Salter Speaks In Parliament 21 April 2009 – “The MP For Reading”

Oral Answers to Questions – Communities and Local Government: Manchester City Council Bill [ Lords] and Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [ Lords] (21 Apr 2009)
Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to learn that I have been closely involved in the discussions with Reading borough council and the business community in the Reading area. Will he reflect on his earlier comments, which seemed to suggest that Reading borough council was prepared to withdraw its Bill? In fact, that is not the case.

Alan Haselhurst (Deputy Speaker)
Order. I think that Mr. Chope anticipates what I am about to say. Canterbury has already been raised; Reading has now been raised; but the motion concerns Manchester and Bournemouth. I hope that Martin Salter will not think that I am trying to encourage the hon. Gentleman to go down the wrong route. I am sure that he knows not to do so.
While I am on my feet, let me say this. I think that it is a question of balance. It is quite difficult to maintain an equitable distinction between the content, or the merits, of the Bills and reasons why a revival motion should or should not be accepted. The fact of the report to which the hon. Member for Christchurch has referred is an argument in question. To give too much detail about that report would, I think, tilt the balance unfairly.

Christopher Chope (Christchurch, Conservative)
As ever, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am grateful for your guidance. Let me respond to the intervention from Martin Salter by saying that I am sure we shall have a chance to discuss the issue in relation to Reading, but also—I think that I should put this on record—that I do not think I said that Reading borough council was keen to withdraw the Bill. I suggested that it was keen to amend significantly clause 5, which relates to pedlars. Perhaps we shall be able to discuss that later in tonight’s proceedings.
You referred to the Durham report, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have argued that it constitutes new information. Prompted by my hon. Friend Philip Davies, I have also referred to the Minister’s written response to the report, which I think also introduces new information and which, in my view, presents a compelling reason for the House not to exercise its discretion and allow these Bills to be revived.


Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
To revert to a point that I tried to make earlier, is not it the case that the hon. Gentleman’s discussions with Reading borough council about the activities of pedlars who act effectively as stallholders—Mr. Clifton-Brown mentioned that—showed that the council was prepared to negotiate and be flexible? That is an argument not for opposing the revival motion, but for allowing it to go forward so that we can reach Committee as soon as possible.

Christopher Chope (Christchurch, Conservative)
The hon. Gentleman anticipates my point, which I am getting around to raising with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the two councils—Reading and Leeds—are prepared to compromise, to respond to public opinion, as reflected in the Durham university report, and to council tax payers’ concerns about possible abortive costs incurred, and to consider amending clause 5 of the respective Bills, should not they be given preferential treatment, compared with councils that still have their heads in the sand, believing that they can carry on regardless, as though the Durham study had never been conducted, there were no findings in its 90-odd pages and no issues arose from it? The Minister said in the previous debate that the Government acknowledge that the study raised issues which merit their attention and will be subject to consultation.
The question that I would like to put—perhaps I could put it formally in a point of order—is this. Is there any scope for the revival of the Reading Borough Council Bill and the Leeds City Council Bill to be considered in separate votes from those on the other two Bills, in respect of which there are different considerations?

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
I am very happy to help steer the House, and Mr. Chope, through the intricacies of this argument, although I doubt very much whether any of the words I choose to utter will steer him into the same Division Lobby as me a little later.
I have some respect for academic studies, but what motivates me is what the police, traders and the public in my town of Reading say to me, not what some professor chooses to write about a problem—they may or may not have a different perception from the ivory tower of an academic institution. What I know is that a significant police operation took place in Reading. It was called Operation Ontology and it was an operation with the council and the Border and Immigration Agency police command team. It targeted immigration offending and criminality by pedlars in Reading town centre. The operation was conducted by local Thames Valley police officers, supported by the neighbourhood policing team and conducted after consultation with Reading borough council licensing department. The purpose of the operation—this is yet another reason for supporting the Bill—was to identify all the pedlars operating in the town centre of Reading during the period of the operation and where necessary to record details, to locate and identify any immigration offenders among the pedlars, to arrest suspected immigration offenders to be dealt with by BIA personnel, and to minimise the impact of this operation on members of the public, the officers themselves and the subjects themselves.
It is worth reporting that the briefing that elected representatives have been sent by Thames Valley police said that during the operation 10 pedlars were encountered selling a variety of goods and that the stalls from which many of the pedlars were selling items did not lend themselves to being mobile as each time they were pushed the merchandise displayed would fall from the stall on to the ground. This matter was alluded to by not only Mr. Clifton-Brown, but Lorely Burt. In many cases these are not pedlars under the definition of the 1871 Act and the Bills merely seek to bring a piece of legislation that was framed in 1871 up to date to reflect modern circumstances and modern pressures.
It is quite clear that in my town, Reading—I suspect that this is the case in Leeds and elsewhere too—the pedlar certificate has become a £12.50 flag of convenience that is causing tremendous resentment among stall holders, who are paying between £500 and £1,000 for a similar facility. I find it strange that hon. Members from the party that supports business and enterprise appear to be setting themselves against ensuring fair competition and an even playing field. I find it even more surprising that arguments are coming from those on the Conservative Benches against the Cameronian notion of localism; we appear to be hearing arguments for the nationalisation of the regulation of pedlars. That runs contrary to the thrust of the new modern Conservatives and it is frankly illogical, and I find it strange that the Conservative Front-Bench team has not sought to make that point.

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
The hon. Gentleman has detained the House for about 90 per cent. of this debate and he has complained consistently that he has not heard from the promoters of the Bills, so if he is a little more patient he will be able to hear from those of us who happen to support them.
Operation Ontology, which was undertaken by Thames Valley police, identified a number of people working illegally. The report said that it was worth noting that the offenders had no legal—

Michael Lord (Deputy Speaker)
Order. May I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that he is in danger of launching into a Second Reading speech and he must relate his remarks to why these Bills should be revived?

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
I take your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I merely conclude my point by saying that in the course of that operation it was discovered that four people were working illegally, they were removed from the country and none of the pedlars encountered on the day of that operation had any basis on which to stay in the UK. That is in many ways a response to the arguments being made that there is now no case for these Bills to be revived, because these very real problems exist today, they existed last year and they will exist next year.

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
I shall give way to the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Shadow Minister, International Development; Cotswold, Conservative)
I would not wish the hon. Gentleman to mislead or, rather, misrepresent—I withdraw the word “mislead”—what I have said on behalf of the Opposition. I did raise the issue of competition and the difference in price between a pedlar’s certificate and a street licence certificate. I also said that I think that whether these Bills are revived is a matter for the House, but this procedure is expensive for the individual councils involved and thus a better procedure would be if this matter were considered on a national basis in respect of whether guidance needs to be revised and whether, as a result of that, legislation needs to be altered. I would not wish him to misrepresent what I said.

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for putting the record straight as far as his motives are concerned. I merely respond by saying that there are Conservative-controlled councils that support these measures and that are happy that they have already got legislation of this sort on to the statute book and the system is working well.
I wish to conclude by making one final point, which touches on why these Bills should be revived. Real damage is being done to small businesses that are struggling to cope in the very difficult economic circumstances that we face. Let us consider Reading’s Harris arcade or what is commonly known as “smelly alley”—Union street in Reading. The total cost of rent, rates and overheads for the small units located there probably works out at about £15,000 a unit. One of these Mickey Mouse stalls being erected on the basis of a pedlar’s certificate costing £12.50 can immensely damage the business of legitimate traders who are paying up to £15,000 a year purely for rent, rates and overheads. I do not want to see businesses in my town going to the wall because we have failed to grasp the nettle and deal with a very real problem.
The Reading Borough Council Bill is being promoted by the business improvement district in Reading, which is made up of businesses that have voluntarily joined the scheme and are paying 1 per cent. of their rateable value of business rates to fund that scheme. They want this to happen and it is my job as a local MP to listen to them and to promote this Bill, so I appeal to the House to allow it to be revived.

Martin Salter: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what information his Department holds on the number of Government departments and agencies which require people to dial a premium rate number to contact them; what plans the Government has to replace such use of 0845 numbers with numbers that charge a local or national rate; and if he will make a statement.

Tom Watson (Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office; West Bromwich East, Labour) | Hansard source
The Cabinet Office, through the Contact Council, is currently conducting a survey of the different number types, such as 0845, 0870 or 0800, used by central Government Departments and agencies. Each Department is currently responsible for their own numbering strategy, and it is their responsibility to ensure that all citizens—whatever their incomes—can afford to make contact. The council intends to use the results of its numbering survey to steer a future cross-government approach to the use of phone numbers. Consideration of the use of 0845 numbers, which are defined by Ofcom as “special service basic rate numbers” will form part of this methodology. As far as the Contact Council is currently aware, no central government department operates a premium rate number—defined by Ofcom as a number beginning either ‘090’ or ‘091’—and if they do this will be identified during the aforementioned numbering survey.

Published in: on April 23, 2009 at 6:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

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