Select Committee on Committee on the London Local Authorities Bill Minutes of Evidence

Evidence before the Committee (Questions 360-379)


360.  "Pedlars have long been a feature of life in this country, but many people are unclear about precisely what the term means today. To same it is an anachronism with little relevance to modern life. A quick glance at the Pedlars Act - and, indeed, the subsequent legislation of 1881 - supports the view that the hon. Gentleman expressed. For example, references to 'caster of metals', 'mender of chairs' and a person who 'travels and trades' without any horse or other beast 'bearing or drawing burden' certainly prompt questions about the continued..." Is it okay?

361.  This is for my benefit, it does bolster my argument, the reply from the Under-Secretary of State.

362.  CHAIRMAN: It would help if you could paraphrase it or encapsulate it because MPS are very wordy and they can talk until the cows come home and I would not want you to copy that.

363.  JOHN ROBERTSON: Especially ministers.

364.  CHAIRMAN: Especially government ministers.

365.  MR THOMPSON: "The essential point is that pedlars are expected to move from place to place. Court judgments in recent have tended to confirm this. The effect of those judgments is that a pedlar must keep on the move, apart from when conducting a sale. This gives a useful pointer to the type of trader we are talking about.... Street trading is a more regulated and costly business than peddling because it is a more substantial operation. A street trader can establish a fixed pitch, which will inevitably involve the local authority in cleaning and other costs that we can fairly readily imagine....The difference is that he has the opportunity to sell a wide range of goods and to build up a regular turnover, customer recognition and, in some cases, customer loyalty. I say that, not in defence of pedlars, but merely to draw attention to the fact that there is a crucial distinction.

366.  "A pedlar who is genuinely operating as a pedlar has no fixed spot. He must keep on the move....Pedlars are therefore offering a rather different service from that offered by street traders. That is reflected in the 'lighter touch' regulation that they enjoy.

367.  "I understand how frustrating it must be for established traders to face competition from what are in effect opportunistic operators." They should not suffer from fly-by-night, unlicensed competition. "It is not entirely clear how far the problems we have heard about today are caused, or exacerbated, by unlicensed street traders as opposed to genuine pedlars.

368.  He goes on to address the fines and the costs involved, a fine of £1,000. "The fact remains, however, that in these circumstances remedies are available." The Bill has an amendment in it so that with the issuing of a fixed penalty, and in the City of Westminster now, goods can still be confiscated and destroyed if the courts so wish. "In addition, he may be causing an obstruction under the Highways Act 1980."

369.  "Gentleman," that is Dr Brand, "so I shall write to him and attempt to provide some sensible guidance as to how an authority should operate in those circumstances."

370.  "Many of those involved in unlicensed street trading are not pedlars and, what is more, make no claim to be so. I know from my own experience on Merseyside where there is a particular problem. I have had direct experience of it in the centre of Liverpool so I do not want to underplay it....However, a bona fide pedlar has to be able to carry his wares. Given the more limited range of goods that he can sell, I am not sure how far he can be said to damage the business of street traders." A legal pedlar, I might add. "It could be argued that the competition offered by pedlars is no more unfair than that between street traders and small shops - it is a matter of different considerations - or between small shops and out-of-town stores."

371.  The Under-Secretary of State answers most of the questions raised today and answers them in the same way as I have done. He finally says: "At this stage I have reached no firm conclusions about the merits of further action in relation to either pedlars or street traders. Although I am not yet persuaded that increasing controls on pedlars would greatly alleviate the difficulties experienced by street traders and local authorities, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I will look carefully at the issues in considering our future policy. In doing that, I shall reflect carefully on the points that he and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome have raised during the debate."

372.  The Minister there refers to "future policy". Recently, on 11 June 2002, in answer to an Early Day Motion from Brian Cotter, MP "To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations she has received regarding the (a) reform and (b) repeal of the Pedlars Act 1871; and what plans she has to amend legislation to street trading." Miss Melanie Johnson, who is the Minister for Competition, Consumers and Markets, replied "One representation has been received suggesting reform or repeal of the Pedlars Act 1871 from Chelmsford Borough Council. I have no plans to amend street trading legislation."

373.  CHAIRMAN: You are advancing the argument that as the Government does not feel it should change, why should the London boroughs in this Act bring about a change?

374.  MR THOMPSON: This is more a matter of fact that it is a private Act. It certainly appears to be Government policy that the law regarding street trading and pedlars should not be changed and, therefore, serious consideration should be given to that effect by the Committee as it is a general Act, the Pedlar's Certificate.

375.  CHAIRMAN: Okay. Mr Thompson, I do not want to cut you short or curtail what you are advancing but as far as I can see you have given a very valuable background into the whole way in which pedlars operate and you have expressed concerns along with other people about the counterfeit goods sold by some unscrupulous people in this area. You have advanced an argument, as far as I can see, that the police are not rigorous enough in the issue of Pedlar Certificates and that you have made moves to strengthen that throughout the country, for which you are to be congratulated. You have also raised criticism that you feel that the council enforcement of the Pedlars Act has not been rigorous enough and if properly enforced there would be no problem.

376.  MR THOMPSON: If I may just say on that point I feel because the Act is hoping to come into force, or the amendments, the councils have exacerbated the situation for themselves.

377.  CHAIRMAN: Finally, you have said that because the Government in total has said they do not propose to produce any further policy changes then you are saying why should this particular Bill that is in front of us today go down a different route.

378.  MR THOMPSON: Yes, sir.

379.  CHAIRMAN: I think that is very helpful, thank you very much.

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