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29 Oct 2008 : Column 973

The Government have made it quite clear that they are not prepared to bring in national legislation; that is why we are forced to introduce legislation for individual areas.

Mr. Ellwood: My hon. Friend makes a valid point, and explains exactly why we are here today. Perhaps he can indicate, from a sedentary position, whether he wishes to speak on the Bill.

Sir John Butterfill indicated assent.

Mr. Ellwood: In that case, I will not call for a Division immediately.

5.12 pm

Sir John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) (Con): I shall be brief, because all the general arguments about pedlars have been made, and it would be wrong to reiterate them, but there are one or two special circumstances in Bournemouth. The first concerns the lay-out of our town centre. The main shopping areas are divided by a parkland area. Licensed street traders work together in that area, and that bridges the gap between the two halves of Bournemouth. Unfortunately, the activities of some of the pedlars have caused obstruction. Some pedlars sell identical goods to licensed traders immediately outside those traders’ premises. One pedlar sells balloons in the doorway of a shop selling balloons. Pedlars are supposed to keep moving under the Pedlars Act 1871. They are not supposed to block shop doorways, selling shoddier competitive goods. That is what is happening in Bournemouth. If one asks why our police cannot deal with the issue, I can only reply that Bournemouth police say that they

That is why action is not taken, according to the police.

Mr. Bone: I think that my hon. Friend’s argument is about enforcement, not legislation. In the previous debate, we heard that there have been prosecutions. I suggest that the problem is more a fault of the police. It is unacceptable, under existing law, for a pedlar to be permanently placed outside a shop. The police should take action.

Sir John Butterfill: That would be fine if we had unlimited policemen who were able to devote all their time to monitoring pedlars, but pedlars are itinerant. We would have to watch them to ensure that they were moving on as they should. That would require a long period of monitoring at a time when the police are busy stopping pickpockets and making sure that traffic can move. It is just not practical to devote scarce police resources to such activity.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Can my hon. Friend explain how Bournemouth is proposing to implement the undertaking given in the House of Lords about recognising the need to treat with a light touch the role of legitimate pedlars?

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Sir John Butterfill: Yes, I certainly can. If pedlars behave as the Act that governs them demands, they will not have any problems at all.

5.15 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): That was a very succinct response to an important question that I put on behalf of pedlars in general and pedlars operating in the Bournemouth vicinity in particular. An undertaking was given in the other place that a light touch would be used in dealing with the genuine pedlar. The Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, however, seeks to put all peddling in Bournemouth—other than that involved in house-to-house work—on an illegal basis. It would mean that anybody, notwithstanding their traditional pedlar’s licence, who wished to trade on the street could do so only if they also had a supplementary street trading licence from Bournemouth borough council.

Sir John Butterfill: My hon. Friend will know that the original Act envisages that pedlars would walk, carrying their wares, from house to house. It does not envisage them setting themselves up as street traders.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is engaged in a circular argument. Of course, the whole essence of the issue is that a pedlar is not a street trader but one who walks from place to place and town to town with his goods on his person. Those goods will often comprise such things as balloons, yo-yos and key rings. I have received representations from Frankie Fernando, for example. He is successful in peddling key rings, as a result of which he has raised considerable sums for charity. During the recession of the late 1980s, he had three shops in London that went bust; since then, he has pulled himself up, got on his bike—to use that expression—and become a pedlar in both senses of the word. He has gone from town to town and built up a successful business. The Bill will prevent Mr. Fernando from being able to come to Bournemouth to offer his services to the people and tourists there, notwithstanding the fact that he has operated as a perfectly lawful pedlar for the best part of 20 years. It is unconscionable that my hon. Friend should support a Bill that would outlaw that type of lawful enterprise.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): An earlier intervention stated that the need for the Bill was shown by the fact that Bournemouth borough council wants it and that it was spending money on it. Does my hon. Friend not accept that that argument has almost no merit? Local authorities can always pass on the cost of what they have spent to their council tax payers. Secondly, do not all local authorities have a vested interest in clamping down on pedlars if they can force those who were pedlars to take out an expensive street trader’s licence?

Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend is right. Nobody will want to take out a street trader’s licence to sell balloons, because of the cost of such a licence in Bournemouth. According to information that I have been given by a third party under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, only two street trading licences are currently issued in Bournemouth, and they each cost £610. Mr. Fernando is not going to spend £610; even if he were able to claim such a licence, it would be totally uneconomical for him to do so.

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I return to my original question: how does Bournemouth propose to be able to preserve the role of the genuine pedlar in pursuance of the undertaking that it gave in the other place in relation to this contested private Bill? There has not been a satisfactory answer to that.

Mr. Bone: In deciding my position on this Bill, I want to clarify whether it would stop a pedlar from going door to door on an estate selling his wares for just a £650 fee.

Mr. Chope: As I understand it, the Bill would not prevent a person in Bournemouth from going from door to door—

Mr. Ellwood: That is what a pedlar does.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend asserts, contrary to established case law and statute law, that that is what a pedlar does. If somebody goes from door to door, he can do so pursuant to a pedlar’s certificate. A person can sell goods on the street pursuant to a pedlar’s certificate providing that he complies with the terms of that certificate. There is a campaign of disinformation afoot to try to suggest that anybody who walks from place to place selling goods on the street—people come up to them and say, “Can I buy a balloon from you?”, and they sell them a balloon, or “Can I buy a yo-yo?”, and they sell them a yo-yo—is engaged in an activity tantamount to rogue street trading, and thereby undermining street traders and the role of legitimate shopkeepers, whereas that activity adds colour and vibrancy to our town centres, particularly those that are centred on tourism, and is perfectly lawful.

In the light of the way in which the joint promoters of these Bills closed down debate on the generality, I am concerned that their agenda is one of trying to be aggressive towards those who want to try to reach a compromise. As I said in the debate in June, I went to see Bournemouth borough council officials and councillors back in January to try to find a compromise that would offer a way through this. I waited for some months before I got a response. I inquired whether it might be possible to limit the scope of the Bill in some way—for example, by saying that it should apply to only a small part of Bournemouth, namely the centre. I then suggested that it could impose a much clearer restriction on a pedlar’s right to sell goods if they had any wheeled vehicle with them. I made a whole series of different compromise suggestions.

The response that eventually came back, once I had prompted it from the acting borough council solicitor, was that the trouble with such a compromise was that it would cut across the common ground of all the other Bills, which are being promoted by one group of agents. In fact, however, the individual terms of these Bills are distinct. The Bournemouth Borough Council Bill has different elements from the Reading Borough Council Bill, which we will discuss later.

I find it depressing that, despite my best efforts to reach a compromise on the matter, the promoters of the Bill have been stonewalling. They think that might is right and that they can use their majority in the House to force the measure through. If that is going to happen,
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and there is going to be a similar reluctance to accept amendments when we get to Committee, or in a line-by-line debate on Report, that will be a great disservice to the people of Bournemouth and the wider community and will bring the House into disrepute.

People outside expect us to sort out such issues in an amicable, common-sense way. In the previous debate, my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) raised a question about what happens if the matter is displaced from Bournemouth to Wimborne. Wimborne is covered by East Dorset district council, which also covers part of my constituency. What will happen to the area covered by Christchurch borough council? Christchurch is a much more ancient borough than Bournemouth, and has a status as a market town. It has a long-established market, and it is the second or third smallest borough in the country. If there is a big problem in Bournemouth, which is hotly in dispute, the question that the promoters of the Bill have failed to address is what will happen to smaller communities outside Bournemouth if the problem is transferred. A council such as Christchurch—a town with some 40,000 citizens—is in an even weaker position to start promoting a private Bill than Bournemouth council, which is a unitary authority, and has a population of more than 200,000.

Mr. Greg Knight: I am not sure that I understand where my hon. Friend is going. Is he saying that the Bill is unnecessary because there is not a problem in Bournemouth, and that he therefore does not think that any legislation of this sort is necessary, or that he is against the legislation because there is a concern that the Bill will push the problem elsewhere, and that he favours national legislation?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I say to the right hon. Gentleman and the House that there should be recognition of the fact that if individual Members feel in some difficulty on some of these matters, so does the Chair. It was determined at the start of the debate in June that there was sufficient similarity—if not identity, in certain cases—between the Bills for them to be taken together in debate. For good or ill, that debate has been determined, and by a significant majority, the House has approved the Second Reading of one of the Bills.

Many of the points that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) is making, as he goes into more detail, need to be thrashed out in Committee. The Chair gave a ruling at the start of today’s proceedings that because we have conducted the generalised debate on the first Bill, it would not be right to raise more detailed issues—the generality of the principle and the detail—on each successive Bill.

The House has given an opinion, and it would probably be in accordance with the wish of the House—although I am the servant of the House in this respect—that it be respected in considering the other measures. There may be slight differences between them, but the fact that they have been put together, and that the House accepted that, means that we should not be having a hugely detailed debate on each. I hope that the hon. Member for Christchurch will bear that in mind. Today is not the end of the process, and there will, as with all private legislation, be further opportunity for discussion between the promoters and hon. Members who have concerns.

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Mr. Chope: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your comments. My understanding from the earlier ruling is that we can no longer discuss the generalities because, although I was in only the early stages of a speech on the previous Bill, the House moved that it be brought to an end. I do not argue against that. However, although the Bills have similarities, their impact is a local matter. The impact of the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill on the borough of Christchurch is much more significant than that of the other Bills. The same applies to the borough of Poole and the people of Wimborne in Dorset. If I am not allowed to develop that argument, or allude to what Dorset police say about the matter, the special rules that they have introduced for pedlars’ certificates and the information that I obtained under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 about the number of certificates that have been issued—

Mr. Ellwood: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am worried that we are beginning to redevelop some of the arguments that we heard in June. I seek your guidance, but, bearing in mind the decision on the previous measure, your suggestion that today is not the end but that there is an opportunity to debate the matter on another occasion, and for fear of going over old ground, I should like to move that the Question be now put.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I cannot accept that at this stage. I was listening to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), who is a distinguished member of the Chairmen’s Panel and has to rule on such matters from the other side, as it were. Of course, there may be specific matters to consider, but I urge him to bear in mind the general will of the House and raise the points that he may legitimately make, which relate specifically to the Bill. I was becoming slightly worried, from interventions and some of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, that, by simply tagging the word “Bournemouth” on to some of the points, we were again going over the matters that are common to all the Bills. I say to the hon. Gentleman and the House that we should respect the distinction, given the approach that has been decided to the six Bills.

Mr. Chope: I shall do my best to achieve that objective and walk the tightrope, which is a good description of what I have to do.

Mr. Bone: I am struggling with the fact that Manchester, which we have just debated, is totally different from Bournemouth, and I am therefore even more concerned if the Bills are the same.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I counsel the hon. Gentleman that he is in danger of trying to broaden the debate rather more than the hon. Member for Christchurch did.

Mr. Chope: I do not want to be tempted into straying out of order, so I will not comment on my hon. Friend’s point.

I am disappointed that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) wanted to put the Question before responding to my points. We try to be hon. Friends, but that is as close to a hostile act as one hon. Friend can perpetrate on another. It is only
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reasonable that, if a neighbour—from a neighbouring constituency and a neighbouring borough—wants to ask questions, the Bill’s promoter should be willing to respond to such legitimate points rather than try to curtail debate and force a closure. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend will be patient and take some notes of my questions, in the way in which he will do when he is a Minister in the next Conservative Government. When hon. Members make points, the relevant Minister takes notes in preparing his reply to the debate.

I hope that he will start taking some notes and prepare a response to this debate, because it will be followed closely by both my constituents and his.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been listening carefully for the past minute, as I am sure you have. I am not at all certain that how a Minister behaves has any relation to the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is not strictly a point of order, as I think the right hon. Lady probably knows in her heart of hearts. However, it at least emphasises the point that I have been trying to make, which is that we must keep this debate within fairly narrow terms, now that we have moved on to the second Bill in the group. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will respect that.

Mr. Chope: I am trying my level best to do so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but all these points of order, spurious or otherwise, are putting me off my stride.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am sure that there is not a single hon. Member in the House who believes that for a moment.

Mr. Chope: As they say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, “Follow that.” I do not know how I can follow it, but to summarise my point, I have no desire to elongate the debate. If we are to have a succinct debate, it is reasonable that when arguments are put forward, the sponsor should respond to them. Otherwise we set a rather bad example to those outside. However, whether my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East wants to respond is obviously a matter for him.

To reinforce that point, let me say that quite a lot of the questions that I have submitted in writing to Bournemouth borough council have not been answered, which causes me concern. For example, I asked the council whether it could give some evidence of the problems in Bournemouth, including the number of prosecutions and the extent of those problems, but I have received no answers; I have received just assertions, rather like the assertions in the statement issued by the promoters of the Bills. When we consider the Bills we should be guided very much on an evidential basis. If Bournemouth borough council has evidence, it should be disclosed.

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