Salter “I certainly do not guarantee to say anything sensible”

Martin Salter: I genuinely thank the hon. Gentleman for reaching out across the House. Does he acknowledge that, just as Labour Members are not seeking to restrict unduly the legitimate work of legal pedlars, we
are deeply concerned about people using our ancient pedlar procedure as a flag of convenience to undermine legitimate traders who pay hard cash for their market stalls?
Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
I do not wish to break this wonderful spirit of harmony that we are developing across the Floor of the House. However, does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that he is talking utter hogwash? I hope that that is in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the hon. Gentleman had not pulled out of the joint liaison meetings that he and I used to hold regularly with Reading borough council, he would have been as consulted, as I was.


Robert Wilson (Reading East, Conservative)
I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman is talking about; as and when a matter comes up, I meet Reading borough council officers regularly. It is a little disingenuous of the hon. Gentleman to break the consensus of the afternoon just because I choose to handle my local constituency matters in a way that is appropriate for me. That does not stop him from handling his constituency matters through joint liaison meetings with the council if he wishes.
Neither side has made a completely open-and-shut case for or against the proposed changes, so I would like to take a little time to go through a few of the issues about Reading. In that way, at least they will be on the record and have what I would regard as a decent airing. From the previous debates on Bournemouth, Canterbury, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham and so forth, we know that the control of street trading—mainly in relation to pedlars—comes under schedule 4 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982.
Like the other Bills, although bearing in mind the fact that they are not all exactly the same, the Reading Borough Council Bill would change the existing legislation that gives licences to pedlars to trade legally using a licence paid for by a £12.50 fee. Councils currently receive no business rates or licence fees from pedlars. In most local authority areas, the annual street trading fee is between £500 and £800, whereas pedlars continue to pay the much smaller fee of £12.50. It has been argued strongly, and with reasonable justification, that that represents an undercutting of other traders and is therefore unfair competition.
During one of my many walkabouts in Reading town centre last year, I had the opportunity to speak to several local traders. One of them, Salim, expressed his annoyance that pedlars were able to sell their merchandise without paying the same fees that he paid, and also could bypass the local authority bureaucracy. Pedlars, by the nature of their occupation, are transient salespeople, and it is fair to argue that they contribute very little to the ongoing success of the local economy, unlike their registered street trader counterparts. Salim argued to me that this amounted to unfair competition. He told me that he was paying several thousand pounds a year for his pitch in the town centre as against the £12.50 per year paid by a pedlar. One can therefore understand his concern about competition. His family are providing local jobs and income for Reading, and they also run a local shop, while the pedlars clearly do not do that.
The main purpose of the Bill is to extend the scope of the council in regulating the provision of services on the street, as well as touting. However, extending the council’s powers to regulate almost automatically makes me feel uneasy. I have always been of the view that less is more. The natural inclination of Governments local and national is to do more, to interfere more, and to involve themselves to a greater degree. That involvement usually makes matters worse rather than better, so it is rarely the right solution.
It is fair to say that in the past touting has been an important issue in Reading owing to the enormous numbers of young people arriving every year for the Reading festival, which takes place over the August bank holiday. I would thoroughly recommend it to hon. Members if they wish to visit Reading at that time. I believe that we have previously hosted the former Prime Minister’s favourite group, the Foo Fighters, and the current Prime Minister’s favourite group, the Arctic Monkeys. I use the word “favourite” in inverted commas, of course, because that information was briefed by Damian McBride, so one cannot tell what is true and what is not.

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
Add your comment
Robert Wilson (Reading East, Conservative)
If you are going to say something sensible, I will let you get up—go on.

Alan Haselhurst (Deputy Speaker)
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman of his language. He certainly should not be addressing Martin Salter in those terms, let alone the Chair.

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I certainly do not guarantee to say anything sensible, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way.
Would the hon. Gentleman like to remind the House that in the dark and dismal days of 1983 and 1984, it was a Conservative council in Reading that axed the Reading rock festival? It ill behoves him to be praying it in aid now.

Robert Wilson (Reading East, Conservative)
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman wishes to go back into ancient history. I am sure we could talk about lots of things from those times. As the current leadership of the borough council is about to become ancient history, perhaps in a few years we will revisit that as well.

Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)
My hon. Friend talks about the problem that Reading has with ticket touting. I do not know whether he has read the reports by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee and the Office of Fair Trading on ticket touting, which show that it is beneficial to the consumer. Is he saying that there is an objection to ticket touting, which could benefit Reading’s residents by giving them an opportunity to go to something that they could not have gone to otherwise or to sell a ticket at a profit? Why is ticket touting a problem for residents in Reading? Is it not a benefit to them?

Robert Wilson (Reading East, Conservative)
I have not read the whole report, but I have read parts of it. My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, and if he bears with me I shall go through the points about ticket touting, and in particular the problems that the police say it causes.
I have been told that the activity of touts is of significant concern to the local authority, the local police and the Reading festival organisers alike. Richard Bennett, my local basic command unit commander, informed me during my consultation process on the Bill that the police have greatly limited powers in respect of illegal touting, but that the removal of such activity would reduce the risk to Reading festival-goers of buying forgeries, and also reduce the trade in stolen tickets. He said the following—it is a fairly lengthy quotation, but I wish to put it on the record:
“The individuals involved in touting include both legitimate traders and others who are involved in various forms of criminality. The police have very limited powers in respect of touting per se, but the removal of this type of activity would reduce the risk to Festival goers of buying forgeries and would reduce the trade in stolen tickets and wrist bands. There is Police activity in respect of both of these and we respond to the reports of thefts and forgeries accordingly but the existence of widespread touting provides a cover for the actions of criminals and we are responding to offences that have been committed rather than preventing them from happening in the first place.”
The principle of good, proactive, preventive policing is something that we should all support.

Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)
That is all very well, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend is making a far better case for Reading than anyone has even tried to make for Nottingham, but does he not accept that selling stolen or forged tickets is a criminal offence in itself and does not need any additional legislation? It is fraud, and it is theft. That is completely different from the selling on of legitimate tickets.

Robert Wilson (Reading East, Conservative)
Yes, I accept that there is a difference between those two things, but I wish to lay out my broad case, after which I shall be happy to give way again, if my hon. Friend wishes to intervene.
There is an absurdity in Reading borough council’s position. As I understand it, it means that touting could be an offence in a designated part of Reading in my constituency, but not in Woodley or Earley, which are in my constituency but which fall within the borough boundaries of Wokingham borough council. I would be extremely interested to know where the demarcation would be for a touting offence to be committed, and how it would be policed. It is not clear from the Bill how the offence is intended to work or be used, so it is somewhat equivalent to a blank cheque. What offence would the laws be used for? Would they just be for the Reading festival, or would they be for sporting events such as London Irish rugby matches, or concerts at the Hexagon in Reading town centre? Ticket touting is not illegal elsewhere in the country, apart from, I think—

Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)

Robert Wilson (Reading East, Conservative)
Apart from football matches. I thank my hon. Friend for confirming that. Where will the limits on the power be? It strikes me that the Bill would create an anomaly, which needs further explanation and probably further consultation and consideration before the Bill completes its passage.
To return to pedlars, Reading borough council argues that the small annual licence fee that they pay is not a reasonable sum in comparison with the sizeable annual rates paid by shopkeepers and permanent street traders. As I have said, that is a fair argument. A pedlar’s licence can be obtained virtually anywhere in the country by anyone claiming to have a good character. Given the outdated nature of the original legislation, there seems to be significant room for people who are less than genuine to obtain a certificate from the police. The police have argued to me that they do not have the time or inclination to check a person’s good character thoroughly, and that they can check only their criminal record. The system therefore has its limitations.
When I talked to a local pedlar, she had no idea that traditional street traders paid so much more than she did to trade on Broad street in Reading town centre. She suggested a change in the system whereby pedlars should be made to contribute more and street traders made to pay less for their licences so that a sort of equilibrium was reached. Although that is an honourable response, we were filming her at the time for a YouTube video on my website. I am not sure whether all the pedlars in the town centre agree with that point of view.
It is important not to vilify pedlars as glorified Del Boys, as some have done. Anyetta, the pedlar whom I met, was pleasant and helpful. She explained that she was simply trying to find ways in which to pay off her student loan, and peddling was only one of several jobs in which she was involved. It is an age-old, honourable business for those who choose to take it up. It is far from easy, but it is easy to criticise and castigate those who do it.
I also had the opportunity to speak to a shopper in Reading town centre, who had returned for the second week running to buy the same item from a local pedlar. When asked whether Broad street would be better off without such traders, he simply answered, “If you’re walking down the high street and you see something you like, you make a choice.” He implied that if the pedlars’ merchandise is not of sufficient quality, discerning shoppers will vote with their feet and not come back. When I asked whether it bothered him that he might not be able to return the product the following week, his simple response was, “Woolworths might not be here next week.” As it happened, Woolworths was not there the next week, so his example was fitting.
The local police force also has an important part to play. I met town centre police officer Rob Murray, who explained that, although illegal peddling is not a priority for the police, it is one of the main issues that the local neighbourhood action group consistently raises. Astonishingly, the group raises the matter as often as more serious problems, such as antisocial behaviour, rough sleeping in the town centre, which is increasing, and problems relating to the night-time economy, such as drinking and prostitution. Police enforcement exercises and prosecutions using CCTV have had limited effect. Sergeant Murray said that only seven prosecutions had been brought in recent years, which suggests that the existing legislation has not been thoroughly used.
I have also engaged in correspondence with the Berkshire West BCU commander Richard Bennett, who has informed me that the police are required to regulate pedlars while the local council regulates street traders. There is therefore a division of responsibility. The main conflict occurs when people use pedlar certificates to avoid the regulations and limitations placed on street traders. One of the main barriers to prosecution is the requirement on pedlars to keep moving. Is it sensible to ask our police to regulate that, and make them watch pedlars, who pull big trolleys up and down Broad street, waiting for them to stop for a period of time so that they can prosecute them? Is that not a waste of valuable time and resources, when the police could engage with far greater priorities for my constituents?

Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)
I believe that my hon. Friend’s constituency is covered by Thames Valley police. According to the Durham university report, three people were found guilty of offences in 2006 under the Pedlars Act 1871, and in 2005, there were no prosecutions. Is my hon. Friend saying that there is a big problem but the police do not have the resources to deal with it, or that the conviction rate is so low because there is not that much of problem in Reading? Is he saying that there is a problem, but the police simply have no time or resources to tackle it?

Robert Wilson (Reading East, Conservative)
From my direct experience, there is a problem. There are a significant number of pedlars, but the difficulty is proving that they have committed an offence. One has to watch pedlars pulling trolleys up and down the street for a long time—several hours. There can be six, eight, sometimes even 10 big trolleys—some are the size of a street stall. That is not easy to police and one has to watch carefully if one wants the prosecution to stick. It is a question of resources, and I sympathise with the police’s problem, which is why it is probably better for the local authority to play a bigger role in policing peddling.
Rather than expecting the police to take action against pedlars, it is much better that local authorities should have sufficient powers to regulate the offending behaviour themselves. Richard Bennett also reiterated the fact that neighbourhood policing is not intended to address all the licensing and trading issues that the local authority is meant to control. The local police response was that Reading borough council has a responsibility to create the sort of conditions in the town centre that will help legitimate street traders to prosper.
The upshot of the police response is simple. Although each case is complex, giving limited additional powers to other agencies, such as Reading borough council, would increase the range of options available to all authorities to put sensible measures in place. Although I would not wish to generalise about other forces across the country, Reading police made it clear that it sees the Bill not as being about handing over power to the council, but as being about sharing responsibility, which will make enforcement action much quicker and more coherent.
That is a logical and sensible approach. If the Reading Borough Council Bill is passed, it would undoubtedly free up the police’s valuable resources to address more pressing issues in the Reading area. Steve Kirk, Reading’s local police area commander, has also written in support of the application for a change in the legislation, which, as we know, dates back to 1871. He says that the 1871 Act is now simply not fit for the purpose of controlling the activity that it was originally intended to control.
I want to draw hon. Members’ attention to the comments made by my hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown in our previous debate. He advocated dealing with the problem through an overarching, national solution, rather than through piecemeal legislation. He rightly asked: if the Reading Borough Council Bill receives Royal Assent, what is to stop other local authorities from seeking the same legislation in their town centres? Not only would valuable parliamentary time have to be found for each separate Bill, but there would be a detrimental effect on the public purse.
That is a serious point, because I understand that each such Bill that is brought to Parliament costs about £100,000. I understand that a portion of the cost of the Reading Borough Council Bill is being funded by the business improvement district, but perhaps there are better ways of spending local taxpayers’ money than bringing forward such Bills from across the country in the way that we are. I am digressing slightly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but with 50 Bills in the pipeline, a significant amount of public money would be needed to try to take them all through Parliament.
There is an argument that much of the current private legislation would be unnecessary if the Government agreed to a national legislative framework. Indeed, some hon. Members argued strongly for that in previous debates. That is one reason why I read with interest the research conducted by St. Chad’s college, Durham, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley has referred, that was commissioned by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. That research raised several interesting points that are worthy of mention in this debate in relation to Reading borough council.
The research concluded that the scale of pedlary in the UK is relatively modest—although one would not know that from some of our debates—with an estimated 3,000 to 4,500 people being granted certificates by police forces across the country. The study found little evidence that certificated pedlars present problems in most city centres or that they are in direct competition with shops or street traders. The evidence also suggested that consumers value pedlars’ presence in town centres and regard buying from them as a positive experience, as I found when I was out looking at the issue in Reading town centre. The study ended by stating that there is no need for national legislation, although solutions may be required to deal with local problems in particular areas.
Although I have already highlighted the legal anomaly that would arise because of the split of my constituency into two areas under separate local authorities, I believe that the conclusions of the report are sensible and fair. It says that the most common desire of local authorities is to be able to exercise more flexible and powerful sanctions, such as the ability to seize goods, issue fixed penalty notices and move traders on. However, the most evident concern related to the issues of obstruction or public safety caused by large numbers of street traders gathering in small areas, such as around football grounds or in city centres in the run-up to Christmas. My experience in Reading town centre is that large numbers of pedlars gather there with their big trolleys. At certain times, that causes an obstruction and becomes a public safety issue for my constituents. There is therefore a need for action in that area.
Pedlars and police respondents to the research by the university of Durham also recognised the need to modernise and standardise, rather than repeal or replace, the 1871 Act. The inadequacies of the present system lead to inconsistency in enforcement practice between areas, which is exacerbated by a degree of ignorance among enforcement officers. I am sure that we all agree that greater clarity on this issue is needed for enforcement officers and pedlars alike. Interestingly, many of the local authorities that submitted evidence said that there were few, if any, difficulties stemming from illegal street trading. Only half the local authority respondents wished to change the existing legislation. This shows that, while certain councils—Reading included—wish to add to their statutory powers, many are happy with the status quo. Such information raises concerns about how important the new legislation really is. The Durham research concluded that possible changes to procedures relating to pedlars could include a more concrete nationally applicable set of definitions and guidelines relating to the issuing of certificates and to pedlars’ activities, the redesign and standardisation of the pedlars’ certificate and a greater burden on the pedlar to prove that they are a legitimate trader.
As a former entrepreneur—indeed, I still like to think of myself as a businessman—I strongly believe in the right to free, open and fair trade. I do not wish in any way to be seen to be against pedlars, because legitimate traders have a rightful place on every high street and add to the colour and diversity of our towns and cities. I do not want this legislation to drive out the genuine pedlar. However, I also do not believe that an ambiguity in the law should enable certain individuals to flout the rules at the expense of others.
Having aired these arguments and raised a few points of continued concern, I am going to support the Bill on this occasion, but on the clear understanding that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch—whose diligence must be commended—has brokered a very sensible compromise with Reading borough council. I congratulate the borough officer responsible, Clare Bradley, on agreeing a sensible compromise that all parties, including myself, appear to be happy with. That compromise will allow pedlars to continue to trade in the heart of my constituency, but without using the massive rolling trolleys to which I have referred. They are more akin to street traders’ stalls on wheels, and they allow unfair competition. The pedlars will be able to trade in the more traditional way intended, and their enterprise will therefore be properly rewarded. I welcome the compromise and will therefore not detain the House any further.

4:58 pm
Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
It would be churlish of me not to welcome the conversion of Mr. Wilson, but it is fair to say that it has been some time coming. The House has been entertained by hon. Members airing of the arguments on the Durham university report on many occasions. I welcome the fact that a compromise has been struck.
In the short contribution that I made earlier, I sought to highlight that there was no intention by Reading borough council or its officers—or, indeed, the business community of Reading—to restrict the more traditional role of the pedlar. There is, however, a problem with their wheeled monstrosities. I call them that because I have seen bogus pedlars trying to move them, and it can take four or five people to move them only a yard or two. Reports from the police and from the council officer concerned show that attempts to move these mobile stalls have resulted in goods and wares falling on to the ground in a chaotic manner.
My experience of trying to buy something from a pedlar is less romantic than that of the hon. Member for Reading, East. The last time I approached a pedlar in Reading town centre, I was just about to investigate his wares when he was arrested by the police and the Border and Immigration Agency and subsequently deported as an illegal immigrant. So there is, I am afraid, a direct parallel, with people using the pedlar certificate and the arcane provisions of the Pedlars Act 1871 as a straightforward flag of convenience—this applies in Reading and in other communities—in order to undercut, undermine and provide unfair competition for legitimate street traders.
It is worth reading into the record that the street trader fees currently levied for Broad street in the centre of Reading are £5,425 a year—and there were six of these at the time—so it equates to approximately £15 a day, whereas a pedlar’s certificate can be obtained anywhere in the country, I believe, for about £12.50.
It is also worth stating, notwithstanding the Durham report—much of it does not apply to Reading because Reading does not restrict pedlars or street traders to the peripheries of the town centre—that the definition of a pedlar is somewhat arcane in itself. According to the definition in the 1871 Act, a pedlar is
“any hawker, pedlar, petty chapman”—
whatever that means—
“tinker, caster of metals, mender of chairs, or any other person who, without any horse or other beast of bearing or drawing burden, travels and trades on foot and goes from town to town or to other men’s houses, carrying to sell or exposing for sale any goods, wares, or merchandise, or procuring orders for goods, wares, or merchandise immediately to be delivered, or selling or offering for sale his skill in handicraft”.
Now, about 130 years down the track, it is time to define exactly what we mean by pedlar in the modern context. I have to say that some of the starry-eyed romanticism I heard from the hon. Member for Reading, East—not so much in his recent contribution as in previous ones—is well wide of the mark.
When it comes to the Reading Borough Council Bill, I very much regret the fact that while making provision for important measures to support legitimate businesses in our communities, we are putting increasing and unnecessary pressures on the police, and so on and so forth. I worry that we are proceeding through the measure of a private Bill and I worry about all the expense, the trouble and all the parliamentary time taken up. However, we are where we are. As the former Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, once said, we have to live in the world as we find it, and the world as we find it in Reading is that we have a real, live problem that needs to be dealt with. I am thus delighted that it looks as though we are going to send this Bill on to due parliamentary process this afternoon.
The Bill is supported by the business investment district, which is a coalition of Reading street traders, by the Thames Valley police, by all parties on Reading borough council and particularly by the legal street traders who pay their dues. I seriously take issue with the hon. Member for Reading, East about the notion of consumer rights, particularly the idea that we should somehow frame a policy prescription for consumer rights on the basis that it does not really matter whether a chain store is going to be there today or tomorrow. If people are ripped off and sold dodgy goods, it is important that, wherever possible, they have the opportunity to take them back to the specific retailer. I very much regret the fact that Woolworths went under—it is no laughing matter—but I would certainly not frame public policy on the basis that because any business may cease trading at any time, we do not need to worry about the rights of consumers.

Robert Wilson (Reading East, Conservative)
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
Very briefly.

Robert Wilson (Reading East, Conservative)
The hon. Gentleman, who I thank for giving way, is operating under a misunderstanding. If he read the Hansard, he would find that I was directly reporting the comments of one of my constituents rather than commenting about Woolworths myself, so he should correct his error.

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
Frankly, if I read some of the speeches on this subject, I would lose the will to live, but I will certainly check the Hansard to ensure that I have not misrepresented the hon. Gentleman’s laughing at the closure of Woolworths in Reading, which I think many people view as a matter of regret.
As to where we go from here, I hope that all these Bills will pass to their next stages and that we can continue the consensus that we have finally forged. I pay tribute to all hon. Members who have sought to find a solution to a very real problem, albeit through a rather tortuous parliamentary route.

5:05 pm
Gareth Thomas (Minister of State (also in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), Department for International Development; Harrow West, Labour)
This has been an interesting debate, which has carried on from previous discussions of similar private Bills.
I acknowledge the contribution of my right hon. Friend John Battle, who is a great champion of his city. He made a short, concise but nevertheless significant speech in favour of the Leeds City Council Bill, backed up by my hon. Friend Mr. Hamilton. My right hon. Friend noted in particular an amendment proposed by Leeds. I share his regret at the absence of Mr. Chope—I am not sure he will welcome the Government wishing him well in his recovery, but I do so nevertheless.
Philip Davies made a series of interesting points, and has clearly being doing his research. As part of that, I hope he is now reading the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform website—a confession to which he alluded in previous debates—more thoroughly and rigorously. I am happy to be corrected by him, but he seemed to argue that either there is a national problem in relation to pedlar legislation and the way in which pedlars are handled or there is not. Although I acknowledge the number of private Bills that have been brought to the attention of the House, the number of local authorities across the UK that have not sought to introduce legislation on the issue to date is also worth noting.
There has been growing pressure on the Government to consider the issue. My hon. Friend Dr. Iddon has been particularly astute in his consistent lobbying of the Government to take action. As the House knows, we have responded to such calls.

Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)
Does the Minister not acknowledge the domino effect as local authorities request legislation to sort out their city, and then other local authorities find the problem transferred to them and also request legislation? Does he not agree that national legislation would sort out the problem once and for all?

Gareth Thomas (Minister of State (also in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), Department for International Development; Harrow West, Labour)
I do not necessarily accept that that is the case. Where local authorities face problems, they have sought a private Bill in the usual way to address local issues. I also acknowledge that a growing number, albeit a minority, of local authorities have been concerned about how pedlar legislation has been used, and have made the case for reform. In that spirit, we have sought to conduct the research led by Durham university, to which I will refer in a moment.
My hon. Friend Martin Salter again made a passionate and powerful speech in favour of the Reading Borough Council Bill. Mr. Wilson also made a thoughtful and considered case for the Bill. I was almost sympathetic to his plight as my hon. Friend the Member intervened on him: his interventions made me grateful that he continues to be on my side. My hon. Friend Mr. Heppell also made a passionate defence of his city’s need for the legislation under consideration.
For the convenience of the House, let me set out the Government’s updated thinking on the issues. In March, during the revival debate on these and three other private Bills, I confirmed that my Department would undertake a consultation this summer on street trading and pedlary, as a result of the research findings set out in the Durham university report, which my Department commissioned last year. As I have said, we hope to launch the consultation by the summer recess. Details will appear on the DBERR website in the usual way, and no doubt the hon. Member for Shipley will be one of the first to spot them.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley, Liberal Democrat)
I welcome the consultation on the Pedlars Act. May I ask the Minister, however, whether in the future he might recognise that £100,000 is a relatively high threshold, and that nothing should necessarily be read into the fact that local authority nuisance has not reached the threshold of £100,000 worth of expenditure?

Gareth Thomas (Minister of State (also in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

Department for International Development; Harrow West, Labour)
I acknowledge the cost of bringing a private Bill to the Floor of the House of Commons. One of the reasons why the Government commissioned the Durham university research, and one of the reasons for the consultation that we are launching in the summer, is the fact that we received a number of representations from local authorities and hon. Members about the need for the Government to review this issue nationally. We have sought to respond to the concerns of the House. I am sure that, in his more generous moments, the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that we are a listening Government and have listened to the concerns of the House in this instance.
As the House will recognise, the activities of unlawful street traders can adversely affect the livelihoods of licensed street traders, certified pedlars—those acting in accordance with the Pedlars Act—other retailers and consumers. We therefore strongly support the efforts of local authorities and their enforcement partners to use the powers at their disposal to regulate unlawful traders’ behaviour.
In due course, the street trading and pedlary consultation will seek to explore three main themes. First, it will seek views on options concerning the scope for providing extra enforcement powers along the lines of those which are subject to these Bills—in particular, fixed penalties and powers of seizure and confiscation to enable more effective control of illegal street traders. Secondly, it will seek views on the potential for updating the Pedlars Act to bring what is a 19th-century framework firmly into the 21st century. We will consider the future of the form of the pedlars’ certificate. We will consider which should be the issuing authority if it is not to be the police, as is currently the case. We will consider how to maintain the national nature of a genuine pedlar’s permission to trade while still meeting the valid wish of some local authorities to be able to control the level of trading activity in relation to special events or in particular areas where too much trading has an adverse effect.
Thirdly, we will seek views on draft guidance that offers clearer advice on what is permitted and what is not. We will also seek views on the future position of pedlars of services in the wake of alterations in the course of implementation of the services directive. We will seek to reach the pedlar community. We will also work with trading standards and other local authority officers in considering how the options before us might be usefully developed, and we will, of course, want to hear the views of the police.
A range of other key stakeholders are already considering what should be done. The National Association of British Market Authorities will hold a seminar later this month. As we have heard, some local authorities whose Bills are before the House have already discussed with a number of hon. Members their experience of the current legislation and their appetite for more change, and I understand that a number of pedlars also wish to share their experience of the current position.
I welcome the work of those other stakeholders, which we shall want to use in our deliberations. We shall also give further consideration to the debates on these Bills that have already taken place in the House, and those that will take place in the future, in deciding what action to take. I commend the Government’s neutrality on the Bills to the House.

5:15 pm
John Penrose (Shadow Minister, Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform; Weston-Super-Mare, Conservative)
I commend the industry and efforts of the different local councils who have brought the Bills to the House. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned, the process of bringing a private Bill before the House is expensive, quite complicated, pretty time-consuming and rather arcane.
It is worthy of note that these local councils have found their way through the different thickets and underbrush of parliamentary procedure to get to this point. It has been an achievement. It is also worth mentioning that a number of other local authorities may be deterred from bringing such Bills to the House because the process is so complicated and relatively expensive. That point was made by the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats.
My constituency has similar problems with pedlars. Every autumn, the Weston-super-Mare carnival is held—carnivals are a wonderful west country, Somerset tradition. On a Monday evening in late autumn, a colourful and loud procession will wend its way through the streets of Weston-super-Mare, with a lot of people turning up to watch. I have had repeated representations from the organisers of the carnival, who perform that task in their free time, as volunteers, to raise money for a variety of good causes. They are concerned that, for that night, Weston-super-Mare is besieged by pedlars from throughout the country who come to sell their wares. The organisers are concerned that money spent with those pedlars might otherwise be spent or donated to the various good causes that benefit from the carnival. People are deeply concerned about that lost revenue.

David Heath (Somerton & Frome, Liberal Democrat)
I support the hon. Gentleman strongly on this matter. As he knows, the circuit includes many Somerset towns—no one outside Somerset has any concept of the scale of Somerset carnivals—so pedlars are a real problem throughout the county. As he knows, his predecessor tried hard to get the law changed to deal with the problem. I hope that through the process of private Bills, the Government will eventually recognise that the prevalence of pedlars are a problem for the charitable sector as well as for commercial traders.

John Penrose (Shadow Minister, Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform; Weston-Super-Mare, Conservative)
I am grateful for my fellow Somerset MP’s support. What we have described is a microcosm of a much wider problem. My local council has considered bringing one of these Bills to the House but after extensive consideration it has so far decided that it cannot justify the expense, for the reasons that have been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I compliment those councils that have promoted the Bills before the House today. They have managed to wend their way to the Floor of the House but I suspect that a large number of other councils are either actively considering doing the same, or have so far been dissuaded because of the cost of the process. It is worth putting that point on record.
As we have heard, there are arguments about the merits and demerits of pedlars. It is worth saying that no one is suggesting that legal street traders and pedlars may not necessarily be a good thing—in fact, they are closely regulated and it is accepted that they can bring a useful buzz and colour to the streetscape and town centre, and can be an important aspect of a shopping centre’s life and fizz. However, the problem is with the unregulated or perhaps the rogue examples of the trade.
My party shares the Government’s approach of maintaining a careful and studied neutrality on individual Bills brought before the House by individual councils. It would be wrong to adopt a national position on such special local Bills, but our overarching view is worth putting on the record. We think that it is important that the existing legislation is subject to some national reform and examination, especially given the fact that we have all these Bills coming through to the Floor of the House in a rather solemn procession. Clearly, that cannot be a sensible or useful use of this Chamber’s time and of the extensive resources that have to be spent in bringing each one of those Bills separately and in sequence to the Floor of the House. That cannot be a sensible use of anyone’s time or resources.
That is why I was extremely pleased to hear what I understood to be the beginnings of Government movement, and I just want to make sure that that is clearly put on the record. I think we heard the Minister say that the Government will now be considering, and consulting on, extra enforcement powers, clearer guidance and advice, and changing the Pedlars Act 1871—after 130-plus years, I suspect that may very well be sensible—not only to update some of the existing provisions, but to investigate whether it should cover services as well as goods. Everybody will broadly welcome that. If it avoids the need for any other local councils to bring yet more of these Bills, it will make everybody in all parts of the House happy—including my hon. Friend Mr. Chope, whom we all wish well in his recovery from his detached retina. I assure the House that my party will be carefully watching the Government’s progress in this matter, and will try to make sure they have all the necessary support if they are going to simplify processes so that we do not need a similar procession of such Bills in future.
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5:21 pm
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley, Liberal Democrat) Link to this | Hansard source | Video match this
We have been generally supportive of reform in this matter. It is obvious that there are widespread problems with pedlary, as the situation at Somerset carnivals shows, and it does not require a lot of evidence. We can, I think, take at face value the tales of, for example, Mr. Heppell and John Battle that there is a specific problem in their areas. It will clearly create unfair competition if in Reading, for example, people have to pay £5,000 a year for a licence, but for £12.50 people can wander around all over the place.
We should give more attention to the process whereby the law gets changed and how we have ended up with a sequence of Bills and to the fact that, until this point, the Government have not recognised the need for reform. To that extent, we greatly welcome the Government’s consultation on the issue of pedlary. A law put in place when people did not have easy transport around the country and would wander around with their goods is now undermining the regulation of the street scene. Street traders are very important, but when people come in to localities from different areas, that causes a difficulty.
Oddly enough, in my constituency, we have moved down the route of discouraging cold calling as well, which points to another issue that should, perhaps, be looked at in the consultation. Given that distraction burglaries are a great concern in Birmingham, Yardley, we might need to look at that wider issue as well.
The Reading Bill contains interesting provisions relating to touting. It refers to:
“Any person who, in a place designated under this section, importunes any person by touting for a hotel”.
It would be interesting to know how the courts would interpret that. Selecting the word “importunes” rather than “solicits” implies that somebody is being asked more than once. If we are to develop a framework for dealing with such issues, which we have supported all along, the Government’s consultation should also consider what might need to be done about touting, and whether that should be addressed in relation to soliciting or importuning, which is the term used in the Bill. It might be difficult to secure prosecutions if somebody says, “Well, I only asked them once”, given what, on the strict dictionary definition of the term used, the measure in the Bill means.
I had great encouragement from the hon. Member for Nottingham, East to give a very long speech, but I am not sure that I entirely understood his semaphoring so I shall stick to talking about the basic issues, as I have so far. We support these private Bills, but in future, we will have to look at how legislation can be changed by public demand without that having to be agreed by a Department, because it is clear from the Bills’ progress that the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is resistant to necessary change. However, that resistance is gradually eroding as it is obvious that so many local authorities have reached the threshold where they are willing to spend more than £100,000—the £100,000 merely relates to the costs paid externally and there are obviously internal costs too.
In the context of reform within this House and how legislation is generated, there must be a better mechanism for reviewing how to alter things, so that changes do not come just through the civil service, but can be developed outside this House and promoted in this House more effectively in mainstream business. That is different from everything coming along with the bus, as it were, with a standard Bill, on whatever it might be, generated out of the civil service. Resistance from within a Department—we are pleased to see it ebbing away on this occasion—causes the difficulty of a sequence of expensive private Bills and potentially a situation where we drive a problem around the country as we deal with it in each place. I must welcome the fact that the Government have recognised that and are moving to consultation. Within that consultation they should also examine the issue of touting, because if Reading feels that it is worth examining, it is important that we deal with the wider point. On that basis, we will be supporting these Bills.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.

Published in: on June 11, 2009 at 4:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

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