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It may be helpful for the hon. Gentleman's future career as the champion-indeed, the general-of the pedlars campaign if I tell him that Manchester is not necessarily happy with the amendments. He has gained concessions from the city of Manchester-and, I think, from the town of Bournemouth-through parliamentary exchanges, because that is how the business of the House is conducted and how the legislation of the nation is made: in the spirit of seeking acceptable compromises. It is not necessarily about allowing anyone to think they have got what they want, but about allowing us all to think that we can make progress in
controlling the activities of non-legitimate pedlars, while making sure, hopefully, that there is space for legitimate pedlars to trade.
The hon. Gentleman can put in his election manifesto the fact that Government Members congratulated him on his campaign. He has certainly achieved something in securing amendments to the Bills. With that, may I, too, say that I am happy to support his amendments to the Manchester City Council Bill?
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): I am going to ask my hon. Friend a question that I was going to ask the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd). Why, considering that so many hours have been spent on debate in the House, does my hon. Friend think it has taken so long to secure basic, sensible concessions? If they had been granted many months, if not years, ago, the Bills would be on the statute book by now. Does he think there are any lessons to be learned for authorities considering similar Bills with similar amendments?
Mr. Chope: The lessons that Leeds and Reading learned when they introduced their Bills was that if a reasonable concession could be made to enable them to make progress, it was probably sensible to make it. It is a pity that the two Bills we are considering were introduced in the other place, and were then subject to quite a lot of comment there. They were the subject of petitions in the House, and proceeded to an opposed Bill Committee. That Committee imposed a number of amendments on clause 5 which, although they are far from perfect, we discussed last Thursday. That process cost time and money-leading counsel was engaged. It would have been much better had there been some forum in which we could have tried to find a way through.
"Better late than never" is a good expression. We are where we are, but as I said to a wider audience on the radio programme last week, somebody who is representing a minority opinion in the House has relatively little ability to influence things, other than by appealing for reason and using the weapon of delay. I am grateful to my hon. Friends for facilitating the concentrating of minds by making it clear that we were prepared to deploy the weapon of parliamentary delay.
Mr. Leigh: My hon. Friend makes an important constitutional point. Better Bills are emerging because it is still possible for private Members to delay Bills and have some influence. That does not happen with Government Bills at all. It happens in the United States Senate, for instance, which I have been reading about-
Peace has broken out. Everybody recognises there is no point in being cussed and intransigent. It was with sadness that I read the obituary of our late hon. Friend Robin Maxwell-Hyslop, which made it clear that he took cussedness to an extreme, but as a result of that, he was able to achieve change in the House that would not otherwise have been possible. He knew the procedures of the House inside out. My recommendation to anybody who enters the House after the next general election is that the first thing they should do is concentrate on procedure. Then they will be ably qualified as legislators in due course.
Mr. Chope: Amendment 75 would remove clause 4. The other amendments relate to clauses 10 to 14. Some would remove all those clauses in toto, and some are more modest, aiming to taking out the most toxic part of those clauses. I am delighted that, in an e-mail sent to me first thing this morning, the promoters of the two Bills expressed their agreement to amendments 75, 77, 78, 80 and 81, which would, in effect, remove clauses 10 to 14 from the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill and the equivalent clauses from the Manchester City Council Bill. Those clauses cover three full pages of the Bill's 10 as printed. To remove three pages at one stroke represents pretty good progress as far as I am concerned, so I am very grateful to the Bills' sponsors, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) and the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd), for conceding those amendments, which will result in a better and fairer Bill.
I am sure that it has not escaped your notice, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the consequence of removing clauses 10 to 14 is that the references to fixed penalties in clauses 7 and 9 will need to be amended in due course with technical and consequential amendments. We do not have such amendments on the amendment paper today, and it is not appropriate to try to move manuscript amendments, but I understand that it will be possible to make those consequential amendments when the Bills are considered in the other place.
The promoters of the Bill have also made it clear to me that, in clarifying the contents of the Bill, those amendments in the other place will include the amendment that I previously sought to make to clause 5 by adding to "another person" the phrase "trading with the authority of a pedlars' certificate", so that the provision is clearer. Everybody agrees that that is the intention of the clause, but it will be better when, in the House of Lords, it is technically amended to make that objective clear.
We have made enormous progress over a short space of time-since the early hours of this morning when my hard-working secretary said at five minutes past 8 that she had been in receipt of an e-mail. Since then I have been in discussions about the implications of the amendments. I have spoken to a significant pedlar, the agents for the promoters, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and the hon. Member for
Manchester, Central, and I must put on the record that, notwithstanding these amendments, the pedlar to whom I spoke still feels that there is a venality in the Bills. However, I am sure that he would be the first to concede that we are making progress by removing these clauses.
Mr. Chope: I am delighted to see the hon. Gentleman in his place, and I am sorry that he was not here earlier for the Reading Borough Council Bill. However, I understand that a significant funeral service took place today in Reading, and that is why my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson), from the other half of Reading, could not be present. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was at the same event, but I am happy to give way to him.
Martin Salter: I can confirm that there was a tragic funeral, which both I and the hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) had to go to. I am delighted that the Reading Borough Council Bill's passage has been eased and that an accommodation has been found, but many of us have spent an inordinate amount of our lives-which we will not get back again-on the objections of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). He appears to base a lot of what he says on a conversation with a single significant pedlar, so will he confirm the communications that he has had with the pedlar community as a whole? I am confused as to why we have had to spend so much time on these measures.
Mr. Chope: The significant pedlar to whom I spoke today is the pedlar who petitioned against these two Bills, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that I got my priorities right in speaking to that person first. However, I have actually spoken to quite a lot of pedlars. I shall not embarrass myself or the House by reading out the glowing tributes that I have received from various pedlars for the efforts that I have made on their behalf, but I must assure the hon. Gentleman that I have quite a lot of contacts in the pedlar community.
Indeed, one of the good things that has come out of this whole series of Bills is that pedlars are now much better organised. They have their own website-I think it is called pedlarsinfo.co.uk. That means that the pedlar community is now able to keep in contact with what is happening. [ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman is complaining that I am taking too long to respond to his intervention, for which I apologise. Of course, he will know that some pedlars have watches all the way up their arm and can offer them for sale.
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman was helped by the fact that I was somewhat distracted; he has therefore been given more leeway than he would otherwise have had. I am sure that he will now wish to concentrate his remarks on the group of amendments under consideration.
I am surprised to be standing here to open this Third Reading debate on the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, given that it has taken longer than the gestation period of an elephant to get to this point, but I am delighted that we have finally been able to reach a series of compromises with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) in ensuring that we can better regulate our town centres.
As we have heard, this is one of a series of Bills that have come through the House. We have already debated the Reading, Nottingham and Canterbury Bills, Manchester is coming up, and ahead of us are Medway, Leicester, London and Liverpool, among others. All those borough and city councils have sought the leave of this place in order to create the legislation that they believe is required better to regulate town centres. Although some amendments have been made, I hope that the Government will recognise that there is a sense of urgency for national legislation. We need to ensure that more time is not wasted, with councils spending huge sums of money to gain the attention of this House in order to create similar legislation. I am afraid that, until that national legislation comes along, I will support any individual council wishing better to regulate its town centre.
Martin Salter: Does the hon. Gentleman realise that his council tax payers, like mine in Reading, welcome the legislation but question how much of their money has had to be spent on something that could have been resolved very easily by the Government if they had put a Bill before the House? This is not an ideal way to go about solving a comparatively simple problem, is it?
Mr. Ellwood: I firmly agree with the hon. Gentleman. There are questions to be raised on a number of levels about how private Members' Bills of this nature-[Hon. Members: "Private Bills."] Well, it is the private Members' Bill process-
I hope that the Minister will give us a little more detail about where things will go in future, rather than in due course, which is rather woolly terminology. I am pleased that legislation first written in 1871, in the shape of the Pedlars Act, is being brought up to date, and that the people of Bournemouth will be able to benefit from that. A week ago, I was somewhat despondent, faced with 81 amendments that would have significantly changed the Bill to the point where it would have been worthless. They would have introduced a stationary capability for pedlars, carved up Bournemouth and restricted the times when the Bill would be allowed to operate. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making concessions on those points, and I hope that he understands that there have been concessions on the other side as well, which have allowed us to get to where we are today.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I would like to say two or three words. I am not sure who will celebrate the most this evening: my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and the peddling community, or my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), his council leader, Councillor Stephen McLoughlin and his council. At long last, in their struggle to get this Bill, they appear to have passed at least one major milestone.
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): I suspect that the full extent of my rhetorical exuberance in relation to these Bills was already expressed on previous Third Readings, and my view on them remains unchanged. I wish them Godspeed.
Mr. Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) for what he said. The Bournemouth and Manchester Bills will get their Third Readings, and will then go to the other place. I hope that those in the other place will find time for the technical consideration of the large number of amendments we have passed today, in addition to the amendment made to clause 5 by the Opposed Private Bill Committee.
I remain concerned about some of the detail in clause 5. I made comments about it, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) was supportive of those concerns last Thursday. Those comments remain valid, and I will have to see what happens in practice. Obviously, the amendments reflecting those concerns were voted down, and my amendment 74, which would have incorporated the best parts of the Reading Borough Council Bill and the Leeds City Council Bill, albeit modified slightly, was not acceptable to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East, to the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd), or to their respective councils. I cannot do anything about that; all I can do is argue from a position of numerical weakness, but I have the arguments on my side. We have reached a compromise.
Philip Davies: It is a red letter day for my hon. Friend, given the amendments made. I appreciate that the Bills are not necessarily ideal, as he says, but I hope that he accepts that an honourable compromise has been reached, and that the Bills are now sufficiently amended to be worthy of some support.
Exactly; my hon. Friend is absolutely right. If I did not think that the compromise were right, I would not have accepted it. Once at the stage of forcing negotiation, it would be a foolish person who turned away from achieving a successful outcome, which is what we have achieved over the past few hours. I hope that the passage of the Bill deals with the consequences about which I was fearful: an adverse impact on the borough of Christchurch caused by a move of the "problem" from Bournemouth. I hope that the assurances
of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East that that will not happen prove correct in practice, and that the burghers of Bournemouth think that they have had good value for money in investing in this exercise. I know that the process has been long and probably expensive for them, but I will not comment any further on that. As my hon. Friend rightly said, until we get a national framework there will be a dilemma for councils as to whether they wish to spend scarce council tax payers' resources on such an exercise or whether they believe that the problem is not worth the cost of the remedy. That is the view that a lot of councils are taking. The councils in question have not taken that view, and one must respect them for that.
I support Third Reading and hope that the Bill reaches the statute book before the election, although of course it could have been carried over beyond the election under the private Bill procedure. I am not sure that everybody in Bournemouth understood that. Indeed, there was a bit in the local paper last week suggesting that I had talked out the Bill, but I could not do that under private Bill procedure. There was a three-hour slot and it came to an end. I happened to be on my feet at the end, but I was not talking it out. In that respect it is a very different procedure, as you and my hon. Friend know, Madam Deputy Speaker-
Mr. Chope: I am indeed. Let it not be said or thought that I am in any way critical of the Daily Echo, which is the most outstanding newspaper in the country. However, sometimes the pressure on space means that there is not room for the full argument to be-
Mr. Chope: I agree with you absolutely, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I think it is almost a miracle that although we have a three-hour slot for this business this afternoon, it looks as though we will finish within one and a half hours.
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