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My hon. Friend will probably be aware of one of the findings of the Durham university research, which was that a very high proportion of people who sell house to house and purport to be pedlars are not lawful pedlars. There is an irony in all that, because although some of the Bills state that pedlars can carry on going from
house to house, there is quite a lot of resistance from households, with good reason, to people arriving on their doorstep offering to sell them things. They are nervous about those people's credentials and whether they might pose a threat to them as occupiers. That is why, when we go canvassing at election times and at other times, we increasingly come across labels on people's doors saying that they do not want pedlars and hawkers and so on.
At a time when there is more public resistance to house-to-house activity by pedlars but more willingness, in my experience, to accept the role of the pedlar in the general street scene, these two Bills are working in the opposite direction. They will allow pedlars to continue to operate from house to house, but not to operate in the street.
Mr. Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting that on the record. It shows the disproportionate impact on pedlars of their activities being restricted so they cannot operate in town centres. My earlier point took account of that, but I was also pointing out that an increasing number of people who sell from door to door are effectively found to be not authorised pedlars but rogue pedlars.
In the letter from the leader of Manchester city council, Sir Richard Leese, and in an identical letter sent to different recipients by Sir Howard Bernstein, the chief executive of that council, in which they seek the support of colleagues and invite other local authorities to put pressure on their Members of Parliament to support not only the Manchester City Council Bill, which we are obviously not considering today, but the two Bills that we are discussing, they make the point that there is a "growing problem" of illegal street trading in their areas. The analysis attached to the letter states that problems include large groups of individuals
"selling goods such as balloons, flags, whistles etc from large, wheeled stalls."
The point that I have sought to make in these debates is that the problem has to do with the large wheeled stalls. If we say that it is not possible for pedlars to take such stalls into city centres, much of the mischief described in the letter from Manchester city council and other submissions would be addressed. Pedlars could still operate in town centres, but they could not use the large wheeled stalls that inevitably cause obstruction. I can understand the concerns about those stalls.
The definition of pedlars includes hawkers, but history shows that they were covered by separate provisions. Hawkers rather than pedlars could be described as people who operate from large wheeled stalls, but the Bill places them all under the same umbrella.
One way to deal with that would be to revert to the traditional understanding of what a pedlar is-namely, a person who carries the goods on his person. That is reflected in the consultation document that the Government
have produced. It is more generous than the amendments to the Bills for Leeds and Reading that I have negotiated, in that it says that the equipment that pedlars take into town centres should be much restricted in size but not removed totally.
In a sense, we are all on the same wavelength. I think the Minister agrees, and that is why it is especially regrettable that these Bills, even though they acknowledge that the main problem lies with the people who use large wheeled stalls, make no provision to help the traditional pedlar-the person on his own or with a very small receptacle-to continue to operate in city centres.
Mr. Bone: What is my hon. Friend's view of pedlars who go to football matches and park their trolleys at the entrance of grounds on match days to sell rosettes? In my day people sold rattles, but now they probably sell Manchester United scarves. How would they be affected by these proposals? I am obviously thinking more about the Nottingham Bill, as that city has football grounds.
Mr. Chope: A lot of pedlars do not work full time but sell novelties that might be associated with the soccer culture that they take to grounds on match days. That is a perfectly legitimate activity, but I am not sure that those people need big stalls, as it should be possible for them to store their goods somewhere. An increasing number of professional clubs accommodate and license stalls at their grounds, to allow such goods to be purchased by punters.
Mr. Bone: I do not think that I have made myself clear. I am not talking about people who are licensed to sell within grounds, where the cost of shirts and so on is quite high. I am talking about entrepreneurs who set up on match days only in the streets around grounds. They offer better value for money and I am worried that they might be caught by the legislation.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) invoked proportionality in a different context. We are now getting into far more detail than is appropriate for a Third Reading debate.
Mr. Chope: Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will try to be proportionate. It may be that the leader and chief executive of Manchester city council were out of order in writing to us in the terms that they did and went beyond the bounds of a Third Reading debate. However, it is worth putting it on record that they admitted that the problem was caused by large wheeled stalls and not pedlars carrying goods on their person.
This Third Reading debate is an opportunity for us to see how a Bill fits into the national context. I was delighted to hear the leader of my party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), reaffirm recently our commitment to encouraging entrepreneurs and promoting enterprise in order to strengthen the UK economy and our international competitiveness. It is clear that one pathway to enterprise open to every UK citizen of good character is to obtain a pedlar's certificate. A licensed pedlar can sell goods from town to town and house to house the length of breadth not just of England and Wales but of the whole UK. We need to look at the national context in considering whether it is reasonable
and proportionate for two councils to disapply the freedoms that pedlars enjoy to operate in their local authority areas.
To their credit, the Government have responded to the threat to enterprise from the proliferation of private Bills and the threat to good regulation posed by a whole lot of pieces of legislation that are different from each other sometimes in small particular but sometimes in significant particular. We are talking about 3,000 or 4,000 pedlars with certificates. As the report to which I have referred by Durham university says, the essence of a pedlar is not necessarily that he has a lot of passes in his GCSEs but that he has good interpersonal skills. So we are not necessarily talking about people who will be able to look at the detail of legislation to see how they can comply with it before they visit a particular town.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): The hon. Gentleman no doubt makes an important point about the national context, but I seem to remember him in another context arguing that larger geographical entities should not take powers that can properly be exercised by smaller ones. This seems a good opportunity to follow that argument. This genuine policy was agreed by Nottingham city council in 2007. It thinks that there is a problem. It does not think that the Bill is designed to stop normal street peddling. Should we not just let the policy be changed and not prolong the agony?
Mr. Chope: The hon. Gentleman does not make that point for the first time; it has also been made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Central. He said that this was what the councils had decided, so that should be the law. We are talking about the difference between being able to make byelaws and changing the impact of national freedoms. At the moment, under national legislation, pedlars have the freedom to operate under the auspices of a pedlar's certificate. If we intend to limit or remove that freedom, this House and the other place should quite rightly and properly consider the rationale for doing so. Indeed, as I said earlier, it is incumbent on us, and a requirement under the European convention on human rights, to examine whether the proposals are proportionate. It is no good just saying, "This appeals to Nottingham, therefore it shall be."
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) has had the chance to read the proceedings of the Unopposed Bill Committee, but, if so, he may agree with my assessment that the argument of the promoters' agents reached its weakest point when they tried to justify the different approach taken in relation to Nottingham and Canterbury compared with the provisions relating to Leeds and Reading. The argument from Nottingham, which the hon. Gentleman has summed up, was basically, "We're in Nottingham; we think this is best for us; so be it." However, the people from Leeds and Reading accepted the argument about proportionality, and they did not want to prevent lawful pedlars who trade goods on their person from continuing to operate in their town centres.
Mr. Bone: Is that not the crux of the way in which this Third Reading debate and all private business should work? My understanding is that the promoters should negotiate with Members who have concerns to see whether a compromise can be reached. That has not happened on this Third Reading with these councils.
Returning to the point about proportionality and the national context, I think that there is a reasonable concern on the part of the pedlar community that it has not obtained a reasonable deal from Nottingham and Canterbury; and that is why I shall certainly oppose these Bills. Piecemeal legislation, which we are engaged in producing, is undesirable in principle. If we are going to restrict or change the rights, responsibilities and definition of pedlars and introduce different arrangements for issuing licences in order to test whether the requirements of good character have been satisfied and so on, it is sensible and prudent that we do so in a national context. They are all issues that have been raised in the Government's current consultation paper.
I should like the number of pedlars operating in this country to increase significantly, and that may be a by-product of our series of debates. I should like Jobcentre Plus advisers to suggest to people that, while looking for work, they might obtain a pedlar's certificate for £12.25 and trust their luck in the real world of trying to become a retailer. That activity is not necessarily suited to everybody, but in my submission it is suited to many more people than the 4,000 who are engaged in it.
We in this House should not send out an ambivalent message. Some say that pedlars are equivalent to rogue traders-admittedly, an extreme view, but one that some of the promoters of these Bills have articulated; and others of us say that pedlars are wonderful entrepreneurs who engage in the enterprise society. If we send out mixed messages, it will be that much more difficult to encourage people to go into pedlary as a profession. I say "profession" advisedly, because, as was mentioned at the very beginning of these debates, Marks and Spencer would not exist had it not been for the fact that it was founded by somebody who learned his trade as a pedlar.
We have to look at this in the national context, because an aspect that has become highly relevant since we first started debating these Bills is the significant rise in unemployment. Like me, the Minister will have regularly received people at his surgeries saying, "I've got all these qualifications and I'm eager to work", then, as an aside, "A lot of people aren't interested in getting a job, but I'm not one of those-I want to get a job." Other countries, such as Germany, have systems for encouraging people to engage in self-employment-
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. If I believed this to be the hon. Gentleman's peroration, I would be prepared to reckon that it was in order, but I am not convinced that that is the case. He is venturing into territory that would be a legitimate basis for a debate at another time and in another place, but not on the Third Reading of these Bills.
Mr. Chope: Let it never be said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we do not have some good humour in this House during these debates. Looking at the clock and seeing that I have been on my feet for some 57 minutes, I suppose that it is inevitable that I will soon be coming to the conclusion of my remarks; as people say, all good things must come to an end.
Mr. Bone: Could my hon. Friend advise the House on the argument about pedlary being an entry route to entrepreneurship? If that is to be economically viable, pedlary must operate anywhere in the United Kingdom, but that will not be the case if we pass these Bills on Third Reading.
Addressing the House during this debate has been a frustrating exercise given that so much relevant material has been produced over the past 18 months. The most recent consultation paper extends to some 89 pages, the Durham university report extended to well over 100 pages, and lots of other material has been produced besides. That tells me that this is an important subject to which we cannot do justice in a Third Reading debate when many of us would like to be able to focus attention on particular amendments or groups of amendments.
Having said that, I take a degree of satisfaction from the fact that if we had never started objecting to these Bills and raising these issues in debate, we would never have had the Durham university report commissioned by the Government, the Government's response to that report and preliminary surveys, or the Government's latest consultation, which, I hope, provides a blueprint for the future. I am sure that people will want to contribute representations to that before the closing date. As a result, although we do not have any concessions on Nottingham and Canterbury in relation to clause 5, we have been able to obtain by agreement concessions in relation to two of the other Bills, and concessions forced on two other councils as a result of the actions of the Opposed Bill Committee.
Although I cannot find any reason to think that I have made any progress in relation to the Nottingham City Council Bill, I feel that by persuading my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury to introduce an amendment to remove clause 11 from the Canterbury City Council Bill, which I describe as his Bill, we have achieved something, and that the exercise in which we have been engaged has not been completely worthless.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), without whose herculean efforts the voice of pedlars would never have been heard in this House? No matter which side of the fence hon. Members are on in this debate or how they might vote if the matter is pressed to a Division, I am sure they agree that he has done a tremendous job of bringing the legitimate concerns that many people have about these Bills to the House.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), who does what he always does, which is do what he genuinely believes is in the best interests of the people of Canterbury. He should be commended on that. The same goes for the hon. Member
for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell), who is doing what he believes is in the best interests of his city and his constituents. I am sure he would agree that his case was ably made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) in his contribution.
I am concerned about the Bills for a number of reasons, which I shall go through with reference to various clauses. I am particularly concerned about clause 4 of the Nottingham City Council Bill. Whereas my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has agreed with his council to make the concession on ticket touting-as he would accept, the measure slightly muddied the waters of the overall debate-a measure on ticket touting is still in clause 4 of the Nottingham City Council Bill. That is most unfortunate. I hope that Nottingham city council will reflect, as my hon. Friend and his council did, on whether it is worth pursuing that measure.
I was struck by my hon. Friend's remarks on clause 4 when he spoke of its compatibility with the services directive. I am not one to stand up in Parliament and say that the House should concern itself with ensuring that its legislation meets the approval of the European Union-indeed, as many people know, I would much prefer to be out of the wretched European Union altogether-but we are where we are.
Martin Horwood: Will the hon. Gentleman therefore support the in-out referendum supported by the Liberal Democrat party? I believe that that is now the only referendum supported by any of the major political parties.
We are where we are on European legislation-unfortunately-and it is perfectly clear that any legislation that the House passes today must meet the services directive. It seems to me that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch made a compelling case, which I did not hear anyone deny, that the ticket touting aspect of the Bill does not meet the requirements of the services directive. I do not see how the House can pass legislation that we know, in our heart of hearts, cannot be maintained, justified and sustained in a court of law. That would be an entirely pointless exercise. That is one very deep concern I have about clause 4. I was not aware of the problem before, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making the House aware of it.
"purchasing...or offering to purchase any ticket for gain or reward".
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