Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman has not been listening to what I have said. We welcome the Bill, and I certainly welcome the statement made by the representative of the superintendents, but the hon. Gentleman himself said that the job is not for police officers alone. As was said during a previous American presidential election, "read my lips": there are 3,000 fewer police officers than in 1997. Until those numbers are restored, how can such legislation be successfully introduced? I shall not vote against the Bill, but how can it be effectively enforced?

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): The Bill will allow an officer to enter premises without a warrant, but is not that insidious, dangerous and part of a trend? The Transport Act 2000 deals with congestion charging and workplace parking and also gives powers for individuals to enter private property to carry out certain functions. Does not that represent a slippery slope?

Mr. Fabricant: That could be a slippery slope, but I shall not go into detail, as that would be completely out of order. However, I have been involved in scrutinising private legislation--the Kent County Council and Medway Council Bills--under which Kent county council and Medway council are asking for similar powers for police officers to enter registered premises dealing with second-hand goods. Hon. Members have discussed those very issues and whether it would be right for the police to have such powers. That question, however, must be balanced against the attempt to prevent crime.

Mr. Bercow: Nothing said by the hon. Member for Hall Green detracts from the point that we Conservatives

18 Dec 2000 : Column 79

have been making, which, as my hon. Friend knows, relates to the nature, extent and differing application of police powers. Does my hon. Friend share my understanding that the police will require a warrant to inspect unregistered premises, but will require no such warrant to inspect their registered counterparts?

Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Bill clearly states that registered premises require a police officer only to visit and inspect, and that no warrant will be required. What worries me is the presence of an imbalance almost favouring those who act unlawfully, rather than those who carry out their business lawfully.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I have been following my hon. Friend's argument, as well as the interventions that have come thick and fast. Can my hon. Friend tell me whether council employees--who, I gather, may be involved in these matters--will have to be accompanied by a police officer, or can themselves enter a registered property without a warrant, or an unregistered property with a warrant? I am interested in this, because I share the fear expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) that we are beginning to live in a rather dangerous state.

Mr. Fabricant: While my hon. Friend asked his question, I was looking feverishly through the Bill. I am well aware that on Second Reading we should not go into the details of individual clauses, but I think it worth mentioning, in the context of principle, that clause 9(1) states:

The subsection goes on to cite certain premises, such as those occupied as a motor salvage yard. I think it implies that the constable would have to be a police officer, and that no one could enter the premises without a police officer being present.

I see no reference in clause 9--here I return to the subject of police numbers--to local authority officers entering the premises. Those who enter can only be police officers, which can only result in a demand on police officers' time and resources. If that takes police officers away from the beat--if it stops police officers preventing hideous crimes like those we have witnessed over the past few weeks--it must be wrong. It is the presence of police officers on the beat, and on housing estates, that prevents crime. I do not know how anyone can seriously argue against common sense like that.

Mr. Heald: According to the Motor Vehicle Demolishers Association, the absence of effective enforcement of registration could penalise the honest, hard-working demolisher. Others who did not register would be able to go about their business while breaking all the laws under the sun. Is it not important for registration to be enforced properly--and, if that is to be done, do we not need the officers to do it?

Mr. Fabricant: What my hon. Friend says is self-evident. Without such enforcement, there will be no disincentive to prevent dishonest people from registering. By their nature, if they think they can get away with it,

18 Dec 2000 : Column 80

they will. As my hon. Friend says, police officers--or at least the threat of a check by them--will be needed to make dishonest people register and thus, presumably, become honest.

A few details in the Bill worry me. It says, for instance, that local authorities will have discretion in the levying of a fee for the processing of applications by demolishers. I thought that the more technical term was "motor salvage operators", but--as a chartered engineer--I will not get on to my favourite subject and start talking about the fact that people call themselves engineers when they are really technicians, because they want to give themselves a grand name. My point is this: if local authorities are to have discretion in the levying of fees for the processing of applications, I wonder whether fees will vary from authority to authority.

I can envisage the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton arguing that the fees should be very high. She does not argue in favour of stealth taxes, because she thinks that taxes should be obvious in her constituency. She spoke earlier about parking charges. I can well imagine her standing up--if she were a local councillor, which she is not--and arguing that registration charges in her area should be high. As she said earlier, they would pay for old-age homes. In fact, the money would go into two separate funds.

Mrs. Gilroy: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fabricant: I would be churlish if I did not.

Mrs. Gilroy: I have never been a councillor, but as a Member of Parliament I have a very good relationship with my local branch of the Federation of Small Businesses. I think it would be very alarmed to hear that I had advanced such arguments, and I hotly deny having done so.

Mr. Fabricant: At least we have one thing in common: neither of us has been a local councillor.

Mr. Heald: I misread my notes earlier: I should have referred to the Motor Vehicle Dismantlers Association. I apologise to the House.

The Federation of Small Businesses has made clear its view that small businesses should be exempt from requirements to register, and from the regulation for which the Bill provides. Does my hon. Friend agree with that, and did he hear the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mrs. Gilroy) say she supported it?

Mr. Fabricant: No, I did not. No doubt, if there is a vote, she will vote to ensure that small businesses are brought into the ambit, or orbit, of the Bill.

I am worried about the apparent absence of a right of appeal. Salvage operators are obliged to register. In some circumstances a local authority may remove someone from the register, or may feel that someone working on the fringes of the business should be on the register. I do not think there is currently a right of appeal if an authority decides that someone ought to have been registered, or will be taken off the register. I hope the Minister will tell us whether there will be a right of appeal, or, if there will be none in the Bill, whether he will accept amendments in Committee allowing a procedure for people to appeal if they have to.

18 Dec 2000 : Column 81

Part II deals with the regulation of registration suppliers. Like the Home Secretary, I am surprised by how easy it is to go into Halfords or any other shop and ask for a licence plate to be made. It is only necessary to specify a licence plate number: there seems to be no check on whether you own a car with that licence.

I have a particular irritation in life. Now that I am forced on to the road and am no longer able to take a train to Lichfield--there do not seem to be any trains from Lichfield to Trent Valley station any more--I see cars on the motorway with licence plates in italics, barely legible. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham--who has drifted from the Front Bench to the Back Bench, and is now drifting back--told me that he welcomed choice and variety.

Mr. Bercow: Diversity.

Mr. Fabricant: I too welcome diversity, up to a point.

I do not know whether the Minister will talk about the latest licence plate recognition technology using mobile cameras. It will be a marvellous new and important innovation when it is introduced into this country. It will enable a police officer anywhere in the country to enter the licence plate of a stolen or wanted vehicle. If a car with that licence plate drives past the mobile camera, wherever it may be, it will automatically be read by a computer and flagged up, so that the police will know where that particular car is.

The question is: will the cameras recognise all sorts of licence plates? Will the registration always have to be in sanserif script, of which I spoke earlier?

Next Section

IndexHome Page