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21 Jan 2010 : Column 493

I am trying to explain to my hon. Friend that the wording of amendment 74 is not less but more restrictive than the wording of the current law, because under the current law there is no specific limit to the carrying capacity of the vehicle that the pedlar takes with him in order to conduct his business.

Dr. Murrison: As politicians, we know full well how easy it is to expand carrying capacity. Any one of us who has set up a street stall will know that. What concerns local authorities is the problem of clutter and the blocking of ease of access for people going about their normal business. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to ensure that from this definition of carrying capacity does not emerge a table or stand of some sort that the pedlar might use? Might not a restriction in that regard make good sense?

Mr. Chope: I agree. That is why I have made the suggestion in amendment 74, and that is why, when I discussed these issues with the promoters of the Leeds and Reading Bills, I went even further and conceded-to the chagrin of some pedlars-that, in the particular circumstances of Leeds and Reading, it would be reasonable not to allow the pedlar to have anything with him other than the goods on his person.

The clear rationale set out in the main letter from the chief executive of Manchester city council, and in the separate letter from the leader of the council, which was well circulated-it was sent to a number of councils, encouraging them to ask their local Members of Parliament to participate in today's debate-is that the mischief that the Bills wish to address is that of wheeled vehicles drawn by so-called pedlars which are causing obstructions in town centres.

Obviously I would think that my own amendment was a good one, but it seems to me that amendment 74 clearly expresses a way of meeting the intentions of the amendments tabled by members of the Opposed Private Bill Committee without creating a complicated new provision that would offend all the principles of good regulation.

Mr. Leigh: My hon. Friend had me worried a moment ago. He referred to bringing a horse or beast. Would his amendment prevent a pedlar from bringing his horse or his beast into play?

Mr. Chope: Effectively, it would. My hon. Friend is an experienced practitioner of the law, and he knows that if a pedlar had a horse or a beast with him, he could not possibly comply with the terms of amendment 74. However, that is-as lawyers would say-an academic point, rather than one of practical substance. However, that comment might sound rather more critical than I intended to be of my hon. Friend.

Amendment 74 is essentially a new clause, replacing clause 5. Importantly, proposed new sub-paragraph (2B) states:

Clause 5 currently does not make that clear, but it is vital that that provision of the pedlars legislation is retained intact.

Many of my other amendments in this group remove the worst inaccuracies or ambiguities from the interpretations that the Bill's promoters have put on the
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words of the Opposed Private Bill Committee. They are, therefore, alternative amendments to amendment 74. That amendment effectively completely redrafts clause 5, but each of these other amendments tweaks a part of the clause that gives the wrong impression and would make bad law if unamended.

Amendment 7 would delete the word "only" from clause 5(1)(a). By inserting that word there, for the purposes of the Bill, its promoters narrow the definition of "pedlar" from the existing definition as restated in the 1982 Act, and I do not think that that can be accidental. Amendment 7 would delete the word "only" in respect of trading that is carried out

and so forth.

Amendment 24 seeks clarity. I received strong representations on this matter from pedlars. They think "location" is far too broad a term. The Opposed Private Bill Committee used the word "place" in its recommendations, rather than "location", but I think the word "position" conveys a much better and more precise definition. A pedlar would then be in a particular position-standing on a square space of a few paving stones, perhaps-rather than in a "location", which might be regarded as a particular street or a much wider area. I hope that this amendment will find favour with the promoters of the Bill, because it more accurately conveys the intentions of the Opposed Bill Committee and will avoid a lot of argument about what is meant by "location".

Mr. Bone: I agree with my hon. Friend that this amendment seeks to make an important minor change, which would clarify the Bill enormously. I recall great debates that have taken place when section 106 agreements have said that money should be spent "locally" and that has been defined so widely as to have become something spent in the region. The tighter we can draw the Bill, the better. This amendment is small, but important.

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support for my amendment. He will know that the word "location" appears not only in clause 5, line 20, page 3, but in many other clauses. I shall not recite all those, but the consequential, similar amendments are set out in this group.

Amendment 8 seeks to reflect accurately common law case law on the interpretation of how long it is reasonable for a pedlar to stay in one position when complying with his duties and responsibilities under a pedlar's certificate. There is quite a lot of case law-I shall not refer to the tomes on it-suggesting that anything up to 20 minutes is reasonable for a pedlar to spend in one position and after that the pedlar needs to move on. Clause 5 says that it would not be possible for a pedlar to stay in one position for more than five minutes. That is unduly restrictive, and a 15-minute period would be more reflective of case law. In order to demonstrate the reasonableness of this and other amendments, I have not gone to the extreme of the ambit by proposing, in line with some case law, a 20 minute limit-there is even a case that suggested a stay of up to half an hour or longer. I thought that 15 minutes would be reasonable and proposed it in the hope that it would find favour with the promoters of the Bill.

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Dr. Murrison: I have been listening to my hon. Friend's remarks, which make some sense to me. Would it help if he distinguished between a pedlar providing services, notwithstanding what he has said about the services directive, and those providing goods for sale? Providing goods for sale takes little time, whereas providing a service-he mentioned teeth whitening-will take rather more than five minutes. Indeed, one would hope that it would, so perhaps a distinction should be drawn between the two.

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because he makes a powerful point about having a five-minute time limit on the provision of services by a pedlar. I am no expert in teeth whitening-his medical knowledge probably means that he knows more about what is involved-but I do not think that that service could easily be executed to the right standard in five minutes, so perhaps 15 minutes would be a more reasonable limit. I agree with him that that should apply to services. In order to try to reduce the complexity, we would be better to adopt the same time limit for pedlars providing services as for pedlars who are trading, selling or displaying goods. What would happen if people were providing both teeth whitening and, perhaps, selling toothpaste? They would be both selling and providing services and that could cause problems with enforcement.

3.45 pm

Dr. Murrison: It would, of course, depend on precisely what they were doing-if they were acting as a provider of services, or if they were acting as a pedlar of goods. In the event that they were doing both, the former would clearly take precedence over the latter.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I shall not argue with him.

The sad thing is that we are now faced with a situation in which this Bill is now being considered on Report-it has already been through the other place-and the scope for amending it beyond the amendments tabled today is non-existent. I think my hon. Friend, in fairness, is faced with the choice of supporting the provision of five minutes for all pedlars, including pedlars of services, or amendment 8, which would delete the reference to five minutes and insert 15 minutes.

Sir John Butterfill: I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that five minutes was what the Committee, after a lot of deliberation, thought was reasonable, and that 20 minutes was well beyond what it thought was reasonable. At 20 minutes, the definition starts to become more like that of a street trader than of a pedlar. The essence of a pedlar is that he moves along.

Mr. Chope: I accept what my hon. Friend says. That is why I am not going as far as to suggest 20 minutes, and why I am proposing a 15-minute compromise. Having read the transcript of the proceedings in the Opposed Private Bill Committee, I doubt whether the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) about its being very hard to provide some services within five minutes was taken on board at all.

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Mr. Leigh: All this is nonsense. Who is going to police all this rubbish of insisting that someone stays for five minutes, seven minutes or 10 minutes? It is much better to have a less restrictive time limit, as my hon. Friend is trying to propose. The principle would be that they have to move on, rather than their being told to move on after five minutes. Who would police it? The police have better things to do.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is right. The issues of seizure, penalties and enforcement are dealt with later. We must try, in this great Palace of Westminster where we legislate, to introduce a bit of common sense and practicality into the laws that we introduce. If they are effectively unenforceable, we are going to make ourselves even more of a laughing stock than we are already.

Mr. Bone: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He is being very generous. Will he explain a point to the House and to me? In clause 5, proposed new sub-paragraph (2A)(a)(i) states

as (ii) states-

That seems to drive a coach and horses through any time limit. Have I misread it?

Mr. Chope: Basically, that demonstrates how complicated this drafting has become. We are talking about a set of rules that are meant to be easily understood, remembered and complied with by pedlars who have had their certificates issued anywhere in the UK and who come down to Bournemouth and go to Manchester. Will they find it easy to understand these precise constraints, which will be unique to the Bournemouth and Manchester areas if they become law today?

I think that the answer to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) is that a very tight time limit of five minutes may lead to a queue of customers asking, "Hang on a minute, can I buy one of those?", to which the response will be, "No, because my five minutes are up."

Unless people are within sight of the town hall clock, it will be quite difficult for them to be cognisant of when they arrived and of how long they can enjoy selling wares to willing customers.

Mr. Leigh: What do people do when their five minutes is up? Do they take one step to the right, or 15 steps? We are in danger of making the law an ass.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend anticipates my amendment 9. Line 28 of page 3 says that after a pedlar has left a location-or, as I would prefer to say, a position-he must move a minimum distance of 200 metres before he can engage in further trading. He will therefore say to customers rushing down the street after him as he walks away, "I can't trade with you now because I have not done my 200 yards"-as I would call the distance. Again, that is absolutely ludicrous-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is being tempted to move from amendment to amendment. He is doing very well, but it would be
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helpful if he would move logically from amendment to amendment. If he deals with amendment 9 now, we will consider it dealt with.

Mr. Chope: I was trying to go logically through the amendments, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have dealt with amendment 8, which would leave out "five" and insert "fifteen", but I have not referred to amendment 25, as it is another one that would replace the word "location" with the word "position" and I have already deployed the arguments in that regard.

As you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that brings us to amendment 9. For those who are following the debate and have a copy of the Bill, that amendment refers to line 28 of page 3 and reads:

For a pedlar to establish that he has moved, there is no need for him to move 200 metres. I have already said why I do not believe that setting a minimum distance requires such a highly prescriptive form of legislation but, if that is what we must have, my proposal is that the Bill should set the more reasonable distance of 20 rather than 200 metres.

I would be the first to accept that that is an arbitrary judgment on my part, but my 20-metre proposal would still make it clear that a person had moved and could then continue with his transactions.

Mr. Ellwood: I am pleased that my hon. Friend has finally admitted that these are, in essence, wrecking amendments that would change the Bill in its entirety and render it unworkable. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) has said that a person moving one inch could not be policed, but that is exactly what would happen if the distance were to be reduced from 200 metres to 20 metres. How could that possibly be policed? Two hundred metres is a decent distance: with that, and a time limit of five minutes, there would be no doubt about what was happening.

I do not want to test the House's patience, but the Bill makes it clear that the provisions apply only when trading has ceased. So a person getting his teeth whitened will not have to give up the service halfway through, and the trader will be able to deal with any queue that has formed before moving on. The drafting of the Bill is sound, and I am sorry that my hon. Friend is not giving it the justice that it deserves.

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. Not for the first time, two hon. Members have reached different conclusions about what should be the right form of the legislation. However, clause 5 and the amendments tabled as a result of the deliberations in the Opposed Private Bill Committee show that the members of that Committee, and now the Bill's promoters, have tried to encapsulate in statute the case law that has arisen.

There is no evidence to suggest that case law requires a pedlar to move between each set of transactions a distance of 200 metres rather than 20 metres, which is the distance that I suggest in amendment 9. I strongly dissent from my hon. Friend's suggestion that that is a wrecking amendment. It is not. The amendment has been selected for debate, and it is based upon representations that I have received. I have modified them not only to
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make them more reasonable, but to bring them closer than might otherwise have been possible to the concerns expressed.

Mr. Ellwood: With due respect to my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour, is he honestly saying that, in a period of three hours, the introduction of 81 separate amendments is not designed to wreck the Bill?

Mr. Chope: It is absolutely not designed to wreck the Bill; it is designed to improve the Bill.

Mr. Leigh: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order to put down wrecking amendments?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: If an amendment was put down and seen to be a wrecking amendment, it would not be called for debate. However, it will help if the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) lets us know each time he moves from one amendment to another, and help if he keeps ticking along.

Mr. Chope: Absolutely.

Mr. Bone: I am looking with some concern at clause 5(1)(a) and (b). Paragraph (a) refers to

In Wellingborough, houses are often right next door to each other; they are certainly not 200 metres apart. Have I misread that provision? If one employed a 200 metre provision, one could not go from house to house.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend has misread that provision, because it applies to pedlars trading not from house to house, but in the streets. I am sorry to be blunt with him about that.

Dr. Murrison: But the provision would apply, presumably, to the "lucky lavender" seller who peddles her wares-throughout the summer, certainly-on Westminster bridge. She does not move very far and cannot, poor thing, because of all the passing traffic, so it would apply to her, would it not?

Mr. Chope: It most certainly would apply to her, and my hon. Friend raises an important issue, because the Bill's promoters would argue that that lavender seller is just the sort of person who is outlawed under similar legislation that has been enacted in London. Returning to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough made about enforcement, and notwithstanding the legislation in London, we still see such activity continuing, however. So, even if the intention was to stop a lavender seller operating in Bournemouth town centre, I am not sure that it would be realised in practice. We will turn later to whether it should be possible to seize and hold the lavender seller's lavender until a fixed penalty has been paid, but we should not anticipate that debate.

Amendment 10 would leave out from clause 5

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