Before I call the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle), I wish to inform Members that I believe that it will be for the convenience of the House if we debate the Leeds City Council Bill, the Nottingham City Council Bill and the Reading Borough Council Bill together. I also wish to remind Members of the rulings I have given on the previous occasions when this substantive matter has been before the House. As three Bills that bear a considerable likeness to those before the House today have gone through, it seems to me to be in our best interests to make progress in the determination of the House’s view on the Bills before us today so that there can, more or less, be parity of treatment in later stages of proceedings, as I understand that some of the promoters of the Bills may wish to propose detailed amendments if the House grants these Bills a Committee stage.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Bill follows on from other Bills that have already been debated at length. We have discussed the purposes of the Bills and the definitions of pedlars and street traders, and I do not intend to rehearse those arguments—I abide by your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) cannot be with us today as, sadly, he is unwell; we wish him well. He said in our last deliberations:
“There is much in these Bills that is not controversial, is of common interest, and will be supported by Members in all parts of the House.”—[Official Report, 21 April 2009; Vol. 491, c. 197.]
I hope we can proceed in that spirit this afternoon.
On the Leeds Bill, the problems the city faces in these matters are similar to those faced by other cities with strong, dynamic centres: the difficulties of enforcing street-trading legislation against people who are, effectively, acting as street traders but under the guise of pedlars. These people cause great resentment among licensed street traders, who pay significant sums for their licences, and among retailers, who pay rent and rates. Following on from the publication of the Durham university report and, not least, taking into account the long deliberations in this House, Leeds city council suggests an amendment that will be formally made in Committee if its Bill proceeds today, as I hope it will. The amendment would enable pedlars to continue to trade in most areas of the city as long as they do not use stalls or other physical means of support; that is subject to a clear definition. That is a significant, practical and workable concession as a result of this House’s deliberations and comments made in the other place.
I should like to refer to the results of two court cases against illegal street traders in the city of Leeds that came before magistrates on 15 May this year as examples that drive home why Leeds needs this Bill. The first offender did not attend the court and the case was proved. He was fined just £50, with £350 costs. The second offender attended the court and pleaded guilty to six counts of illegal street trading, but due to outstanding fines and costs for other matters he was given a conditional discharge for one year and no order for costs. From both those cases we could conclude that the current arrangements are ineffective and make it worth while for illegal street traders to carry on their activities because they are safe in the knowledge that any sanctions are unlikely to result in any financial deterrent.
In a similar case before the courts, proceedings were taken against an illegal flower seller who had seriously undermined the business of others in the city. It is therefore clear that businesses can be undermined by such illegal activities. Those examples illustrate that Leeds has an enforcement problem in relation to illegal street traders.
As always, the right hon. Gentleman is a powerful advocate for Leeds. I represent the neighbouring district of Bradford and in particular Shipley, and I have a concern. If this is such a big problem in Leeds and is to be dealt with at a Leeds level, what reassurance can be given that the problem will not simply move across the boundary to Shipley or the wider Bradford district? Would it not be better to tackle this problem from a national perspective, rather than looking after the interests of Leeds alone?
I shall simply make two points to the hon. Gentleman. First, the Durham report suggests that there could be local, rather than national, solutions to this problem. We take that on board, and I respect the Durham report. Secondly, I walk regularly from my constituency to his, which is 12 miles along the Leeds and Liverpool canal. One has to go through my constituency and a few others to get to his, so if the problem were to migrate out of the city centre, it would come into my neighbourhood first. I have no intention of seeing the problem simply migrate, and I hope he would accept that reassurance.
The amendment to be proposed by Leeds takes on board the Durham research published earlier this year that suggests that there is no evidence to support the removal of the pedlars’ exemption from the national street trading regime. This proposal aims simply to get a grip on the streets in the centre and those who, as it were, pretend that they are engaged in street trading when they are really engaged in peddling—the amendment will help to achieve that. I hope that Members on both sides of this House will give this modest Bill a fair wind and that the amendment might help others too. Let us get this Bill through its Second Reading and into Committee. Let us iron out the details and let us give the councils the enforcement help that they need, because that is the crucial issue at this stage.
First, may I make an apology on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), who is unwell? He has a detached retina, which has been incredibly painful. I know that he was very keen to be here to continue debating these matters, but unfortunately he is not able to attend. I can report that he is well on the way to recovery. Although it will not be much longer before he is back in the House, I am sure that we will all miss him in this particular debate.
I accept the ruling that you made at the start, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and my intention is not to delay the House unduly, but it is important to go through some of the arguments. It would be fair to begin by praising the people in Leeds and Reading, who have shown a great desire to compromise, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) said. They have looked at the issue, listened to the debate as the Bills have gone through the House and agreed to address some of the legitimate concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. I therefore see no reason why the Bills that relate specifically to Leeds and Reading should not be agreed to fairly readily.
I genuinely thank the hon. Gentleman for reaching out across the House. Does he acknowledge that, just as Labour Members are not seeking to restrict unduly the legitimate work of legal pedlars, we are deeply concerned about people using our ancient pedlar procedure as a flag of convenience to undermine legitimate traders who pay hard cash for their market stalls?
I appreciate the points made by the hon. Gentleman, who is, again, a powerful advocate for his town. We may disagree on the extent of the problem. I still have a concern that this is a solution looking for a problem; I am not sure that there is a massive problem. In the spirit of co-operation, I shall certainly praise the approach that Reading has taken in finding a sensible compromise that not only suits its needs, but protects the legitimate rights of pedlars. Therefore, I see no reason why the Bills relating to Leeds and Reading should not be readily agreed.
The case is slightly different as regards Nottingham. My understanding—the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) may well be able to help here—is that Nottingham has not been quite as keen as Leeds or Reading to co-operate and recognise some of the legitimate concerns raised, particularly those discussed in previous debates by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. I hope that before we finally consider whether to divide on the Bills, the hon. Member for Nottingham, East might offer some reassurance that Nottingham will go down a similar line to Leeds and Reading and will look to incorporate some of the compromises that those cities have adopted.
It is important to consider, albeit briefly, some new points that have emerged from the report published by the university of Durham, which was not available to the House when we previously debated these matters.
As the House will know, in paragraph 4 of a statement made by the promoters of the Bills they state:
“The arguments in favour of the Bills have been rehearsed at length in the debates on the Manchester, Bournemouth and Canterbury Bills, and they apply equally to Leeds, Nottingham and Reading.”
In paragraph 5, they go on to quote the report from Durham university:
“Local authorities hoping to adopt legislation—whether a Private Act or the adoption of powers granted under the current Private Members Bill, if it becomes law—should provide a strong case to justify their adoption.”
The promoters use that statement to argue against any further delay or debate about these matters, but the Durham university report, published since those Second Reading debates, makes it clear—in paragraph 212, page 70, if anybody has a copy of the report—that there should be a heavy burden of proof attached to those seeking private legislation
“to establish genuine evidence of a local problem insurmountable through the use of existing powers.”
My contention is that no such case has been made for any of these cities, as far as I am aware.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) quoted two recent court cases from 15 May, which, in the case of Leeds, prove that the sanctions against such street traders are simply not tough enough. The results of those cases prove that those sanctions act as no deterrent to such individuals. Has the hon. Gentleman been to the centre of Leeds on a busy Saturday, or even during the week, and seen some of the illegal street trading that is going on? He would realise, then, that this is not a solution looking for a problem but very much a problem that needs this solution.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but are one or two examples sufficient to make us go through the whole process of a new Act of Parliament and to justify the time that is being taken up? In answer to his question, I have regularly visited the centre of Leeds. In fact, in the eight years before I entered Parliament I worked in the centre of Leeds for Asda. I am well aware of the pros and cons of Leeds city centre, but I am not entirely sure that in the haste to get the Bills passed we have heard a coherent case about the problems encountered.
The Durham university report shows that the test for the legislation should be quite high. It appears to me, at the moment, that we are being asked to support the Bills on the basis of rather limited information. It would help if we had some firm evidence of the problems. I welcome the specific examples relating to Leeds that the right hon. Member for Leeds, West cited and I hope that we will hear the same points made about Reading and, in particular, about Nottingham. Given Nottingham’s reluctance to compromise at all, above all else the council must demonstrate that it has a specific problem that cannot be dealt with under existing powers. So where is that evidence? Paragraph 211 on page 70 of the Durham university report states that those who took part in its public survey
“found genuine pedlars to be inoffensive and generally found their interactions with pedlars to be a positive experience.”
The report does not seem to be stating that there is a great case for the Bills; it seems to be saying something rather different. It goes on to say that there is
“little sense in withdrawing the livelihood of such inoffensive and well-meaning traders”,
and that the people surveyed
“greatly preferred pedlars to operate in the street, rather than door-to-door.”
I am not entirely sure whether the Durham university report makes the case for the promoters of the Bills, as they try to indicate in their statement. The report concluded that
“restricting pedlars to door-to-door trading only would lead to a severe restriction on their livelihood.”
Paragraph 6 of the statement from the promoters of the Bills says that
“evidence of the problems that the Bills seek to address will be provided to the committees of both Houses, and those committees will be able to test the case for the Bills in detail, to meet the recommendation in the Durham report.”
That statement misunderstands the fact that it is imperative, before approval be given, in principle, to the restriction of rights of pedlars on Second Reading, that there should be
“genuine evidence of a local problem insurmountable through the use of existing powers”,
as the Durham university report said.
I am not a big fan of the idea that we should say, “Let’s agree to anything on Second Reading, because all matters can be decided, one way or the other, in Committee. If we think that we have got it wrong, we can change things then. We can always vote against the measure on Third Reading.” That seems rather a strange approach to parliamentary scrutiny and parliamentary legislation, because on that basis, presumably no one would ever vote against the Second Reading of anything. We might say, “We can deal with all the issues in Committee,” but that is not sufficient reason to support the Bills on Second Reading.
Nottingham is, it seems, the least keen to compromise. If there is such a serious problem in Nottingham that the city not only needs the Nottingham City Council Bill to be agreed to, but is not even prepared to compromise on it, presumably it should not be difficult to provide some cogent evidence and some good examples of where the problem is. However, the only evidence that the House has had drawn to its attention is on page 34 of the Durham university report, which shows that in 2006, in the whole of the Nottinghamshire police force area, only two defendants were found guilty of offences under the Pedlars Act 1871. In 2005, the number was seven, and in 2004 it was four. I would submit that that does not indicate that there is an issue of such gravity and importance that the House should spend, or perhaps waste, time and money considering legislation to cover Nottingham specifically.
All the evidence from the report, which the Government commissioned, suggests that there is not really much of a problem in Nottingham. Perhaps the promoters of the Bills—again, I look particularly to the promoters of the Nottingham City Council Bill—can let us have the details of whether the offences identified in the report took place in the city of Nottingham, or a different part of the Nottinghamshire police force area. That is not entirely clear from the information that we have. Perhaps they can also tell us what the nature of the offences was, so that we can have a basis on which to decide whether we need legislation for Nottingham. I genuinely think that the case has not been made. I have attended all the Second Reading debates that we have had on such Bills, and I have heard little from those who support the Bills about why the Bills are so good. The right hon. Member for Leeds, West probably made the best case that I have heard at such a Second Reading, even though his speech was incredibly brief. We need people to put forward a case before the House accepts it; it should not accept the proposals willy-nilly without even challenging whether they are necessary.
I come back to the point that I made in my intervention on the right hon. Gentleman. I represent a seat neighbouring Leeds, and I absolutely understand that his constituency is much nearer the centre of Leeds than mine is. If anyone were to move from Leeds to Shipley, they would certainly go through his patch. They may well not even come to Shipley, but go straight to Bradford or somewhere else. However, Members who represent neighbouring areas should be concerned.
On page 32 of the report, paragraph 94 deals with the number of complaints that have been made and the number of prosecutions that have taken place. The report examines the particularly high rate of guilty verdicts in Derbyshire and Kent under the terms of the Pedlars Act and states:
“In the latter case this could be the result…of an influx of pedlars from London, where the application of the London Local Authorities Act 2004 may have driven them out of the capital.”
So the Durham university report clearly makes the point that by restricting the rights of pedlars in specific centres, there is a good chance that they will move to other parts of the country.
It seems perverse for us as a national Parliament to say it is all right to restrict pedlars in particular cities, but we are happy for them to move on to other cities nearby. That is a bizarre and divisive approach for a national Parliament to take. I know the point has been made before, so in line with Mr. Deputy Speaker’s ruling, I shall not go over it, but that paragraph of the report is important for people living in areas neighbouring the cities under discussion. We should consider whether there is a national problem and whether we need national legislation, rather than adopting a piecemeal approach which may suit the centre of Leeds, Nottingham or Reading, but gives no thought to cities and towns nearby.
When we come to decide these matters, potentially in a vote, I see no reason why the Bills that relate to Leeds and Reading should not progress to Committee, even though we do not yet have the results of the Government’s consultation. Those cities are keen to compromise, and in that spirit we should not unduly delay the progress of those Bills. I hope they will be able to proceed without the need for a Division.
However, the case for Nottingham has not been made. The Durham university report does not show that there is a particular problem in Nottingham, as opposed to any other part of the country. If the case is not made properly, the House should decide that that Bill does not deserve a Second Reading today.
I shall be brief, as I recognise that the subject has been debated for almost a year. For anyone to pretend now that we have not heard all the arguments and that we need to produce details is nonsense. I do not need to produce any evidence of what is happening in Nottingham in order to make a decision.
Unlike the hon. Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), I live in Nottingham and I pass the streets where the problem occurs at least once a week. I can point to a place less than 100 yd from my office where illegal street pedlars are operating. They cause a fair amount of disruption in a pedestrianised area for shoppers passing through. Also, they are, in effect, competition—I consider it illegal competition—for those people who go through the proper procedures and get themselves licensed as street traders. The legislation is needed and it is needed now. We are not in search of a problem; the problem exists.
I recognise—[Interruption.] There is plenty of evidence. I can show the hon. Member for Shipley photographs and information from the police. I accept that it is a minor problem and that it is not big crime, but to deal with it requires that we spend an awful lot of resources, time and ratepayers’ money on trying to take people to court. There are so few prosecutions because the existing legislation does not allow us to take them to court. I do not understand why the hon. Gentleman cannot get that through his head.
No, I will not. The hon. Gentleman has had a year to ask us to give way.
I know that you would rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I started talking about amendments that were not on the Order Paper, so I shall discuss the Bill as it exists. However, I do not see a need to compromise with the hon. Member for Christchurch or the hon. Member for Shipley and go against the wishes of the people of Nottingham and, I suspect, the majority of the House. I find it strange that people who, for a year, have tried to wreck the Bill—there is no other way to put it—should now have some benevolent amendments to suggest. I have a suspicion that the amendments are intended to give them the opportunity to think of other ways of wrecking the Bill in the future, so I and the city and people of Nottingham are not willing to compromise with people from outside Nottingham. It is not their problem. The Bill is for local people and local representatives, who should know far better than anyone down here, and probably even far better than I do, what is required for Nottingham.
When the time comes, I shall move the Bill, and I hope that the House supports it. We have had a year’s delay, which has been a great disadvantage to the people of Nottingham and it has created a great deal of expense. I hope that that is over now.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity finally to contribute to the Reading Borough Council Bill debate. Before I do that, I shall comment briefly on the Leeds City Council Bill, because my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) is unable to attend today’s debate, as others have said, and I join them in wishing him a speedy recovery.
My hon. Friend has been extremely assiduous in his attendance at these debates and central to ensuring that the Bills have not gone through on the nod. He has spoken at length, demonstrating a great knowledge and understanding of the issue, and he has supported the underdog, as the pedlar can be assumed to be in this case. Although my hon. Friend’s presence is missed today, at least by some of us, I hope to be able to further his hard work and to put on the record the current position regarding Leeds city council, before I move on to Reading.
My hon. Friend has led the opposition to an array of Bills that would otherwise seemingly have gone through without proper scrutiny. One of his main concerns has been the impact of the legislation on legitimate entrepreneurial pedlars going about their genuine business, and he has engaged with local authorities to try to reach agreements and ensure that the livelihoods of those pedlars are not curtailed unnecessarily. I can report that he, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said, has negotiated for some time and with some success with Leeds city council and Reading borough council on the narrow issue of pedlars. Both councils are to be highly commended for their sensible and extremely conciliatory approach towards finding common ground and an acceptable solution for all sides. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said, that is very much at odds with the attitude of Nottingham city council.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch was recently provided with an amended version of clause 5, which Leeds city council and Reading borough council have proposed for consideration in Committee in relation to pedlars. The amendment is testament to my hon. Friend’s ongoing and unwavering support for that small but nevertheless very important group of entrepreneurs.
On behalf of my hon. Friend, and for the purposes of this debate, I should like to read into the record the clause, as amended, which would form the new clause 5. Its sub-paragraph 2A states:
“Trading is carried on in accordance with this sub-paragraph if—
(a) It is carried out only by means of visits from house to house; or
(b) the following applies—
(i) all items used for any purpose connected with the trading are carried, without any other means of support, by the holder of the certificate during the time in which the trading takes place; and
(ii) the trading is not carried out in a prohibited street; and
(iii) the trading does not include the trading of tickets.”
In the light of that major concession, my hon. Friend has asked me to express his gratitude to Leeds city council and Reading borough council for working towards a satisfactory solution. He was, however, of the understanding that sub-paragraph 2A(b)(ii), relating to trading in a prohibited street, would not be included in the amendment. I am sure that that will require explanation, or removal, in Committee. However, in the spirit of the negotiations, I should say that the inclusion of that provision should not hold up matters today; it would be a great shame if we held up the Reading Borough Council Bill or the Leeds City Council Bill today or later in the process.
It is worth mentioning, however, that the Nottingham City Council Bill could be opposed today, as has been said. That is mainly due to the council’s failure to engage in negotiation and proper debate. It is a great shame that Nottingham should be singled out in this way, but I hope that the council will learn lessons from how Leeds city council and Reading borough council have behaved.
I shall now set out directly my points about Reading. Some of my hon. Friends have been extremely exercised by the Bills, and with good reason. I have listened carefully to all the arguments about the other Bills; I think that I have attended all the debates apart from the revival debate, so I feel that I have a good grasp of what has gone on. It is a relief finally to get to the Reading Borough Council Bill after all those hours of discussion.
I was not consulted by Reading borough council in advance of its developing the Bill. The first that I knew of it was when I was lobbied by a council officer, not long before the matter arrived in this House. That is a little worrying and slightly strange; I suppose that it is partly due to Reading’s consultation process not being as good as it should be.
I do not wish to break this wonderful spirit of harmony that we are developing across the Floor of the House. However, does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that he is talking utter hogwash? I hope that that is in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the hon. Gentleman had not pulled out of the joint liaison meetings that he and I used to hold regularly with Reading borough council, he would have been as consulted, as I was.
I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman is talking about; as and when a matter comes up, I meet Reading borough council officers regularly. It is a little disingenuous of the hon. Gentleman to break the consensus of the afternoon just because I choose to handle my local constituency matters in a way that is appropriate for me. That does not stop him from handling his constituency matters through joint liaison meetings with the council if he wishes.
Neither side has made a completely open-and-shut case for or against the proposed changes, so I would like to take a little time to go through a few of the issues about Reading. In that way, at least they will be on the record and have what I would regard as a decent airing. From the previous debates on Bournemouth, Canterbury, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham and so forth, we know that the control of street trading—mainly in relation to pedlars—comes under schedule 4 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982.
Like the other Bills, although bearing in mind the fact that they are not all exactly the same, the Reading Borough Council Bill would change the existing legislation that gives licences to pedlars to trade legally using a licence paid for by a £12.50 fee. Councils currently receive no business rates or licence fees from pedlars. In most local authority areas, the annual street trading fee is between £500 and £800, whereas pedlars continue to pay the much smaller fee of £12.50. It has been argued strongly, and with reasonable justification, that that represents an undercutting of other traders and is therefore unfair competition.
During one of my many walkabouts in Reading town centre last year, I had the opportunity to speak to several local traders. One of them, Salim, expressed his annoyance that pedlars were able to sell their merchandise without paying the same fees that he paid, and also could bypass the local authority bureaucracy. Pedlars, by the nature of their occupation, are transient salespeople, and it is fair to argue that they contribute very little to the ongoing success of the local economy, unlike their registered street trader counterparts. Salim argued to me that this amounted to unfair competition. He told me that he was paying several thousand pounds a year for his pitch in the town centre as against the £12.50 per year paid by a pedlar. One can therefore understand his concern about competition. His family are providing local jobs and income for Reading, and they also run a local shop, while the pedlars clearly do not do that.
The main purpose of the Bill is to extend the scope of the council in regulating the provision of services on the street, as well as touting. However, extending the council’s powers to regulate almost automatically makes me feel uneasy. I have always been of the view that less is more. The natural inclination of Governments local and national is to do more, to interfere more, and to involve themselves to a greater degree. That involvement usually makes matters worse rather than better, so it is rarely the right solution.
It is fair to say that in the past touting has been an important issue in Reading owing to the enormous numbers of young people arriving every year for the Reading festival, which takes place over the August bank holiday. I would thoroughly recommend it to hon. Members if they wish to visit Reading at that time. I believe that we have previously hosted the former Prime Minister’s favourite group, the Foo Fighters, and the current Prime Minister’s favourite group, the Arctic Monkeys. I use the word “favourite” in inverted commas, of course, because that information was briefed by Damian McBride, so one cannot tell what is true and what is not.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I certainly do not guarantee to say anything sensible, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way.
Would the hon. Gentleman like to remind the House that in the dark and dismal days of 1983 and 1984, it was a Conservative council in Reading that axed the Reading rock festival? It ill behoves him to be praying it in aid now.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman wishes to go back into ancient history. I am sure we could talk about lots of things from those times. As the current leadership of the borough council is about to become ancient history, perhaps in a few years we will revisit that as well.
My hon. Friend talks about the problem that Reading has with ticket touting. I do not know whether he has read the reports by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee and the Office of Fair Trading on ticket touting, which show that it is beneficial to the consumer. Is he saying that there is an objection to ticket touting, which could benefit Reading’s residents by giving them an opportunity to go to something that they could not have gone to otherwise or to sell a ticket at a profit? Why is ticket touting a problem for residents in Reading? Is it not a benefit to them?
I have not read the whole report, but I have read parts of it. My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, and if he bears with me I shall go through the points about ticket touting, and in particular the problems that the police say it causes.
I have been told that the activity of touts is of significant concern to the local authority, the local police and the Reading festival organisers alike. Richard Bennett, my local basic command unit commander, informed me during my consultation process on the Bill that the police have greatly limited powers in respect of illegal touting, but that the removal of such activity would reduce the risk to Reading festival-goers of buying forgeries, and also reduce the trade in stolen tickets. He said the following—it is a fairly lengthy quotation, but I wish to put it on the record:
“The individuals involved in touting include both legitimate traders and others who are involved in various forms of criminality. The police have very limited powers in respect of touting per se, but the removal of this type of activity would reduce the risk to Festival goers of buying forgeries and would reduce the trade in stolen tickets and wrist bands. There is Police activity in respect of both of these and we respond to the reports of thefts and forgeries accordingly but the existence of widespread touting provides a cover for the actions of criminals and we are responding to offences that have been committed rather than preventing them from happening in the first place.”
The principle of good, proactive, preventive policing is something that we should all support.
That is all very well, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend is making a far better case for Reading than anyone has even tried to make for Nottingham, but does he not accept that selling stolen or forged tickets is a criminal offence in itself and does not need any additional legislation? It is fraud, and it is theft. That is completely different from the selling on of legitimate tickets.
Yes, I accept that there is a difference between those two things, but I wish to lay out my broad case, after which I shall be happy to give way again, if my hon. Friend wishes to intervene.
There is an absurdity in Reading borough council’s position. As I understand it, it means that touting could be an offence in a designated part of Reading in my constituency, but not in Woodley or Earley, which are in my constituency but which fall within the borough boundaries of Wokingham borough council. I would be extremely interested to know where the demarcation would be for a touting offence to be committed, and how it would be policed. It is not clear from the Bill how the offence is intended to work or be used, so it is somewhat equivalent to a blank cheque. What offence would the laws be used for? Would they just be for the Reading festival, or would they be for sporting events such as London Irish rugby matches, or concerts at the Hexagon in Reading town centre? Ticket touting is not illegal elsewhere in the country, apart from, I think—
Apart from football matches. I thank my hon. Friend for confirming that. Where will the limits on the power be? It strikes me that the Bill would create an anomaly, which needs further explanation and probably further consultation and consideration before the Bill completes its passage.
To return to pedlars, Reading borough council argues that the small annual licence fee that they pay is not a reasonable sum in comparison with the sizeable annual rates paid by shopkeepers and permanent street traders. As I have said, that is a fair argument. A pedlar’s licence can be obtained virtually anywhere in the country by anyone claiming to have a good character. Given the outdated nature of the original legislation, there seems to be significant room for people who are less than genuine to obtain a certificate from the police. The police have argued to me that they do not have the time or inclination to check a person’s good character thoroughly, and that they can check only their criminal record. The system therefore has its limitations.
When I talked to a local pedlar, she had no idea that traditional street traders paid so much more than she did to trade on Broad street in Reading town centre. She suggested a change in the system whereby pedlars should be made to contribute more and street traders made to pay less for their licences so that a sort of equilibrium was reached. Although that is an honourable response, we were filming her at the time for a YouTube video on my website. I am not sure whether all the pedlars in the town centre agree with that point of view.
It is important not to vilify pedlars as glorified Del Boys, as some have done. Anyetta, the pedlar whom I met, was pleasant and helpful. She explained that she was simply trying to find ways in which to pay off her student loan, and peddling was only one of several jobs in which she was involved. It is an age-old, honourable business for those who choose to take it up. It is far from easy, but it is easy to criticise and castigate those who do it.
I also had the opportunity to speak to a shopper in Reading town centre, who had returned for the second week running to buy the same item from a local pedlar. When asked whether Broad street would be better off without such traders, he simply answered, “If you’re walking down the high street and you see something you like, you make a choice.” He implied that if the pedlars’ merchandise is not of sufficient quality, discerning shoppers will vote with their feet and not come back. When I asked whether it bothered him that he might not be able to return the product the following week, his simple response was, “Woolworths might not be here next week.” As it happened, Woolworths was not there the next week, so his example was fitting.
The local police force also has an important part to play. I met town centre police officer Rob Murray, who explained that, although illegal peddling is not a priority for the police, it is one of the main issues that the local neighbourhood action group consistently raises. Astonishingly, the group raises the matter as often as more serious problems, such as antisocial behaviour, rough sleeping in the town centre, which is increasing, and problems relating to the night-time economy, such as drinking and prostitution. Police enforcement exercises and prosecutions using CCTV have had limited effect. Sergeant Murray said that only seven prosecutions had been brought in recent years, which suggests that the existing legislation has not been thoroughly used.
I have also engaged in correspondence with the Berkshire West BCU commander Richard Bennett, who has informed me that the police are required to regulate pedlars while the local council regulates street traders. There is therefore a division of responsibility. The main conflict occurs when people use pedlar certificates to avoid the regulations and limitations placed on street traders. One of the main barriers to prosecution is the requirement on pedlars to keep moving. Is it sensible to ask our police to regulate that, and make them watch pedlars, who pull big trolleys up and down Broad street, waiting for them to stop for a period of time so that they can prosecute them? Is that not a waste of valuable time and resources, when the police could engage with far greater priorities for my constituents?
I believe that my hon. Friend’s constituency is covered by Thames Valley police. According to the Durham university report, three people were found guilty of offences in 2006 under the Pedlars Act 1871, and in 2005, there were no prosecutions. Is my hon. Friend saying that there is a big problem but the police do not have the resources to deal with it, or that the conviction rate is so low because there is not that much of problem in Reading? Is he saying that there is a problem, but the police simply have no time or resources to tackle it?
From my direct experience, I can say that there is a problem. There are a significant number of pedlars, but the difficulty is proving that they have committed an offence. One has to watch pedlars pulling trolleys up and down the street for a long time—several hours. There can be six, eight, sometimes even 10 big trolleys—some are the size of a street stall. That is not easy to police and one has to watch carefully if one wants the prosecution to stick. It is a question of resources, and I sympathise with the police’s problem, which is why it is probably better for the local authority to play a bigger role in policing peddling.
Rather than expecting the police to take action against pedlars, it is much better that local authorities should have sufficient powers to regulate the offending behaviour themselves. Richard Bennett also reiterated the fact that neighbourhood policing is not intended to address all the licensing and trading issues that the local authority is meant to control. The local police response was that Reading borough council has a responsibility to create the sort of conditions in the town centre that will help legitimate street traders to prosper.
The upshot of the police response is simple. Although each case is complex, giving limited additional powers to other agencies, such as Reading borough council, would increase the range of options available to all authorities to put sensible measures in place. Although I would not wish to generalise about other forces across the country, Reading police made it clear that it sees the Bill not as being about handing over power to the council, but as being about sharing responsibility, which will make enforcement action much quicker and more coherent.
That is a logical and sensible approach. If the Reading Borough Council Bill is passed, it would undoubtedly free up the police’s valuable resources to address more pressing issues in the Reading area. Steve Kirk, Reading’s local police area commander, has also written in support of the application for a change in the legislation, which, as we know, dates back to 1871. He says that the 1871 Act is now simply not fit for the purpose of controlling the activity that it was originally intended to control.
I want to draw hon. Members’ attention to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) in our previous debate. He advocated dealing with the problem through an overarching, national solution, rather than through piecemeal legislation. He rightly asked: if the Reading Borough Council Bill receives Royal Assent, what is to stop other local authorities from seeking the same legislation in their town centres? Not only would valuable parliamentary time have to be found for each separate Bill, but there would be a detrimental effect on the public purse.
That is a serious point, because I understand that each such Bill that is brought to Parliament costs about £100,000. I understand that a portion of the cost of the Reading Borough Council Bill is being funded by the business improvement district, but perhaps there are better ways of spending local taxpayers’ money than bringing forward such Bills from across the country in the way that we are. I am digressing slightly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but with 50 Bills in the pipeline, a significant amount of public money would be needed to try to take them all through Parliament.
There is an argument that much of the current private legislation would be unnecessary if the Government agreed to a national legislative framework. Indeed, some hon. Members argued strongly for that in previous debates. That is one reason why I read with interest the research conducted by St. Chad’s college, Durham, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley has referred, that was commissioned by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. That research raised several interesting points that are worthy of mention in this debate in relation to Reading borough council.
The research concluded that the scale of pedlary in the UK is relatively modest—although one would not know that from some of our debates—with an estimated 3,000 to 4,500 people being granted certificates by police forces across the country. The study found little evidence that certificated pedlars present problems in most city centres or that they are in direct competition with shops or street traders. The evidence also suggested that consumers value pedlars’ presence in town centres and regard buying from them as a positive experience, as I found when I was out looking at the issue in Reading town centre. The study ended by stating that there is no need for national legislation, although solutions may be required to deal with local problems in particular areas.
Although I have already highlighted the legal anomaly that would arise because of the split of my constituency into two areas under separate local authorities, I believe that the conclusions of the report are sensible and fair. It says that the most common desire of local authorities is to be able to exercise more flexible and powerful sanctions, such as the ability to seize goods, issue fixed penalty notices and move traders on. However, the most evident concern related to the issues of obstruction or public safety caused by large numbers of street traders gathering in small areas, such as around football grounds or in city centres in the run-up to Christmas. My experience in Reading town centre is that large numbers of pedlars gather there with their big trolleys. At certain times, that causes an obstruction and becomes a public safety issue for my constituents. There is therefore a need for action in that area.
Pedlars and police respondents to the research by the university of Durham also recognised the need to modernise and standardise, rather than repeal or replace, the 1871 Act. The inadequacies of the present system lead to inconsistency in enforcement practice between areas, which is exacerbated by a degree of ignorance among enforcement officers. I am sure that we all agree that greater clarity on this issue is needed for enforcement officers and pedlars alike. Interestingly, many of the local authorities that submitted evidence said that there were few, if any, difficulties stemming from illegal street trading. Only half the local authority respondents wished to change the existing legislation. This shows that, while certain councils—Reading included—wish to add to their statutory powers, many are happy with the status quo. Such information raises concerns about how important the new legislation really is. The Durham research concluded that possible changes to procedures relating to pedlars could include a more concrete nationally applicable set of definitions and guidelines relating to the issuing of certificates and to pedlars’ activities, the redesign and standardisation of the pedlars’ certificate and a greater burden on the pedlar to prove that they are a legitimate trader.
As a former entrepreneur—indeed, I still like to think of myself as a businessman—I strongly believe in the right to free, open and fair trade. I do not wish in any way to be seen to be against pedlars, because legitimate traders have a rightful place on every high street and add to the colour and diversity of our towns and cities. I do not want this legislation to drive out the genuine pedlar. However, I also do not believe that an ambiguity in the law should enable certain individuals to flout the rules at the expense of others.
Having aired these arguments and raised a few points of continued concern, I am going to support the Bill on this occasion, but on the clear understanding that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch—whose diligence must be commended—has brokered a very sensible compromise with Reading borough council. I congratulate the borough officer responsible, Clare Bradley, on agreeing a sensible compromise that all parties, including myself, appear to be happy with. That compromise will allow pedlars to continue to trade in the heart of my constituency, but without using the massive rolling trolleys to which I have referred. They are more akin to street traders’ stalls on wheels, and they allow unfair competition. The pedlars will be able to trade in the more traditional way intended, and their enterprise will therefore be properly rewarded. I welcome the compromise and will therefore not detain the House any further.
It would be churlish of me not to welcome the conversion of the hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson), but it is fair to say that it has been some time coming. The House has been entertained by hon. Members airing of the arguments on the Durham university report on many occasions. I welcome the fact that a compromise has been struck.
In the short contribution that I made earlier, I sought to highlight that there was no intention by Reading borough council or its officers—or, indeed, the business community of Reading—to restrict the more traditional role of the pedlar. There is, however, a problem with their wheeled monstrosities. I call them that because I have seen bogus pedlars trying to move them, and it can take four or five people to move them only a yard or two. Reports from the police and from the council officer concerned show that attempts to move these mobile stalls have resulted in goods and wares falling on to the ground in a chaotic manner.
My experience of trying to buy something from a pedlar is less romantic than that of the hon. Member for Reading, East. The last time I approached a pedlar in Reading town centre, I was just about to investigate his wares when he was arrested by the police and the Border and Immigration Agency and subsequently deported as an illegal immigrant. So there is, I am afraid, a direct parallel, with people using the pedlar certificate and the arcane provisions of the Pedlars Act 1871 as a straightforward flag of convenience—this applies in Reading and in other communities—in order to undercut, undermine and provide unfair competition for legitimate street traders.
It is worth reading into the record that the street trader fees currently levied for Broad street in the centre of Reading are £5,425 a year—and there were six of these at the time—so it equates to approximately £15 a day, whereas a pedlar’s certificate can be obtained anywhere in the country, I believe, for about £12.50.
It is also worth stating, notwithstanding the Durham report—much of it does not apply to Reading because Reading does not restrict pedlars or street traders to the peripheries of the town centre—that the definition of a pedlar is somewhat arcane in itself. According to the definition in the 1871 Act, a pedlar is
“any hawker, pedlar, petty chapman”—
whatever that means—
“tinker, caster of metals, mender of chairs, or any other person who, without any horse or other beast of 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”.
Now, about 130 years down the track, it is time to define exactly what we mean by pedlar in the modern context. I have to say that some of the starry-eyed romanticism I heard from the hon. Member for Reading, East—not so much in his recent contribution as in previous ones—is well wide of the mark.
When it comes to the Reading Borough Council Bill, I very much regret the fact that while making provision for important measures to support legitimate businesses in our communities, we are putting increasing and unnecessary pressures on the police, and so on and so forth. I worry that we are proceeding through the measure of a private Bill and I worry about all the expense, the trouble and all the parliamentary time taken up. However, we are where we are. As the former Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, once said, we have to live in the world as we find it, and the world as we find it in Reading is that we have a real, live problem that needs to be dealt with. I am thus delighted that it looks as though we are going to send this Bill on to due parliamentary process this afternoon.
The Bill is supported by the business investment district, which is a coalition of Reading street traders, by the Thames Valley police, by all parties on Reading borough council and particularly by the legal street traders who pay their dues. I seriously take issue with the hon. Member for Reading, East about the notion of consumer rights, particularly the idea that we should somehow frame a policy prescription for consumer rights on the basis that it does not really matter whether a chain store is going to be there today or tomorrow. If people are ripped off and sold dodgy goods, it is important that, wherever possible, they have the opportunity to take them back to the specific retailer. I very much regret the fact that Woolworths went under—it is no laughing matter—but I would certainly not frame public policy on the basis that because any business may cease trading at any time, we do not need to worry about the rights of consumers.
The hon. Gentleman, who I thank for giving way, is operating under a misunderstanding. If he read the Hansard, he would find that I was directly reporting the comments of one of my constituents rather than commenting about Woolworths myself, so he should correct his error.
Frankly, if I read some of the speeches on this subject, I would lose the will to live, but I will certainly check the Hansard to ensure that I have not misrepresented the hon. Gentleman’s laughing at the closure of Woolworths in Reading, which I think many people view as a matter of regret.
As to where we go from here, I hope that all these Bills will pass to their next stages and that we can continue the consensus that we have finally forged. I pay tribute to all hon. Members who have sought to find a solution to a very real problem, albeit through a rather tortuous parliamentary route.
This has been an interesting debate, which has carried on from previous discussions of similar private Bills.
I acknowledge the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (John Battle), who is a great champion of his city. He made a short, concise but nevertheless significant speech in favour of the Leeds City Council Bill, backed up by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton). My right hon. Friend noted in particular an amendment proposed by Leeds. I share his regret at the absence of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope)—I am not sure he will welcome the Government wishing him well in his recovery, but I do so nevertheless.
The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) made a series of interesting points, and has clearly been doing his research. As part of that, I hope he is now reading the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform website—a confession to which he alluded in previous debates—more thoroughly and rigorously. I am happy to be corrected by him, but he seemed to argue that either there is a national problem in relation to pedlar legislation and the way in which pedlars are handled or there is not. Although I acknowledge the number of private Bills that have been brought to the attention of the House, the number of local authorities across the UK that have not sought to introduce legislation on the issue to date is also worth noting.
There has been growing pressure on the Government to consider the issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) has been particularly astute in his consistent lobbying of the Government to take action. As the House knows, we have responded to such calls.
Does the Minister not acknowledge the domino effect as local authorities request legislation to sort out their city, and then other local authorities find the problem transferred to them and also request legislation? Does he not agree that national legislation would sort out the problem once and for all?
I do not necessarily accept that that is the case. Where local authorities face problems, they have sought a private Bill in the usual way to address local issues. I also acknowledge that a growing number, albeit a minority, of local authorities have been concerned about how pedlar legislation has been used, and have made the case for reform. In that spirit, we have sought to conduct the research led by Durham university, to which I will refer in a moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) again made a passionate and powerful speech in favour of the Reading Borough Council Bill. The hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) also made a thoughtful and considered case for the Bill. I was almost sympathetic to his plight as my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West intervened on him: his interventions made me grateful that he continues to be on my side. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) also made a passionate defence of his city’s need for the legislation under consideration.
For the convenience of the House, let me set out the Government’s updated thinking on the issues. In March, during the revival debate on these and three other private Bills, I confirmed that my Department would undertake a consultation this summer on street trading and pedlary, as a result of the research findings set out in the Durham university report, which my Department commissioned last year. As I have said, we hope to launch the consultation by the summer recess. Details will appear on the DBERR website in the usual way, and no doubt the hon. Member for Shipley will be one of the first to spot them.
I welcome the consultation on the Pedlars Act. May I ask the Minister, however, whether in the future he might recognise that £100,000 is a relatively high threshold, and that nothing should necessarily be read into the fact that local authority nuisance has not reached the threshold of £100,000-worth of expenditure?
I acknowledge the cost of bringing a private Bill to the Floor of the House of Commons. One of the reasons why the Government commissioned the Durham university research, and one of the reasons for the consultation that we are launching in the summer, is the fact that we received a number of representations from local authorities and hon. Members about the need for the Government to review this issue nationally. We have sought to respond to the concerns of the House. I am sure that, in his more generous moments, the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that we are a listening Government and have listened to the concerns of the House in this instance.
As the House will recognise, the activities of unlawful street traders can adversely affect the livelihoods of licensed street traders, certified pedlars—those acting in accordance with the Pedlars Act—other retailers and consumers. We therefore strongly support the efforts of local authorities and their enforcement partners to use the powers at their disposal to regulate unlawful traders’ behaviour.
In due course, the street trading and pedlary consultation will seek to explore three main themes. First, it will seek views on options concerning the scope for providing extra enforcement powers along the lines of those which are subject to these Bills—in particular, fixed penalties and powers of seizure and confiscation to enable more effective control of illegal street traders. Secondly, it will seek views on the potential for updating the Pedlars Act to bring what is a 19th-century framework firmly into the 21st century. We will consider the future of the form of the pedlars’ certificate. We will consider which should be the issuing authority if it is not to be the police, as is currently the case. We will consider how to maintain the national nature of a genuine pedlar’s permission to trade while still meeting the valid wish of some local authorities to be able to control the level of trading activity in relation to special events or in particular areas where too much trading has an adverse effect.
Thirdly, we will seek views on draft guidance that offers clearer advice on what is permitted and what is not. We will also seek views on the future position of pedlars of services in the wake of alterations in the course of implementation of the services directive. We will seek to reach the pedlar community. We will also work with trading standards and other local authority officers in considering how the options before us might be usefully developed, and we will, of course, want to hear the views of the police.
A range of other key stakeholders are already considering what should be done. The National Association of British Market Authorities will hold a seminar later this month. As we have heard, some local authorities whose Bills are before the House have already discussed with a number of hon. Members their experience of the current legislation and their appetite for more change, and I understand that a number of pedlars also wish to share their experience of the current position.
I welcome the work of those other stakeholders, which we shall want to use in our deliberations. We shall also give further consideration to the debates on these Bills that have already taken place in the House, and those that will take place in the future, in deciding what action to take. I commend the Government’s neutrality on the Bills to the House.
I commend the industry and efforts of the different local councils who have brought the Bills to the House. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned, the process of bringing a private Bill before the House is expensive, quite complicated, pretty time-consuming and rather arcane.
It is worthy of note that these local councils have found their way through the different thickets and underbrush of parliamentary procedure to get to this point. It has been an achievement. It is also worth mentioning that a number of other local authorities may be deterred from bringing such Bills to the House because the process is so complicated and relatively expensive. That point was made by the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats.
My constituency has similar problems with pedlars. Every autumn, the Weston-super-Mare carnival is held—carnivals are a wonderful west country, Somerset tradition. On a Monday evening in late autumn, a colourful and loud procession will wend its way through the streets of Weston-super-Mare, with a lot of people turning up to watch. I have had repeated representations from the organisers of the carnival, who perform that task in their free time, as volunteers, to raise money for a variety of good causes. They are concerned that, for that night, Weston-super-Mare is besieged by pedlars from throughout the country who come to sell their wares. The organisers are concerned that money spent with those pedlars might otherwise be spent or donated to the various good causes that benefit from the carnival. People are deeply concerned about that lost revenue.
I support the hon. Gentleman strongly on this matter. As he knows, the circuit includes many Somerset towns—no one outside Somerset has any concept of the scale of Somerset carnivals—so pedlars are a real problem throughout the county. As he knows, his predecessor tried hard to get the law changed to deal with the problem. I hope that through the process of private Bills, the Government will eventually recognise that the prevalence of pedlars is a problem for the charitable sector as well as for commercial traders.
I am grateful for my fellow Somerset MP’s support. What we have described is a microcosm of a much wider problem. My local council has considered bringing one of these Bills to the House but after extensive consideration it has so far decided that it cannot justify the expense, for the reasons that have been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I compliment those councils that have promoted the Bills before the House today. They have managed to wend their way to the Floor of the House but I suspect that a large number of other councils are either actively considering doing the same, or have so far been dissuaded because of the cost of the process. It is worth putting that point on record.
As we have heard, there are arguments about the merits and demerits of pedlars. It is worth saying that no one is suggesting that legal street traders and pedlars may not necessarily be a good thing—in fact, they are closely regulated and it is accepted that they can bring a useful buzz and colour to the streetscape and town centre, and can be an important aspect of a shopping centre’s life and fizz. However, the problem is with the unregulated or perhaps the rogue examples of the trade.
My party shares the Government’s approach of maintaining a careful and studied neutrality on individual Bills brought before the House by individual councils. It would be wrong to adopt a national position on such special local Bills, but our overarching view is worth putting on the record. We think that it is important that the existing legislation is subject to some national reform and examination, especially given the fact that we have all these Bills coming through to the Floor of the House in a rather solemn procession. Clearly, that cannot be a sensible or useful use of this Chamber’s time and of the extensive resources that have to be spent in bringing each one of those Bills separately and in sequence to the Floor of the House. That cannot be a sensible use of anyone’s time or resources.
That is why I was extremely pleased to hear what I understood to be the beginnings of Government movement, and I just want to make sure that that is clearly put on the record. I think we heard the Minister say that the Government will now be considering, and consulting on, extra enforcement powers, clearer guidance and advice, and changing the Pedlars Act 1871—after 130-plus years, I suspect that may very well be sensible—not only to update some of the existing provisions, but to investigate whether it should cover services as well as goods. Everybody will broadly welcome that. If it avoids the need for any other local councils to bring yet more of these Bills, it will make everybody in all parts of the House happy—including my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), whom we all wish well in his recovery from his detached retina. I assure the House that my party will be carefully watching the Government’s progress in this matter, and will try to make sure they have all the necessary support if they are going to simplify processes so that we do not need a similar procession of such Bills in future.
We have been generally supportive of reform in this matter. It is obvious that there are widespread problems with pedlary, as the situation at Somerset carnivals shows, and it does not require a lot of evidence. We can, I think, take at face value the tales of, for example, the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) and the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) that there is a specific problem in their areas. It will clearly create unfair competition if in Reading, for example, people have to pay £5,000 a year for a licence, but for £12.50 people can wander around all over the place.
We should give more attention to the process whereby the law gets changed and how we have ended up with a sequence of Bills and to the fact that, until this point, the Government have not recognised the need for reform. To that extent, we greatly welcome the Government’s consultation on the issue of pedlary. A law put in place when people did not have easy transport around the country and would wander around with their goods is now undermining the regulation of the street scene. Street traders are very important, but when people come in to localities from different areas, that causes a difficulty.
Oddly enough, in my constituency, we have moved down the route of discouraging cold calling as well, which points to another issue that should, perhaps, be looked at in the consultation. Given that distraction burglaries are a great concern in Birmingham, Yardley, we might need to look at that wider issue as well.
The Reading Bill contains interesting provisions relating to touting. It refers to:
“Any person who, in a place designated under this section, importunes any person by touting for a hotel”.
It would be interesting to know how the courts would interpret that. Selecting the word “importunes” rather than “solicits” implies that somebody is being asked more than once. If we are to develop a framework for dealing with such issues, which we have supported all along, the Government’s consultation should also consider what might need to be done about touting, and whether that should be addressed in relation to soliciting or importuning, which is the term used in the Bill. It might be difficult to secure prosecutions if somebody says, “Well, I only asked them once”, given what, on the strict dictionary definition of the term used, the measure in the Bill means.
I had great encouragement from the hon. Member for Nottingham, East to give a very long speech, but I am not sure that I entirely understood his semaphoring so I shall stick to talking about the basic issues, as I have so far. We support these private Bills, but in future, we will have to look at how legislation can be changed by public demand without that having to be agreed by a Department, because it is clear from the Bills’ progress that the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is resistant to necessary change. However, that resistance is gradually eroding as it is obvious that so many local authorities have reached the threshold where they are willing to spend more than £100,000—the £100,000 merely relates to the costs paid externally and there are obviously internal costs too.
In the context of reform within this House and how legislation is generated, there must be a better mechanism for reviewing how to alter things, so that changes do not come just through the civil service, but can be developed outside this House and promoted in this House more effectively in mainstream business. That is different from everything coming along with the bus, as it were, with a standard Bill, on whatever it might be, generated out of the civil service. Resistance from within a Department—we are pleased to see it ebbing away on this occasion—causes the difficulty of a sequence of expensive private Bills and potentially a situation where we drive a problem around the country as we deal with it in each place. I must welcome the fact that the Government have recognised that and are moving to consultation. Within that consultation they should also examine the issue of touting, because if Reading feels that it is worth examining, it is important that we deal with the wider point. On that basis, we will be supporting these Bills.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.
Nottingham City Council Bill (By Order)
Bill read a Second time and committed.
rEADING BOROUGH COUNCIL BILL (BY Order)
Bill read a Second time and committed.