That the promoters of the Manchester City Council Bill [ Lords] and Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [ Lords], which were originally introduced in the House of Lords in Session 2006-07 on
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This is rather like old times, I suppose, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The business before the House tonight consists of two revival motions, and I know that you would take a dim view were I to stray beyond the arguments in favour of or, indeed, against revival. The debate is clearly narrow, and I hope that, on that basis, it can be short and succinct.
It is worth reminding the House that the revival of this type of private Bill has been common practice for a long time, and I am told that opposition to revival motions is relatively unusual in the annals of the House. In that context, and given that the Bills that received a Second Reading on
In that spirit, I hope that I can say confidently to the Chamber that the revival ought to go ahead. It is up to those who oppose it to put, with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, their narrow and brief case as to why it should not.
Surely the hon. Gentleman needs to address the fact that, since the Bills came before the House, the Durham university report has been published. I am sure he will accept that it throws considerable doubt on many assertions in the promoters' statements.
For the record, the Durham university study does not show that. For example, it said that, even to a sceptical inquirer, it was clear that there were circumstances in which such legislation would be important to certain local areas. I speak from the point of view of Manchester, but I am sure that my colleagues from Leeds and Nottingham, who are alongside me, and those from Canterbury, Reading and Bournemouth, who are also present, share the same sentiments in respect of their own localities. That is an important point. In any case, the hon. Gentleman's argument about detail and the study's merits, while fascinating and worthy of debate, would be better conducted when those Bills that have received a Second Reading move into Committee. Indeed, with your agreement, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and if we can secure the revival motion for those Bills that have not yet had a Second Reading, we might debate the merits of the Durham study during their Second Readings, too.
In that spirit, I hope the whole House will accept that a revival is desirable. It is only a matter of months since the Bills were debated, and it was clear at the time that, barring a small fringe, a majority of the House massively supported them. It would be contemptuous of the House not to accept the spirit and, indeed, the letter of the revival. In that context, I support the first and, by reference, second motions, on private business which appear on the Order Paper tonight.
I welcome this debate because it should give the promoters of these Bills the opportunity to show cause as to why they should have leave to proceed with them in the current Session. The provisions of
Since then, much has happened that renders the Bills, particularly in so far as they relate to pedlars, no longer appropriate. I have particular reason to be concerned about clause 5 of each Bill. A Select Committee in the other place scrutinised the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill in detail in 2007. One of its conclusions was that it had
"strong reservations about the use of piecemeal private legislation to remedy perceived problems in national legislation."
The justification given by the promoters for continuing to proceed with the Bills was that nothing was happening through national legislation and that therefore local solutions were needed.
However, the caravan has moved on. As a result of pressure from both sides of the House, the Government agreed last summer to commission research from Durham university on the application and perception of local authority controls and pedlar legislation. I opposed the Second Readings of these two Bills—because, among other reasons, I regarded them as premature. I argued that we should await the publication of the Durham university report. For the same reason, I objected to the Bills' being carried over into this Session. The Government provided no time to debate those carry-over motions before Prorogation last November. That, in turn, resulted in the promoters seeking the indulgence of the House to allow them to revive the Bills in this Session.
I accept the point made by Tony Lloyd: the two Bills that we are considering both received a Second Reading in the House. However, they received it before the Durham university report had been published. I do not know whether you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have had the chance to look at the report, but I should say that it extends to 97 pages and, in my submission, represents an important and timely contribution to the debate on these Bills.
The report was published by the Government earlier this year and because of its findings I had expected the hon. Member for Manchester, Central— [Interruption.] He is not paying attention to the debate at the moment. I had expected the hon. Gentleman to have a much more contrite mindset about the alleged justification for including clause 5 in his Bill. I shall expand on this in connection with the other Bills, but I should tell him that I have had discussions with two of the local authorities concerned in this private legislation—those discussions continued today—and I have to report their willingness to be much more receptive to the clear evidence of the Durham university study. It is a matter of regret to me that in his short introduction to tonight's proceedings, he did not refer to that important report. Among other things, the report draws attention to the fact that there have been only five convictions in the whole of Manchester in the period 2002-06—hardly indicative, one might think, of a really serious issue that needs to be addressed by this House, and has so far been addressed at considerable length.
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be too distracted by his hon. Friend, because he understands, I am sure, the careful distinction that we have to make in this debate about what are strictly matters to do with the revival motion rather than with the actual merits of the Bill, where the House has already made a decision. It is a question of whether there would be an opportunity for further consideration of these matters were the revival motion to be approved by the House.
While of course I accept that what has been said from the Chair is correct—and is, indeed, always correct—is it not the case that when deciding whether one should give consent to carry over a Bill, the question whether there is still a need for the provision must be relevant to making that decision?
That is absolutely fundamental. What has happened in this case is a change of circumstances. Where there is fresh evidence, it behoves Members of this House to consider the new situation. The Durham university report makes it clear that if a local authority wishes to use private legislation to change the law in this respect, it needs to have strong evidence—the very last statement made in the report; I do not quote it exactly but summarise, I think fairly. If that is so, it is all the more incumbent on the promoters of the Bill to address the issues contained in that report, particularly the finding, which we were never able to get out of them in the debate in June last year, that in the period 2002-06 there were only five guilty verdicts in Greater Manchester and only three in Dorset—of course, those are the two areas affected by the Bills that we are discussing. The most fair-minded person might say, "If, in that period, only five incidents have resulted in convictions in one area and three in the other, does that really merit the introduction of a complete change in the law with new private legislation?" This is new evidence before the House that was not available to us when we considered the matter previously, and that needs to be taken into account.
This debate is about the revival of the Bill. Could not the Government have found time for a carry-over motion in the previous Session? The only argument from Tony Lloyd as to why this revival should take place was that revivals usually take place, which does not seem a very powerful case.
I am not sure that revivals normally take place; it is a question of judgment. I think that there is a precedent, which has been cited, to the effect that if a Bill has not received its Second Reading during the whole of one of our parliamentary Sessions, it would prima facie not be right for that Bill to be the subject of a carry-over motion or a revival motion. I accept that that constraint does not apply to these two Bills, although it may have some relevance to the subsequent debate.
It is quite clear from examining the private business Standing Orders that this is a matter of discretion for the House. You may recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I objected to the carry-over motion that was put forward at the end of the last Session in respect of the Northern Bank Bill. I objected to the Bill and made it clear to its promoters that it was not going to be a straightforward tick-in-the-box procedure, and they decided to withdraw it. They recognised that it had not made any progress during the Session, and implicitly recognised that they needed to go back to the drawing board to see whether the Bill was still relevant.
Members on both sides of the House have now said that this is a matter for the discretion of the House. Perhaps I am not as well versed as the hon. Gentleman in the wonderful and mysterious ways in which the House works, but if it is a matter for the discretion of the House, why do we not divide and let Members use their discretion to decide whether the Bills go forward?
I do not think that anybody is ruling out the possibility that there could be a vote on this issue, and then we could find out the view of the House. However, it is a pretty novel proposition that we should not have any debate in this House about the motions that are before us. I happen to think that it is a pity that there was so little debate on the previous business this afternoon that the sitting had to be suspended for more than two hours, at a time when the way in which we conduct ourselves is very much in the public eye, but that is another issue and I will not go down that route.
One of the major findings of the Durham university report was:
"The scale of pedlary in Great Britain is relatively modest, with an estimated 3,000-4,500 pedlars being granted certificates to trade by police forces. There is little evidence that certificated pedlars present problems in city centres, nor are they generally in direct competition with shops or street traders. Indeed, consumers valued their presence in town centres and regarded buying from pedlars as a positive experience."
That is a direct quotation. In trying to find out the attitude of ordinary members of the public towards pedlars, the report's producers commissioned research in two city centres. One was Edinburgh and the other was actually Manchester. There is a detailed set of findings in the Durham university report on the views of the public in Manchester, which are that there is no great problem with pedlars. The public think that pedlars add to the character of the neighbourhood and they enjoy using their services. Of course, we have made the point before that it is not compulsory to use their services, but the public enjoy their availability and recognise that they make a major contribution to Manchester's entrepreneurial flair, which has national renown.
The evidence in the Government's report is completely at odds with many of the assertions that the hon. Member for Manchester, Central made when he introduced the Bills on Second Reading. In my submission, the fact that the promoters' assertions have been found wanting by the independent report is relevant in deciding tonight whether the Bills should be allowed to be revived in this Session, notwithstanding the fact that we are already halfway through it.
A further finding of the Durham report, which echoes the speeches that several of us made during the Second Reading debates, is that the problem is illegal street trading rather than the activities of genuine pedlars. That point was made a lot, but the hon. Member for Manchester, Central, my hon. Friend Sir John Butterfill, whom I am delighted to see in his place, and others disputed it hotly. However, we now have objective evidence from the Durham university study that shows that the evidence that local authorities submitted conflated illegal street trading with the activities of genuine pedlars. According to the report, the promoters of the Bills and their supporters showed confusion about the different identities of pedlars, illegal traders and rogues, just as the Durham university researchers found that local authorities generally had done.
What is the difference between an illegal street trader with a pedlar's licence and a pedlar who trades illegally? The problem is pedlars trading illegally on the streets of Canterbury—it may not be a problem nationally. What distinction is my hon. Friend trying to draw? He mentioned "promoters of the Bills", presumably referring to me. Will he explain the distinction?
I referred to the Bills' promoters, but obviously my hon. Friend is promoting the Bill about Canterbury—a city council—which is the subject of the second debate tonight. Mr. Deputy Speaker has already made it clear that he does not believe that it is appropriate to go into the merits of the Bills. However, to give my hon. Friend a summary response, I commend the Durham university report to him. I do not know whether he has read it, but it is available on the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform website. I am delighted that my diligent hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown has not only read and digested it, but has a copy of it in the Chamber. If my hon. Friend Mr. Brazier reads it in full, he will realise that there is a clear answer to the problem that he has raised, and that the findings are not in accord with the prejudices that he brings to the debate, doubtless based on his experiences in Canterbury. However, in the light of the objective report, I do not believe that those experiences warrant the proposed legislation.
I will not answer my hon. Friend's question directly, but simply refer him to the report because I do not want to consider the merits of the Bills. I want to consider carry-over, which is the subject of the motion. I appreciate that my hon. Friend may mischievously be trying to tempt me into a conflict with the Chair about the procedures, but I shall not be drawn into that. The merits of the Bills have been tackled: I commend the Durham university report to my hon. Friend.
However, I ask my hon. Friend and the other promoters what their response has been to the findings, which came as a relief to many pedlars, but were a surprise to several people who had been seduced into believing that there was a problem that primary legislation needed to address.
"The Government will publish a consultation document this summer. Taking into account the findings of the report, we will be seeking views on possible changes to street trading and pedlar legislation, and on draft guidance on the current regime."
That answer was given in response to a question about when the Minister would
That is a very helpful reply. Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that that response from the Government should simply conclude the matter for now and that we should all wait until that review takes place? It seems pointless to take any action now, when that review will take place in the summer.
As so often in the House, my hon. Friend makes a compelling statement of what most people would regard as common sense. The issue has national implications, not least because pedlars' certificates have a national ambit when they are issued. The issue has been the subject of detailed research and the Government are now saying that they are going out to consultation. At best, that may result in some guidance, which is very much needed—people on all sides of the argument would recognise that—and it could result in some legislation.
Why do the promoters not seem to want to go down that path of common sense? As I have said to the hon. Member for Manchester, Central, his Bill—the Manchester City Council Bill—may well continue in Committee in this Session, but he will have to take account of the fact that it cannot get on to the statute book until after Report. I anticipate that when my colleagues and I table amendments on Report that reflect the findings of the Durham university report, it will not be just us arguing for them, but the Minister himself—if he is still in the Government then—because those amendments would be a reflection of common sense and the findings of the Durham university study.
Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to anticipate the selection that would take place in those circumstances.
My hon. Friend is making an interesting speech, but is not the flaw in the argument that he is developing that if the promoters say, "Well, the Government are going to consult, so we don't need to carry over," they will, in effect, have to go back to square one? If they decide that they want legislation that goes beyond what the Government eventually propose, they will have to start all over again. Would not the promoters' argument therefore be that they want the carry-over motions in order to keep their options open?
Order. For the guidance of the House, it is fairly plain that we have a motion before us for carry-over. It is the merits of that motion that the House is now obliged to consider, rather than the motivation that might lie behind it. The motion is here and it is being debated. I suggest that that is what we strictly do.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for being so generous in giving way. He should forgive me if I do not understand the procedure—I am a new boy here—but if national legislation is anticipated for the future, why on earth are we considering reviving private legislation that might contradict what the House decides that national legislation should be?
My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. One of the questions that we must consider in deciding whether we wish to revive the Bills this evening is whether they have been so discredited as a result of the latest findings and so upstaged by the Government's announcements to which I have referred that they are now almost redundant and will not make any progress.
I have now come across page 70 of the Durham university report, which states:
"The evidence for private acts should however be convincing, both in terms of the evidence of a problem, as well as the solutions having the desired effects. Local authorities hoping to adopt legislation...should provide a strong case to justify their adoption."
That is where the promoters of these two Bills have fallen down: perhaps before the publication of the Durham university report, we would have thought that there was not such a stringent test; now that the report has come out, I think most fair-minded people would say that the test is reasonable. We obviously have to take into account the use of the House's time, the burden placed on those participating in Committee and whether that Committee stage will be worth-while, having regard to the constraints to which I have already drawn attention and the possibility that when the matter gets to Report, the Government might seek major amendments to the Bills—with or without the support of Opposition Members and others who are concerned about ensuring the future of pedlary in this country. I have been unable to tease out from the promoters of the Bills their response to the Durham university report. In my submission, it is not an academic matter; it goes to the heart of whether or not these Bills should be revived.
I also want to draw attention to the fact that if the promoters were, in the light of the Durham university report, prepared to withdraw clause 5 from each Bill, thereby disapplying the application of the Bills to pedlars, I am sure that those who have been concerned about these Bills would be happy to respond positively. To go back to the point raised by my right hon. Friend Mr. Knight, it would mean that these Bills could go through very quickly because there would effectively be no opposition to them. What could be more reasonable and sensible than that? To adopt what is tantamount to a heads-in-the-sand approach should give us all great cause for concern, not least because such stubbornness will inevitably result in an elongation of proceedings.
We have established that there is a difference of view between the different promoters of these different Bills; up to now they have been treated as if they were a block of Bills, but we have now found that two councils are willing to admit to substantial amendments in respect of clause 5, but the other four councils are not willing to do that. That is a new development since the last debate on these matters and is a relevant factor in considering whether it is appropriate to allow these Bills to be carried over.
Yes, I am. I met representatives from Leeds city council and from Reading borough council today, and on a previous occasion I met representatives from Leeds city council. Both those councils—in fairness to them, they have a different view about their own needs compared with their colleagues' needs—recognise that their priorities can be satisfied without penalising pedlars in a way that causes a great deal of concern to my hon. Friend and, indeed, to other Members.
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to learn that I have been closely involved in the discussions with Reading borough council and the business community in the Reading area. Will he reflect on his earlier comments, which seemed to suggest that Reading borough council was prepared to withdraw its Bill? In fact, that is not the case.
Order. I think that Mr. Chope anticipates what I am about to say. Canterbury has already been raised; Reading has now been raised—but the motion concerns Manchester and Bournemouth. I hope that Martin Salter will not think that I am trying to encourage the hon. Gentleman to go down the wrong route. I am sure that he knows not to do so.
While I am on my feet, let me say this. I think that it is a question of balance. It is quite difficult to maintain an equitable distinction between the content, or the merits, of the Bills and reasons why a revival motion should or should not be accepted. The fact of the report to which the hon. Member for Christchurch has referred is an argument in question. To give too much detail about that report would, I think, tilt the balance unfairly.
As ever, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am grateful for your guidance. Let me respond to the intervention from Martin Salter by saying that I am sure we shall have a chance to discuss the issue in relation to Reading, but also—I think that I should put this on record—that I do not think I said that Reading borough council was keen to withdraw the Bill. I suggested that it was keen to amend significantly clause 5, which relates to pedlars. Perhaps we shall be able to discuss that later in tonight's proceedings.
You referred to the Durham report, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have argued that it constitutes new information. Prompted by my hon. Friend Philip Davies, I have also referred to the Minister's written response to the report, which I think also introduces new information and which, in my view, presents a compelling reason for the House not to exercise its discretion and allow these Bills to be revived.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the Durham study observes that circumstances will vary considerably from borough to borough, and, rather than recommending national legislation covering the whole area, states that it will be up to individual boroughs to present and justify its own proposals? Does he not agree that, in the case of the two Bills whose revival we are now considering, the justification process could take place equally appropriately during a Committee or a Report stage? In fairness, if my hon. Friend wants the debate, he should allow it to take place at those times.
My hon. Friend said that there was not a great deal of evidence of demand because there had been only five convictions in Manchester and only three in the Dorset area. However, as he is from Dorset, discussions with the Dorset constabulary will have left him in no doubt that they find it very difficult to secure convictions without devoting a huge quantity of police time to this matter, and also that we experience a good deal of rather more serious crime in the area. Is it possible that the constabulary devote their resources to dealing with that rather than to convicting pedlars?
Order. I think that, in the course of this interlocution between two distinguished members of the Chairmen's Panel, one might easily find the other to be out of order as a result of the length of interventions such as that.
You will never find me criticising my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West in the Chamber, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He has a very distinguished record. It was great that we were able to enter the House together all those years ago, in 1983—although, unfortunately, my hon. Friend has been a great deal more successful than me in retaining the confidence of the electorate in his original seat.
Let me deal with the substance of what my hon. Friend has said. I am sure that, being diligent, he has read the report from Durham university, and will be aware that it expressed criticism of Dorset police for misleading pedlars in relation to what they say is the law relating to pedlary and the way in which it applied in Dorset. I hope that he will draw the position to the attention of the Dorset constabulary so that it can be put right before his Bill is considered in Committee.
I have not yet done so, but perhaps we will send a note of the record to the constabulary.
My hon. Friend was mistaken in his intervention in that he was equating prosecutions with convictions, and, of course, it is for the courts to convict, not the police. The question is: how many prosecutions have been brought and have resulted in convictions? That task is normally given to street trading officers and local authority enforcement rather than the police. However, my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the new information that there have only been three convictions in Dorset in the last period for which figures are available—a period of four years between 2002 and 2006.
My hon. Friend has considerable knowledge of this subject. In his discussions with the promoters of the private Bills we are debating, has he addressed the fact that we now have considerable experience of Bills that have been passed by this House, notably those in respect of the city of Westminster in 1999, Newcastle in 2000, London in 2003, Medway in 2004 and Maidstone, Leicester and Liverpool in 2006? Has he compared the workings of the authorities that have managed to get private Bills through this House with those of the authorities that have not yet managed to do so?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Obviously, I have not been able to do my own direct research on this matter. [ Interruption. ] My hon. Friend John Bercow sounds doubtful about that, but I assure him that that is the correct state of play. I have before me paragraph 213 of the Durham university report. I shall not quote all of it, but it says:
"The direct effects of private acts are difficult to assess, in terms of being able to eliminate illegal street traders. With regard to the Acts introduced in 2006 (Leicester, Liverpool and Maidstone), the effects may not be fully understood for some time. One of their most obvious impacts is that genuine pedlars remove themselves from areas where they must trade from door-to-door or face possible criminalisation."
So one might say that the jury is still out on that. However, this issue is dealt with in a lot more detail there than in my summary of it here.
As the jury is still out and the report says that we still do not really know what the effect has been, is that not even more of a reason why these Bills should not be revived now and we should wait until further consideration has been given to the impact of previous ones?
That is a statement of self-evident common sense. It is particularly important to pay regard to the costs involved in all this, as this is not a cost-free area of operation. Introducing private Bills costs money, and that burden falls directly on the local taxpayer. I know from my discussions with some of the councils that are concerned about this that they have to evaluate the costs and the benefits of particular courses of legislative action. It is a pity that there has not so far been any evidence that either of the Bills that we are discussing has been the subject of concern expressed at local council level as to whether they will continue to provide good value for money, having regard to all other possibilities.
The issue of trolleys is now very much out in the open. On Second Reading, there was a lot of discussion—not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury—about the burden on local people caused by pedlars using trolleys. The Durham university report makes it clear that only half the pedlars interviewed use trolleys but all of them—
Order. I have tried to give the hon. Gentleman a ruling that the fact of the report is one thing, the detail within it quite another. I recommend that he observe that distinction.
The short answer is that I have not estimated how much the cost would be to this House. These two Bills have had their Second Readings so if they are revived, they would need to go into Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West will know what the possible timetable is, but I imagine that there would be a separate Committee for each Bill, because separate interests are involved, and that the councils involved would face costs for dealing with those proceedings.
Much of the content of the two Bills is relatively uncontroversial. The point I am making is that if their promoters were saying that the very controversial bits and the bits that are now contradicted by the evidence from Durham university were to be taken out of the Bills, there would not be an argument against allowing them to be revived. When I came into the Chamber this evening, I hoped that I would hear from my hon. Friend or from the hon. Member for Manchester, Central that, in the light of the evidence, there was to be a modification. It may be that in due course such a modification will be made, but we have to judge the situation on the evidence before us at the moment. That evidence suggests that there is no willingness on the part of the promoters to compromise or to reflect upon the findings of the exhaustive study carried out by Durham university.
Order. May I just say to the hon. Gentleman that he should face the microphone, because if he does not do so the reporters will not always catch his words? I am sure that he would want them to be on the record, so although I understand his courtesy in turning round to address the hon. Member, he should really be addressing the microphone.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My head will face the microphone and my hand will face my hon. Friend. He will be aware, although the House may not be, that the private Bill procedure in Committee is very different from that in respect of most Committees in this House. I served on the Committee considering the private British Waterways Bill, when British Waterways had a Queen's counsel on hand for many months. That must have cost it a huge sum, so I think that the answer to the question raised by my hon. Friend Mr. Bone is that this will be a very expensive procedure.
I have not had the experience that my Front-Bench colleague has of serving on a private Bill Committee, but I am sure that what he said will have been noted by the council tax payers in Manchester and Bournemouth. Although we may find that people have no willingness to compromise tonight, taxpayers may be asking whether it is really worth concentrating on clauses 5 of the respective Bills if that is going to add a significant expense to the burden on local taxpayers.
I shall conclude by drawing attention to the fact that another of the Durham university report's findings is that if a local authority takes strong enforcement action under the existing law, it can achieve its objective of ensuring that it has a lawful regime in respect of street trading and pedlars. That is a further reason why councils that have not done much so far on enforcement might think of it as being a more cost-effective way forward than the process of private Bill legislation.
The point about fees and costs cuts both ways, because if we allow the Bills to proceed, the promoters would no doubt argue that the Standing Orders state:
"The bill shall be deemed to have passed through every stage through which it has passed in the last session or the last Parliament, and shall be recorded in the Journal of the House as having passed those stages, and no new fees shall be charged to those stages."
So the promoters could argue that they are trying to be cost-effective in not leaving the matter in abeyance by waiting to hear what the Government say and starting again at a later stage.
My right hon. Friend is noted for his contrariness on such occasions, and it is important that that point should be put on the record—it does not appear that anyone else was intending to refer to it. My response would be that the relatively small fees associated with the placing of a private Bill in Parliament are modest compared with the costs of giving evidence and providing support during the Committee stage in respect of parts of the Bill that subsequently come to be regarded as redundant or incapable of achieving enactment. My right hon. Friend's background and knowledge as a distinguished lawyer show that he is without self-interest in these matters. He is always as keen to minimise costs to members of the public as he used to be to his clients.
In summary, I have some strong reservations about the merits of reviving the Bills, and I hope that I am not the only Member who has such reservations.
As ever, it is a pleasure to follow Mr. Chope and my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd. I welcome this opportunity to consider the revival motions and I will listen with interest to the contributions from other hon. Members.
In an attempt to inform the debate and to help Members in deciding whether to support the motions, I thought that I should comment on the research referred to by the hon. Gentleman. While I have considerable respect for him, as I do for every right hon. and hon. Member, I would not want the House to allow his view of what he thinks the Government's position should be to stand without any Government comment. I should also make it clear that, following the custom, the Government do not take any view on the content or progress of private Bills—that is a matter for Parliament.
The House will be aware that the research I was able to announce when these Bills were debated last June was published by my Department in February this year. As the hon. Gentleman suggested, we agree with the main conclusions from the research findings. First, there is scope for a more flexible enforcement regime in respect of unlicensed street trading, including the possibility of less burdensome options to criminal prosecution. Secondly, there would be support from Government for national guidance on the meaning and application of the current arrangements, which contain ambiguities, the interpretation of which varies across the country, as the research found. Thirdly, we accept too that there is scope for modernising the Pedlars Act 1871, for example by updating and standardising the pedlar's certificate to enable easier identification of genuine certificates and to clarify the definition of permitted activities of certified pedlars, among other things. I also want to acknowledge that the Government accept that, in some areas and on some occasions, there might be a reasonable case for additional restrictions.
As to what our next steps will be, I should tell the House that there has already been considerable feedback on the research from various organisations, as well as from licensed street traders, individual certified pedlars, and local authorities and so on. Last month, my officials met representatives from the local authorities whose Bills are under discussion tonight. Hon. Members might wish to note that that this summer, my Department will be issuing a consultation document and will seek views from as wide a constituency as we can on the findings of the research and on possible ways forward.
I am not yet in a position to set out firm proposals, but I expect that, in general, the consultation would cover more flexible enforcement tools, the possibility of guidance for pedlars and enforcers, the question of updating the Pedlars Act and the possibility of adapting the street trader licensing scheme in respect of the activities of pedlars.
I and others in Government have not formed our view on what the exact response to the research should be. We genuinely want feedback and evidence from as wide a group as possible to help us think through the various options. Developments in the consultation will be highlighted on the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform website. I hope that Philip Davies will follow it and study it with a little more care, if he will forgive me for saying so, in future.
I welcome what my hon. Friend has said about consultation and I am sure that he will be consulting local authorities and local councils. Will he also give a commitment to consulting business improvement district boards, where they exist, across the country? They take a particular view about the areas that they represent in relation to this issue.
I certainly want the views of business. I would welcome comments from business improvement districts, and I welcome the chance to put that on the record. I shall certainly ensure that my officials consider whether there are particular business improvement districts to which we need to ensure that we highlight the consultation document.
Finally, I should make it clear that the Government would not have a problem if the revival motions were to be carried.
Does the Minister not understand, though, the logic of the argument? I commend the Government for what they are doing, for having commissioned the report and for carrying out extensive consultation. That is certainly to be welcomed. However, does he not understand the logic of the position that reviving the Bills would be premature, given that the Government are undertaking a process that which should be welcomed by both sides of the House?
I am grateful to have the hon. Gentleman's support. I hope that he will be sufficiently open-minded to support more of what the Government are seeking to do. Let me point him gently towards the point made by Sir John Butterfill. The Government accept that, on occasion, there are particular circumstances in particular areas that are worthy of consideration.
The Minister is being typically generous in giving way. May I press him a little further on the time scale, because that is obviously very relevant to our debate this evening? If he issues the consultation paper in the summer, when will he expect the closing date for that consultation to be? When does he anticipate that the Government would make an announcement? Would there be the possibility, for example, that legislation might be introduced, if the Government reached the conclusion that that was necessary, during the next Session of Parliament? If he could answer that question, it might give some of the promoters of these Bills grounds to say, "Let's hold our horses for the time being."
The hon. Gentleman is sufficiently long in the tooth to know that I cannot tonight give commitments about legislation in the way that he would like. I recognise that there is concern about this issue across the House, and that is one of the reasons why we took the initiative to carry out the research. We want to respond to hon. Members' concerns about the need for a national response to the issue, and to make progress as quickly as possible.
Finally, I return to the point that I was making when the hon. Member for Shipley intervened, which is that the Government would not have a problem if the revival motions were to be carried tonight.
As my hon. Friend Mr. Chope said, the genesis of these revival motions was as long ago as
Much of the debate about the Bill does not focus on the true problem of what a pedlar is. Does he go from door to door, or occupy the same spot in a market square every day? It is a debatable point. To be totally clear, the House needs to hear again how chapter 96 of the 1871 Act defines a pedlar. Clause 3 states:
"The term 'pedlar' means any hawker, pedlar, petty chapman, tinker, caster of metals, mender of chairs, or other person 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, carrying to sell or exposing for sale any goods, wares, or merchandise, or procuring orders for goods, wares, or merchandise immediately to be delivered, or selling or offering for sale his skill in handicraft".
It is obvious that a pedlar is very different from a street market trader, who is covered by different legislation. The legislation covering pedlars requires them to go to the local police for a certificate, which they can usually obtain for about £12 or £15, whereas a street market trader has to obtain a licence from the local authority that costs in the region of £500 to £1,000. That is a different order of cost.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I shall be brief, as I do not want to encourage long speeches. Will he confirm that what he said is not absolutely accurate, in that to obtain a pedlar's licence a person does not have to go to the local police force in the area where he or she intends to peddle? The licence can be obtained from any force, even though its officers know nothing about the area where the purported trade might take place.
The hon. Gentleman is exactly right, and he makes a point that I was coming to. For purposes of convenience, a pedlar would normally go to his local police force, but he does not necessarily have to do so. Having got a certificate, he can trade in any area where legislation does not prohibit him from doing so. At the moment, therefore, he can trade in Manchester, Bournemouth, Canterbury or any other area of the country, provided that he has that certificate.
That is part of the problem, and I was delighted to hear what the Minister said about the Government's intentions in relation to the Durham study. Anyone interested in the subject should read that study—or at least its summary, opening remarks and some of its evidence on prosecutions and complaints—as I think that the problem may have been exaggerated around the country. I think that, on the whole, the perceived problem is much greater than the actual problem because, on the whole, pedlars are law-abiding people who go about their business peacefully.
The main complaint is about competition, given the procedure that I described: pedlars can buy a certificate for £12 or £15, whereas a street trader has to pay between £500 and £1,000. Street traders object to pedlars trading alongside them—sometimes with exactly the same sort of goods, be it balloons, trinkets, bits of jewellery or whatever—because there is unfair competition. That is where some of the complaints stem from.
My hon. Friend has great mastery of the subject and of the Durham report. May I draw to his attention an extract from page 66? It states:
"Street traders on the whole do not sell the same goods as pedlars, nor do they compete directly for customers. One Street trader did express a view of lost earnings to illegal street traders selling inferior goods, but overall levels of competition were low."
My hon. Friend usefully draws attention to that paragraph, but somewhere else the report notes that competition is one of the causes of complaint. On the whole, the number of complaints in any local authority area is fairly low, so it seems to me that every sponsor of such a Bill—Tony Lloyd has spoken in support of his Bill—has to make a crystal-clear case as to why their Bill should be revived.
Like the Government, the Opposition have no particular view officially about whether the Bills should be revived. I have no problem if they are revived; if the House in its wisdom votes in favour of their revival and they go into Committee, I have no problem with that. Even if they go through Committee, pass their other stages and are enacted I shall have no problem with it. However, when we discussed the matter on
As to whether the Bills should be revived, I was delighted to hear from the Minister at the Dispatch Box that we shall have new guidance from his Department when it has taken evidence. That is really important. Evidence is the key to the whole matter. I repeat even more strongly that it is up to each local authority area that brings forward a Bill to produce evidence of why it needs those powers. All too often in this country—in this place, if nowhere else—we tend to rush into legislation because there is a perceived problem. There may indeed be a small actual problem, but one has to consider whether it is sufficient to warrant a change in legislation.
There is no doubt that a change in legislation would make the act of peddling a very different craft—if we can call it that—from what it is at present, so I was pleased to hear that the Government have embarked on gathering evidence from any interested party. Once they have the evidence they will produce guidance, which will run along some of the useful lines to which the Durham report alludes.
We need better methods of enforcement and of issuing certificates. The certificates need to be clear; they need to include a photograph and to be held on a national database. They should be enforceable across the country, so that a pedlar moving from Manchester to Canterbury to Bournemouth can be apprehended and prosecuted if he is misbehaving. We want clear laws that are easily interpreted and operated, so I was delighted to hear about the guidance.
I was delighted to hear that the whole licensing regime will be considered. At present, the local police force issues the licence—or in fact, it may not be the local police force, as the hon. Member for Manchester, Central said. That police force would be relying only on Criminal Records Bureau information, not even local knowledge of the person and whether they are a true and fit person to hold such a certificate. We need to tighten up that procedure.
I am delighted to hear that intervention from the hon. Gentleman, who of course has a long record of trying to introduce a private Member's Bill to amend national legislation, so that these private Bills are not necessary. We had a long argument about that in the previous debate on the subject, and I do not want to go over that again. There may be a residency requirement, but as the hon. Member for Manchester, Central, made absolutely clear, the person concerned does not have to go to his local police force. A person from Manchester can go to a police force in London, for example, to obtain a certificate. Although he needs to prove residency and prove a good character through the CRB records, there is no local knowledge of his character. That is a flaw in the argument. Some argue—indeed, in the Durham report it is argued—that the local authority should be the licensing authority, so that the provisions are coterminous with those in the street trading legislation. There are arguments for and against that.
I do not think that we want to prolong these proceedings too much, because I know that the sponsor of the Manchester City Council Bill—the hon. Member for Manchester, Central—and my hon. Friends want to get to a vote. It is important that we get to a vote, so that we can at least consider the next motion that is due to come before the House.
In summing up, I simply say that the whole thing is very unsatisfactory; I think that the whole House would agree with that. The private Bill procedure is arcane. It is difficult to get a private Bill through the House, and it is expensive and time-consuming for a local authority. I therefore maintain my position, despite what the Durham report says. That is why I shall be very interested to see what happens. If we come into government after the next election, we will certainly continue the Government's process of gathering evidence, producing guidance and considering whether the national legislation needs to be altered. If we are not careful, we will, in addition to having to consider the Bills before the House tonight, be here many times considering similar Bills from other local authorities. That is an unsatisfactory way to deal with the matter, and it is a very bad use of the House's time.
The question before us tonight is whether the Bills should be allowed to be revived. Mr. Chope says no; he says that the Durham report has discredited the provisions of the Bills. He says that the Government will produce their own report over the summer. However, there is to be a free vote; the Government have said that they will not oppose the motion. The question tonight is really whether the will of the House should be observed, and whether a small number of MPs should be allowed to hold up the progress that will apparently—we will find out—start to be made. If there are flaws in the Bills, why not let them make progress? Why not allow the hon. Gentleman to use his undoubted extensive knowledge in Committee, where he can help to iron out the flaws that he perceives?
Mr. Clifton-Brown, who speaks for the Conservatives, has said that many local authorities have already got their private Bills through the House. It seems inequitable for us to try to halt the process now. The train is in motion, but suddenly we are having to put the brakes on. That means that some local authorities can implement their private legislation, but some will not be able to do so. If whether the Bills can make progress is at the discretion of the House, we should let the House divide and decide. Councils are suffering because of the problems caused by pedlars. Of course they want to serve the best interests of their constituents.
We have heard from the Minister that, if the Bills are not revived and the process does not go through, the Government have agreed to carry out a consultation. My plea to them, on behalf of local authorities that have not introduced Bills, is that they should bring forward a national framework which local authorities can adopt through a byelaw at their own discretion. My colleagues and I will support the progress of the revival motions tonight.
I shall be brief, as I had not intended to speak in the debate. We have heard a great deal about the merits of the Bills, but the issue tonight is whether such Bills should be revived. It is rather like an LBW decision. All the boxes must be ticked to make sure that they apply, so that the Bills can be revived.
The first question is whether the promoters of the Bills have made a case for bringing them back. The Standing Orders suggest that such Bills should not be brought back, because the process would not exist if Parliament thought they should automatically be brought back. The argument is a technical one about whether the promoters have made the case that there is an exceptional reason to bring the Bills back, and whether anything has changed. The Minister put the Government's case succinctly. Clearly, things have changed and there may well be national legislation.
Would the promoters of the Bills lose out by not having them revived tonight? We heard that the cost of bringing the Bills back at a later stage would not be significant, but that proceeding with the Bills now in Committee would be very expensive for the councils. Is it possible that taxpayers in those areas would say, "If my council had only waited a little while, there would have been national guidelines and a national process, and we needn't have wasted that money"? On balance, the case for revival has unfortunately not been made strongly enough for me to support it.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That the promoters of the Manchester City Council Bill [ Lords] and Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [ Lords], which were originally introduced in the House of Lords in Session 2006-07 on