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Leeds City Council Bill

Volume 721: debated on Tuesday 19 October 2010

Second Reading (Continued)

Now that we have returned to normality, I shall add a couple of words in the gap. I have debated a number of these Bills, in particular the Select Committee on Bournemouth Borough Council Bill and the Manchester City Council Bill, as well as the Westminster Bill, where the issue of pedlars raised its head on a number of occasions. There was a Private Member’s Bill in another place some time ago. I hope that the Minister will come up with some idea on what we can do about pedlars, because, quite frankly, I am fed up with hearing about them on private Bills.

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Bilston for giving us the opportunity to discuss these Bills and for the learning experience of dealing with the erstwhile mysteries of private Bills. In particular, this means that, unlike with public Bills, we are not formally affirming the principle of the Bills today. If we were, I would say that my noble friend has made a powerful case. However, given that each of these Bills is, I believe, the subject of petitions, their destination hereafter is to a Select Committee.

We have heard from my noble friend that they have a long and tortuous history, having secured Second Reading in another place over two years ago. Yet if these Bills’ history is long, the legislation to which they refer goes back much further, to the Pedlars Act 1871. Street trading is an ancient tradition with a long and varied history—one which, as we have heard, continues to have a place in modern society—but the legislative framework which underpins it is in need of modernisation, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, so ably illustrated. We also heard from my noble friend of the particular issues which these four councils share in respect of the current legislation, and the plea that Government should take action at national level to avoid the necessity of a further group of councils bringing forward similar private Bills, the cost of each of which can run to several tens of thousands of pounds.

The Bills seek to: extend the definition of street trading so that it covers the supply of services as well as that of any article; alter the exemption enjoyed by pedlars from the street trading regime; empower council or police officers to seize articles and equipment where they consider that a street trading offence has been committed; allow the courts to order the forfeiture of any article, receptacle or equipment which relates to an offence, and; empower council officers to serve fixed penalty notices. In addition, as we have heard, Reading and Canterbury are seeking powers to regulate touting.

The Bills are not identical in respect of alterations to pedlars’ exemptions from the street trading provisions. In the case of Canterbury and Nottingham, it is proposed to limit the exemption to persons trading by house-to-house visits; for Leeds and Reading, there is an additional requirement that all items used in connection with trading are capable of being carried without other means of support by the pedlar, such as trolleys. My noble friend explained the background to that.

I shall concentrate my brief remarks on the instruction which is the subject of the Motion spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. He is seeking to require the Select Committee to which the Bills are committed to consider them in the light of a prior Select Committee’s,

“strong reservations about the …piecemeal”,

use of,

“private legislation to remedy … problems”,

with national legislation. Indeed, the noble Lords, Lord Bilston, Lord Graham and Lord Tope, all included that issue in their contributions. The Select Committee recommended that the Government should undertake an urgent review of the law. Things have moved on since the Select Committee’s considerations of those Bills. The Labour Government and the existing Scottish Government consulted on the case for amending the law as it applies to the control of street trading and the certification of pedlars. Consultation commenced on 6 November 2009 and closed on 12 February 2010.

Prior to this, the then Government commissioned research from Durham University, which was undertaken between June and September 2008 and published in February 2009. The purpose of the research was to assemble qualitative and quantitative evidence on how the prevailing street trading and pedlary laws were working across Great Britain. This suggested that the scale of pedlary in Great Britain was relatively modest, with some 3,000 to 4,500 being granted certificates and there being little evidence that those acting lawfully were in direct competition with shops or street traders. Much of the evidence submitted by local authorities was on the activities of illegal street trading and those who seek to exploit outdated definitions of pedlars, which is the essence of my noble friend’s knowledgeable contributions.

The joint consultation sought views on: ways of making street trading and pedlary regulatory regimes more effective and proportionate; providing local authorities with additional enforcement options in respect of illegal street trading; updating the Pedlars Act to modernise the definition of a pedlar; considering how local authorities might exert proportionate limits on certified pedlar activity in designated areas; draft guidance for enforcement officers, street traders and pedlars, and on options for revoking the Pedlars Act and providing regulation within the street trading regime.

The UK and Scottish Governments set out preferred options over some of these areas. On the matter of the meaning of “pedlar” they recognised the need to clarify the definition and offered some possible elements of a new definition, one of which included the use of a small means of carrying goods. The consultation also covered the matter of the services directive and changes needed to the regime for pedlars of service-only activities, a matter that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has taken an interest in.

It will be seen that these preferences cover much of what is sought in these private Bills and provide an update of our latest deliberations. An intervening event in May this year precluded the Labour Government from taking this forward, but doubtless it has now found its way into the tray of the Minister. We look forward with interest to her contribution to this Second Reading. It is accepted that the Government will be neutral on Second Reading of private Bills, but will she say whether, and to what extent, the responses to the consultation are to be published, whether further legislation is planned and, if so, covering what areas? On this matter, I contend that we have given the coalition a good legacy—indeed, a good start.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will consider not pressing his proposed instruction to the Select Committee—he indicated that he probably would not—as the passage of time has seen at least some progress on the recommendations that he sought to highlight. I hope that we have common cause on the desirability of agreeing a modern, practical and proportionate framework for street traders and pedlars. These four Bills, as my noble friend has explained, seek just that in the absence of national legislation.

My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to respond to the debate, which, as always when private Bills on these matters come before either House, has been informative and lively.

We have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Bilston, Lord Tope and Lord Graham, who have taken this opportunity to set out their support for these Bills. In doing so, they have also made plain their concerns about the national position regarding the regulation of street trading and pedlars. Other noble Lords—the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord McKenzie—have been clear that they feel that the case for these private local Bills, or at least some elements of them, is not made and that they may be unfair to the genuine trader. Nevertheless, they too acknowledged that there may be a case for providing additional powers for local authorities generally—in particular, where problems are experienced with traders in the street that they feel cannot be properly dealt with under existing powers.

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I think she just said that I thought that the case for these Bills had not been made. That is not my position.

Sorry, did I include you in that? That was due to enthusiasm. Scratch that out.

The Government will of course reflect further on all those views as we consider the need for change to national legislation. For now, though, I would like to inform the House about the Government’s next steps in relation to the national situation.

I should begin by restating an important procedural point, which I think the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, has already made. Traditionally, the Government do not take any view on the content or progress of private Bills, unless they are exceptionally moved to do so. It is a matter for Parliament to consider private business on its merit. On this occasion, however, I am grateful for the opportunity to bring to the attention of this House an issue that has emerged in the course of my department’s consideration of the position of the national pedlar and street trader regimes in the context of the services directive.

During this debate I cannot go into the detail of the Government’s forthcoming response to our consultation on national street trader licensing and pedlar legislation. Nevertheless, the House may be aware of the contribution of my colleague in another place, the Minister for Consumer Affairs, to the revival debate on two of these Bills and the City of Westminster Bill in the other place in July this year. On that occasion, the Minister acknowledged that whatever the Government’s conclusions following the responses to the consultation, the way ahead must take full account of the effect of the services directive, particularly because in the light of further analysis and exchanges with other member states, it has become apparent that retailing, including by pedlars and other street traders, is considered to be the provision of a service within the scope of the directive and is not simply the supply of goods, which is exempt.

Noble Lords will also recall the reply I gave on this issue in response to a Question from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, also in July. Those noble Lords with an understanding of the services directive will already appreciate that its application to this area must have a significant impact on the future shape of regulation. This is not least because, in the cases of both pedlars certification and street trader licensing, we are dealing with what, in the terms of the directive, are authorisation schemes. Many of the provisions of the services directive relate directly to authorisation schemes, the conditions under which they may be justified and, where they can be justified, the conditions under which they may operate. The Government will publish their full conclusions on this when they respond to the consultation on street trading shortly. In the mean time, and for the purposes of this debate on these private Bills, I draw the attention of the House to the Government’s view that the directive applies to retailing and to the effect that these Bills would have on the ability of certified pedlars to provide their services.

As I mentioned, I cannot say any more about the Government’s conclusions at this time. I bring this point to the attention of the House now so that, should the Bills progress to the Committee stage, their accordance with the services directive can be properly scrutinised. I shall, of course, ensure that as soon as the Government publish their conclusions on this matter, they will be available to the Libraries of this House and in the other place.

More generally—services directive aside—I should like to outline again the matters the Government are considering in this area. Of course they have noted that there are now a number of private Acts and Bills on street trading which contain substantially similar provisions. In fact, including the Bills under discussion this afternoon, there are now more than a dozen such pieces of private legislation either already on the statute book or under consideration. We have also noted that additional Bills, which some in the other place had suggested in debate might be waiting in the wings to be introduced last year, have not so far materialised.

As noble Lords will appreciate, there is much to consider in the wider context of the current national legislation. We have legislation which provides local authorities with the option to regulate street trading in their areas by issuing licences and separate legislation under which itinerant traders can be certified as pedlars and for whom a requirement to obtain a licence to trade in a particular location in a particular local area at a particular time, as licensed street traders are generally permitted to do, is not suitable. It is clear from the research and from the actions of some local authorities that they experience particular difficulties in being able to deal with illegal street trading under the current regimes. It is also clear that for the most part, the problems expressed by local authorities are not to do with legitimate pedlary within the definition of that mode of trade but with those who, although they may have a pedlar certificate, are trading in ways which suggest that they should actually be licensed as street traders and, frankly, subject to enforcement action.

Noble Lords will be aware that some local authorities, in pursuing their private Bills, have acknowledged that in their areas this is indeed the case. They have made adjustments to provisions which otherwise would prevent pedlars trading in certain streets in their areas or would have the practical effect that pedlary would cease in certain streets. The Manchester and Bournemouth Acts were adjusted and I note that the promoters of two of the Bills before us today—the Reading Borough Council Bill and the Leeds City Council Bill—have made adjustments so as not to affect trading by pedlars who carry their stock with them.

Among those matters currently under consideration by the Government are: the effect of unlawful trading on the livelihoods of licensed street traders and others entitled to trade in the streets; the future of the certification of pedlars and the desire not to stifle their legitimate activities; the scope and evidence for making available to local authorities additional powers to help them improve their efficiency when enforcing local licensing against unlawful traders; and the need for guidance for traders and enforcers on the application of the relevant provisions.

The new Government are aware of the history behind these and the other private Bills and Acts, that the Bills represent the desire of the local authorities to exert more control over trading in their respective areas and that the local authorities believe that they need more powers to do so. The previous Government, with, I believe, the good will of this House, undertook research into the effect and application of the current regimes. They then issued a consultation document to seek views on possible options for reform of the relevant national legislation and on interim guidance on the meaning of the current legislation.

In considering the way ahead, the Government need to take into account those issues that I have just mentioned. They also need to settle on solutions that will have a positive impact on the lives of licensed street traders, pedlars and the regulatory authorities. Precisely which options we shall propose in addition to, or as an alternative to, the current regimes will be published by my department shortly. Of course, these matters do not exist in isolation but stand against the backdrop of a difficult economic climate.

We recognise that some of these issues and the stakeholder relationships that underpin them, particularly those between local authorities and licensed street traders or certified pedlars, can be especially sensitive. They encompass important issues, such as the concern of static retail businesses during the downturn, the changing face of the high street, the desire to encourage vibrant and vital trading conditions that encourage value for money for consumers and the need for proportionate and effective enforcement to benefit honest traders of all types and consumers alike. Coupled with these considerations, there is also the desire not to restrict unduly the legitimate trading activities of pedlars, while acknowledging that in some cases there may be a need to restrict trading activity where, for example, there are genuine concerns for safety in congested areas.

I hope I have illustrated that the Government are very sensitive to the different perspectives of the stakeholders involved in these matters, and to their differing views on how best to achieve a fair trading environment in our streets. I hope I have also conveyed to the House that, while in many respects talk of pedlars and street traders might seem quaint, the issues under consideration are very serious. They affect the livelihoods of people running small businesses and speak to the type of society and trading environment that we want to promote and see flourish.

I thank your Lordships again for this opportunity to outline the Government’s position on these important matters.

I thank my noble friend for what she has said. Can she tell us how shortly is “shortly”? Will we get something by Christmas?

My Lords, as I rise to speak, I think that the answer is coming.

The response will be published in about four weeks. I think that it was worth waiting for that answer.

My Lords, I offer my grateful thanks to all noble Lords who have contributed to the Second Reading of these important private Bills. I also thank those noble Lords who kindly sat through my overlong speech of introduction.

I find myself in the happy and contented position of being able to agree with the noble Lords, Lord Lucas, Lord Tope and Lord Graham, and both the government Minister and, from my own Front Bench, my noble friend Lord McKenzie. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that for at least 10 years the all-party parliamentary group has sought to bring about national legislation that would avoid the question of private Bills. We have discussed these weighty matters with four Ministers. However, at least we got to the point of having the consultation that took place a few months ago.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, for her comments. We look forward to continuing the discussions and to resolving the major issues affecting market traders, street traders, pedlars and all the people covered by these private Bills. I thank all noble Lords on behalf of the four local authorities that brought forward these private Bills. I ask the House to give the Leeds City Council Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Select Committee.