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The Leader of the Council...believes
reflects the wishes of our local people, local businesses and visitors.
Mr. Ellwood: My right hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. I am more than happy to provide the evidence that Bournemouth borough council has put together, which includes information and feedback from visitors. I have a couple of letters with me, which I will come to later, but on the general point about evidence, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Any change in the law must be evidence-based. It cannot be introduced on a whim.
However, I would hate to see the proposals run into the buffers today, when we have not had an opportunity to go through the evidence properly. Some hon. Members have spoken with passion, but perhaps without the necessary evidence. They need the opportunity to collate it and local authorities need the opportunity to present it. That could happen in Committee.
Mr. Liddell-Grainger: One point that I have made to various Government Members, as well as to fellow Conservative Members, is that the evidence is not there. The evidence from Northern Ireland and London, where the provisions have been enacted, as my hon. Friend well knows, has still not come through. One reason I feel so stronglyour hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) feels the same wayis that there is no evidence. My hon. Friend argues from a position of strength in saying, We need it, but then argues from a position of weakness when he says, Actually, we havent got it. Let us stop the process and wait for the Minister and Durham university to do their jobs. Does my hon. Friend not accept that we can then go forward on a much stronger basis?
Mr. Ellwood: I have not even got out of the starting blocks, yet I have been intervened on three times. I am more than delighted to be intervened on, but let me try to put forward a case for looking at the provisions in further detail.
I hope that my hon. Friend would agree that our objective in Parliament is to allow the democratic process to take its course. More than 70 authorities are thinking about similar proposals. Is he saying that they are all wrong? Why not give an opportunity to debate the issue in more detail? He is saying, Throw it out! whereas I
am saying, Give it a little more time, then lets make an assessment later on, which could include hearing from the good people of Bridgwater.
I was in the middle of paying tribute to Lord Eden of Winton, who did such an amicable job of moving the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill through its various stages in the House of Lords, where it received an awful lot of scrutiny. I recommend that hon. Members read the Hansard reports of those debates, which are so applicable to what we are talking about today.
I was pleased to hear an indication from the Minister that we will consider the matter in more detail. I am sorry to hear that the provisions will not be in the Queens Speechwe have already heard from the Prime Minister what will be in it, and the report that we are due to receive will not come until autumn.
The summary of the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill is: to make provisions relating to street trading and consumer protection in the area of Bournemouth; in particular to allow the council to regulate services offered on the street as well as the sale of goods; to alter the exemption enjoyed by the holders of the pedlars certificates from the street trading regime in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982; to empower council officers or the police to seize goods and equipment when they believe a street trading offence has been committed; and to empower the courts to order the forfeiture of such articles.
Why is that being called for? The existing laws, I am afraid, are simply not working. The situation in Canterbury that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Canterbury described also applies in Bournemouth. We have confusing and out-of-date laws. I hope that my hon. Friends who have spoken against the Bills will not support the status quo. There is a blurred line between a pedlar and a trader. Two Acts of Parliament that were written a century apart are colliding in a major way, and people are taking advantage of it.
What is a pedlar? Trading by a person who is an authorised pedlar is exempt from the provisions of the 1982 Act. As other Members have said, however, to become a legitimate pedlar one simply has to gain a certificate issued by the police and keep on the move. The licence costs a mere £12.50, and can be applied for and gained anywhere in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. It can also be used anywhere in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, except in those areas where Acts similar to the Bills under consideration have been put into practice. That is a double standard, and that is why I plead with my hon. Friends and other Members not to preserve the status quo, which is unacceptable.
Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend seems to be complaining about the £12.25 fee, but how great does he think it should be? If a shotgun licence is issued by one particular police authority, it can be used anywhere in the country. What is wrong with that principle applying to pedlars?
There are two responses to that. First, I did not complain about the £12.50 price itself; I just place it in the context of the much greater price of the street trading licence, which has led to the popularity of the pedlars licence. As for the example of the shotgun licence, yes, it can be purchased anywhere in the country,
but if it is used illegally anywhere in the country, proper powers exist for that usage to be curtailed. I hope that he agrees on that point.
Mr. Brazier: To emphasise my hon. Friends point, anyone who broke the law relating to a shotgun licence would in all likelihood go to prison, even for a first offence. Having once been found guilty of armed trespass, if one uses a shotgun where one should not, one would go to prison on the next offence. With pedlars licences, there is no arrangement for anything more than a minimal system of fines.
The term pedlar means any hawker, pedlar, petty chapman, tinker, caster of metals, mender of chairs, or other person who, without any horse or other beast bearing or drawing burden, travels and trades on foot and goes from town to town or to other mens houses, carrying to sell or exposing for sale any goods.
The movement aspect of that is important. Also, it was written for a very different time. So long ago was the legislation drafted, that the Liberal party was in charge of Great Britain. That is how long ago it wasVictorian Britain. It was the time of Gladstone and Disraeli. It was Dickensian Britain.
I am painting a picture of a very different Britain. We have the ability to travel, and not just by horse. Communications now involve mobile phones, and pedlars can communicate between themselves on where they can and cannot go, where there is an easy target or not, and where trading can be done on a permissive basis. Also, the practice of moving door to door does not happen any more. In fact, if someone knocks on a door to sell goods in certain parts of the country, he will get short shrift. The legislation is out of date. That is why it is being abused.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does my hon. Friend agree that the 1871 Act watered down a previous Act? I looked up the meaning of a petty chapman and it stems from a law handed down by Edward VI in 1553. A petty chapman was a retail dealer. The King said:
No Tinker, Peddler, or petit Chapman shall wander about from the Towne
but such as shall be licensed by two Justices of Peace.
The reality of todays legislation is that it is affecting Bournemouth town centre. I invite hon. Members to come to Bournemouth to see the impactthe evidencefor themselves. I invite them to see what is happening in the town centre and the Lower Gardens. The town has about 5 million visitors every year. We rely on tourism. It is our biggest industry and needs to be managed effectively. I am afraid that illegal traders are beginning to tarnish our image as a popular family seaside resort. The illegal traders are there from about Easter to Christmas every year. Considerable effort has been made to manage the situation to understand what the pedlars want in relation to the street traders. We have not been able to reach a compromise because people are leaning on this archaic legislation, which so needs to be updated.
Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend will know that Christchurch is an ancient market town and like Bournemouth. Surely there is no need for Bournemouth to license any street traders. If it did not license street traders, the problems that he describes in the square and elsewhere would be much reduced.
Mr. Ellwood: I do not follow that argument at all. We have to license street traders because of other laws. There are issues to do with insurance liability and so forth. If anyone has a stand that is permanent and not moving, as according to the 1871 Act, he needs to operate accordingly. I suggest my hon. Friend read the 1982 Act, which requires street traders to pay for a licence. That licence costs in the region of between £25 and £30 a day, not £12.50 a year.
Mr. Greg Knight: In the argument that my hon. Friend is developing, is he in effect saying that the problem would be solved if Bournemouth council reduced the cost of the street trading licence so that it equated with the cost of a pedlars licence?
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) has discussed his constituency. I am sure that he knows Purbeck district council, which has not experienced the problem of pedlars on the same scale as in Bournemouth. Purbeck district council is not affected by the problem, so it does not require such legislation.
I am pleased to see the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), back in his place. He does not need to get feedback from 410 local
authorities across the country, but it would be helpful. The issue is pertinent in seaside towns and market towns where there are tourists and visitors, who allow pedlars and, indeed, street traders to make a profit. We need a reconciliation between the two types of trader who are taking advantage of two distinctive and disparate Acts of Parliament.
As shadow Minister with responsibility for tourism, I have a national interest in the matterI see that the Culture, Media and Sport spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), is in his place. We must ensure that British tourism thrives. We are currently suffering from a tourism deficitmore people choose to holiday abroad than in the UKand we need to make Britain attractive. If there is any reason why people are deterred from going to our seaside towns, we must investigate the situation. The matter needs more scrutiny, which could take place in Committee.
Illegal street trading is flourishing. We have heard examples involving sunglasses and kites, and the quality of such goods is certainly dubious. We have also heard from hon. Members about the fact that there is no comeback. If people buy goods from a pedlar, they cannot return one week later and try to get their money back if something has gone wrong. However, people can get their money back from a street trader, so the circumstances are different. Unfortunately, because of the way in which the Pedlars Act 1871 was drafted, pedlars are illegally selling mimicked, oriental goods, which are entering this country in increasing numbers. As we have heard, there is very little recourse to prevent that from happening. Health and safety has been mentioned, so I will not go into further detail.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has suggested using the existing legislation to get the police to tell pedlars to move on or to get the council to go through the process of charging them, but it is not that simple. It now costs the council about £1,000 to go through the rigmarole of warnings and so forth, which my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has been through. By that time, the individual has scarpered, regardless of whether they were using an illegal licence or a legitimate licence.
We have a lot of eastern Europeans in Bournemouth. They pick up licences because a master who is operating the store has told them to do so. Such masters send out individuals every week knowing that the licence will probably be taken away eventually, in which case they send another individual out instead. That is not how our markets should operate; that is not how our town centres will flourish; and that is not the way to look after our seaside resorts. Prosecution involves charging individuals £100, but the process costs the council £1,000. It does not take a rocket scientist to work out that that wastes an awful lot of taxpayers money.
Pedlars have an impact on legitimate businesses, whether street traders or shopkeepers. They should not be seen as street traders, and they are required to move from place to place. Clause 5 of the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill amends the appropriate schedule to the 1982 Act to make it clear that a pedlar will not be able to trade in a prohibited street unless they are trading from place to place, and that they cannot trade in a consented street until they first obtain consent from the local council. That would not prevent anyone from
peddling, which is one argument that has been advanced. I am not against pedlars per se, but the practice should be conducted in an authorised manner, which is what I am looking for. Bournemouth, along with other places around the country, is a first-class destination resort, but it is currently served by third-class legislation.
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) wanted some evidence. Let me share with him some correspondence that I received, which oddly enough is not directed at me, but at one Christopher Chopemy hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. I will read it out anyway. The first is from the British Resorts and Destinations Association, and says:
I am writing on behalf of the Local Authority members of the British Resorts and Destinations Association...Regrettably, until such time as Central Government act to repeal or significantly amend the existing pedlars legislation, towns like Bournemouth will have no choice but to seek local solutions.
On a recent customer survey at the centre, one of the main criticisms of Bournemouth town centre was the number of unsolicited activities that take place in the town compared to Castlepoint where no such activity is permitted. I do not wish Bournemouth to continue to haemorrhage customers since a vibrant Bournemouth town centre is good for us at Castlepoint, too...The unlicensed pedlars tarnish that brand.
Last summer the Residents who are all disabled ex-service personnel were granted a licence to fund-raise in Bournemouth Square.
Ten residents volunteered to collect on the day. The net result was a total of £67
entirely due to the fact that their modest stand could not be seen by the general public as there were so many unregulated traders everywhere, some quite nasty and unsympathetic to those who have served our country.
Their licence cost them £30, for that day, for the privilege of collecting money in the town centre. They made £67, and there were other costs, such as public liability insurance and so forth. That is the reality of the legislation, which is why I urge hon. Friends and other hon. Members to say that we should look at it further. We should move to the next stage and debate it in Committee. Pedlars should not be street traders, which is why I believe that the legislation is archaic and should be upgraded.
Can it be that 70 councils throughout the UK are wrong? We have a bizarre situation, which I referred to in an intervention, where up to 10 million peopleresidents and in businessesare already living in areas where this legislation is in operation, such as Northern Ireland, London, Leicester, Liverpool and Medway. Other councils, including Bournemouth, Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham, Reading and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury are queuing up to say that we should change the legislation and bring it up to date, to allow a better understanding of the predicament involving the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 and the Pedlars Act 1871.
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