What a relief. Canterbury is finally getting the street trading laws it needs, after six years of debate and delay in the House of Commons. When the Council originally asked me to help on this, I had no idea what a long, drawn out battle it was going to be.
Rogue traders on the streets of the city have been a real problem. Canterbury is the third most visited city in the country. Our ancient and narrow streets are pretty but become very overcrowded, especially in the summer. The Council allows for a fixed number of street traders in the High Street, governed by the space available. Yet these legitimate street traders, who have paid for a permit to trade, face unfair competition from pedlars visiting from outside Canterbury, who have not paid the Council a penny. Up to now, the only way the Council could move pedlars on was to start lengthy and costly court proceedings.
Because this is a very localised problem, applying to only a few places, it didn’t receive much attention in Parliament – regardless of which party was in government. Yet it was important to prevent obstruction of the High Street and protect those doing businesses legitimately from unfair competition from people often paying no tax as well as no licence fee.
The new law will cut the amount of time it takes for the Council to deal with rogue traders. Instead of taking them to court, at the expense of the ratepayer, the Council will now be able to issue on-the-spot fines. Legitimate pedlars, who are moving from place to place with their trade, will always be welcome in our city. All they need to do is prove that they are mobile. If they can’t do so, the Council will now have the power to tell them to move on or fine them.
It all took so long because, under our arcane parliamentary rules, a handful of colleagues objecting to the bill were able to force debate after debate and vote after vote, until finally the Deputy Speaker invoked a rare procedure for speed voting – rising in our seats, instead of walking through the lobbies. I am delighted we have finally got it through.
Our ancient city has had vibrant street activity for centuries – I hope that this will continue and that we will be able to enjoy our streets this summer without obstruction.
Published in the Canterbury Times on 21st February 2013