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Mr. Robert Ainsworth: It is good of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) to listen so carefully to what I say and to try to interpret my words as having such import. When I ask a question of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and the right hon. Gentleman interprets it as some type of definitive statement, that departs a little from the facts. I participated in the debate, asked the hon. Member for Christchurch a question and I am fairly satisfied that we are not talking about considerable additional moneys, so I have no intention of opposing new clause 10.
Mr. Chope: The Minister's comments show how worth while the debate has been. My only regret is that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) did not intimate to me earlier that the new clause would be accepted; we should not then have had to spend so much time debating it but could have dealt with other amendments.
Mr. John M. Taylor: In the context of amendments and with regard to the possibility of meeting the points of view and considerations expressed by other hon. Members, will my hon. Friend say how many times he approached me to see whether I would find his line of thinking amenable?
I am delighted that my hon. Friend and the Government accept the provision. That shows the importance of holding such debates. I hope that it will not be necessary to divide the House, because I trust that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) will agree that although the new clause may not be perfect, it is certainly an improvement to the Bill. There are costs, but they are insignificant when--
Mr. Chope: We have not got as far as that yet. I am sure that, as on many issues, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst will consider the situation. I know that he is as anxious as me to get on and discuss some of the other amendments, in the hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull and the Minister will accept further improvements. I am grateful for small mercies and to have on the record an acceptance of one of my suggestions.
'.--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.]
(c) he was absent at the time of the service of the notice, and during some or all of the compliance period.'.
'(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.'.
(a) any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate,"--
(b) any person who was purporting to act in any such capacity,"--
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.
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
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.