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The activities of illegal traders are a blight on the face of our magnificent Royal Parks and detract from their enjoyment by thousands of visitors. The purpose of this short Bill is to give my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport the powers to deal effectively with the problem.
The peace and beauty of our Royal Parks are well known to and appreciated by Londoners and visitors. The Royal Parks Agency maintains them to a high standard. They are kept clean and are well presented. They are a showpiece of excellence in the heart of our capital city. The activities of illegal traders detract from that.
Anyone who sells goods in a Royal Park must have the permission of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. The Government ensure that what is on sale is of a high quality and at a reasonable price. Recognised catering firms are authorised to sell refreshments in all the royal parks. In addition to providing a quality service to the public, part of the income goes to the Royal Parks Agency for the upkeep of the parks.
The activities of illegal traders undermine every aspect of this arrangement. Many noble Lords will be only too well aware of the present position. Between spring and autumn the Central Royal parks, and St James's Park in particular, are dotted at every turn
The Royal Parks and Other Open Spaces Regulations 1997 require that anyone wishing to trade in one of the parks must obtain the written permission of the Secretary of State. If a person acts in contravention of the regulations, including that for trading within the parks, he or she commits an offence under the Parks Regulation (Amendment) Act 1926. At present the courts may impose a fine of up to £200 after conviction for such an offence. Fines, however frequently imposed by the courts, have failed to act as a deterrent compared with the money which can be made from unlicensed trading.
The Bill seeks to combat the current abuses by introducing the new concepts of "park trading regulations" and "park trading offences". These labels will apply to parts of the existing regulations, which will then attract the enhanced powers of seizure, forfeiture and level of fine in the Bill. Breach of a regulation that has not been designated as a "park trading regulation" will remain an offence but the authorities will not be able to use the powers in the Bill in that respect.
The problem of unlicensed trading in the parks has got worse in recent years. Until recently the City of Westminster faced the same problems of illegal trading on the streets of the city, where fines were failing to be a deterrent. Parliament provided the City of Westminster with more effective powers in the City of Westminster Act 1999. These allow the City of Westminster to seize property used in the commission of unlicensed trading. This puts an immediate stop to the illegal act. The courts also have greater powers; on conviction, the court may impose a fine up to level 3, which is currently £1,000, and may determine whether any property relating to the offence is to be forfeited.
The City of Westminster Act is working very effectively, so effectively that as a consequence the level of illegal trading in the Royal Parks has increased, as illegal traders have moved increasingly into the Royal Parks, where the sanctions are less effective. It is important that Parliament now provides similarly effective powers for the Royal Parks.
I turn now to the specific provisions of the Bill. It creates various powers to regulate illegal trading in the Royal Parks and other open spaces covered by the Parks Regulation (Amendment) Act 1926. The powers
Clause 1 of the Bill, as I indicated earlier, allows the Secretary of State to designate particular provisions of any regulations made under the Parks Regulation (Amendment) Act 1926, as "park trading regulations". This designation will be achieved by regulations made under the 1926 Act. Any failure to comply with a park trading regulation will, from then on, be a "park trading offence".
Clause 2 provides a penalty not exceeding level 3 (currently £1,000) on the standard scale for failure to comply with or contravention of regulations made under Clause 1 of the Bill. Clause 4 provides a power of seizure by a constable of non-perishable items used in connection with illegal trading. Clause 5 allows the Secretary of State, in specific circumstances, to retain and dispose of things seized. Clause 6 provides a power to order forfeiture of things seized, exercisable by a magistrates' court in the event of conviction.
The principles and purposes of the Bill are straightforward. We seek to deal with a criminal activity which has increased considerably in recent years, to the detriment of the Royal Parks and the health, the pocket and the comfort of visitors. The additional powers we seek are reasonable and have been shown to work fairly and effectively in the City of Westminster. The gap left by the illegal traders will be filled by additional catering kiosks provided by the authorised concessionaire. I commend the Bill to the House.
Lord Brougham and Vaux: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for introducing this long overdue Bill so clearly this evening. I said "long overdue" as someone who lives in London and who is a regular user of our wonderful parks, with all the lovely gardens, the wildlife and other amenities. I have to congratulate here the Royal Parks Agency on the wonderful job that it does. I am regularly sickened to the stomach by the most revolting smell from the unlicensed street traders selling the most unattractive looking hotdogs that one could ever wish to see.
The problem has become much more serious since Westminster City Council, as the Minister said, acquired the power to confiscate and destroy trolleys and stocks of unlicensed street traders. Many of them have moved into the parks, and I am told that in St James's Park alone up to 40 illegal traders are regularly operating. There is no control over prices or, what is even more important, over standards of hygiene; and the activities of these illegal traders damage the business of the approved concessionaires.
The Royal Parks Police have no powers. They can move these traders on but cannot prevent them from returning almost immediately. Most of these people are of foreign origin and speak very little, if any, English. The other day I saw a tourist ask for directions from one of these people and the reply that they got was a shrug of the shoulders.
Some months ago there was a fly-on-the-wall TV programme about these traders. It showed some unpleasant shots: in one of them the food fell on to the footpath and was picked up to be cooked and sold to the next unsuspecting customer. A few years ago some people took my dog for a walk and, having purchased a hotdog in one of the parks, they gave some of it to the dog, who was very ill for the next few days. I hate to think how many tourists have suffered the same fate.
This Bill, I am told, is the same as that which was introduced in another place by my right honourable friend Mr Peter Brooke last year. Regrettably, the Bill was blocked by Mr Eric Forth, as were other Bills, and he had another go at Third Reading a few weeks ago.
This Bill has my 100 per cent support. I am told by the Royal Parks Agency and the Royal Parks Police that they also fully support it as it is and do not wish to see it amended. All the powers that they need are in it.
I have a few points for the Minister, of which I have already given him notice. I should like to repeat these points so that they are on the official record. I should like to ask, first, whether the Bill can achieve its Third Reading and Royal Assent before 24th July, which, I am told, is the day earmarked for the Bill. Secondly, I hope that the Victoria Tower Gardens are covered by this Bill. My last problem or concern is: where will the traders go once this Bill becomes law? My worry is that they will go to the east side of the river by the London Eye. Anyone who walks there, as I do, can see for themselves a number of illegal vendors selling their wares or performing to raise money. Some days there seem to be more traders than tourists, and it is all becoming very unattractive. Could the Minister ask the local authority to look into this, as it is a popular tourist area and does not give a good impression to visitors?
My last question is: when is the commencement date? In other words, when can the police start to clamp down? Is it the date of Royal Assent or do orders have to lie for 40 days after Royal Assent before the police can get to work? The sooner we get Royal Assent and the orders are laid, the better. I urge the House to support this Bill and not even to try to amend it. I can but quote from a letter from the Deputy Chief Officer, whose permission I have to quote it. The letter says:
Indeed, the authorised traders contribute by paying for the authority which they hold to trade. That is approved by the Secretary of State. Unauthorised traders contribute nothing. They leave rubbish, which has to be cleaned up. There are many traders and many who want to trade. It must, therefore, be a profitable business. We have all seen the queues of people standing behind the contraptions, which steam away and create offensive odours. One wonders how people can be in such dire need of refreshment that they need to give such people their custom. However, they do so. My only wish is that the Bill passes into law quickly and without delay. If it does not, all kinds of sinister things may happen. As we have seen in the past, once this is seen by unlawful traders as a lucrative source of income, rivalries between traders ensue, with undesirable social consequences.
There is nothing further to say; everything has been said. I hope that the dates mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, can be met and that we shall have that assurance from the Minister.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns : My Lords, perhaps the only note of dissent tonight will be from me. I do not think that quite everything has been said on the Bill, as was stated by the noble Viscount. I have one or two new points to make. I shall, therefore, detain the House a little longer.
I have to remark also that in a spirit of co-operation, we agreed to have, most unusually, a Second Reading of a Bill during the dinner hour. At that stage I was not aware that the business which preceded this--that is, the orders--would be as lengthy as it was. In saying that, I make absolutely no criticism of anybody who spoke, Ministers or otherwise. The orders were important. The questions that were put and the answers given by the Ministers were absolutely vital. However, one only has to look at the clock to realise that an important Bill has been left with short shrift.
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