councils need—but only in the short term, until there is a framework, so that legislation is not built up piecemeal.

I accept what my right hon. Friend says. The situation is the same for much of the legislation intended to protect consumers. A statistical approach is difficult, because some of the people we want to chase are not easily tracked down. If we get bound up in statistics, the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) and the House will never be satisfied. We have to work on the basis of the information that comes from those who have to get to grips with the issue daily.

I understand that NABMA has reported evidence from around the country that shows that many towns have problems with unlawful street trading. A mini-survey conducted by the Local Government Association showed that of 100 local authorities, 90 reported problems with unlawful street traders. That might be a statistic, or it might be an opinion poll, but I think it is a significant addition to the argument.

Finally, I should like to reiterate a point made by other Members, and made forcefully by Opposition Members: we should not have to debate the Bills before us today. Instead, we should have a piece of national legislation that gives local authorities a discretionary power to tackle the issues when they identify a problem in their locality, now or in future.

I will be brief, because a number of Members are waiting to speak and most of the points that I wanted to make have already been made very clearly, including by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), our Front-Bench spokesman.

In a nutshell, the problem is that we are dealing with a very old and worthy piece of Victorian legislation that applies nationally and cuts across the ability of local councils to use the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. The Act was designed to, among other things, enable a council to say how many street traders it wanted and what it expected of them, and it allowed a council to enforce those decisions through a system of annual licensing. In some cases, the interval is much shorter than a year, but it should not be longer than a year.

I shall take Canterbury city council as my example. The council has decided how many street traders it wants and how many it is fair to have on the high street. I understand that at the moment it has given 13 annual licences and five temporary licences. The pitches are all on one side of the street to allow free movement of people on our very crowded high street, which is pedestrianised. In summer, it is sometimes so full that people try to use side streets if they want to make their way somewhere on foot. That whole system is effectively blown away by the Pedlars Act 1871. As the hon. Members for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell), and for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd), said, the 1871 Act effectively means that people who have no local locus at all, and who could have picked up a pedlars certificate from almost anywhere in the country—they are very easy to forge, so the person may not even have bothered to pay the £12.50—can put up a stand on wheels on the wrong side of the road, blocking an already extremely crowded street. Even if they commit no other offence at all, that in itself is a huge problem in a city that is a major regional shopping and tourist centre.

There are a number of other problems, some of which are already familiar from the remarks of other hon. Members. I ask my hon. Friends who object to the measures to think for a moment about enforcement. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) is a good friend and we see eye to eye on many subjects. He is a man of total integrity and is recognised as such across the House. I do not for a moment accuse him of having a vested interest, but the plain fact is that any attempt to enforce the measure involves lots of money for lawyers. It is extremely expensive not only in terms of money, but in manpower.

Can my hon. Friend explain why it is expensive in money for lawyers and manpower to find out that somebody has a pedlars certificate that is forged and to prosecute that person, when there is in every police authority in the country a register of pedlars certificates that have been issued?

Let us take that as an example. Somebody has to approach the person and find out whether they have a pedlars certificate. They may say that it is not on them. They can be warned that they must produce it. One such person gave the address of a local women’s refuge as the address from which he was operating.

Let us suppose that the person has a legitimate pedlars licence, which has cost him only about 12 quid, and he produces that; none the less, he is static. How is that to be proved? Answer: an official must watch him for a period. Some of those people are organised with runners, often youngsters, who will warn if a council official approaches. A relatively limited number of council officials in Canterbury are involved in such matters. Let us suppose that the official is not noticed and that the trader has not been tipped off. The official notices that the trader remains in the same place for a long time—as we heard earlier, this is all an expensive official’s time ticking by—and is then required to give the person a verbal warning. That has to be followed on the next occasion with a written warning. Only then can proceedings be adopted. However, the penalties are terribly small—much, much lower than what it costs to be a legitimate street trader. They are seen as a modest overhead, but to achieve that, an official will have been deployed on at least three separate occasions and sent to court, and a lawyer will have been employed.

My constituency is a relatively poor one. Our unemployment rate, each time I look, is roughly the national average, but within Canterbury city, which is the poorest part of the Canterbury city council area, we have one ward—next to the cathedral—that has a national designation for deprivation. The council is a busy council, and council officers have a great deal to do. In our broken society, many of those tasks, sadly, relate to antisocial behaviour. The last thing I want as the Member of Parliament is to see council officials wasting their time going through all the mechanics involved in enforcing the provisions of a Victorian Act that was never designed with that in mind.

I suspect that, as was hinted at earlier, we could fix most of the problem by putting in clause 5, I think—the clause which effectively states that the exemption from the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 for pedlars should apply only if they conduct their business house to house. Many of the other clauses, which are common across all the Bills that we are discussing, relate to snapping up the enforcement.

I end with three or four examples of the types of problem we have had. In one case, legitimate street traders complained that when the illegal traders set their stalls up, they often send somebody, usually a young girl, round to check the prices being charged by the legitimate traders selling the same kind of goods. Because they do not have the same overheads, they then underprice those traders and undercut the market. It might be said that that gives the consumer a better chance, but the problem is—we heard a harrowing example relating to a shopkeeper earlier—that operating without the licence that a real shop has to provide and without the annual check-up to which a legitimate street trader is subject makes it so easy to undercut in that way. Counterfeit goods are commonly sold and people often complain that when they bring poor goods back, the person has gone. I understand from the police that stolen goods are often marketed in this way and that some of these people have even got into drugs.

Let me provide some examples of court cases to illustrate how the system simply does not work. One man was prosecuted three times. Let us remember what prosecuting someone entails: first, we have to find and monitor these people; then we have to warn them; then we must warn them in writing; and finally we get to prosecution. Then there was a second prosecution and then a third. This man received a £50 fine, £300 costs on the last offence and a conditional discharge. In other words, he got off at a much lower total cost than if he had paid for a proper street licence. No organisation funded by the taxpayer should be expected to go through that kind of nonsense. One man caught selling items, as I mentioned earlier, gave a woman’s refuge as his address to the relevant official. Some people have been prosecuted up to four times. We have also experienced problems as a result of people being physically and verbally aggressive when they are checked up on. That can be difficult for officials to deal with.

May I suggest to my hon. Friend and the House a succinct way of dealing with the problem? This is how it has been dealt of with in the Manchester City Council Bill and other Bills. As I pointed out in my speech, it is simply to amend schedule 4 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 to restrict the definition of pedlar to someone who goes only from house to house. That would deal with the problem of static stalls in any of the busy areas in my hon. Friend’s city, and it would allow his council to designate a particular area as one where nobody may trade. The council could then prohibit anyone from trading in any such difficult area.

Indeed, my hon. Friend is absolutely right and I understand that that feature is common to all the relevant Bills. Adding those few words into the 1982 Act would transform the situation.

Surely the problem that my hon. Friend is describing is one of enforcement in respect of rogue traders, people who purport to be pedlars but are not, people who do not have pedlar certificates and people who are operating outside existing pedlar law. My hon. Friend is trying to change the law, which might penalise the lawful and legitimate pedlar.

I am afraid that my hon. Friend leaves me totally at a loss. I have spent the last few minutes explaining why the present law is unenforceable. If he were not such a good friend, I would say that only a lawyer could fail to understand that argument. Having made that point, I rest my case.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), who spoke passionately about why the Bill is appropriate in his area and offered insight by providing examples of the current situation that we face.

I rise to support the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, which my council firmly supports. The irony of today’s debate is that it has been very illuminating because it has been quite an education to hear all sides putting forward their views on the clear predicament created by the differences between the Pedlars (Street Trading Regulations) Bill and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. What I feel is sad—

Does my hon. Friend accept that if we had not had the Second Reading debates, which would not have taken place if the Bill had not been blocked, we would not have been illuminated in the way that we have been?

The second irony today is the fact that my hon. Friend has, if I may say so politely, perhaps been responsible for a couple of the delays in being able to debate the Bill, whereas there has been a full and forthright debate on it in the other place, including in Committee. My point, to him and the House, is that there should be more opportunity to debate it.

The Minister’s announcement that there is to be a study of the issue by Durham university is broadly welcome. Why not allow the Bill to move on to Committee, where we would be able to take evidence from more individuals and organisations, so that we could reach a better understanding of what is happening? The Bill would then, if I am correct, return on Report, which would give the hon. Gentleman—I mean my hon. Friend; I must remember that he is still my friend—the opportunity to say, “I’ve had enough—I believe we should let this one go.” Let me plead with him now, as I probably will at the end, to allow the Bill to advance. It has to come back on Report, but there is clearly much to learn.

I pay tribute to Lord Eden of Winton.

I received an e-mail yesterday from Mark Smith, the head of tourism at Bournemouth borough council, who said:

“The Leader of the Council…believes”

that the Bournemouth Bill

“reflects the wishes of our local people, local businesses and visitors.”

I wonder what evidence Bournemouth borough council has already collected to enable it to state that visitors to the town want the provisions.

My right hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. I am more than happy to provide the evidence that Bournemouth borough council has put together, which includes information and feedback from visitors. I have a couple of letters with me, which I will come to later, but on the general point about evidence, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Any change in the law must be evidence-based. It cannot be introduced on a whim.

However, I would hate to see the proposals run into the buffers today, when we have not had an opportunity to go through the evidence properly. Some hon. Members have spoken with passion, but perhaps without the necessary evidence. They need the opportunity to collate it and local authorities need the opportunity to present it. That could happen in Committee.

One point that I have made to various Government Members, as well as to fellow Conservative Members, is that the evidence is not there. The evidence from Northern Ireland and London, where the provisions have been enacted, as my hon. Friend well knows, has still not come through. One reason I feel so strongly—our hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) feels the same way—is that there is no evidence. My hon. Friend argues from a position of strength in saying, “We need it,” but then argues from a position of weakness when he says, “Actually, we haven’t got it.” Let us stop the process and wait for the Minister and Durham university to do their jobs. Does my hon. Friend not accept that we can then go forward on a much stronger basis?

I have not even got out of the starting blocks, yet I have been intervened on three times. I am more than delighted to be intervened on, but let me try to put forward a case for looking at the provisions in further detail.

I hope that my hon. Friend would agree that our objective in Parliament is to allow the democratic process to take its course. More than 70 authorities are thinking about similar proposals. Is he saying that they are all wrong? Why not give an opportunity to debate the issue in more detail? He is saying, “Throw it out!” whereas I am saying, “Give it a little more time, then let’s make an assessment later on,” which could include hearing from the good people of Bridgwater.

I was in the middle of paying tribute to Lord Eden of Winton, who did such an amicable job of moving the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill through its various stages in the House of Lords, where it received an awful lot of scrutiny. I recommend that hon. Members read the Hansard reports of those debates, which are so applicable to what we are talking about today.

I was pleased to hear an indication from the Minister that we will consider the matter in more detail. I am sorry to hear that the provisions will not be in the Queen’s Speech—we have already heard from the Prime Minister what will be in it, and the report that we are due to receive will not come until autumn.

The summary of the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill is: to make provisions relating to street trading and consumer protection in the area of Bournemouth; in particular to allow the council to regulate services offered on the street as well as the sale of goods; to alter the exemption enjoyed by the holders of the pedlars certificates from the street trading regime in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982; to empower council officers or the police to seize goods and equipment when they believe a street trading offence has been committed; and to empower the courts to order the forfeiture of such articles.

Why is that being called for? The existing laws, I am afraid, are simply not working. The situation in Canterbury that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Canterbury described also applies in Bournemouth. We have confusing and out-of-date laws. I hope that my hon. Friends who have spoken against the Bills will not support the status quo. There is a blurred line between a pedlar and a trader. Two Acts of Parliament that were written a century apart are colliding in a major way, and people are taking advantage of it.

What is a pedlar? Trading by a person who is an authorised pedlar is exempt from the provisions of the 1982 Act. As other Members have said, however, to become a legitimate pedlar one simply has to gain a certificate issued by the police and keep on the move. The licence costs a mere £12.50, and can be applied for and gained anywhere in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. It can also be used anywhere in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, except in those areas where Acts similar to the Bills under consideration have been put into practice. That is a double standard, and that is why I plead with my hon. Friends and other Members not to preserve the status quo, which is unacceptable.

My hon. Friend seems to be complaining about the £12.25 fee, but how great does he think it should be? If a shotgun licence is issued by one particular police authority, it can be used anywhere in the country. What is wrong with that principle applying to pedlars?

There are two responses to that. First, I did not complain about the £12.50 price itself; I just place it in the context of the much greater price of the street trading licence, which has led to the popularity of the pedlars licence. As for the example of the shotgun licence, yes, it can be purchased anywhere in the country, but if it is used illegally anywhere in the country, proper powers exist for that usage to be curtailed. I hope that he agrees on that point.

To emphasise my hon. Friend’s point, anyone who broke the law relating to a shotgun licence would in all likelihood go to prison, even for a first offence. Having once been found guilty of armed trespass, if one uses a shotgun where one should not, one would go to prison on the next offence. With pedlars licences, there is no arrangement for anything more than a minimal system of fines.

I am grateful for that clarification.

I do not wish to detain the House, but I want to repeat the definition of a pedlar in the 1871 Act, quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown):

“The term ‘pedlar’ means any hawker, pedlar, petty chapman, tinker, caster of metals, mender of chairs, or other person who, without any horse or other beast bearing or drawing burden, travels and trades on foot and goes from town to town or to other men’s houses, carrying to sell or exposing for sale any goods”.

The movement aspect of that is important. Also, it was written for a very different time. So long ago was the legislation drafted, that the Liberal party was in charge of Great Britain. That is how long ago it was—Victorian Britain. It was the time of Gladstone and Disraeli. It was Dickensian Britain.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the 1982 Act was passed by a Conservative Government. They could have put the Victorian legislation right at that time.

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I am afraid that I was not in the Conservative party then; otherwise, I would certainly have endeavoured to do what he suggests.

I am painting a picture of a very different Britain. We have the ability to travel, and not just by horse. Communications now involve mobile phones, and pedlars can communicate between themselves on where they can and cannot go, where there is an easy target or not, and where trading can be done on a permissive basis. Also, the practice of moving door to door does not happen any more. In fact, if someone knocks on a door to sell goods in certain parts of the country, he will get short shrift. The legislation is out of date. That is why it is being abused.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the 1871 Act watered down a previous Act? I looked up the meaning of a petty chapman and it stems from a law handed down by Edward VI in 1553. A petty chapman was a retail dealer. The King said:

“No Tinker, Peddler, or petit Chapman shall wander about from the Towne”—

in other words, that person was restricted to a particular town—

“but such as shall be licensed by two Justices of Peace.”

The earlier law was much stricter than even the 1871 law. It is about time we went back to the original 1553 law.

We are going back to Elizabethan times—or perhaps James I. However we look at the legislation—whatever angle we approach it from—it needs to be updated.

The reality of today’s legislation is that it is affecting Bournemouth town centre. I invite hon. Members to come to Bournemouth to see the impact—the evidence—for themselves. I invite them to see what is happening in the town centre and the Lower Gardens. The town has about 5 million visitors every year. We rely on tourism. It is our biggest industry and needs to be managed effectively. I am afraid that illegal traders are beginning to tarnish our image as a popular family seaside resort. The illegal traders are there from about Easter to Christmas every year. Considerable effort has been made to manage the situation to understand what the pedlars want in relation to the street traders. We have not been able to reach a compromise because people are leaning on this archaic legislation, which so needs to be updated.

My hon. Friend will know that Christchurch is an ancient market town and like Bournemouth. Surely there is no need for Bournemouth to license any street traders. If it did not license street traders, the problems that he describes in the square and elsewhere would be much reduced.

I do not follow that argument at all. We have to license street traders because of other laws. There are issues to do with insurance liability and so forth. If anyone has a stand that is permanent and not moving, as according to the 1871 Act, he needs to operate accordingly. I suggest my hon. Friend read the 1982 Act, which requires street traders to pay for a licence. That licence costs in the region of between £25 and £30 a day, not £12.50 a year.

In the argument that my hon. Friend is developing, is he in effect saying that the problem would be solved if Bournemouth council reduced the cost of the street trading licence so that it equated with the cost of a pedlars licence?

We have a series of problems. The Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, which I shall discuss in a moment, includes changes to local legislation that will allow us to tackle the problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) has discussed his constituency. I am sure that he knows Purbeck district council, which has not experienced the problem of pedlars on the same scale as in Bournemouth. Purbeck district council is not affected by the problem, so it does not require such legislation.

I am pleased to see the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), back in his place. He does not need to get feedback from 410 local authorities across the country, but it would be helpful. The issue is pertinent in seaside towns and market towns where there are tourists and visitors, who allow pedlars and, indeed, street traders to make a profit. We need a reconciliation between the two types of trader who are taking advantage of two distinctive and disparate Acts of Parliament.

As shadow Minister with responsibility for tourism, I have a national interest in the matter—I see that the Culture, Media and Sport spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), is in his place. We must ensure that British tourism thrives. We are currently suffering from a tourism deficit—more people choose to holiday abroad than in the UK—and we need to make Britain attractive. If there is any reason why people are deterred from going to our seaside towns, we must investigate the situation. The matter needs more scrutiny, which could take place in Committee.

Illegal street trading is flourishing. We have heard examples involving sunglasses and kites, and the quality of such goods is certainly dubious. We have also heard from hon. Members about the fact that there is no comeback. If people buy goods from a pedlar, they cannot return one week later and try to get their money back if something has gone wrong. However, people can get their money back from a street trader, so the circumstances are different. Unfortunately, because of the way in which the Pedlars Act 1871 was drafted, pedlars are illegally selling mimicked, oriental goods, which are entering this country in increasing numbers. As we have heard, there is very little recourse to prevent that from happening. Health and safety has been mentioned, so I will not go into further detail.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has suggested using the existing legislation to get the police to tell pedlars to move on or to get the council to go through the process of charging them, but it is not that simple. It now costs the council about £1,000 to go through the rigmarole of warnings and so forth, which my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has been through. By that time, the individual has scarpered, regardless of whether they were using an illegal licence or a legitimate licence.

We have a lot of eastern Europeans in Bournemouth. They pick up licences because a master who is operating the store has told them to do so. Such masters send out individuals every week knowing that the licence will probably be taken away eventually, in which case they send another individual out instead. That is not how our markets should operate; that is not how our town centres will flourish; and that is not the way to look after our seaside resorts. Prosecution involves charging individuals £100, but the process costs the council £1,000. It does not take a rocket scientist to work out that that wastes an awful lot of taxpayers’ money.

Pedlars have an impact on legitimate businesses, whether street traders or shopkeepers. They should not be seen as street traders, and they are required to move from place to place. Clause 5 of the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill amends the appropriate schedule to the 1982 Act to make it clear that a pedlar will not be able to trade in a prohibited street unless they are trading from place to place, and that they cannot trade in a consented street until they first obtain consent from the local council. That would not prevent anyone from peddling, which is one argument that has been advanced. I am not against pedlars per se, but the practice should be conducted in an authorised manner, which is what I am looking for. Bournemouth, along with other places around the country, is a first-class destination resort, but it is currently served by third-class legislation.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) wanted some evidence. Let me share with him some correspondence that I received, which oddly enough is not directed at me, but at one Christopher Chope—my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. I will read it out anyway. The first is from the British Resorts and Destinations Association, and says:

“I am writing on behalf of the Local Authority members of the British Resorts and Destinations Association...Regrettably, until such time as Central Government act to repeal or significantly amend the existing pedlars’ legislation, towns like Bournemouth will have no choice but to seek local solutions.”

That is from BRADA, as it is called. Castlepoint is a big, private shopping centre in Bournemouth, of which hon. Members may be aware. Its letter states:

“On a recent customer survey at the centre, one of the main criticisms of Bournemouth town centre was the number of unsolicited activities that take place in the town compared to Castlepoint where no such activity is permitted. I do not wish Bournemouth to continue to haemorrhage customers since a vibrant Bournemouth town centre is good for us at Castlepoint, too…The unlicensed pedlars tarnish that brand.”

That is from Peter Matthews, a general manager at Castlepoint, who refers to some of the surveys that have been conducted in Bournemouth.

The final letter is from the Bournemouth War Memorial Homes charity. It states:

“Last summer the Residents who are all disabled ex-service personnel were granted a licence to fund-raise in Bournemouth Square.

Ten residents volunteered to collect on the day. The net result was a total of £67”—

we are talking about a day’s collection—

“entirely due to the fact that their modest stand could not be seen by the general public as there were so many unregulated traders everywhere, some quite nasty and unsympathetic to those who have served our country.”

Their licence cost them £30, for that day, for the privilege of collecting money in the town centre. They made £67, and there were other costs, such as public liability insurance and so forth. That is the reality of the legislation, which is why I urge hon. Friends and other hon. Members to say that we should look at it further. We should move to the next stage and debate it in Committee. Pedlars should not be street traders, which is why I believe that the legislation is archaic and should be upgraded.

Can it be that 70 councils throughout the UK are wrong? We have a bizarre situation, which I referred to in an intervention, where up to 10 million people—residents and in businesses—are already living in areas where this legislation is in operation, such as Northern Ireland, London, Leicester, Liverpool and Medway. Other councils, including Bournemouth, Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham, Reading and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury are queuing up to say that we should change the legislation and bring it up to date, to allow a better understanding of the predicament involving the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 and the Pedlars Act 1871.

I came here today because I am sympathetic to Bournemouth’s problems, but I am a little concerned about the 70 or so local authorities that are in the queue to which my hon. Friend refers. Does he feel that if Bournemouth’s legislation is successful, those traders will move north into my constituency, right on the edge of Bournemouth? We have Wimborne market, a big open-air market that operates three days a week. Those traders might create problems for East Dorset district council, which might not have the resources that Bournemouth borough council has to introduce similar legislation.

My hon. Friend makes a valid point that has been repeated again and again. In Newcastle, such legislation was brought in successfully, and a lot of the pedlars moved across to Gateshead. The first question is: why are those pedlars who wanted to operate in Newcastle not applying to be legitimate? Why are they not choosing to do things above board? I do not wish to disparage my hon. Friend’s constituency but, as in the case of Bournemouth, there has to be a threshold of a thoroughfare of people—either residents or tourists. I am sure that there are many visitors to his area. But there are some areas—I mentioned Purbeck as an example—where such legislation would not be required. My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold made it clear: any new legislation should empower rather than enforce councils to operate revised pedlar provisions.

Time is running short, so I shall end by simply saying that the Government have taken a small step in the right direction. I hope that the Minister, and other Members, will listen to those whose voices we are hearing throughout the United Kingdom. There is, I believe, a consensus in the House and the nation in favour of change. I certainly believe that we need to give councils the power—but not necessarily the duty—to make decisions locally.

I welcome the Government’s announcement, because I do not support the status quo. This is unfinished business, and if it is not finished today, I hope that it will be in 24 months’ time if not earlier, after a general election.

I rise to speak with some sadness, because although I agree with my hon. Friends about 90 per cent. of what we are discussing, I cannot agree with what they have said today. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) said that it would be democratic to pass the motion, I believe that it is also democratic to oppose it. I feel that these Bills must be stopped, for a simple reason. As was made clear a moment ago, if a Bill affecting a particular area is enacted, people will move and the problem will be passed on. I am not at all convinced that the county, district and unitary councils that have adopted these measures so far have seen the major change that they expected to see.

Let me issue a challenge. All those other towns, including London and towns in Northern Ireland, have highly competent CCTV systems, which they ought to use to collect evidence in order to demonstrate whether the measures are making a difference. According to evidence presented in another place, Bournemouth said that although its system was good, it did not know whether that could be done. Of course Bournemouth’s system may need to be updated, but I can assure the House that, without a shadow of doubt, London and Northern Ireland—and, I think, Newcastle, of which I have a little experience—have extremely good systems, which would certainly be able to provide clear evidence.

The problem is that we are not all discussing the same Bill. We are discussing different Bills and different problems, and each Bill is trying to achieve a slightly different aim. That is fine as far as it goes, but in the long run it cannot be right. What we need—dare I say, as a Tory—is standardisation: each licence, whether it costs £600-odd in Manchester or the £12.25 paid by a pedlar, must be standardised.

I am pleased that the Government are to undertake sensible research, which I think should be done as quickly but also, as the Minister said, as diligently as possible. What worries me slightly is that I think the Minister said—I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong—that he wants Durham university to deliver the results of that research by August.

I said “autumn”. Let me also take this opportunity to assure the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) that we will publish the terms of reference on the Department’s website.

I thank the Minister for clarifying the position, and apologise for mishearing the word “autumn”.

One group that has kept very quiet about this, perhaps for a reason of which I am not aware, is the Local Government Association, which covers every area of local government in the country. I have yet to hear anything from the LGA.

May I return my hon. Friend to what he said about CCTV? It is a great idea, but Bridgwater must be an extremely rich council, because CCTV is expensive. If my hon. Friend gave Bournemouth some money, we would be delighted to install it. More to the point, the Local Government Association supports these Bills.

The subject was raised in evidence in the other place. The witness was called Mr. Smith. I cannot tell the House who he is, but no doubt he is a council official: of course, they are all called Smith. He was asked whether there was sufficient CCTV in the area to be able to gather evidence, to which he replied that at present there was not, but that that could and would be put in place. That is the difference—and the situation in Bournemouth may have moved on from that.

A few weeks ago, the LGA carried out an e-mail survey on my behalf so that I could pressurise the Minister. More than 70 local authorities had replied when I talked to the Minister, and my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) has mentioned the figure of 90. Therefore, it is simply not true to say that the LGA has not consulted on this; it has done, although by e-mail, admittedly. I also ask the hon. Gentleman to consult the trading standards officers in Newcastle and hear their version of how much the town centre has improved since the Newcastle Bill was enacted.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. His experience is, of course, greater than mine. I suspect that the LGA has decided that it now needs to do something about this, although I am a little concerned that it has consulted by e-mail. I am unsure whether that went to all Members of the House, as I do not remember seeing it, but I accept that it went to 70 local councils—there are, however, 410 local councils. I also do not know whether that figure included the original councils that have signed up already; if it does, that makes a difference, especially taking London into account.

Not all local authorities are affected in the same way as are York, Bournemouth, Manchester and Liverpool. A substantial number of authorities are affected, but not all 410 are.

May I finish my point first? They will all be affected because people will be moved on—my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) made this point. This will affect us all. We have a large fair in Bridgwater and we have had a problem, but through sensible and constructive actions by the police, trading officers and the council, we have not had a problem with pedlars. We have been proactive and the action we have taken has worked extremely well.

My hon. Friend made a statement at the outset, which I am still waiting for him to justify as it represents a complete departure from anything said earlier in the debate. He said he wanted pedlars and street traders to be treated in exactly the same way. Does he really mean that, because the concern has been repeatedly expressed in the debate that some pedlars behave as though they are street traders—which is something quite different—but do so in a way that makes it impossible to make the law enforceable?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and I will try to clarify the position. I was trying to say—probably unsuccessfully—that there is a major difference. In Manchester, street traders are charged £623 whereas the figure for a pedlar is £12.25. There is no similarity; they operate in different ways. I hope that that clarifies the position.

Does my hon. Friend accept that we should view with some scepticism any opinions expressed by the LGA, and when we gather evidence we need evidence other than the fact that councils want these powers? Local authorities might want these powers because the fact that pedlars can operate at a cheaper rate shows that their high fees for street trading are unjustifiable.

I was going to come on to that point, but may I first remonstrate with the LGA? I am concerned that it has taken so long to get on to this issue, which has been around for a long time. Successive Governments have tinkered with it. In respect of the last reviews of the statutory obligations, the Government accepted all nine recommendations, but I am not aware of the LGA having put forward any form of consultative document on that. It has been very slow.

On the fees, of course local councils want to raise more money. If Canterbury, Bournemouth and elsewhere, including Manchester, had their wits about them, they would increase those fees—to, say, £600—and door-to-door salesmen, or pedlars, or whatever we want to call them, would be priced out of business. That would be unfortunate, because people should not be precluded from going from door to door; that should be encouraged. The point has been made—we all know this, as we have recently had a by-election in Crewe and Nantwich—that we are not always welcomed on doorsteps. Surely one has the right to be able to go from door to door; that activity should not be covered by the Bill and we should not allow its prohibition in the longer term.

I had promised to speak for only 10 minutes, but I wish to make a final point. Enforcement is possible as things stand, but it requires people who are willing to do it. We have heard a lot of arguments today that it costs such and such a figure, but there are ways of enforcing this and they should be used. We do not have to introduce new Bills and new statutory obligations. Let us leave things to the review that the Government are going to undertake, and let us see what the rights and wrongs are. As I have said before to hon. Members in this debate, what evidence do we have that our system is not working? The evidence is pitifully little. I suggest that councillors need to take a stronger line, using trading standards, the police and their own council resources—CCTV and so on—to administer this situation, because it is not beyond the wit of man. If we can solve parking problems, we can solve a lot of things in city centres. Let us be honest, the matter is a bit of a hot potato, with various crimes that I do not need to discuss, but I am sure that we could deal with this.

I continue to oppose this Bill, because I strongly believe that it is not the way to make progress. I believe that we need a framework document, put together by the Government and enacted either by this Government or the next Government—I know who that will be; it will be our Government. I would like to think that we could have this debate again after the autumn, when we could look at what the Government are proposing in much more detail. At that point, we should stop what is going on and examine it in the cold light of day, before we make another mistake.

The first thing that is apparent is that my blocking motion has ensured that none of these six Bills received a Second Reading on the nod. The quality of today’s debate has shown that I was right to insist that the Bills should be properly debated on Second Reading. The Minister’s statement and the major policy announcement made by the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman, my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), would not have been possible but for this debate.

Will my hon. Friend not waste any time in speaking to the Nottingham City Council Bill? We have not heard from any Nottingham Member, so I can only conclude that that Bill is not required.

I had not yet got on to Nottingham. I was going to begin by discussing Bournemouth, because that is closer to home and my constituency. Those hon. Members who were not able to listen to BBC Radio Solent this morning might like to know that on it, Mark Smith, Bournemouth borough council’s head of tourism, asserted that he thought one of the problems in Bournemouth town centre was that pedlars were harassing people. Many people subsequently phoned in, e-mailed or sent text messages to BBC Radio Solent saying that they disagreed fundamentally with what he had said. The context of that discussion was very much that the case had not been proved for introducing such draconian changes to the law on a unilateral basis, which is what Bournemouth borough council intends to do.

May I briefly share with the House some correspondence that I have had with the store manager of Marks & Spencer in Bournemouth? He wrote to me expressing concern about my attitude to the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill. I wrote back saying:

“You say that the Pedlars Act is a piece of legislation from Victorian times. That is obviously correct but am I not also correct in recalling that it was under pedlars legislation that Marcus Sieff was able to build up the large business with which you are now associated?”

He has not responded to that question. I also asked him:

“Why should those who wish to sell balloons”

—the people who are at the beginning of an entrepreneurial career—

“to tourists in Bournemouth not be allowed to do so?”

I have yet to receive a response to that either.

Now that my hon. Friend has alienated Marks & Spencer, I am not sure where he will now buy his underwear—perhaps Beales in Bournemouth. He mentioned balloons, but they can still be sold in Bournemouth or Christchurch. It is simply that, under the new legislation, they will be sold legally. That is the point of the change.

My hon. Friend misunderstands the law. At the moment, someone with a lawful pedlars certificate can sell balloons wherever he wishes. If my hon. Friend has his way and the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill becomes law, it will no longer be possible for someone with a certificate to sell balloons on the street in Bournemouth unless he also has a street trading licence for which he may have to pay a substantial amount of money.

The issue of pedlars is romantic and evokes entrepreneurs of a previous age. W. B. Rands, the originator of The Boy’s Own Paper, had a little ditty about them:

“I wish I lived in a caravan,

With a horse to drive, like the pedlar man!

Where he comes from nobody knows,

Or where he goes to, but on he goes!”

That is most people’s view of the pedlar—someone who travels from town to town selling his wares and passing the time of day with his customers. The essence of the law is that he seeks out his customers rather than expecting them to come to him, in the same way as we go out canvassing during elections. We go to meet our constituents rather than expecting them to come to us at our surgeries, which is the form the rest of the time.