Mr Deputy Speaker:
When the debate was adjourned last Thursday, we were considering the second group of Lords amendments and the amendments to them. Mr Chope was speaking on Lords amendment C6 to the Canterbury City Council Bill. With this amendment, we were also considering the following:
I have no intention, Mr Deputy Speaker, of trying your patience. Given, however, that a few parliamentary colleagues are still hanging around, I thought that I would put on the record an exchange between my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg and the deputy Chief Whip during Monday’s proceedings, when it was made clear that, although it was possible this debate might start at 4 o’clock and continue until 7 o’clock, if it ran late, it would not be of any significance, because there would be a one-line Whip and no interference in our affairs, whether from the Government or anybody else. I want to make it clear to anybody who thinks that they have to still hang around in the Chamber because this is whipped business, that it is not.
I am pleased to have that confirmation. It means that our attendance is voluntary.
Since we have a new Minister, I hope that she will take the opportunity to expand on what her ministerial colleague said briefly in an intervention in the previous debate. In other words, will she explain the full implications of the Government’s consultation paper, in which the Government said they had no choice but to abolish the Pedlars Act 1871 to comply with the European services directive? I hope that she will explain how, if that is correct, the Government can support amendment C9 passed in their lordships House.
In conclusion, I hope that I will be able to move formally amendment (g) to Lords amendment C9, because it is the most telling amendment down in my name in this group of amendments. Amendment (g) would remove the provision allowing designation in order to prevent obstruction of the highway. That is such a wide provision that it effectively reintroduces by the back door the touting provisions in clause 11, which Lords amendment 15 would remove. Anybody could be thought to be able potentially to obstruct the highway; therefore, the local authorities concerned would be able to designate areas where no activity could take place whatever, which would be a total abuse. That is why I would like the opportunity in due course to test the will of the House on amendment (g).
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I hope we have a chance to hear from the Minister on the points that have been raised. I am sure she will have read what my hon. Friend Mr Chope said in opening the debate last Thursday.
I rise to speak to this group of Lords amendments and the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend for debate in the House last Thursday. I thank him for the comprehensive way he set out the amendments in that debate and in his concluding remarks today. Let me also say how grateful I am for the work undertaken in the other place by the noble Lords. They have thoroughly and efficiently considered all the issues involved in these Bills. Their noble lordships were not prepared simply to nod these Bills through, as some might have feared, including—I have to say, with much regret—myself. One could well have forgiven their lordships for thinking that as these Bills had been trundling along the parliamentary legislative pathway for some time—albeit at the pace of a rather arthritic snail—there could not possibly be any purpose in subjecting them to further detailed scrutiny.
As it is, their noble lordships recognised the importance of pedlars in our society, as those of us who take an interest in these matters in this place do too. The place of pedlars in the life of our nation dates back to the time of Chaucer. Their noble lordships considered the general principles behind the introduction of these Bills and how the detail of the new proposed laws would operate in practice. Pedlars are the ultimate in micro-businesses. The ability for someone with a relatively small amount of capital to start a business travelling from place to place buying and selling goods has been the starting point for many of our great businesses, including some household names.
It would seem that the local authorities promoting the four private Bills before us today were at least partly motivated by a wish to protect the revenue they received from licensed street traders. As right hon. and hon. Members will be aware, it was suggested in the other place that these Bills were seeking to achieve the “total eradication of pedlars” from the streets of the cities of Canterbury, Leeds and Nottingham and the borough of Reading. As hon. Members will be aware, there is a great deal of difference between a pedlar and a street trader. It was submitted that the reason why it was thought necessary to try to remove pedlars from those three cities and one borough was to prevent the streets from being obstructed by pedlars as they stopped to sell their wares. Their lordships did not accept that it was appropriate to remove pedlars completely, but they did think it appropriate that the size of the trolley used by pedlars should be limited. Amendment C9 seeks to do just that. It is worth noting the words used by Baroness Knight of Collingtree, who chaired the Select Committee established in the other place to consider the Bills, to justify amendment C9. Referring to the fact that counsel for the local authorities promoting the Bills had produced photographs supporting their contention that the pedlars were causing unacceptable congestion, she said:
“The members of the committee asked for evidence and they produced photographs of their streets, which of course were very crowded. We scrutinised them carefully and asked questions.”
The crucial sentence follows:
“We concluded that nothing we had been shown, or told, proved the case that the local authorities were making.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 3 December 2012; Vol. 741, c. 445.]
That is a most telling statement. I submit that it provides proof to the House of what my hon. Friends and I have been trying to establish from the outset—namely, that the Bills are far from straightforward. It should not be taken for granted that the case for the legislation has been proven, or that the Bills should simply be nodded through the House without detailed scrutiny. What has happened in the other place has largely justified the stance taken by my hon. Friends when the Bills were previously considered in this House.
We have already seen how, as a result of the first group of amendments, clauses 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, which deal with seizure, forfeiture and the payment of compensation, were all taken out of the Bill completely. They were not amended, or even slightly modified; they were removed in their entirety. In this group, amendment C8 deletes clause 4 completely and amendment C9 deletes clause 5 altogether and replaces it with an entirely new clause whose purpose is completely different from the original one.
It is worth noting the details of the proposed new clause. It sets out in great detail the nature of the trolley that a pedlar would be permitted to use. It gives overall dimensions for the trolley when it is being used, but it also—rather unnecessarily, in my opinion—gives details of the size of the trolley when empty. I am not sure what the relevance of that could be. Surely the overall dimensions set out in proposed new paragraph (2C) would be sufficient. Provided the trolley did not exceed a width of 0.88 metres, a depth of 0.83 metres or a height of 1.63 metres, I fail to see how it could be prejudicial to the council or to the users of the highway. I also fail to see how it would prevent an obstruction from being caused if the trolley were of a different size from that set out in proposed new paragraph (2B), which specifically states that it should not exceed a width of 0.75 metres, a depth of 0.5 metres and a height of 1.25 metres.
There is no explanation of why those precise, detailed figures have been chosen. What is the special significance of a width of 0.88 metres? Why not a width of—