Both parts of the hon. Gentlemans question are legitimate. That would be desirable, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister is listening to that plea, which he will hear from all sides of the debate. The most sensible way forward is to have a national framework. It is better in any case, becauselet me be honestI would not recommend the private Bill process to anybody. It is arcane and difficult and it gives disproportionate influence to those who oppose the Bill. They are right to exercise that oppositionI am not complainingbut it would be better to have the debate in the context of a national framework, which could allow local variation. Not all local authorities
would need to buy into it if they did not want toit would not be mandatory. A national framework would be better.
Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): To pick up on that point, a general law, of which the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) is an example, would allow councils to adopt that measure through byelaw. It would allow secondary legislation to create a national model and it would increase transparency for those itinerant traders who move across borders. They would not know whether there was a law enacted, but they would know what type of law it would be if it were.
Tony Lloyd: The hon. Lady is right and what she says very helpful, as it shows that there is joined-up, cross-party agreement on the need for action. I hope that the hon. Member for Christchurch and my hon. Friend the Minister will accept that there is no downside to our moving forward together on this matter.
Dr. Iddon: Is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am about the utter waste of public money involved in all this? Each of the Bills before us costs its local authority about £100,000, given the amount of their officers time that is taken up. The one for Newcastle is alleged to have cost nearly £200,000.
Tony Lloyd: If anyone could do the calculation faster than I, it would be my hon. Friend. An awful lot of pedlars licences would have to be sold to get back the £100,000 that it costs to promote such a Bill. It would make a lot of sense not to go through the private Bill procedure and to have national legislation instead, but at the moment we have a patchwork: some authorities have got their private Bills through the House already, and, as has been noted, many more are in the pipeline. The private Bill procedure is not a sensible way to introduce common standards of this type. A different approach would be better.
Sir Paul Beresford: The hon. Gentleman is being very convincing. He has convinced me that we should drop these Bills here and now and look to the Government for some national legislation. The financial savings would be enormous, and we would not be puzzling over the reasoning now.
Tony Lloyd: I am reasonably grateful for that intervention. If the hon. Gentleman could promise me that he will persuade my hon. Friend the Minister to agree to what I am proposing before the end of today, I would cheerfully go along with him. In the short term, however, I must keep my promise to the beleaguered citizens of the city of Manchester and its good traderswhether they are shop traders, street traders or pedlarsthat we will introduce proper regulation to deal with rogues by pursuing the private Bill before us.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con):
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful argument. I hope that we get an opportunity later to speak to the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, which is very similar to the one for Manchester. I see that my hon. Friend the
Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) is about to leave the Chamber, but before he does so I hope that I can convince him on the need to rely on local legislation in the absence of proposals from this Government, or from the Conservative Government who will follow after a general election. Each council that has to put up with illegal pedlars has to pay out far more than £200,000. Every prosecution costs at least £1,000, but each pedlar who is found guilty is fined only £100. Does my hon. FriendI mean the hon. Gentlemanagree that that is absolute madness?
Tony Lloyd: I can be the hon. Gentlemans hon. Friend today, that is okay. Of course I agree with him, and he is right to say that the problem facing the people of Bournemouth exactly parallels the cases described by the hon. Member for Canterbury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (John Battle), and others. Exactly the same problem affects my own city.
I hope that I have done enough to show how the changes proposed in Bill will have an impact on street trading, and I am pleased that we have begun to debate the specific difficulties to do with pedlars.
Mr. Knight: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has told the House why he favours this Bill. In the interests of balance, will he say why some people in Manchester have petitioned against it? I believe that they include a Mr. David Murphy.
Tony Lloyd: As far as I am aware, there has been one petition in relation to Greater Manchester. It was presented to the other place, when the Bill was being considered there. The petitionerquite rightly under our procedureshad the opportunity to be heard by Members of the other place, and it is important that people who object to a proposal are able to make their case there. In fact, I think the individual named wanted to get rid of the parts of the Bill dealing with pedlars.
I understand the arguments for pedlars and the arguments of those who seek to defend the rights of legitimate small traders. None of us wants them to disappear. As I said, the sellers of mini-kites and those who add fun and flavour to a hot day by selling childrens balloons cause little nuisance and none of us would want that activity to be snuffed out. However, we want recognition that some people with a pedlars licence abuse the systempeople who grab their goods and run down the street quickly when approached by the local authority. Such people are difficult to apprehend and control. They are engaged in activities that are not in the public interest; they sell inadequate goods and services and offer no redress to the customers they short-change. They operate in a way that the right hon. Gentleman would not countenance from traders in shops in his constituency. He should not expect the people of Canterbury, Bournemouth, Leeds or Manchester, or any of the areas that already have the powers or want
them, to forgo regulation simply from the romantic view that all pedlars must be a good thingthey are not.
Mr. Chope: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who is being generous in giving way. May I press him a little more on the situation in Manchester? The Bill applies only to the city of Manchester. He did not answer my question about how many pedlars certificates had been issued by the Greater Manchester police authority. In fact, I can provide him with the answer204 were issued last year. Were the hon. Gentlemans Bill to become law, those pedlars would not be able to operate in the city of Manchester with the freedom they have enjoyed hitherto, but they would be able to operate elsewhere in Greater Manchester. Will that not merely transfer the problem, just as under the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill problems in Bournemouth would be transferred to Poole or Christchurch?
The city of Manchester is the centre of a conurbation and an historical retailing hub, and it is the place that is the most attractive to pedlars. There is an out of town shopping centrethe Trafford centre, which is quite well knownbut it is private property and no pedlar would be able to enter it to operate as a pedlar. One of the anachronisms in the legal status is that where people may be a real or potential nuisance, a private shopping space can refuse to allow them on the premisesthe Trafford centre almost certainly wouldbut in public spaces, such as the city of Manchester, there are no regulations for moving pedlars on, whatever nuisance they cause.
I accept that there are decent pedlars whom none of us would want to snuff out, but there are others who abuse the system in all the six areas whose Bills we are discussing. The rogue pedlarsthe difficult pedlarsnot only give a bad name to those we want to support, but they cause great public nuisance either simply by their presence or by their unacceptable trading activities.
Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): The hon. Gentleman has obviously looked closely at the potential impact of the legislation. Other places have introduced similar legislation, so can he describe its impact there to help some of us on the Conservative Benches to make up our minds? How many pedlars in the Manchester area have had their licence revoked, for example?
Tony Lloyd: It is not really a question of revoking pedlars licences. The point has been made several times, but I will repeat it for the hon. Gentlemans consideration. It actually does not matter how many pedlars licences are issued by the Greater Manchester police, because the people who peddle in Manchester may come from Dorset, Devon or Northumberland. A pedlars licence is national, which is one of the difficulties, because although it is necessary for street traders to be licensed locally, a pedlars licence can apply anywhere.
When a trader is licensed locally, there is local controlthe sort of localism of which most people in the House would probably approve. With the pedlar, that localism does not applypeople with accents rich and varied
from the many parts of this great nation of ours can come into Manchester. The problem is that among them are the people who sell dodgy watches, counterfeit goods and goods and services that simply do not work and rip off the public, or the people whose behaviourthrough aggression or simply through sheer volumeis unacceptable.
That problem has been controlled in areas where the powers have already been taken, such as here in London. Despite the concerns of the hon. Member for Christchurch about Westminster bridge, be there nothing so fair, the truth is that the powers have been used successfully, for example, to control pedlars and to prevent their setting up hotdog and hamburger stalls, which traditionally caused a nuisance in this city.
Mr. Liddell-Grainger: I thank the hon. Gentleman for being generous with his time, but I do not understand one aspect of what he says about rude or aggressive people or people who sell illegal things. The Bill will not stop that. Those people will simply continue their trade and run away even faster when the police or trading standards officers come to get them. That has been proved in London and elsewhere, where the problem has continued. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) said, I thinkI may be taking words out of his mouththat 200 traders come to his constituency from overseas, mainly from Poland and so on.
Mr. Liddell-Grainger: An awful lot of traders come from overseas, including Poland. I correct myself; it was my fault, not my hon. Friends. That situation will continue regardless of the legislation before us. It will happen anyway, will it not?
Tony Lloyd: If there is a properly recognised local licensing scheme, whereby individuals have to apply to the local authority in the area in which they seek to trade, it will give the local authority significantly more power to determine who is there. If the hon. Gentleman is asking whether such a scheme will prevent the person who operates without a licence coming in, I should say that it will not of itself prevent that. However, it will give the local authority clear powers regarding the circumstances in which such people can be moved on.
The current problem is not the person who operates without a licence, but that, very cheaply and easily, people can obtain a pedlars licence and purport to trade sensibly. It is very difficult for the local authorities to control under the law as it currently applies.
Mr. Rob Wilson: I thank the hon. Gentleman again for giving wayhe is being very generous with his time. Is he not concerned that in Manchester, for example, an annual street trading licence costs £625 a year, whereas a pedlars licence costs, I believe, £12.25? A severe blow could be dealt to somebody who is trying to go about an honest and honourable business.
I am concerned, but not necessarily for the reason that the hon. Gentleman invites me to be concerned. I am concerned because the legitimate street trader, who in Manchester pays £625 and operates in conformity with the rules and regulations agreed by the
local authority and the street traders, is in competition with somebody who does not conform to those standards, who undercuts the street trader and who operates more marginally with respect to regulation. In those ways, the hon. Gentleman draws attention to an important point: the unfairness is not necessarily against the pedlar who might face an increased licence fee, but against the street trader and the shopkeeper who face competition that, on occasions, is more than a little dubious. The hon. Gentleman rightly draws attention to that economic impact, but in almost the opposite way to that which he intended.
Mr. Truswell: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene once again. Is there not another issue in Manchester, whereby the local authority would want to restrict trade by any trader in a particular location, perhaps because it was dangerous? The authority could prevent people who have a street trading licence from trading there, but not pedlars.
Tony Lloyd: That is correct. In fact, in one part of my city, there is an agreement with the street traders that there is no street trading at all. The street traders accept that, but of course, there is no restriction on the pedlars. They therefore become a nuisance to the extent that those same street traders invade areas that are designated and accepted as being for other purposes.
I have opened this debate and we have already had a lively exchange. I hope that that the hon. Member for Christchurch has been reassured about the intention behind the Bill and that his remarks will be more succinct than they would have been had I not given way to him and his colleagues. That would be appropriate, given that Members from other parts of the country whose Bills are before Parliament today want to say a few words.
I shall resume my seat having said this: I really hope that the House will accept that although issues such as the need to protect the good pedlar may unite usalthough we may be divided on how to do thatthe most appropriate way to move forward is to let the Manchester and Bournemouth Bills, which have been petitioned against, go through the special Committee process and to let the other Bills go forward to the unopposed Bill Committee, as they are not objected to. In that way, proper examination can take place of the merits of the Bills, which would allow those with doubts to pursue them in a way that allows proper examination.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Earlier, he made a point about costs. If what he has just described happens, it would mean that council tax payers in the boroughs involved would incur expenditure that could be avoided if the Minister made
a statement that this would all be taken back by the Government and that there would be national legislation.
Tony Lloyd: I am glad that I am bringing the hon. Gentleman with me, at least on part of the issue; I look forward to his joining me completely. Yes, I hope that the Minister can announce some way of making progress nationally, as that would give significant help to most of us, but I am not sure that I expect such an announcement today. If it happens, I shall be very happy. If not, those linked to the six private Bills and the areas to which they refer will legitimately want progress to be made in this Chambertoday, we hopeso that a more intense debate can take place in the parts of our parliamentary scrutiny processes that can get to the meat and drink of how we regulate and in a way that is consistent with all our ambitions.
Mr. John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Has Mr. Speaker received notification from the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) about whether he has taken the Chiltern hundreds or any other office of profit under the Crown?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am afraid that I am unable to assist the right hon. Gentleman in that respect; I have no such knowledge. As and when there are developments, I understand that they will appear in the Votes and Proceedings of the House.
For the sake of complete accuracy, I should add to the ruling that I gave in response to the point of order raised earlier by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). I assumed that he was referring to what would happen to the Bills if the three-hour period had been completed, and the advice that I gave was correct in that sense. However, if proceedings on the first Bill that we are discussing were completed within the three-hour period, and before all the time had been exhausted, it would then, of course, be possible for the House to proceed to the second and subsequent Bills. I hope that I have made the position entirely clear.
Mr. Knight: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you clarify something that arises out of what you have just told the House? Are you saying that, if the debate on the Manchester Bill were concluded before the allotted time, you would allow us to debate the other Bills, or that you would seek to put the Questions on the other Bills?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: If the proceedings on the first Bill had been entirely completed, there would be scope for further debate on the other Bills in such remaining time as existed. I hope that the matter is now clear.
Mr. Ellwood: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your clarification. I apologise that I was a minute late for the beginning of todays proceedings. Obviously, I want to support the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill. When should I speak on that? Should my contribution be part of the discussion of the Manchester City Council Bill, or should I wait until the business on that has concluded?
Mr. Liddell-Grainger: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I oppose the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, and not the others. The six Bills before us are all slightly different. Would it be in order to speak now about the difference between the six Bills?