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Consideration and Third Reading

1. Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading shall be completed at today's sitting.

2. Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at half past Eight o'clock.

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3. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at Ten o'clock.
4. Sessional Order B (Programming Committees) made by the House on 7th November 2000 shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.

Consideration of Lords Amendments and further messages from the Lords

5. Paragraphs (6) and (7) of Sessional Order A (varying and supplementing programme motions) made by the House on 7th November 2000 shall not apply to proceedings on any programme motion to supplement this order or to vary it in relation to--

(a) proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments; or
(b) proceedings on any further messages from the Lords,
and the question on any such motion shall be put forthwith.

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Orders of the Day

Vehicles (Crime) Bill

Not amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

New Clause 1

Offence of making false statements

'.--(1) A person who, in making an application to be registered in the register of a local authority or to renew his registration in such a register--

(a) makes a statement which he knows to be false in a material particular; or
(b) recklessly makes a statement which is false in a material particular,
shall be guilty of an offence and, subject to subsection (2), liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.
(2) A person who is guilty of an offence under subsection (1) shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale if--
(a) any previous application of his to the local authority concerned for registration or renewal of registration was refused under section 3(3); or
(b) any previous registration of his in the register of the local authority concerned was cancelled under section 4(1).'.--[Mr. Hill.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

5.55 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 37, in clause 3, page 3, line 21, at end insert--

'( ) Any person who knowingly makes a false application under this section shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.'.

Government amendments Nos. 1 and 4 to 6.

Amendment No. 40, in clause 18, page 10, line 25, at end insert--

'( ) Any person who knowingly makes a false application under this section shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.'.

Government amendments Nos. 7 to 14.

Amendment No. 41, in clause 26, page 14, line 16, leave out "3" and insert "5".

Government amendments Nos. 15 to 17.

Amendment No. 42, in clause 27, page 14, line 34, leave out "4" and insert "5".

Mr. Hill: Discussion in Committee--prompted primarily by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow)--showed that there was a gap in the range of offences created by clauses 10 and 18, and I agreed to consider the matter further. I am happy to designate new clause 1 and the associated amendments as "the Buckingham amendments".

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Clauses 10 and 18 created offences of failing to notify the local authority or the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency of various changes, but they did not make it an offence to make a false statement in an application for registration, or for renewal of registration. New clause 1 plugs the gap for salvage operators by making it an offence to make a false statement that is material to the application.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): How was it that civil servants in the Minister's Department, when they scrutinised the Bill before it reached the House, failed to spot something that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) managed to spot? Should not the Minister make an apology to my hon. Friend?

Mr. Hill: I hardly think that an apology is in order. I fully recognise that there was an oversight in the drafting. We are extremely grateful to the Opposition, and to the hon. Member for Buckingham specifically, for drawing our attention to the lacuna in the Bill that the new clause is intended to fill.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): I thank the Minister for his generosity in calling the new clause the Buckingham amendment. However, does not he agree that, more scrutiny, with other lacunae might have been spotted? Can he guarantee that there are no other lacunae that might have been spotted had more scrutiny time been made available?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I suggest to the House that, in the context of this debate, we should stick to the lacuna that is before us.

Mr. Hill: I am delighted to deal with this particular lacuna, which we debated at some length in Committee. We dealt with a wide range of matters in Committee. We debated all the amendments that had been tabled, and in fact finished early. All the issues that Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members wanted to raise were covered more than adequately in Committee, and the time provided was more than adequate for the purpose.

The offence that I described is punishable by a fine at level 3--that is, £1,000--in line with the penalties for the other clause 10 offences. However, we believe that a higher penalty is appropriate for those who make false statements when they have previously had an application refused--or registration cancelled--on the grounds that they were not "fit and proper" persons.

Such people have been through the procedures before and know what is required. They know that if they applied in their own right, their application would not be successful. We must not allow them to think that an attempt to deceive the local authority is less risky than trading while unregistered. The penalty for trading while unregistered is set at level 5--that is, £5,000--and new clause 1 provides for the same penalty to apply to those caught by subsection (2).

Government amendment No. 1 qualifies the offence in clause 10(1), so that any change affecting the accuracy of the information submitted with an application must be "material". That makes it consistent with new clause 1. It is likely that a wide range of information will be submitted with applications, and we do not want the

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offence to apply to inaccuracies that will not weigh in the balance when local authorities are making decisions. Such inaccuracies might include, for example, mistakes in the spelling of names or addresses. A similar amendment, Government amendment No. 14, has been proposed for the number plate scheme.

Government amendments Nos. 4 to 9 and Government amendment No. 12, which relate to clause 18, on the application for registration for registration plate suppliers, have a similar effect to the changes proposed for salvage operators. We propose to introduce a new offence, with a level 3 fine, of either knowingly or recklessly making a false statement when applying for registration.

A business convicted of making a false statement might not be considered in some cases to have made a valid registration, so the option of suspension from the register might not be open to the court. We therefore propose to give the court the power to impose a period of up to five years during which such a business will be barred from making a false application.

We also want to address the situation in which a business that has been suspended from the register or debarred from making a further application attempts to reapply before the relevant period has elapsed.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, not least for his kind remarks of a few moments ago. I do not want to be pedantic, but I do want to be precise. The hon. Gentleman said that it would be possible under the new arrangements to prevent someone from making a false application for a period of five years. I think that the hon. Gentleman meant to say a further false application.

Mr. Hill: To the extent that the applicant has already been barred or suspended from the register, an offence has been committed. I certainly accept the rephrasing of the expression along the lines suggested by the hon. Gentleman. However, this is a somewhat convoluted way of dealing with the issue. We have tussled hard to find an appropriate way forward on the matter. It is a convoluted form; nevertheless, it serves to achieve the desired effect.

As I was saying, this may involve a deliberate attempt to deceive the registration authority by providing false details. In line with the proposals for salvage operators, we are proposing a level 5 fine. This offence is more serious than simply providing false information, and ranks alongside the offence of trading while unregistered.

Government amendments Nos. 10, 11 and 13 relate to clause 19, which provides that a suspension from the register of number plate suppliers imposed by a magistrates court should not have effect until the time for appealing to the Crown court runs out. This is a sensible provision, because suspension from the register means that it will no longer be possible for someone to trade legally as a number plate supplier and that should not occur while there is still the possibility of a successful appeal.

There are two ways of dealing with an adverse decision of the magistrates court. One is to appeal to the Crown court; the other is to state a case on a point of law to the High Court. This is done when the magistrates court has exceeded its powers or seriously erred in law. The procedure should be used only in exceptional circumstances; it is, indeed, seldom used. Nevertheless, the legislation must allow for such circumstances.

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Amendments Nos. 10 and 13 apply the same provision as on appeals to circumstances where a case is stated to the High Court.

Amendment No. 11 places a statutory duty on the courts to notify the DVLA when a registration is suspended or a business is ordered not to make another application for a specified period following a conviction for making a false statement. Unless the amendment is made, there will be no mechanism in law for notification from the courts. It is essential that the courts provide the DVLA with this information so that the register can be amended accordingly.

The purpose of amendments Nos. 15 to 17 is to describe the new offence relating to the sale of counterfeit plates more accurately, and to introduce a defence. The amendments relate to clause 27, which sets out to address two scenarios. The first is when defective number plates are sold to an unwitting customer. The second deals with the problem of customising number plates to a customer's specifications. It is already an offence under the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 to display such a number plate, but many suppliers are happy to sell such plates and let the motorist take the risk of being caught. We want to deter that practice. It is right, however, that the defence should be available to cover any genuine cases in which the defect was slight and the supplier could prove he did not know of the defect and was not reckless with regard to the defect. In the light of those observations, I commend the Government amendments to the House.

I fear that I must resist Opposition amendments Nos. 37, 40, 41 and 42,. Let me explain why. Amendments Nos. 37 and 40 would make it an offence, punishable by a fine of up to £5,000, knowingly to make a false application for entry in the register of motor salvage operators or number plate suppliers. The Bill requires a motor salvage operator to make an application for registration. It does not, however, address the situation in which someone makes a false declaration as part of that application.

We appreciate the motivation behind the amendments. Indeed, the same proposals in Committee prompted us to table new clause 1, the related amendments to part I, amendment No. 4 and the related amendments to clause 18.

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