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City of Westminster Bill [HL] — Second Reading

– in the House of Lords at 2:16 pm on 13th March 2009.

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Moved By Baroness Gardner of Parkes

That the Bill be read a second time.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative 2:23 pm, 13th March 2009

My Lords, the main purpose of this Private Bill is to deal with the regulation of street trading in the City of Westminster. Westminster is in a unique position among local authorities in this country, given its status as an international and national tourism, shopping and business centre. As a result, the streets of the city are thronged with shoppers; I do not need to tell your Lordships that certain parts of the West End, including Oxford Street, Regent Street, Soho and Covent Garden, have some of the highest pedestrian footfalls in the country. Because of that, the streets of the city are a very attractive place for street traders to be. That in turn presents the city council with a range of issues that other local authorities may not have. That is why in the 1990s the city council promoted its own Private Bill to deal with street trading. That Bill became the City of Westminster Act 1999. The Act has generally worked well, but a number of deficiencies have been highlighted over the course of the past 10 years. The council believes that a case for revising the Act has been made. Therefore, last year the council chose to promote this Bill which, if enacted, would repeal the 1999 Act and re-enact it with some important changes.

Street trading in Westminster has of course been going on for hundreds of years. The city council recognises that it can add to the vibrancy and colour of the street scene and can provide a convenient shopping alternative, but it needs to be controlled. Under the existing legislation and the Bill, the council is entitled to designate areas where licensed street trading can take place. Street trading outside such areas is an offence. A licence is needed to trade in designated areas. The council is able to control the trading by the imposition of conditions, and it is able to specify what type of goods can be sold at any street trading pitch. There are a number of reasons for the need to control street trading; and at the foremost of the council's mind will be the safety and convenience of pedestrians.

The council has, thanks to the 1999 Act and earlier London Acts, had a good deal of success in controlling unlicensed street trading that was becoming a major problem in Westminster. In the late 1980s and the 1990s, the council reached the view that the relatively small fines the magistrates were handing out for unlicensed street trading were becoming nothing more than an inconvenient business expense for illegal street traders; that is if they could be identified and prosecuted at all.

Therefore, one of the additional strings that the council added to its bow was the power to seize items used for illegal street trading. This power has been key to reducing particularly the amount of trading by mobile hot-dog vendors in the West End. An illustration of how effective Westminster is at street trading enforcement can be seen a stone's throw from this place. The boundary between Westminster and Lambeth runs across the centre of Westminster Bridge. If one crosses the bridge, one will often find unlawful street traders trading tatty tourist merchandise right up to the boundary of the Lambeth side, safe in the knowledge that the Westminster's enforcement officers cannot touch them. A number of your Lordships have commented to me on how difficult it is to even to walk across Westminster Bridge. After you hit the halfway mark, with all the tourists and other people, and this proliferation of street traders, it is a real problem.

The Bill alters—the council would say improves—the 1999 Act in a number of ways, of which these are examples. It provides more flexibility to the council in terms of how it designates licensable areas within which street trading can be licensed; it gives the council more flexibility in varying existing street trading licences; it provides the councils with more discretion in deciding whether to allow an application for a licence; and it broadens the range of conditions that can be imposed on a licence; it sets out new general grounds on which the council can refuse to grant a street trading licence, including the safety or convenience of people using the street, the prevention of crime or disorder, the amenity of the area, and the suitability of the applicant.

I stop to focus on amenity for a second, as this is a novel ingredient in street trading legislation. Under the Bill, not only would it be a factor for the council to consider when dealing with an application for a licence, but also when deciding whether to designate an area as a place in which licences should be capable of being granted at all. A significant proportion of the city falls within statutorily designated conservation areas. There are also significant numbers of listed buildings in the city. In turn, it follows that planning controls over development, particularly new buildings, are generally more stringent than in other areas. This is not currently reflected in the control of street trading. While the council does have some control over the appearance of stores and the goods on display, the control is limited and no specific reference is made in the existing legislation to amenity. Those at the council responsible for planning are particularly keen to ensure that street trading does not take place in areas where it would have a deleterious effect on the setting of valuable streetscapes.

Having emphasised the amenity aspect, I stress that other factors are also of great importance in deciding whether to designate a place as a licensable area, or grant a licence—perhaps none more so than the safety and convenience of other highway users. The Bill makes new and special provision about markets in the city. There are no charter markets in the city, although there are a few street markets, consisting of a conglomeration of a number of traders holding individual street-trading licences. The council is keen to ensure the preservation and vitality of the markets in the city. The Bill is intended to achieve this by giving the councils greater controls, particularly over the location of traders within a particular market area.

New powers to suspend licences immediately would be introduced in cases where the licence holder has used dangerous, abusive or violent behaviour. Limited new powers are given to enable licensed street trading to be carried out by a company rather than an individual. By the same token, the Bill also limits the existing right of a licence holder to nominate a family member or successor to succeed him or her as a holder of the licence. This right of succession, which currently applies only to street traders in London, will be allowed for one more generation in Westminster.

I have already mentioned seizure and hot-dog trolleys. The Bill would enhance the council's powers in relation to seizure of hot-dog trolleys and other food receptacles, enabling it to dispose of them more efficiently. The council seizes enormous numbers of these trolleys in the West End under its existing powers. The people from whom they are seized rarely, if ever, claim them back. That means that the council wastes a great deal of money storing them unnecessarily and obtaining a court order before disposing of them. The Bill would allow disposal in cases where the item is seized and notice given to the person in charge, informing him of his right to require the council to obtain a disposal order, and that right is not exercised. The council's experience is that offenders are reluctant to identify themselves, because they know that they will be successfully prosecuted, so it is likely that notices will not be returned and the trolleys can be disposed of more readily, saving the council tax payers of the city considerable amounts of money.

It must be stressed that, with all the new powers, there are checks and balances in the Bill. The schedules to the Bill set out in detail the processes, including consultation, and the ability for those affected to make representations that the council must go through when making decisions that are likely to affect street traders.

The Bill contains provision for appeals against decisions of the council, including decisions to refuse to grant a licence or to revoke a licence. The Bill would ensure that trading could continue in appropriate cases until appeals are disposed of. There are provisions to enable compensation to be paid in cases where items are seized unlawfully by the council. Although the Bill has engendered opposition from a representative street traders' organisation, which I will come to in a minute, I stress that there is plenty in the Bill to ensure the protection of existing street traders and their licences.

Before moving on to the petitions, I should mention the one clause that is not concerned with street trading; namely, Clause 52, which deals with touting. Similar provisions exist in private legislation elsewhere in the country, to prohibit touting for certain types of leisure-related businesses on the street. In some ways, it is rather odd that the council does not have similar powers, given the huge number of attractions, particularly in the West End. I stress that the clause does not deal with ticket touting. In fact, the sale of tickets in the street is actually street trading, and is regulated by the other clauses in the Bill.

I now turn to the three petitions that have been deposited against the Bill. As a general point, if your Lordships give it a Second Reading today, it will of course be for the Select Committee to which the Bill is referred to investigate the cases of the petitioners and the council with the customary fine-toothed comb, but it behoves me to say a few words about each petition.

First, a petition has been lodged by a number of individuals who hold pedlars' certificates. Under the 1999 Act, holders of pedlars' certificates are exempt from the street-trading licensing regime if they are carrying out their trading by means of house-to-house visits. The Bill does not change this position, and for that reason the council is challenging the locus standi of the petitioners.

Perhaps at this point it would be appropriate to raise the issue of human rights. The Minister for Trade, Investment and Consumer Affairs, Gareth Thomas, has, in accordance with the Standing Orders of this House, reported on compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights. He says that, save in respect of the restriction on pedlars, he believes that the promoters have undertaken a full assessment of the compatibility of the Bill's proposals with the convention, and he sees no need to dispute their conclusions. He says that he has not seen the evidence that the promoters rely on to justify restrictions as being in the general interest. I have no doubt that the promoters will produce that evidence in Committee.

The second petition is from Associated Newspapers, the publishers of the Evening Standard. They have detailed concerns about the news vendor provisions, which are altered under the Bill. Under the 1999 Act, news vendors have an exemption from the street trading regime if certain conditions are met. The Bill alters some of those conditions, particularly as regards the type of booth which can be used, and also gives the council power to designate areas—for example, where inconvenience or danger may be caused to other road users—where the exemption should not apply. London Transport is concerned that people entering major Underground stations may be hampered by the presence of an unsuitably sized or positioned paper-seller's booth. The council will meet with the petitioners soon to discuss their concerns further and I hope that an amicable solution will be achieved.

Finally, the National Market Traders Federation has petitioned. Obviously, the council takes this petition seriously as the federation represents a good number of the existing licensed street traders in the city. The promoters met the federation on more than one occasion in the lead-up to the Bill, consulted it and, having heard its concerns, made changes to the draft Bill before it was deposited. Clearly, there is not yet a meeting of minds because the federation's petition extends to 86 paragraphs, all of which are being carefully studied by the council. Over the coming weeks in the lead-up to the Select Committee hearing, there will be no doubt be discussions between the parties in an attempt to reach an amicable solution. The council would, ideally, want to have the support of the traders for its proposals, if at all possible.

The council does not wish to leave your Lordships with the impression that the Bill is all about strengthening the council's controls against the interests of street traders. On the contrary, the council works with them on many fronts. For example, it works with them to find alternative sites when they have concerns about their existing location, or when building works affect them. A study has been undertaken of street trading practices in Westminster and a number of recommendations have been made. The council will be working closely with the traders to pilot some of the recommendations.

I hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading and allow this well intentioned measure to pass today so that it can be scrutinised fully in Select Committee, where the evidence of witnesses both for and against the Bill will no doubt be given careful attention. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Labour 2:40 pm, 13th March 2009

My Lords, given my knowledge of the procedures of this House, I realise that the Bill will be very closely scrutinised in the appropriate Committee. However, this Second Reading provides us with an opportunity to canter over the course. I declare interests: some years ago I was the parliamentary consultant to the National Market Traders Federation. Like other joint presidents of London Councils, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, I am interested in London affairs. Besides that, of course, I represented Edmonton, which has a fine market, and nearby Enfield has a charter market. Modestly, I say simply that I have an interest in this Bill. The size of the Bill is 50 pages and, frankly and sincerely, it is full of good stuff; it is what a local council ought to be doing to ensure a marriage of the interests it seeks to serve.

The electorate put the council in place, but my caveat is that, although the noble Baroness was fair to point out the range of matters included, she referred to the National Market Traders Federation. When I saw the Bill I asked the federation, "Let me have a general note". The note I received stated:

"It is feared that the trade and interests that the NMTF represents and the property rights and interest of its members would be injuriously affected by the provisions of the bill. There are concerns over almost all the aspects of the bill but in particular the provisions relating to rescission and variation of designating resolutions and designating alternative sites".

Undoubtedly, the members of the committee will have their hands full when trying to reconcile these issues.

My main point, which I hope bears fruit with Westminster City Council, is that we live in a unique age at a unique stage of development. I have no objection to a council periodically, especially this council—which as the noble Baroness pointed out has within its environment a number of fine and heavily trafficated areas—protecting major matters of interest. However, it should be very careful regarding people's livelihoods and, in fact, their lives. Throughout the country many people are losing their jobs and livelihoods, and no market trader has a prescriptive right to remain on the same spot as where his father or grandfather stood for many years to continue the same trade in the same circumstances. However, the council should think twice before taking any action that would deprive an existing market trader of his opportunity to continue.

I looked at the Bill quickly and at the clause that deals with succession. One of the vexed issues that I discovered during my time was passing on the licence from a father or mother to a son. The licence is very precious—it is their licence to live, as well as to trade. A lot of stuff in the Bill will come back to us.

Reference was made to the activities of pedlars, who need to be more strictly controlled here and elsewhere than they have been. There have been attempts to bring up to date the Pedlars Act, but some authorities have been forced to take their own action. In my view, this is an issue of national interest.

I was delighted when I saw that on Thursday 26 March, the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, has a Question,

"to ask Her Majesty's Government what advice they are giving to local authorities to promote the development of markets as an alternative to high street shopping".

I see markets not as an alternative to high-street shopping, but as part of the shopping scene. There ought to be a strategy locally, especially where they exist, to make sure that markets, which have been with us for hundreds if not thousands of years, are not driven underground. There is a fear among members of the National Market Traders Federation about the way in which the supermarkets and the new forms of trading are being advanced. I happen to know that, because I am on Edmonton Green market quite regularly. It is a changing scene, with different traders and different composition on the green. There is a massive supermarket there, and I say good luck to it, because competition is the spice of life.

The only word that I shall say to Westminster Council and its advisers in the Committee is that they should bear in mind that this is not just a question of a piece of legislation. I was the leader of a London council many years ago. One needs to have regard to the fact that the vibrancy of a community is very often enhanced by the ability of its market to survive and trade. I wish the Bill well in its progress into Committee. In Committee, the National Market Traders Federation will have an opportunity to put its points across, and I wish it well.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 2:46 pm, 13th March 2009

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for advancing the Bill, and I am doubly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, for what he has just said. I agree with almost everything he said about sending a message that the House feels that the Bill is important. Although in essence it deals with a matter that may be seen as local to Westminster, it actually deals with something that is part of the heart of our experience of London and therefore, one way or another, is part of the life of tens of millions of people in this country when they visit London or come to Westminster from the other parts of London in which they live.

It seems to me enormously important that markets should be allowed to flourish, particularly at times like these, and that they should be expanded. We have seen over the past 20 or 30 years the process of high streets becoming more and more boring, with just another edition of large chains, with every high street identical to every other. The difficulties of setting up a small shop, with the demands that landlords have been making and the requirements for rates and other regulations, have made it very difficult and often financially fatal for people to try to start small businesses in that way. Providing people with an opportunity to start trades off a barrow, as I think the original Sainsbury did, and then to grow from there, seems to me to be absolutely the right thing to be doing at this time. It is the right thing to do for the health of our high streets and for all our enjoyment and experience of shopping in the streets of London and elsewhere.

It is a very important Bill and I hope that the Committee on the Bill will be brave in its defence of our enjoyment of London. There are times when Westminster City Council seems intent on prettifying and cleaning up London, rather than leaving it enjoyable, messy in corners, rumbustious, vital and alive. That is something to which we should feel able to raise objection.

I have particular concerns about some aspects of this Bill, which gives very broad powers to the council, often with no clear reason. Doubts have been raised by the National Market Traders Federation and others about what these powers are required for, what the intention of the council is and whether it wants to clear away these inconvenient stalls into covered markets in recently redundant Woolworth premises or other properties. The council needs to justify why it wants powers of the breadth that it is applying for.

There also seems to be in the Bill a lack of rights of appeal against council decisions. I find it immensely disturbing that a Conservative council should seek to go down that road. It seems to me fundamental that, where a Bill is capable of taking away people's livelihoods, there should be a proper right of appeal, but the legislation does not seem to provide for compensation when someone's livelihood is taken away. That is a fundamental part of the balance between the council and the market traders. If the council suffers nothing when it does damage to a market trader, it has no disincentive to act in that way. It can sweep away markets without any fear that it will suffer a result and therefore does not have an incentive to balance the arguments. If it has to pay proper compensation for doing something capriciously or out of turn, or for no good or compelling reason, it will think carefully before it does and will balance the arguments. At any rate, compensation is something that, again, should be in this sort of legislation.

The Bill removes the familic right of succession, which I think is a terrible thing to do. A lot of these pitches have run in families for a long time. It is true that markets should be open to new entrants but perhaps the council should accommodate that by increasing the number of pitches. If there is a demand for people to trade in that way and a demand from the users of the City of Westminster to buy in that way, perhaps the council should look at opening additional pitches. It should not deprive families of a right and an interest that they have had for generations. The noble Lord's party legislated—I suspect against the opposition of these Benches—to give that right to farm tenants, although I do not think that anyone on these Benches would take that away from them. I very much hope that this Government will set their mind against depriving market traders of similar intergenerational interest and will recognise that it is part of our national life.

The Bill also seeks to control the types of goods sold. What makes Westminster the best judge of what kind of goods should be sold in a market or of how many stalls in a market should sell particular types of goods? It does not particularly control that on a high street; it certainly does not tell Tesco what it should sell. On what basis does the council want those powers? I can understand that there might be some such control by some landlords exercising this power in a mall, but the level of control sought by the council seems to be excessive.

Most of all, I am surprised that the council should have brought this Bill before us with such a level of disagreement from the National Market Traders Federation. I do not see why that body, which cannot be well funded—certainly not as well funded as the City of Westminster—should have to argue this out in a public forum rather than being properly consulted and properly engaged in the preparation of the Bill. It is not an inimical organisation; it is quite capable of reaching a proper compromise. The Bill should have reached us with only a few matters outstanding and not the wholesale objection raised by the National Market Traders Federation.

Perhaps I should say something nice about Westminster. I am quite happy with its provision for crunching hot-dog trolleys. They seem to be a nuisance but, again, perhaps I may express my disappointment: these trolleys exist because people want access to refreshment on the street. There are many other cities in Europe where it is easy to find refreshment on the street of great variety and great quality. Westminster is saying, "No, you can't have anything", and is clamping down on what is available. I agree that what is available is pretty disgusting, but why not, instead, let a contract to Heston Blumenthal or someone similar? If he can take on Little Chef, surely he would take on hot-dog trolleys. Westminster should get some decent catering out there on the streets in the way that people who use the area want. As I said, Westminster as a city should not be free of smells; it should be full of wonderful smells, and I hope that we would encourage Westminster to take a positive, constructive and inventive attitude towards improving the city, rather than thinking of it as something on the front of the proverbial chocolate box and not to be disturbed by human activity.

I hope that the Committee will take a gentle attitude towards the petition by the pedlars. These days, when people who are not well organised or well represented approach this House asking to be heard, we should treat that approach as generously as possible and not try to default them on a technicality. If their arguments do not apply, we can disregard them but we should hear them.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government 2:55 pm, 13th March 2009

My Lords, I follow what the previous two speakers said, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, in declaring an interest as a joint president of London Councils.

We hear that Westminster is a very particular borough. It occurs to me that it may not be quite as particular as it used to be. London is growing and not just on the fringes; the characteristics of the centre are now more widely spread. Other boroughs suffer the stresses and have the interests that, in recent history, were more confined to Westminster: parts of Kensington and Chelsea, the southern part of Islington now and Hackney, over longer history, and, of course, the City of London where there must have been issues relating to market traders and pedlars. I, for one, am very happy to see the shopping magnets dispersed around London and the shopping opportunities more widely spread. The same issue applies to commercial areas; we are used to thinking of the City of London and the City of Westminster as the major commercial areas. That is relevant to news vendors. It is not the same now. You only have to look at the number of people pouring out of London Bridge station and not crossing London Bridge to realise that the south bank of London is a very vibrant and important commercial area.

Like other speakers, I view markets as complementary to other types of retail. I do not think this is the right time to make market trading harder, either for the public or for the traders, unless it is to achieve an investment, not to prettify, but to make more comfortable and update some of the facilities available to those who work in markets and who shop in them. One has only to think of experiences on mainland Europe, where markets fulfil a different and more important role in people's lives than they do here. It should not be a matter of personal aesthetics, such as look or smell, but I agree that the smell of hot dogs is pretty revolting. That does not apply to all food. Last summer, I was in Edinburgh when there was a French—perhaps that word should be in inverted commas—market and the smells from it were irresistible. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, did not quite say that he was talking about the control of goods, but markets, like other things, respond to the market.

The news vendors' situation is changing because of free papers. Five years ago, they were not accosted by people trying to get rid of their supply of papers. This gives rise to issues of litter, recycling facilities and so on.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made a very important point about pedlars. We are about to deal on Report with the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill, which has clauses about petitions. The point has been made, quite rightly, by the Government and very much by the Opposition that a petition to a local authority can take pretty much any form. It does not have to be formal. This House, this Parliament, should be as open to representations as local authorities are and should not require them to be made in a particular form in order for them to be considered seriously.

The Opposed Bill Committee will be the right place for the detail of the Bill to be considered. One is accustomed at the end of a Second Reading debate on a Bill such as this to wish the Bill a fair wind. I have some reservations on this occasion, and I hope that we see the right result at the end of the proceedings.

Photo of Lord de Mauley Lord de Mauley Shadow Minister, Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Shadow Minister, Children, Schools and Families, Shadow Minister, Innovation, Universities and Skills 3:01 pm, 13th March 2009

My Lords, we are becoming used to these borough and city council Bills, having seen several of them in the past few years, including the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill and the Manchester City Council Bill. We support the right of councils to bring forward measures to regulate street trading. Nevertheless, the Select Committee on the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill and the Manchester City Council Bill expressed concern about,

"the use of piecemeal private legislation to remedy perceived problems in national legislation".

It recommended that,

"the Government should undertake an urgent review of the law on trading in the streets and selling from door to door with a view to producing national legislation which reflects current conditions".

I quite understand that I cannot necessarily expect the Minister to answer questions today on this Private Bill, but it would be helpful to know whether the Government have given any more thought to the Select Committee's recommendations on those earlier Bills, and whether any action has been taken in this regard.

The Select Committee also proposed that the promoters of those Bills undertake to give particular attention to the training of the officers charged with the enforcement of the legislation so that genuine pedlars operating under it are not prevented from carrying on their trade. Once again, it would be helpful if the Minister could tell us what progress has been made in that area.

As I have said, we support the right of local councils to amend street trading controls as appropriate. At the same time, however, we are concerned that street traders and pedlars—as the noble Lord, Lord Graham, has said, they are two rather different groups, and it would be wrong to confuse them—who operate lawfully and are appreciated and valued by members of their communities and the public generally should not be unduly restricted, stigmatised or criminalised. During the debate in another place on the Manchester City Council Bill, my honourable friend Mr Christopher Chope argued that,

"the Bills seek to penalise the lawful pedlar and take away the rights that he has had since legislation was introduced in 1871".—[Hansard, Commons, 29/10/08; col. 960.]

The Explanatory Note to the City of Westminster Bill says that Clause 19 gives,

"general discretionary grounds for refusal of an application for a licence".

These include,

"the convenience or safety of people using the street ... the applicant's suitability to hold a licence", and,

"the diversity of items on sale and services provided by street traders and other retailers in the area".

These provisions present the flexibility which my noble friend Lady Gardner has helpfully described. We support her desire to reduce illegal street trading, particularly if it could be construed as a public nuisance or even a public danger. We are, however, concerned to ensure that lawful traders and pedlars are protected, so while I, like other noble Lords, look forward to seeing the results of the Select Committee's deliberations, I wonder whether in the mean time my noble friend could reassure your Lordships about the safeguards in the Bill to ensure that these lawful activities are protected.

I conclude by thank my noble friend for putting this Bill forward and for her eloquent use of words.

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip 3:05 pm, 13th March 2009

My Lords, we recognise that the City of Westminster is a local authority which holds a unique place not only in the life of the capital, but in the life of the nation. The noble Baroness will perhaps agree with that view, given her distinguished service as a former member of the council and, indeed, as lady mayoress. The contributions from other speakers in the debate have also added to our appreciation of the contents of the Bill. The Government aim to continually develop our wider thinking on how best to regulate the areas of street trading and pedlary in Great Britain. I should of course make it clear right from the start that the Government, as per normal, do not take any view on the content of private Bills; they are a matter for Parliament to decide.

I will address my remarks to the wider considerations raised by Westminster's Bill and the extent to which they reflect our thinking about street trading today. I noted in the contributions of both my noble friend Lord Graham and the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, from the Official Opposition's Front Bench, the question of why local and not national action is taken. The truth is that the scale of the problem that these private Acts attempt to address remains unclear nationally. Under 5 per cent of local authorities have sought to introduce legislation in this area, but the Government have conducted and recently published research into street trading and pedlary in the UK in order better to establish the evidence for whether national action is required. The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform will be consulting widely over the summer on the findings of that research and on possible regulatory options—for example, an updating of the Pedlars Act 1871, and the need for a flexible regime of enforcement in respect of the current regime under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982.

In that context, I should like first to make reference to the research project begun on the Government's behalf by Durham University last June and concluded last November. That project gathered the views of hundreds of stakeholders from local authority, police, town centre management and pedlary backgrounds, all with views to offer on the current legislative position. More information on the project's outcomes is available in the consumers' area of BERR's website, and copies of the research are available in the Library. Further contact with individuals and organisations with a contribution to make to that dialogue is vital, and I shall say more about how we will take this forward shortly.

As I indicated a moment ago, where Westminster leads, other authorities follow, hence the 1999 Act; that is certainly the case where street-trading legislation is concerned. The 1999 Act was to some extent the template followed by a number of local authorities seeking to augment their powers via private Bills on street trading in recent years. Reference has been made to Bournemouth, but Canterbury, Leeds, Manchester City, Nottingham and Reading are awaiting their day in court, as one might say, before the Committee in the other place. Differing views about these Bills were aired during the debates in the other place about nine months ago. I commend the Hansard record of 12 June to those noble Lords interested in learning more about the objections to and support for what might be called the bigger picture. We have heard that this Bill has attracted petitions against it from interested parties. A group representing pedlar interests has commented on the perpetuation of the restriction on certified pedlars' activities. We heard also that concerns have been expressed by the National Market Traders Federation about adjustments to the licensing and appeals processes, as well as by Associated Newspapers Ltd, commenting on new powers in respect of the location of news vendors.

In furtherance of the objectives, noble Lords may also be interested to know that officials from BERR will be involving those authorities who have proposed new legislation, some six or seven of them, in further discussions about their Bills later this month, and of course Westminster will have a seat at the table. That ongoing dialogue will continue into the summer as future changes which may affect street trading and pedlary legislation are consulted upon nationally in the light of the aforementioned research. I should emphasise to the House that effective consultation is particularly important to pedlars, as our research reveals that they are apprehensive about their relationship with some local authorities. They may lack a dedicated organisation to make their case, but none the less they have made their voices heard clearly—as they should be—through BERR's research, and will be able to do so in the forthcoming consultation dialogue. It is against this background of possible longer term change to national legislation that the City of Westminster has proposed a Bill to address the particular problems it is experiencing now. Some of these problems may remind other authorities of their situation, so the points I make may have a wider audience than just those in the Chamber today. I also imagine close attention may be paid to developments concerning this Bill and the others currently in the other place via the parliamentary website.

As I have said, the Government do not have a view on the Bill. However, we are aware of the issues it raises. Perhaps I should say—in a sense, this is the dog that does not bark—that there are protections in existing legislation that go towards meeting the problems that crop up in the Bill and elsewhere. Therefore, in order to respond, particularly to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, who generously offered me the opportunity to write to him in detail, I will take up that invitation so that I do not detain the House too long.

That concludes my response, except to say that I note there are other technical points concerning the Bill that officials in departments other than BERR have raised. Those points, and others, may receive consideration in the Select Committee. I thank the noble Baroness again for her introduction of the Bill. She made it possible for me to present to the House a brief overview of the wider points involved in any consideration of street trading legislation and the Government's immediate plans in respect of street trading activity. I suspect that many local authorities, pedlars and others who have an interest in this policy area will follow developments with interest. I confirm that I will write to the Minister in BERR responsible for this matter and his opposite numbers in other departments to draw their attention to the Hansard record of this debate, which will be helpful to them.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative 3:10 pm, 13th March 2009

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. Many points have been raised that are of great interest. The Select Committee will certainly want to go into them very thoroughly. Pedlars were mentioned by all noble Lords, except the Minister, and even he might have mentioned them, but not in the same detail. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, is right that a licence is a licence to live. I thought that was a very important point. However, there is no thought of attempting to take away anyone's livelihood. I slightly regret the loss of the hereditary system—I was disappointed when we lost the hereditary system here—but one has to appreciate that there is an equality issue, and it may be something that the council does not control and is obliged by other legislation to take away that right. If the Select Committee could come up with some way whereby the council could keep that as a continuing right, I would be only too pleased because I think it is a pity.

As the noble Lord, Lord Graham, and other noble Lords said, markets are a very important part of the shopping scene. The scene is changing in markets. When I first came to London, I lived very close to Portobello Market and went every week for all my fruit and vegetables. If you go to Portobello Market now, you are lucky to find more than one or two fruit and vegetables stalls. The place has become an antique market. My local market in Bicester and other markets in London are becoming all clothes. That is a shame because we are all looking for the farmers' markets that are starting up. They are a new thing, and perhaps they are replacing the food. Food purchases have always been a big thing in markets and are very important.

My noble friend Lord Lucas queried the need for councils to control what is sold in markets. There is a need, partly because of the point I have just made, but also because powers to control what is sold by market traders exist. There is nothing new in the Bill about that. My noble friend Lord Lucas always makes interesting points on Private Bills as on most things. I liked what he said about liking London messy and rumbustious, but a lot of other people do not want it to be too messy. A lot of foreign tourists say to me that London is dirty. That is a great shame. We need a certain degree of control. I raised the issue of chestnut vendors with the people writing the Bill because, over the years, it has always been a great thing that in London you had the smell of the roasting chestnuts in season. I am told that there is no likelihood of that vanishing, so I was pleased by that.

My noble friend Lord Lucas seemed to think that the council wants to move to covered markets. Covered markets are totally different from street markets. There is no suggestion whatever of that happening. Westminster Council values its street markets; it does not have many of them, but it values them, and people who live near them and even people who live some distance away and still make a point of visiting them value them. There is no suggestion of moving people out of ordinary markets. Someone mentioned changing people's pitches. That might be a positive rather than a negative thing, because, on days when not all stalls are there, a market can become very spread out. Under the flexibility in the Bill, the council could arrange that on days when only half the stalls are there, they bunch up together. That is easier and provides more atmosphere. If you have to walk a long way, you are not likely to walk to the isolated stall in the distance because there is no one in between.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, mentioned other boroughs. It is true that London is changing and that things are spreading out, but the Bill might prove such a success that other boroughs may propose similar Bills. It may be proved that there is a need for a variety, but we must wait to see how it works. The point that I keep making is that very little in the Bill is a change from the 1999 Act, so most of it is in operation now and has been shown to work well. Consultation must and will continue.

I must comment on pedlars, because they have been mentioned by almost everyone. One problem is that to get a pedlar's licence, all you have to do is go to your local constabulary and pay just under £13. That is widely different in cost from a street trader's licence. Many pedlars then attempt to operate as street traders, which is quite unfair to street traders. They are different categories. The Pedlars Act goes back a great way in history, but the problem in Westminster has been that there has been no enforcement to differentiate and stop the illegal street traders who claim to be pedlars.

The typical question is: how long do you have to be in a location before you are classified as a trader? The answer is that if you are there for up to 20 minutes, you are still a pedlar, but if you stay there after 20 minutes, you are a trader. Should enforcement officers have to stand and watch someone for 20 minutes and then move him on? The Bill makes no change whatever to the position of pedlars, but enforcement might be more possible.

There are many other points to be considered. Let me check whether there is anything desperately important that I have not commented on. I must comment on the remarks of my noble friend Lord De Mauley. The lawful activities of traders will be protected. That is the aim of the Bill. First, that is nothing to do with pedlars; secondly, the other Bills that he mentioned can be clearly distinguished from this one.

A point that no one has mentioned is that the Bill would allow the council to determine how many tables and chairs can be set out on the footpath. I remember a time when that was not allowed in London at all. I think that it adds greatly to the street scene that people can. At the moment, you can have permission to put tables and chairs out there for only six months. Under the Bill, you could have that permission for up to three years before you have to apply to renew it. It would be much easier for people running those restaurants to know that they have that degree of continuity.

So there are good things in the Bill. It is a detailed Bill; there is an awful lot in it. I could go on and on, but I will not, because I know that everyone wants to be getting home. I thank everyone who has taken part today. Every word said today will, I am sure, be carefully considered by the Select Committee, and I ask noble Lords to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Select Committee.

House adjourned at 3.20 pm.


On Thursday 12 March, Lord Haworth should have been recorded as voting Not-Content in Division 1, in place of Lord Howarth of Newport. On Thursday 5 March, Lord Parekh should have been recorded as voting Not-Content in Division 1, in place of Lord Pannick.