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4.17 pm

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to you for reminding us of that ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall try to keep my remarks general rather than specific at this stage. When this debate was adjourned on 12 June, I was eight minutes into my remarks. Only 20 minutes of our three hours of debate on 12 June were taken up by hon. Members who are concerned about the Bills. The rest of the time was taken up by their sponsors and supporters. I therefore hope that those who are impatient to move things on will ensure that the other side of the argument can be heard, and will not try to curtail the debate before that is possible.

A number of things have happened since the last debate. The promoters have published a further statement in support of the Second Reading of the Bills, paragraph 4 of which is very partial. It says:

There is no reference whatever to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger), who made a succinct and pithy speech against the Bills, nor to my earlier remarks or the severe reservations that a large number of my right hon. and hon. Friends raised in interventions. I do not know whether this further statement contravenes the conventions of the House. I hope that none of the Members present will be taken in by paragraph 4, and that they will look at the rest of the statement with a similarly jaundiced eye.

What else has happened since our last debate? Quite a lot of things. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) has become a father, and I congratulate him on that. Secondly, the pedlars resource centre has been established online at and, for the first time in this country, individual pedlars are realising that unless they get together and organise themselves, their future could be in severe jeopardy.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): My hon. Friend says that pedlars’ future will be endangered if these provisions go through. Surely, if the
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provisions are properly controlled, the rights of genuine pedlars will be enhanced rather than endangered.

Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend has got the line that is being promoted by the promoters of the Bill. However, if we look at the contents of the Bill, we see that they are totally incompatible with the preservation of individual pedlars’ rights as they now stand. The proponents of the Bills are seeking to limit the rights of individual pedlars, so that they will only be able to go from house to house and from door to door. They will no longer be permitted to be pedlars in the streets as they are under the present law. On the basis that unlawful, rogue street trading is taking place at the moment, the Bills seek to penalise the lawful pedlar and take away the rights that he has had since legislation was introduced in 1871.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): I have to confess that I am not a great expert on this subject. However, I have had a representation from a constituent who tells me that part of the problem is that there is insufficient evidence to take a view on these Bills one way or another. Research is being carried out by Durham university, and an interim report—which has not been released—has been submitted to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. A further, full report will be submitted to the Department in November and released some time later. Is it not extraordinary that this legislation is going through before that research and information has been made available to the House?

Mr. Chope: My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. I am sure that if he stays a little longer to listen to the debate, the ignorance to which he has confessed will be remedied. There is a valuable learning experience in store for him. He is always slightly self-effacing about his knowledge and abilities, but he has hit the nail on the head in identifying a weakness in the promoters’ case: that the research project led by Durham university—which the Minister, whom I am delighted to see in his place, announced on Second Reading—has taken evidence and produced an interim report.

Miss Widdecombe: Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that the best research is practical? Some three years ago, Maidstone took measures of a very similar nature to these, and they have been a resounding success from all points of view. Is not that rather more telling than academic research, which might inform my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), but which will be nothing like as conclusive as practical results?

Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend will know that there has been an opportunity for councils such as Maidstone to feed in evidence to the Durham university research project, where it can be balanced against any other evidence that there might be. Of course, what concerns me about my right hon. Friend’s stance is that, contrary to the stance that she and I jointly adopted in last night’s debate on climate change, when we expressed concern about unilateral action, she is now promoting the case for one or two councils to take unilateral action instead of a multilateral approach.

Miss Widdecombe rose—

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Mr. Chope: I give way once more to my right hon. Friend.

Miss Widdecombe: I am very grateful. However, my hon. Friend’s comparison with last night does not stand up at all. Last night, of course, we were talking about the idea of being the pioneers of that crazy action. What I am saying to my hon. Friend now, however, is that we have previous examples—in Maidstone and other councils—so the action is not unilateral, but follows something that is well established.

Mr. Chope: It may well have been established by Maidstone council, but my right hon. Friend will know from having looked at the detail of the six Bills before us that they vary in significant ways from many of the measures in the Maidstone legislation that is now on the statute book. One consequence of this piecemeal legislation is that problems that may have been evident in a particular locality are then transferred to another. My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) made that point from the Front Bench on Second Reading, arguing that there was a strong case for looking at this issue on a national rather than a local basis.

Sir John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) may remember that a Select Committee was set up in the other place to look into this matter. Is the research likely to be carried out by Durham university superior to that of a House of Lords Select Committee? The argument that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) is now making—that it would be much better to have a blanket Bill covering all pedlars—was quite rightly rejected by Lord Bach, the Minister in the other place, who said that because of the dissimilarities between one borough and another, it was much more appropriate to bring forward individual Bills. He said that the Government had no intention of bringing forward a portmanteau Bill of the type that my hon. Friend is suggesting.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is articulating a different point of view from the one articulated in June by our hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) and many other Members. As for whether the Durham university report represents good value for taxpayers’ money, only time will tell, when we see its contents. All I can say is that I believe we should wait to see what it says. I would have liked to be able to see it today. I tabled a written question last week and received a holding reply from the relevant Minister on Thursday. Yesterday, I received a substantive answer, saying that although the interim report from Durham was already in the hands of the Minister and his officials, it could not be disclosed, and that the full report could be expected before the end of the year. It said that the report would not be available to the general public until the Minister had had a chance to look at it himself and take a view on its contents.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I have learned much about pedlars from my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour, who is aware of the interim stage of the Durham report. If he were to agree to Second Reading, he could apply to sit in Committee
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to examine these matters in more detail. By that time, the report would be complete in all its fullness, and my hon. Friend would have had the opportunity to study the detail.

Mr. Chope: Obviously, I will read the detail of the report if and when it becomes available. I do not know what will be the position of these Bills in Committee, but I very much hope that their promoters will hold back until we have the evidence from Durham university, as local taxpayers’ money is at stake. If as a result of the Durham university report the Government decided that national legislation were appropriate, a great deal of money could be saved for private taxpayers through rates and council taxes. The Government might even be able to legislate on the framework basis for which the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) has campaigned, but we must wait and see what results from the report.

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): May I return to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe)? As the hon. Gentleman will know, other councils—Medway, Newcastle upon Tyne, Westminster, Leicester and Liverpool—have promoted similar measures, which I understand have worked well in those areas. Is he aware of any problems resulting from private Bills such as the ones that Reading and other councils are seeking to put on the statute book?

Mr. Chope: Actually, I am. As the hon. Gentleman would expect, as a result of the publicity engendered by this legislation in the pedlar community, I have been the recipient of a fair number of representations. I shall say more about those representations later, in the context of the specific Bills that we are discussing, but in the meantime I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I have received strong representations about what has been going on in Leicester. Considerable concern has been caused by the fact that although Leicester city council’s Bill was passed on the basis that its provisions would operate only in a limited part of the city, there is now a proposal to extend them throughout the city, to the detriment of people who have traditionally engaged in lawful peddling there.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that the Bills that have been passed so far have not been a complete success by any means, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the Bills we are discussing today seek to go further than those that have already reached the statute book. There is, for example, the extension of legislation to the use of services—and Reading, the hon. Gentleman’s local authority, is trying to deal with the issue of touting. Although touting is not covered by all six of these Bills, it is certainly an issue in the Reading Borough Council Bill and, if I recall correctly, also in the Canterbury City Council Bill.

Mr. Ancram: I am listening carefully to what my hon. Friend is saying, and my learning curve is becoming steeper all the time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill) challenged me as to whether I believed that Durham university’s research was better
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than that of the House of Lords. I cannot answer the question until I have seen the results of the research, but what I do know, as a simple lawyer, is that when people argue on a subjective basis on behalf of particular local interests, it is better for those who, like me, are not involved in those direct arguments to see all the evidence—and that includes the Durham university evidence—before reaching a judgment. I suspect that most Members are in the same position.

Mr. Chope: What my right hon. and learned Friend says is plain common sense, which I hope meets with the consent of almost everyone.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): May I give a practical example? Has the hon. Gentleman considered the effect on local charitable events? Every year the wonderful Otley Victorian fayre is held in my constituency—this year it will take place on Friday 12 December—and every year there is an absolute menace from unlicensed traders selling things in the street. The council can do nothing, the police can do nothing and the organisers can do nothing, to everyone’s great frustration. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that if the organisers want it, if local charities want it, if the local police want it and if—in this instance—Leeds city council wants it, he should not stand in the way of those who wish to improve an event and give councils powers to regulate activity of that kind?

Mr. Chope: The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension if he thinks that I am standing in the way of anything. What I am trying to do is ensure that we have a rational debate. I do not know the extent of the hon. Gentleman’s reading on the subject, but if he reads a bit more he will find that some of the local authorities that are campaigning for the measures in the Bills and asking for a wider application of legislative measures would regard certain charitable activities as themselves offensive and in need of further regulation. In due course, I may be able to draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to specific evidence with which I can support that proposition. Therefore, let him not think that charities are at present the victim of the pedlar, and that they can only benefit from the activities of these councils if the Bills are enacted. The councils’ agenda is to reduce some of the charitable activities.

In our previous debate, almost all the talk was to do with equating pedlars with rogue traders. After dealing with the Durham issue, I shall try to rebalance that by giving an example of a genuine pedlar who is doing great work in raising money for charity, which, if these Bills were implemented, he would no longer be able to do.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I have to say that in my Northamptonshire constituency there is not a flood of people saying, “We must have legislation on pedlars.” However, I have listened to what Members have said, and if this is a national issue it should not be addressed in piecemeal fashion, but should be dealt with by the Government through national legislation. We are in an extraordinary position today.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

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I was about to share with the House the avowed purpose of the Durham university research. When we last debated this matter, I asked the Minister to publish the terms of reference for the research, which he kindly did. It included the following:

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for educating me and other Members on this subject. It seems to me that there are two issues: whether those pedlars are a menace, and if so, whether that should be dealt with in this way. May I refer back to the intervention of the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland), whose constituency borders mine? Does my hon. Friend agree that even if the pedlars are a menace, if action were taken on a Leeds city council basis, the upshot might well be to cause a problem in my constituency, so even if they are a menace, it might be in my best interests not to support the proposed legislation?

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is on to a very good point. Indeed, I have made it in relation to my Christchurch constituency. If the Bournemouth Bill were to pass into law, if there were an issue to do with rogue trading and peddling in Bournemouth—which is hotly disputed—that activity might well transfer either to the ancient borough and market town of Christchurch, or to Wimborne, or to Poole. That is why we should, as the Minister seems to have accepted, take the opportunity to look at this on a national basis and see whether we need to make any changes within a national legislative framework.

The Department commissioned St. Chad’s college, Durham university to conduct the research, and the terms of reference stated:

I am sure my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) will be pleased to learn that it also stated that the research would include

not Northern Ireland—

I congratulate the Minister on having developed such a broad, and, I think, highly relevant and pertinent, scope for that research project. The disappointment is that we do not have any of the outcome of that research available today to inform the debate.

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In June, the Minister said that the university project would

He promised:

the Department—

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