Further consideration of Lords amendments
I remind the House of the fact that we are debating the Lords amendments to four different private Bills simultaneously, because they are close to identical, as are the amendments made in another place. Although we will debate the amendments together, the questions to dispose of the Lords amendments will be put on each Bill in turn.
Amendment proposed (31 January): C6, page 2, leave out lines 17 to 27.—(Stuart Andrew.)
Question again proposed, That this House agrees with Lords amendment C6.
When the debate was adjourned last Thursday, we were considering the second group of Lords amendments and the amendments to them. Mr Chope was speaking on Lords amendment C6 to the Canterbury City Council Bill. With this amendment, we were also considering the following:
Lords amendments C7 and C8, and C9 and amendments (a) to (h) thereto to the Canterbury City Council Bill.
Lords amendments L3 and L4, and L5 and amendments (a) to (h) thereto to the Leeds City Council Bill.
Lords amendments N3 to N5, and N6 and amendments (a) to (i) thereto to the Nottingham City Council Bill.
Lords amendments R4 to R7, and R8 and amendments (a) to (i) thereto to the Reading Borough Council Bill.
I have no intention, Mr Deputy Speaker, of trying your patience. Given, however, that a few parliamentary colleagues are still hanging around, I thought that I would put on the record an exchange between my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and the deputy Chief Whip during Monday’s proceedings, when it was made clear that, although it was possible this debate might start at 4 o’clock and continue until 7 o’clock, if it ran late, it would not be of any significance, because there would be a one-line Whip and no interference in our affairs, whether from the Government or anybody else. I want to make it clear to anybody who thinks that they have to still hang around in the Chamber because this is whipped business, that it is not.
I am pleased to have that confirmation. It means that our attendance is voluntary.
Since we have a new Minister, I hope that she will take the opportunity to expand on what her ministerial colleague said briefly in an intervention in the previous debate. In other words, will she explain the full implications of the Government’s consultation paper, in which the Government said they had no choice but to abolish the Pedlars Act 1871 to comply with the European services directive? I hope that she will explain how, if that is correct, the Government can support amendment C9 passed in their lordships House.
In conclusion, I hope that I will be able to move formally amendment (g) to Lords amendment C9, because it is the most telling amendment down in my name in this group of amendments. Amendment (g) would remove the provision allowing designation in order to prevent obstruction of the highway. That is such a wide provision that it effectively reintroduces by the back door the touting provisions in clause 11, which Lords amendment 15 would remove. Anybody could be thought to be able potentially to obstruct the highway; therefore, the local authorities concerned would be able to designate areas where no activity could take place whatever, which would be a total abuse. That is why I would like the opportunity in due course to test the will of the House on amendment (g).
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I hope we have a chance to hear from the Minister on the points that have been raised. I am sure she will have read what my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) said in opening the debate last Thursday.
I rise to speak to this group of Lords amendments and the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend for debate in the House last Thursday. I thank him for the comprehensive way he set out the amendments in that debate and in his concluding remarks today. Let me also say how grateful I am for the work undertaken in the other place by the noble Lords. They have thoroughly and efficiently considered all the issues involved in these Bills. Their noble lordships were not prepared simply to nod these Bills through, as some might have feared, including—I have to say, with much regret—myself. One could well have forgiven their lordships for thinking that as these Bills had been trundling along the parliamentary legislative pathway for some time—albeit at the pace of a rather arthritic snail—there could not possibly be any purpose in subjecting them to further detailed scrutiny.
As it is, their noble lordships recognised the importance of pedlars in our society, as those of us who take an interest in these matters in this place do too. The place of pedlars in the life of our nation dates back to the time of Chaucer. Their noble lordships considered the general principles behind the introduction of these Bills and how the detail of the new proposed laws would operate in practice. Pedlars are the ultimate in micro-businesses. The ability for someone with a relatively small amount of capital to start a business travelling from place to place buying and selling goods has been the starting point for many of our great businesses, including some household names.
It would seem that the local authorities promoting the four private Bills before us today were at least partly motivated by a wish to protect the revenue they received from licensed street traders. As right hon. and hon. Members will be aware, it was suggested in the other place that these Bills were seeking to achieve the “total eradication of pedlars” from the streets of the cities of Canterbury, Leeds and Nottingham and the borough of Reading. As hon. Members will be aware, there is a great deal of difference between a pedlar and a street trader. It was submitted that the reason why it was thought necessary to try to remove pedlars from those three cities and one borough was to prevent the streets from being obstructed by pedlars as they stopped to sell their wares. Their lordships did not accept that it was appropriate to remove pedlars completely, but they did think it appropriate that the size of the trolley used by pedlars should be limited. Amendment C9 seeks to do just that. It is worth noting the words used by Baroness Knight of Collingtree, who chaired the Select Committee established in the other place to consider the Bills, to justify amendment C9. Referring to the fact that counsel for the local authorities promoting the Bills had produced photographs supporting their contention that the pedlars were causing unacceptable congestion, she said:
“The members of the committee asked for evidence and they produced photographs of their streets, which of course were very crowded. We scrutinised them carefully and asked questions.”
The crucial sentence follows:
“We concluded that nothing we had been shown, or told, proved the case that the local authorities were making.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 December 2012; Vol. 741, c. 445.]
That is a most telling statement. I submit that it provides proof to the House of what my hon. Friends and I have been trying to establish from the outset—namely, that the Bills are far from straightforward. It should not be taken for granted that the case for the legislation has been proven, or that the Bills should simply be nodded through the House without detailed scrutiny. What has happened in the other place has largely justified the stance taken by my hon. Friends when the Bills were previously considered in this House.
We have already seen how, as a result of the first group of amendments, clauses 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, which deal with seizure, forfeiture and the payment of compensation, were all taken out of the Bill completely. They were not amended, or even slightly modified; they were removed in their entirety. In this group, amendment C8 deletes clause 4 completely and amendment C9 deletes clause 5 altogether and replaces it with an entirely new clause whose purpose is completely different from the original one.
It is worth noting the details of the proposed new clause. It sets out in great detail the nature of the trolley that a pedlar would be permitted to use. It gives overall dimensions for the trolley when it is being used, but it also—rather unnecessarily, in my opinion—gives details of the size of the trolley when empty. I am not sure what the relevance of that could be. Surely the overall dimensions set out in proposed new paragraph (2C) would be sufficient. Provided the trolley did not exceed a width of 0.88 metres, a depth of 0.83 metres or a height of 1.63 metres, I fail to see how it could be prejudicial to the council or to the users of the highway. I also fail to see how it would prevent an obstruction from being caused if the trolley were of a different size from that set out in proposed new paragraph (2B), which specifically states that it should not exceed a width of 0.75 metres, a depth of 0.5 metres and a height of 1.25 metres.
There is no explanation of why those precise, detailed figures have been chosen. What is the special significance of a width of 0.88 metres? Why not a width of—
Shame it may be, but I think the time has come. I enjoy hearing the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), but I do not think there is anything new in what he says, so I will accept the closure.
Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.
The House proceeded to a Division.
Question put accordingly, That this House agrees with Lords amendment C6.
Lords amendment C6 agreed to.
Lords amendment C7 agreed to.
Provision of services
Motion made, and Question put, That this House agrees with Lords amendment C8.—(Mr Brazier.)
Lords amendment C8 agreed to.
Amendment (g) proposed to Lords amendment C9.—(Mr Chope.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The House divided.
Mr Deputy Speaker stated that he thought that the Noes had it; and, on his decision being challenged, it appeared to him that the Division was unnecessarily claimed, and he accordingly called upon the Members who challenged and who supported his decision successively to rise in their places, (Standing Order No.40).
The Deputy Speaker declared that the Noes had it, five Members only who challenged his decision having stood up.
Question accordingly negatived.
Lords amendments C9 to C14 agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House agrees with Lords amendment C15.—(Mr Brazier.)
Is it a point of order?
Mr Deputy Speaker, you in your wisdom accepted that these Lords amendments, which relate to touting, should be dealt with in a separate group, and that is what we are discussing. The lead amendment would remove clause 11, and the subsequent amendments deal with consequential matters relating to the touting provision. When we discussed this previously, I cannot remember how many years ago, a lot of concern was expressed.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; he is always courteous in debate. He will recall that these amendments were promised by me in the Commons because he asked for them, and introduced in the Lords exactly as we promised, so I am very surprised that he wants to debate them again.
We now have, after a bit of pressure, an admission from my hon. Friend that he has done exactly what he said he would do by ensuring that the amendments would be moved successfully in their lordships House. I and my parliamentary colleagues who have fought so valiantly to remove the most pernicious parts of these Bills can now say that, because of the work that we have been doing in this House over many years, the Bills are much improved as a result of these Lords amendments.
As my hon. Friend has said, he promised Lords amendment C15 to this House when these Bills were given their Third Reading. He has honoured that undertaking by ensuring that it was tabled in the other place. It is fair to say that we both think that the other place’s debate took a lot longer than expected. On the basis of the proposed amendments, we had expected the Bills to go through the other place relatively quickly but they did not because their lordships decided to look at them in a lot more detail. As a result, we received a series of Lords amendments, some of which we discussed earlier, that made a significant difference to the Bills—not just to the touting provision, but to the definition of pedlars. Therefore, when I seek the indulgence of the House, it is in order to ensure that my hon. and right hon. Friends and the Opposition realise that this has been a very worthwhile exercise. Although a lot of colleagues have consistently voted against the ideas that I and a number of my hon. Friends have suggested—[Interruption.]
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. If there is going to be a Division on any of the amendments in this group, will you give Members notice of it so that if they do not wish to participate in this debate and want to carry on their conversations outside they can do so, and that, in due course, if there is a Division the Division bell will ring in the usual way? Could you make that clear, Mr Deputy Speaker?
I am grateful for that clarification, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Sometimes during the course of discussing these pedlars Bills, we who have been on the side of the pedlars have, in a sense, been given an insight into what it must be like to be a pedlar, against whom there is a lot of prejudice among ordinary members of the public. Similarly, quite a lot of prejudice has been generated against those Members of this House who have stood up for the interests of pedlars. It is helpful for us to reflect on the real changes that we in this House, collectively, have made to the Bills.
Does my hon. Friend note the irony that, previously, Members stayed behind to vote against the amendments that he and I tabled on touting, yet now they are staying behind to vote for them because the Lords tabled them? It is ironic that Members want to stay behind so late in order to vote differently from how they voted last time.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as always, for his intervention, but on this occasion he is absolutely wrong.
This is the last group of amendments that we will debate on this Bill. In fact, the amendments relate not only to the Canterbury City Council Bill, but to all the Bills that we are discussing. It is right at this stage to pay tribute to everybody who has participated in these debates.
I have had the pleasure of listening to my hon. Friend on these subjects for a number of years. When I was the Opposition spokesman, I advocated looking at these issues on a national basis so that individual councils did not have to come forward with different Bills. Would that not be a much more sensible approach?
Absolutely. We have made progress in that regard. When these Bills were first debated, the Labour Government were reluctant to do anything about it, but under the present Government we have had a new consultation paper on the whole subject. That paper makes it clear that the Government’s view is that there may be a strong case for national legislation instead of piecemeal legislation.
The Government have said that if they have to change the legislation to ensure that all the local Acts and the Bills that we are discussing today comply with the EU services directive, they will include the provisions that are put forward by each local authority before the end of the consultation period later this month in collective legislation to ensure that the provisions relating to the rights and responsibilities of pedlars are common throughout the land.
One benefit of this debate having been extended over almost a six-year period is that we have had the chance to consider the impact of the services directive, which, among other things, applies to touting for services, which is the subject of this group of Lords amendments. As my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) will remember, when we raised the issue of the services directive initially, there was much scepticism among Government Members and people like my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) who have sponsored these Bills. They said that we were raising the services directive as a red herring in order to waste time.
We have now found out that the Government are taking the matter so seriously that they have realised that all the pedlars Acts may have to be repealed to facilitate compliance with the services directive. That implies that when the former Government first thought about the impact of the services directive on the United Kingdom, they and their advisers got it completely wrong. They should surely have understood the implications of the directive when it was being negotiated in Brussels. That is just another example of how we have lost control over our own affairs through the loss of sovereignty, which is being passed to the European Union.
All’s well that ends well in the sense that the Government now recognise that many of the services provisions in these Bills are wholly inappropriate. I suspect that even if my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury had not offered, when the Canterbury City Council Bill was before the House on Third Reading, to withdraw the touting provisions in the other place, it would have been necessary to take them out anyway because of their lack of compliance with the services directive.
I detect that all good things must come to an end, and in the light of the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has behaved, and in tribute to work done by their lordships in the other place and their thorough examination of the Bill, it would be churlish of me to say that I will vote against the amendments in this group. I must, however, have a caveat to that, so I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) will catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker. He may persuade me that I am incorrect. Subject to anything that he says, I am—to use an expression from the other place—“content” to allow the Lords amendments to proceed.
As has been said, we are discussing the last group of amendments and I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope). Colleagues who have shown a belated interest in this Bill may think that they have in effect been thwarting my hon. Friend over the past few minutes. Instead, they have been voting to rubber-stamp amendments to the Bill for which he argued many years ago but which the Government of the time, and elements of the Opposition—the Conservative party was sitting on the other side of the House then—resisted. It is a measure of my hon. Friend’s success that he has gone from leading a few of us into the Lobby to support his amendment to this red letter day on which 250 people have supported that amendment. He should be very proud of that.
I wish to place on the record that my first intervention in this House was during a discussion on this matter, probably in May or June 2010. Before we conclude our proceedings, it is important to say that I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) for his ability to cover a range of subjects. That evening we discussed the monastic rights of the city of Canterbury, and a creature called the Pedlar of Swaffham that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman). At each turn my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch was able to discourse on those obtuse matters with eloquence and in great detail, and I pay tribute to him for that. As he says, however, all good things come to an end and perhaps it is good at this moment to draw a line under this varied subject.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and he is right to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and make it clear to the House that he knows so much more about matters than I do; his expertise spreads far and wide. I have certainly learned a lot over the years, and I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) is also learning a great deal from him.
Given that so many people have shown a belated interest in this Bill, it seems only right that before they vote on the Lords amendments they understand what they have been invited to vote on. In previous discussions on this matter—as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said, we have been debating these Bills for around six years—we were, to be perfectly frank, talking to a small audience. We could therefore, through various nods and winks, understand each other’s arguments, and the Bill could rapidly progress and rush to a Division because we all knew what we were talking about. Tonight we are in a unique position where lots of people who want to participate in the voting do not know the Bill’s six years of history as I and my hon. Friend do. We must lay out exactly what people will be voting for in this group of amendments because I would not want anyone to vote inadvertently for something in which they do not believe.
The amendments relate to clause 11 of the Canterbury City Council Bill, and this is the right time to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier). During the passage of the Bill, he has probably felt a great deal of frustration on occasion, as have other Members who have sponsored the Bills. In all fairness to him, he did not sit there in frustration without listening to the arguments and taking on board what was said. He was good enough to listen to the force of the argument. We had a long debate on touting in relation to the Canterbury City Council Bill, and he was good enough to listen to the arguments. As he made clear in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch—I did not hear all of it because of the hoo-hah going on at the time—the amendment results from the promise given by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury at previous stages. He said it would be a fair deal to get rid of clause 11.
Hon. Members know that my hon. Friend is one of the most honourable people, if not the most honourable person, in the House. As ever, he has been as good as his word. However, we cannot leave it at that—the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill is a precedent—because assurances given in the House on how legislation will be dealt with in the other place have not always been kept. We cannot therefore take it as read that their lordships decided to accept the amendment on the word of my hon. Friend, because they have decided to ignore the words of other hon. Members in the past. We must therefore presume not only that their lordships wished to keep to my hon. Friend’s word, but that they were persuaded by the case.
It is striking that, whereas the Lords have decided to delete clause 11 from the Canterbury City Council Bill—that is the amendment we are debating—they chose not to delete clause 11 from the Reading Borough Council Bill, which is virtually identical. Clause 11(1)(b) in both Bills lists the places to which the provisions will apply. However, whereas the Reading Borough Council Bill refers only to “a street”, the Canterbury City Council Bill refers to
“a street or esplanade, parade, promenade or way to which the public commonly have access, whether or not as of right.”
That is the only difference in the clauses in the two Bills.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said in his opening remarks, it is perhaps a shame that we have not had a great explanation of what their lordships were thinking when they made the amendment to delete clause 11 from the Canterbury Bill. Is the difference in the wording of the two Bills a matter of principle on touting or a matter of practicality? In essence, the measures are the same.
I am very grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker. That is the first time any hon. Member in my seven or eight years in the House has ever said or indicated that they want to hear a little more from me. It certainly has been a red letter day for me, too. I am flattered, Mr Deputy Speaker.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch makes a good point. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister exactly what is in the Government’s mind. Perhaps she will explain why the amendment should be supported and why the wording should apply to the Canterbury City Council Bill but not to the Reading Borough Council Bill.
Perhaps the Minister will also tell us what the Government’s view is of the principle of touting tickets and so on. The Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport published a report on ticket touting in 2008. I am lucky enough to serve on that Committee, so it is a subject close to my heart. People will have spotted that what is striking about that report is the date—it came out in the middle of the discussions on the Bill. I do not know whether their lordships were influenced in any way by the recommendations of the Committee—I very much hope they were; it was an excellent report, so that may well be the case—or whether they were influenced by the Bill’s principles, but hon. Members may wish to bear in mind the fact that this is a very strange clause in the sense that it is called “Touting”, and that is what is referred to throughout the clause.
The first recommendation of the Select Committee’s report—of course, I will not go through all the recommendations, but it is wise to highlight some of the pertinent ones—states:
“It is important to bear in mind that the term ‘touting’ has very different meanings to different people”.
When we have a Bill that refers to “touting” as if we all know what touting is, hon. Members should bear in mind that comment by the Committee.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I will just say in passing that I very much agreed with his earlier intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch when he said that these matters are best dealt with at a national level. We are either in favour of ticket touting or we are not, and the same rules should apply across the country. Like my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), I think that many people will believe that touting relates mainly to sporting events, or perhaps even big music events, which is maybe one of the reasons why it is in, for example, the Reading Bill in the first place, as it has a big music festival.
My hon. Friend will be interested to know that clause 11(2) talks about affecting
“Any person who, in a place designated under this section”—
I mentioned briefly about the areas that apply—
“importunes any person by touting for a hotel, lodging house, restaurant or other place of refreshment, for a shop, for a theatre or nightclub or other place of amusement or recreation, or for a boat or other conveyance shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.”
Straight away, my hon. Friend will appreciate that this goes far beyond what he and many other people might think of it.
I am troubled about this definition of “touting”, because it includes all forms of entertainment. If one were to give out a leaflet asking people to join the local Conservative party, which is always a source of the greatest entertainment, would that potentially count as touting and be illegal in Reading but legal in Canterbury?
This is an issue of concern. One feature of Brick lane, which I live near, are the many people touting for their restaurants. I suppose that a natural consequence of the proposal is that touting for a restaurant in London will be entirely legal, but in Reading it will not. That inconsistency bears out precisely the point that my hon. Friend made earlier.
I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich makes a good point, however, in that the amendment, which would delete the clause on touting from the Canterbury Bill, raises the question: what is so special about Canterbury? If the House agrees to the amendment, we will remove the restrictions on touting from the Bill. It might well be that people want controls on touting in Canterbury because of its particular circumstances. We ought to listen to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury during an earlier stage of the Bill. Notwithstanding the offer he eventually made, he made it clear, at that point, that the restriction on touting was an essential part of the Canterbury Bill. He said that Canterbury suffered from huge problems, with which I am not familiar, of people touting for business in certain—perhaps historic—parts of the city. Perhaps people felt that touting took something away from the city.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are people in the House who speak Middle English as if it were their first tongue. We all know that the word “tout” comes from the Middle English word “tuten”, meaning “to look out for”, but may I warn him that in Northern Ireland the word has a very specific and very dangerous meaning? It will frequently be found written on gable ends. I appreciate that Northern Ireland is not Reading, and it is certainly not Canterbury, but it is a word we ought to be careful with.
I guess that the hon. Gentleman is merely highlighting the point I am making and which the Select Committee started out with, which is that the term “touting” has different meanings to different people. I am grateful to him for accepting that point.
In considering whether to support the Lords amendments, it is important that Members decide whether they think that touting is a perfectly acceptable practice or an unsavoury practice. Of course, there are some unsavoury parts of touting—they are not specific to touting itself, but go along with it. For instance, people associate the selling of counterfeit tickets with touting. As it happens, however, that is already a criminal offence. It is not a good excuse for banning touting anywhere, given that legislation is already in place to deal with it. It might well be that people feel it clutters up a town or city and that it would look better without such people making a nuisance of themselves. It might well be that people think the nuisance is worth stopping. Perhaps they are being pestered by people handing out leaflets or trying to drag them into their restaurant against their wishes with a lasso or whatever mechanisms it is they use.
As ever, my hon. Friend makes a good point. He is renowned in the House for defending individual freedom. Of course, if people wish to be encouraged into a place, that is a matter for their free choice, but if people go too far, they would be breaking the law. Those practices may well lead people to want to stop touting altogether.
Some people think that touting acts against the interests of the general public. This brings us to the crux of the argument about whether in principle we should find touting acceptable or unacceptable, as well as back to the point my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds made about the touting of tickets for sporting events. Touts mop up tickets for extremely popular events at a low price or at face value and sell them on at an inflated price to the general public who could not get their hands on them because the touts were buying up all the stock. In effect, the general public—the fan or the person who genuinely wants to go—end up having to pay above the odds for their tickets, which people find unsavoury. The Select Committee took a great deal of evidence on that. Indeed, there has been a great deal of concern about this issue and interest in it.
As it happens, it was not just the Select Committee that looked into the issue. The Office of Fair Trading has also investigated whether ticket touting should be stopped because it acts against the interests of the consumer. After many months of inquiry, the Office of Fair Trading found—this was consistent with the evidence it gave us during our inquiry—that, on the whole, touting acts in the best interests of the consumer, and it does so on a number of levels. In many cases, someone who has bought a ticket for an event that they genuinely hope to go to, but who finds that for some reason they cannot go, will be refused a refund by those who sold them the ticket because it is non-returnable. That person is left with a ticket—it could be an expensive ticket—that they cannot do anything with. What are they expected to do? Their only hope is what is known as the secondary market, which is what is known colloquially as touting. Indeed, I am rather surprised that clause 11 is entitled “Touting”. I think that “Secondary market” would probably be a fairer name.
As I have listened to this debate my understanding of the word “touting” has been considerably expanded. I want to test what it means in the context of this Bill. If I were a pedlar in Canterbury and I started distributing leaflets on people’s doorsteps, would I be caught by this Bill for touting?
My hon. Friend asks a fair question. In effect, he stumbles—whether intentionally or not—on to quite an interesting point about this Bill. In many respects, this part of the Bill has nothing to do with pedlars, because it need not be a pedlar who is selling the tickets. The term “pedlar” has a legal definition—it refers to someone who needs a licence—whereas the Bill as it stands, if Lords amendment C15 was not accepted, would apply to anybody, whether a pedlar or not.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. In the past, we have concentrated on the definitions of “street trading” and “pedlars”. Is he now suggesting that there is a third category—neither a street trader nor pedlar, but someone who is simply operating in the secondary market for tickets?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Clause 11 stands out like a sore thumb from the rest of the Bill, whish is pretty consistent in being about pedlars and street traders, as he rightly says. I pay tribute to the scrutiny he has given the Bill during its passage through this House. Clause 11 stands alone in that it can apply to anybody. It should be an acceptable part of life—it would be acceptable to me, as well as the Office of Fair Trading and the Select Committee, which looked at this—for someone in Canterbury who happened to have purchased a ticket for an event they could no longer attend to sell their ticket on to somebody else. Once people have bought their ticket, it is their ticket. If they want to sell it on to someone else, that should be a matter for them.
Surely this should be a matter of contract. If the ticket prohibits the purchaser from selling it on, they should be prohibited from so doing, and if it allows the use of the secondary market, that should be allowed. Purchasing a ticket is a contractual activity; the ticket is not an item of property.
My hon. Friend makes a good point but, interestingly, it is not made clear in the provision that that would be the case. Many tickets state that they are not to be resold, or that they are non-transferable. The promoter of an event could take the matter to court to test the contract, and the court could find against the person who had sold the ticket on, whether for a profit or not.
I will in a moment.
The striking thing is that, to the best of my knowledge, no promoter of any event in this country has ever had the courage to test such a provision in court. I could be wrong, but I believe that that has been done in Australia, however, and that the Australian courts found against the promoter of the event. They found that it was unfair to attach the condition to the ticket that it should not be resold.
I suspect that we are now discussing the provision on touting because the promoters of events are not satisfied that the law of the land will help them in the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) suggests. If what he said were true, there would be no need for any of these provisions on touting. Clause 11 would be redundant, because an event promoter could simply take their grievance to the courts. However, if the courts are not going to help, as I understand is the case at the moment, clauses such as these need to be incorporated into Bills so that touting can be dealt with, not because the touts are selling tickets but because people do not like them and want them to be moved off the streets and given fixed penalty notices.
Indeed he is.
Notwithstanding the question of an individual’s freedom to do what they want with a ticket that they have bought, it seems unacceptable to include the clause in the Bill, as it would provide for imposing a further penalty. Let us imagine that someone had bought a ticket to an event but could no longer attend it. They would lose their money because they could not get a refund, but if they tried to resell their ticket, they would also face being fined for so doing. They would lose out financially.
I do not know how they order these things in the city of Christopher Marlowe, but this matter has now been tested in cities that have premier league football teams. There is now a non-profit-making organisation called Seatwave that enables anyone who has a ticket for any English or Scottish premier league match to resell it through that organisation. The key point, however, is that the prohibition on the resale of tickets has been sustained in court. I do not know about the case in Australia, but in Fulham, that is the law.
Order. I have given hon. Members a bit of leeway, but I am worried that we are now getting into retail matters that have absolutely nothing to do with the Bill, as we all know. I hope that we can now stick to the matters in hand, and have fewer interventions; otherwise, we are going to drift into areas where I do not need to be.
I want to ask my hon. Friend a question on the specifics of the amendment that we are considering. As I understand it, someone with a ticket in Reading would need to go to Canterbury to do their touting, because it would be illegal in Reading but not in Canterbury thanks to their lordships wise amendment. Is that correct?
I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, and you are right that I am not worried about Reading—except in the sense of trying to find some guidance about why their lordships decided that this particular clause should be deleted from the Canterbury City Council Bill but not deleted from the Reading Borough Council Bill when they are virtually the same. All we can do is consider how the detail in this particular clause is different from the other one.
When people decide whether this is a good amendment to support, the first question they will consider is whether they support touting. I hope I have been able to make the case that ticket touting is, as far as I am concerned, a perfectly legitimate part of the free market and people’s freedoms. People should not be prohibited from touting per se. As the Office of Fair Trading found, touting acts largely in the interests of consumers, and if somebody asks a price way in excess of the face value, people do not have to pay that price if they do not want to. Nobody is forcing them to; it is their free choice. I hope that people will not object to this amendment on the basis of principle, because I hope people will think that touting is a principle worth supporting.
The hon. Gentleman makes the point that with ticket touting it is acceptable to charge an added value or premium, but that income and revenue belongs to the artist, performer or whomever the person buying the tickets has paid to see. Does he not agree that that is denying them an income?
I am very grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, but if I may be allowed—I do not want that comment to be left hanging on the record—I would like to say quickly that the touts have already bought the tickets, so the artist already has their income. It makes no difference to their income whether it is resold at a different price. I do not wish to pursue that line of argument any further; I just wanted to put that on the record in passing.
I hope that when people are considering whether to support the Lords in their amendment, they will not object to it on the principle that they do not like ticket touting, as I think that would be very unfortunate. It would fly in the face of all the evidence received by the Select Committee and reflected in its conclusions. We were unanimous in thinking that the secondary market was a perfectly legitimate one, and the Office of Fair Trading believes that it works in the best interests of consumers, too.
It seems to me therefore that, given what their lordships have done, this was not a question of principle. If it were a question of principle, I presume that the provision would have been removed from the Reading Bill as well. It can only be, then, a matter of practicality. That brings us back to the detail in clause 11 of the Canterbury Bill, which is about the location in which people can sell their tickets. That is the only bit that is different. Only subsection (1)(b) is different, and it relates to where people can sell.
Here I think my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is right, in that it would be helpful if Members had some explanation of the local circumstances in Canterbury. I have been to Canterbury once. Unfortunately, it was not to visit the charms of the city and its history, but to visit the Asda store when I worked for Asda. I am not particularly au fait with the city centre, although I am sure it is a fine place.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way so generously. I am listening to the construction of his argument on the issue of the location in Canterbury. While I consider the merits of his argument, will he shed any light from his reading of their lordships debate on whether they considered the evidence base relating to location in Canterbury or whether there are any third-party evidence bases that the hon. Gentleman himself has read that would allow the House to make an informed decision?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who I think raises a good point. As far as I understand it—the question might be more helpfully answered by the Bill’s promoter or the Minister when it comes to an explanation of the pretext for this—that appears not to have been a great factor in their lordships discussions. By that, I mean the situation as it stands in Canterbury. Where people tend to be located, how many people are engaging in this activity, what nuisance might be caused to local residents and whether tourists have been put off from coming into Canterbury because they have had a bad experience and do not want to return again are all potential reasons for the strength of Canterbury’s feelings about the inclusion of clause 11, but I am not aware that any of them were considered.
The hon. Gentleman is not confusing the argument, but the argument is confusing me. I have received many representations about matters of concern to the House, but I have received none about this matter. The hon. Gentleman has suggested that it may have been important to the people of Canterbury in the context of what he describes as a possible motivation for the Bill, but they do not seem to have written to me about it. Has he received any correspondence from the people of Canterbury recently, explaining why it was important for the House’s time and votes to be spent on this Bill?
Order. I do not think that we need worry about Members’ mail boxes while we are dealing with clause 11. I am sure that the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is desperate to stick to the point, and he certainly need not worry about other Members’ mail boxes.
Of course I accept your wise counsel, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will say, however, that their lordships do not appear to have focused too much on the niceties.
When we began our debate on the Bill, we were told that clause 11 was crucial. When my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and I tried to have it removed, our attempts were resisted, and it is because their lordships had to intervene that we are debating it now. The promoters, who were originally adamant about the inclusion of the clause, are now satisfied that it can be removed as their lordships wish. Earlier, I commended the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury had listened to the arguments. What I do not understand is why the amendment could not have been dealt with earlier.
I urge Members to reject any views on the principle of touting, and to consider the practicalities. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury will know much more about this than I do, but it seems to me that there is not a great deal of difference between a provision relating to streets and one that also includes parades and promenades.
I think that I may have identified a crucial difference between the three Bills that contain a long description and the Reading Borough Council Bill, which uses the one word “street”. All the other Bills relate to city councils. The Canterbury Bill is one of the three city council Bills, and in that respect it differs from the Reading Bill.
I am—I think—grateful to my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) may have been becoming confused, but I am beginning to think that I am becoming confused as well. I am not aware that the extra description in subsection (1)(b) has anything to with the fact that this is a city council Bill, as opposed to a borough council Bill. My understanding was that this particular difference related only to the different natures of the places concerned. I presumed that in Reading there was no promenade, parade or esplanade to which the Bill could apply. I could be wrong but my hon. Friend seemed to be arguing that, in effect, it is the same provision but there is a local difference based on the fact that one is a city council and the other is a borough council. My understanding, however, is that it is essentially the same, but it reflects the different nature of the towns and cities concerned. Clause 11 of the Canterbury Bill mentions “parade”, however, and I find it difficult to imagine that there is not a parade in Reading. That would lead me to ask why it is so important to ban selling on a parade in Canterbury, but not on a street in Reading.
Is not this whole situation complicated by the fact that we have now agreed to Lords amendment C9, the consequence of which is to have designated areas rather than streets? The area set out in clause 11 of the Canterbury City Council Bill could now be regarded as a designated area under amendment C9.
My hon. Friend is right in that some of the earlier amendments that were so enthusiastically accepted by the House might have implications for this part of clause 11, which is about the designation of where people can or cannot tout their tickets and other goods and services.
My hon. Friend is on to a good point, however, particularly when we take into account the potential impact of the decision in Cooper v. the Metropolitan Police Commissioner of 1986, where the courts decided that somebody who was working as a tout for a Soho club was guilty of obstruction. The obstruction provisions as amended by amendment C9 could be used against touts, notwithstanding this amendment, which takes out clause 11.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. He tried to do something about the issue of causing obstructions in the previous group of amendments. Amendment C9 has been agreed to, and we must consider clause 11 in relation to provisions already accepted. My hon. Friend may well be right that that amendment could make clause 11 redundant, as we have already got the job done. I am not entirely sure whether that is the case, but I am not a lawyer, whereas my hon. Friend has the considerable advantage over me of being a very distinguished lawyer, so I bow to his superior knowledge. These points should be taken into account when Members decide whether to agree to the Lords amendment under discussion.
The other amendments are all consequential, so we do not need to worry ourselves with them. I shall therefore conclude my brief remarks, which took us on a quick canter around the course on touting in general. My hon. Friend said at the end of his speech that he was minded to accept this Lords amendment but would reserve judgment until he had heard what I had to say. Given that the House may choose to vote on this group of amendments, Members will be pleased to know that, as far as I can see, it would be sensible for the House to accept the amendment. It is a sensible amendment and it defends people’s freedoms. I remain curious, however, as to why it applies to Canterbury alone, and not to Reading, and I would prefer it to apply to both, but we will just have to live with that on this occasion. However, I advise the House to accept this Lords amendment, as it makes the Bill much better.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that. We have reached this stage, where we are in a position to vote for an amendment that improves the Bill and protects freedoms, which for me is what this place is all about, only because of the tenacious way in which he has approached the Bill. We should all be indebted to him for the work he has carried out, because when we accept the final group of Lords amendments, as I hope we will, the Bill will be in incredibly better shape than it was when it first came to this House six years ago. So I support these Lords amendments.
As the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has just said, this Bill has been discussed over the past six years, although this is the first contribution I have been able to make to it. Last Thursday, the Under-Secretary of State for Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) was an able contributor to the debate. As he said then, the Government do not usually seek to intervene in private legislation and we have done so on this occasion only in order to clarify the issues relating to the European services directive. The Government believe, and have already said to the House, that some aspects of the Pedlars Act 1871 are inconsistent with that directive. We therefore launched a consultation on a change in the national law concerning street trading, and the consultation includes a proposal to repeal that Act. As my hon. Friend told the House on Thursday, the four local authorities whose Bills we are discussing—in this group, this applies to Canterbury in particular—are aware of the consultation. The House will be interested to know that we have decided this week to extend the consultation by a month to allow more time for people to respond, so it will now close on 15 March. The four authorities are aware that they may need to amend their legislation to take account of any changes that the Government propose on street trading. Having provided that useful information to the House, I just say that the Government are content for the Bills to proceed and for these Lords amendments to be made.
Lords amendment C15 agreed to.
Lords amendments C16 to C26 agreed to.
After Clause 17
Provision of Information by the Council
Amendment (e) proposed to Lords amendment C27.—(Mr Chope.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Lords amendments C27 to C31, C2 and C1 agreed to.