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Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, because it enables me to pick him up on an important theme in the debate. Does he not agree that one of the reasons--a reason on which I did not dilate in the debate on the programme motion--for us to have more time thoroughly to consider the contents of the Bill is that several of its key provisions, amendments and new clauses are not ultimately a matter of party politics? They involve matters of discretion and judgment by individual Members in different parties. There is no uniformity of view on some of the issues, so does my hon. Friend accept that we need a--
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We cannot rehearse the arguments that we heard in the debate on the programme motion. There are many groups of amendments to cover and other hon. Members may want to contribute to the debate. I should be grateful if that were borne in mind.
Mr. Fabricant: My final point relates to recklessness. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire said that what was sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander when we compare the Bill with other legislation. However, I have a specific issue to raise.
Mr. Bercow: The word "reckless" was not mentioned in the Standing Committee's deliberations. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he is describing the distinction between inadvertent neglect and wilful contempt? It is important that that be clarified.
Mr. Fabricant: As ever, my hon. Friend uses words carefully. The courts would try to differentiate in that way, but it would be difficult for them to do so because English law is about evidence. If a crime has been committed, the evidence has to be provided in court so that a magistrate or jury believes that the person has committed the crime. There must be a guilty mind; there must be mens rea. How will we get into the mind of the individual to show that he was reckless rather than in contempt of the law? It will be impossible to prove that.
The Bill was hastily presented, which gave rise to the massive lacuna that the Government are attempting to fill with new clause 1. I suspect that the new clause has also been hastily tabled. It contains a series of lacunae, or at least loopholes, that will keep lawyers, who are so hated by the Minister, in business for many a year. It is sad that, since 1997, Bills have been hastily prepared and, although they have been filled with good intentions, they have also been filled with giant loopholes. Either they contain loopholes that keep lawyers in business for years or, as happened with the Utilities Act 2000, great chunks are removed before they reach the statute book.
Can the Under-Secretary assure me that the new clause has not been recklessly compiled? Can he assure me that there will be convictions under new clause 1(1)(b)? Can he assure me that, if licence plates are changed--for example, when the numbers 1 and 3 are put together to make the letter B--so that police officers and the vehicle licence plate recognition equipment cannot read them correctly, that is not an unimportant matter? If so, why will a level 5 penalty not be applied?
Mr. Hill: The exchanges to which we have just been treated demonstrate that there is not much difference between the Government and the official Opposition. I shall attempt to deal with the points that have been raised.
The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) mentioned the level of fines if a person fails to notify a change of address. The Government are responding to most people's perception that such a failure, which is more likely to be an unwitting action, is not as serious as providing false information.
Mr. Hill: It is with great enthusiasm that I address the vexed issue of recklessness and knowingness. I shall have several stabs at answering the questions. Let me set out my stall. It is vital that the application process generates true and accurate information. No doubt we would all agree on that. Clause 10 deals with accuracy; the new clause deals with true information. Why should people
The hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) asked how we can get a conviction on the grounds of recklessness. Bearing in mind the amount of time that he took to make his point, I am extremely glad that he is not my lawyer.
It is for the judicial process--the courts--to decide whether an act was reckless. It is incumbent on the prosecution to show that the accused took no steps to verify the information. The prosecution would have to ask whether a reasonable person knew that his statement was false. The fact is that there are many reckless offences in statute. The Criminal Damage Act 1971 contains such offences and successful prosecutions take place under it.
Mr. Heald: I made those arguments when we discussed unlawful interceptions by the state authorities in our debates on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. When we dealt with the important matter of the state committing offences, the Minister told me that it was impossible to have the offence of recklessness when the arrogant use of power was the issue. He said that the subject was so complicated that the courts could not understand it and that there were different interpretations of the law. Now, why should the poor old garagiste in Peckham, Southwark, Eltham or north Hertfordshire have to wrestle with the concept of recklessness if it is not good enough for the Secret Intelligence Service and the authorities in Britain?
Mr. Hill: It is a matter of eternal regret to me that I was not a member of the Committee that considered that Bill and was therefore unable to listen to the hon. Gentleman at even greater length. We are dealing now with an entirely different Bill, and there is no comparison between the two measures.
I return to the issues of recklessness and knowingness, on which I was seeking to help the Opposition. At present, a person accused of knowingly committing an offence will escape conviction if he shows that he does not know because he does not care. The introduction of the concept of recklessness fills that gap, as it does in other legislation, and it differs from knowingness in that "knowingly" means that someone has subjective knowledge--he knows that he is making a false statement, rather than just not caring. That is a pretty clear distinction between concepts.
I shall have a final stab at explaining that difference to the Opposition. "Reckless" means not taking pains to ensure whether what is said is true. We want to deter that in the application process, where it is important to be accurate, and that is consistent with clause 10, where reckless failure to notify will also be an offence. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] It is perfectly clear to me from the acclaim that I am receiving from my hon. Friends that I have explained that distinction to the satisfaction of the majority party.
It is not our purpose to criminalise the number plate supply industry. However, we wish to deter the practice of selling number plates with characters so arranged as to make them resemble a person's name. As I have said before, we think that a level 3 fine is just about appropriate in those circumstances, and we are pretty sure that the majority of the great British public--25 million of whom are motorists--would agree.
'.--(1) The Secretary of State may make payments in respect of the whole or any part of the expenditure of a public authority in relation to--
(a) the prevention or detection of offences to which subsection (2) applies; or
(b) any enforcement action or proceedings in respect of such offences or any alleged such offences.
(2) This subsection applies to offences under--
(a) section 16 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 which consist in contraventions of restrictions on the speed of vehicles imposed under section 14 of that Act;
(b) subsection (4) of section 17 of that Act which consist in contraventions of restrictions on the speed of vehicles imposed under that section;
(c) section 88(7) of that Act (temporary minimum speed limits);
(d) section 89(1) of that Act (speeding offences generally);
(e) section 36(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 which consist in the failure to comply with an indication given by a light signal that vehicular traffic is not to proceed.
(3) Payments under this section shall be made to--
(a) the public authority in respect of whose expenditure the payments are being made; or
(b) any other public authority for payment, in accordance with arrangements agreed with the Secretary of State, to, or on behalf of, the public authority in respect of whose expenditure the payments are being made.
(4) Payments under this section shall be paid at such times, in such manner and subject to such conditions as the Secretary of State may determine.
(5) In this section "public authority" means--
(a) any highway authority (within the meaning of the Highways Act 1980);
(b) any police authority established under section 3 of the Police Act 1996, the Metropolitan Police Authority or the Common Council of the City of London in its capacity as a police authority;
(c) any responsible authority (within the meaning of section 55 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997) or the Greater London Magistrates' Courts Authority; and
(d) any body or other person not falling within paragraphs (a) to (c) and so far as exercising functions of a public nature.'.--[Mr. Hill.]