Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Canterbury City Council Bill — Third Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:38 pm on 3rd December 2012.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Viscount Eccles Viscount Eccles Conservative 3:38 pm, 3rd December 2012

My Lords, I, too, will say a great thank you to my noble friend Lady Knight. The witnesses who came before the committee were very varied. It was not particularly easy to give them the opportunity to say what they wanted to say. Some of the representatives and the pedlars were quite overawed by the Pugin experience. Of course, the evidence coming from the local authorities was very different. They were very well schooled, they knew what they were going to say, and they also knew what they were not going to say. Our chairman did a brilliant job of bringing out the evidence that came out during our inquiry. Certainly it was because of that that the members of the committee became so intrigued by and involved in what was going on in front of us.

I want to talk briefly about fixed penalties. I think that in principle fixed penalties are undesirable. They may be necessary but, when they are, they are a necessary evil. The problem is that many people acquire the power to impose fixed penalties. We try to offset that by training and I hope that that works, but I think your Lordships will all recognise that power corrupts. One can go on to absolute power but power does corrupt-there is absolutely no doubt about that. In some fixed penalty regimes, there are people who take advantage of the power that they have and they impose the regime in a very unfriendly way. The necessity for these regimes may arise from the courts being overloaded, but one has to ask why they are overloaded. The conclusion is that Parliament must have some responsibility for that.

In the exercise of these powers, which are in some of the Private Members' Bills that have become Acts, I think that my noble friend is entirely right that there is a culture of chasing pedlars about. I am not sure about removing them altogether-it is more fun to chase people who are still there-but they do it to make pedlars' lives more difficult. I am very grateful that in the Bill the Secretary of State has the power to look at the penalties and, if necessary, to restrict them.

As for the new regime which we have been told about, I hope that it is a liberal one-that is, liberal with a small "l". I have always thought, and continue to think, that one of the great advantages of democracy is an acceptance of difference and diversity, and not a wish to make everybody look and behave the same while living by a great welter of rules. I very much hope that the 4,000 pedlars are not reduced in number under the new regime but are able to trade and to live their lives in the way that they want.