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Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): If a group of dealers operates in a centre, one dealer may not be in the centre, or shop, on a particular day and may have to rely on the actions of another dealer. That is almost akin to a co-operative, and the dealers may watch one another's stalls and some of them may not go to the centre for two or three days, or two or three weeks. Will the clause on due diligence cover such eventualities?
Mr. Clark: The Select Committee considered in detail the case of someone who owns a permanent antiques fair or market that includes different traders. Obviously, the individual traders will be responsible for recording information and so on, and the provisions allow for those circumstances. Having said that, as I told the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), there will come a time when the number of times that provision is used becomes an issue further down the line. That scenario was discussed at length by the Committee, and it was satisfied that it will ultimately be covered.
The purpose of the Bill is to regulate the second-hand trade, with the aim of reducing the amount of acquisitive crime, such as burglary, by making it harder to dispose of stolen goods and turn them into cash. Home Office research, supported by police intelligence, shows that a large proportion of stolen property passes through unregulated second-hand dealers.
Hon. Members will know that the provisions will deal with second-hand dealers, occasional sales and squat trading. The provisions will enable the paper trail--the evidence and information required--to be set up to support genuine traders, the vast majority of whom have been involved, through various associations, in consultations with the promoters. That is why several amendments have been drafted by the promoters and considered by the Select Committee. Those amendments reflect the genuine concerns of the trade and the way in which second-hand antique dealers operate. We did not want unduly to increase the burden on businesses.
I honestly believe that the Bills will not increase that burden because many of the records that we want are included in codes of practice that operate in the trade, or have to be kept for VAT purposes. The Bills will reinforce the hard work that has been undertaken by Kent police and the trading standards agencies to reduce the amount of theft and crime.
The Bills are good examples of inter-agency working, and adopt many of the principles that were laid down in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Without taking any more time, I wish to commend the Bills to the House because they will help us to defeat those criminals who wish to cause misery for many residents of Kent.
Mr. Wyatt: It is fair to say that these Bills have faced greater and more intense scrutiny, debate and amendment than any private legislation that has come before the House in recent years. The reason for that is simple: the Bills are ill-conceived and wrong in principle. The list of amendments tabled by the promoters alone is testament to the fact that the Bills were originally drafted without proper consultation with those affected. The result is that legislation is being created on the hoof, which is not ideal.
The Bills have faced opposition inside and outside the House for many reasons. Although they are aimed at dealers in second-hand goods in Kent and Medway, the United Kingdom antiques trade as a whole has been in the vanguard of opposition. We should be grateful to a small band of organisations and hard-pressed self- employed antiques dealers, especially one from Newington in my constituency and another from Tenham, just outside it.
The Committee's report succinctly sums up the tenor of opposition to the Bills, and its key findings echo my concerns and those of my constituents and the second- hand goods trade as a whole, but especially the antiques trade. It will be appropriate if I quote the Committee's report further:
Committees on opposed private Bills must weigh up the arguments presented by interested parties and determine whether the balance of interest lies with the promoters or the petitioners, as they are directly and specifically affected by the provisions of the Bills. The Committees may not consider the cases of those who have not petitioned and, having no power to summon witnesses other than those presented by the parties, they have only a limited ability to compare the proposals with others previously made.
None the less, our attention was drawn by all parties to the precedent Acts. Although the provisions in the Kent County Council Bill and the Medway Council Bill were precedented, they differed in a number of respects from the earlier Acts, which were not themselves entirely uniform. For example, only one Act provided for the recording by registered dealers of sales as well as purchases.
We have heard from the petitioners that, although the provisions of these Bills are local, they will affect dealers who trade on a national basis. Consequently, there is a concern that, if provisions akin to those in the Bills were introduced in further such Bills, dealers would find themselves grappling with a number of subtly different regulatory regimes as they travelled around the country. We were told that the likelihood of dealers unwittingly committing offences against local legislation was strong. To me, that was a powerful argument in favour of introducing a single national regulatory structure. I do not think I disagree that such provisions will have a crime reduction impact, but I wish them to be fair and equitable across the country.
The promoters told us that national legislation to regulate the second-hand market was desirable but that they understood that there was little prospect of its being introduced in the near future. They therefore argued that the Bills were necessary to deal locally with the markets in stolen goods. It was put to Kent's deputy chief constable, Robert Ayling, that the introduction of such provisions on a local basis would have a displacement effect on criminal activity. He accepted that that might be the result. Sergeant Dan Murphy and Mr. Mark Dalrymple went further in suggesting that, as a consequence of the Bills' being enacted, the adjoining counties might in turn resort to local legislation as a means of tackling illegal trade.
Speculation as to the future activities of other authorities cannot form part of our deliberations today. None the less, we consider that, should an increasing number of local authorities seek equivalent powers, it would be profoundly undesirable in terms of enforcement and the burden on what I consider to be a very honest trade.
Mr. Paul Clark: I recognise the report to which the hon. Gentleman is referring. He will recognise that the Select Committee allowed the Bills to go forward. Although I accept that national legislation may well be preferable, does he agree that it is not on the horizon? Eight other measures, including the City of Newcastle upon Tyne Act 2000, contain similar provisions, so does he not agree that the people of Kent deserve that protection as well?