Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—(The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
Before I call the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), let me inform Members that, in line with the approach I have consistently taken when these particular Bills have been before the House, I propose that the two Bills on the Order Paper—the Canterbury City Council Bill and the Nottingham City Council Bill—be considered together on Third Reading, as they are still almost identical.
This Bill was first deposited in November 2007, and we have had three separate Second Readings, and the House has spent many hours deliberating on it, so I will say almost nothing about the original arguments, beyond stating that my community, and in particular Canterbury city, is one of the foremost tourist attractions in the country, and while that brings many benefits, it also brings the very considerable problem of congestion in our high street.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that, since 2007, a lot of water has passed under Westminster bridge, and that, in terms of pedlars, the Government have issued consultation and research, and have now come forward with draft legislative proposals contained in the latest consultation, which does not have to be concluded until the beginning of next month? Does he accept that the situation is now completely different from when the Bill was introduced, and that in the light of what the Government may be going to do, his Bill is premature?
In a word, no. The promoters of the Bill do not believe that we are close to Government legislation in this area. [Interruption.] It appears to me that the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell), is nodding. Also, although I know that the Opposition Front-Bench team are sympathetic on this issue, I do not believe that it would be a high priority for an incoming Conservative Government. This is a specific problem for a few localities. As it is not a general problem around the country, it is inevitable that no central Government will give it a particularly high priority.
The sad fact is that in a congested and popular city centre such as Canterbury’s, which has narrow cobbled streets, the activities of people using peddling licences are playing a significant role in contributing to congestion. More importantly, their activities are undermining the position of the 13 traders who pay a great deal of money each year for their legitimate street licences and that of the many shops on our high street that are close to the economic edge in this recession.
I do not wish to repeat the arguments made in the earlier debates, but I wish to address one particular matter. There are two differences between the Canterbury Bill and the Nottingham Bill, about which we will hear shortly. The more important of those relates to the issue of touting, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) devoted a great deal of some of his earlier speeches. I made it clear then that I was sympathetic to his points about touting. The provisions are designed to address a difficult and unpleasant, but extremely narrow, point. However, as drafted, they would have potentially far-reaching consequences, and I would be very worried about what a future non-Conservative Administration, should we have the misfortunate to have one in Canterbury, could do with them. I therefore obtained an absolute assurance from the promoters of the Bill, Canterbury city council, that it will strike out the touting clause in another place.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that concession public. As he rightly says, we had an exchange on the Floor of the House about this matter—I believe it was on 29 October 2008—during which he offered me the opportunity to visit Canterbury to discuss it with the officers of his local council. That visit has not materialised, but may I ask him why the opportunity was not taken to make this concession, and thereby allow this amendment, when this Bill was before the Unopposed Bill Committee, because we would thus have been able to deal with the matter in this House?
This is an important point. As the transcript of the Unopposed Bill Committee proceedings shows, this question was brought up then and the representatives of Canterbury city council argued specifically against such an amendment. Have they changed their mind?
I have no idea whether they have changed their mind, but they have given me an absolute assurance, in writing, that this provision will be struck out in another place.
Over the past two and a bit years, a great deal of time and energy has been expended in this Chamber on debating these two parallel Bills and, indeed, the other four that are further back in the pipeline. I do not think that further words from me will add anything to the debate. My local community in Canterbury is very anxious for this measure, which is supported by all parties on Canterbury city council, and I would be most grateful for the support of the House.
I should point out to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) that if the Whip is nodding, it is not necessarily in assent to what he is saying. I say that because the Whip cannot get up to defend himself.
I acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman is always courteous.
The Government understand the desire of these local authorities to bolster their enforcement powers when faced with traders who seek to hide behind a pedlar’s certificate as a means of frustrating the gathering of evidence on street trading offences. The House is aware that, prompted by a number of local authorities that seek the additional powers that these Bills include, the Government, as he mentioned, undertook research into the perceptions of, and application of, the current national and local regimes. We are now in the process of consulting on possible proposals for changes to the national regime.
The ideas explored in the consultation included: whether there is a national need to extend enforcement powers for local authorities so that they can better tackle illegal street traders without unduly restricting legitimate pedlary; how more clarity can be achieved between the legitimate activities of certified pedlars and practices that seek to frustrate the enforcement of street-trading rules; how the pedlars regime might usefully be modernised to achieve a clearer fit with street-trading laws and to make the certification process more comprehensive, to provide better access to records of certificates and to help pedlars to go about their legitimate business where they are entitled to do so; the subject of guidance on the application of the current regime, which research found all parties would find useful as there is widespread misunderstanding of what constitutes legitimate pedlar activity and what constitutes illegal street trading; and how we can maintain the national nature of a genuine pedlar’s permission to trade while meeting the valid concerns of some local authorities about being able to control the level of trading activity in relation to special events or, in particular, to areas where too much trading has an adverse effect. The consultation period ends on 12 February and we will publish the Government’s response in due course.
The Minister’s speech was most helpful. He talked about what I believe should happen: we should have a national policy. The Government are moving speedily and correctly in that direction, and it is for this House to decide on a national policy. My objection in principle to these Bills is that to provide a private Bill for each council that wants one is a ridiculous way to proceed in this day and age.
I am grateful to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) who, quite rightly, feels passionately about the issue involved. I am aware of the important feelings that he has about that, and it is right that when we have private business people of the same political party should have differences of opinion on it. I have had representations from city councils, although I have not actually had them from Canterbury, so let me show their side of the coin. They say:
“Problems include large groups of individuals selling goods such as balloons, flags, whistles etc from large, wheeled stalls. Most of those individuals usually claim to benefit from a pedlar’s certificate. Their presence not only causes obstruction to pedestrians and projects a negative image of the area, but also results in complaints from legitimate street traders in the area who are subject to strict control by the local authority via conditions on their licence.”
I am sure that that is entirely the case in Canterbury, but my argument would be that this is a matter for Parliament as a whole to decide. We should have a national policy and then delegate down to local authorities the decision on whether they enact the provisions or not. I welcome the Government’s position on this matter.
Following on from that, does my hon. Friend not agree that across the total of six Bills, these two—the Canterbury City Council Bill and Nottingham City Council Bill—are probably the two most restrictive? Without the result of the Government’s consultation, which we are still awaiting, and without their response to it, it is difficult to judge at this stage whether these Bills strike the balance that it would appear that everybody wants to see.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He is quite correct. There would be a legitimate case for delaying this a little longer—until February—so that we can see where we are as regards the Government report. My issue is with the specific Bills and the procedure that has been used to bring them to Third Reading.
This is the first time that I have spoken in a Third Reading debate on private business, and I have been doing some research. This information has been provided by the House of Commons and, in particular, the House of Commons Information Office’s document on private Bills. I also looked at column 989 of the Official Report on 29 October 2008, which was the Second Reading of the Canterbury City Council Bill. I spoke in that debate. Given that we are talking about this group of Bills, I also looked at the Second Reading debate for the other councils involved, which can be found in the Official Report for 3 June 2009, from column 329.
I also referred to the transcript of the Unopposed Bill Committee that took place on 8 July 2009. Rather bizarrely, the Committee is said to have been chaired by Sir Michael Lord, with Mr. Adrian Bailey, Gordon Banks, Peter Bottomley and Sir Robert Smith. That is how the transcript has been produced, I assume by Hansard.
I have concerns about how this Third Reading has been presented and dealt with. What should happen with a private Bill is that the initial, formal First Reading stage is the same as with—
Order. Let me try to be of assistance to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone). Whether he likes it or not, we are on Third Reading of this particular Bill. As in any Third Reading, he may speak about what is in the Bill, but not about the procedure affecting what happens before this stage or what happens to private Bills in general. We are where we are: there is a Bill before the House, and speeches on Third Reading must be confined to the contents of the Bill.
I am very grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I apologise. I was somewhat misguided by the House of Commons briefing, which says that
“third reading debates on opposed private business have tended to be rather wide-ranging; Members who put down blocking motions may wish to discuss the merits of the particular bill or to allow more time for the promoters and petitioners against the bill to reach some reconciliation.”
I am apologising—
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
There is a particular issue that one of my constituents has asked me to speak about in this Third Reading debate. People may ask why the Bill was not petitioned against. If that had happened, the procedure that I am not allowed to talk about would have been different. The Bill would have gone to an Opposed Bill Committee, and the scrutiny would have been somewhat different. In any case, however, it would have been impossible for me to be on either type of Committee, as their memberships are not selected as happens with normal Bills.
I want to talk about the relationship that the economic situation and unemployment have with removing the right of pedlars to carry out their work in a particular city. Since the Second Reading debate, unemployment in both Nottingham and Canterbury—and, for that matter, in my town—has increased by more than 50 per cent. It seems to me that people who wish to leave the unemployment register and acquire gainful employment could do so by getting a pedlar’s licence. They would have to go through certain checks, as such a licence is issued by the police.
Such people would then be entitled to go and peddle across the country. In fact, that is the whole point of the pedlar’s licence—it is not static. Licensed pedlars do not work from a shop on which they pay rates or rent; instead, they can go round the country—perhaps from door to door—or they may work in a city such as Canterbury, but it is a way for someone to get on the entrepreneurial ladder.
As I have said many times in this House, unemployment in my area is now more than double what it was in 1997. In particular, it is 50 per cent. up since this Bill was last discussed, and that is the same for the other councils that we are looking at. It seems to me that restrictions placed on particular towns and cities will affect not only those citizens, but pedlars from all across the UK. Such restrictions affect any pedlar who applies for a certificate in Wellingborough, and might work his way round the country to Nottingham or Canterbury. I take the point that there is illegal rogue trading, but I contend that pedlars are not illegal or rogue. They go through the process of police certification. I am convinced that the vast majority act legally, do not sell counterfeit goods and do not remain in one place, which would break their licence as a pedlar. I accept that there are people who do that, but they are not pedlars.
The unemployment levels are so high that we would be silly to choke off legitimate ways in which people can earn their living. In one constituency in Nottinghamshire, adult male unemployment is now 15.4 per cent., and in another it is 14.2 per cent. So choking off an opportunity for people to work seems wrong. That clearly was not considered on Second Reading because the facts of the economic situation were not known then. It certainly was not considered in the Unopposed Bill Committee. I have read the debate that took place in that Committee and, although the members worked hard and asked a lot of questions, they did not have the benefit of the knowledge that the petitioners would have had if they had had early enough notice that this private Bill was being introduced. That is why I believe that the other place will listen to the petitioners and have a better view of the matter.
My main contention is that the Bill affects the economic situation of not only people in Nottingham and Canterbury but people across the country, including in my constituency. I know that several hon. Members wish to speak. I do not dispute the correct analysis of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury; I think he is absolutely right. The way forward is as the Minister suggests. He made a helpful and clear statement.
What is good about today’s debate is that we have a chance to discuss business that, if approved, will become the law of the land. It seems to me very strange that private business tends to be nodded through without debate. I really wonder whether this procedure—
Order. I do not want to have to repeat myself, as I suspect the hon. Member is starting to do in certain respects, but I must be clear. We are not debating the procedure for private Bills. That may be something that the House would be fascinated to discuss on a separate occasion or to refer to the Procedure Committee. This debate is on the content of the Bill.
People are in the mood for making abject apologies. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) has just made one, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) is making one. Will my hon. Friend confirm that one of the problems is that we are having this Third Reading debate without having had the benefit of a proper Committee stage; and that we would have had a Report stage if our hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury had moved his amendment in the Unopposed Bill Committee? That would have resulted in a Report stage and a more orderly process towards Third Reading.
Order. That is entirely a procedural matter, and the hon. Gentleman leads me into the risk that I may have to make an abject apology to the House for having to repeat the guidance that I am trying to give. I therefore counsel the hon. Member for Wellingborough not to pursue that line.
Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I certainly would not do that.
I have been asked by a constituent to come to the House and make that point about entrepreneurship and the level of unemployment, and that is the crux of my argument. He would certainly have liked to have petitioned Parliament on the issue, but he was not aware of the fact that the private business had been introduced.
I rise to support the Bill that the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) has sponsored and the Nottingham City Council Bill. Owing to the pressures of high office, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell), who is sitting beside me, is not in a position to put forward the case for the Nottingham Bill. However, I must begin not by making an abject apology. Instead, I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that—please believe me—the nod from my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East was a nod of approval towards the remarks of the hon. Member for Canterbury. There should be no ambiguity about that. My hon. Friend may not speak, but he can nod in approval.
I had best adhere carefully to the strictures that you place upon me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and allow my hon. Friend if not to rest in peace at least to sit in peace.
I shall make a few brief points. It is unnecessary to rehearse the arguments that were made on Second Reading, precisely because the Bills have not been amended since Second Reading. The House clearly established with very large majorities the principle of its support for the Canterbury City Council and Nottingham City Council Bills on that occasion, and it has done so on every occasion since. In that context, may I say gently to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) that the idea that the House has not examined the matter and not given its approval is fallacious? The House voted in considerable strength. These private Bills did not slide through with marginal support unnoticed one afternoon; they were given very strong support in the House.
This may come as a surprise to the hon. Gentleman, but even on occasions of Government business significantly fewer than half of all Members vote. We should not weigh the votes, except to say that on all occasions there have been significant votes clearly in favour of the Bills, and a small but lengthy measure of opposition to them. The Bills have had 16.5 hours of debate already, and that should establish the fact that they have had a good airing. Proponents and opponents have had a good opportunity to put their cases.
It is because they have an amazing and accurate strength of belief in my capacity to advocate their case. That is what the answer amounts to. My powers of rhetoric are clearly well received by my Nottingham colleagues. As a former student at the university of Nottingham, perhaps I have some interest in that city.
I wish to put a couple of brief points to the House. First, I want to deal with the Government’s consultation. Like other supporters of these Bills, I strongly support the Government’s steps in the direction of achieving a national structure. Indeed, I think that the position of those on all three Front Benches is that it would be better to have national legislation, but that does not yet exist, and it is likely to be some time away. That eventuality should not prevent the citizens of Canterbury, Nottingham and, indeed, other cities, from thinking that legitimate procedures still exist in this House to protect their interests. The consultation is very unlikely to produce legislation, certainly this side of a general election. Even if we look beyond that election and envisage a Labour Government returned to power with a strong majority, and even if my hon. Friend the Minister is still in the same ministerial role, although I think he is probably destined for much greater things, it is unlikely to be a priority in the early moments of the post-election period. That is why it is important for Canterbury and for Nottingham that this legislation moves forward in the House under procedures that are open and legitimate.
My second point relates to the interesting comments by the hon. Member for Wellingborough about increases in unemployment. Of course, unemployment has gone up, including in cities such as my own. However, I assure him that the employment-destroying capacity of the bogus trader is a reality. That applies to legitimate businesses in my constituency and in those of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East and the hon. Member for Canterbury. That point must be taken on board as part of the equation.
I have never said, nor would I ever say, that every pedlar is a rogue; that is simply not the case. Neither would I want to say that every pedlar is, in some sense, of marginal economic or social value. The right to peddle is not put at risk in the six Bills, of which these two are the most restrictive, nor by the other Bills that will, I hope, come before the House on another occasion. The right of people to operate under a pedlar’s licence will remain intact. However, the legislation places legitimate restrictions on pedlars who use, and on occasion abuse, their position to the detriment of the ordinary passing traffic in our cities. That is inimical to legitimate businesses that face unfair competition of a kind that we should not allow in situations where there is a local interest, even if it has not yet been translated into a national issue.
I think that that is the case that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East would want to have put forward in his name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen). I want to put that case strongly on behalf of Members from across the House and many different parts of the country. I associate myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East with the remarks of the hon. Member for Canterbury, which I strongly endorse. This is not a party political debate; in fact, the different political parties have, overwhelmingly, a common view. On that basis, I hope that we can proceed with the Third Reading of these Bills.
We have already had a wide range of contributions from my hon. Friends the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), the Minister, and the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd), illustrating the fact that this is the latest movement in a multi-act drama.
As has been ably explained, these Bills, and the associated Bills put forward by other local authorities around the country, have come before the House many times under many different stages of the parliamentary process. I expect that the others in the convoy will be with us in due course. There has been a great amount of debate, and I do not intend to detain the House for long by going over ground that has already been covered in some detail by Members on both sides of the House during those earlier stages.
I thank my hon. Friend for leading me nicely to my next point. However, I should mention briefly that I have a small local interest in this matter. My constituency, Weston-super-Mare has a carnival every year—it is a grand west country tradition—and a large number of pedlars arrive for the evening. They add to the streetscape and create a wonderful buzz around the town, but they create a great deal of ill-feeling among some of the carnival organisers, because they feel that the pedlars—some licensed, some not—take money out of the town that they might otherwise be able to give to good causes and charity. I must confess to that element of local interest.
I completely take my hon. Friend’s point. In fact, my local authority has examined whether it wishes to introduce a private Bill of the kind we are discussing. It has decided not to do so thus far because of the expense and difficulty, but in earlier rounds of debate, the House has discussed the fact that many local authorities that are similarly affected have considered introducing private Bills.
That is one reason why other Conservative Members have said in previous versions of this debate that we support the idea of some kind of national approach. Clearly, the matter is not efficiently dealt with by multiple local authorities taking the private Bill route. That is not necessarily the most effective way of dealing with the matter, and some kind of national approach should be seriously considered. That was why we were delighted that the Government produced a consultation document—we are part way through the process at the moment. I am sure the Minister would not expect me to offer a legislative blank cheque: what we do depends first of all on the results of the consultation, and secondly on what proposals this Government or any future Conservative Government make. I hope hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that it is a good thing that the process has been started, because we need to uncover in more detail what people in different parts of the country feel about the matter.
Before my hon. Friend allows the impression to be given that all pedlars operate against the interests of charity, will he accept that one particular pedlar with whom I have been in contact, Frankie Fernando, has under his pedlar certificate raised significant sums of money for charity?
I am happy to accept my hon. Friend’s point. A number of hon. Members, on both sides of the House, have made the point that there are sharp and important distinctions to be made between legitimate pedlars, street traders and rogues. Those are distinct categories, and we need to continue to make the distinction. Of course, as he says, within those categories, there are people who make money for themselves and their families, and people who make money for a variety of worthy causes. He is quite right to make that point.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the benefit of going for a national route following the consultation document that the Government produced, as opposed to this piecemeal approach, is that pedlars by nature are not a very powerful lobbying group? They are not well organised and do not have expensive lobbyists at their disposal, so legislation such as this Bill could go through without the voice of the pedlars being heard. Had it not been for my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), the other side of the argument would never have been heard in these debates.
I agree with my hon. Friend that it requires Members of Parliament such as him, and my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough and for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), to raise their voices and put both sides of the debate, which they have done ably. In fact, I believe that now my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has spoken, more hon. Members have spoken in opposition to the Bill than in favour. He is right to make that point, but he is doing down some of our colleagues who are doing a good job of making their arguments.
To come back to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, the Conservative party’s view, as we have said on previous occasions, is that it is not sensible to make a party-political issue out of an individual local Bill. We are trying to ensure an entirely free vote for Conservative Members on individual Bills from local authorities—whether from Canterbury, Nottingham or anywhere else. We do think that it is sensible to start looking, as the Government have, at whether a national position on the issue can be reached. However, the point made from both sides of the House earlier—that no matter who wins the general election, it will be difficult to find parliamentary time to take through a Bill on this issue in the early stages of any Government’s life—is true. Therefore it would be a mistake for me or any other shadow Minister or Minister to promise national legislation in the near future, and I would not wish to use that as an excuse to guide colleagues to vote in one way or the other on this Bill. I am trying to “park” that issue.
Does my hon. Friend accept that this is a two-stage process? First, the Government need to have a settled opinion on the changes that they would like to see made to the law. Secondly, they need to find the parliamentary time to implement those conclusions. I see the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), who promoted a private Member’s Bill on this issue, in his place. If the Government had a settled opinion, given a fair wind, it could be expressed in statute sooner than my hon. Friend thinks.
If my hon. Friend is volunteering to help the process along, he or anyone else who did well in the private Member’s Bill ballot would find themselves with very many friends soon after the ballot results were published. He is right to describe the process in that way, and I am sure that it would expedite matters if that happened. Of course, we cannot tell this afternoon whether that will happen, but I completely agree that the first step must be for any Government to develop a considered position and work through the detailed and important issues of how to distinguish between rogues, street traders and pedlars, and how one governs and enforces the laws that might be introduced in each case.
I hope that I have clarified the Conservative party’s position on this and that we are not urging our colleagues to vote either way on these specific Bills, but to make their own personal decisions.
I can confirm that my hon. Friend kindly handed me the paper about 10 minutes ago and I have made a determined effort to get through it. I have covered the letter, but I have not got beyond page 2 or 3 of the 10-page detailed addendum. Based on what I have read so far, it is tremendously helpful, although I am not sure that it is a complete statement or indeed the last word on the subject. It should certainly be taken into account by all sides, and it makes some of the same points about entry into employment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough. I am sure that we will return to this issue when we consider some of the other Bills that are attempting to achieve the same ends in the near future.
I rise to make a few brief remarks to confirm that the Liberal Democrats support the measure. The debate about the national framework will command wide support across the House. However, hon. Members have made the point that waiting for the framework might be like waiting for Godot. It is therefore important to press ahead with this measure not only for that reason, but because it could be used as a test, so that when the next Government, whomever they may be, get around to drafting legislation following the consultation, they will have an example of such legislation working in practice. They would then be able to build on that example and use it as best practice, or, if it did not work, to learn lessons from it.
I understand that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the time that it would take for national legislation to be introduced, but has he considered what will happen if we pass this private Bill today and then find that the national legislation, when it comes, is significantly different? How would we reconcile the two?
The national legislation could make the necessary reconciliation in the Act, so I do not see any problem there whatever. Indeed, a key point on which I hope to command support across the House, is that the national legislation, when it comes, should respect the needs of individual local authorities to legislate through byelaws in a way that suits their areas, towns and city centres. I would hope that a one-size-fits-all approach would not emerge. That is very important.
We have heard about the differences between circumstances in Canterbury and in Weston-super-Mare. I can confirm that the situation in the town centre of Kingston, in my constituency, is probably very different from that in Canterbury or in Weston-super-Mare. In Kingston, there are regularly street traders and pedlars—probably not as regularly as in Canterbury, but on most weekends and some weekdays. It would be a welcome new freedom for the local authority to be able to decide whether to take action on this matter, as long as that ability was not killed by some overarching, over-prescriptive, over-bureaucratic national framework; it must be an enabling framework. That could be advantageous.
In Kingston, we had the experiment of first business improvement district in the country. There are now many other BIDs, but Kingston First was the first. I sat on the Committee that considered the Government Bill that introduced BIDs. The resulting legislation has enabled, with a number of different local authorities going ahead with measures, other authorities to work out what is right for them. One size has not fitted all with the BID approach to local economic management and development, and neither should one size fit all with this type of measure. The success of those initiatives suggests that we must be as flexible as possible if we go down the national framework route.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about localism being broadly a good thing, but under the measures a pedlar’s certificate would entitle the holder to act under its authority anywhere in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Given that the two Bills on which we are concentrating today differ from each other and from the other Bills that we will be considering later, it would be difficult for any pedlar who wished to use a certificate that he has obtained legitimately to do his work in different parts of the United Kingdom, because he would have to look through clauses such as those in the Bill to see what they could or could not do in each local area. Is that not a difficult thing to expect them to do?
The hon. Gentleman is in grave danger of over-egging the pudding. Pedlars are, as he and his colleagues have argued, entrepreneurial by nature. I think that they are quite capable of finding out what is going on in different towns and city centres, and he is quite wrong to make that point. Some of his colleagues appear to accept the notion of a flexible national framework, and no doubt if that were implemented, there would be differences in different town centres under that approach. I do not see the force of his argument in practice or in relation to what is likely to be the legal reality.
In conclusion, the work that has been put into the Bills by different city councils and the hon. Members who have sponsored and led on those Bills is to be commended. I hope that that work can act as a spur, a catalyst and an example for future legislation in this area.
For reasons that have been made clear on a number of occasions, I am not yet convinced of the merits of either Bill. I should like to cover a number of aspects of their contents, but first I wish to consider the European convention on human rights.
In the explanatory memorandums to both the Canterbury and Nottingham Bills, there is a statement that in the view of the respective councils the provision of the Bills are
“compatible with the Convention rights.”
You will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that issue was referred to in the deliberations of the Unopposed Bill Committee that took place to examine these Bills and the Leeds City Council and Reading Borough Council Bills. There was one Committee for all those Bills. A representative of the solicitors Sharpe Pritchard, Mr. Alastair Lewis, appeared as agent for all four councils. Quite rightly and properly, he went into whether the Bills were compatible with the convention. He drew attention to the view taken by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which was that it should be for the Unopposed Bill Committee to ensure that the Bills were compatible, as the councils had asserted on the front of them. He reported that the Minister had said that he was
“satisfied that the Promoters have undertaken a full assessment of ECHR compatibility”
and saw no reason to dispute their conclusions. However, he continued that the Minister had not seen the evidence that the promoters relied on to justify a restriction as being in the general interest. It was for that reason that he went into detail about how he felt the evidence justified the conclusion that it was in the general interest to introduce the restrictions in the Bills.
As confirmed and conceded by the agent from Sharpe Pritchard, article 1 of protocol 1 to the European convention is relevant because the economic benefit deriving from the licence, which in this case would include a pedlar’s certificate,
“has been held to be capable of constituting a possession within the meaning”
of that article. He spelled out the three rules contained in the article: first, that the control of the use of property must be in accordance with the law; secondly, that it must be in accordance with the general interest; and thirdly—this is the issue that should cause us to pay careful attention—that it must be proportionate to the aim. We are talking about restrictions upon a person holding a pedlar’s licence exercising their right throughout the length and breadth of the country.
In setting out his view to the Unopposed Bill Committee members, Mr. Lewis said that—
Order. I am not sure that it is for the convenience of the House, or indeed appropriate, for the hon. Gentleman to rehearse something that has already been dealt with in Committee, and which presumably satisfied the Committee. If this was the issue at the heart of whether the Bills should be before the House, it was dealt with at an earlier stage. To repeat it now in the kind of detail that the hon. Gentleman seeks to repeat it is inappropriate.
I am not seeking to rehearse the arguments, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If you bear with me, I shall come to the Unopposed Bill Committee’s conclusion that the provisions were a matter of judgment. I was going to draw that to the attention of hon. Members. Paragraph 86 of the Committee transcript states that a different level of proportionality will apply in the two Bills before us today from that applying in the other two Bills considered in the same Committee. Concessions had been made in the latter two Bills to reduce the ambit of the restriction on pedlars operating in city centres. In summary, it would be fair to suggest that although the Committee was clear that the Reading and Leeds Bills were proportionate, it left open the question of whether, in the absence of such amendments, the two Bills before us today satisfied the third criterion of proportionality.
My hon. Friend is correct. However, this is the first opportunity that Members have had to comment on the Committee’s deliberations, with whose conclusions I disagree. It is clear that the representative of the promoters even had doubts. He rightly said that the amendments agreed by Reading and Leeds do not affect pedlars’ human rights, because they allow them to continue trading door to door, but he had clear reservations about the Canterbury and Nottingham Bills.
Order. This matter is now in the past. The Bills have been through Second Reading and Committee, and are now on Third Reading. As I ruled at the outset, it is in order to discuss the contents of the Bill, but the hon. Members for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) are trying to go beyond the grounds of what is proper on Third Reading.
I do not want to do that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My only question is whether the contents of the two Bills satisfy the European convention on human rights. Ultimately, however, that will be a matter for the courts, unless the House decides to prevent the Bills from reaching the statute book. Having said that, they have yet to go to the other place, and Members there might take an interest in them—after all, they took an interest in the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill and the Manchester City Council Bill and their compliance with the convention. I need not expand any further. I hope, however, that it is clear that that issue was one of the major matters debated in Committee.
Clause 4 of the Canterbury Bill, which deals with the definition of street trading, is slightly different from that in the Nottingham Bill—if my memory serves me well. Clause 4(2) of the Canterbury Bill has only two paragraphs, whereas the same subsection in the Nottingham Bill has three. The extra paragraph refers to
“the purchasing of or offering to purchase any ticket for gain or reward”.
On the face of it, that seems rather similar to the point about touting in clause 11 of the Canterbury City Council Bill as currently drafted. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) takes a particular interest in that issue because he serves on the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport—what I would still describe as “recreational activities”—which has being doing a study into touting, so I would be interested to hear any contribution that he would like to make on those provisions.
The main point that I would like to make about clause 4 of both Bills is that it extends the provisions not just to goods, but to services. Since the Bills were produced, however, a provision has been passed in the EU called the services directive. That directive is mentioned in the consultation document to which the Minister referred in his brief remarks. Page 29 of that document sets out a description of the services directive and a provisional conclusion, subject to consultation, drawn by the Government, which says:
“In order to ensure proper implementation of the Services Directive on 31 December 2009”—
in other words, the end of last month—
“the UK and Scottish Governments intend to amend the Pedlars Act by removing service providers from its scope.”
However, it will not have escaped your notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that under the provisions of clause 4 of both Bills, service providers are to be added to the scope of the relevant legislation. It is therefore reasonable to ask the question, when we are considering whether the Bills should proceed, whether the provisions of clause 4 are redundant or, even worse, incompatible with the services directive, which
“requires member States to remove any authorisation schemes which might act as a deterrent or a barrier to service providers from other member States operating in the UK.”
The consultation document produced by the Minister’s Department also says:
“In the UK and Scottish Government’s view the pedlar certification scheme amounts to an authorisation scheme which cannot easily be justified on the criteria set out in the Services Directive.”
The document continues:
“To meet the deadline for implementation the Department has decided to remove pedlars who provide only services from the”
pedlars regime, and says that
“implementing legislation is due to come into force on 28 December 2009. After that date, pedlars of services only will no longer need a pedlar’s certificate.”
As happens with any consultation paper, the Government have done a cost-benefit analysis into the extent to which the changes might impact upon pedlars, and have concluded:
“we understand that those local authorities who apply street trading licensing to service providers are required to justify that those regimes operate within the requirements of the services directive. If they are unable to do so those authorisation schemes will need to be removed insofar as they apply to service providers.”
It would be helpful if the promoters of the Bills could explain how the changes proposed by clause 4 are compatible with the services directive, which I concede has come up over the horizon since the Bills were originally brought forward.
My hon. Friend invites me to intervene on him, on this one occasion I shall do so. He knows perfectly well that, were this measure to be confirmed, clause 4 would become redundant. That does not in any way, shape or form prove that the provision is incompatible with anything or harmful to anything. It would simply become redundant. That is the first conclusion that he reached, and he knows it perfectly well.
If I did know that, I think that I would have been immodest enough to have said so. I do not know it. I shall put a further point to my hon. Friend—perhaps rhetorically, as he might not wish to intervene on me again. If his interpretation is correct—and according to my understanding of the consultation paper—this amendment to the law has already been made. So perhaps the clause is redundant even now. We seem to have a piece of legislation before the House, including a provision in clause 4, that, on the admission of the sponsor of the Bill, is already incompatible with European Union law. That is bizarre. Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to offer up an amendment for our consideration when the Bills reach the other place, if indeed that is their destination.
Obviously, I am not going to hold my breath, Mr. Deputy Speaker; otherwise, I might be deemed to be out of order.
This short exchange on the application of the services directive has demonstrated that my hon. Friend actually has a lot more in-depth knowledge of these Bills than he has led us to believe. I hope that he will ensure that, before they reach the other place, they will be made compatible with the services directive, as it now seems to have been incorporated into United Kingdom law.
I hope that we will also hear why the Nottingham City Council Bill includes a provision relating to
“the purchasing of or offering to purchase any ticket for gain or reward”,
while clause 4 of the Canterbury City Council Bill does not contain any such provision. My hon. Friend has now said that clause 11 goes too far and that he will allow the matter to be withdrawn from the Bill after it has had its Third Reading in this place.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. A private Bill needs to be advertised in the London Gazette on or before 11 December each year, and all persons likely to be affected by it need to be notified. My contention is that the notification of all pedlars has not taken place and that we are therefore not in a position to continue with this Third Reading debate.
My hon. Friend has highlighted the point in clause 4 of the Nottingham City Council Bill that relates to ticket touting, which is the bit that has been dropped from the Canterbury City Council Bill, according to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier). Is my hon. Friend aware that the Office of Fair Trading has made it perfectly clear that ticket touting operates in the best interests of the consumer? We should not therefore try to pass any Bill that tries to restrict the practice.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and I am sure that if these Bills had had a Report stage, an amendment along the lines he is suggesting—seeking to remove clause 2(b) from the Nottingham City Council Bill—would probably have received a good deal of support across the House. I know that the Select Committee of which my hon. Friend is a member commands great respect and his point is popular with people outside the House. Again, this problem is a consequence of the fact that we are having a Third Reading debate in which we may discuss only the contents of the Bill, and if we do not like those contents, our only effective option is to vote against the Bill as a whole. I hope that my hon. Friend will join me in doing so in due course.
Let me raise another issue. I shall come back to the issue of pedlars in clause 5 “in due course”, as the Minister says. There is a lot of concern among pedlars about clause 6, which deals with seizure. Under the Canterbury City Council Bill as drafted,
“if an authorised officer or a constable has reasonable grounds for suspecting that a person has committed a relevant offence”,
he or the constable “may seize” and so on. The pedlars in contact with me say that having to establish only a reasonable ground for “suspecting” is not as strong as it should be. What we should really have to establish before we start going around seizing people’s goods is a reasonable ground for “believing”. The use of the word “suspecting” rather than “believing” in clause 6 makes the provisions in this and the Nottingham City Council Bill much more draconian than they would otherwise be.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend on that point. Does he agree that, given that the consequences of seizure are dealt with in these Bills—there is a clause on the seizure of perishable items, for example—and that seized items have to be returned within 56 days, anybody who had had their goods taken off them unlawfully would have to go through the rigmarole and hassle of going to a county court to get some kind of compensation? Given the complications of people getting their goods back—if they get them back at all—and the processes they would have to go through to get any compensation, does my hon. Friend agree it is important that goods are not taken away from people willy-nilly at this stage?
Absolutely. That is the concern. It would be fair to say that there has been a breakdown in trust between lawful pedlars, trading standards officers and licensed street traders in local authorities. There is a fear that the powers being taken in these private Bills will be used against street traders and pedlars in a way that will effectively force them out of business. If they have their goods seized, it will be impossible for them to carry on trading on that particular day. As my hon. Friend says, the provisions in clause 6 and subsequent clauses of the two Bills will make it difficult for them to get their goods back to enable them to carry on trading in future.
To my mind, it is even worse than that, as it may well be that the pedlars concerned need to sell the goods in the first place in order to raise the money to buy other goods to continue trading. If they have to go through all this rigmarole before they get their goods back, it is difficult to see how they could continue in business.
That is absolutely right, and in common language we would call that harassment. Pedlars would be in such a vulnerable position that unreasonable officers would be able to harass them out of town—which, after all, is the motive of many local authorities in promoting their prejudice against lawful pedlars.
There is another difference between the Nottingham and Canterbury Bills and some of the other Bills: the provisions relating to the seizure of perishable items. It has already been said that these two Bills are the most restrictive of any of the so-called pedlars’ Bills. Clause 7 highlights the extent of those restrictions. Food cannot be sold under the auspices of a pedlar’s licence, but other perishable items such as fresh flowers can be. If flowers were seized, they would be worthless and unsellable shortly afterwards. Although I am no expert on the length of survival of florists’ flowers, I believe it is only a matter of a few days, and even then only if they are kept in the right conditions. Although the clause states:
“The council or the police shall store any perishable item…at an appropriate temperature”,
it will not be as simple as that.
Subsection (5) states that “any perishable item” will be
“disposed of by the council”
for “the best possible price”. If the council were to secure the best possible price, I assume it would have to peddle such items again on the streets. Does that make any sense?
This is part of the problem with these two Bills. If a council seizes flowers and keeps them for 48 hours, after which there is an obligation on it to secure the best possible price, I doubt whether the price obtainable would be particularly high because of the condition the flowers would then be in. Pedlars have expressed such concerns to me.
There is, perhaps, one good consequence of these Bills, however. At least pedlars—of whom, according to the latest Government information, there may be 4,000 in the country—are a lot better organised than they used to be. Indeed, the Government refer readers of their latest consultation paper to the pedlars’ website for information. That resource is increasingly used by pedlars across the country. Some pedlars are concerned that the impact on them of clause 7 will be disproportionate.
I shall not go through all the concerns that have been expressed, because some would be better dealt with in the form of amendments or the petitions that I understand a number of pedlars will bring against these Bills when they reach the other place. However, one issue raised on Second Reading with my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) was why the Canterbury Bill makes provision to allow police community support officers to have powers that are not available to them in other Bills that seek to control illegal street trading and pedlary.
I receive a lot of representations from people saying that they are worried about the extent to which PCSOs seem to be able to go around acting as though they are policemen, but they are not policemen. The essence of the setting up of a system of PCSOs was that they should play a supportive role, rather than be substitute police officers. Many people would think that the powers for PCSOs set out in clause 18 go too far. It is regrettable that when this matter was raised on Second Reading we heard no answer from the promoters to the questions asked and that no reference was made to this in the Unopposed Bill Committee.
My concerns are not limited to clause 5 of the two Bills, although it would be fair to say that that is where my main concerns are centred. Clause 5 in effect restricts the right of pedlars within the Canterbury city council area and the Nottingham city council area to carry on as lawful pedlars trading in the street and selling their wares to passers-by. That is a major restriction on the long-established freedoms and liberties of pedlars in this country.
I was pleased to hear the Minister and the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) conceding points that had not always been apparent in earlier stages of these debates in respect of lawful pedlars playing a legitimate role in this country. One of the important messages that emerged from the research that the Government commissioned, which was carried out by Durham university, is that pedlars in general command a lot of popular support. My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), who spoke from our Front Bench, described how pedlars add colour to the street scene during the fairs in Weston-super-Mare and are regarded as an asset by people engaging in the festivities. That is a common experience up and down the country and was, in a sense, a finding of fact by Durham university.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; he is being extremely generous. In both Bills, clause 5 is identical and the last sentence includes the phrase
“if the trading is carried out only by means of visits from house to house”.
In the other Bills, house-to-house trading is being allowed, but in these Bills it is not. Have I got that wrong? Will my hon. Friend clarify that point?
My understanding is that the effect of clause 5 in the Canterbury and Nottingham Bills is that pedlars would be able to operate only from house to house and not on the street.
My hon. Friend will probably be aware of one of the findings of the Durham university research, which was that a very high proportion of people who sell house to house and purport to be pedlars are not lawful pedlars. There is an irony in all that, because although some of the Bills state that pedlars can carry on going from house to house, there is quite a lot of resistance from households, with good reason, to people arriving on their doorstep offering to sell them things. They are nervous about those people’s credentials and whether they might pose a threat to them as occupiers. That is why, when we go canvassing at election times and at other times, we increasingly come across labels on people’s doors saying that they do not want pedlars and hawkers and so on.
At a time when there is more public resistance to house-to-house activity by pedlars but more willingness, in my experience, to accept the role of the pedlar in the general street scene, these two Bills are working in the opposite direction. They will allow pedlars to continue to operate from house to house, but not to operate in the street.
On behalf of all the promoters of these Bills, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central—his council is the lead authority for these six Bills—
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting that on the record. It shows the disproportionate impact on pedlars of their activities being restricted so they cannot operate in town centres. My earlier point took account of that, but I was also pointing out that an increasing number of people who sell from door to door are effectively found to be not authorised pedlars but rogue pedlars.
In the letter from the leader of Manchester city council, Sir Richard Leese, and in an identical letter sent to different recipients by Sir Howard Bernstein, the chief executive of that council, in which they seek the support of colleagues and invite other local authorities to put pressure on their Members of Parliament to support not only the Manchester City Council Bill, which we are obviously not considering today, but the two Bills that we are discussing, they make the point that there is a “growing problem” of illegal street trading in their areas. The analysis attached to the letter states that problems include large groups of individuals
“selling goods such as balloons, flags, whistles etc from large, wheeled stalls.”
The point that I have sought to make in these debates is that the problem has to do with the large wheeled stalls. If we say that it is not possible for pedlars to take such stalls into city centres, much of the mischief described in the letter from Manchester city council and other submissions would be addressed. Pedlars could still operate in town centres, but they could not use the large wheeled stalls that inevitably cause obstruction. I can understand the concerns about those stalls.
The definition of pedlars includes hawkers, but history shows that they were covered by separate provisions. Hawkers rather than pedlars could be described as people who operate from large wheeled stalls, but the Bill places them all under the same umbrella.
One way to deal with that would be to revert to the traditional understanding of what a pedlar is—namely, a person who carries the goods on his person. That is reflected in the consultation document that the Government have produced. It is more generous than the amendments to the Bills for Leeds and Reading that I have negotiated, in that it says that the equipment that pedlars take into town centres should be much restricted in size but not removed totally.
In a sense, we are all on the same wavelength. I think the Minister agrees, and that is why it is especially regrettable that these Bills, even though they acknowledge that the main problem lies with the people who use large wheeled stalls, make no provision to help the traditional pedlar—the person on his own or with a very small receptacle—to continue to operate in city centres.
What is my hon. Friend’s view of pedlars who go to football matches and park their trolleys at the entrance of grounds on match days to sell rosettes? In my day people sold rattles, but now they probably sell Manchester United scarves. How would they be affected by these proposals? I am obviously thinking more about the Nottingham Bill, as that city has football grounds.
A lot of pedlars do not work full time but sell novelties that might be associated with the soccer culture that they take to grounds on match days. That is a perfectly legitimate activity, but I am not sure that those people need big stalls, as it should be possible for them to store their goods somewhere. An increasing number of professional clubs accommodate and license stalls at their grounds, to allow such goods to be purchased by punters.
I do not think that I have made myself clear. I am not talking about people who are licensed to sell within grounds, where the cost of shirts and so on is quite high. I am talking about entrepreneurs who set up on match days only in the streets around grounds. They offer better value for money and I am worried that they might be caught by the legislation.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will try to be proportionate. It may be that the leader and chief executive of Manchester city council were out of order in writing to us in the terms that they did and went beyond the bounds of a Third Reading debate. However, it is worth putting it on record that they admitted that the problem was caused by large wheeled stalls and not pedlars carrying goods on their person.
This Third Reading debate is an opportunity for us to see how a Bill fits into the national context. I was delighted to hear the leader of my party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), reaffirm recently our commitment to encouraging entrepreneurs and promoting enterprise in order to strengthen the UK economy and our international competitiveness. It is clear that one pathway to enterprise open to every UK citizen of good character is to obtain a pedlar’s certificate. A licensed pedlar can sell goods from town to town and house to house the length of breadth not just of England and Wales but of the whole UK. We need to look at the national context in considering whether it is reasonable and proportionate for two councils to disapply the freedoms that pedlars enjoy to operate in their local authority areas.
To their credit, the Government have responded to the threat to enterprise from the proliferation of private Bills and the threat to good regulation posed by a whole lot of pieces of legislation that are different from each other sometimes in small particular but sometimes in significant particular. We are talking about 3,000 or 4,000 pedlars with certificates. As the report to which I have referred by Durham university says, the essence of a pedlar is not necessarily that he has a lot of passes in his GCSEs but that he has good interpersonal skills. So we are not necessarily talking about people who will be able to look at the detail of legislation to see how they can comply with it before they visit a particular town.
The hon. Gentleman no doubt makes an important point about the national context, but I seem to remember him in another context arguing that larger geographical entities should not take powers that can properly be exercised by smaller ones. This seems a good opportunity to follow that argument. This genuine policy was agreed by Nottingham city council in 2007. It thinks that there is a problem. It does not think that the Bill is designed to stop normal street peddling. Should we not just let the policy be changed and not prolong the agony?
The hon. Gentleman does not make that point for the first time; it has also been made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Central. He said that this was what the councils had decided, so that should be the law. We are talking about the difference between being able to make byelaws and changing the impact of national freedoms. At the moment, under national legislation, pedlars have the freedom to operate under the auspices of a pedlar’s certificate. If we intend to limit or remove that freedom, this House and the other place should quite rightly and properly consider the rationale for doing so. Indeed, as I said earlier, it is incumbent on us, and a requirement under the European convention on human rights, to examine whether the proposals are proportionate. It is no good just saying, “This appeals to Nottingham, therefore it shall be.”
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) has had the chance to read the proceedings of the Unopposed Bill Committee, but, if so, he may agree with my assessment that the argument of the promoters’ agents reached its weakest point when they tried to justify the different approach taken in relation to Nottingham and Canterbury compared with the provisions relating to Leeds and Reading. The argument from Nottingham, which the hon. Gentleman has summed up, was basically, “We’re in Nottingham; we think this is best for us; so be it.” However, the people from Leeds and Reading accepted the argument about proportionality, and they did not want to prevent lawful pedlars who trade goods on their person from continuing to operate in their town centres.
Is that not the crux of the way in which this Third Reading debate and all private business should work? My understanding is that the promoters should negotiate with Members who have concerns to see whether a compromise can be reached. That has not happened on this Third Reading with these councils.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Returning to the point about proportionality and the national context, I think that there is a reasonable concern on the part of the pedlar community that it has not obtained a reasonable deal from Nottingham and Canterbury; and that is why I shall certainly oppose these Bills. Piecemeal legislation, which we are engaged in producing, is undesirable in principle. If we are going to restrict or change the rights, responsibilities and definition of pedlars and introduce different arrangements for issuing licences in order to test whether the requirements of good character have been satisfied and so on, it is sensible and prudent that we do so in a national context. They are all issues that have been raised in the Government’s current consultation paper.
I should like the number of pedlars operating in this country to increase significantly, and that may be a by-product of our series of debates. I should like Jobcentre Plus advisers to suggest to people that, while looking for work, they might obtain a pedlar’s certificate for £12.25 and trust their luck in the real world of trying to become a retailer. That activity is not necessarily suited to everybody, but in my submission it is suited to many more people than the 4,000 who are engaged in it.
We in this House should not send out an ambivalent message. Some say that pedlars are equivalent to rogue traders—admittedly, an extreme view, but one that some of the promoters of these Bills have articulated; and others of us say that pedlars are wonderful entrepreneurs who engage in the enterprise society. If we send out mixed messages, it will be that much more difficult to encourage people to go into pedlary as a profession. I say “profession” advisedly, because, as was mentioned at the very beginning of these debates, Marks and Spencer would not exist had it not been for the fact that it was founded by somebody who learned his trade as a pedlar.
We have to look at this in the national context, because an aspect that has become highly relevant since we first started debating these Bills is the significant rise in unemployment. Like me, the Minister will have regularly received people at his surgeries saying, “I’ve got all these qualifications and I’m eager to work”, then, as an aside, “A lot of people aren’t interested in getting a job, but I’m not one of those—I want to get a job.” Other countries, such as Germany, have systems for encouraging people to engage in self-employment—
Order. If I believed this to be the hon. Gentleman’s peroration, I would be prepared to reckon that it was in order, but I am not convinced that that is the case. He is venturing into territory that would be a legitimate basis for a debate at another time and in another place, but not on the Third Reading of these Bills.
Let it never be said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we do not have some good humour in this House during these debates. Looking at the clock and seeing that I have been on my feet for some 57 minutes, I suppose that it is inevitable that I will soon be coming to the conclusion of my remarks; as people say, all good things must come to an end.
Could my hon. Friend advise the House on the argument about pedlary being an entry route to entrepreneurship? If that is to be economically viable, pedlary must operate anywhere in the United Kingdom, but that will not be the case if we pass these Bills on Third Reading.
I agree with my hon. Friend.
Addressing the House during this debate has been a frustrating exercise given that so much relevant material has been produced over the past 18 months. The most recent consultation paper extends to some 89 pages, the Durham university report extended to well over 100 pages, and lots of other material has been produced besides. That tells me that this is an important subject to which we cannot do justice in a Third Reading debate when many of us would like to be able to focus attention on particular amendments or groups of amendments.
Having said that, I take a degree of satisfaction from the fact that if we had never started objecting to these Bills and raising these issues in debate, we would never have had the Durham university report commissioned by the Government, the Government’s response to that report and preliminary surveys, or the Government’s latest consultation, which, I hope, provides a blueprint for the future. I am sure that people will want to contribute representations to that before the closing date. As a result, although we do not have any concessions on Nottingham and Canterbury in relation to clause 5, we have been able to obtain by agreement concessions in relation to two of the other Bills, and concessions forced on two other councils as a result of the actions of the Opposed Bill Committee.
Although I cannot find any reason to think that I have made any progress in relation to the Nottingham City Council Bill, I feel that by persuading my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury to introduce an amendment to remove clause 11 from the Canterbury City Council Bill, which I describe as his Bill, we have achieved something, and that the exercise in which we have been engaged has not been completely worthless.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), without whose herculean efforts the voice of pedlars would never have been heard in this House? No matter which side of the fence hon. Members are on in this debate or how they might vote if the matter is pressed to a Division, I am sure they agree that he has done a tremendous job of bringing the legitimate concerns that many people have about these Bills to the House.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), who does what he always does, which is do what he genuinely believes is in the best interests of the people of Canterbury. He should be commended on that. The same goes for the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell), who is doing what he believes is in the best interests of his city and his constituents. I am sure he would agree that his case was ably made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) in his contribution.
I am concerned about the Bills for a number of reasons, which I shall go through with reference to various clauses. I am particularly concerned about clause 4 of the Nottingham City Council Bill. Whereas my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has agreed with his council to make the concession on ticket touting—as he would accept, the measure slightly muddied the waters of the overall debate—a measure on ticket touting is still in clause 4 of the Nottingham City Council Bill. That is most unfortunate. I hope that Nottingham city council will reflect, as my hon. Friend and his council did, on whether it is worth pursuing that measure.
I was struck by my hon. Friend’s remarks on clause 4 when he spoke of its compatibility with the services directive. I am not one to stand up in Parliament and say that the House should concern itself with ensuring that its legislation meets the approval of the European Union—indeed, as many people know, I would much prefer to be out of the wretched European Union altogether—but we are where we are.
I regret giving way to the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall try to resist the temptation in future should he catch my eye.
We are where we are on European legislation—unfortunately—and it is perfectly clear that any legislation that the House passes today must meet the services directive. It seems to me that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch made a compelling case, which I did not hear anyone deny, that the ticket touting aspect of the Bill does not meet the requirements of the services directive. I do not see how the House can pass legislation that we know, in our heart of hearts, cannot be maintained, justified and sustained in a court of law. That would be an entirely pointless exercise. That is one very deep concern I have about clause 4. I was not aware of the problem before, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making the House aware of it.
I am particularly concerned with clause 4 of the Nottingham City Council Bill, which clearly states that it would deny people the chance of
“purchasing…or offering to purchase any ticket for gain or reward”.
Why on earth Nottingham city council has taken it upon itself to determine the law relating to ticket touting in its Bill is beyond me. This ill-considered—in fact, barely considered—provision would drive a coach and horses through the law on ticket touting. As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch generously mentioned in his speech, I am a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee which had an inquiry into the merits of ticket touting only last year. We took huge swathes of evidence from consumers, people involved in the industry and ticket touts themselves—including those who work on street corners and those with websites—as well as the Office of Fair Trading, which has made it clear that it believes that touting acts in the best interests of consumers and it has no reason to want to try to ban it. In fact, there have been very few cases in which anybody trying to restrict the selling on of tickets has taken a case to court, because such cases are very flimsy and would not be allowed. However, Nottingham city council has decided to put the subject in the middle of clause 4 of its Bill.
The touting provision could lead to a ridiculous situation for someone who bought a ticket for a large event in Nottingham. I am aware that Nottingham Forest and Notts County are not as well supported as they were in their heyday a few years ago, but the latter are back on the way up, and the former are doing better than they were—
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. The value is determined by the number of people who wish to attend, and some teams attract more spectators when they are not doing so well than others. Football is not perhaps the best example, because ticket touting is not allowed. However, there are some big stadiums in Nottingham that might host some big events, such as pop concerts, that see great demand for tickets. People who buy a ticket may not be able to attend, perhaps for work reasons. They will have shelled out money for that ticket and so, understandably, they wish to sell it to someone who can go. There is nothing wrong with that; it happens all the time and it is a legitimate activity. However, under Nottingham city council’s Bill, anyone in that situation would not be allowed to sell on their ticket to someone who wished to pay above the odds for that ticket, even though the person selling wanted to sell and the person buying wanted to buy at that price. That is why the Select Committee concluded that a secondary market in tickets was legitimate. Why would we wish to pass a Bill in which Nottingham city council decided unilaterally to opt out of certain important national laws?
My hon. Friend is partly right. The Canterbury Bill includes the restriction on selling tickets on the secondary market, but our hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has agreed, in discussions with his council, and has made it public that even though that restriction is in the Bill, the council will strike it out, so it will not apply in Canterbury. That is a helpful development, because it slightly muddied the waters. However, although Canterbury council has agreed to do that, Nottingham has not. If we pass the Nottingham Bill as it stands, it will deal not only with the issue of pedlars, which may or may not be a problem that Nottingham wishes to deal with, but with ticket touting and the selling of tickets on the secondary market in Nottingham city.
My hon. Friend refers to the provisions in clause 11 of the Canterbury Bill. He will be aware that on 29 October 2008—at column 996—the then Minister responsible said that the Government “would be interested in” discussions on a possible amendment to clause 11. Obviously, that is no longer necessary, because we have been told by our hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury that clause 11 is going to be removed. Surely, however, we should expect the Minister to be interested in discussions on whether the provisions of this part of the Nottingham City Council Bill should be amended as well.
My hon. Friend is, as usual, absolutely right. We have got ourselves into a ridiculous situation. The Government are helpfully putting out a consultation to see whether national legislation on pedlars could be introduced, but we are here making these decisions about particular cities before we have even had the responses to the consultation or had the Government’s response. We do not really know the merits of the arguments on either side, but we are being asked to pass legislation that will affect those areas.
The same point applies to the issue of ticket touting in Nottingham. The Government have been carrying out a consultation on selling tickets on the secondary market, but they have yet to bring forward their proposals on the matter, if they wish to make any. It seems absurd to put the cart before the horse in relation to pedlars, without knowing what the Government’s response on that issue is, and absurd to do exactly the same thing on ticket touting.
I want to make another point about ticket touting. Everyone understands that selling tickets on the secondary market benefits those who sell the tickets, but I want to make it abundantly clear that the system works just as well for people who purchase tickets. Someone who wishes to go to an over-subscribed event, but who does not know when the tickets will come on sale, whether they will be able to go or whether their work will give them the time off, will have to resist the temptation to buy a ticket. They will not be able to guarantee that they can go. Many organisers do not allow refunds; that is one of the issues involved. If that person later finds that they can go to the event, but it is sold out, the practice of ticket touting gives them the one opportunity they have to purchase a ticket. They might have to pay over the odds for that ticket, but that is their choice. If they do not want to pay that amount of money, nobody forces them to do so. Ticket touting gives them the opportunity to make that decision, rather than it being taken out of their hands.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that that activity is often engaged in by Governments, particularly their diplomatic corps? If a guest to the country expresses an interest in going to an event for which tickets were not bought in advance, the corps will find tickets in order to indulge the guest and to promote diplomacy.
My hon. Friend may or may not be right about that. I am not particularly well up on the procurement activities of the diplomatic service when it comes to tickets for events. He may know more than I do. I am making the case that ticket touting and a secondary market in tickets are in the best interests of consumers on both sides of the fence. Other people may take a different view, but I am passionately against the Bills because they drive a coach and horses through the principle of ticket touting.
A more general point is that whatever people’s view about the desirability or otherwise of ticket touting and selling, it would surely be nonsensical to have a different law relating to Nottingham from those that apply in any other part of the country. It would bring laws passed in this House into utter contempt if, after the House had expressed an opinion on whether something was a good thing that acted in the interests of consumers, one particular city decided to do something completely different on a matter of national importance.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech, but on this particular issue he has perhaps given the impression that touting benefits only rich people who pay over the odds for tickets. Quite often there is an oversupply of tickets and people can buy them at a discount, which enables them to go to events that they would not normally be able to afford to go to.
My hon. Friend is clearly right, but that probably does not really apply to these Bills, which, to be fair, are intended to stop such activity only when a ticket is being purchased or offered for purchase “for gain or reward”. My understanding is that if somebody were trying to sell a ticket at below the price they paid for it, they would not be trying to sell it for gain or reward.
Of course, Madam Deputy Speaker. I could go on at length about ticket touting, because it is a subject about which I feel strongly, but I will certainly accept your ruling and move on.
I turn to clause 5 in both Bills, about which I have particular concerns. As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch indicated, at the moment pedlars obtain a certificate from the police that entitles them to act under its authority anywhere in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for a period of one year. After that time they need to renew it and we start all over again. The problem with the clause is that all people who wish to take part in the activity in question will have to be licensed by the consent of the council if they wish to carry on street trading, in order to be subject to the controls in schedule 4 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982.
The whole tenor of these Bills is, if not to harass pedlars, as my hon. Friend said, certainly to make it abundantly clear that they are not welcome in the cities in question and to move them on. My concern is that even though someone may have a perfectly valid pedlar’s certificate that has been granted by the police, because they will now have to be given certificates by the local council and have the council’s consent to operate, it will be made abundantly clear to them that they are not wanted. The Bills might go through the charade of laying down rules and regulations to make pedlars know where they stand, but I fear that councils will use clause 5 in particular to make it clear that they do not want pedlars and have no desire to give them a certificate, that they will not be licensed and that they should move on. The tenor of the Bill is rather sinister in that respect, because everything in it is designed to make life as uncomfortable as possible for pedlars, even when they are not behaving in a manner that is of any concern to anyone and when they are just going about their legitimate business. We should not support legislation with such an edge to it.
Is not the essence of a pedlar that they are not likely to settle, or trade, in one area? They will wish to pursue their trade in different towns up and down the country at different times of the year and to have that flexibility. They could not reasonably be expected to apply for a street trading licence each time they visit a particular town. Many such street trading licences are available only to those who want to have a stall on a regular basis.
My hon. Friend is right. I am a fan of localism for many things, but in this case, where people, by definition of their trade, wish to travel around different parts of the country, plying their trade wherever they think they have the best advantage at that time, it is ridiculous to have separate Bills with separate powers and requirements, or to expect a pedlar to know the ins and outs of what applies in different towns. To be honest, that is unrealistic and unfair.
If anybody thinks it reasonable for pedlars to have to abide by different rules in different places, and to know where to go for their local authority licence and which council it applies to, I invite them—with the exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, who has become a world-leading authority on the issue—to tell me the difference between each regulation, applying under the different Bills, in different towns. I suspect that those here, debating this legislation, could not give an accurate appraisal of the exact differences between towns. So how on earth do we expect pedlars, who are merely trying to go about their everyday business, to know the ins and outs of every single difference? It is beyond me.
My hon. Friend is being extremely generous in giving way. Is he aware that the mean difference travelled per day by a pedlar is 95 miles, that the median is 66 miles and that on average a pedlar visits 25 cities a year? How could the average pedlar know which regulations apply in which part of the country?
Can that point be reinforced by the fact that the Durham university research was carried out not with individual pedlars across the country, but using so-called snowball sampling? The only way of contacting pedlars collectively was to contact one and rely on that pedlar to contact others and so on—like a snowball.
My hon. Friend is right. The other related point is that, when the Bills first came before the House, we did not have things such as the Durham university research to guide us. Things have moved on considerably. Actually, the more that we have learned about this particular industry, as time has passed, the less of a case has been made for the Bills. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) made a point about the distances that people travel. We are always trying to find ways of tackling obesity, so I would have thought that we would be trying to encourage, rather than curtail, that sort of exercise among the public.
I wish to talk about the clauses dealing with the seizure of goods. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch made a good point that articles can be seized when a person is reasonably suspected of committing an offence, as opposed to when they are reasonably believed to have committed an offence. That is a very soft test. He feared, as I do, that local authorities could use that rather soft test to reinforce their hassling of such people and make them aware that they do not want them in their city at all. That was a very good point; however, I am particularly concerned about what happens under the clauses following those provisions after someone’s goods have been seized.
The Bills allow perishable items to be seized, yet clause 8 of both Bills says that seized items would have to be returned
“at the end of the period of 56 days beginning with the date of seizure,”
“no proceedings have been instituted”.
Fifty-six days is an awfully long time for someone to go without goods that have been taken from them unfairly and without good reason. Two things flow from that. First, perishable goods are of absolutely no use to anybody after 56 days and could not be sold on. However, even where goods are not perishable, a lot can happen in 56 days. Earlier speakers referred to some of the things that people sell. They could include topical things or things that, although not perishable, have a short shelf life, owing to public demand being based on events. Returning such goods to someone after 56 days, when there is no longer any market for them, is of absolutely no use to anyone.
I want to take my hon. Friend back a few paragraphs in his speech. We have established that, under clause 7(4) of the Bills, a pedlar can claim back perishable goods within 48 hours. However, 48 hours would make some perishable goods, such as flowers, pretty much useless.
My hon. Friend is right. Indeed, clause 7 says that perishable items that are seized may be disposed of within 48 hours. His interpretation of “disposed of” might be different from mine—we could argue the toss about that and about whether it involves returning the goods, which is a different matter—but I will let people make up their own minds about that. My point is that returning non-perishable goods after 56 days is equally of no use to the people concerned, in many cases because of the nature of the goods being sold.
However, if things are taken unfairly and then returned, or not as the case may be, or if they have been disposed of in some other way, and the pedlar, quite legitimately, wants compensation, clause 10 of the Nottingham City Council Bill—a similar provision applies in the Canterbury City Council Bill—provides for compensation to be paid to anyone who had a legal interest in them at the time of their seizure, where that seizure was unlawful. That is all very well, but there are two sides to that. First, any compensation paid would presumably be based on the cost price of the goods concerned—that is, the cost at which the pedlar bought them, not the price at which they intended to sell them. In real terms, therefore, the pedlar will be at a loss, because he would have realised more money for those goods than the amount by which he will be compensated. However, in order to gain such compensation under the Bills, the pedlar is also expected to go to the county court.
Given that we are talking about somebody who has had their assets taken from them—often assets that they need to make a living—and given that they perhaps could not afford to reinvest in any replacement goods, because the income that they had expected to derive from selling the original goods has not come in, that person might have been without an income for 56 days. Expecting them then to pay the costs of going to court to try to recover any compensation seems wholly unrealistic and, to use a term that has been used many times in this debate, disproportionate.
Is it not even worse than that, because, in order to get compensation, someone would have to establish that the person who had seized the goods did not have a reasonable suspicion that an offence was being committed? Case law shows that the test of reasonable suspicion is less than that required to establish a prima facie case.
That is a good point. Pedlars can make a living only if people are prepared to buy their products. Presumably, the fact that people want to buy those products at the price at which they are being offered shows that the pedlars are, by definition, providing a useful service to the local community. If they were not doing so, they would not sell anything and, presumably, they would not stay in that place very long. My hon. Friend is right: by definition, these people are providing a very good service in the local community.
I want to make some progress, so I shall now move on to clauses 12, 13, 14 and 15 of the Nottingham City Council Bill, which relate to fixed penalty notices. I am not particularly comfortable with extending the powers of council officers to serve such notices whenever they see fit. This is not a good way to make and apply law, and we should hesitate before passing Bills that extend such powers to local authorities.
Clause 13 provides that the council must fix the level of the penalties, which will, to a certain extent, provide it with a blank cheque. Clause 14, however, provides the Secretary of State with reserve powers to reduce the level of a fixed penalty if he considers it excessive. The Bill seems to be telling the local authority that it can set the level but, if the Government think it excessive, they will change it.
My hon. Friend anticipates my next point. If one clause allows the council to set a fixed penalty at a level that it deems reasonable, and the following clause says that the Secretary of State has the power to reduce it if he considers it excessive, we seem already to be in a position to set the level ourselves. Presumably, if the Secretary of State is going to judge whether the level is excessive, he will have to have an idea of what an appropriate level would be. We could therefore short-circuit the system by setting a specific amount in the Bills. Will the Minister enlighten us as to what the Government would consider excessive? We would then know where we stood, which would be helpful. Without that, I fear that local authorities will set excessive fixed penalty amounts and that we will give them a blank cheque to do so.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the biggest mischief is the trigger point for establishing the fixed penalty notice? The requirement under clause 12 of the Canterbury City Council Bill is that
“an authorised officer, constable or… a community support officer finds a person who he has reason to believe has… committed… a relevant offence”.
It does not say that the officer has to have reasonable grounds, which would be a higher threshold, as he just needs “reason to believe”. Even if the reason were mistaken, the officer would still be entitled to impose a fixed penalty notice under the Bill.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is another unfair element of the Bill. Of course, if someone reserves the right not to pay the fixed penalty notice, they would presumably find themselves in court and it would be for the court to decide whether or not they should have to pay. I am sure my hon. Friend would agree that that creates a big financial risk for the pedlar concerned, who has to take a gamble—it could be quite a costly gamble in many cases—where he feels that he has done nothing wrong yet has been served with this fixed penalty notice. I suspect that in many cases even people who feel that they have been badly done by would feel obliged to pay the fixed penalty notice because of fear about a much bigger penalty further down the line. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that these notices could be given out in a far too willy-nilly way for my liking. This legislation, which we are on the verge of passing today, will allow the authorities to hand out these fixed penalty notices willy-nilly—in a way that I think most people would consider unreasonable.
I am sure that my hon. Friend would accept that it would be an exaggeration to say that it is equivalent to “your money or your life”, but what is being said and what will effectively happen in practice if the provisions come into law is that pedlars will be faced with a choice of either paying the fixed penalty notice or facing the forfeiture of their goods.
Exactly. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is a Hobson’s choice. It might not be “your money or your life”, but it could easily be “your money or your livelihood”. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on that issue.
Further clauses about which we should at least raise an eyebrow relate to the accounting and application of fixed penalty receipts. It looks as if in respect of the Nottingham City Council Bill there is slavering at the mouth at the prospect of what the council may do with any surplus in the accounts raised from the application of these fixed penalty receipts. If we are talking about excessive or otherwise figures, any surplus in the accounts raised by these particular fixed penalties must, by definition, be excessive because they go over and above what is required in order to administer the scheme. In one clause we are being asked to support the council in providing a level of fixed penalty that is reasonable for administering the street trading regime, yet a later clause talks about what might happen if there is any surplus in these accounts, which does not fill me with a great deal of confidence.
On that last point, whatever we think about the individual Bills, the Nottingham City Council Bill, with all this talk of
“surplus… applied to purposes connected with the improvement of the amenity of the city or any part of the city”
seems to be being used to raise money for the council rather than to regulate pedlars. It seems to be a money-raising exercise.
My hon. Friend may be right or may be wrong. It is difficult to know at this stage the main motivation behind these provisions, but he raises a very good point. I fear that the powers given to local authorities by these Bills will inevitably lead to some people on the council using them as a money-raising exercise, perhaps to plug the financial hole that will no doubt be left in local government because the Government are spent up and there is no money in the kitty for the future. I worry about the full implications of that.
In summary, these two Bills are flawed on many levels. I do not doubt the honourable intentions of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury and the hon. Member for Nottingham, East, as they are clearly trying to do what is best for their local areas, but we must also consider the bigger picture of national law. Whatever aspect of the Bills that Members may be unhappy or nervous about—pedlars or ticket touting, for example—given that the Government have consultations under way on all these matters with responses from both sides of the argument, which they are considering very thoroughly, it would be premature to pass legislation in this way at this stage.
When legislation passes through the House, many organisations employ expensive lobbyists and have powerful groups to argue on their behalf. Pedlars are a disparate group by definition, and they probably do not have the resources to employ expensive lobbyists to argue on their behalf. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has done a tremendous job in arguing their point of view, but even with that, and with the reports and the research he has shared with us, I fear we are in danger of passing legislation without fully understanding its implications for pedlars.
I thank my hon. Friend for those very generous comments. There is another point: a disproportionate cost burden falls on the pedlars and the big councils. If councils were to reveal exactly how much money they had spent on funding Sharpe Pritchard and its advisers, their council tax payers might take the view that they were mistaken in putting so much emphasis on promoting these Bills.
I think my hon. Friend is right. It is for the people in those areas to determine whether their authorities have spent too much time and money on all of this, but although they may have done so, my main concern is that these Bills are misguided. Considerable damage could be done to people trying to go about their legitimate business of selling goods for the benefit of their local community. We should think very carefully before passing, in a flash, legislation that could have very serious consequences for many people who are trying to do their best and to raise some much needed money for their households.
Bill read the Third time and passed.