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Manchester City Council Bill [Lords]

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 28 January 2010

Consideration of Bill, as amended.

Amendments made: 35, 36, 47, 48, 52 to 54, 58, 72, 77, 79, 80, 82 and 83.—(Mr. Chope).

Third Reading

I beg to move, that the Bill be now read the Third time.

I have been quite restrained about the Bills in recent weeks, even though the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) has occasionally asked me to explain certain positions. However, I would like to get one thing on record, which relates to a discussion that took place last week about whether the boundaries in the Bill should be within a one-mile radius of Albert square. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman expressed the caveat that he did not know so much about the geography of Manchester. The downside was that such boundaries would take in a considerable chunk of the city of Salford. I therefore hope, even at this late stage, that the hon. Gentleman will understand why I was reluctant to accept the relevant amendment as drafted.

The process has been interesting and important and an example of Parliament doing its job, but I think all hon. Members would accept that it is not the right way to do a job because it does not lead to logical debate. As the hon. Member for Christchurch said earlier, it allows minorities to use the power possibly of reason, and certainly of time, to block progress. That concentrates minds on bringing about compromise, particularly so late in the parliamentary cycle, when we know that we are running out of sitting hours. I do not criticise those who participated—I do not believe that they are right, but I do not criticise them for using the power; I have done the same under different circumstances—but it is not the right way to pass legislation rationally and constructively. It probably serves the interests of neither the citizens of Bournemouth and Manchester, nor pedlars nationally or locally.

I join those who have said to my hon. Friend the Minister, who I think is sympathetic to the plea, that we need a national framework to deal with such measures in future. If such a framework were introduced on a reasonable time scale, it would probably lead to the repeal of the six Bills on which we have spent so many hours in recent months. That would be paradoxical but the right way forward.

A genuine problem needs to be addressed. I assure Conservative Members that I do not mean that pedlars should be suppressed. People have always accepted the role of legitimate pedlars. They add variety, colour and flavour to our national way of life. The legitimate pedlar can appear to our benefit in many different circumstances. However, I hope that Conservative Members accept that there have been problems in my city and other places with the illegitimate abuse of the pedlar’s licence, sometimes through unfair competition to legitimate traders, who pay a bigger overhead cost and have a greater sense of responsibility to the local community, and sometimes through those who simply trade at unacceptable levels. The Bill tries to deal with that.

Compromises have been reached. As I said to the hon. Member for Christchurch, he has got significant concessions. He can go back and tell those to whom he has spoken that the concessions are real and were not willingly given. They were given to allow the Bill to make progress. We still think that we have a workable Bill; nevertheless, it is not the measure that Manchester wanted. There is, therefore, honour on all sides.

In response to the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), I say that we have the Bill and we will make it work, but it is not the Bill that we wanted. However, that’s life, and life does not guarantee to give us everything we want.

The procedure for the Bills has been interesting, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I first called for a national review of the subject on 12 June 2008, which the Government conceded and have now announced. Unfortunately, we do not think that such consideration will happen before the general election, and that is a pity. However, does he agree that some matters have not been aired by the procedure—for example, granting a pedlar’s certificate and the need for a photographic pass so that people in any area can see that a genuine pedlar’s certificate has been granted by another police force? Perhaps those are minor matters, but does he concede the need to examine the whole issue on a national basis?

I agree. I think I can probably say on behalf of my hon. Friend the Minister that the incoming Labour Government after the election will want to make genuine progress on the matter. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman’s playing his role as loyal Opposition spokesperson in helping us with that process. That is right and proper. In that sense, he has my full support for his continued role and relevance on the Opposition Benches in making national legislation work properly.

However, the hon. Gentleman is right that we need that national framework and to have a debate that lets us look across the board at the fine-tuning that will make it optimal. I must add one note of caution that Opposition Members ought to take on board: circumstances vary between local authority areas, which is why the Manchester City Council Bill is not exactly the same as the other Bills that have been discussed today. It is important to recognise that any national framework will be just that and not a straitjacket, because we need to allow for that variation in local conditions and local needs.

The hon. Member for Christchurch sought commitments from the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) that there would not be an influx of pedlars into Christchurch from Bournemouth as a result of the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill. I reassure him that there is almost no possibility that there will be a displacement from Manchester to Christchurch because of the Manchester City Council Bill. I hope that with that reassurance, he will be happy to ensure a speedy Third Reading and that it will be legislation not too far in future.

I thank the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) for the good-humoured way in which he has dealt with these proceedings. I visited Manchester during the Conservative party conference and stayed in Salford, within easy walking distance of the conference centre, so I was aware that part of Salford was within one mile of Albert square. On a proper reading of the Bill, the hon. Gentleman would recognise that the provisions apply only to the city of Manchester, so they would not apply to the area outside the city but within the one-mile radius. That is my defence on that point.

The Minister has said a number of times this afternoon that the Government will respond in due course to the consultation. I simply want to place it on the record that paragraph 20 on page 33 of the Government’s consultation, which was issued in November, states:

“The results of this consultation exercise, including a summary of the views expressed, and the Government’s response will be published no more than three months after the close of the exercise.”

The close of the exercise is imminent—the beginning of next month. It continues:

“The results may be viewed on the BIS consultations home page”.

Paragraph 121 states:

“Subject to the response to this consultation, it is intended to publish a second consultation outlining the way forward in Spring 2010, including a full impact assessment on the costs and benefits of the Government’s preferred options and possibly identifying suitable legislative vehicles.”

As a result of these debates and the consideration of these Bills, there is now a momentum for change and for the introduction of a national legislative framework. Those of us who think that that is a major achievement resulting from the passage of the Bills should not allow ourselves to be discouraged by the expression “in due course”.

I rise hesitantly for a number of reasons, not least because when I did not speak last week, I received more congratulations than I ever have on any actual contribution I have made in the House.

The Government have noted carefully the reports of the debates on the Manchester City Council Bill and the other Bills. It is clear from what has been said and what we have learned that local authorities face difficulties because of the unlawful activities of those who seek to trade in restricted areas without street-trader licences. There is little doubt that in some areas, unlawful traders adversely affect the livelihood of licensed street traders and certified pedlars acting in accordance with the Pedlars Act 1881, and other retailers and consumers, so we understand the desire of local authorities to bolster their enforcement powers.

As I mentioned, the House will be aware that as a result, the Government are undertaking research. That will be concluded by 12 February and we will respond in due course. Three months from 12 February would be 12 May, which is well this side of a potential general election, as I am sure the House will acknowledge. We will do as outlined in the consultation document.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) mentioned momentum, and there is now a sense of momentum, as well as a degree of expertise. When Her Majesty the Queen finally signs the Acts, she will note that these Bills started in January 2007, so they have taken almost three years. She might be inclined to wonder what on earth we have been doing all that time. I therefore encourage the Minister not to sit on the phrase “in due course” but to give us a clearer timetable, especially as there is an appetite to see this concluded.

I would not dare to speculate on what Her Majesty might think on any subject. The process that we have gone through is the proper process and we have followed the proper procedures of the House for dealing with private legislation—not private Member’s legislation, as one hon. Member mentioned earlier, which is a completely different animal.

Another point that has been raised relates to the services directive and whether it affects street entertainers. I can confirm that the Government do not accept that it does. The Licensing Act 2003 regulates street entertainment that takes place in front of the public once a local authority licence has been obtained. Street entertainers do not rely on pedlar’s certificates and should not be affected by changes linked to the implementation of the services directive. I say that as someone who has engaged in busking on occasion, and who has a next-door neighbour who is a street entertainer and would not forgive us if we allowed anything that infringed on his rights.

In conclusion and with your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish to pay tribute to my neighbour, Francis Maxey, who has just lost his wife, Kate Hunter, who was a great campaigner on all sorts of issues and I am sure that she would never have allowed us to do something like that either.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Many of us have sat through many hours of debates on these private Bills. Some years ago, I also had the privilege of chairing what was probably the shortest Opposed Bill Committee on record, although I have not noticed an entry to that effect in Wisden. In 2010, this process is not well understood by the public, and nor is it fit for purpose. Is it not time that the House considered establishing a Speaker’s conference to consider whether a better way might be found to deal with such business?

I am not sure that I would make a distinction between private and other legislation in terms of the public’s understanding. We would all hope, as Members of Parliament, that we were able to communicate to our constituents successfully what we do here. However, it is open to the hon. Gentleman to pursue the issue of the ways in which private legislation might be considered in the future. One’s experience of it may vary according to the measure in question, but the House has had a remarkable record of disposing of such Bills, even if sometimes that happens more slowly. It depends on the degree of contention involved. The hon. Gentleman has put his point on the record, but he may wish to write a letter to Mr. Speaker to pursue his suggestion.