Canterbury City Council Bill, Leeds City Council Bill, Nottingham City Council Bill and Reading Borough Council Bill

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 21st April 2009.

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Debate resumed.

Question (15 January) again proposed,

That the promoters of the Canterbury City Council Bill, Leeds City Council Bill, Nottingham City Council Bill and Reading Borough Council Bill, which were originally introduced in this House in Session 2007-08 on 22 January 2008, should have leave to proceed with the Bills in the current Session according to the provisions of Standing Order 188B (Revival of bills).

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 8:31 pm, 21st April 2009

In the absence of anybody representing one of the four conurbations involved—

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am so sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I was at the other end of the Chamber waiting for the second vote when this business was called, which is why I have decided to explain to my hon. Friend that I was not absent, but here. Of course, he has the Floor at the moment.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I meant to indicate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that as nobody representing any of the promoters of these Bills had risen to speak, I thought it important that I should do so in order to ask some questions. I hope that the promoters and their representatives will not feel too modest about being prepared to share with a wider public the reasons why they think that their Bills should be revived.

The arguments in relation to these four Bills are slightly different from those relating to the two that we discussed earlier—the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill and the Manchester City Council Bill. Although they are all included in one motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will know that one of them, the Canterbury City Council Bill, has already received a Second Reading and is therefore, it might be argued, in a category more similar to the other two Bills. On the other hand, one might say that during that previous debate there was unfinished business between my hon. Friend Mr. Brazier and me, and that there would be an opportunity to develop the arguments as to why the situation in Canterbury warrants a revival. The difference between the Canterbury Bill and the Manchester and Bournemouth Bills is that the Canterbury Bill has not yet been to the other place and is therefore on a slower time scale than the other two. Therefore, the arguments that were deployed in the previous debate for giving the promoters a chance to rethink their strategy in light of the Durham university report weigh more strongly against the case for Canterbury's revival than in respect of Manchester and Bournemouth.

As regards the arguments made by my right hon. Friend Mr. Knight about the relative costs of going back to square one if the promised Government initiatives in the form of legislation or guidance are not forthcoming, those cost penalties will be less in the case of Canterbury because the proceedings have reached an earlier stage than in the case of Manchester and Bournemouth. However, the other three Bills that we are considering have not yet received their Second Readings.

When I examined the guidance in relation to the revival of Bills, I found a statement—I think it is in the private Bill procedure—suggesting that if a Bill had not made any progress at all during a Session of Parliament, the House would be reluctant to allow it to be revived in a subsequent Session or carried over from one Session to another. Of course, the Nottingham City Council Bill, the Leeds City Council Bill and the Reading Borough Council Bill did not receive a Second Reading in the last Session, so they are completely de novo and would need a Second Reading in this Session. The question one asks is why, if they did not make any progress in the last Session, they should be allowed to be revived at this stage.

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Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I am asking a foolish question as a relative novice at these procedural matters. Is it not odd that although the Bills whose revival we are discussing reached different stages of their lives in the last Session, they should all be brought together in a single revival motion? It is a sort of hybrid motion, bringing together some rather good things that are more advanced in their considerations with some things that are bad. Procedurally, would it not have been better had the promoters brought forward different motions so that it was possible to consider each Bill separately?

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My hon. Friend makes a very fair point, but I am in no position to comment, because the decision on how this business should be dealt with was taken by the Chairman of Ways and Means, and the decision was to have all four Bills put together. In fairness, if my hon. Friend or myself had wanted to table an amendment, for example to delete one or more of the Bills from the motion, we would probably have been able to do so and have it debated. His point may give grounds for seeking from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a ruling as to whether there could be separate Divisions on each individual Bill, or on the Bills that are in separate categories with separate arguments relating to them. My hon. Friend would probably have to raise that with you on a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

As my hon. Friend knows, I always look to him to improve my knowledge of parliamentary procedure.

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I look to my right hon. Friend as well, of course.

I am a new boy in this place, so will my hon. Friend explain what difference it makes one way or the other whether the Bills that have not yet had a Second Reading are revived?

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The main difference, as I understand it from looking at the precedent, is this: if a promoter has not made any progress with their Bill in one Session, why should they be able to crave the indulgence of the House to have it carried over or revived in a second? Where is the evidence that they will be able to make any more progress in that Session? Does there come a stage when what is happening is a bit of an abuse of the process and procedures of the House? In the previous debate I cited the example of what happened with the Northern Bank Bill, which was a private Bill in the previous Session. It did not make any progress and was blocked at the end of the Session. As a result, the promoters of the Bill had second thoughts and decided to withdraw it.

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Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would be grateful for your guidance on the procedural matter that my hon. Friend Mr. Chope has been roaming around a little bit. I am sure that he is not calling into question the way in which the Chairman of Ways and Means brought forward the motion, which of course was perfectly proper. However, the point that my hon. Friend is making, as I understand it—forgive me if my knowledge of procedure is not all that it might be—is that there are differences between the various Bills that the motion would revive. Some might be better than others and some have gone further than others in their process through Parliament. I am not sure whether it is allowable under the procedures, but would it not be sensible to allow several Divisions on the four Bills that we are considering?

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

The short answer is no. In the revival motion, there is no distinction between the Bills that we are discussing. Everything has been done in order. As Mr. Chope said, the Chairman of Ways and Means agreed that the motion should go forward. Everything is in order, and I suspect that the hon. Gentleman's points are debating points.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am grateful for that ruling, if that is what it is.

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

Order. I would hate the hon. Gentleman to think that I was making a ruling. I am simply telling him that everything we are doing today is completely in order.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I do not believe that anyone is suggesting that what we are doing is not in order. I was trying to explain that there are distinctions between the four Bills, which are grouped together, in that only one has had a Second Reading.

Another distinction is worthy of the House's attention. The promoters of two of the Bills that have not had a Second Reading have said in discussions and in writing to me—and, we can infer, to other hon. Members who are concerned about the Bills—that they are willing to compromise significantly about the content of the clauses in the respective measures on pedlary. If the promoters of those two Bills have expressed a willingness to compromise on the main subject of my objections to the measures collectively, might not it possible to examine the two Bills separately from the others in the group? If the promoters of two measures are prepared to compromise, thereby shortening the Committee proceedings and possibly Second Reading, through responding to concerns and the findings of the Durham university report, when the promoters of the other Bills are not willing to do that, why is not it possible for hon. Members to adjudicate about the Bills that merit a revival?

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

To revert to a point that I tried to make earlier, is not it the case that the hon. Gentleman's discussions with Reading borough council about the activities of pedlars who act effectively as stallholders—Mr. Clifton-Brown mentioned that—showed that the council was prepared to negotiate and be flexible? That is an argument not for opposing the revival motion, but for allowing it to go forward so that we can reach Committee as soon as possible.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The hon. Gentleman anticipates my point, which I am getting around to raising with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the two councils—Reading and Leeds—are prepared to compromise, to respond to public opinion, as reflected in the Durham university report, and to council tax payers' concerns about possible abortive costs incurred, and to consider amending clause 5 of the respective Bills, should not they be given preferential treatment, compared with councils that still have their heads in the sand, believing that they can carry on regardless, as though the Durham study had never been conducted, there were no findings in its 90-odd pages and no issues had arisen from it? The Minister said in the previous debate that the Government acknowledged that the study raised issues which merited their attention and would be subject to consultation.

The question that I would like to put—perhaps I could put it formally in a point of order—is this. Is there any scope for the revival of the Reading Borough Council Bill and the Leeds City Council Bill to be considered in separate votes from those on the other two Bills, in respect of which there are different considerations?

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

I thought that I had made it clear to the hon. Gentleman that we are dealing with one motion this evening that deals with four councils. It either goes through on that basis or it does not, but tonight is not the night to divide them up. The Bills may receive different treatment further down the line if they are revived, but tonight we have one motion before us dealing with four councils and they cannot be dealt with separately.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am grateful to you for that ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What it means—this will disappoint Martin Salter—is that were there to be a Division in respect of the group, hon. Members who were against the revival of one or more of the Bills would be obliged to vote against the revival motion, notwithstanding the fact that they might have sympathy with the approach adopted by the imaginative councils of Reading and Leeds.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that I am obliged to point out the complete nonsense of his seeking to impugn the motives of Reading borough council? The council's willingness to be flexible is based not on 90 or 19 pages of the Durham university report, but on a problem on the streets of Reading, which is that of pedlars fraudulently acting as stallholders. Does he agree that it is not for Reading borough council to ascribe motives to Nottingham, Canterbury, Leeds or any other authority, but to argue its case, and that the issues are not related?

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The hon. Gentleman is being unnecessarily adversarial, because I think that we are both on the same side, although that may be a surprise to him. However, if he says that Reading borough council's attitude is unrelated to the report produced by Durham university, all I can say is that that is certainly not the case for Leeds city council. I have with me an e-mail from Leeds city council sent on 6 March that says:

"I refer to our meeting in January—regarding the street trading legislation proposed by Leeds City Council—when we agreed to consider the possibility of amending Clause 5 of the proposed legislation."

This is the relevant bit:

"The report produced by Durham University has since been published and we have considered our proposed amendment in the light of that report."

Leeds city council therefore links its amendment to the findings of that report. When I met a representative from Leeds city council and a representative from Reading borough council earlier today, I certainly gained the impression that both councils were motivated to support an amendment because of the contents of the Durham report and not just because of the reasons that the hon. Gentleman has articulated.

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

I wonder whether my hon. Friend, of whom I am extremely fond, is not quite close to arriving at the conclusion that, in any proceeding of the House, outside bodies with genuine concerns that they wish to be brought before Parliament would, it seems, be very unwise to engage in negotiations of any sort with him.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My hon. Friend will have to answer to the people of Leeds. Two officers travelled to London from Leeds today specifically to have a meeting with me to discuss the issue. I would assert strongly that the expenditure involved in travelling to that meeting was properly incurred, because as a result they may be able to get their legislation on to the statute book in a way that they would be content with and rather sooner than councils that continue to defy the objections of those of us who are keen to protect the rights of pedlars.

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Photo of Paul Truswell Paul Truswell Labour, Pudsey

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the main motivation for the negotiations between officers from Leeds and himself is to remove his obstructions and the tactics that he employs?

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Well, if that is their motive, it is not how they expressed it. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman—I know about his loyalty to the city of Leeds—misrepresents the position of his council officers. I do not know which party is in control of Leeds city council; all I know is that in dealing with the officers, I have been dealing with the issues on their merits and at no stage did those officers employ ad hominem arguments against me or say that they were giving way because of threats or whatever. What they decided is that clause 5 as it stands at the moment in their Bill and in the Bill—

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

Order. I am following the hon. Gentleman's arguments very carefully. He will remember that we are now debating whether these Bills should be revived or not—not what alterations might be made to them if the House decides to revive them.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I absolutely agree with that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Basically, I have a bit of a split personality on this issue because I am rather sympathetic to the case for reviving the Leeds City Council Bill on account of that council's compromising attitude, and I have a similar benevolence towards the Reading Borough Council Bill revival motion. I am much less enthusiastic, however, about the Nottingham City Council Bill, which has not yet received its Second Reading—notwithstanding the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, whose case, I suspect, falls between those two extremes.

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I shall try to help my hon. Friend here. I understand his keenness to support Leeds and Reading, but given that neither of those Bills have actually had a Second Reading, does he agree with me that there is not a great deal to revive?

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. When we decide whether to vote Aye or No in any Division, we will have to weigh up the balance of the relative merits of those four Bills.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

This is a new process to me and while I am sure, of course, that the procedures before us are correct, I am rather surprised that four Bills have been lumped together. For two of the council, I would be voting one way, but for the other two I would be voting the other way. I would thus be very grateful for my hon. Friend's advice about which way he believes we should go.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am trying to reach a conclusion to my remarks as quickly as possible. I hope that, when I reach that conclusion, I will be able to provide some clear advice. It is inherent in what I have said so far that this is a very difficult issue for fair-minded people. Ultimately, we can have only one vote on four different Bills, which are all slightly different.

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Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

Does my hon. Friend share my concern and my surprise and amazement that in the long period during which the House has been looking at these matters, not one speech has been made in support of the Nottingham City Council Bill? Neither have we had any intervention relating to that particular Bill. Does my hon. Friend agree with me that that Bill provides the weakest case here?

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we were to give marks for these Bills, I think that the Nottingham City Council Bill would have nil points; the other Bills would have some points, but how many would be a matter of debate. I agree with my right hon. Friend's conclusion that the Nottingham city council case has not been made in this Chamber, so why should we indulge the council by allowing it another year even to get round to having Second Reading? If one feels that that is the most important argument before us this evening, in order to express our feelings about the failures of Nottingham city council, we would need to vote against this revival motion, notwithstanding our sympathies for the other Bills before us.

I hope that the promoters of the Bills who have not yet expressed a willingness to compromise will be reminded to do so. There is much in these Bills that is not controversial, is of common interest, and will be supported by Members in all parts of the House. Why spoil the prospect of an early legislative achievement by insisting on including provisions which, according to any view, are highly controversial, are the subject of active Government involvement and discussion, and, as we heard from the Minister, will be the subject of a consultation paper in the summer? We do not know whether that will lead to legislation, but given the present rate of progress, I see little prospect of the Bills that we are considering tonight—whose Second Readings must still be debated in the Chamber, and whose merits must be voted on if they are revived—arriving on the statute book, having been dealt with by this House and the other place, before time runs out for this Government and there must be a general election.

By then, there will be a completely different scenario. Hopefully, my hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown will be not just the Minister responsible for this area of activity, but a Minister with a wider area of activity in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform—or perhaps a Department that will have a new title that slips off the tongue rather more easily, and will be more effective. In any event, the situation will have changed significantly.

One is bound to ask, on behalf of council tax payers who will be affected by these provisions, whether continuing to try to put these Bills on the statute book constitutes a good investment of their money. Would it not be much better to wait for the results of the Government's consultation in the summer, and see whether they will produce guidance or fresh legislation? That seems to me to accord with common sense, but ultimately, of course, it is a matter for the promoters. If they insist on bringing the matter to the House again, we, as Members of Parliament, must make a judgment on whether we wish to support the revival motions.

I hope that one thing will emerge from tonight's debate: the awareness of the Chairman of Ways and Means that there are now distinct differences between two of the Bills and the other two, and that they should therefore be treated differently in relation to issues pertaining to the Second Reading debates. I put that on the record because I think that it would be disappointing if all the Bills were dealt with at the same time. Similar arguments relate to the merits or otherwise of carrying the Bills over, but that was discussed in our earlier debate, and I certainly do not wish to detain the House by restating those arguments. What I do wish to do is record my appreciation of the efforts being made by Leeds city council and Reading borough council to reflect carefully on the necessity or otherwise of clause 5 in the Bills, relating to pedlars.

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Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

Does my hon. Friend not consider one thing very unsatisfactory? I seem to recall that in our last debate, in June, Tony Lloyd said that if these particular Bills were recalled, up to 50 more councils would wish to present private Bills to the House. The House would have to spend a considerable amount of time dealing with the matter. That is why I think that it would be better dealt with through the Government's consultation route, through a change in the guidelines if necessary and, if further necessary, through a change in legislation.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My hon. Friend has made a good point. Some of us have been involved in extensive debates on these Bills. The Second Reading debates on the Manchester City Council and Bournemouth Borough Council Bills took place in June last year, were adjourned, and were resumed in October. Those of us who were involved in those debates may like to take some credit for the fact that our actions deterred a lot of the other councils, to which my hon. Friend refers, from bringing forward their private Bills, no doubt much to the relief of the Chairman of Ways and Means and the Private Bill Office, because they wanted to reflect on what was happening, not least in terms of the Durham university report, the response of this House to that report, and now the Government response. Therefore, my hon. Friend's point is important.

We are concerned about piecemeal legislation making the situation unsatisfactory for the genuine pedlar, who would not know whether different rules applied in different parts of the country if different regimes operate in different places. Concern has also been expressed about the impact on adjoining boroughs and local authority areas, and there is a general desire to have some common practice again in the way in which the police licence pedlars so that those licences apply throughout the country. At present, each individual police force is responsible for licensing shotguns that can then be used anywhere in the country, but they have a common system for doing that, and I think there is a lot to be said for having a similarly common system for the licensing of pedlars.

I hope there will be a response from the promoters of some of these Bills that will help steer us past this difficult dilemma to do with whether or not we should show our sympathy for Reading and Leeds by saying we should either abstain or support the revival motion, or whether we should display our displeasure at Nottingham and therefore say we should oppose the revival motion. The jury will be out on that, but I hope that we will get some responses to help us reach a conclusion.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West 9:02 pm, 21st April 2009

I am very happy to help steer the House, and Mr. Chope, through the intricacies of this argument, although I doubt very much whether any of the words I choose to utter will steer him into the same Division Lobby as me a little later.

I have some respect for academic studies, but what motivates me is what the police, traders and the public in my town of Reading say to me, not what some professor chooses to write about a problem—they may or may not have a different perception from the ivory tower of an academic institution. What I know is that a significant police operation took place in Reading. It was called Operation Ontology and it was an operation with the council and the Border and Immigration Agency police command team. It targeted immigration offending and criminality by pedlars in Reading town centre. The operation was conducted by local Thames Valley police officers, supported by the neighbourhood policing team and conducted after consultation with Reading borough council licensing department. The purpose of the operation—this is yet another reason for supporting the Bill—was to identify all the pedlars operating in the town centre of Reading during the period of the operation and where necessary to record details, to locate and identify any immigration offenders among the pedlars, to arrest suspected immigration offenders to be dealt with by BIA personnel, and to minimise the impact of this operation on members of the public, the officers themselves and the subjects themselves.

It is worth reporting that the briefing that elected representatives have been sent by Thames Valley police said that during the operation 10 pedlars were encountered selling a variety of goods and that the stalls from which many of the pedlars were selling items did not lend themselves to being mobile as each time they were pushed the merchandise displayed would fall from the stall on to the ground. This matter was alluded to by not only Mr. Clifton-Brown, but Lorely Burt. In many cases these are not pedlars under the definition of the 1871 Act, and the Bills merely seek to bring a piece of legislation that was framed in 1871 up to date to reflect modern circumstances and modern pressures.

It is quite clear that in my town, Reading—I suspect that this is the case in Leeds and elsewhere too—the pedlar certificate has become a £12.50 flag of convenience that is causing tremendous resentment among stall holders, who are paying between £500 and £1,000 for a similar facility. I find it strange that hon. Members from the party that supports business and enterprise appear to be setting themselves against ensuring fair competition and an even playing field. I find it even more surprising that arguments are coming from those on the Conservative Benches against the Cameronian notion of localism; we appear to be hearing arguments for the nationalisation of the regulation of pedlars. That runs contrary to the thrust of the new modern Conservatives and it is frankly illogical, and I find it strange that the Conservative Front-Bench team has not sought to make that point.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

The hon. Gentleman has detained the House for about 90 per cent. of this debate and he has complained consistently that he has not heard from the promoters of the Bills, so if he is a little more patient he will be able to hear from those of us who happen to support them.

Operation Ontology, which was undertaken by Thames Valley police, identified a number of people working illegally. The report said that it was worth noting that the offenders had no legal—

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

Order. May I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that he is in danger of launching into a Second Reading speech and he must relate his remarks to why these Bills should be revived?

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

I take your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I merely conclude my point by saying that in the course of that operation it was discovered that four people were working illegally, they were removed from the country and none of the pedlars encountered on the day of that operation had any basis on which to stay in the UK. That is in many ways a response to the arguments being made that there is now no case for these Bills to be revived, because these very real problems exist today, they existed last year and they will exist next year.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

I shall give way to the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman.

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Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I would not wish the hon. Gentleman to mislead, or rather, to misrepresent—I withdraw the word "mislead"—what I have said on behalf of the Opposition. I did raise the issue of competition and the difference in price between a pedlar's certificate and a street licence certificate. I also said that I think that whether these Bills are revived is a matter for the House, but this procedure is expensive for the individual councils involved and thus a better procedure would be if this matter were considered on a national basis in respect of whether guidance needs to be revised and whether, as a result of that, legislation needs to be altered. I would not wish him to misrepresent what I said.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

I thank the hon. Gentleman for putting the record straight as far as his motives are concerned. I merely respond by saying that there are Conservative-controlled councils that support these measures and that are happy that they have already got legislation of this sort on to the statute book and the system is working well.

I wish to conclude by making one final point, which touches on why these Bills should be revived. Real damage is being done to small businesses that are struggling to cope in the very difficult economic circumstances that we face. Let us consider Reading's Harris arcade or what is commonly known as "smelly alley"—Union street in Reading. The total cost of rent, rates and overheads for the small units located there probably works out at about £15,000 a unit. One of these Mickey Mouse stalls being erected on the basis of a pedlar's certificate costing £12.50 can immensely damage the business of legitimate traders who are paying up to £15,000 a year purely for rent, rates and overheads. I do not want to see businesses in my town going to the wall because we have failed to grasp the nettle and deal with a very real problem.

The Reading Borough Council Bill is being promoted by the business improvement district in Reading, which is made up of businesses that have voluntarily joined the scheme and are paying 1 per cent. of their rateable value of business rates to fund that scheme. They want this to happen and it is my job as a local MP to listen to them and to promote this Bill, so I appeal to the House to allow it to be revived.

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport) 9:10 pm, 21st April 2009

It is a pleasure to follow Martin Salter, although I was unhappy about his attack on my hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown, who has now put the record straight.

The most relevant aspect of the revival motion—the one thing that has changed since Second Reading—is of course the Durham report. It concedes that there are some local problems, but concludes that there is no national problem. Therefore, as a localist, I would like to see a national framework—probably requiring legislation—that councils can opt into if they wish to do so. Unfortunately, because that option is not available to councils, these four councils have been faced with two bitter options—either to do nothing about this dreadful problem or to expend a great deal of money, the amount of which has been considerably increased by the efforts of my hon. Friend Mr. Chope, although he remains my hon. Friend, and a small group of other hon. Friends—

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

Each time I raised a point with my hon. Friend last time, he failed to answer it. In the first debate, he promised that he would answer my point in the relevant debate. I will therefore give way to him if he answers my point first.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I do not think that I can give the answer in an intervention because, apart from anything else, it would take us outside the scope of this debate, which is on a revival motion.

When we had the Second Reading of the Canterbury City Council Bill, my hon. Friend was gracious enough to accept that it included a provision on touting that he had not addressed and that should be considered in Committee.

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

I did not think that my hon. Friend would answer my question. The hon. Member for Reading, West succinctly said that the essence of this measure is the fact that illegal street trading is carried out under the flag of convenience, as he put it, of touting. I asked my hon. Friend to explain how he could distinguish between pedlars and illegal street trading—nobody in this House wants to attack pedlars who are not involved in illegal street trading—but he said that it would be out of order to answer that point. However, it would not be out of order and, as on so many occasions, he has failed to answer my question.

Nevertheless I will answer the question. I made it clear on Second Reading that I was happy to negotiate with my hon. Friend—I hoped that it would be in good faith—on the removal of the touting clause from the Canterbury City Council Bill, which would bring it into line with the others. I hope that it will be possible, when the House authorities consider the arrangements for Committee, for the Canterbury City Council Bill to be grouped with the other two Bills that have already received their Second Reading, because that is the only substantial difference.

I do not wish to echo all the points that were made on Second Reading, and very well tonight, by the hon. Member for Reading, West, but it would be scandalous at any time for struggling honest businesses to be ruined by small numbers—or, in Canterbury's case, by relatively large numbers—of people using peddling licences to act as street traders. It is not only the legitimate street traders, paying their £800 a year, who are affected, but the shops next door, which are also being wrecked by those people. It really is extraordinarily bad news in the current recession. It is no exaggeration to say that businesses in Canterbury will go to the wall because this measure has not gone through, and that greatly saddens me. It is why I ask the House to revive the Bill. My final point is that in his remarks, my hon. Friend—

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am willing to give way once more, but each time I have tried to debate a point with my hon. Friend—including all the way through the Second Reading debate—I have found him unwilling to answer the particular problems that I have raised. I am happy to give way on the issue of expense, but before I do so let me say that he raised the question of the expense involved in the procedure. I want to remind people of the expense involved in trying to deal with pedlars who are illegally street trading. I set out on Second Reading—I will not bore you or stretch your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by doing so again—how terribly expensive it is to cope with a street trader hiding behind a peddling licence. I raised that point in discussion with my hon. Friend, and not once did he reply to my point. I hope that this time he will do so.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. In paragraph 64 of the Durham university report, I found what I hope is a very succinct summary of my concern. It states:

"In conjunction with these responses" on the issue of distinguishing between street trading and peddling,

"it should be noted that some local authorities showed a tendency to conflate rogues, illegal street traders and pedlars into a single group, and/or use inflammatory or pejorative language in association with pedlars: 'Pedlars regard themselves as untouchable and are often quite rude if challenged'", and so on. They are described as

"'hit and run merchants' who come from nowhere and disappear again into the night. They may be selling counterfeit goods", and so on. Such statements have been made too often in the course of the proceedings on this Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that it is wrong to conflate the street trader, the lawful pedlar and the rogue.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend has repeated his allegation again, so it is clearly on the record twice. To establish his point, he needs to show a point where one of the promoters of the Bills has conflated the two things. There is no point in going back to the Durham report for it. The plain fact is that all the way through these proceedings the MPs supporting the promoters of these Bills have sought to explain that nobody wants to attack genuine pedlars—people who go from place to place, selling their wares. He has accused us again of conflation, and the record will show that, but the problem is pedlars who act as illegal street traders and can hide behind their pedlars' licences. The kind of inflammatory statement that he quoted from the Durham report may well be dug out in relation to some councils, but I have heard nobody in the various debates—I have been here for them all, except for part of the last one—who has conflated the two groups in the way that he suggests.

I have spoken for longer than I intended. The plain fact is that legitimate businesses will go to the wall because of the activities of such people, and I urge the House to allow all four of these Bills, not just the Canterbury City Council Bill, to be carried over.

Photo of John Heppell John Heppell Labour, Nottingham East 9:18 pm, 21st April 2009

I shall be very brief. Mr. Chope referred to the fact that the sponsors are not speaking for these Bills. May I make the point, so that it is on the record, that all the Nottingham MPs are here tonight to vote for the Nottingham City Council Bill and the other Bills covered by the motion? We have not spoken because the hon. Gentleman's machinations have meant, as we know, that to speak could do harm to the Bill.

I shall say no more, and hope that other Members will be as brief as I have been. The Bill was a good Bill when it started. The machinations of the hon. Member for Christchurch have not made it a bad Bill. The will of the House is that the Bill should be revived, and I hope that it will be revived, along with the other three Bills.

Question put.

The House divided: Ayes 183, Noes 8.

Division number 97

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Ordered,

That the promoters of the Canterbury City Council Bill, Leeds City Council Bill, Nottingham City Council Bill and Reading Borough Council Bill, which were originally introduced in this House in Session 2007-08 on 22 January 2008, should have leave to proceed with the Bills in the current Session according to the provisions of Standing Order 188B (Revival of bills).