Clause 10 - Notification requirements
Vehicles (Crime) Bill
6:30 pm

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Mr John Bercow (Buckingham, Conservative)

I beg to move amendment No. 75, in page 7, line 4, leave out `(1),'.

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Mr Bill O'Brien (Normanton, Labour)

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 76, in page 7, line 5, at end insert—

`(4A) A person who fails to give notice to an authority in accordance with subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.'.

6:45 pm
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Mr John Bercow (Buckingham, Conservative)

As everyone following the proceedings will be aware, we are now dealing with the notification requirements provided for in clause 10.

Subsection (1) does not appear to add anything to the clause, so I do not understand why it is necessary and desirable. I can well understand the significance of subsection (4), which states that a

person who fails to give notice to a local authority in accordance with subsection (1), (2) or (3) shall be guilty of an offence.

However, subsections (2) and (3) contain the meat of the clause. Subsection (2) emphasises that someone

who is registered in the register of a local authority shall give notice to the local authority of any changes affecting his entry in the register,

and specifies that that should be done

within 28 days of the changes occurring; and the local authority shall amend the register accordingly.

The phrase ``within 28 days'' occurs in subsection (3), too. Those subsections impose specific requirements on operators, so it is clear why failure to fulfil those specific and clear requirements—although they are not necessarily exacting—should constitute an indictable offence.

I will make the following point in a moderate way, because I am not sure that I am right about it—in fact, I may be about to be told that I am wrong. It is not clear what the vague and less specific subsection (1) achieves. Subsection (2) uses specifics: if one does not notify the authority of changes within 28 days, one is committing an offence. Are Ministers suggesting that the relevant details may change from the time of the application's submission by the aspirant motor salvage operator and the time at which the application is determined? Is that the rationale behind the inclusion of subsection (1)? If that is what the Minister is going to tell me, I understand its logic. If it is not what he has in mind, I do not understand the practical significance of subsection (1).

I propose not only the deletion of subsection (1) but the insertion of the consequential amendment to subsection (4), so that there is no requirement for a reference to what was subsection (1). I hope that that is clear, and believe that I have made all the necessary points—but no, I suddenly discover, after a furtive rustle through my papers, that I might not have done so. Let me briefly set out my next argument.

Clause 1 stipulates that operating as a motor salvage operator without being registered is an offence punishable by a fine of £5,000. It is therefore strange, as I have argued in other contexts, to make it easy to avoid proper registration. Under clause 10, which deals with changes to details on the register, any change must be notified within 28 days—although there is no legitimate reason why it should not be 14 days, and a 28-day period leaves the system open to abuse. It seems wrong that any failure to keep details up to date should be punished by anything less than a £5,000 fine. Placing inaccurate details on the register is, in a sense, equivalent to not being registered at all.

The fine is a maximum; it will not be applied in every case. However, it is wrong to treat the offence of not changing inaccurate information in the same way as failing to inform the authority that one is no longer practising at all. To impose a level 5 fine, it would be necessary to delete ``(1),'' from clause 10(4), as we recommend, and insert a new provision. I look forward to the Minister's response.

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Mr Michael Fabricant (Lichfield, Conservative)

I want to reinforce the assertion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham that some redundancy is evident in that this matter is largely covered by clauses 2 and 3. The Minister might concede that point, given that he accepted the necessity of adding to the Bill provisions for a fine in case clauses 2 and/or 3 are not adhered to. Those clauses are directly concerned with the provision of accurate information, as well as with the initial requirement to register information with the registrar.

It is extraordinary that the Bill includes clause 10(1), which appears almost to duplicate previous clauses. Is that because it follows the format of another Bill or Act, or is it simply the result of bad drafting by the Minister's Department, which happens from time to time? The Home Office is producing a lot of legislation, some of it worth while and some of it not so worth while. If there is a drafting problem, the Minister should be brave and honest enough to admit it. If clause 10 duplicates earlier clauses, that might mean that it is not only redundant but in conflict with earlier clauses, which could open up a lacuna for lawyers.

If clause 10(1) is valid and does not duplicate earlier provisions, what penalties are in place, other than that stipulated in subsection (4), to ensure that it is enforced? Is a level 3 fine adequate for the purpose in this day and age? Is it a sufficient limitation on people who might deliberately go out of their way to deceive the registrar?

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Mr John Bercow (Buckingham, Conservative)

I note my hon. Friend's objection to a level 3 fine. Without wishing to put him on the spot, is he jumping for joy at my suggestion that a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale would be more appropriate?

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Mr Michael Fabricant (Lichfield, Conservative)

Yes. My hon. Friend is known to oppose unreasonable burdens on legitimate businesses, as do I and my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York. However, these fines are to be imposed on people who deliberately go out of their way to provide false information, and the point of the Bill is to ensure that a register is provided to enable the police and other authorities to ensure that crime is mitigated, if not eliminated completely. Level 5 is reasonable, and I got the impression from the Minister during the earlier debate on clauses 2 and 3 that he thought so, too.

Questions arise out of clause 10. First, is subsection (1) redundant, or does it conflict with the provisions of earlier clauses? Secondly, is subsection (4), which simply allows for a level 3 fine where inaccurate information is knowingly given, sufficient to deter the criminal? We all know that there are considerable profits to be made in the salvage industry and that there is therefore an incentive to commit crime. Such crime is committed and that is why the Bill is before us today.

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Mr Charles Clarke (Minister of State, Home Office; Norwich South, Labour)

This is not duplication, and the hon. Member for Buckingham is right in what he said. Clause 10(1) is aimed at those who have changed the details between submission and determination of their application. The issues raised earlier, which the hon. Member for Lichfield was concerned might create duplication, arose after submission had taken place and were not about changes in the process. This is about dealing with changes in the process.

Amendment No. 75 would remove the offence of failure to notify the Secretary of State of any changes to application papers before registration. The hon. Member for Buckingham seeks to delete clause 10(1), but we feel that it is essential that information provided by applicants to local authorities that formed the basis of their decision to register should be kept up to date. This will help local authorities to ensure that motor salvage operators remain fit and proper persons and to maintain the integrity of the public register.

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Mr John Bercow (Buckingham, Conservative)

I can see the force of what the Minister is telling the Committee. I am glad that what I thought might be the rationale for the inclusion of the subsection turned out to be right. Does the Minister agree that while it might well be justified to make it an offence to fail to disclose information during the period in which the application is being considered, we do not want to encourage through dilatory processing, a greater number of offences than necessary. Will he therefore say something about the expected period within which applications will be determined, because that might tell us something about the frequency with which such situations are likely to arise. In other words, the more quickly applications can be determined, the less likely it is that there will be a change in material circumstances during the period of consideration and the less prone applicants will be to commit an offence.

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Mr Charles Clarke (Minister of State, Home Office; Norwich South, Labour)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As I said in an earlier debate, we will be issuing guidance on the time scales involved because he is patently correct that the greater the delay, the worse the situation. It is clear that the clause does not cover false information; it deals with changes to information that goes through, but with no suggestion of falsity or anything of that kind.

Amendment No. 76 deals with the level of the fine. We simply think that the level 3 fine is more appropriate than level 5, because the offence of not notifying changes in the required way is not as serious as failing to register as a motor salvage operator at all. It is obviously less serious not to mark the changes than not to register at all.

I hope that the hon. Member for Buckingham will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.

7:00 pm
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Mr John Bercow (Buckingham, Conservative)

I am grateful to the Minister of State because he has given a full and largely cogent explanation of his position. I certainly found the first of his explanations cogent, and it was naturally a joy for me to behold that he was able to confirm my suspicion as to the rationale for the inclusion of subsection (1). In other words, he was telling me that my amendment was not justified, but only because I was right in suspecting the reason why Ministers had not anticipated and provided for it. It is 50:50, or one set all. I am happy to rest content with that result, especially when I reflect on the fact that I am up against a senior, highly influential, greatly respected, heavily committed Minister with great ambitions, a very full diary and high expectations of his future.

On the second amendment, the Minister has an argument, but I am not convinced that one offence is less serious than the other. However, I note his comments and I shall reflect on it.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—