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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We are dealing with the Canterbury City Council Bill, not with any other Bills. I would appreciate it if the hon. Gentleman did not stray into matters that the House has already agreed are for the Committee stage.
Mr. Greg Knight: This specific Bill makes provisionrather oddly, in my viewfor varying the level of fixed penalty depending on where in the city of Canterbury the offence took place. Has my hon. Friend received any information from the promoters as to why they feel that that is desirable? I ask him because my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) did not cover the point in his very short introduction.
Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend has got on to a point that I have to admit I had not spotted, so I am grateful to him for drawing it out. I do not know whether he would like to expand on it in greater detail in due course.
Different levels may be set for different areas in the city and for different cases or classes of case.
We all understand that different cases may deserve a different fine regime, but I find it hard to understand why an identical ticketable offence should be met with a different penalty depending on what street in Canterbury one happens to be on.
Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend is on to an extremely good point. I am not sure that the House has considered any legislation previously that has allowed the imposition of a varying penalty depending on where someone one is found to be committing an offence. Having a tiered fine system based on the location of an offence seems a very novel provision, so I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury can address it.
Let me deal with one or two other issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury spoke on 12 June, I believe, when we last debated the generality of the issues. He made some specific points about Canterbury. For example, he said that
stolen goods are often marketed in this way.
He was referring to what pedlars were up to in Canterbury, but I wonder whether he had any evidence of that. I am hoping that he is listening to this point, so that he can respond to it. My hon. Friend made the point, as I said, that stolen goods were often marketed by what he alleged to be pedlars in Canterbury. He then went on to say that
some of these people have even got into drugs.[ Official Report, 12 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 553.]
I hope that he can expand on that. Can he give us an assurance that there is no drug pushing in Canterbury other than among pedlars, which would be very illuminating for this House, or is there an attempt to smear pedlars even with illegal drug dealing?
Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is right, but one of the difficulties with the Bill is that there are a lot of assertions and generalisations, but precious little evidence. That is what worries me. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury mentioned that in the context of Canterbury, there was an elongated process of enforcement. Once again, that seems to be unique to Canterbury. He said that people were operating as pedlars without a certificate in their possession. What happens is that if they are static, they have to be given a verbal warning. Where is it in the law books, as one puts it colloquially, that somebody has to be given a verbal warning before they can be proceeded against?
I do not dispute the fact that this is a problem in Canterbury, but is my hon. Friend saying that the remedy might be in having a rather more robust enforcement procedure, cutting out the verbal warning or the verbiage and going straight to the penalty? All of us as motorists know exactly what happens when we park a car in the wrong place, even for a short time. We are not given the luxury of a verbal warning, but it seems that offenders in Canterbury are, despite the horrendous problems to which my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury referred when he spoke about the matter so eloquently during the main Second Reading debate.
Mr. Chope: I hope that I shall be able to finish making my point before the debate ends, and I hope that my hon. Friend, in his enthusiasm for moving a closure motion, will not lose sight of the importance of being able to listen to the debate so that he will be in a position to respond to it. He made a telling point in the main Second Reading debate, when he said there was a crisishe described it as an horrendous crisisin Canterbury.
Only then can proceedings be adopted.[ Official Report, 12 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 552.]
Mr. Greg Knight: I think that my hon. Friend is being a little unfair on our hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury. We live in an enlightened democracy. If someone breaks the law innocently, what is wrong with giving that person a verbal warning in the first instance?
Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend is seeking to be fair-minded, but the point made by our hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury during that Second Reading debate was that these people were proceeding with malice aforethought. They were not innocents who had haplessly done the equivalent of parking in the wrong spot. Nevertheless, given the long-winded process involved, it was not worth while to proceed against these rogue traders, for want of a better expression.
My hon. Friend went on to say that only after the written warning could proceedings be adopted, and that the penalties were very small. Does he accept that
the question of penalties is for the local magistrates court? If the magistrates want to draw attention to an exemplary issue, they have powers in their locality to say, This kind of behaviour is such a problem that I am going to deter people by imposing a higher fine, as long as it does not exceed the maximum specified.
Mr. Knight: I really do think that my hon. Friend is making heavy weather of this. Might it not be the case that Canterbury city council merely sees this as good public relations? It does not want to be seen to be throwing its weight around in the first instance, even if the law is on its side, particularly given that the person concerned may not be aware of the law.
Mr. Chope: In a sense, my right hon. Friend is filling the role that I hoped would be played by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury in explaining the background to what my hon. Friend told us during the main Second Reading debate.
Philip Davies: Might not the point made by our right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) about Canterbury being reasonable carry more weight if it had not included in the Bill all the additional powers related to seizing perishable goods and varying fines for different areas? That does not give the impression of an area that is being reasonable; it gives the impression of an area that is being more officious than other areas.
My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury also asserted that many pedlars were operating with certificates containing false addresses, but there is no evidence of that. I will give way to my hon. Friend if he can produce any evidence that a pedlar in Canterbury has used a certificate containing a false address, and can tell us whether, if that has happened, it has resulted in that persons prosecution. Perhaps this is another of the myths being peddled by those who are against pedlars [Laughter.] I apologise for that totally unintentional pun. There is, therefore, a difference between the Canterbury Bill and the other Bills, and I hope that in the time before
Mrs. Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): I am delighted to have secured this Adjournment debate on such an important issue for Halifax and for the people I represent. The debate is timely for a number of reasons, which include the recent report outlining the need for more capacity in services on our rail network, the need for Halifax to have a major economic and social boost, and the fact that the operator tendering for the bid, Grand Union, has identified key gaps in the rail market that can be filled, creating dozens of new jobs in west Yorkshire. Rail paths and rolling stock have been identified and full service proposals have been worked up. The plans are now at the Office of Rail Regulation. They are exciting, well-thought-out proposals that the ORR would be crazy to turn down.
Let me provide a bit of background to the bid. The rail operator, Grand Union, has been developing plans for services from towns such as Halifax for more than two years. Initially, the plans were rejected because of a lack of capacity, but after full engagement with key rail stakeholders the capacity has been found. The major economic tests have been passed and markets identified. Major west Yorkshire towns without direct services to London would be put on the mainline map. The service proposals are exciting, viable and visionary. The rail industry should be biting off Grand Unions hand and welcoming the proposals with open arms.
It sounds simple, so why has nothing happened yet? Well, things are never simple, especially when it comes to new rail services. Applications get tied down in a boring web of bureaucracy when flair and vision is required to realise the huge potential of the services. Someone needs to grasp the nettle and realise when something good is staring them in the face. The rail industry needs a more can-do attitude, as opposed to the cannot-do approach that seems to prevail. In fact, it seems to me that the more a company wants to run a service the harder it is for its dreams to become reality. In 2008, we should encourage new and imaginative ideas for our railways to get people off roads and on to trains, and not put up obstacle after obstacle, as seems to be happening with the proposals for Halifax and other towns in west Yorkshire such as Bradford, Brighouse and Pontefract.
My main aim in this debate is to put forward the case that Halifax needs a direct service to London. I also want to explain why that would benefit the town socially and economically, and why the Government should encourage provincial towns to have direct routes to London. Such a link would benefit towns such as Halifax, as well as the rail network and the environment.
Why more is not being done to allow direct rail routes from towns to our key cities baffles me. For example, it is quite illogical that it takes people in my constituency nearly an hour to travel to the connecting train that will get them to London. What is the point of thousands of people each year being forced to use their motor cars to travel 15 or 20 miles, when they would quite happily use a direct service that could be available on their doorstep?
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