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"measurement of minimum distance operates in a straight line except to the extent that...the ground is not level"-
"passage along the line is obstructed by buildings, fixed structures or private property".
If we are to have any confidence in common sense, surely we do not need the degree of prescription in proposed new paragraph 1(2C)(b) of schedule 4 to the 1982 Act, as set out in clause 5, on lines 20 to 24 of page 4.
The last amendment in this group is amendment 23, which is arguably one of the most important amendments, because it bears directly on the quotation that I gave a moment ago of the Chairman of the Opposed Private Bill Committee, who said that there was no intention on the part of that Committee to redefine the word "pedlar". It is my submission that clause 5(2) should not say:
"Nothing in subsection (1) shall be taken to extend the range of activities that comprise acting as a pedlar."
The Bill as drafted restricts the range of activities that comprise acting as a pedlar, compared with the activities set out under the Pedlars Act 1871 and the case law under it. It would be much clearer, and would also reflect more accurately the express intentions of the Chairman and other members of the Opposed Private Bill Committee, if clause 5(2) said that nothing in subsection (1) should be taken to "restrict" the range of activities that comprise acting as a pedlar, which is the complete reverse of what it says now.
The reason why I think that that is important is that there is a lot of suspicion about the motives behind the provisions. There has been a breakdown of trust between the pedlars and the various boroughs whose enforcement officers they believe are harassing them unnecessarily. If the Bill goes forward in a way that, it could be argued, restricts the range of activities that currently comprise acting as a pedlar, not only will that be premature, because we will still be awaiting the report from the Government following the consultation that is taking place, but it will add to the pedlars' frustration and their feeling that they are an oppressed minority. There are only about 3,500 of them up and down the country, and some of us are trying to defend their interests today-and, indeed, to encourage more people to participate in the art and activity of pedlary, which brings so much joy to
so many people in so many parts of the country. I have summarised my amendments and I urge hon. Members to support them.
Mr. Ellwood: This has been a very long debate. May I place on record my concern that we could have had another 45 minutes, once the previous chunk of business had finished? Instead, the sitting was suspended, which was unhelpful. We could have had more time to debate these matters.
Mr. Ellwood: There is a lot of history behind the Bill. We have debated it more than we have debated most of the Government Bills that have been put through Parliament in this Session. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), who initially objected to its being pushed through at a pace with which he was uncomfortable, made it clear that we needed to give it due discussion, and that was accepted. We have now had that discussion, however, and I am concerned that 81 amendments have been tabled at the eleventh hour. I hope that we will be able to bring this matter to a conclusion here today.
We have moved much too far away from the real issue, which is the relationship between street traders and pedlars, both of whom have a legitimate role in society today. Unfortunately, there is a legal blurring in regard to how the two work together, to the extent that local authorities up and down the country are having problems with how to control their town centres. The purpose of the Bill-which follows similar Bills relating to places such as Leicester, Medway and London-is to try to reconcile that difference.
I would be the first to acknowledge that national legislation covering all local councils would be sensible. Unfortunately, we are a long way off achieving that, and the situation in our town centres has created a sense of urgency. We therefore need to push ahead with this legislation. There would not be so many borough councils queuing up to join those that already have the legislation if it were not important. All borough councils face huge financial pressures, and it has cost an awful lot of money to get where we are today. They would not be going down that road unless it were important.
I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. It is a pity that individual local authorities have to pursue these matters in this way. My council, Wiltshire county council, has yet to contact me on this matter, but I know
that these issues arise in the market towns of Wiltshire, and I am anticipating the day when we might have to introduce a similar Bill for my area. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a hierarchy of disadvantage for those who operate shops, for street traders and for pedlars-in terms of business rates, for example? That creates a competitive disadvantage that needs to be addressed, and in that respect the market needs to be managed. This Bill is part of that process, albeit in relation only to Bournemouth.
Mr. Ellwood: My hon. Friend echoes the importance of pressing ahead with this legislation. We have already had votes in the House on the Bill. Parliament has already spoken on the matter, and I do not want to take up any more of its time. I urge hon. Members to press forward with the Bill and to draw the matter to a conclusion.
This is a smaller group of amendments. I hope that the sponsors of the Bill will show a little more respect to the arguments deployed in support of the amendments in this group than they did to those in the last group. People who are looking at the record will be amazed to think that 28 amendments, which took well over an hour and a half to discuss and concerned many Members of the House, received no response from the Government or the official Opposition and no meaningful response from the sponsors before they curtailed the debate. I hope we do not experience that again, because it sends out a very bad message from this House. It
suggests that people who table amendments are never entitled to a response to the arguments they make in support of them.
Sir John Butterfill: I am a little offended on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) and myself that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) does not think we replied to the serious points he made. We did not regard some of them as being particularly serious.
Mr. Chope: I am sure that if this Bill reaches the statute book the proof of the pudding will be in the eating and we will see the result in the Bournemouth magistrates court or divisional court. Perhaps the Government will sort it out by introducing some national legislation.
Mr. Leigh: There is a serious matter. In an excellent speech-he gets the Eric Forth award for consistency and accuracy-my hon. Friend made some important points. We should have a convention that at least the Minister should reply to a debate before the closure motion can be moved.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We are now spending time on the past and on procedure. May I suggest to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) that we move on to the substance of this group of amendments?
"to the area of the Borough defined in subsection (3) below".
Subsection (3) is provided by another amendment in this group, amendment 5, which defines a specific area of Bournemouth in which the ambit of the provisions of the Bill will apply. That is the area to the south of the Wessex way, and hon. Members on both sides of the House familiar with conferences in Bournemouth will know that that is the extension of the spur road into town. People travelling from London turn left off the spur road to get to the centre of Bournemouth and to the Bournemouth International Centre, where the conferences are held.
The area that I am defining would be confined to the area to the south of the spur road-in other words, it would lie between the spur road and the seaside. Restrictions to the west of that area would apply at Durley Chine; to the east, they would apply at the Lansdowne and its Meyrick road extension.
Mr. Leigh: We used to have our party conference in Bournemouth, and I much preferred those great days. We would be stopped constantly by people giving us leaflets, but why should they be treated any better or worse than an honest pedlar trying to earn a living?
Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend makes a really good point. Leaflets do not have to be sold in order to be issued by pedlars, but perhaps we should have ensured that the people handing them out held pedlars' certificates. I am concerned about this matter because my constituency of Christchurch is so close to Bournemouth-indeed, it is contiguous with it. It is a great inconvenience that we no longer hold Conservative party conferences there.
Mr. Chope: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. To deal with the question of location, I shall refer to a conversation that I had with Mr. Mark Smith, Bournemouth's director of tourism. We spoke on Monday of this week, over breakfast at a hotel in Christchurch. The meeting was organised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), although unfortunately he was not able to attend.
Also at the meeting was a Bournemouth councillor, and I raised with Mr. Smith an issue that I had raised at a discussion at Bournemouth town hall some 18 months ago. Bournemouth says that it has a problem with illegal street trading and rogue pedlars in the town centre, so the suggestion was that the provisions of the Bill should be limited to that area and not extend across the whole area of the borough. I gave Mr. Smith the details of the restricted location proposed in the amendment, and he agreed that, to all intents and purpose, that was the core part of Bournemouth's commercial centre.
Mr. Smith accepted that it would be an appropriate area to put in a restriction, but he was worried about making any concessions at this stage. He was also worried about what he described as the displacement effect-the possibility that activity currently taking place in the town centre might be displaced elsewhere.
You may remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that is exactly the same argument as the one that we addressed on Second Reading, when we debated whether the consequence of introducing this legislation in Bournemouth's town centre would be that the activity would be displaced into the borough of Christchurch. My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) spoke about towns such as Wimborne and Blandford in his constituency, but at that stage it was denied that there would be any displacement effect. Now, however, the argument about possible displacement is being used against my proposal, which is that the Bill should contain a clear definition of the part of Bournemouth to which these restrictions will apply. It is more complicated than it might seem, because different trading regimes already operate in Bournemouth.
That point was borne out by the evidence from the same Mr. Mark Smith, the director of tourism, during the Opposed Private Bill Committee at the end of June and the beginning of July last year. I recall him saying, early on in his evidence, that although the Bill would apply to the whole of Bournemouth, some streets were prohibited streets, some were not, and there were some to which the local authority had not sought the application of the 1982 Act. It does not apply to quite a lot of the streets in Bournemouth.
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