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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. This debate is not time limited. The only decision the House has taken is not to resume before 8.55 p.m. If the noble Baroness wishes to speak for 20 minutes, she is at perfect liberty to do so.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, tempting though the offer is, I have never spoken for 20 minutes, and I do not intend to start tonight. My point is simply that the agreement was that this business be taken during the dinner hour and that it would be completed within that period. That was the basis upon which I

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agreed to take it. It is a matter which I shall bear carefully in mind when I am approached with regard to other such business.

I turn to the Bill. I join other noble Lords in welcoming the terms of the Bill. It addresses an issue which has recently caused much public concern; that is, the problem of illegal trading in the Royal Parks. This was a matter which was discussed by the House last year during debates on the Greater London Authority Bill and on an Unstarred Question on the future of the Royal Parks. That debate was initiated by my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley, who is disappointed that he is unable to contribute his expertise tonight. Noble Lords will be aware that there is a special occasion at Windsor Castle and will not be surprised that his presence is required there.

I made it clear on each occasion that we on these Benches would support measures to clamp down on illegal trading in the Royal Parks, provided, of course, that such legislation addressed the problem in an appropriate, effective and fair manner. We believe that the Bill attempts to do just that. We therefore support it.

We hope that the Bill will have the effect of bringing powers in relation to Royal Parks and other open spaces broadly into line with those possessed by local authorities when they deal with illegal trading activities in the surrounding streets. As the Minister stated, the Royal Parks are a precious resource for Londoners and tourists alike. They form a ribbon of green across London and are, indeed, the lungs of the city, giving us all somewhere we can take shelter from the pressures of city life. We all pay tribute to the Royal Parks Agency for its work in keeping the parks as places of excellence for all of us to enjoy.

Other noble Lords referred in detail to the problem as it exists. I do not intend to repeat those points. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux for giving such a clear description of the problem from his own expert view as a resident who has suffered the smells and has viewed what can happen. We are aware of the dangers for tourists and Londoners alike who buy food that may well not be proper to eat and may be contaminated.

The Minister referred to one issue that has caused the problem to become worse in recent years. I refer to the action rightly taken by Westminster City Council to deal effectively with unlicensed vendors on its streets. As the Minister pointed out, the result of that has simply been that the unlicensed vendors have plied their trade elsewhere; in other words, in the Royal Parks.

The second issue and new point to which I wish to refer is a matter which occurred last year which made the problem even worse than expected; namely, the decision of a Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court in May in the case of Kol Curri v. Westminster City Council. Mr Justice Ognall, sitting with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice, decided that when an unlicensed

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vendor sells goods on Crown land, only the owner of the trolley can be prosecuted under food safety laws, not the person selling the food.

In giving judgment to the Court, Mr Justice Ognall said:


    "I reach these conclusions with a degree of regret, and certainly of reluctance. I am mindful that this analysis may make it easy for peripatetic entrepreneurs to assert in this sort of situation that they are no more than salesmen, and thus to escape prosecution or conviction".

I quote from the transcript of the case. He was absolutely right in his forecast. The decision meant that unlicensed hotdog sellers--or sellers of any food or other items--are virtually immune from prosecution because the proprietors can rarely, if ever, be found. If one reads the transcript of that judgment, one obtains a clear picture of the nature and scale of the problem in the Royal Parks.

When Mr Kol Curri was stopped on 3rd July 1997 in St James's Park, he was trading in hotdog sausages from his mobile trolley. It is said that the trolley itself, the food being sold and the appellant's clothing, appeared to fall below hygiene standards as set out in food safety legislation. That seems an understatement.

The importance of this is that Mr Kol Curri, an Albanian with limited command of English, was being organised by others. He was their agent. The owners of the trolleys, who were not from Albania, were called Bill and Dave. One therefore assumes they might be from closer to home. They were paying Mr Kol Curri between £20 and £50 per week depending on sales. He worked only part time. They were taking about £1,000 per day profit per trolley. They were the ones making the killing, perhaps.

It is against the background of that kind of trade that we believe the Bill tries to tackle the problem in the right way. It is important that a solution is to be found in having recourse not just to heavy fines but to other methods. It is important to have a deterrent.

The Minister referred to Clause 4 which gives park constables the right to seize all non-perishable goods used as part of the illegal trading activity. That provision is important.

There are other matters and questions one could justifiably ask about the provisions in the Bill. I refer, for example, to what happens to the perishable goods. None of us, I am sure, enjoys the thought of large piles of half-cooked burgers and onions being dumped in the Royal Parks. However, I shall not put those questions to the Minister tonight simply because, like other noble Lords, I welcome the Bill and wish it a fair wind. Like others, I do not do so because I am a killjoy. Like many, I believe that one can enjoy a very good hotdog or beefburger. However, I recognise that it is important to protect tourists and Londoners alike from being exploited by unlicensed traders in the Royal Parks. I wish the Bill speedy progress through the House.

8.50 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate and for the unreserved enthusiasm they expressed for this Bill.

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When I say "short debate", let me repeat to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that I am grateful to her for agreeing to take the Second Reading in the dinner hour; as she said, it is unusual. I am sorry that she was approached without being told that orders were being taken at the same time. However, I want to assure her again that the fact that the orders were taken did not limit the amount of time available for the Second Reading of this Bill. It simply meant that this business began that much later in the evening. If that was inconvenient, I apologise to her.

It is true that the provisions of this Bill were debated in the context of the Greater London Authority Bill, and that last year the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and I took part in those debates. This matter was debated also in an Unstarred Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, and we are sorry that he is not in his place today.

First, I want to deal with the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux. He asked when the Bill will come into effect. The answer is, immediately on Royal Assent. But orders have to be laid after that under the 1926 Act and cannot come into effect for 40 sitting days. Clearly, the earlier the Bill receives Royal Assent, the better, and the earlier we can conclude Committee stage, the better. If the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, that there should be no amendments in Committee, is followed by the Opposition Front Benches, the order of commitment can be discharged and the Third Reading can be held very shortly thereafter. That will certainly advance the time by which the Bill will come into effect. I hope that the noble Lord will seek to persuade his Front Bench that that is the right way to proceed.

The noble Lord asked whether the Bill applies to Victoria Tower gardens. It does, and there is a particularly offensive hotdog seller right next to the Victoria Tower. The noble Lord asked also where the traders will go and what is to be done at the London Eye. I too have observed that illegal traders have found the London Eye a place of attraction. It is covered by the London Local Authorities Act 1990, which provides powers of seizure and forfeiture for unlicensed trading. I hope that the authority, which I assume to be Southwark council, will take action under that Act to deal with the problem there if indeed it shifts from the Royal Parks.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, made a valid point in relation to who is guilty of an offence. As she will know, Clause 3 of the Bill ensures not only that the individual trader can be charged with an offence, but also a corporate body; and the officers of that corporate body, who are defined in the Bill, will be prosecuted under the Act.

The noble Baroness asked what happened to perishable goods that were not seized, although she did not want an answer. Traders are invited to take their perishable goods away. I believe that they take away the ice cream cones and probably the hotdogs and rolls. But if they do not, the goods are destroyed at the place to which the carts are taken. I am glad to say that

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there is good co-operation between Westminster and the Royal Parks. The carts will be taken to Westminster yard.

I am grateful to all noble Lords for everything they have said about the Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.


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