Offences Committed by Bodies Corporate

Orders of the Day — High Hedges Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:30 pm on 27 April 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

'.—Where an offence under this Act committed by a body corporate is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of any person who was purporting to act in the capacity of a director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate without the knowledge of the body corporate, that person shall be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.'.—[Mr. Forth.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 32, in clause 10, page 8, line 19, leave out "3" and insert "5".

No. 101, in page 8, line 19, leave out "3" and insert "4".

No. 33, in page 8, line 20, leave out subsection (2).

No. 75, in page 8, line 29, after "owner", insert "or occupier".

No. 102, in page 8, line 29, at end insert—

'or—(c) he was absent at the time of the service of the notice, and during some or all of the compliance period.'. No. 103, in page 8, line 45, leave out "3" and insert "4".

No. 34, in page 9, line 2, leave out "one—twentieth" and insert "one—tenth".

No. 105, in page 9, line 2, leave out "one—twentieth" and insert "one—thirtieth".

No. 49, in page 9, line 3, at end insert— '(6) No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section unless the relevant authority has first exercised its power under section 11 to take remedial action.'. No. 76, in clause 11, page 9, line 7, leave out "7" and insert "28".

No. 106, in page 9, line 7, leave out "7" and insert "14".

No. 35, in page 9, line 22, leave out "3" and insert "5".

No. 108, in page 9, line 22, leave out "3" and insert "4".

No. 110, in clause 12, page 9, line 23, leave out clause 12.

No. 36, in clause 12, page 9, line 24, leave out from "committed" to end of line 25.

No. 109, in page 9, line 27, leave out from "corporate" to end of line 28.

No. 37, in page 9, line 28, leave out from "capacity" to "shall" in line 29.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Clause 12 gave me some little puzzlement when I first looked at it. It is entitled: Offences committed by bodies corporate. It sets out properly to deal with offences committed by such bodies. It says that where an offence is: proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of—(a) any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate,"— that much is common ground— "or (b) any person who was purporting to act in any such capacity,"— what worries me is what follows— he, as well as the body corporate, shall be guilty of that offence and be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly. It strikes me as peculiar that where a person purporting to act in such a capacity has done something without, by implication, the knowledge of the body corporate, the body will nevertheless be deemed guilty of an offence. That flies in the face of all reasonableness.

The aim of new clause 11 is to eliminate what I regard as an error. I have no difficulty with offences committed by a body corporate leading to appropriate punishment. That is the thrust of my new clause, but the original wording seems peculiar. It introduces the odd new concept that a person who is purporting to act can involve the body corporate, even if by definition the action has been taken without its knowledge or approval. The original clause goes on and rather prejudges the issue by saying that the body corporate shall be deemed guilty of the offence and liable to be proceeded against. It is unsatisfactory. My objective is to eliminate that difficulty and correct the error. I hope that that much is uncontroversial.

Other amendments in the group relate to the important provisions in clause 8 on the appeals procedure. I suppose that it is inevitable and, as everyone would agree, desirable that such Bills must contain a mechanism to provide an appeals procedure. That much is beyond controversy, but in amendment No. 102, which refers to subsection (2)(c), I have sought to deal with the regulations that may be made by the Secretary of State to make provision for a variety of aspects of the appeals procedure.

Subsection (2)(c) will require persons making such appeals to send copies of such documents as may be prescribed to such persons as may be prescribed. Again, that is unarguable, but we need much greater clarification of how such matters will be dealt with in detail under clause 10.

I am seeking to add to clause 10 what, for the purposes of this debate, I shall call a saving clause. I want to ensure that if someone can demonstrate that he or she was simply not at home when a remedial notice was served, especially during the compliance period, that must be a reasonable explanation for them to give. One of the things that bothers me throughout the Bill is that with such a complex procedure, which deals with someone who has made a complaint, someone who is complained against and a local authority—inevitably, bureaucracy will surround the process—enforcement notices of different kinds must be served at different times. That problem occurs over and again.

Considerable problems will arise throughout the process. Given that, by definition, we are talking about the owners and occupiers of buildings and about the serving of notices, and so on, I can well imagine that such circumstances will arise—for example, perhaps when a house is someone's second home. Indeed, that could even apply to hon. Members in certain circumstances. I am thinking of people who are absent from the country for long periods—perhaps they live, part-time, in another country, or are involved in extensive business travel.

There are a variety of reasons why a person who perhaps lives alone or a family may simply not be on the premises when a notice is served. When a complaint is made, there is another complication, with which we shall deal in a different context. Such people must be given an opportunity to reply. If I initiate a complaint against my neighbour, who is not present for legitimate reasons, I can envisage all sorts of difficulties in giving the neighbour an opportunity to respond and in his not being able to deal with the various notices that are served on him. He may then fail to meet the requirements of any enforcement notice that may be made, and then we get into all sorts of difficulties.

We must try to make whatever reasonable provisions we can to provide a reasonable defence, which allows people to say that they were unaware of the process, that they were not present at the appropriate time and, therefore, that they were unable properly to respond either to the complaint or to the notice. That is an important provision, which we must make. If we do not do so, there is a danger of many cases of people being complained against unjustly being dealt with in the harsh way suggested in the Bill.

1.30 pm

Clause 10(5)(b) contains the intriguing provision that if the offence is continued after conviction, he shall be guilty of a further offence and so liable to a fine not exceeding one-twentieth of that level for each day on which the offence is so continued. Amendment No. 105 is a probing amendment, because I want to find out on what basis the fraction of one twentieth has been arrived at. I have suggested that the figure could be one thirtieth, because that figure would be more in line with the period of a month. However, I admit that my suggestion is every bit as arbitrary as the one in the Bill. I am left wondering why the figure should be one twentieth and not a different one.

More than that, the provision could create difficulties because it is possible that someone may genuinely be unable to remedy the offence after conviction. One can imagine all sorts of family or business circumstances that might render the individual who has been found guilty unable to respond. To be fined one twentieth for each day that passes may turn out to be unreasonable because someone could be away for a considerable length of time and may be unable to respond to the notice. We should pay considerable attention to that point.

I suppose that it is inevitable, but clause 11, which deals with remedial action, also contains some rather arbitrary figures that require explanation. Subsection (1) states: Where, at any time after the end of the compliance period, any action required by a remedial notice to be taken has not been taken, the relevant authority—(a) may, after giving not less than 7 days' notice of their intention to do so, enter the neighbouring land and take the action so required".

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

My right hon. Friend is making several points seeking elucidation from, I imagine, my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor). Is my right hon. Friend aware that his points are not being picked up by our hon. Friend because he is not in the Chamber? [HON. MEMBERS: "He is."] My hon. Friend is in the Chamber, but he is not listening; he is talking to the Minister. Is my right hon. Friend sure that our hon. Friend is taking these points on board?

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I have great faith in the ability of all my colleagues and Ministers to do many things at the same time. I am sure that my argument has been followed—as ever they are. I trust—very closely and with great attention.

Mr. John M. Taylor:

I am glad to have the opportunity to apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) if, for a moment, my attention was diverted elsewhere. It is hard to concentrate hard non-stop for five hours, but I am doing my best.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Those of us who have taken the trouble to be here are all doing our best. It was heartening that, out of almost 660 Members of Parliament, 40 were prepared to be here to show interest in my hon. Friend's Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Forty-one."] I am corrected, but the number probably fairly reflects the support that the Bill has in the House and the interest that Members are prepared to show in it. The 41 of us who were here for the Division, the eight to 10 of us who are present in the Chamber and the handful of us who have been here since 9.30 this morning have been present because we all believe that the Bill is important and requires our detailed attention. We believe that it—and not least clause 11—could have considerable effects on our constituents.

Clause 11(1)(a) refers to powers of entry to private property by the authorities. That should alarm us all considerably. I regret to say that powers of entry appear in more and more Bills, and this clause contains the Bill's cutting edge. After only seven days' notice, at the end of the compliance period, local authority employees will enter private property without the owner's permission and lay waste to his trees, shrubs and bushes.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those powers exist in other circumstances? For example, public health legislation allows that to happen if a landlord fails to carry out basic repairs to a property that might affect safety.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Yes, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue in that context. Although I err on the side of caution in such matters, I accept that entry might be justified on health and safety grounds, but what is at risk—the amount of light coming in, privacy, amenity? Those do not come into the category of health and safety.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

Let me expand the concept. It is feasible that a tree's roots under a property might render it dangerous. Surely the right hon. Gentleman concedes that.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I am not sure that that is part of the Bill's objective or one of the criteria that would be applied. If we were discussing the hedges endangering the foundations of houses Bill, the hon. Gentleman might be right, but I am not aware that that possibility has been considered.

The problem is that the Bill provides explicit powers of entry by an authority to private property. Amendment No. 106 suggests that instead of giving seven days' notice, authorities should give 14. I think that I am being too reasonable. On reflection, I should probably have gone further, but I wanted to use the amendment to make an important point that relates to what I said earlier. It is always possible that, for legitimate reasons, the occupier will not be at the property or aware that the compliance period has ended. There are many reasons why that might be the case. He may be indisposed or away dealing with a family or business crisis. Seven days' notice before the heavy boots of the authority come marching on to private property strikes me as utterly inadequate, and the amendment is designed to deal with that eventuality.

It is worth pausing to consider penalties. The seriousness of infringements and what penalties should be imposed are always disputed. Amendment No. 108 is a probing amendment to discover what was in the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull when he settled on a level 3 penalty for someone wilfully obstructing a person exercising his powers under clause 11(1). There is a serious possibility that when the authorities arrive, the citizen will not understand what is happening or will be angry and frustrated and will try to obstruct those ghastly people with their ghastly mechanisms so that they cannot cut down the offending hedge. What is a reasonable penalty for obstructing a person acting in the exercise of his powers to enter a private property? The Bill might at first glance appear to be worthy and well intentioned, but it contains difficult provisions.

Amendment No. 75 deals with the distinction—if it is valid—between the owner and occupier of a property, a distinction to which subsequent amendments also relate. At the very beginning of our consideration of the Bill, I, as a non-lawyer, became worried about whether in allocating the responsibility that the Bill places on different people we are making sufficient distinction between the owner and the temporary occupier of a property. What are their relative responsibilities when it comes to making a complaint or being complained against? It strikes me that there are significant differentiations to be made.

I can well imagine circumstances in which someone who was looking after a house on behalf of the owner or who was a paying tenant made a complaint about another householder or, conversely, received a complaint. How do we start properly to distinguish between the powers and responsibilities of owners and occupiers under the Bill? I believe that we should do so because if we do not get this right, someone who is the occupant rather than the owner of the property could make or receive a complaint but might not be in a position properly to discharge their responsibilities following the mechanisms outlined in the Bill.

I raise this matter in speaking to amendment No. 75, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although I believe that we will return to it in more detail when we discuss a subsequent group of amendments. We must pay close attention to the matter because if there is confusion about the Bill, it will affect many different cases, and we could get ourselves and, more importantly, the people involved into great difficulty.

The new clause and the amendments grouped with it demonstrate that a measure that seems fairly innocuous involves a wide range of responsibilities and a rather alarming set of powers that are being given to the responsible authorities, not least the power to enter a private property and, presumably, to start cutting down the offending hedge to the appropriate dimensions. Given that the people involved may be legitimately absent during crucial parts of the process and could not reasonably be held responsible at the material time, I hope that the Bill's promoter will be prepared to reconsider my proposals to see whether they have merit and should be included in the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) made important points about new clause 11 which I was, less elegantly, trying to address in amendments Nos. 36 and 37. The wording in the new clause is perhaps rather better.

It is important that the House look behind the corporate veil at those who are responsible for the actions that are carried out in the name of a company. Often those individuals, as the right hon. Gentleman said, fail to keep the company and its members informed of what they are doing. If we can start to examine the people involved, not only in this but in other areas of the law, it would be a great advantage and would significantly aid enforcement of the law.

I turn now to the points that the right hon. Gentleman made about penalties. He is going somewhat soft on crime, if I may say so. By the time the penalties come into play, the offending person will have had many opportunities to put things right, whether through simple discussion with a neighbour, mediation, the intervention of the local authority, or a notice requiring compliance. If he ignores all those options, it would be wrong to require him only to pay a pittance for every day of non-compliance. We either respect the law or we do not, and I think that someone who has shown such a flagrant disregard not only for the law and but for the interests of his neighbours should be subject to more severe penalties.

Mr. John M. Taylor:

Should we not remind ourselves that when an offender is convicted, the Bill states that he should be subject to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale"? The matter is at the discretion of the magistrates who, of course, are responsible for the dispensing of 94 per cent. of criminal justice in this country and do a magnificent job.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon 1:45, 27 April 2001

I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the magistrates, but we need to strengthen their hand in extending available powers.

Amendment No. 33, which would delete clause 10(2), is primarily a probing amendment. I am not sure what people could do to show what they had done to ensure compliance with the notice, bearing in mind all the previous stages involved. If I am satisfied that there is a valid defence, I will listen to the arguments; but I am not sure that that is the case. I do not accept what the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said in support of amendment No. 102, which would drive a coach and horses through the enforcement provisions. In fact, its wording does not tally with clause 10(3), the inference of which is that the individual was not sent a copy of the notice in the first place. The right hon. Gentleman wishes to tack his additional defence on to that.

Suppose that someone is away when the notice is served, but comes back the next day. Suddenly finding a notice requiring compliance, he decides to go away for three months so that he is absent for the compliance period. Under the right hon. Gentleman's proposal, he would have a double defence; he was not present when the notice was served—even though he was at home the next day—and, having had notice of the notice, he could provide a defence by absenting himself for all or part of the compliance period. Even if he went to Paris for a day on the shuttle, he would have a defence under the right hon. Gentleman's formulation. I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is getting at in his amendment, but his wording drives a coach and horses through the legislation. By the time a notice is served, people will be looking for every possible loophole. The hardest nut to crack will be someone who has fragrantly disregarded the law and his neighbours' interests all the way through.

May I briefly make the same point in relation to powers of entry in the notice period? By that stage, the offender has had every opportunity to comply with the law and reach agreement with his neighbours through mediation, yet he is still flagrantly disregarding the law. In those circumstances, a seven-day notice is reasonable. The offender can expect a notice as he knows what the provisions are. All he has to do to avoid powers of entry is comply with the legal order to lower the hedge.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

What if the person is genuinely unable to do so? What if he is indisposed and what happens if a problem arises that takes him away or makes him unable to cut the hedge? What happens if he is financially unable to cut it? You will know more about this than anyone else present, Mr. Deputy Speaker; what if the hedge or tree is extremely tall and contractors need to be brought in to ensure compliance, but the person simply does not have the money to pay them? I can imagine a number of circumstances in which it would be difficult to comply, even at that stage.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

By that stage, non-compliance will have lasted many months. The Bill provides a certain period for mediation, negotiation, discussion and compliance. As that process lasts for many months, the right hon. Gentleman's point is not valid. In any event, clause 11(1)(a) provides for not less than 7 days' notice", not seven days' notice. It is therefore open to the local authority to be a little more flexible if there is a genuine reason why it should be, along the lines suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. With those remarks, I conclude my comments on this group of amendments.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Amendment No. 49 is prompted by my concerns about the interaction of clauses 10 and 11. I know that certain Government Members want, with tremendous enthusiasm, to criminalise as much human behaviour as possible.

Clause 11 sets out some perfectly reasonable things that the local authority should do if, at the end of the compliance period, there has not been compliance with the remedial notice. It gives powers to local authorities to intervene in quite a drastic way, but in my view in quite a reasonable way if they have been faced with the contempt that would have been displayed by the owner of the offending hedge in refusing to do anything at an earlier stage of the proceedings.

I am concerned that clause 11 takes second place to clause 10. In practice, it is unlikely that local authorities will wish to become involved in taking remedial action. Unless authorities ensure enforcement and eliminate the mischief, there will not be the relief for the aggrieved occupier or tenant that the Bill is designed to deliver.

Prosecuting under clause 10 will not achieve anything, and might create high-hedge martyrs, in the same way as we have seen metric martyrs, created directly as a result of the insensitive exercise of local authority discretion in relation to prosecutions.

It is much better that the local authority should resort to the powers that are provided in clause 11 before any prosecution is sought under clause 10. If that course is taken, any costs incurred or any apology that may have been given by the person who had been at fault under the provisions in clause 11 could be taken into account under clause 10 in any argument about mitigation of penalty.

I fear that we shall find in practice that local authorities will be reluctant to exercise their powers under clause 11 and will go for the more draconian route of prosecuting under clause 10. Prosecuting for criminal offences arising out of civil problems should be a last resort. The Bill does not make that clear. That is why the amendment would add a new subsection to clause 10, which would state: No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section unless the relevant authority has first exercised its power under section 11 to take remedial action. It is a way of safeguarding the interests of those who complain about high hedges and of ensuring that the local authority acts as quickly as possible to deliver a remedy, leaving as a secondary consideration the issue of whether the authority wishes to obtain a criminal penalty against the offending landowner under clause 10.

It is a simple and straightforward point and I have been able to explain it in a relatively few minutes. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) will be as flexible in responding to the amendment as he was in responding to my new clause 10, which I am delighted to know is now incorporated in the Bill.

Mr. John M. Taylor:

My hon. Friend has discovered that I am a flexible man. I have tried to be as flexible as I possibly can be in considering the new clause and the amendments. However, I think that they are horrible, and I shall resist them with all my power.

In addition to being an extremely flexible man, I am also prescient. I have powers of seeing into the future. I am aware that in resisting the new clause and the amendments, I am effectively bringing these proceedings to a close. I hope, therefore, that it is not too self-indulgent if I thank, in no particular order, the Minister. Clare Hinchliffe of Hedgeline, the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham), who has been consistently helpful to me throughout the proceedings, and—if it is not completely out of order to say such things—the officials at the Department, who have been unfailingly helpful and courteous to me.

The experience has been interesting. I have enjoyed the jousts with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). It was always clear that I would not secure the Bill today. May I say, in a spirit of fair play, that I understand the motivations of my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend, who have provided many amendments and—I hope that they will not mind my saying so—much resistance. I understand that their opposition is principled. They will understand that I have not much enjoyed it; I would like to have got the measure to the statute book.

I hope that there is a wider audience. Perhaps there are those who are putting the finishing touches to manifestos who will identify with my aims. Even though my right hon. and hon. Friends found fault with certain passages in the Bill, there is a principle to be addressed. There are people out there whose lives are being made a misery by the inconsiderate behaviour of their neighbours who let hedges run riot, severely diminishing their amenity and turning their lives, it would not be too strong to say, into a miserable experience.

There must be some remedy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst drew attention to the fact that I am a lawyer. Once a lawyer, always a lawyer, I suppose. I am confident that the English law of nuisance or any extension of that law is not the right remedy. It is a morass and it is hideously expensive. I have a constituent who sought to litigate, and it cost him £24,000 of his own money against a legally aided opponent. That may not be directly relevant to the present debate, but it is nevertheless a significant problem.

The measurable, objective concepts of height and light are the correct criteria to be applied. It may be that others who come later—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman a fair amount of latitude because I am aware of the position in which he finds himself, but he is somewhat anticipating events. He should address his remarks to the new clause before the House.

Mr. Taylor:

Very good, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You are right to discern that I was moving into the sunset. If the House wishes, there is half an hour for me to do so. Let me try.

The amendments deal with offences under the Bill. Amendments Nos. 33, 75 and 102 relate to defences against conviction. Amendment No. 33 would remove from the Bill the general defence that a person had done everything that could be expected of him. That defence provides an important safeguard—for example, in cases where someone is prevented from complying because of the terms of his tenancy or lease—and it should stay.

2 pm

I do not favour amendment No. 102, which would provide a defence against conviction for people who have been away for only one day during the period that is set for compliance with the remedial notice, provided that they can show that they were unaware of the notice and were not sent a copy of it by the local authority. In my experience, local authorities will not generally rush into enforcement action. They will usually investigate the matter first and will often give people additional time to comply if the circumstances justify it.

The penalties in the Bill for failure to comply with the remedial notice, which were mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, strike the correct balance. They have the potential to hit the most recalcitrant hedge owner hard in the pocket with daily fines until the hedge is cut, and they are tough enough to persuade such a person that the best course is to cut back the hedge; but they do not go over the top. Conversely, amendments Nos. 32, 34, 35, 101, 103, 105 and 108, which seek to increase the fines, appear disproportionate to the crime and would be unlikely to provide a more effective deterrent.

I am sure that the Government will keep the legislation under review and that they will consider strengthening the penalties if experience shows that they are insufficient to encourage compliance. I believe that most of the people involved will be law abiding and will readily comply with the legal order of their local councils, so I am confident that there will be no need for us to return to the matter in future.

We would have to return to the question of enforcement if we agreed to amendment No. 49, however, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. The amendment would require a local authority to exercise its powers under clause 11 to carry out the required work itself before someone could be convicted of failing to comply with a remedial notice. That arrangement would neuter the criminal penalties for failure to comply with the notice. The local authority would have done the work required by the notice, so neither of the offences in subsections (1) or (5) of clause 10 would apply. The amendment would, therefore, allow a hedge owner to abdicate responsibility for the hedge and pass the burden on to the local authority, which would have used its good offices to help to resolve a private dispute. Such provision is not fair and would not encourage compliance.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Surely, clause 11 ensures that it will be open to local authorities to recover their costs and to be indemnified against them. Are we not in the business of trying to get the offending hedge cut rather than of trying to make criminals out of people?

Mr. Taylor:

I understand my hon. Friend's point. I am prepared to undertake to review the matter, and I may have made some alterations to the Bill by the time it returns to the House to be finished off on Third Reading.

The new clause and amendments Nos. 36, 37 and 110 seem to be intended to ensure that enforcement action for failure to comply with a remedial notice could be taken only against the individual officers of a body corporate who had committed the offence and not against the body corporate itself. The option should be available to prosecute the corporate body, its officers or people who are purporting to be its officers when they are at fault, as it ensures that those who bear most responsibility for the offence can be held liable.

I hope that the hon. Members concerned will not press the new clause or amendments, but I ask the House to resist the motion if they will not reconsider their position. Of course, that is their prerogative. I hope that, if my prescience was correct—I claim a tiny bit more of your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker—the grievance that underlies today's debate will resonate and cause action; and that, if it does not do so today, it will do so very soon.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

We appreciate the background to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor). His forecast that the Bill may not make sufficient progress today to reach the statute book is probably right. However, as he knows, this Parliament has a year to run, and many more Fridays stretch ahead of us for considering private Members' Bills. If the Bill does not complete its stages today, he can look forward to its consideration on a subsequent Friday unless some event intervenes to prevent that. In that case, we would know who to blame.

My hon. Friend was kind enough to reply to the debate on new clause 11. The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) was kind enough to say that he perceived some merit in it. I believe that it makes an important point, and corrects an error in the Bill. Despite my hon. Friend's comments, I want to press it.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 1, Noes 26.

Division No. 199][2.5 pm
Dismore, AndrewTellers for the Ayes:
Mr. Eric Forth and
Mr. Christopher Chope.
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)McCabe, Steve
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Mackinlay, Andrew
Brady, GrahamOlner, Bill
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterPearson, Ian
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Pound, Stephen
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Darvill, KeithSkinner, Dennis
Dowd, JimSmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Foster, Don (Bath)Soley, Clive
Harris, Dr EvanSwayne, Desmond
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Wilson, Brian
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)Tellers for the Noes:
Loughton, TimMr. John M. Taylor and
Luff, PeterMr. Jim Cunningham.

It appearing on the report of the Division that 40 Members were not present, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next Sitting of the House.