Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): This debate arises purely on a procedural motion, instigated at the behest of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), who has assiduously sought to safeguard the interests of pedlars on many occasions in respect of other private Bills in the past two years or so.
I do not intend to go into great detail on the merits of the City of Westminster Bill-nor would you allow me to do so, Mr Deputy Speaker. Suffice it to say that the main purpose of the Bill is to replace and consolidate the existing street trading regulations that apply in Westminster-namely, the City of Westminster Act 1999, which was itself a consolidating piece of legislation. We need new legislation that is fit not just for 2010 but for some years to come.
I should make it absolutely clear from the outset that the Bill does not affect pedlars wishing to trade in Westminster; the Canterbury City Council Bill and the Nottingham City Council Bill, which we shall debate tonight, would affect pedlars in the relevant areas. As far as pedlars in the City of Westminster are concerned, the position is exactly the same as it has been since 1999, so I am a little surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch should have chosen to object to the revival of the Bill.
The Bill updates the 1999 Act, through which the council is able to regulate street trading using a fairly sophisticated licensing system understood by residents, traders and, no doubt, by many of those who have to go to court about these issues. Clearly, there has to be some sort of regulation in a place such as Westminster, which has world-famous shopping and tourist centres, or else there would be a free-for-all. Indeed, I often wonder whether any of those who come to London to set up their stalls and sell come what may do so because they feel that a free-for-all is already in place. Yet it would be wrong to suggest that there has not already been a fairly sophisticated regulatory system.
Among other things, the Bill gives Westminster city council additional powers to de-designate existing street trading pitches. I hope that that deregulation measure will find favour with my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch and for Shipley (Philip Davies). The Bill also allows street traders to trade through companies rather than just as sole practitioners or members of partnerships. It enhances the powers of council officers to deal with the real problem of unlicensed hot dog trolleys by allowing them to be seized before trading starts and introducing a sunset provision on existing provisions that allow street trading licences to be passed on to relatives.
In London, there has been a costermonger-type community that goes back many generations and several centuries. In fairness, it is felt that there should be an opportunity for a sunset clause on the passing of street trading pitches from generation to generation. The Bill would allow pitches to be passed on one more occasion for each licence currently in play. As far as pedlars are concerned, the position remains as it has been for 11 years: a street trading licence will be required unless the pedlar is selling from house to house.
Clause 52 would allow the council to regulate touting in the city. I should make it clear that that has nothing to do with ticket touting; it is about touting for business in the street, which is a considerable annoyance to residents, workers and visitors. The City of Westminster has some 140,000 residents and some 500,000 people come to work here every day. There are also, of course, countless millions of visitors from the UK and abroad. The fact that the touting provision has nothing to do with ticket touting might find favour with my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch and for Shipley; it is a much more general prohibition on touting for other purposes.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I am delighted that the Bill does not impinge on ticket touting, but presumably people tout for business because they can get it. If they are getting business, they must be offering something that people are looking for, and at the right price. Surely that is in the consumer’s interest. Why would my hon. Friend wish to stop people who are clearly acting in the consumer’s interest?
Mr Field: That would be a legitimate argument if there were no opportunity for street trading in the City of Westminster, but there is already a huge opportunity. The whole licensing process tries to focus on ensuring that that opportunity is in place We are seeking not to end the idea of street trading, but to regulate such trading to a certain degree, so that there is not a free-for-all. That would be undesirable and seem to make the streets of central London ever more unsafe and unpopular for visitors, workers and residents alike.
The idea is not to stop street trading, for which there are significant opportunities. As with any Yorkshireman, my hon. Friend’s heart lies in Shipley and other parts of his fair county, but he will recognise that there are still enormous opportunities for people to come to London and buy things on street corners. The Bill would not prevent that; it would prevent simply the rather unsavoury and perhaps unsafe practices involved in elements of street touting. They do real damage to Westminster as a tourist attraction. Westminster wants to remain a global attraction; we want people from all corners of the globe to come to this great city.
The motion is purely about whether the Bill should be revived in the current Session of Parliament. The Bill was initially introduced in the House of Lords on 22 January 2009. Its Second Reading took place after a debate in that Chamber on 13 March 2009. Petitions were deposited against the Bill, quite legitimately-we should be able to discuss these things. It was then referred to a Select Committee, hence the delay of almost 15 months. The Committee, which sat in July 2009, disallowed the petition of pedlars on the grounds that they had no locus, for the reasons that I have already set out. As I said, the Bill does not change the position on pedlars, unlike the consolidation Act that came about 11 years ago.
At that juncture, the Committee was adjourned and no further date could be found for the recommencement of proceedings before Parliament was dissolved for the general election. The Select Committee members, the promoters and the National Market Traders Federation, the sole remaining petitioner, are all standing by to reconvene in the House of Lords on 19 July this year, assuming that the motion is passed today. All the parties concerned have put a lot of work into the preparation for the hearing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has every right to object to the procedural motion before the House today. However, I hope that he and his friends and colleagues-my friends and colleagues-will not push the matter to a vote. The promoters of the Bill did all they could to move it on in the last Session. They wish to continue to do so in the new Parliament, as is evidenced by the fact that a Select Committee awaits, barely two weeks from now. Only the fact that we ran out of parliamentary time in the fifth year of the Parliament meant that we were unable to get this legislation on the statute book before then.
As the Bill originated in the Lords and the Lords has already passed a revival motion, I hope that we will be able deal with this business in the Commons with due haste tonight. The Lords ought to have the opportunity to scrutinise the Bill in detail, and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and other hon. Members will have ample opportunity to do so themselves when it returns to the House, as I hope it will early next year.
Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) on taking the matter before us seriously. The reason why I and other colleagues shouted “Object” to prevent the revival motion from going through on the nod was so that we could hear from the Bill’s sponsor exactly why it was held up for so long in the House of Lords between Second Reading and the completion of its Committee stage, which, as he said, has not yet happened. We now understand from the promoter’s statement that a date for the resumption of that Committee has been fixed for later this month. That will mean that the Bill and the petition against it will be considered in the Lords. As he said, if passed in the other place, the Bill will come to this place in due course, when hon. Members can give it proper scrutiny. I am all in favour of that.
I heard what my hon. Friend said, but it is worth emphasising that a revival of a private Bill is not a right but a privilege, and it is right that Members of the House ensure that a motion to revive a Bill is made on good grounds and that the case is made. We will have a chance in due course to consider aspects of the detail of the Bill, but one point my hon. Friend did not deal with is the interaction between the City of Westminster Bill and the possibility of more general legislation applying to pedlars. The Bill consolidates much of the private legislation relating to pedlars in the city of Westminster.
In the previous Parliament, the Government initially asked Durham university to carry out research, which was subsequently conducted and consulted upon. Proposals were then introduced and subjected to further consultation. I hope that during the course of the evening, in response either to the debate on this Bill or to the debate on the Canterbury City Council and the Nottingham City Council Bills, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey) will say what the Government’s initial thinking is on their approach to pedlar legislation. What impact would national pedlar legislation have on the provisions in private Acts in relation to Westminster city council? Obviously, it might be a waste of time if the House or the other place spend a lot of time discussing the consolidation measures in the City of Westminster Bill if the Government subsequently introduced national legislation on pedlar activity.
At the moment, traditional pedlars cannot operate within the city of Westminster boundary. They can go from door to door, but they cannot act as pedlars on the street, which means that they are severely disadvantaged, notwithstanding their national licences to peddle. I hope for national legislation and a national approach to the matter, and that the Minister tells us what the Government’s thinking is on the prospect of such legislation, so that we do not have piecemeal proposals from councils up and down the country.
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Is that not the crux of the matter? The previous Government talked about introducing national legislation. It costs local councils an enormous amount of money to promote private Bills, so would not such legislation solve that problem?
Mr Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are told that had there not been so much resistance from him and others to private Bills in the previous Session and the one before that, there would have been many more. That it was difficult for such Bills to make progress through the House acted as an effective deterrent for the very good reason he articulates. Such legislation is expensive and will often be seen by local taxpayers as a disproportionate response to a local niggle. That is why a large number of councils did not go down the private Bill route. Obviously, the City of Westminster has a very well-resourced council-it also delivers one of the lowest council taxes in the country-and has decided that it will go down that route, but it is important to point out that many of the private Bills promoted by local councils to deal with street trading and peddling were encouraged by the City of Westminster Bill, which has acted as a sort of precedent. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and others will be interested to see what the City of Westminster council thinks of touting. I notice that its Bill includes a lot more information on seizure powers and what to do with the receptacles that are used for street trading, and that it includes some of the powers that were eventually excluded from the Bournemouth Borough Council Act 2010 and the Manchester City Council Act 2010, which were passed following a gentlemanly compromise prompted by the opponents of those provisions.
Some of the developing law is contained in the City of Westminster Bill, which is why Members who are alert to the concerns of individuals who try to eke out a living as street traders or pedlars should be vigilant on their behalf. We want to ensure that oppressive, disproportionate legislation is not introduced under the radar. That is why this evening’s debate is important, but I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster that it is not my intention to press the motion to a Division.
Mike Freer (Finchley and Golders Green) (Con): First, may I declare an interest as a former leader of a London borough council that had to deal with street trading on a day-to-day basis? My postbag on street trading was far bigger than my postbags on many other areas of council activity.
I should like to address a few of the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). I understand the law of supply and demand and the effect of regulation, and that if people are selling things that people want to buy, we should not get in the way. That is fine, but if it were true, we ought to allow drug trading and prostitution to be completely unregulated. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) is quite right that a revival of the City of Westminster Bill does not stop subsequent detailed scrutiny.
I have risen to support a revival of the Bill because I feel strongly about localism, which is not an à la carte concept. We cannot say that local councils should have the rights and powers to do what they think is right for their areas only as long as we agree with them.
Mr Bone: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, but the crux of the argument is that we want national legislation to allow local authorities to introduce the right pedlar laws for their areas, and not for councils to have to spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds on private Bills. We may be on the same side in that respect.
Mike Freer: That is quite right. It would be helpful if we could get the Department for Communities and Local Government or whichever is the correct Department to regulate on a national framework. However, in the absence of that, I shall support the city of Westminster in its promotion of the Bill. Those who have to deal with the scourge of street trading know that it is not simply a matter of the touting and the pedlars. The high streets of many major cities-especially the London boroughs-are virtually obstacle courses. One has to dodge not only the normal street furniture, but the goods and services being peddled on the pavements.
I am pleased to see that clause 18(e) deals with disabled access, because many people in wheelchairs or who use zimmer frames-or even families with pushchairs-find it difficult to manoeuvre around the variety of plastic tubs or greengrocery in the high streets. It may sound trivial, but it is not when we are trying to maintain our high streets as vibrant economies. They have to encourage trade while also retaining their attractiveness for local people. If families or disabled people feel that they cannot manoeuvre along their high street, they will go to the major shopping centres, which are regulated. On that basis alone, I support the Bill.
Importantly, the Bill also deals with the detritus of smoking. Many councils spend tens of thousands of pounds cleaning up after smokers. I expect that hon. Members were keen to ban smoking in public places, but they may not have realised the cost that was pushed on to local councils.
The fundamental issue is that if we support localism, we must allow the democratically elected councillors of Westminster to bring forward what they believe is right for their people.
Philip Davies: I appreciate my hon. Friend’s point about localism, but if we were to take it to the lengths that he seems to be suggesting, we need not bother having a national Parliament. Does he accept that the duty of Members of a national Parliament is to preserve our freedoms and not just to give carte blanche to any local authority to follow an authoritarian route and ban things that it does not like? We have a duty to defend people’s freedoms as well as to defend the principle of localism.
Mike Freer: I accept entirely that this House acts as a check and balance on the powers of local governance, but I also look forward to my hon. Friend tabling a private Member’s Bill to legalise or deregulate prostitution and drug dealing on our streets. We cannot pick and choose which freedoms should be traded on our streets.
The City of Westminster and other areas need these powers, not to regulate in a heavy-handed manner, but to revoke the licences of those who seek to cause an obstruction or damage to our local environment. On that basis, I support the revival of the Bill.
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) who has experience in his borough of the problem. However, he does not have the experience of listening to the hours of debate in this Chamber. The problem really revolves around the previous Government refusing to bring in national legislation. If that had been done, each of the local authorities could have decided whether they wanted to take powers over pedlars and introduce their own legislation-exactly the localism that we are looking for. What might be right for the City of Westminster might not be right for Wellingborough. We almost teased the last Government into such legislation, so I am looking forward to hearing what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say.
The one aspect that is new to the debate-we did not know about it when we discussed it last year-is the amount of human trafficking of children into London to be pedlars, although it is false peddling as they do not have the licence from 1871. This is such a serious problem that we have seen people imprisoned. A national newspaper recently reported the case of a Romanian father who had sold his daughter to traffickers in this country to go on to the streets and, in theory, to peddle old issues of The Big Issue . In fact, that was completely false and bogus. He got four years in prison and served two, and now he is back home in Romania. Similar cases apparently involve thousands of children.
While I welcome the legislation for local councils to make their own decisions on peddling and how the law should be enforced in different areas-although I regret the thousands of pounds it has cost local councils to get to this stage-all the councils seem to have missed the question of what we do with these false pedlars, many of them young children, when it is discovered that they have been trafficked. We have to get to grips with that issue, because the children who have been trafficked over here are not criminals; they are victims of crime. It is a frightening problem and I hope that this Parliament will get to grips with it. That is why I would welcome national legislation.
I shall not oppose the revival of this Bill tonight, but the issue of the children trafficked into this country-especially into London-is one that we need to note.
Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): May I begin by saying how much I appreciated the speech by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field), who outlined the motion very well? I am aware that the issue before us is whether to revive the City of Westminster Bill so it can complete the parliamentary process started in the previous parliamentary session. A lot of time, effort and expense has been spent on this and the other Bills that we are considering and there is a good argument that we should not waste that by refusing to revive them. The Bills will be scrutinised in detail on their merits during later stages if the motions are passed.
We think that it is important that this Bill and the others that we are considering later are given the opportunity to complete the parliamentary process. In terms of the motion to revive the Bills in this parliamentary session, it is worth noting that the councils in question have demonstrated local support for the Bills, not only by way of council resolutions but through the support of Members of this House and of the other place. Suffice it to say that Westminster city council has made a strong case for this legislation during the passage of the Bill so far.
The main reason for the legislation, as we have heard, is to deal with the regulation of street trading in Westminster and to deal with deficiencies, identified by Westminster city council, in the City of Westminster Act 1999. It contends that, while the 1999 Act has enabled the council to have some success in controlling unlicensed street trading, the Bill would alter-and, the council suggests, would improve-the 1999 Act by giving more flexibility on the designation of licensable areas within which street trading can be licensed; by giving more flexibility in varying existing trading licences; by providing more discretion in deciding whether to allow an application for a licence; and by setting out new general grounds on which the council can refuse to grant a street trading licence, including public safety, amenity of the area, and the suitability of the application.
When this Bill was debated in the other place, Baroness Parks reflected on the importance of having these wider powers to refuse a licence because of the huge number of conservation areas in the City, including large numbers of listed buildings for which more stringent controls might be necessary. However, other measures in the Bill serve to preserve the vitality of markets in the City and, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, there is nothing in the Bill specifically related to pedlary.
I do not intend to go through the Bill’s provisions. I have merely mentioned a few, as I hope that the House can see that they relate to important issues for Westminster council and should be given parliamentary time. The Bill also contains necessary checks and balances, most notably through consultation with those affected, an opportunity for them to make representations to the council, and an appeals system. It should be further noted that opposing views have been expressed too, and obviously these need to be thoroughly debated in the House. Indeed, the point was well made in previous deliberations by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Tony Lloyd), who pointed out that although there might be much in the Bills before the House this evening to unite us, legitimate questions should be debated thoroughly and allowed a proper examination. I totally concur with that, and I hope that we can agree this evening to proceed to the remaining stages in the parliamentary process.
Members of the other place also commented on the need to review the law on trading in the streets and selling door to door, with a view to producing national legislation that reflects current conditions. I am sure that the Minister will know that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills initiated a consultation on national legislation following detailed research on the topic by Durham university. The consultation finished in February 2010. Previous debates demonstrated clear cross-party support for a national framework, which could mean that a large number of private Bills on street trading and related issues are unnecessary. I hope that the Minister has something to say on that matter. I do not always agree with the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), but I do agree with him that it would be helpful to move to a national framework as soon as possible. I wonder whether the Minister could tell us how he proposes to move forward on that matter.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): We have had a good debate this evening, helped by the experience from previous debates. We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field), who opened the debate, and my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), who are veterans of discussion on this legislation. However, we have also benefited from new experience, on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), who spoke of his local authority days. I also welcome the hon. Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) to her place and thank her for her contribution.
It is right that I should begin by restating an important procedural point. Traditionally, the Government do not take any view on the content or progress of private Bills, unless they are exceptionally moved to do so. From the speeches that we have heard this evening, I would note-as I am sure other hon. Members would-that there seems to be no real opposition to reviving the Bill. Although I hope to catch your eye and speak in the related debate, Mr Deputy Speaker, at this stage it is right that I should set out a little of the new Government’s thinking in this area.
Let me start by saying that, overall, having looked into the issue in some detail in recent days, I personally believe that we need to protect the rights of the genuine pedlar as we look at legislation across the piece-I say that to hon. Members from across the House and to local authorities looking at the issue. The rights of pedlars are traditional rights, going back to the Pedlars Act 1871. Although there might be people engaged in illegal street trading under the protection of a pedlar’s certificate, that should be dealt with separately. We should not use a sledgehammer to crack a nut by cracking down on genuine pedlars. They have rights that should be recognised.
The previous Government consulted on the issue, and I hope to be able to publish the Government’s response to that consultation within the next two or three months. I can tell the House that about 80 people and groups responded to the consultation, although they had differing views. The Government will reflect on those differing views and provide the House with our thoughts. Therefore, I cannot commit this evening to any particular timing for future legislation, although I can confirm something on which I believe there has been a cross-party consensus: that there is a need for a national framework, as the hon. Member for City of Durham set out and as other hon. Members stated.
Of course we need a national framework, and we need one for two reasons. We do not want local authorities across the country to have to spend tens of thousands of pounds on bringing forward private legislation. It is sensible that the Government should provide a national framework that in no way undermines localism or local responses to local situations. Therefore, although I cannot commit to any particular timing for that, that is certainly the intention, and we will be exploring those opportunities in the time ahead.
Mr Bone: The Minister is making a splendid speech and a splendid announcement. It seems strange that every time a Liberal Minister stands at the Dispatch Box, I find myself agreeing and saying what a wonderful job he is doing. [Interruption.] If I reflect on where I am sitting, I get a bit worried. Will the Minister endeavour to let councils know that that is the intention, so that those thinking of introducing legislation can hold back from so doing?
Mr Davey: I note that I am wearing a blue tie and the hon. Gentleman is wearing a yellow tie, which might suggest that this coalition is founded on many things. More seriously, I think he can be reassured that the interested local authorities will be reading Hansard; we do not need to spend money on stamps to tell them, as they are quite capable of clicking on the internet to read our deliberations.
Philip Davies: Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), I am greatly encouraged by what the Minister has had to say. If the Government introduce their own legislation on this issue, will it trump the private legislation that local authorities wish to pass; or if the local authorities pass these Bills and they end up being more authoritarian than the Government’s proposals, will those measures still stand? It is important to clarify that point before we decide whether these Bills are worth reviving.
Mr Davey: I think my hon. Friend is trying to tempt me to pre-judge the response to the consultation. Tempting though that is, I am afraid that I am not going to accede to the request for an absolutely straight answer-save to say that if the rights of genuine pedlars were embedded in a future national framework, whatever form it took, local authority legislation could well be superseded. When we respond to the consultation and look at future legislation, we will consult local authorities and try to ensure that any legislation is flexible enough to take account of the special concerns of any particular local authorities.
Given the real spirit of coalition behind our exchanges, I would like to answer a particular point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). He made an important point about examples of false pedlars being involved in the trafficking of children. I am sure that the whole House will be alarmed to read those reports and will want to know that action can be taken. I am sure that my hon. Friend is well aware that it is not for this legislation or any legislation that might come from it-whether it be a national framework or future private Bills-to tackle that issue. It is a matter for the Home Office, but I can give my hon. Friend an assurance that I will write to Home Office Ministers to bring their attention to this very important matter. At this point, it is right to pay tribute to the former Member for Totnes, Anthony Steen, who I believe retired at the last election, as he campaigned so brilliantly for the rights of women who had been trafficked to this country. It is right for this House and this Government to ensure that we take action on trafficked women. It is not an issue for my Department, but I hope and believe that this Government will want to look at the problem.
Mr Chope: May I say how much I appreciate the fact that the Minister is going to respond to this consultation within two or three months? When we last debated one of these Bills, I think he said that waiting for the framework might be like waiting for Godot. What he has said tonight suggests that he has taken it on himself to push this matter forward, on which I congratulate him.
Mr Davey: I am obviously grateful for any congratulations. I hope that I will not be too Beckett-like in my approach to this matter. I do want to make it clear, however, that we are not promising early legislation in this area, as I would need to speak to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House about that. If I gave an unduly certain commitment, I am sure I would be called to order, but that is not to say that we do not think there is room to progress action in this area-I shall return to this in my later remarks-as there are other reasons for us to look at this with the degree of gravity that it requires.
The debate has shown the cross-party consensus on the legislation and what the Government need to do in due course to relieve the burdens on local authorities in tackling the issue, to ensure that the rights of pedlars are respected, and to ensure that we crack down on those who are trading illegally on our streets and genuinely causing problems. That is promising for debates to come, and I hope that we make progress with the Bill tonight.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) on being such a dogged advocate for his local authority and his constituents. I would not want to say that I know his constituency, or what is required there, better than he does.
Mr Mark Field: I would at least do my hon. Friend the honour of suggesting that he knows my constituency better than I know his, but there is a good reason for that.
Philip Davies: That may well be true. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), without whose dogged pursuit of the issue we probably would not have reached this stage this evening. We all owe him a great debt of gratitude-certainly, genuine pedlars do, because without his persistence, many bad bits of legislation would have been passed to their detriment. I am sure that we are all grateful that he is here keeping people’s feet to the fire to ensure that unworthy legislation is not sneaked through the House.
The Minister’s contribution to the debate was especially helpful, although, inadvertently I suspect, it questioned whether the Bill and related Bills are worth reviving. He seems much more determined than the previous Government to see progress on national legislation in this field. If we are to move quickly towards such legislation, it is utterly pointless for local authorities to pursue their own private legislation, which, as he seemed to indicate, may shortly be trumped by a national framework.
Mr Bone: I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but national legislation might just be enabling legislation to allow local authorities to make their own decisions. Therefore, there might be some reason to revive the Bills.
Philip Davies: My hon. Friend might be right, on this as he is on most issues. The Minister was at pains to stress that he would not prejudge what the national framework and legislation would be. The question is whether the Bills are worth reviving in light of the fact that the Government will push on with some kind of national legislation. The matter would have been more clear cut if the Government had said that they have no intention of pursuing national legislation, and that it was for local people to make up their own minds through local authorities. The Minister has slightly muddied the waters.
We all believe in the principle of localism. No one argues with that. My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) made a forceful defence of localism, and I would tend to share his enthusiasm. However, it is difficult to expect people to know the different legislation relating to peddling as they move from one local authority to another. Certainly, when I am in London, I find it difficult to know which local authority I am in, because there is no obvious boundary between one London local authority and another. It might be clear if one is a resident and can benefit from the low council tax that Westminster city council provides, but otherwise it is difficult to know which part of London one is in.
Mr Mark Field: Let me defend the honour of Westminster city council’s cleansing department by observing that the cleanliness of Westminster’s streets marks a very obvious distinction between it and, say, Camden or Brent.
Philip Davies: I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. He clearly examines the litter in various London streets in much more detail than I do, and he clearly knows which local authority area he is in, but other people may not. Pedlars may not know whether they happen to be in Lambeth or Westminster: they may not know where one of those areas begins and ends, and which part of a bridge is in which area. When legislation is of such a local nature, it is difficult for people to know exactly what the law is in their area.
Given that the Government are talking about a national framework, and given that-particularly in a city such as London-people may not know which council area they are in, I question whether it is sensible to revive the Bill. However, on this as on so many matters, I take my lead from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. It appears from his remarks that he is satisfied that the Bill is worth reviving. Perhaps he is merely being collegiate and not wanting to cause his colleagues further discomfort or delay, but given that he seems happy for the Bill to be revived for the time being and to be scrutinised later, I will follow his lead. However, I question whether any of these Bills is worth reviving, even if the motion is passed tonight-as I am sure it will be-especially in the light of the Minister’s encouraging remarks about a national framework, which is so important in this context.
Mr Mark Field: With the leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker. We have had a useful and constructive debate, but it has concerned a simple issue of procedure rather than all the aspects of the Bill. I know that my hon. Friends’ appetites are whetted by the prospect of the return of a fully fledged Bill following the deliberations in the House of Lords Select Committee on 19 July. I was encouraged by the Minister’s support for a national framework, and I thank the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods), for her helpful and praiseworthy comments. I am hopeful that a national framework for pedlars will be introduced.
Let me try to assuage the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope). I do not believe we should see what is proposed for the city of Westminster, or perhaps even what is proposed in the Bills relating to Nottingham and Canterbury, as a template or precedent. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) about the importance of localism. I think it right for a framework to exist in relation to issues such as this, but local considerations should then take much more control.
One of the most significant aspects of the debate is that local conditions will change in time. I speak for the centre of London, but I am sure that the same applies to the centre of Nottingham, which has changed beyond recognition in the last generation, and which I hope-as, no doubt, many of its residents hope-will change significantly in the decades to come. We should always be strongly aware of local conditions, and I hope that that will emerge in the detailed debates in which we will no doubt engage in the months ahead when the Bill returns to the House of Commons.
I thank my hon. Friends for their contributions, and wish the Bill a fast journey to the other place for 19 July.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House concurs with the Lords in their Resolution.