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6.40 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): You have been waiting eagerly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for distinctive elements of the Bill to be drawn to your attention, and my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has done that in one material particular. However, I am not sure that the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), whom I love dearly, are sufficient for the purposes of this debate.

Clause 11 deals with the issue of touting, which is not dealt with in either of the other two Bills that we have so far considered. The extent of the proposed prohibition on touting is not trivial, because it carries with it a criminal offence and a level 3 fine on the standard scale. Subsection (2) says:

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury prayed in aid the fact that Canterbury is a centre for tourism. If so, all the more reason that tourists should have the opportunity to be made aware of the services available in the city.

Mr. Greg Knight: If this provision were as described by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, many of us could support it, because we would all welcome a heritage site—Canterbury cathedral—being given special protection. However, clause 11 goes even wider than my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) suggests and would allow the council to ban touting in an

with no mention whatever of the cathedral.

Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend is right. He is a very experienced scrutineer of this type of measure, and he knows as well as other Members that as soon as we have general legislation that gives very wide powers, there is, almost as night follows day, a temptation for the people who have those powers to seek to exercise them to their widest possible extent.

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Mr. Brazier: I may be able to help the House by explaining that there is an open space in front of the cathedral called Buttermarket, which probably has the greatest single concentration of tourists of any point in the whole of the city.

Mr. Chope: I am sure that that is very helpful.

Philip Davies: I was struck by my hon. Friend’s point about Canterbury having a high level of tourism. Does he therefore agree that for Canterbury to set rules for itself that do not apply in other parts of the country would be hugely confusing for people who could inadvertently be caught out by such regulations?

Mr. Chope: I agree with my hon. Friend about that.

On the specificity of the Bill, if my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury is right—and I have no reason to doubt him—that there is a problem in one location in Canterbury, within the precincts of that great cathedral or thereabouts, I would have hoped that it would be spelt out in the Bill. Why is it not, and would my hon. Friend give an undertaking on behalf of the promoter that, should the Bill receive Second Reading and go into Committee, it will rephrase clause 11 of the Bill? The promoter should make it clear that the powers taken to deal with touting are going to be limited to dealing with the mischief to which my hon. Friend referred, rather than dealing with, in the wide terms used in the Bill, any


Does my hon. Friend agree that the provisions go unnecessarily wide to meet the mischief that apparently needs to be addressed in Canterbury? I look forward to receiving that offering from my hon. Friend.

Mr. Brazier: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that offer. If he chooses to draw his remarks to a reasonable close after finishing the legitimate points of his argument, and before time runs out in the House, I would be delighted to be instrumental in brokering a meeting between him and Canterbury city council to discuss a suitably felicitous amendment to the clause.

Mr. Chope: That is one of the most constructive responses received tonight by those who have been questioning particular provisions of the Bills, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I say in passing that when I practised as a barrister I frequently visited the city of Canterbury. I have not had the opportunity to visit it for some time, and I would like the opportunity to do so again.

Mr. Bone: Before my hon. Friend moves on, would not one of the problems of giving a Second Reading to this Bill be that it would encourage other councils to introduce similar Bills to outlaw secondary ticketing? This is a different Bill, and if we give that signal, other councils will introduce such measures.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why it is so important that a particular issue in a particular locality should be dealt with in tightly defied terms in private legislation so that it is not taken on board by other councils and usurped by the detrimental effects to which my hon. Friend draws attention.

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In dealing with clause 11, my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has responded constructively to the concerns expressed about the provisions relating to touting in this Bill that are not in the other Bills. I hope that he will be similarly helpful on my other points. His Bill is different from the other Bills because of the provisions of clause 7, which is all about the seizure of perishable items. The two previous Bills we have considered make no provision for the seizure of perishable items. Indeed, they are specifically excluded from those Bills. I hope that my hon. Friend can explain the background to the provisions because clause 7 is a major clause and it is not referred to, even en passant, in the promoter’s statement.

Were it not for the assiduous work of Members in scrutinising the Bill, many people would be unaware of the powers to seize perishable items contained within. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said, a precedent could be set, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) made the same point. Clause 7 states:

It continues:

It does not specify the temperature. The clause goes on:

Miss Widdecombe: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. Is not detail about temperatures more suited to the detailed discussions of later stages?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: A point about, for example, temperature, is most certainly a Committee point. Second Reading is about general principles.

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Normally on Second Reading, the Minister or sponsor who introduces the debate goes through the Bill’s provisions. Even with the lax discipline of recent years and the breaking of several of the House’s conventions, it is more customary than not for a Minister who introduces a Bill to go through its main clauses—albeit not in great detail or line by line—to explain their purport and the justification for them. It is the first time of which I know that the House has been asked to consider giving powers to a local authority to seize perishable items. Although it may be frustrating for my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) that the matter is not to be dealt with immediately on the nod—I find that unfortunate in terms of democracy—I hope that we will have a chance to tackle the substance of the measure.

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Mr. Gareth Thomas) rose—

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Mr. Chope: I am pleased that the Minister would like to contribute to the debate.

Mr. Thomas: Will the hon. Gentleman take the opportunity to correct the impression that the Government have any responsibility for introducing the Bill or any need to explain its general principles, as he appeared to suggest? Will he also allow me to welcome the invitation of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) to discuss with those interested a possible amendment to clause 11? The Government would be interested in those discussions. Will he also allow me to put on record again our view that the Bill’s promoter has undertaken a full assessment of its compatibility with the European convention on human rights, and that we perceive no need to dispute its conclusions?

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention. Again, in live debate, we have an example of the importance of discussing such issues. If we were not debating them, we would not have heard that the Government obviously have concerns about clause 11 and want to be involved in discussions about it, or about the Bill’s compatibility—or otherwise—with the European convention on human rights.

However, in his initial point, the Minister misunderstood my comments. I did not say that I expected him to set out the Government’s views about the Bill; I said that, normally, when Bills are introduced—the Government obviously introduce the majority—the Minister on the Treasury Bench goes through the clauses. I pointed out that no one had done that with the measure that we are discussing. I wondered whether the Minister intended to challenge my assertion that it is the first occasion on which the House has been asked to introduce a measure that would give a local authority the power to seize perishable items, but he did not do that, for which I am grateful.

That reinforces my point that clause 7, which has 13 subsections, constitutes a significant break with tradition. The House should be concerned about that—it merits detailed scrutiny.

Mr. Greg Knight: Does my hon. Friend agree that, as a general principle, a Bill that gives anyone power to seize someone else’s goods should also provide for adequate and proper compensation? That does not appear to be the case with the Bill that we are discussing.

Mr. Chope: I think that there is indeed some provision in the Bill to deal with compensation.

Mr. Greg Knight: With respect to my hon. Friend, as I understand it compensation will be paid only if the initial seizure was not lawful, not if it was lawful but mistaken.

Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend makes a good point, which I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has taken on board. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008. Part 3 of that Act contains provisions relating to civil enforcement in similar situations, which can include the forfeiture of goods, but sets out strong reservations regarding the need for compensation if the seizure of goods is mistaken or not soundly based in law.

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If somebody is deemed to be selling apples or oranges in Canterbury in breach of the relevant regulations, all their goods can be seized and will then have to be stored at the right temperature. The provisions in clause 7 go well beyond pedlars, who are dealt with in a separate clause, and deal with street trading. If people are selling hamburgers, hot dogs or ice creams, for example, and their entire stock is taken, how will it be possible under the Bill for the owner of those goods not to suffer a financial penalty? Once the food has already been cooked, my wife tells me, it should not be cooked again, particularly if it is pork or chicken. Once the food has been seized and has cooled down, will the provisions about storing it at an appropriate temperature require hot or cold storage?

We do not need to go into those issues now, but it is important that we should flag them up, because the Bill is novel in comparison with the other Bills. The third issue— [ Interruption. ] If the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) wishes me to give way so that we can hear what he is saying in his sedentary intervention, I shall happily do so.

John Battle (Leeds, West) (Lab): I recall that when the hon. Gentleman was a councillor for Westminster, he promoted a Westminster Bill to move the pedlars halfway along Westminster bridge so that they would be stuck in Lambeth. Why has he changed his mind?

Mr. Chope: The right hon. Gentleman is wrong about many things, and I am afraid that he is wrong about that. First, I was never a councillor in Westminster—I have never been rich enough to live in Westminster—I was a councillor in Wandsworth, which was the pioneering council that is often unsuccessfully imitated by Westminster. Wandsworth council has not been promoting private legislation in the House because it realises that it is much better to operate sensibly in its own—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. If we have now cleared that up, perhaps we can get back on the road to Canterbury.

Mr. Chope: I am glad that I gave way to the right hon. Gentleman, so that I could clarify the matter for him.

Mr. Bone: To respond to the Minister’s intervention about the European convention on human rights, I did not understand whether he was referring to a blanket application to all the Bills or just to the Bill that we are discussing, which is very different, because I would have thought that outlawing secondary ticketing would indeed infringe people’s human rights.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend makes a good point. If I am party to the discussions between the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury in the precincts of Canterbury cathedral, perhaps I shall be able to report back to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough on the outcome, and give him an answer to his question. That could be a few months ahead, however.

I keep being tempted away from my next point, which is the third distinctive element in the Canterbury City Council Bill, compared with the Bills relating to Bournemouth and Manchester that we have already considered. The element that I wish to draw to the
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attention of the House is clause 13, which will enable council officers, constables and community support officers to serve fixed penalty notices in cases where they have reason to believe that street trading offences have been committed. This Bill will involve the police, community support officers and council officers, in contrast to the provisions in the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill.

Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury will help me on this point when he responds to the debate. Perhaps he has been called away. I was expecting him to respond to the debate, but he seems to be temporarily absent from the Chamber—[Hon. Members: “No, he’s not!”]

Miss Widdecombe: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely it is quite wrong for a Member to accuse another Member, who is fully visible in the Chamber, of not being here.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I am not quite sure to whom the right hon. Lady is alluding— [ Interruption. ] I think that the matter is now resolved.

Mr. Chope: I was wondering whether you were going to draw the curtains round your Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, that will not be necessary. I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury back in his place. I must correct my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald: I could not see my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury because of the very fine piece of furniture standing between us. My right hon. Friend might doubt my word on that. If so, she can come and sit on my lap and see what is visible from here—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. It would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman could now return to the matters in hand.

Mr. Chope: Clause 13 deals with the vexed question of who is to issue the fixed penalty notices. When my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury responds to the debate, will he tell me whether he thinks it right that this power should be given to community support officers, police officers and council officials, rather than just to council officials, as in the provision in the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill that we discussed earlier? I believe that there is much to be said for consistency in this regard. We were unable to draw from my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) the rationale behind not extending this power to police and community support officers in Bournemouth. I wonder, knowing that Kent has quite an imaginative, forward-looking council, whether it might take a different approach, which might commend itself to the House. I would be interested to hear the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury on that particular distinctive point.

Mr. Brazier: That, of course, is something that we could discuss in Committee.

Mr. Chope: I look forward to having that opportunity. However, I was hoping that my hon. Friend would give his views to a wider audience now, so that the Bills that do not contain such a provision might be amended in their own Committee stages to include one—

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