Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at 5:04 pm on 29th November 2007.

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Read a third time.

Photo of Lord Eden of Winton Lord Eden of Winton Conservative

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Both this and the Manchester City Council Bill were deemed to have been read a second time. However, petitions were lodged against them, as a result of which they were referred to a Select Committee of this House chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison. He and his colleagues on the Select Committee did a really thorough job in examining both the terms of the Bill and the views of the petitioners. We all owe them a debt of gratitude for that. As noble Lords will know, their conclusions have been published in a special report.

I have an interest to declare in that, for nearly 30 years, I was MP for the constituency of Bournemouth West. It is 24 years since I ceased to be a Member of Parliament for it, and I am proud of the fact that I am an honorary freeman of the borough of Bournemouth.

The Bill deals with street trading, which has generally been subject to statutory control by local authorities. Schedule 4 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 enables local authorities to control street trading by designating streets in their area as prohibited streets, where it is not permitted, or as consent or licensed streets, where it is permitted subject to the grant of the licence. The 1982 Act enabled councils to control the sale of goods, but not the sale of services. Clause 4 of the Bill proposes to give powers to the council to enable it to control services. Examples of services are, as I have been given them, hair braiding, tooth whitening and henna tattooing.

Bournemouth is a premier holiday destination. In the last year, more than 5 million visitors came either as day visitors or to stay one night or more, so noble Lords will understand that tourism is of key significance to the borough's economy. The council must be constantly vigilant in a highly competitive environment to ensure that the appeal, attractions and overall image of Bournemouth remain to the fore, both nationally and internationally. Illegal traders are beginning to tarnish that image. They descend on Bournemouth from Easter to Christmas and focus on the main favoured locations where there is the greatest concentration of visitors and holidaymakers. It requires a very considerable effort on the part of the authorities to try to control those activities. In fact, the present control regime is totally inadequate.

Illegal street trading covers not only services but the sale of goods. Examples are the vendors of sunglasses, kites and items such as rattlesnake eggs, which are a combination of two magnets which, if moved around or thrown up in the air, rattle together resembling the sound of a rattlesnake. Because they contain magnets, noble Lords will readily appreciate that if they are used by or in the vicinity of someone who has a pacemaker it could cause serious mischief.

Many of the goods are of dubious quality and are certainly below the minimum standards for health and safety purposes. They are often sold by people who describe themselves as pedlars. Trading by a person acting as an authorised pedlar is exempt from the street trading regime under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. To be a legitimate pedlar, the person must have a certificate issued by the police and must keep on the move in the pursuit of the trade. A pedlar's licence costs only £12.50 per annum. Once issued, the activity can be carried on anywhere in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, except where an Act in terms similar to this Bill exists.

The right to be a licensed pedlar is derived from the Pedlars Act 1871. The Act defines, in words delightfully resonant of an age long gone, what a pedlar is:

"The term pedlar means any hawker, pedlar, petty chapman, tinker, castor 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".

I am sure noble Lords can imagine the great difficulties of bringing before a court a case where an attempt was being made to prosecute a so-called pedlar for not being an authorised pedlar. What happens in practice is that the pedlars sometimes wait to be challenged, and they can stay at the end of a street for something like 20 minutes. As like as not, they will move to the other end of the street, where they will stay for another 20 minutes, and so it goes on. If a prosecution is successful, the fine is extremely limited, probably less than £100, but the legal fees for the council could be in excess of £1,000, so it hardly recoups even its basic costs from the exercise on which it has embarked. The production of evidence is extremely difficult to secure and involves time-consuming work by officials and police. Last year in the borough of Bournemouth it is estimated that it cost the council about £12,000 in enforcement and prosecution of illegal traders. All of this is extremely unfair for legitimate market traders and shopkeepers. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, will give some expression to that view, because he is knowledgeable on the subject and has wide experience of the marketplace.

Pedlars should not be street traders. They are required to move from place to place. Clause 5 amends the appropriate schedule in the 1982 Act to make it clear that a pedlar will not be able to trade in a prohibited street unless trading from place to place, and will not be able to trade in a consent street unless he has first obtained consent from the council, which involves both parties in thorough research and investigation. However, in any street that is neither a consent street nor a prohibited street, the pedlar will be able to carry on trading as before.

Clauses 6 to 9 set out a regime by which council officers and police are able to seize items which they believe are being used in the course of unlawful street trading, and the courts are given power to forfeit such items if a successful prosecution is secured. Clauses 10 to 14 set out a fixed penalty regime for street trading offences. The provisions enable the recipient of a fixed penalty notice to discharge any criminal liability by the payment of a fixed penalty.

The Select Committee made a strong recommendation that the time is surely long since past when individual councils should be put to the heavy cost of bringing forward private legislation to deal with this nuisance. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, will speak to that point and I may safely leave it to the Minister to answer it, but there is a great deal of strength in the case that the committee put forward in the recommendation in its special report.

There is no doubt that this Bill is urgently needed. Many improvements are under way further to enhance the reputation and prestige of Bournemouth. It would be a grave error if these were allowed to be damaged by illicit street trading. To underpin the planned work to ensure that Bournemouth remains a first-class destination resort, I hope that this Bill will find its way quickly to the statute book.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Eden of Winton.)

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, I hope that it might be helpful to the House if I intervene briefly, because opposed private Bills do not come before your Lordships as frequently as they used to and not all noble Lords may be familiar with our proceedings on them. Although we are debating the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, the debate should include the Manchester City Council Bill. I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, the sponsor of the Manchester Bill, speaks next, followed by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, who chaired the Opposed Bill Committee which considered both Bills. Other noble Lords may then speak and I think that the Minister will wind up the debate, before the noble Lord, Lord Eden, winds up and the Motion that the Bill do now pass is decided on. The noble Lord, Lord Bradley, will then move formally the Third Reading and passing of the Manchester Bill.

As these are Private Bills, the question of their principle has not been decided at Second Reading and, in those circumstances, speeches on the Motion are permitted, although the usual rules of debate apply. If there are any questions on Private Bill procedure, I shall be happy to try to answer them during the debate.

Photo of Lord Bradley Lord Bradley Labour

My Lords, I shall speak briefly in support of the Manchester City Council Bill and I declare an interest as a former Member of Parliament and councillor in that city. I start by associating myself fully with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Eden, in relation to the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill and I shall not rehearse the arguments which are very similar to those concerning Manchester.

Manchester has an efficient street-trading system which allows it to grant licences and consents, and there are a number of prohibited streets, particularly in the city centre and notably around the newly refurbished Exchange Square area of the city. A licensed pitch in the areas where street trading is allowed is, as we have heard, a valuable asset, and a street-trading licence within the city currently costs about £625 annually. It is worth repeating what the noble Lord, Lord Eden, said—that the cost of a pedlar's certificate is only £12.50 per year.

Manchester imposes conditions on its licences in relation to the hours of trading and the type of goods that can be sold at those street-trading pitches. That sort of control is unavailable in respect of pedlars and is a crucial issue addressed by the Bill. One thing that most concerns the legitimate street traders is the fact that all the enforcement activity which street-trading officers have to carry out against pedlars ends up being paid for to a great extent by the increase in charges against the street-trading licences. This is because the city council is able to cover the costs of enforcement across the piece and therefore enforcement against pedlars is put against the cost of street-trading licences.

It is worth noting that the services provided in Manchester which cannot be controlled—a situation similar to that in Bournemouth council—include activities such as windscreen washing at traffic lights, henna tattooing, hair braiding, face painting and, as one photograph that was presented to the Select Committee showed, even teeth whitening. Market Street in the city centre is a particularly popular location for pedlars and on any one day we can expect up to 24 pedlars working in just that one street, selling a range of goods such as sunglasses, toys and various other items. Therefore, we can see that the problems associated with Manchester, Bournemouth and many other cities in the country are similar but they have to be dealt with by single pieces of legislation.

In evidence, city council officers said that, if the pedlars are left alone, they tend not to move and they trade from a stationary position, which is not what they are meant to do. If they are challenged, clearly they move on, but often they move just a short distance in a street such as Market Street in the centre of the city and continue to trade from a new location. The problem is that the city council, through its enforcement officers, simply does not have the resources to keep policing this activity by the pedlars on the streets.

We have a similar and particular problem in the area around the Manchester Evening News Arena, where one finds unlawful traders selling counterfeit goods related to concerts that are regularly held at that venue. The Select Committee was told in evidence that in some cases the traders tended to congregate in the most dangerous areas around the arena because they wanted to capture as many people as possible going in and out. As I said, that is particularly dangerous and a public hazard.

Finally in this brief contribution I highlight the fact that Greater Manchester Police are fully supportive of the Manchester Bill. Indeed, a senior police officer attended the Select Committee to give evidence. I shall not dwell on the point about national legislation, which may well be dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, but Manchester certainly takes the view that it would be preferable to address these issues by national legislation rather than have to go to the trouble and expense of promoting private legislation in every case. On behalf of Manchester City Council, I thank members of the Select Committee who sat through two full days of evidence in July and gave both promoters and petitioners a full and fair hearing. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Lord Harrison Lord Harrison Labour

My Lords, as chairman of the Opposed Bill Committee I start by thanking my four colleagues who sat with me for two days and all the officers who so ably helped us. I also thank the two sponsors of the Bills, who have explained the problems so well from their own experience of their towns. I am pleased to see the noble Lords, Lord Graham and Lord Turner, who will no doubt tell us that as members of the All-Party Group on the Markets Industry they have wide knowledge on this issue.

I also thank the opponents of the Bill and the agents, Mr McGerr and Mr Robert Campbell-Lloyd, for sending information on the Bill even at this late hour. We listened to them carefully, but neither I nor my committee was persuaded by their opposition. One minor recommendation we made was that local authorities should be minded in implementing the legislation to ensure that the officers are well and properly trained in how to advise street traders and in particular pedlars who wish to ply their trade.

The problem, which has been put before us so well, is the consequence of outdated legislation and concerns the distinction between a pedlar and a street trader. The pedlars' legislation is ancient, dating from 1871 and 1881, and addresses the simple idea of someone plying their trade from door to door, hence carrying their wares; whereas a street trader has a pitch with a licence and typically has a stall from which he or she offers goods or services. The definition is now being abused. Street traders are using the cheaper pedlars' licences. These licences are not only cheaper but can be issued in one town and used, in a portable way, across the length and breadth of Britain. Genuine street traders, who pay a lot more for their licences, are restricted in where they can obtain a licence and can set up their pitch only in that one town or city.

The regulation of these two different kinds of trader is enormously difficult not only for local authorities but for the police. I might add that responsibility for licensing pedlars falls to the police but for street traders to the local authorities. That also causes confusion. Alex Chadd, a member of South Wales Police, speaking on behalf of ACPO, believes that there should be reform. The police certainly want to offset their current charge of having to deal with pedlars' licences.

The law is in confusion. I could give your Lordships many of the examples that are so well set out in Street Traders and Pedlars Legislation—The Case for Reform, which was published by the All-Party Group on the Markets Industry. I am sure that colleagues from the group will speak tellingly of that report. However, I shall give one example in which street traders observed a pedlar essentially setting up as a street trader and called in the police. The policeman concerned was so confused by the law he had to enforce that he said to the pedlar, "Don't move! You stay on that pitch so that when I come back in an hour I can check that you're still there and not doing anything unlawful". At a stroke of the law he changed him from a pedlar into a street trader, much to the chagrin of the genuine street traders.

There are in this unhappy situation numerous associated problems which have been partly described by the noble Lords sponsoring the legislation. These problems include the issue of faulty or illegal goods and how to acquire a refund. A street trader who has the same pitch from week to week can respond to a dissatisfied consumer or trading standards officer whereas the pedlar is gone the next week and there is no recourse for the consumer seeking fair play. We have countless examples of local authorities such as Portsmouth saying that anything that is done to repeal the 1871 Act will be well received. Attempts to move pedlars on can be labour intensive, and that is an important point. The current system of dealing with pedlars in Birkenhead is so long-winded that it is ineffective. In Southampton, because of the outdated pedlars Act, a considerable amount of the time of police and city centre staff is occupied in bringing offenders to court. In Winchester, pedlars contribute nothing to the local economy but often pass on shabby inferior goods to the unsuspecting public.

The law is ineffective because, as a result of these ancient laws, the fines are too small to inhibit pedlars trading as street traders. There is seldom an opportunity to confiscate goods, a practice which could otherwise be a route to salvation. It is interesting to note that the London Local Authorities Act 2004, which sought to remedy the problem, included provision for confiscation and higher fines that have largely solved the problem.

Danger is also an issue because of the potential for public disorder concerns. Many noble Lords will be acquainted with the lovely town of York and the narrow street called the Shambles which boasts properly licensed street traders. But it occasionally is a shambles because other pedlars come along to fill the street and make it much more difficult to pass. We sometimes have to be concerned about overloading such streets where markets ought to be operating vibrantly.

As for the current position, there have been a series of Private Bills from local authorities. I chaired the committee considering the eighth and ninth—so that is nine down. Today, however, I have received information that four more cities—Canterbury, Leeds and Nottingham city councils and Reading Borough Council—now want private legislation on street trading. I read out the names to emphasise the fact that major councils feel that they are dealing with a major problem.

The letters that I have received from the Government imply that this is not a matter of great moment. However, on 16 May, our colleague from the other end of the Palace of Westminster, Dr Brian Iddon MP, attended a meeting specifically called to deal with the pedlar problem in London. Some 40 local authorities attended. I shall furnish the Minister with a list of them if he has not already got one. People do not come down to London for a single-item agenda if they are not already sensitised to a problem which needs to be dealt with. So far we have had piecemeal legislation. One fact that was borne in upon the committee is that it is absurd for committees to sit and deal with this type of legislation again and again only to arrive at the same conclusion.

There is a further problem on which the House might like to reflect. The four new cities I mentioned above are large ones, but when the legislation goes through the pedlars will have to move on as they will be prevented from imitating street traders. The effect will be to displace them to smaller market towns. My wife and I rejoice in the market town of Garstang, in Lancashire, and we love to go there on Thursdays. It is only a small town of some 8,000 people, but I can see that the pedlar problem will arise there too. It will have consequences for the police, for instance, who will not necessarily have the opportunities and facilities to reconnoitre the markets, and consequences for trading standards officers. That is why it is imperative that we get on and do something about this.

The committee I chaired recognised not only that the law is in confusion but that costs are involved. We understood that the cost of obtaining an Act for Newcastle upon Tyne, one of the first local authorities to institute legislation, was £200,000. That legislation has been successful in that the pedlars in Newcastle upon Tyne have moved over to Gateshead—what a waste of public money. The additional costs for the police and the local authority have been well explained by my noble friend Lord Bradley and by the noble Lord, Lord Eden. There are also costs in bureaucracy and as a result of filling the courts that must, with great difficulty, deal with these matters. There is also the cost of Opposed Bill Committees in your Lordships' House. Quite frankly we have better things to do than spend two days summoning QCs to address these issues, especially when we always come out with the same result.

The committee had a reply to its decision from Gareth Thomas MP, on behalf of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. The Government allow that there is a problem particularly with pedlars. It is good that we have that understanding. They say that "some" authorities are concerned about this matter. However, I contend that the list I read out, and the growing list of those who wish to seek Private Bill legislation, shows that this is not about "some" authorities but is a nationwide problem. We are told that there are existing powers. However, as the all-party group, noble Lords who have already spoken and I have demonstrated, the existing powers are confused, not well understood by those who are supposed to enforce them and need some clearing up. This is not just about counterfeit and illegal goods, which are a concern, but about the unfairness of having two types of street trader: the pedlar and the genuine street trader.

Astonishingly, the Government tell us that the department needs evidence of these matters on which to base concerns and to bring forward legislation. Surely the series of Bills that comes streaming into the House is evidence enough. The fact that an all-party group is producing well-researched papers on street trading also demonstrates the need, as does the fact that the street traders and the associations that represent them—NABMA, the NMTF and APMO; I will translate those acronyms for the Minister if he wishes—have spoken on this, as have ACPO and the ATCM, the Association of Town Centre Management, and the LGA itself. When the Minister says in his letter that there is an absence of evidence and that the case has not been properly made, I contest that all the way.

The Minister also invokes the Rogers review, which supposedly looked at these matters. I suggest, however, that the review deals with enforcement, not with the real problem—the defunct definition of pedlars and street traders in modern market conditions. I am also surprised that the Rogers review says that the problem, if it is one—this is what it implies—has only a low impact on the community. That is wholly understandable, because until there is a calamity of the shambles-in-the-Shambles sort, where things begin to go wrong and there is public disorder, there is not going to be anything else. The case of those consumers who bought something one week at the market and returned the following week to find the bird has flown comes to the attention of the local authority, but all consumers see are market traders of one description or another. It falls to the police, the local authorities and TSOs to ensure that the market is operating properly. The invocation of the Rogers review therefore does not work.

We are now told that the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill will help with this problem. I ask the Minister to demonstrate how the Bill will change out-of-date legislation. It seeks only to sweeten the pill that, through the ages, has become a placebo. Mr Ian McCartney, a previous Minister for the DTI, was clearly sympathetic to the cause of having national legislation. He wrote to Pat McFadden MP in the Cabinet Office, who replied that there was a lack of parliamentary time. We are taking two weeks off in addition to our usual work next year. Perhaps we can deal with this legislation in April. That would be successful.

Finally, I make a plea to the Minister. Next week, on 6 December, Dr Brian Iddon will repeat a presentation Bill, as I understand it is called, which follows up the 10-Minute Rule Bill that he offered to the House on a previous occasion. The Minister has argued the case well in the past, and doubtless he will bring fresh information and fresh arguments to the debate in your Lordships' House tonight, but my plea is this: if the Government were to listen, they would allow the presentation Bill in another place to go to a Committee where these matters can be properly debated and all the objections raised in Gareth Thomas's letter can be addressed. Clear legislation, based on the existing nine examples of legislation which are already having some success, can then be devised and brought forward, and we could do something not only for consumers and market traders, but for the well-being of market towns up and down this country.

Photo of Lord Methuen Lord Methuen Liberal Democrat 5:45 pm, 29th November 2007

My Lords, I had the pleasure of serving under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, on these two Bills. It is the second time that I have served on such a committee. Last year, I served on the Select Committee which looked at the Leicester, Maidstone and Liverpool Bills. In all details, these five Bills were the same. I understand from the Private Bills Office, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, that 10 or 11 more of these Bills are in the pipeline. I totally agree that it is high time to have national legislation to deal with this problem. We have heard the arguments from the objectors, who in fact have been more bona fide traders than the fly-by-nights who cause all the problems. There should be a regime to enable them to operate sensibly in parallel with the proper market traders who we all respect. I heartily back everything that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, has said and I commend this Bill to the House.

Photo of Lord Bilston Lord Bilston Labour

My Lords, I congratulate Bournemouth and Manchester on obtaining Third Readings of their Private Bills. I commend the words of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, who has done a very powerful job tonight for the many local authorities up and down this land. They are crying out for national legislation to deal with many problems, some of which have been enumerated by the noble Lord. I speak as the joint chairman of the All-Party Group on Markets Industry. I am privileged to share that chairmanship with the noble Lord, Lord Wade.

I assure noble Lords that we have toiled endlessly for several years under the great tutelage of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, who was our worthy secretary for several years and the founder of the group. Both Houses have worked together to assemble the evidence, which was produced by the National Association of British Market Authorities, the National Market Traders Federation, the Association of Private Market Operators and others. We have had endless meetings with Ministers. All the issues debated today were raised with Ministers. As has been said, the previous Minister for the Department of Trade and Industry, Mr Ian McCartney, was made well aware of the situation. He was very sympathetic, but he has moved on. Now we have to deal with the new Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. I hope that the message from this House, given by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, will assist us in bringing this matter forward. The right honourable Brian Iddon will bring forward his Private Member's Bill again.

I appeal to the Minister to take from this House the message that we need a national plan and that we need to repeal the Pedlars Act. We need to bring forward legislation that will give the support and protection so desperately needed by all local authorities, which is being achieved tonight in these two Bills for Bournemouth and Manchester. There are many Bills in the pipeline, and if we have to go through an endless process of dealing with them in this way, it will be a very long time before towns and cities up and down the country get the support and protection they need from Parliament. So I beg the Minister to take our message back to his department and the other departments of state that are involved. Their representatives have come to our meetings, we have discussed the issues and produced the blueprint; in fact, we produced a Bill that will allow them to give us the response that is so desperately needed. I therefore ask the Minister to bring forward national legislation.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, when the noble Lord who spoke for Manchester talked about the persecution of face painters and hair braiders, I recalled that for many years London Transport persecuted buskers and thus deprived us of the pleasure of their company. It reminded me why my heart opposes this kind of legislation so deeply, but that is not the issue for today. Local authorities are entitled to make their towns and cities duller places if that is what they wish to do, although as someone who visits Bournemouth for the occasional conference, that would take some talent. But here the Government are making a real mess.

As the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, said, we have a plethora of these Bills. They are not all quite the same, there are minor differences between them so that we are putting together a patchwork of law around the country. Each little Bill contains its own innovations. We now have services coming in. How does that affect prostitution? Does it mesh with the law on prostitution, which quite clearly it covers? We are getting all sorts of inconsistencies and things which have not been thought through. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, said that this will create great expense for local authorities. It is difficult for those who want to set up in a trade to find out what the regulations are from one place to another. We are being inefficient, expensive, and we are doing things wrong.

If the Government do not support these Bills, they should not allow them to pass. If they do, they should be doing something nationally. I suggest that the Minister should have a quiet word in the ear of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and point out to him the precedence of such as the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 which started as a Private Bill in the House of Lords and ended up as legislation without a great deal of trouble. It works very well that way round because it is hard for an MP to do this. But it is actually quite easy for us, so long as the Government give the proposal a fair wind.

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Labour

My Lords, it is a pleasure for me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Eden, and other noble Lords who have had an opportunity to air this situation in the House. The Minister will be under no illusion that as far as parliamentarians are concerned, and having listened to all that has been said, there is a need for national action. It is therefore with dismay that I have to tell the Minister, who clearly can say nothing positive about this matter today, that he should go back to his department and reflect on the fact that the national organisations representing traders—the National Federation of Market Traders, the Association of Private Market Operators and the National Association of British Market Authorities, representing local government—have been battering at the Government's door in one way or another for the past few years. I cannot be precise, but I would say that this matter has been growing for the past 10 years.

I was grateful to see the noble Lord on his feet as the joint chairman. We had another joint chairman called Brian Iddon, and you can see the genesis of the agitation. It shows what authorities have been driven to do when faced with the insidious spread of malpractice by pedlars. The Pedlars Act is all very well, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Eden, said that it comes from a bygone age. That is right, but the situation has changed and something needs to be done about it.

I have had some influence in those organisations and I am still very concerned with them. More than once the Minister's ministerial colleagues have addressed us and been very warm. I remember that when Gerry Sutcliffe was the Minister he was very warm and friendly towards us. Eventually civil servants came to address us on the practicalities, but they were less than lukewarm on doing something about it. We were told that this matter was not strictly for the Department of Trade and Industry but also concerned local government and the Home Office. If we believe that we are the party of joined-up government, why cannot we join up the government departments and do this kind of thing?

It was with dismay that I found that Newcastle, my home town, was driven into spending a great deal of ratepayers' money. I was told earlier in the debate that 10 towns are queuing up with private Bills, including Leeds, Canterbury, Nottingham and Reading, but why should local authorities be put to this great expense and aggravation? They do not want to do it; they are driven to do it. A council—and I was once a leader of a council—would not easily or idly incur the enormous expense of legislation unless it was driven to do so. My noble friend the Minister should take this away, without commitment, and recognise that my good friend in the other place, Brian Iddon, is persistent and keeping well up on this.

I dearly miss my good friend Joe Dean—Lord Dean of Beswick—who was Manchester through and through. More than once he stood up in this Chamber and said that he was proud to represent the City of Manchester because it had the two finest football teams in the land—Manchester City and Manchester City reserves. He meant it. He was fiercely Manchester, the leader of the council and he knew the area. I simply say, in the memory of my good friend Joe Dean, that I am grateful for what has been said about the needs of Manchester, which is a fine city.

The point was made that when the itinerant pedlar is driven out of a large city by Bills of this kind, he will go somewhere else and eventually the Government's hand will be forced. I know about legislative restraint and time but pegs sometimes appear. The first decision we made was to say to the Government, "The action required is to abolish the Pedlars Act but to recognise that simply abolishing that Act will not solve the problem. You will need to do far more than that".

Legitimate traders, who pay rent, rates, insurance, lighting, heating and congestion charges, and who pay for safety at work, holidays, sick pay and pensions, are carrying the burden and, unfairly, pedlars are riding on the back of the services provided. When we had meetings with representatives of the Local Government Associations and London councils, trading standards officers and the police, they all said that there is a need for this legislation. So I say to my very good friend the Minister—I understand that he will be able to say very little positively today—will he make sure when Hansard is printed that his colleagues in other government departments are aware that there is a move and a mood that should not be ignored?

Photo of Lord Brougham and Vaux Lord Brougham and Vaux Conservative

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the committee so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison. I concur with everything that the noble Lord and my noble friend Lord Methuen said. I hope the Government can do something about it—even hand out the Bill in another place.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Government Whip 6:00 pm, 29th November 2007

My Lords, the Government are grateful to the Opposed Bill Committee, particularly its chairman, my noble friend Lord Harrison, for producing a special report concerning the Bournemouth Borough Council and Manchester City Council Private Bills. I understand that the House has relatively few occasions to debate in this way following a committee report. I am pleased, therefore, to have the opportunity to speak to the issues raised regarding both Bills.

I make it clear right from the start that as per normal the Government do not take any view on the Private Bills—they are a matter for Parliament to decide—so my remarks will be addressed to the powerful arguments that have been put forward from all sides of the House by experienced parliamentarians, some of whom originally came here from the other place while others have spent their distinguished careers in this House. I accept that the arguments have been put in a powerful and proper way by noble Lords. We have carefully considered the committee's recommendation, based on general street trading policy concerns, that a national review should be undertaken of street trading with a view to introducing legislation. It may not come as a complete surprise to the House that the Government cannot support that particular recommendation. I shall explain why we have taken that decision.

We recognise that a number of interested parties strongly believe that there should be national street trading legislation. We understand the concern about the proliferation of Private Bills to regulate street trading, and the legislation on pedlars is certainly very old. We go further: we accept that some local authorities may face particular difficulties with street trading, and that some of those difficulties may be caused by licensed pedlars. However, we do not believe that the case for national legislation across the 410 local authorities, boroughs and district councils in England and Wales has been made out. In our view, these are essentially local matters for local authorities to tackle as and when necessary. Local authorities, as they often argue, are best placed to understand and respond to many issues that affect the well-being of their communities and the quality of life of their citizens. They can deal with issues causing significant harm or concern independently of what other local authorities may do.

We should not forget that local authorities, including those that face particular difficulties with street trading or pedlars, are already able to tackle illegal street trading and to tackle street traders selling counterfeit or dangerous goods. By way of example only, enforcement officers might conduct an initial advisory discussion or chat with an unlicensed trader on their first interaction with him. The enforcement officer might counsel the trader to obtain the necessary licence to trade or pedlar's certificate and tell him the consequences of continuing to trade outside the law. A trader would immediately be subject to the attention of other enforcement partners such as the police or the Federation Against Copyright Theft if he was selling illegal, dangerous or counterfeit merchandise such as DVDs. In those circumstances, his goods may be seized, since seizure is within the scope of the legislation that applies there. Enforcement action against a persistent unlicensed trader who had already been subject to verbal or written warnings might ultimately result in a level 3 fine of up to £1,000. Where further powers are needed in particular locations, as we see by the Bills before us today, a local authority can make the case and obtain the requisite powers via a Private Bill.

Noble Lords should note that the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill received its Second Reading in this House yesterday. That legislation will, where appropriate, allow local authorities and other regulators to impose a range of administrative sanctions as an alternative to criminal prosecution when enforcing existing legislation, thereby reducing the need for local authorities to promote individual Private Bills.

We accept that there have been some complaints about this position from some local authorities, but the vast majority of local authorities have not complained. It may just be that the majority of authorities are able to enforce street-trading controls in their area efficiently and effectively. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, mentioned, in what I agree was powerful speech, the Rogers review. Peter Rogers is the chief executive of Westminster City Council and his review was published in March. The Government's decision not to carry out a full review of this area was influenced by the Rogers review of the national enforcement priorities for local authorities. The review used an evidence-based approach to prioritise more than 60 policy areas enforced by local regulatory services. It evaluated the risk that the policy area aimed to control, the effectiveness of actions taken by local authorities, and the views of citizens, businesses, local authorities, central government regulators, departments and Ministers. The review established six national enforcement priorities: air quality; alcohol and entertainment licensing; hygiene and food safety; improving health in the workplace; fair trading; and animal and public health. Whether we like it or not, the review concluded that street trading was not in this context a priority.

The review of Mr Rogers does not provide a basis for thinking that new national powers are needed for all local authorities. Naturally, to carry out the full and detailed investigation that would be needed if we were to accept the recommendation of this House's committee, we would need first a convincing case that all or at least the vast majority of local authorities face considerable enforcement difficulties in respect of street trading. In our view, therefore, it would not be appropriate for the Government now to undertake a review of an issue so recently subject to informed consideration.

A review by government would be needed before we could move in this field. I agree with my noble friend Lord Graham, who said that it would involve far more than just abolishing the Peddlers Act, which would not nearly be sufficient. To do a proper job, we would need to establish the views of all local authorities, consult other interested government departments—principally, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Home Office—and commission research into the views of businesses, street traders, the police and peddlers. Expenditure on research could be considerable, because street-trading stakeholders are a diverse community and unlikely to be easy to engage in discussion, particularly given their status as small, even micro-, businesses. All the stakeholder views that we have heard so far have been from one side.

Having considered the matter carefully, we think that a review resourced in this way would take about a year to produce conclusions. It would not be a small undertaking, and we doubt that it would be proportionate to the scale of the problems and the Government's priorities in this area.

I know that what I have said will be a disappointment to all noble Lords who have spoken and no doubt others who have listened to the debate or read its content in Hansard. However, there are 410 local authorities and only a few have so far seen a need for more powers. The new Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill to which I referred, which received its Second Reading yesterday, will allow local authorities a range of new powers that will enable enforcement to be carried out more quickly and easily. These include fixed penalty and stop notices.

Having given the House the bad news, I shall say two things that I have been invited by noble Lords to say. Of course, I shall ensure that the report of this important debate will be shown to the relevant Minister in my department and in other departments that have an interest in this matter. I also guarantee to talk to the Minister in my department about what attitude the Government should take to Dr Iddon's Bill when it comes before another place. Those are the comments that I make on behalf of the Government.

M

This is the very reason that Local Authorities are in the position thay are in!There are NO enforcement powers in the Local Government Misc Provisions Act.
My Borough Council can't afford the money for a private Bill - I don't beleive that there is a single Authority in the whole of the UK that has a couple of hundred thousand pounds spare with which to fund such legislation.
Peddlars and flypitchers are a problem in EVERY part of the UK.
Is the noble Lord saying that the Government hasn't received 410 letters of complaint (one from each Local Authority) and that if they do,then this problem will be acknowledged - and until then, it is deemed not to be a problem?
Dr Iddon has worked long and hard on his current bill and to have it dismissed by something as simple as someone standing up and saying "I object" without offering any argument is astonishing.
This Government has become the least democratic that this country has seen in a very long time.
If the Government is not prepared to legislate, then maybe they could start with repealing the Peddlars act and beefing up the Local Government act. . .
Just do SOMETHING - PLEASE.

Submitted by Martin Lee

Photo of Lord Eden of Winton Lord Eden of Winton Conservative

My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords will have listened with great care to what the Minister had to say. I hope that they will appreciate that it is not for me to comment in any way or detail on his observations. My concern is with the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, which is most urgently needed. The Bill was presented in January. Will the Minister do all that he can with his colleagues and authorities in the other place to ensure that it reaches the statute book very quickly and does not suffer any further delay?

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.