I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The Bill makes relatively small but important changes to controls on street trading in the City of London, and liberalises controls to enable temporary licences so that street trading can take place outside the one area in which it is currently permitted—Middlesex street, commonly known as Petticoat lane. It will also enable ice cream and similar confectionary to be sold outside food premises—at least when the weather is slightly more conducive than it is at the moment to people wanting to buy such things.
I am pleased to report that since Second Reading in February, the last remaining issue concerning the services directive has been resolved, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has no further objection to the measure. Indeed, BIS has accepted that the City of London Corporation’s justification for clause 9, which sets out how ice cream may be sold outside food premises, provides reasonable grounds that the clause is compliant with the EU services directive.
A number of important amendments were made to the Bill in an Unopposed Bill Committee—which I believe you chaired, Mr Deputy Speaker—in response to points made during a full Second Reading debate on provisions related to the sale of ice cream. The substantive amendments have been the subject of letters from the City of London Corporation to my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and for Shipley (Philip Davies), and I hope they provide reassurance on those points—the absence of my hon. Friends from the House today is perhaps a sign that silence is golden on that matter.
The amendments are to provisions inserted into the City of London (Various Powers) Act 1987 by clause 7(2), and I shall briefly outline their effect. The first amendment makes a change to new section 16A(1), which sets out preconditions for the exercise of the power to seize goods or vehicles in the City of London. Concern was expressed on Second Reading by my hon. Friends that the “reasonable suspicion” test was too subjective and laid too low and narrow a bar as a test. The requirement for reasonable suspicion that a person has committed a street trading offence has therefore been amended to one of reasonable belief. The new test will narrow the circumstances in which that power can be exercised, and will make it easier to claim compensation when proceedings are not brought or fail to result in a conviction.
On Second Reading my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley noted an apparent contradiction between the requirement in paragraph (c) of proposed new section 16B(4) for the City of London Corporation to obtain the best possible price that can reasonably be obtained for items it disposes of following a seizure, and the entitlement in paragraph (a) of that subsection, as presented on Second Reading, for the corporation to dispose of such items in any way it sees fit. As presented, the power of sale arose when the court made an award of costs that had not been complied with. To avoid any suggestion that the provision would justify the City of London Corporation in not seeking the best possible price, the reference in paragraph (a) to the corporation’s entitlement to dispose of items
“in any way it sees fit”
has been removed.
On Second Reading, my hon. Friends also raised new section 16B(6), which provides exceptions to the requirement for a seized ice cream van to be returned to the owner within three days of a request being made to the City of London Corporation. Objection was made to two of those three exceptions—first, where the owner is being prosecuted for a previous alleged street trading offence, and, secondly, where the vehicle has been used for a previous or alleged offence—as they were felt to conflict with the presumption of innocence. In recognition of that heartfelt concern, both those exceptions have been removed from the Bill. There is now only one exception—which the hon. Member for Christchurch felt to be justified—and arises when the owner of the vehicle has been convicted of a street trading offence within three years of the vehicle’s seizure.
The seizure of perishable goods is provided for in new section 16E. This reflects the current position in the rest of the metropolis of London. It was suggested on Second Reading that the seizure of such goods would be unfair. It is likely, perhaps inevitable, that if an ice-cream van is seized it will contain some perishables. The Bill was previously silent on how the corporation would look after any perishable goods. It now contains new section 16E(3), which imposes an obligation on the corporation to store any goods at an appropriate temperature.
I take my hon. Friend’s point, but I have spoken to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and his absence is not one of omission—more a recognition that the changes that have been made are in keeping with the points he made on Second Reading and in subsequent debates.
Two new sections were added in Committee. The first, new section 16H, provides for the Corporation to publish on its website information about the street trading regime in the City so that street traders and potential traders can readily access the rules and their enforcement. The second, new section 16I, requires the corporation to ensure that any officer authorised to exercise seizure or fixed penalty powers under the Bill receives adequate training. Both requirements reflect what the corporation already practises, but these have been made explicit statutory requirements.
My hon. Friends have rightly been concerned to test the necessity for any increase in powers and to ensure that there are adequate safeguards. I hope that they feel that the City’s response meets their concerns and strikes the right balance between street-trading activities and effective administrative and enforcement processes.
The measure is intended to bring some additional enterprise to the City of London—a place I have always regarded as the heart of enterprise for our nation—to add to the vitality which is an essential element of its attraction. The provision for temporary street licences will be a useful way to add to the appeal of seasonal and commemorative events in the City. The ability to license the sale of ice cream and other confectionery outside food premises will, at least in warmer seasons, be welcomed by the increasing number of visitors to the Square Mile and add to its general ambience. I therefore hope the Bill will be allowed to pass today.
As hon. Members will be aware, the Government traditionally do not support or oppose private Bills unless, for some reason, they contain provisions contrary to public policy. In such a case, the Government bring those concerns to the House. In February, I raised such concerns on behalf of the Government, including in particular whether the draft Bill was compatible with the requirements of the European services directive. That concern related to clause 9, which seeks to allow only those with business premises engaged in the production and distribution of food to sell ice-cream from a receptacle outside those premises. It was the Government’s view that the clause failed to comply with the services directive by appearing to discriminate indirectly against non-UK nationals without justification.
Since that debate, I am delighted to be able to tell the House that my officials have engaged with the City of London to better understand the basis of the drafting of the clause, and to consider the issue and the policy justifications in more detail. In the light of that, we have concluded that clause 9 is not discriminatory from the point of view of nationality. This conclusion rests on two grounds. The first is public health, because persons having food premises are more likely to comply with good hygiene practices and regulations, and the second is protection of the urban environment because sites not adjacent to such premises are more likely to be in locations that could cause pedestrians to be put at risk. On balance, these justifications appear to meet the requirements in article 16(3) of the directive, so we are now satisfied that the Bill is compliant with the directive and should be allowed to proceed.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.