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Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I for one, I think along with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Davies), am pleased that the Reading Borough Council Bill provides in clause 15 for the Secretary of State to have reserve powers in respect of the levels of fixed penalties. We look forward shortly to hear the Minister's comments, because we want councils to treat their powers circumspectly and to remember that pedlars often trade on a very small scale. The explanatory memorandum to the Reading Borough Council Bill states that clause 14
"provides that the Council must fix the levels of fixed penalties"-
"In doing so the council must have regard to the reasonable costs incurred by them in administering the street trading regime under Schedule 4 to the 1982 Act, the costs of enforcing the provisions of Schedule 4 and the administration and enforcement costs under Clause 11."
What worries me is that if we take into account all those costs, the council could argue that the cost of enforcing the regime to deal with pedlars is heavy. I do not want councils who are under pressure regarding their spending to level fixed penalties that will drive these people out of the market.
I have referred to Mrs Crofts, who trades in south Yorkshire and around the country. Although she was peddling in a small way, with two milk floats joined together, when she was sentenced the magistrates took into account that she had to pay a £110,000 confiscation order issued by Swansea Crown court in 2007 for possessing goods with false trademarks. I cannot believe that such a lady could have such property and I can only assume that that fine was a maximum amount. I only mention this case to show that the Secretary of State must be very circumspect in keeping an eye on these borough councils to ensure that they are not imposing too large a fine on these people. This lady was trading from two milk trolleys stuck together and, rather pathetically, she said after the court case that she would continue to trade but would be downsizing. How much more pathetic can you get?
When councils implement clause 14, they must have regard to people like Robert Edwards, who has a licence under the Pedlars Act 1871 and sells his own poetry. Apparently not many people are interested in buying his poetry. In 15 months on the road, he has sold 750 books but most were through established retail bookshops. His best day ever, he has said, was when he sold seven. This chap is hardly a great-
Mr. Leigh: I am very happy to do so. I just wanted to quote those two examples to try to convince the Minister, who I think will not need any convincing, to reassure us that he will use his reserved powers under clause 15 to ensure that when fines are imposed, they are at a low level so that this traditional activity, which is dying out, will carry on in the country.
The Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs (Kevin Brennan): The House is aware that, prompted by the number of local authorities seeking these additional powers contained in the two Bills, we are undertaking research to look at the perceptions and applications of the national and local regimes. We are now consulting. The consultation period will come to an end on 12 February and we will publish the Government's response in due course.
In the light of the questions about the service directive, I can say that, in effect, it limits authorisation schemes for service providers so as not unduly to limit cross-border provision of services. It is for local authorities to be able to justify any such authorisation schemes under the terms of the directive and the Department has drawn the attention of local authorities to this.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con):
We all have to take our turn in the Opposition Business team in dealing with these private Bills, which have had a long genesis in terms of getting through the House. As
long ago as 12 June 2008, I argued from the Dispatch Box that we should have a national review of this whole subject, so I am delighted to hear today from the Minister that we will have the results of such a review by the end of February. He then said that he would consider those and in due course we would have a result. Does he think "in due course" is likely to be before the general election or not?
Mr. Clifton-Brown: We can conclude from that that "in due course" probably means after the general election, so, with a bit of luck, it will be a Conservative Government who will have to consider these matters. We will do just that; we will see whether this procedure is satisfactory and what we can do on a more national basis.
I was delighted to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) that such good progress has been made that he now feels able to support a Third Reading, although I was careful to note what he said about the amount of work that needs to be done in the other place.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend speaks clearly for himself, but I do not think he would demur from the second part of my comment, which was that there is still a lot of work to be done in the other place. In "allowing" his support for these Third Readings today, I hope that he will provide every possible assistance to the other place to ensure that these Bills get on to the statute book. I say that because, as the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) said, his local authority and other authorities have spent a great deal of time and resources in trying to achieve that aim. It is incumbent on both Houses to try to make progress and get the Bills on to the statute book.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has managed to secure some useful amendments, which I shall discuss briefly: the provision in clause 5 about pedlars having goods about their person does mean that they cannot have vast great floats, which take up space and cause a nuisance; the Minister has made it clear how the interactivity between the services directive and the provision of services by pedlars is supposed to work; we have had a great deal of debate about clause 6
and about the issue of seizure, particularly the seizure of perishable goods, as set out in clauses 7 and 8; and our long debates seem to have produced eminently sensible amendments to clause 10(1)(ii) in respect of goods held on acquittal. They are proportionate and reasonable, they are not oppressive and my hon. Friend has done the promoters of the Bill a favour in securing such amendments. I also agree with him about the apparent inconsistencies in the Bills about the fixed penalties, and it would have been much more sensible to have specified a maximum level of fine in clauses 11 to 14, even if local authorities could then set a level below that. It would be up to them to use their discretion, according to the severity of the problem that they face in their local area, to determine what level of fine to set.
I was initially opposed to the appointment of community support officers-when they were proposed by this Government I thought that they were about getting policing on the cheap-but I must say that this is one of the very few examples of when the Government have introduced something and I have completely changed my mind about it. These officers do a great job of work in their localities and they provide a lot of reassurance for the public by their visibility. The amendments of their powers that my hon. Friend has managed to secure in the Bill in respect of requiring information from those who might have committed an offence is also of benefit.
With those few words, I hope that the House will proceed to support the Third Reading of these two Bills and that we can move on to the other Bills that we have to discuss. I also hope that the other place will give a fair wind to the Bills, so that we can get them on the statute book.
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): It is with considerable interest, if not exactly unalloyed pleasure, that I have followed the proceedings on these Bills over a number of afternoons. Among other things, that has had the unintended consequence that at a recent dinner party I attended I was able to speak at length and depth on the subject of pedlary, much to the dismay of the other guests. Notwithstanding that, the protagonists have clearly arrived at a workable, if not necessarily amicable, truce. In that regard, it would be quite wrong of me or anybody else to stand in the way of this Bill's further progress and I hope that the House accords it a Third Reading.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): In keeping with the previous debate on these Bills, it will be for the convenience of the House if certain amendments relating to the Manchester City Council Bill [ Lords] be debated together with those relating to the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [ Lords].
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): We were debating this amendment a week ago and I was in the process of summing up the debate. I am pleased to say that since I sat down last week an important conversation has taken place between myself, Bournemouth borough council and Manchester city council about these two Bills. What has effectively come out of that conversation is that Bournemouth borough council and Manchester city council realise that the Bills go far too far and they are prepared to concede a series of significant and substantial amendments and concessions.
Although I know there will still be people, particularly in the pedlar community, who think that those concessions do not go far enough, I have taken the view that as I am in a position of relative weakness-as reflected in the votes on these issues, where I rarely got more than a dozen of my Back-Bench colleagues to support the case I put forward-reaching a compromise that involves significant concessions, which could of course have been made much earlier or even several years ago, is a worthwhile achievement. I commend the flexibility of both Bournemouth borough council and Manchester city council in agreeing to those concessions, even at this late stage. One can imagine that people become rather entrenched and say, "If I give ground now, I shall look like a weakling."
Mr. Leigh: No, of course I do not think that. I am just a humble spear-carrier in the pedlar campaign and my hon. Friend is the general. I merely want a reassurance that, having obtained these concessions, he can convince us that pedlary as we have understood it since 1871 will carry on. He has unfurled the banner on behalf of a community who had no other support. Before we withdraw from our position, we want the reassurance of our hon. Friend and nobody else.
I believe that lawful pedlary has now been recognised across the House as something worth while
that should be allowed to continue. The Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs is now conducting a consultation on possible changes. My hon. Friend should look at that consultation to see whether he wishes to make a submission to it.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I want to add a sense of reality to what my hon. Friend is saying. The introduction of these Bills was never designed to challenge genuine pedlars, but to put the relationship between genuine pedlars and street traders into perspective. Illegal pedlars were giving a bad name to the genuine pedlars whom my hon. Friend and his entourage have been trying to support, and I want to make it very clear that we had the genuine pedlars in mind when drafting the Bill.
Mr. Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. He has referred to what he describes as my "entourage", so perhaps this is the moment for me to thank all those who have assiduously supported these debates over the past months and years. We can now claim that we have been able to concentrate minds and achieve significant concessions.
This is the lead Bill, and I believe that what has come out of our debates is that the Government set up an inquiry, which they were never going to do otherwise. They then went out to consultation, and have now done so again. We are promised that, when the consultation's results are known in due course, there will be a prospect of further, national legislation.
I do not know what will happen with that, but the best thing is that we are going to get a code of guidance. A draft code has been published with the consultation: if that were widely disseminated, it would bring an enormous amount of clarity to the issue, both for pedlars and those who must enforce the law as it stands.
We will come in due course to the amendments that have been accepted. Because of the agreement that has been reached and the concessions that have been made, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Madam Deputy Speaker: With this, we are taking amendments 33 to 42, 44 to 47, 49 to 55 and 57 to 70 to the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [ Lords], and amendments 35, 36 to 45, 47 to 50, 52 to 58 and 60 to 73 to the Manchester City Council Bill [ Lords].
Mr. Chope: These groups of amendments deal with the powers that the Bills give to authorised officers and police officers to seize goods. Previous private Bills dealing with street trading have granted powers of seizure, but for the first time the Bills as currently drafted allow a power to be exercised not just when there is a reasonable belief that an offence has been committed, but when there is "a reasonable suspicion" that an offence has been committed.
Without going into great detail, a case decided in the House of Lords shows that the meaning of "a reasonable suspicion" effectively means that the person exercising that view has absolute discretion in the matter. A similar power under terrorism legislation is now being used to arrest people. Although I am not going to get into that,
I am sure that, even in their most concerned moments, my hon. Friends the Members for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) and for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill) would never have wanted to equate unlawful street traders with terrorists.
Mr. Leigh: Does my hon. Friend remember the sus laws that obtained when we were young barristers together? There was a great campaign to remove them because it was felt that they gave the police far too much power to arrest people, often from ethnic minorities, simply on suspicion. Can he assure me that we are in no way creating powers parallel to the old-fashioned sus laws that we swept away in the late 1980s?
Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, which is why I tabled the amendments and why I am delighted that amendments 32, 33, 44, 45, 49, 50, 51, 55, which deals with the related subject of the recovery of storage costs, and 69, which deals with the payment of compensation on acquittal, have been accepted by the Bill's promoters. Those amendments are an important package that mean there will be less reason for pedlars and street traders to think they are an oppressed minority against which prejudiced people can exercise draconian powers. My hon. Friend is quite right to remind us of the old sus laws. If people, on mere grounds of suspicion, arrest others or take away their goods, it creates an unpleasant atmosphere, which is why I am enthusiastic about this group of amendments and why I am delighted that at this late stage Bournemouth and, indeed, Manchester are prepared to accept my proposals.
Mr. Ellwood: I do not wish to detain the House any longer than is necessary. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for whittling the 81 amendments he introduced last week down to a mere 14, which he and I are both happy to add to the Bill. For the record, may I confirm that they include amendments 32, 33, 44, 45, 49, 50, 51, 55 and 69? With that, I shall conclude, as I would like to make progress so that we can clear this final hurdle.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): The group of amendments on the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill parallels a similar group of amendments to the Manchester City Council Bill, which we shall discuss later. In this common debate, however, it would probably be helpful if I put on the record, as the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) has done for the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, the fact that the amendments the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) has tabled to the Manchester City Council Bill are acceptable to the city of Manchester.
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