Canterbury City Council Bill — Third Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:10 pm on 3rd December 2012.

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Photo of Lord Bilston Lord Bilston Labour 3:10 pm, 3rd December 2012

My Lords, I should first explain the three minor amendments to this Bill, which I shall move formally at a later point. All I can say about these amendments is that they are in the nature of tidying up. One of them alters an incorrect reference to the "Kent Valley Police Force", which appears to be something of a hybrid of Kent and Thames Valley, no doubt caused by the fact that Reading Borough Council is promoting one of the other Bills that we are discussing this afternoon.

I begin by paying tribute to those noble Lords who considered the Bill in Select Committee just over a year ago. The noble Baroness, Lady Knight of Collingtree, chaired the committee most ably, and was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, my noble friend Lord Glasman and the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger. All the members of the committee took a very strong interest in the Bills, and that is evidenced not only by their attendance here today but by their detailed special report which I, and I am sure other noble Lords, have read with interest.

Over three days the committee heard evidence from all four councils, and from pedlars who had presented petitions against the Bills. I am told that the committee was not only fair and even-handed with all the parties, as we would expect, but took a truly active and interested role in the proceedings, questioning the witnesses forensically in some detail. The committee decided to amend the Bills substantially, and highlighted a number of points in its special report, which I will try to summarise now.

First, there was a concern that the Bills were disproportionate, in the way that they restricted people's ability to exercise their rights legally to trade as pedlars. The committee was particularly concerned to protect the rights of those pedlars-genuine pedlars, as they have become known-who play by the rules, who move around when trading and who do not use oversized stores to display their wares. These mirrored concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, at Second Reading, and the committee addressed them by amending the Bills in the way that it did. The Bills now contain provisions that restrict the size of stall that can be used by pedlars, but they are otherwise able to continue to trade as they did before.

Secondly, the committee was concerned about the use of piecemeal, incremental modification of national law by private legislation. As I mentioned at Second Reading, pre-empting points that were made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, the Bill's promoters have real sympathy with his concern. They would have preferred not to promote these Bills to deal with these local issues, but the problems that they were encountering meant that they felt that they had to, particularly as there was, at the time that the Bills were deposited, no real appetite on the part of the Government to address the issues nationally. Things have changed on that score, and in a somewhat timely manner. Only last Friday, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills published a consultation paper on regulations to amend street trading legislation on a national basis. I will return to that topic a little later.

The committee also questioned the motivation of the councils in promoting the Bills. It accepted the councils' primary concern, about the need to ensure safe passage on the highway and to prevent obstruction, but was unconvinced by the council's evidence on the need to protect the urban environment. Again, the committee's views chimed with those of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, at Second Reading, when he expressed his views about some of our streets lacking character.

The committee was also concerned about what it saw as an attempt to protect licensed street traders from unfair competition from pedlars. The councils presented evidence to show that licensed street traders sometimes paid hundreds of pounds annually for their licences, compared to the £12.50 paid by pedlars. They also demonstrated that, in many cases, traders who were trading under the authority of a pedlar's certificate were often doing so from stalls that gave the impression of being permanent. I have some sympathy for those street traders and, in that respect, I am glad to say that, as I mentioned earlier, the committee amended the Bill in such a way that the use of larger stalls will be subject to control.

The next point that the committee dealt with was enforcement. All four Bills would have allowed the councils to seize items from unlawful street traders. The committee thought that this was a step too far and removed the seizure provisions. The councils were naturally disappointed, but were pleased that the committee was content leave in the fixed-penalty provisions.

Finally, the committee was concerned to ensure that the new restrictions on pedlars did not operate throughout the whole area of each council. It is fair to say that a happy medium was reached in that regard, with the committee deciding that the new restrictions on the size of pedlars' stalls should apply only in those parts of the authorities' areas which are designated by councils on the basis that the controls will be necessary to ensure road safety or prevent obstruction of the highway.

Having mentioned the committee and its decisions, I turn briefly to the Government's position. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has, while the Bills have been progressing through Parliament, been developing its own policy on street trading, particularly in the light of the European services directive which, since the introduction of the Bills, has been recognised as applying to the retail sale of goods and, therefore, to street trading. The department submitted the report to the Select Committee and appeared before it, expressing some concerns about the compatibility of the Bills, as they then were, with the directive. During proceedings, the councils drafted amendments which satisfied the department in that regard. As I have mentioned, the committee went somewhat further with its amendments, noting importantly that it was satisfied that the Bills before us now are compatible with the directive.

The Government have also recognised the need to deal on a national basis with the issue of compatibility. After a long wait, they published a consultation and a draft regulation just 10 days ago. It would not be appropriate to dwell on that consultation for too long today, but there is some similarity between what the Government are proposing on a national basis as regards the equipment that a pedlar may trade with and what the Bills now provide. The councils will need to examine the consultation document carefully and will no doubt provide detailed responses in February when the consultation closes. What seems clear, and will no doubt come as something of a relief to your Lordships, is that if the Government make their proposed regulations there are very likely to be no more local pedlars' Bills. We should all give three cheers for that; we have been waiting for this consultation for a long time.

I conclude by saying that, after their long gestation in Parliament, these four Bills are now in a form that I hope your Lordships will find acceptable. The councils will be able to exert much needed control over those who abuse the pedlars legislation and, as a result of the committee's amendments to the Bills, those who are now commonly referred to as genuine pedlars will be afforded protection. I therefore hope that your Lordships will allow the Bills to pass today and agree to the amendments that I shall propose to the Canterbury City Council Bill. I beg to move.