Canterbury City Council Bill (By Order)

Opposition Day — [11th Allotted Day — Second Part] – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 29th October 2008.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport) 6:25 pm, 29th October 2008

I shall be very brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Some months ago, we had extensive argument about the measure, so I shall say only that it is supported by all political parties in Canterbury and by local people and the local media.

The problem is that large amounts of police and council time are required to enforce the existing legislation, so in practice our 18 legitimate street traders are—

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

I will not give way.

Our 18 legitimate street traders, who have paid for their licences—

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

No.

Those street traders face unfair competition from people from all over the country who have not paid for street trading licences but in practice are acting as street traders and not as pedlars. I urge the House to support the measure.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough 6:26 pm, 29th October 2008

I did not expect to detain the House by making a speech, but the introduction to the Bill was so short that I did not have the chance to put the point I wanted to make.

We hear yet again that the Bill is slightly different from the previous Bills we have discussed. The argument in the short introduction appeared to be that an enormous amount of police time was being used to enforce the existing rules. Can my hon. Friend Mr. Brazier or another Member explain why enforcing a new Act will not require exactly the same amount of effort?

The argument is different from—

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Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman has been attending debates on these proceedings long enough to realise that that is a generalised point. I have tried more than once to emphasise the distinction that the Chair has tried to make to assist the House, and which I understood the House had accepted all along. To overturn it at this stage would probably be against the wishes of the House, judging by the majorities that have been recorded.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I am grateful for that ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I apologise for straying. I was trying to make a specific point relating to the Bill, as there seemed to be a different argument, and the introduction was so brief that the position was not clear to me.

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley 6:28 pm, 29th October 2008

I shall make merely two points that are specific to Canterbury. The first is that the Bill, as I understand it, is intended to protect genuine shopkeepers selling their wares in Canterbury. In my previous career, working for Asda, I had cause to visit our store in Canterbury on many occasions—indeed, I was responsible for marketing it when it had a revamp about five or six years ago—and the House may or may not want to bear in mind the fact that I was never aware of any complaints about pedlars impinging on their business either from the manager at the Canterbury store, or anybody I came across in other shops in the locality.

My second point specific to Canterbury is that the Bill states that Canterbury council wants to regulate touting. Such a provision is not in the other Bills we have discussed thus far, but is something that Canterbury has decided to indulge in.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee, of which I am a member, recently held an inquiry into ticket touting. I am not entirely sure why a local authority would wish unilaterally to take up the role of regulating ticket touting. As the Select Committee and the Government have made clear, it is a perfectly legitimate business.

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The short answer is that, borough for borough, Canterbury is the busiest tourist centre in the entire country, in terms of numbers of visits per capita of local population. The truth is that we have problems with people touting for nightclubs, and with a variety of other activities. The problem is sometimes concentrated outside the cathedral, or in other places where people gather. That is why the council sought the introduction of the measure that we are discussing.

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification. I know that he is a great champion of his constituency, and he knows his local area better than I do—indeed, better than anybody else in the House. I certainly do not dispute his point. My point is that the provision seriously strays from those in the other Bills. If Canterbury decides to regulate touting, that will drive a coach and horses through the whole secondary ticketing market. Our Select Committee decided to hold an inquiry into the subject, and it found that it was a legitimate market. I repeat that the Government, too, found that it was a legitimate market.

It is one thing for people to sell their wares on the street, or to sell balloons outside shops, as we have heard, but tickets are quite another thing. If somebody buys a ticket to an event, it is theirs and they can do what they will with it. If they wish to sell it on to somebody else, so that that person can visit the attraction in question—the cathedral, in the case of Canterbury—that is a matter for them. I do not understand why Canterbury needs to interfere in the secondary ticket market; that seems to be a million miles away from the purpose of the other measures in the Bill.

I do not know about the issues relating to Canterbury cathedral, but if somebody buys a ticket to go to the cathedral, decides at the last minute, quite legitimately, that they cannot go, and sells the ticket on to somebody else, I do not see what business it is of the local council, or of the House for that matter. That is a completely different issue from that of pedlars. Many people, including tourists, may perfectly legitimately have bought a ticket to an event that they can no longer attend. Why on earth should they lose out because Canterbury city council has decided of its own volition that it will start sticking its nose into the secondary ticket market? I do not see the purpose of including that element in the Bill, whatever the merits of the provisions relating to peddling in Canterbury. I do not know whether they are a good or a bad thing; I am happy to listen to my hon. Friend Mr. Brazier on that subject. However, it is a totally different matter when we start interfering in ticket-touting.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I went to Canterbury this year for a short holiday, and I have to say that I was not aware of a huge amount of ticket touting near the cathedral. It seems that a measure has been slipped into the Bill that makes it much more significant than the other Bills that we have discussed.

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

My hon. Friend may be right, and in that sense, the measure may well be a solution looking for a problem.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

It is always a pleasure to listen to my hon. Friend's mellifluous tones. Tourism in Canterbury among hon. Members is obviously a growing concern, because, following on from what my hon. Friend Mr. Bone said, my wife and I have been to Canterbury to stay in a hotel on three occasions in the past 18 months. I point out to my hon. Friend Mr. Brazier that I have not encountered anybody seeking to sell me a ticket, in a primary or a secondary capacity.

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having pointed that out. He is a great champion of the free market, and I am sure that he would not want to see any restriction on people buying and selling tickets if they wish to do so. If my hon. Friend did not encounter a problem, that reiterates the point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Bone, who said that the Bill is a solution looking for a problem.

I have great admiration for my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, but I have to tell him that I found his explanation of why the legislation was required specifically for Canterbury rather unconvincing. He was talking about people having tickets for nightclubs—

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Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

Can my hon. Friend enlighten me: how many times has he been to Canterbury?

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I would not like to answer that, given that I might well mislead the House if I gave a specific number. As I said earlier, I used to visit the Canterbury store regularly when I worked for Asda. I would say that I have visited the city on at least half a dozen to a dozen occasions— [Interruption.] Will my right hon. Friend allow me to make the point?

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury said that people are buying tickets for nightclubs and for the cathedral. Lots of people may well buy tickets for nightclubs and for the cathedral in Canterbury; I do not doubt that for a minute. My point is that that applies to virtually every city in the country, particularly those with tourist attractions. I would venture to say that places with large sporting venues would be much more susceptible to ticket touting than Canterbury ever would be. I would have thought that Canterbury was one of the last places in the country that would want to interfere by regulating the secondary ticketing market.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the promoters' statement in support of the Second Reading of these six Bills makes no mention whatever that any of the Bills contain proposals to regulate touting? Does he not think that a serious omission?

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out; I was not aware of that, as I have only recently become aware of this aspect of the Bill. It would be rather unfortunate if the House supported a Bill that specifically included the regulation of the secondary ticketing market, given that the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, on which I serve and which conducted a thorough inquiry into the issue, found that the secondary ticketing market was perfectly legitimate. Furthermore, the Office of Fair Trading has ruled that that is the case, and in answers to questions in the House the Government themselves have acknowledged that. We would be going down a slippery slope if Canterbury council decided that it would be the one council in the country to regulate the industry.

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As far as I can determine, there is no reference anywhere in the Bill to secondary ticketing, although I have sat listening to my hon. Friend Philip Davies talking about that for some time. The Bill refers to touting for business, which is quite different.

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Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. That is not a point of order, but a point of argument. I have listened to Philip Davies and am wondering how far he will stretch his point. He has had a good outing so far and I hope that he will accept that he has made his point.

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall bear your wise words in mind and make sure that I do not stretch—

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

Indeed; I will fully abide by your wise words, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury. All I will say is that the Bill is clearly badly drafted because it makes what touting is rather ambiguous. It would be foolish of us to vote on something when it appeared that we did not even know what we were voting about.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Does my hon. Friend agree that there may be a hidden issue that we have not discussed? He suggested that the Bill might be more appropriate in respect of large sporting arenas. If there were an international cricket match in Canterbury that I could go to at the last minute, I would turn up and try to buy a ticket outside the stadium. That would be impossible under the Bill.

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Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. If that speculation were correct, I would probably find myself joining the hordes of people moving towards Canterbury, but I think that it is probably stretching the argument a little too far.

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

In that case, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will not respond to my hon. Friend's point. Given your earlier comments, I will leave my argument there.

I hope that the House will reflect seriously on what the clause about regulating touting means in reality. Having listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, I am not sure that I am any wiser what it means—to be honest, I am not sure that he is any wiser either—but it could have serious unintended consequences for the secondary ticketing market.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 6:40 pm, 29th October 2008

You have been waiting eagerly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for distinctive elements of the Bill to be drawn to your attention, and my hon. Friend Philip Davies has done that in one material particular. However, I am not sure that the remarks of my hon. Friend Mr. Brazier, whom I love dearly, are sufficient for the purposes of this debate.

Clause 11 deals with the issue of touting, which is not dealt with in either of the other two Bills that we have so far considered. The extent of the proposed prohibition on touting is not trivial, because it carries with it a criminal offence and a level 3 fine on the standard scale. Subsection (2) says:

"Any person who, in a place designated under this section 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".

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury prayed in aid the fact that Canterbury is a centre for tourism. If so, all the more reason that tourists should have the opportunity to be made aware of the services available in the city.

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Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

If this provision were as described by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, many of us could support it, because we would all welcome a heritage site—Canterbury cathedral—being given special protection. However, clause 11 goes even wider than my hon. Friend Mr. Chope suggests and would allow the council to ban touting in an

"off-street car park, recreation ground, garden or other park, pleasure ground or open space", with no mention whatever of the cathedral.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My right hon. Friend is right. He is a very experienced scrutineer of this type of measure, and he knows as well as other Members that as soon as we have general legislation that gives very wide powers, there is, almost as night follows day, a temptation for the people who have those powers to seek to exercise them to their widest possible extent.

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

I may be able to help the House by explaining that there is an open space in front of the cathedral called Buttermarket, which probably has the greatest single concentration of tourists of any point in the whole of the city.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am sure that that is very helpful.

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I was struck by my hon. Friend's point about Canterbury having a high level of tourism. Does he therefore agree that for Canterbury to set rules for itself that do not apply in other parts of the country would be hugely confusing for people who could inadvertently be caught out by such regulations?

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I agree with my hon. Friend about that.

On the specificity of the Bill, if my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury is right—and I have no reason to doubt him—that there is a problem in one location in Canterbury, within the precincts of that great cathedral or thereabouts, I would have hoped that it would be spelt out in the Bill. Why is it not, and would my hon. Friend give an undertaking on behalf of the promoter that, should the Bill receive Second Reading and go into Committee, it will rephrase clause 11 of the Bill? The promoter should make it clear that the powers taken to deal with touting are going to be limited to dealing with the mischief to which my hon. Friend referred, rather than dealing with, in the wide terms used in the Bill, any

"public off-street car park, recreation ground, garden or other park, pleasure ground or open space under the...control of the council" or

"a street or esplanade, parade, promenade or way to which the public commonly have access, whether or not as of right."

Does my hon. Friend agree that the provisions go unnecessarily wide to meet the mischief that apparently needs to be addressed in Canterbury? I look forward to receiving that offering from my hon. Friend.

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that offer. If he chooses to draw his remarks to a reasonable close after finishing the legitimate points of his argument, and before time runs out in the House, I would be delighted to be instrumental in brokering a meeting between him and Canterbury city council to discuss a suitably felicitous amendment to the clause.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

That is one of the most constructive responses received tonight by those who have been questioning particular provisions of the Bills, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I say in passing that when I practised as a barrister I frequently visited the city of Canterbury. I have not had the opportunity to visit it for some time, and I would like the opportunity to do so again.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Before my hon. Friend moves on, would not one of the problems of giving a Second Reading to this Bill be that it would encourage other councils to introduce similar Bills to outlaw secondary ticketing? This is a different Bill, and if we give that signal, other councils will introduce such measures.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why it is so important that a particular issue in a particular locality should be dealt with in tightly defied terms in private legislation so that it is not taken on board by other councils and usurped by the detrimental effects to which my hon. Friend draws attention.

In dealing with clause 11, my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has responded constructively to the concerns expressed about the provisions relating to touting in this Bill that are not in the other Bills. I hope that he will be similarly helpful on my other points. His Bill is different from the other Bills because of the provisions of clause 7, which is all about the seizure of perishable items. The two previous Bills we have considered make no provision for the seizure of perishable items. Indeed, they are specifically excluded from those Bills. I hope that my hon. Friend can explain the background to the provisions because clause 7 is a major clause and it is not referred to, even en passant, in the promoter's statement.

Were it not for the assiduous work of Members in scrutinising the Bill, many people would be unaware of the powers to seize perishable items contained within. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said, a precedent could be set, and my hon. Friend Mr. Bone made the same point. Clause 7 states:

"(1) No perishable item shall be seized...unless the authorised officer...gives a document under subsection (2) to the person...

(2) Where a perishable item is seized...the person from whom it is seized must be given a document".

It continues:

"The council or the police shall store any perishable item seized under section 6 at the appropriate temperature,"

It does not specify the temperature. The clause goes on:

"If the person from whom a perishable item was so seized fails to collect it within 48 hours of the seizure the council or the police may dispose of it."

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Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. Is not detail about temperatures more suited to the detailed discussions of later stages?

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Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

A point about, for example, temperature, is most certainly a Committee point. Second Reading is about general principles.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Normally on Second Reading, the Minister or sponsor who introduces the debate goes through the Bill's provisions. Even with the lax discipline of recent years and the breaking of several of the House's conventions, it is more customary than not for a Minister who introduces a Bill to go through its main clauses—albeit not in great detail or line by line—to explain their purport and the justification for them. It is the first time of which I know that the House has been asked to consider giving powers to a local authority to seize perishable items. Although it may be frustrating for my right hon. Friend Miss Widdecombe that the matter is not to be dealt with immediately on the nod—I find that unfortunate in terms of democracy—I hope that we will have a chance to tackle the substance of the measure.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am pleased that the Minister would like to contribute to the debate.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Trade, Investment and Consumer Affairs) (also Department for International Development), The Minister of State, Department for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

Will the hon. Gentleman take the opportunity to correct the impression that the Government have any responsibility for introducing the Bill or any need to explain its general principles, as he appeared to suggest? Will he also allow me to welcome the invitation of Mr. Brazier to discuss with those interested a possible amendment to clause 11? The Government would be interested in those discussions. Will he also allow me to put on record again our view that the Bill's promoter has undertaken a full assessment of its compatibility with the European convention on human rights, and that we perceive no need to dispute its conclusions?

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention. Again, in live debate, we have an example of the importance of discussing such issues. If we were not debating them, we would not have heard that the Government obviously have concerns about clause 11 and want to be involved in discussions about it, or about the Bill's compatibility—or otherwise—with the European convention on human rights.

However, in his initial point, the Minister misunderstood my comments. I did not say that I expected him to set out the Government's views about the Bill; I said that, normally, when Bills are introduced—the Government obviously introduce the majority—the Minister on the Treasury Bench goes through the clauses. I pointed out that no one had done that with the measure that we are discussing. I wondered whether the Minister intended to challenge my assertion that it is the first occasion on which the House has been asked to introduce a measure that would give a local authority the power to seize perishable items, but he did not do that, for which I am grateful.

That reinforces my point that clause 7, which has 13 subsections, constitutes a significant break with tradition. The House should be concerned about that—it merits detailed scrutiny.

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Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as a general principle, a Bill that gives anyone power to seize someone else's goods should also provide for adequate and proper compensation? That does not appear to be the case with the Bill that we are discussing.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I think that there is indeed some provision in the Bill to deal with compensation.

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Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

With respect to my hon. Friend, as I understand it compensation will be paid only if the initial seizure was not lawful, not if it was lawful but mistaken.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My right hon. Friend makes a good point, which I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has taken on board. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008. Part 3 of that Act contains provisions relating to civil enforcement in similar situations, which can include the forfeiture of goods, but sets out strong reservations regarding the need for compensation if the seizure of goods is mistaken or not soundly based in law.

If somebody is deemed to be selling apples or oranges in Canterbury in breach of the relevant regulations, all their goods can be seized and will then have to be stored at the right temperature. The provisions in clause 7 go well beyond pedlars, who are dealt with in a separate clause, and deal with street trading. If people are selling hamburgers, hot dogs or ice creams, for example, and their entire stock is taken, how will it be possible under the Bill for the owner of those goods not to suffer a financial penalty? Once the food has already been cooked, my wife tells me, it should not be cooked again, particularly if it is pork or chicken. Once the food has been seized and has cooled down, will the provisions about storing it at an appropriate temperature require hot or cold storage?

We do not need to go into those issues now, but it is important that we should flag them up, because the Bill is novel in comparison with the other Bills. The third issue— [ Interruption. ] If John Battle wishes me to give way so that we can hear what he is saying in his sedentary intervention, I shall happily do so.

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Photo of John Battle John Battle Labour, Leeds West

I recall that when the hon. Gentleman was a councillor for Westminster, he promoted a Westminster Bill to move the pedlars halfway along Westminster bridge so that they would be stuck in Lambeth. Why has he changed his mind?

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The right hon. Gentleman is wrong about many things, and I am afraid that he is wrong about that. First, I was never a councillor in Westminster—I have never been rich enough to live in Westminster—I was a councillor in Wandsworth, which was the pioneering council that is often unsuccessfully imitated by Westminster. Wandsworth council has not been promoting private legislation in the House because it realises that it is much better to operate sensibly in its own—

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Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. If we have now cleared that up, perhaps we can get back on the road to Canterbury.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am glad that I gave way to the right hon. Gentleman, so that I could clarify the matter for him.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

To respond to the Minister's intervention about the European convention on human rights, I did not understand whether he was referring to a blanket application to all the Bills or just to the Bill that we are discussing, which is very different, because I would have thought that outlawing secondary ticketing would indeed infringe people's human rights.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My hon. Friend makes a good point. If I am party to the discussions between the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury in the precincts of Canterbury cathedral, perhaps I shall be able to report back to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough on the outcome, and give him an answer to his question. That could be a few months ahead, however.

I keep being tempted away from my next point, which is the third distinctive element in the Canterbury City Council Bill, compared with the Bills relating to Bournemouth and Manchester that we have already considered. The element that I wish to draw to the attention of the House is clause 13, which will enable council officers, constables and community support officers to serve fixed penalty notices in cases where they have reason to believe that street trading offences have been committed. This Bill will involve the police, community support officers and council officers, in contrast to the provisions in the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill.

Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury will help me on this point when he responds to the debate. Perhaps he has been called away. I was expecting him to respond to the debate, but he seems to be temporarily absent from the Chamber—[Hon. Members: "No, he's not!"]

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Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely it is quite wrong for a Member to accuse another Member, who is fully visible in the Chamber, of not being here.

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I am not quite sure to whom the right hon. Lady is alluding— [ Interruption. ] I think that the matter is now resolved.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I was wondering whether you were going to draw the curtains round your Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, that will not be necessary. I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury back in his place. I must correct my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald: I could not see my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury because of the very fine piece of furniture standing between us. My right hon. Friend might doubt my word on that. If so, she can come and sit on my lap and see what is visible from here—

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. It would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman could now return to the matters in hand.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Clause 13 deals with the vexed question of who is to issue the fixed penalty notices. When my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury responds to the debate, will he tell me whether he thinks it right that this power should be given to community support officers, police officers and council officials, rather than just to council officials, as in the provision in the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill that we discussed earlier? I believe that there is much to be said for consistency in this regard. We were unable to draw from my hon. Friend Mr. Ellwood the rationale behind not extending this power to police and community support officers in Bournemouth. I wonder, knowing that Kent has quite an imaginative, forward-looking council, whether it might take a different approach, which might commend itself to the House. I would be interested to hear the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury on that particular distinctive point.

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

That, of course, is something that we could discuss in Committee.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I look forward to having that opportunity. However, I was hoping that my hon. Friend would give his views to a wider audience now, so that the Bills that do not contain such a provision might be amended in their own Committee stages to include one—

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. We are dealing with the Canterbury City Council Bill, not with any other Bills. I would appreciate it if the hon. Gentleman did not stray into matters that the House has already agreed are for the Committee stage.

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Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

This specific Bill makes provision—rather oddly, in my view—for varying the level of fixed penalty depending on where in the city of Canterbury the offence took place. Has my hon. Friend received any information from the promoters as to why they feel that that is desirable? I ask him because my hon. Friend Mr. Brazier did not cover the point in his very short introduction.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My right hon. Friend has got on to a point that I have to admit I had not spotted, so I am grateful to him for drawing it out. I do not know whether he would like to expand on it in greater detail in due course.

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Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

It may help the House if I explained that I was referring to clause 14(2) on page 9, which says:

"Different levels may be set for different areas in the city and for different cases or classes of case."

We all understand that different cases may deserve a different fine regime, but I find it hard to understand why an identical ticketable offence should be met with a different penalty depending on what street in Canterbury one happens to be on.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My right hon. Friend is on to an extremely good point. I am not sure that the House has considered any legislation previously that has allowed the imposition of a varying penalty depending on where someone one is found to be committing an offence. Having a tiered fine system based on the location of an offence seems a very novel provision, so I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury can address it.

Let me deal with one or two other issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury spoke on 12 June, I believe, when we last debated the generality of the issues. He made some specific points about Canterbury. For example, he said that

"stolen goods are often marketed in this way".

He was referring to what pedlars were up to in Canterbury, but I wonder whether he had any evidence of that. I am hoping that he is listening to this point, so that he can respond to it. My hon. Friend made the point, as I said, that stolen goods were often marketed by what he alleged to be pedlars in Canterbury. He then went on to say that

"some of these people have even got into drugs."—[ Hansard, 12 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 553.]

I hope that he can expand on that. Can he give us an assurance that there is no drug pushing in Canterbury other than among pedlars, which would be very illuminating for this House, or is there an attempt to smear pedlars even with illegal drug dealing?

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I must interject there, because it would have been impossible for the pedlars to get the original licence if they were not of good character.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My hon. Friend is right, but one of the difficulties with the Bill is that there are a lot of assertions and generalisations, but precious little evidence. That is what worries me. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury mentioned that in the context of Canterbury, there was an elongated process of enforcement. Once again, that seems to be unique to Canterbury. He said that people were operating as pedlars without a certificate in their possession. What happens is that if they are static, they have to be given a verbal warning. Where is it in the law books, as one puts it colloquially, that somebody has to be given a verbal warning before they can be proceeded against?

I do not dispute the fact that this is a problem in Canterbury, but is my hon. Friend saying that the remedy might be in having a rather more robust enforcement procedure, cutting out the verbal warning or the verbiage and going straight to the penalty? All of us as motorists know exactly what happens when we park a car in the wrong place, even for a short time. We are not given the luxury of a verbal warning, but it seems that offenders in Canterbury are, despite the horrendous problems to which my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury referred when he spoke about the matter so eloquently during the main Second Reading debate.

My hon. Friend went on to say that, on a subsequent occasion—

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but Mr. Deputy Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I hope that I shall be able to finish making my point before the debate ends, and I hope that my hon. Friend, in his enthusiasm for moving a closure motion, will not lose sight of the importance of being able to listen to the debate so that he will be in a position to respond to it. He made a telling point in the main Second Reading debate, when he said there was a crisis—he described it as an horrendous crisis—in Canterbury.

After the verbal warning, the person concerned receives not a penalty but a written warning. As my hon. Friend said on 12 June,

"Only then can proceedings be adopted."—[ Hansard, 12 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 552.]

Why is it only then that proceedings can be adopted?

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Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I think that my hon. Friend is being a little unfair on our hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury. We live in an enlightened democracy. If someone breaks the law innocently, what is wrong with giving that person a verbal warning in the first instance?

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My right hon. Friend is seeking to be fair-minded, but the point made by our hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury during that Second Reading debate was that these people were proceeding with malice aforethought. They were not innocents who had haplessly done the equivalent of parking in the wrong spot. Nevertheless, given the long-winded process involved, it was not worth while to proceed against these rogue traders, for want of a better expression.

My hon. Friend went on to say that only after the written warning could proceedings be adopted, and that the penalties were very small. Does he accept that the question of penalties is for the local magistrates court? If the magistrates want to draw attention to an exemplary issue, they have powers in their locality to say, "This kind of behaviour is such a problem that I am going to deter people by imposing a higher fine, as long as it does not exceed the maximum specified."

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Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I really do think that my hon. Friend is making heavy weather of this. Might it not be the case that Canterbury city council merely sees this as good public relations? It does not want to be seen to be throwing its weight around in the first instance, even if the law is on its side, particularly given that the person concerned may not be aware of the law.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

In a sense, my right hon. Friend is filling the role that I hoped would be played by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury in explaining the background to what my hon. Friend told us during the main Second Reading debate.

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

Might not the point made by our right hon. Friend Mr. Knight about Canterbury being reasonable carry more weight if it had not included in the Bill all the additional powers related to seizing perishable goods and varying fines for different areas? That does not give the impression of an area that is being reasonable; it gives the impression of an area that is being more officious than other areas.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My hon. Friend has made a good point. One cannot have it both ways, but that is what Canterbury city council seems to want to do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury also asserted that many pedlars were operating with certificates containing false addresses, but there is no evidence of that. I will give way to my hon. Friend if he can produce any evidence that a pedlar in Canterbury has used a certificate containing a false address, and can tell us whether, if that has happened, it has resulted in that person's prosecution. Perhaps this is another of the myths being peddled by those who are against pedlars— [Laughter.] I apologise for that totally unintentional pun. There is, therefore, a difference between the Canterbury Bill and the other Bills, and I hope that in the time before—

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

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Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 159, Noes 12.

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Division number 304 Opposition Day — [11th Allotted Day — Second Part] — Canterbury City Council Bill (By Order)

Aye: 159 MPs

No: 12 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

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Question accordingly agreed to.

Question accordingly put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 154, Noes 7.

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Division number 305 Opposition Day — [11th Allotted Day — Second Part] — Canterbury City Council Bill (By Order)

Aye: 154 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

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Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and committed.

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