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This point was treated with some mirth when I raised it earlier, but the fact that a BBC television crew went down to Bournemouth to find out the extent to which pedlars were harassing the local population but could not find any pedlars is material evidence. That is something we should be considering. With my local knowledge of Bournemouth, I think that the town centre and the
Square have a very different character from the rest of Bournemouth, which includes the areas around Boscombe and even the seafront towards Bournemouth, East.
I am concerned that the Bill is unlimited in geographical scope. The intention is to impose the same restrictions upon pedlars in the outskirts of Bournemouth, which adjoin my constituency, as in the centre of Bournemouth. In so far as any evidence has been produced in support of the case against rogue traders and unlawful pedlars in Bournemouth, it has been confined to the town centre. I hope that my hon. Friend, in responding to this debate, will say why Bournemouth borough council is not prepared to limit the scope of the Bill to the town centre.
Mr. Bone: It would have been easyperhaps the information is available, but it has not come to light in the debate so farto discover how many prosecutions there had been in Bournemouth under the Pedlars Act 1871. That would give us a guide on how serious the problem is.
Mr. Chope: I do not have that information, but I do have some information from Dorset police about the number of pedlars licences that they have issued. The information is contained in a letter dated 31 January, which was written to me under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Between 6 April 2007 and 10 January 2008, which was the latest period for which figures were available, Dorset police issued 33 pedlars certificates and refused 15 applications and returned the fees. The police do not hold any information regarding revoked certificates.
Mr. Greg Knight: How valuable is that information? If, for example, someone obtains a pedlars certificate in Hampshire and then goes to Bournemouth, surely he is not committing an offence. Simply to quote the Dorset figures might therefore not give a true picture.
Mr. Chope: Obviously it does not give a national picture. However, if I reinforce what I have just said with information from Dorset about how the certificates are issued there, that might give us a way forward in finding a solution to the problem. One way of separating out legitimate pedlars from rogue street traders is to ensure that we have a proper system for issuing pedlars certificates. When someone applies for a certificate, the Dorset police ask the applicant what activity they propose to engage in. I am not sure whether that practice is followed in other parts of the country. The application form makes it quite clear that, if the proposed activity could be carried out only by using a wheeled trolley or some such apparatus, a certificate will not be issued. Neither will one be issued to a person of bad character or someone with no established address.
One of the correspondents who has written to me on this subject has made several sensible suggestions. He thinks that, before someone can get a pedlars certificate, they should have to establish their identityat least the certificates issued in Dorset, and more widely, now carry photo identificationand produce their national insurance number to show that they are in this country legitimately. He suggests that they should also have to
produce evidence of where they live, and that they should be registered with Her Majestys Revenue and Customs as self-employed. All those requirements would provide additional safeguards.
It is said that those who deal with enforcement in Bournemouth find it impossible to know whether pedlars certificates that have not been issued in Dorset are genuine. However, there would be no difficulty in determining that if there were a national register of all the certificates that have been issued. Why should there not be such a register? We have all sorts of other national databases, and the information would be available from the police. In the case of Dorset, we are not talking about very large numbers. We are not, for example, talking about identifying all the cars registered in Bournemouth. We are talking about the relatively small number of pedlars certificates issued in Bournemouth. Indeed, in Manchester, only 206 certificates were issued in the year for which I requested figures. These are not vast numbers.
If we had such a database, coupled with the other safeguards that I have described, it would be possible to separate the lawful pedlar from the rogue trader. It would also ensure that the holders of the certificates were of good character, as laid down in the 1871 Act and in the application form based on that legislation. That is an important safeguard. The proponents of the legislation say, Oh, well, we cannot do anything about that; these people come along and they will lie through their teeth in order to present themselves as legitimate locally, when we think that they have forged papers and false identities and are probably
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Let me share my difficulty with the hon. Member. The point that he is making now could equally be made in different contexts in the sense that it is a generic point. He is relating it specifically to Bournemouth, but it could equally well be madehe may be minded to make itin the context of the next Bill under consideration or the Bill after that. I invite him to reflect on the fact that he is making a generic point, whereas I want to steer him back much more specifically to the Bill on Bournemouth.
Mr. Chope: I accept that the point is generic, but I have made it clear that the way in which the Dorset police deal with the registration of pedlars is commendable and that if more police authorities throughout the country followed that example, they would not have the problems that Bournemouth says it has.
Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend heard the response of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill). All I can say is that I am not satisfied with the response. About a year after the undertaking was given, I would have expected more thought to have been put into exactly how to implement it in practice. I must say that I am disappointed. It may be because my hon. Friend wanted to be succinct that he was unable to expand on the issue as much he would have liked.
any hawker, pedlar, petty chapman...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,
but that is not what these people are doing. Frankly, many of Bournemouths pedlars have licences from outside Bournemouth, some from as far away as Manchester, for example. I do not know whether the gentleman from London has walked down from London with his wares, but we suspect that many do not. In fact, I am told that one comes in a transit van. We are not going to accept people who are not genuine pedlars or who do not comply with the Act. That is all I am saying.
Mr. Chope: We cannot go behind the law on pedlars at the moment, which says that a pedlars certificate can be gained from any one of the 49-odd police forces up and down the country and that a pedlar can carry out work pursuant to the licence anywhere in the countryexcept in the six boroughs where restrictions have been placed so far. The pedlars certificate entitles a person to go and sellI keep returning to my simple exampleballoons, yo-yos and so forth from
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We really are getting far away from Bournemouth, so let me counsel the hon. Member once more. He has been on his feet for 33 minutes, and the Chair might well take a view on that.
Mr. Chope: I accept that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry, but I gave way to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West, who made the more general point. I accept that I was at fault in responding to it generally.
Let me take the House back to the specific provisions in the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, which differ from those in other Bills, and see whether I can elicit a response from my hon. Friends. Under clause 6, community support officers are not allowed to seize goods, which contrasts with the Bill on Reading, for example, and I see my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) in his place. Why is that?
Mr. Chope: I think that it matters because we are debating the merits of this Bill. I should have thought that if this Bills proponents were concerned about enforcement, they would wish to include community support officers in that role.
Mr. Ellwood: With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he is now dictating what is right or wrong for Bournemouth. Bournemouth borough council tabled the Bill because it believes that it is the correct Bill for Bournemouthnot for Reading, but for Bournemouth. If it feels that it can implement the Act that the Bill will become using only police officers, rather than community support officers, who are we to argue with that?
Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend seems to think that any words of wisdom that come from his borough council are not to be challenged in any way. All I can say is that his attitude is very different from mine.
Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): My hon. Friend has been very generous in giving way. I may be able to answer his question. Government legislation to be introduced in 2010 will allow fixed penalty fines to be issued, and I should have thought that PCSOs would be able to issue them. There is a difference between the two authorities over the way in which the fines are used and who is able to issue them.
Mr. Ellwood: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have had to intervene on my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) three times. I appreciate that I have already tried once to ask that the Question be put, but I seek your indulgence now. I feel that we have debated this matter enough, and are going around in circles. I wish to ask for the Question to be put.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am not prepared to accept such a motion at this stage, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that my mind is not closed to accepting it at some point. I am leaning over backwards to ensure that the arguments are presented, but I realise that an attempt is being made to stretch well beyond the bounds of the understanding that I thought had been established both in the ruling that I made in June and in the refined ruling made today.
I understand that the problem in Bournemouth is enforcement, or lack of it, by Dorset police. Given the lack of police effort, it is surely not surprising that Bournemouth has not extended the powers of PCSOs.
If Bournemouth is to have this Bill, and it has only one opportunity to propose it, why does clause 6 contain no power to seize perishable items, which are often regarded as the big problem? Again, that contrasts with the provisions of the Reading Bill. Why does clause 7 of the Bournemouth Bill allow forfeiture and disposal of goods even when that has not been ordered by a court, if the costs of storage, removal and return are not paid within 28 days? I raise the question of reasonableness because the provision is not included in, for example, the Reading Bill. Why is that so?
Clause 10 of the Bournemouth Bill limits the power to impose fixed penalty notices to council officers; it does not extend that power to police or community support officers. Again, why is that so? Many hon. Members think that if there is to be enforcement of the criminal law, we should in the first instance rely on the
police and police community support officers for that, rather than council officials. Why is such a power in the Bill?
Also, whyunlike in other Bills before the House this afternoonis there provision in clauses 14(6) and (7) for a statement purporting to be signed by the chief finance officer to be final evidence that payment of a fixed penalty notice was not received by the council, even if a fixed penalty notice had been sent? The significance of that is that payment of a fixed penalty notice is linked in with the return of the goods that would otherwise be forfeited, and it seems that the provisions of subsections (6) and (7) go further than the provisions in the other Bills before us.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I think the hon. Gentleman will recognise that he is now talking about matters of detail that would be thoroughly examined in Committee, and that they are not appropriate to a Second Reading debate, and certainly not to a Second Reading debate in todays circumstances.
Mr. Chope: I accept that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I hope they will be dealt with in Committee. It is traditional on Second Reading for Members to draw attention to certain points and to put down markers. That is what I am trying to do, in order to be helpful to the promoters of the Bill by giving them advance warning of some of the concerns that I and others have about its provisions.
I also ask my hon. Friends why this Bill extends to the sale of services, because other local authority legislation does not do so. Why does this Bill allow councils to hold goods for 56 days, compared with 28 days? That is twice the limit set in existing private legislation, including in the Maidstone Borough Council Act 2006 referred to earlier.
Sir John Butterfill: Under the Pedlars Act, a pedlar is not permitted to sell services, so it is appropriate to say that anyone who is selling services, rather than goods, should not be entitled to trade as a pedlar.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is inadvertently drawing the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) into a wider sphere of discussion. I am trying to make the debate specific, and I remind the hon. Member for Christchurch that the Bill we are currently debating on Second Reading is identical to the one that we have already given a Second Reading to.
Mr. Chope: I have not gone through the Manchester and Bournemouth Bills line by line to see whether they are identical. All I have been trying to do is identify some of the differences between the Bournemouth Bill and some of the others, such as the Reading Bill. I am trying to draw attention to the
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
Order. I thought we had established that the generalised debate that began in June was intended to give Members an opportunity to put down markers on Bills, most of which were identical and all of which were substantially similar. That was the opportunity, and it was said by the Chair at the start of todays debate that we would not be seeking to hang a generalised debate on the specific Bills that followed
after the House had decided to give a Second Reading, following the generalised debate, to the first of the Bills. I have been trying to maintain that distinction, and I think the House might wish to make progress.
Mr. Chope: Certainly, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am keen to make progress, and I have tried my hardest. I must say that the atmosphere being created by the mirthful comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East is not exactly helping.
The Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Mr. Gareth Thomas): In a similar spirit of helpfulness, may I use this opportunity to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that the Government do not have a view on the Bill? The specific role of the Government is to confirm that the Bills promoters have undertaken a full assessment of its compatibility with the European convention on human rights and that we do not see a need to dispute their conclusions. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to use this intervention to confirm that that is the Governments view.
Mr. Chope: Obviously, the Minister has used the intervention as an opportunity to put that on the record. I think that it has already been put on the record, in the debate in June, and that it applied to all the Bills.
I do not want to spoil the opportunity of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East to respond to the debate, because the points that I have raised about the Bill deserve a response. I particularly hope that he will comment on the differences that I have identified between the Bournemouth Bill and some of the others. I kept back my observations about the specificity of particular points in the Bournemouth Bill compared with some of the other Bills, because I thought that it would be more appropriate to address them during the specific debate on Bournemouth than in the general debate.
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