Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I congratulate Members from the Manchester area on their success. I hope it gives an indication of the mood of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I seek your advice about whether there is some way to curtail the other debates so that we can vote on the proceedings and ensure that the Bill makes it through to Committee where we can scrutinise it further.
We had an open and frank debate in June, and further debate today, on the Manchester City Council Bill, so there is not much more to say. Like the other areas that are seeking legislative change, we have a dilemma in Bournemouth relating to the clash between the Pedlars Act 1871 and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. The problem is that, although a pedlar can carry on his work for £12.50 a year, a street trader has to pay £25 a day. The problem will not be resolved by any Government in the near future. I seek the House's support for the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill—
I will not give way, at least not until I have finished my point. I hope that the House will support the Bill until all-encompassing legislation is introduced to empower any council in the country to follow the path that Bournemouth borough council and Manchester city council are taking.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his generosity, but is he not making a case for national legislation? He has not said why Bournemouth needs a different Bill from Manchester. Should we not have national legislation, rather than piecemeal Bills, unless there are particular issues that apply to Bournemouth?
I urge my hon. Friend to read the Hansard of the debate in June 2008. He will then understand why the areas concerned require such legislation. There is no national legislation on the issue, and I agree that there must be, but it will not be forthcoming in the next few months, or possibly years. Meanwhile, it is costing Bournemouth and the other areas concerned huge sums of money to try to tackle the issue.
My hon. Friend is aware, of course, that when the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill was debated in the House of Lords, Lord Bach, speaking for the Government, said that he was not prepared to bring in national legislation. He said:
"these are essentially local matters for local authorities to tackle as and when necessary...They can deal with issues causing significant harm or concern independently of what other local authorities may do."—[ Hansard, House of Lords, 29 November 2007; Vol. 696, c. 1399.]
The Government have made it quite clear that they are not prepared to bring in national legislation; that is why we are forced to introduce legislation for individual areas.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point, and explains exactly why we are here today. Perhaps he can indicate, from a sedentary position, whether he wishes to speak on the Bill.
I shall be brief, because all the general arguments about pedlars have been made, and it would be wrong to reiterate them, but there are one or two special circumstances in Bournemouth. The first concerns the lay-out of our town centre. The main shopping areas are divided by a parkland area. Licensed street traders work together in that area, and that bridges the gap between the two halves of Bournemouth. Unfortunately, the activities of some of the pedlars have caused obstruction. Some pedlars sell identical goods to licensed traders immediately outside those traders' premises. One pedlar sells balloons in the doorway of a shop selling balloons. Pedlars are supposed to keep moving under the Pedlars Act 1871. They are not supposed to block shop doorways, selling shoddier competitive goods. That is what is happening in Bournemouth. If one asks why our police cannot deal with the issue, I can only reply that Bournemouth police say that they
"are unable to take effective action due to the prohibitively expensive and lengthy process of monitoring traders over a long period to secure a prosecution."
That is why action is not taken, according to the police.
I think that my hon. Friend's argument is about enforcement, not legislation. In the previous debate, we heard that there have been prosecutions. I suggest that the problem is more a fault of the police. It is unacceptable, under existing law, for a pedlar to be permanently placed outside a shop. The police should take action.
That would be fine if we had unlimited policemen who were able to devote all their time to monitoring pedlars, but pedlars are itinerant. We would have to watch them to ensure that they were moving on as they should. That would require a long period of monitoring at a time when the police are busy stopping pickpockets and making sure that traffic can move. It is just not practical to devote scarce police resources to such activity.
That was a very succinct response to an important question that I put on behalf of pedlars in general and pedlars operating in the Bournemouth vicinity in particular. An undertaking was given in the other place that a light touch would be used in dealing with the genuine pedlar. The Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, however, seeks to put all peddling in Bournemouth—other than that involved in house-to-house work—on an illegal basis. It would mean that anybody, notwithstanding their traditional pedlar's licence, who wished to trade on the street could do so only if they also had a supplementary street trading licence from Bournemouth borough council.
My hon. Friend is engaged in a circular argument. Of course, the whole essence of the issue is that a pedlar is not a street trader but one who walks from place to place and town to town with his goods on his person. Those goods will often comprise such things as balloons, yo-yos and key rings. I have received representations from Frankie Fernando, for example. He is successful in peddling key rings, as a result of which he has raised considerable sums for charity. During the recession of the late 1980s, he had three shops in London that went bust; since then, he has pulled himself up, got on his bike—to use that expression—and become a pedlar in both senses of the word. He has gone from town to town and built up a successful business. The Bill will prevent Mr. Fernando from being able to come to Bournemouth to offer his services to the people and tourists there, notwithstanding the fact that he has operated as a perfectly lawful pedlar for the best part of 20 years. It is unconscionable that my hon. Friend should support a Bill that would outlaw that type of lawful enterprise.
An earlier intervention stated that the need for the Bill was shown by the fact that Bournemouth borough council wants it and that it was spending money on it. Does my hon. Friend not accept that that argument has almost no merit? Local authorities can always pass on the cost of what they have spent to their council tax payers. Secondly, do not all local authorities have a vested interest in clamping down on pedlars if they can force those who were pedlars to take out an expensive street trader's licence?
My right hon. Friend is right. Nobody will want to take out a street trader's licence to sell balloons, because of the cost of such a licence in Bournemouth. According to information that I have been given by a third party under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, only two street trading licences are currently issued in Bournemouth, and they each cost £610. Mr. Fernando is not going to spend £610; even if he were able to claim such a licence, it would be totally uneconomical for him to do so.
I return to my original question: how does Bournemouth propose to be able to preserve the role of the genuine pedlar in pursuance of the undertaking that it gave in the other place in relation to this contested private Bill? There has not been a satisfactory answer to that.
My hon. Friend asserts, contrary to established case law and statute law, that that is what a pedlar does. If somebody goes from door to door, he can do so pursuant to a pedlar's certificate. A person can sell goods on the street pursuant to a pedlar's certificate providing that he complies with the terms of that certificate. There is a campaign of disinformation afoot to try to suggest that anybody who walks from place to place selling goods on the street—people come up to them and say, "Can I buy a balloon from you?", and they sell them a balloon, or "Can I buy a yo-yo?", and they sell them a yo-yo—is engaged in an activity tantamount to rogue street trading, and thereby undermining street traders and the role of legitimate shopkeepers, whereas that activity adds colour and vibrancy to our town centres, particularly those that are centred on tourism, and is perfectly lawful.
In the light of the way in which the joint promoters of these Bills closed down debate on the generality, I am concerned that their agenda is one of trying to be aggressive towards those who want to try to reach a compromise. As I said in the debate in June, I went to see Bournemouth borough council officials and councillors back in January to try to find a compromise that would offer a way through this. I waited for some months before I got a response. I inquired whether it might be possible to limit the scope of the Bill in some way—for example, by saying that it should apply to only a small part of Bournemouth, namely the centre. I then suggested that it could impose a much clearer restriction on a pedlar's right to sell goods if they had any wheeled vehicle with them. I made a whole series of different compromise suggestions.
The response that eventually came back, once I had prompted it from the acting borough council solicitor, was that the trouble with such a compromise was that it would cut across the common ground of all the other Bills, which are being promoted by one group of agents. In fact, however, the individual terms of these Bills are distinct. The Bournemouth Borough Council Bill has different elements from the Reading Borough Council Bill, which we will discuss later.
I find it depressing that, despite my best efforts to reach a compromise on the matter, the promoters of the Bill have been stonewalling. They think that might is right and that they can use their majority in the House to force the measure through. If that is going to happen, and there is going to be a similar reluctance to accept amendments when we get to Committee, or in a line-by-line debate on Report, that will be a great disservice to the people of Bournemouth and the wider community and will bring the House into disrepute.
People outside expect us to sort out such issues in an amicable, common-sense way. In the previous debate, my hon. Friend Mr. Walter raised a question about what happens if the matter is displaced from Bournemouth to Wimborne. Wimborne is covered by East Dorset district council, which also covers part of my constituency. What will happen to the area covered by Christchurch borough council? Christchurch is a much more ancient borough than Bournemouth, and has a status as a market town. It has a long-established market, and it is the second or third smallest borough in the country. If there is a big problem in Bournemouth, which is hotly in dispute, the question that the promoters of the Bill have failed to address is what will happen to smaller communities outside Bournemouth if the problem is transferred. A council such as Christchurch—a town with some 40,000 citizens—is in an even weaker position to start promoting a private Bill than Bournemouth council, which is a unitary authority, and has a population of more than 200,000.
I am not sure that I understand where my hon. Friend is going. Is he saying that the Bill is unnecessary because there is not a problem in Bournemouth, and that he therefore does not think that any legislation of this sort is necessary, or that he is against the legislation because there is a concern that the Bill will push the problem elsewhere, and that he favours national legislation?
Order. I say to the right hon. Gentleman and the House that there should be recognition of the fact that if individual Members feel in some difficulty on some of these matters, so does the Chair. It was determined at the start of the debate in June that there was sufficient similarity—if not identity, in certain cases—between the Bills for them to be taken together in debate. For good or ill, that debate has been determined, and by a significant majority, the House has approved the Second Reading of one of the Bills.
Many of the points that Mr. Chope is making, as he goes into more detail, need to be thrashed out in Committee. The Chair gave a ruling at the start of today's proceedings that because we have conducted the generalised debate on the first Bill, it would not be right to raise more detailed issues—the generality of the principle and the detail—on each successive Bill.
The House has given an opinion, and it would probably be in accordance with the wish of the House—although I am the servant of the House in this respect—that it be respected in considering the other measures. There may be slight differences between them, but the fact that they have been put together, and that the House accepted that, means that we should not be having a hugely detailed debate on each. I hope that the hon. Member for Christchurch will bear that in mind. Today is not the end of the process, and there will, as with all private legislation, be further opportunity for discussion between the promoters and hon. Members who have concerns.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your comments. My understanding from the earlier ruling is that we can no longer discuss the generalities because, although I was in only the early stages of a speech on the previous Bill, the House moved that it be brought to an end. I do not argue against that. However, although the Bills have similarities, their impact is a local matter. The impact of the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill on the borough of Christchurch is much more significant than that of the other Bills. The same applies to the borough of Poole and the people of Wimborne in Dorset. If I am not allowed to develop that argument, or allude to what Dorset police say about the matter, the special rules that they have introduced for pedlars' certificates and the information that I obtained under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 about the number of certificates that have been issued—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am worried that we are beginning to redevelop some of the arguments that we heard in June. I seek your guidance, but, bearing in mind the decision on the previous measure, your suggestion that today is not the end but that there is an opportunity to debate the matter on another occasion, and for fear of going over old ground, I should like to move that the Question be now put.
I cannot accept that at this stage. I was listening to Mr. Chope, who is a distinguished member of the Chairmen's Panel and has to rule on such matters from the other side, as it were. Of course, there may be specific matters to consider, but I urge him to bear in mind the general will of the House and raise the points that he may legitimately make, which relate specifically to the Bill. I was becoming slightly worried, from interventions and some of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, that, by simply tagging the word "Bournemouth" on to some of the points, we were again going over the matters that are common to all the Bills. I say to the hon. Gentleman and the House that we should respect the distinction, given the approach that has been decided to the six Bills.
Order. I counsel the hon. Gentleman that he is in danger of trying to broaden the debate rather more than the hon. Member for Christchurch did.
I do not want to be tempted into straying out of order, so I will not comment on my hon. Friend's point.
I am disappointed that my hon. Friend Mr. Ellwood wanted to put the Question before responding to my points. We try to be hon. Friends, but that is as close to a hostile act as one hon. Friend can perpetrate on another. It is only reasonable that, if a neighbour—from a neighbouring constituency and a neighbouring borough—wants to ask questions, the Bill's promoter should be willing to respond to such legitimate points rather than try to curtail debate and force a closure. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend will be patient and take some notes of my questions, in the way in which he will do when he is a Minister in the next Conservative Government. When hon. Members make points, the relevant Minister takes notes in preparing his reply to the debate.
I hope that he will start taking some notes and prepare a response to this debate, because it will be followed closely by both my constituents and his.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been listening carefully for the past minute, as I am sure you have. I am not at all certain that how a Minister behaves has any relation to the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill.
That is not strictly a point of order, as I think the right hon. Lady probably knows in her heart of hearts. However, it at least emphasises the point that I have been trying to make, which is that we must keep this debate within fairly narrow terms, now that we have moved on to the second Bill in the group. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will respect that.
As they say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, "Follow that." I do not know how I can follow it, but to summarise my point, I have no desire to elongate the debate. If we are to have a succinct debate, it is reasonable that when arguments are put forward, the sponsor should respond to them. Otherwise we set a rather bad example to those outside. However, whether my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East wants to respond is obviously a matter for him.
To reinforce that point, let me say that quite a lot of the questions that I have submitted in writing to Bournemouth borough council have not been answered, which causes me concern. For example, I asked the council whether it could give some evidence of the problems in Bournemouth, including the number of prosecutions and the extent of those problems, but I have received no answers; I have received just assertions, rather like the assertions in the statement issued by the promoters of the Bills. When we consider the Bills we should be guided very much on an evidential basis. If Bournemouth borough council has evidence, it should be disclosed.
This point was treated with some mirth when I raised it earlier, but the fact that a BBC television crew went down to Bournemouth to find out the extent to which pedlars were harassing the local population but could not find any pedlars is material evidence. That is something we should be considering. With my local knowledge of Bournemouth, I think that the town centre and the Square have a very different character from the rest of Bournemouth, which includes the areas around Boscombe and even the seafront towards Bournemouth, East.
I am concerned that the Bill is unlimited in geographical scope. The intention is to impose the same restrictions upon pedlars in the outskirts of Bournemouth, which adjoin my constituency, as in the centre of Bournemouth. In so far as any evidence has been produced in support of the case against rogue traders and unlawful pedlars in Bournemouth, it has been confined to the town centre. I hope that my hon. Friend, in responding to this debate, will say why Bournemouth borough council is not prepared to limit the scope of the Bill to the town centre.
It would have been easy—perhaps the information is available, but it has not come to light in the debate so far—to discover how many prosecutions there had been in Bournemouth under the Pedlars Act 1871. That would give us a guide on how serious the problem is.
I do not have that information, but I do have some information from Dorset police about the number of pedlars licences that they have issued. The information is contained in a letter dated
Obviously it does not give a national picture. However, if I reinforce what I have just said with information from Dorset about how the certificates are issued there, that might give us a way forward in finding a solution to the problem. One way of separating out legitimate pedlars from rogue street traders is to ensure that we have a proper system for issuing pedlars' certificates. When someone applies for a certificate, the Dorset police ask the applicant what activity they propose to engage in. I am not sure whether that practice is followed in other parts of the country. The application form makes it quite clear that, if the proposed activity could be carried out only by using a wheeled trolley or some such apparatus, a certificate will not be issued. Neither will one be issued to a person of bad character or someone with no established address.
One of the correspondents who has written to me on this subject has made several sensible suggestions. He thinks that, before someone can get a pedlar's certificate, they should have to establish their identity—at least the certificates issued in Dorset, and more widely, now carry photo identification—and produce their national insurance number to show that they are in this country legitimately. He suggests that they should also have to produce evidence of where they live, and that they should be registered with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs as self-employed. All those requirements would provide additional safeguards.
It is said that those who deal with enforcement in Bournemouth find it impossible to know whether pedlars' certificates that have not been issued in Dorset are genuine. However, there would be no difficulty in determining that if there were a national register of all the certificates that have been issued. Why should there not be such a register? We have all sorts of other national databases, and the information would be available from the police. In the case of Dorset, we are not talking about very large numbers. We are not, for example, talking about identifying all the cars registered in Bournemouth. We are talking about the relatively small number of pedlars' certificates issued in Bournemouth. Indeed, in Manchester, only 206 certificates were issued in the year for which I requested figures. These are not vast numbers.
If we had such a database, coupled with the other safeguards that I have described, it would be possible to separate the lawful pedlar from the rogue trader. It would also ensure that the holders of the certificates were of good character, as laid down in the 1871 Act and in the application form based on that legislation. That is an important safeguard. The proponents of the legislation say, "Oh, well, we cannot do anything about that; these people come along and they will lie through their teeth in order to present themselves as legitimate locally, when we think that they have forged papers and false identities and are probably"—
Order. Let me share my difficulty with the hon. Member. The point that he is making now could equally be made in different contexts in the sense that it is a generic point. He is relating it specifically to Bournemouth, but it could equally well be made—he may be minded to make it—in the context of the next Bill under consideration or the Bill after that. I invite him to reflect on the fact that he is making a generic point, whereas I want to steer him back much more specifically to the Bill on Bournemouth.
I accept that the point is generic, but I have made it clear that the way in which the Dorset police deal with the registration of pedlars is commendable and that if more police authorities throughout the country followed that example, they would not have the problems that Bournemouth says it has.
My right hon. Friend heard the response of my hon. Friend Sir John Butterfill. All I can say is that I am not satisfied with the response. About a year after the undertaking was given, I would have expected more thought to have been put into exactly how to implement it in practice. I must say that I am disappointed. It may be because my hon. Friend wanted to be succinct that he was unable to expand on the issue as much he would have liked.
What I said was that if the pedlars were trading genuinely, they would not have a problem. Of course, the term "pedlar", to quote the Act, means
"any hawker, pedlar, petty chapman...who, without any horse, or other beast bearing or drawing burden, travels and trades on foot and goes from town to town, or to other men's houses", but that is not what these people are doing. Frankly, many of Bournemouth's pedlars have licences from outside Bournemouth, some from as far away as Manchester, for example. I do not know whether the gentleman from London has walked down from London with his wares, but we suspect that many do not. In fact, I am told that one comes in a transit van. We are not going to accept people who are not genuine pedlars or who do not comply with the Act. That is all I am saying.
We cannot go behind the law on pedlars at the moment, which says that a pedlar's certificate can be gained from any one of the 49-odd police forces up and down the country and that a pedlar can carry out work pursuant to the licence anywhere in the country—except in the six boroughs where restrictions have been placed so far. The pedlar's certificate entitles a person to go and sell—I keep returning to my simple example—balloons, yo-yos and so forth from—
Order. We really are getting far away from Bournemouth, so let me counsel the hon. Member once more. He has been on his feet for 33 minutes, and the Chair might well take a view on that.
I accept that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry, but I gave way to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West, who made the more general point. I accept that I was at fault in responding to it generally.
Let me take the House back to the specific provisions in the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, which differ from those in other Bills, and see whether I can elicit a response from my hon. Friends. Under clause 6, community support officers are not allowed to seize goods, which contrasts with the Bill on Reading, for example, and I see my hon. Friend Mr. Wilson in his place. Why is that?
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he is now dictating what is right or wrong for Bournemouth. Bournemouth borough council tabled the Bill because it believes that it is the correct Bill for Bournemouth—not for Reading, but for Bournemouth. If it feels that it can implement the Act that the Bill will become using only police officers, rather than community support officers, who are we to argue with that?
My hon. Friend has been very generous in giving way. I may be able to answer his question. Government legislation to be introduced in 2010 will allow fixed penalty fines to be issued, and I should have thought that PCSOs would be able to issue them. There is a difference between the two authorities over the way in which the fines are used and who is able to issue them.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have had to intervene on my hon. Friend Mr. Chope three times. I appreciate that I have already tried once to ask that the Question be put, but I seek your indulgence now. I feel that we have debated this matter enough, and are going around in circles. I wish to ask for the Question to be put.
I am not prepared to accept such a motion at this stage, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that my mind is not closed to accepting it at some point. I am leaning over backwards to ensure that the arguments are presented, but I realise that an attempt is being made to stretch well beyond the bounds of the understanding that I thought had been established both in the ruling that I made in June and in the refined ruling made today.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to me on a specific point before he moves on.
I understand that the problem in Bournemouth is enforcement, or lack of it, by Dorset police. Given the lack of police effort, it is surely not surprising that Bournemouth has not extended the powers of PCSOs.
I have no answer to that, but perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East has.
If Bournemouth is to have this Bill, and it has only one opportunity to propose it, why does clause 6 contain no power to seize perishable items, which are often regarded as the big problem? Again, that contrasts with the provisions of the Reading Bill. Why does clause 7 of the Bournemouth Bill allow forfeiture and disposal of goods even when that has not been ordered by a court, if the costs of storage, removal and return are not paid within 28 days? I raise the question of reasonableness because the provision is not included in, for example, the Reading Bill. Why is that so?
Clause 10 of the Bournemouth Bill limits the power to impose fixed penalty notices to council officers; it does not extend that power to police or community support officers. Again, why is that so? Many hon. Members think that if there is to be enforcement of the criminal law, we should in the first instance rely on the police and police community support officers for that, rather than council officials. Why is such a power in the Bill?
Also, why—unlike in other Bills before the House this afternoon—is there provision in clauses 14(6) and (7) for a statement purporting to be signed by the chief finance officer to be final evidence that payment of a fixed penalty notice was not received by the council, even if a fixed penalty notice had been sent? The significance of that is that payment of a fixed penalty notice is linked in with the return of the goods that would otherwise be forfeited, and it seems that the provisions of subsections (6) and (7) go further than the provisions in the other Bills before us.
Order. I think the hon. Gentleman will recognise that he is now talking about matters of detail that would be thoroughly examined in Committee, and that they are not appropriate to a Second Reading debate, and certainly not to a Second Reading debate in today's circumstances.
I accept that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I hope they will be dealt with in Committee. It is traditional on Second Reading for Members to draw attention to certain points and to put down markers. That is what I am trying to do, in order to be helpful to the promoters of the Bill by giving them advance warning of some of the concerns that I and others have about its provisions.
I also ask my hon. Friends why this Bill extends to the sale of services, because other local authority legislation does not do so. Why does this Bill allow councils to hold goods for 56 days, compared with 28 days? That is twice the limit set in existing private legislation, including in the Maidstone Borough Council Act 2006 referred to earlier.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is inadvertently drawing Mr. Chope into a wider sphere of discussion. I am trying to make the debate specific, and I remind the hon. Member for Christchurch that the Bill we are currently debating on Second Reading is identical to the one that we have already given a Second Reading to.
I have not gone through the Manchester and Bournemouth Bills line by line to see whether they are identical. All I have been trying to do is identify some of the differences between the Bournemouth Bill and some of the others, such as the Reading Bill. I am trying to draw attention to the—
Order. I thought we had established that the generalised debate that began in June was intended to give Members an opportunity to put down markers on Bills, most of which were identical and all of which were substantially similar. That was the opportunity, and it was said by the Chair at the start of today's debate that we would not be seeking to hang a generalised debate on the specific Bills that followed after the House had decided to give a Second Reading, following the generalised debate, to the first of the Bills. I have been trying to maintain that distinction, and I think the House might wish to make progress.
In a similar spirit of helpfulness, may I use this opportunity to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that the Government do not have a view on the Bill? The specific role of the Government is to confirm that the Bill's promoters have undertaken a full assessment of its compatibility with the European convention on human rights and that we do not see a need to dispute their conclusions. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to use this intervention to confirm that that is the Government's view.
Obviously, the Minister has used the intervention as an opportunity to put that on the record. I think that it has already been put on the record, in the debate in June, and that it applied to all the Bills.
I do not want to spoil the opportunity of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East to respond to the debate, because the points that I have raised about the Bill deserve a response. I particularly hope that he will comment on the differences that I have identified between the Bournemouth Bill and some of the others. I kept back my observations about the specificity of particular points in the Bournemouth Bill compared with some of the other Bills, because I thought that it would be more appropriate to address them during the specific debate on Bournemouth than in the general debate.