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21 Feb 2007 : Column 283

Pedlars (Street Trading Regulation)

1.42 pm

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): I beg to move,

The current provisions on street trading, which is different from peddling, can be found in schedule 4 and section 2 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. They allow local authorities to designate streets for the purpose of street trading; however, the regulation of pedlars is exempted from those provisions. The main legislation on the regulation of pedlars is the Pedlars Act 1871. In my opinion, 19th-century legislation can no longer cope with changes in the way that goods are marketed and sold today. Our consumers and business people deserve up-to-date legislation that can ensure their protection from rogue traders.

The 1871 Act defines a pedlar as

The Act specifically does not include the now common practice of a pedlar standing in one place for an extended period to sell their goods or services. Over the last decade, local authorities have reported increasing problems with pedlars. Registered pedlars are now selling goods in our town and city centres from bags, trolleys or stalls, often remaining in fixed positions for long periods—a practice not covered by the Act. An increasing number of persons who are neither registered as pedlars nor licensed as street traders are behaving similarly.

Under the provisions of the 1871 Act, the police are responsible for issuing pedlars’ certificates. Once issued, they allow pedlars to operate all over the country without the need to re-register. Although local authorities have prosecuted for breaches of the pedlar regulations, it is clear that the current enforcement provisions are ineffective.

A survey undertaken jointly in 2005 by the National Association of British Market Authorities, the National Market Traders Federation and the Association of Town Centre Management revealed widespread abuses of pedlars’ certificates across the land. The current system allows unlawful traders, under the guise of possessing a pedlar’s certificate, to sell goods virtually unregulated on the street. Evidence suggests that some pedlars view the fines imposed by the courts as merely a business expense. Their activities are damaging local markets and the surrounding small businesses, which are subject to greater regulation and overheads such as business rates and rents.

The situation in our towns and cities is becoming so bad that a number of local authorities have provided themselves with local legislation to ameliorate the problem. That is both time-consuming and extremely costly. Newcastle upon Tyne’s recent course of legislative action cost it almost £200,000. So far, Newcastle upon Tyne, Maidstone, Leicester and Liverpool have taken out
21 Feb 2007 : Column 284
local legislation, and in the current parliamentary Session, Manchester, Birmingham, Derby, Sheffield, Rotherham, Bradford and Bournemouth are promoting their own local legislation. Such cross-country activity demonstrates the widespread scale of the problem, but it is creating a patchwork of legislation.

Where local legislation has been pursued, benefits to the local economy and community have quickly been seen. For example, enforcement of local legislation in Newcastle upon Tyne has resulted in the removal of pedlars and unlawful street traders from the city centre. That, in turn, has improved the environment for legitimate street traders. The local legislation implemented in some parts of the country has taken as a model the provisions in the London Local Authorities Act 2004. My Bill will allow local authorities outside London to benefit from the powers that authorities in London can already exercise. Its provisions will allow the immediate seizure of goods, which, of course, means the swift cessation of trading. However, my Bill preserves the right of pedlars to operate, as they were originally intended to, outside town and city centres. Although there is compelling evidence for the success of local authority initiatives, there is widespread concern that if a national approach is not taken, pedlars and unlawful traders will simply move from one town centre to another. A nationwide approach is needed to ensure a cohesive and co-ordinated approach to peddling.

My Bill is supported in Parliament by the all-party parliamentary group on the markets industry, of which I am a vice-chairman. It is also supported by the National Association of British Market Authorities, the National Market Traders Federation, the Association of Town Centre Management and the Association of Chief Police Officers. ACPO supports transferring the regulation of pedlars from police authorities to local authorities, and it has also expressed concern about the relationship between some pedlars and unlawful street traders and the sale of counterfeit goods. The Local Government Association and the Institute of Licensing have also expressed their support for this Bill. They report that many of their members have contacted them in connection with the problem of unlawful pedlars and illegal street traders.

Since announcing the presentation of this Bill, I have received tremendous support from right hon. and hon. Members of all parties and from local authorities throughout the land, for which I express my thanks. My Bill is surely not contentious, in that it seeks to make nationwide powers that are available to only a handful of local authorities. It will prevent a piecemeal approach to legislation, which is driving unlawful traders from one town centre to others. The crucial power of seizure of an unlawful trader’s goods will enable local authorities to act swiftly in preventing unlawful trading, and consumers will be protected from purchasing counterfeited, stolen or sub-standard items on the streets of our towns and cities.

I stress again that my Bill does not outlaw peddling; rather, it clarifies its definition. Legitimate pedlars will still be able to sell their goods, as defined in the 1871 Act. I recommend 21st-century legislation for 21st-century traders, and advise the House to equip our local authorities with powers to enable them to protect our streets, our consumers and our local markets and
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small businesses from rogue traders. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

1.50 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): It is most unfortunate that the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) has smeared pedlars as rogue traders, because they are two different groups of people. I wish to put in a plea for lawful pedlars. They are hard-working, entrepreneurial, market-driven, self-employed and law-abiding traders who provide services much appreciated by the public at competitive prices. It is not my intention to divide the House, as the hon. Gentleman has every right to introduce a Bill, but it would be wrong for him to think that it would go unchallenged by those of us who believe in choice, competition and free enterprise.

Pedlars are already regulated. A pedlar’s certificate is renewable annually. If a pedlar is convicted, the certificate is revoked and will not be renewed. A pedlar cannot obtain a certificate to peddle if they are a bad or undesirable character. Every application made for a pedlar’s certificate is subject to a police check to ensure that the person is of good character. The law clearly defines the difference between legal peddling and illegal street trading. The High Court has ruled that pedlars may stay in one place for up to 15 minutes, but not longer. The example given by the hon. Gentleman of a person carrying on street trading in a location without a certificate for a period longer than 15 minutes is already unlawful. Why damn all pedlars because some people break the law? Those people are illegal street traders already.

Under section 15 of the Pedlars Act 1871, a pedlar must produce his certificate on request to a policeman,
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a justice of the peace or any member of the public who so requests. It is a fallacy that the general public are against pedlars. If they were, pedlars would go out of business. Let us have some trust in the public to use their common sense and judgment in deciding whether or not to buy from pedlars. Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman implied, customers have protection in relation to the goods bought from pedlars. Pedlars have a duty to exchange or give a refund on any goods with which a customer is dissatisfied. The police also have powers of confiscation if they believe that goods are illegal, as do trading standards officers. We should put the issue in perspective.

Many people will be amazed that the hon. Gentleman and his supporters seem to be more concerned about removing the freedom of pedlars to sell helium balloons to children than about stamping out the sale of illegal drugs to children in our town centres, which is a far more serious issue of concern to our constituents.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business), and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Dr. Brian Iddon, Mr. David Amess, Jim Dobbin, Mark Hunter, Mr. Eric Illsley, Alison Seabeck, Anne Snelgrove, Mr. Phil Willis and Sir Nicholas Winterton.

Pedlars (Street Trading Regulation)

Dr. Brian Iddon accordingly presented a Bill to confer further powers on local authorities for the regulation of street trading by pedlars; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 2 March, and to be printed [Bill 64].

21 Feb 2007 : Column 287

Opposition Day

[6th Allotted Day]

Acute Hospital Services

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I must announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

1.54 pm

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): I beg to move,

It is just over a year since the Government’s White Paper. Far from being the best year ever for the national health service, it has been a year of deficits and financial and staffing pressures. We learned yesterday that the gross deficits across the NHS will be continued from last year into this financial year, that the number of redundancies continues to rise and that—as a consequence of the White Paper—hospitals across the country are threatened with cuts and closures. There are widespread concerns and anxieties, to put it mildly, about the implications.

The Secretary of State mandated that state of affairs by saying in the White Paper that resources would be moved into the community. In practice, the implementation of those words means that hospital budgets are being constrained, so cuts and closures are happening in the hospitals, but the infrastructure has not been created, or resources supplied, for patients to be looked after closer to home. I was interested to see that that point came across in the results of a recent consultation in Warwickshire. People said, “Don’t cut back our hospital services, because we cannot yet see the resources being put into the community.”

The process that the Secretary of State set in train a year ago has led to demonstrations in west Cornwall, Banbury, Chichester, Haywards Heath, Salford —[ Interruption. ] Yes, even in Salford. The Labour party chairman was there with her megaphone and placard. I must not leave out Worthing. Those demonstrations were against the consequences of the Government’s policy and are unprecedented in my experience in their scale and extent, especially over such a short period of time.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): My hon. Friend has missed out the demonstrations in Surrey.
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Surrey does not demonstrate about much, but people are demonstrating about the health service, marching in stony, angry silence. They await the review of hospitals in the anticipation that Surrey and south-east London hospitals will suffer several closures. Among the factors that are presumably considered are usage and demand, and there are strong rumours of engineering, with the directing of patients to certain hospitals or, more importantly, from others. A constituent was recently referred by his GP to the Royal Surrey county hospital at Guildford for general surgery. The patient was told to use the choose and book system online, but he found that the Royal Surrey was not listed. He rang the booking number and he was told that the Royal Surrey was not taking bookings for general surgery—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will make his point as quickly as possible. Interventions should be brief.

Sir Paul Beresford: In spite of that, an appointment was arranged.

Mr. Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I should not have left out Surrey. In fact, I should not have left out lots of places, but I did —[ Interruption. ] Yes, I should not have left out Hertfordshire or Shropshire. I am grateful to my hon. Friends. I could have mentioned Worcestershire, home to the Labour Chief Whip, or Lanarkshire, home to the Home Secretary.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) makes an important point. I do not know whether he knows it, but one of the consequences of the way in which the reconfigurations are being pushed by NHS bureaucracies is that referrals are being manipulated through the choose and book system. I was talking to GPs in Yorkshire a few weeks ago, and one told me, “I sit there with my patient and we look at the waiting times for the hospitals that are available to us. The patient chose a hospital in Leeds, where she could be seen quickly. We went through the choose and book system, but the primary care trust, which has an enormous deficit, took hold of the referral.” The PCT, in effect, said to the patient, “Yes, you might like to go to Leeds, and Leeds could treat you in two or three weeks’ time, but you will not be seen until April because that is when the new financial year starts.” So, what is the point of choose and book?

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman talks about Leeds, but can he understand why his words ring somewhat hollow with people on this side of the House? Under the Conservatives, six hospitals in Leeds were closed: Killingbeck, St. George’s, Marguerite Hepton, Roundhay maternity, Woodland orthopaedic and The Grove. Deficits were just as large in percentage terms and they were dealt with not only by closing hospitals and wards, but by keeping patients waiting longer and longer. Does he acknowledge that?

Mr. Lansley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland), who is not here, would, under these
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circumstances, no doubt get up and say, “Has the hon. Gentleman any idea what is going on in Wharfedale hospital?” It is all very well to build a hospital and open it, but it is another thing not to start shutting down the wards in it. We have constituencies where such facilities are being built. The hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) should know that major new hospital building projects have been conducted at a rate of five a year since 1997. The rate was also five a year between 1979 and 1997, so he cannot tell us that there has been a massive increase. He says that there have been a lot of hospital building projects, but they have been undertaken through a private finance initiative system that, frankly, has not transferred enough risk, and the their cost will be borne by the NHS for the next 30 years.

Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con): On the point about new hospital projects, my hon. Friend will be aware of the new super-hospital that was going to be built in Hatfield. It was pledged before the last election and would have involved a £500 million investment in Hatfield. Strangely enough, the project just disappeared after the election. Not only that, it took years for all sides to agree on the investing in health process, and not only have we lost the new hospital, we are losing the current hospital. Does he think that that is part of a national picture?

Mr. Lansley: I am glad that my hon. Friend made that point. In our motion, we say that we want to reassert the need for the voices of local people—not just the public, but professional local voices—to be heard in questions about reconfiguration. He is right—it might not have been something that everybody in Hertfordshire was entirely happy about, but they signed up, by means of a long investing in health process, to the idea that it was necessary for them to have specialised services provided in a new hospital. That happened before the general election, and the hospital was going to be in Hatfield. My hon. Friend, happily, secured his seat at the last general election. However, because of the increase in deficits that has occurred since 2005—if the Government say that the issue is not about deficits, this gives the lie to that proposition—that large new hospital has gone completely out of the window. Every time Ministers say, “The evidence tells us that you’ve got to have more specialised services that are in a larger, new hospital,” just think of Hertfordshire, where it is obvious that deficits are destroying even the Government’s own proposition.

Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): May I just return my hon. Friend to what he was saying about the choose and book system? Is he aware of what is happening in my constituency? When GPs who are required to use choose and book try to refer someone to a consultant at the Royal Surrey county hospital, that persons gets an appointment not with a consultant, but with another GP. That is part of the demand management process that has been imposed by the primary care trust. So, in fact, instead of making it easier to get to hospitals quickly, there is now an additional layer of bureaucracy, which totally negates the whole point of choose and book.

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