Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Mr. Chidgey rose—

The Chairman: Order. I draw the Committee's attention to the fact that we are not discussing amendments Nos. 30 and 31 with this group.

Mr. Chidgey: On a point of order, Mr. Wells. Are amendments Nos. 10, 12 and 11, which you mentioned when we began debating clause 26, subject for debate at this point?

The Chairman: That is correct. In addition to amendment No. 28, we are debating amendments Nos. 10, 12, 29 and 11, but not amendments Nos. 30 and 31, which deal with fines.

11.15 am

Mr. Chidgey: I am most grateful for that information. I shall detain the Committee only briefly on several points relating to the amendments in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester. In the main, we debated the issues raised by the amendments at a previous stage in our proceedings, and I do not intend to revisit those debates.

Subsection (3) requires a registered person who is not carrying on business to give notice of that fact to the Secretary of State. We must revisit the issue of what a person who ceases to trade is required to do with his or her records. We are talking about an onerous fine. In fact, the hon. Member for Buckingham would like a much larger penalty for failure to comply. As yet, we have no guidance on a company or registered person who ceases to carry on business passing on his or her records for proper scrutiny at a later stage when the police may want to make inquiries.

Mr. Hill: It is pretty obvious that there is disagreement between Opposition parties on the matter. The official Opposition suggest that the period should be reduced to 14 days, whereas the Liberal Democrats suggest an increase to 42 days. Surely that shows the reasonableness of the Government's position: 28 days is an extremely reasonable compromise.

Amendment No. 12 would introduce a period of 42 days—

Mr. Bercow: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hill: Let me first set the scene.

Amendment No. 12 would introduce a period of 42 days for notification of changes or that a business has ceased trading as a registration plate supplier. The Government contend that a period of 28 days is adequate for that purpose.

Mr. Bercow: There are two simple points. First, if the Minister were familiar with and a student of—[Interruption.] I sincerely hope that the Minister is listening to my intervention, because it is deeply germane. If he were familiar with and a student of the works of Karl Popper or even, alternatively, the works of the distinguished logical positivist, Professor A. J. Ayer, he would know that he is guilty of bogus logic. It is absurd for the Minister to say that, because two alternative positions are suggested by other people, his position, which he lobs into the equation as a third, equidistant between the other two, is a reasonable compromise.

Secondly, does he not accept that it is a trifle cheeky, not to say disingenuous, for him to claim that his position is a compromise between the other two suggestions, when the proposal was inserted into the Bill before he knew which amendments would be tabled by the hon. Member for Eastleigh and by me? His claim of reasonableness and compromise is utterly bogus, and I know that he will now have the good grace to withdraw it.

Mr. Hill rose—

Mr. Chidgey: Surely the Minister understands that the amendments have been tabled to give him the opportunity to explain to the Committee why the Government have chosen their figure and not simply plucked it out of the air, as seemed to be the case from previous debates. It is extremely disingenuous and, if I may say, a little impolite to assume that the Committee is doing other than trying to help the Government.

Mr. Hill: Good heavens! I seem to have stirred up a hornets' nest. I am grateful for the hon. Member for Buckingham's demonstration of positive logic. The Government anticipated the extreme positions that would be adopted by the opposition parties: the Official Opposition's right-wing libertarianism and the Liberal Democrats' usual attempts to outflank on the left. Our position is not an ex post facto compromise, but one well thought out in advance of the debate.

Amendment No. 11 is consequential on amendment No. 10, which would remove the offence of failure to notify cessation of business as a registration plate supplier. As the hon. Member for Eastleigh said, in his usual reasonable fashion, we have already had that debate. However, he again raised the matter of records. In our earlier exchanges, I said that one proposal was for the retention of records for two years. However, that raises the interesting question how and where the records would be retained, which I hope to be able to answer in due course. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will return to the issue at a later stage.

Amendment No. 28 would reduce the period for notifying alterations to the register from 28 days to 14, and amendment No. 29 would reduce the period for notifying cessation of business as a registration plate supplier from 28 days to 14. Both amendments would create difficulties, especially for larger businesses that must keep track of a greater number of retail outlets. There is no need to create such a difficulty; the clause affords a reasonable period that strikes a balance between the need to keep the register up to date and the need to reduce the burden on business. Large businesses must gather information from many outlets, which takes time; 28 days is a reasonable period, and consistently used in the Bill. It would be wrong to introduce different time scales for interlinked circumstances.

Mr. Bercow: I am not entirely persuaded by the hon. Gentleman's argument, but we have had a good canter round the course. As a caveat, I say that we may wish to return to the matter later. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Bercow: I beg to move amendment No. 30, in page 14, line 16, leave out `3' and insert `5'.

The Chairman: With this we may take amendment No. 31, in clause 27, page 14, line 34, leave out `4' and insert `5'.

Mr. Bercow: I cheekily dilated these points earlier and such was your tolerance, Mr. Wells, that you did not bring me to book for doing so. We had not quite reached amendments Nos. 30 and 31, but I inserted them into the thrust of my remarks on the time scale within which notifications to the register should be made of the cessation of business. Having indicated the seriousness with which my hon. Friends and I take these matters and the need for sufficient penalties, there is no reason to comment further. There is a case for tougher penalties and I rest that case.

Mr. Hill: A fine at level 3 on the standard scale is £1,000. A fine at level 5 of £5,000 is too draconian for failing to notify changes. We are seeking the notification of details which might comprise only a small part of the information on the register. That is certainly not as serious as operating as an unregistered supplier. We therefore believe that the proposed scale is appropriate for such failures. It is also consistent with the vehicle and driver records proposal.

Amendment No. 31—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman put the Questions necessary under the terms of the programme resolution to complete the business.

Amendment negatived.

Clauses 26 to 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Wells, Mr. Bowen (Chairman)
Bercow, Mr.
Chidgey, Mr.
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Gilroy, Mrs.
Hill, Mr.
Jones, Helen
Kidney, Mr.
McCabe, Mr.
McIntosh, Miss
Miller, Mr.
Pope, Mr.
Russell, Mr. Bob
Shaw, Mr.
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.

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