Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Miss McIntosh: I am feeling a little left out, as I seem to be the only lady-in-waiting. Hon. Members should not be misled by the fact that I am sitting on the Front Bench—I am only covering for an hon. Friend who is not present.

I want to support the amendments, to which my hon. Friends the Members for Buckingham and for Lichfield have so eloquently spoken. I am concerned about clause 4(5), which stipulates that, when a person's application for registration has been refused, that person's registration need not be reconsidered for a full three years from the date at which the cancellation took effect. For that reason, the amendments, which are consequential on each other, are especially important.

With the greatest respect to the Minister, I ask him to clarify the Government's thinking in relation to the cancellation of someone's registration. It is extremely important to understand what would be the procedure for re-registration. Three full years is an arbitrary period, after which, in my experience, it would be extremely difficult for someone to re-enter the market and seek registration. Will the Minister explain why the period of three years was chosen? In addition, is he minded to set out the procedure for re-registration?

5 pm

Mr. Clarke: The fundamental reason for asking the hon. Member for Buckingham to withdraw the amendments is that we consider them redundant. Clause 5(2) provides that, when a local authority proposes to refuse registration—to refuse to renew registration or cancel registration—it should first give notice of its reasons, and provide an opportunity for representations. At that stage, no decision will have been taken by the local authority, and it would not therefore be appropriate to set out the procedure for re-registration. However, when a registration is cancelled, the local authority will tell the person of his right of appeal.

In relation to the standard form, guidance and procedures, the hon. Member for Lichfield made a fair and correct point, and I am prepared to give him the assurance that he seeks—we will include, in the information to be given to salvage operators, information about how to apply to re-register. Following negotiation and discussion with the Local Government Association, police authorities and so on, after the passage of the Bill—if it is passed—the guidelines issued should cover those points in a way that is clear and understandable to all potential applicants. I also want to make it clear that we do not want to impose an obligation on everyone to make it plain that they have previously been de-registered. In those circumstances, one will simply apply, or not apply.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying that he does not anticipate making it obligatory to declare a previous de-registration. However, he will have noted—as, I feel sure, will you, Mr. O'Brien—that I mentioned a few moments ago that there may be a period after which the central authority ceases to keep records on such matters. I was simply speculating aloud on that point—it may be that records are kept. Will the Minister confirm how long they will be kept? In doing so, will he say whether a requirement for disclosure would be entirely redundant? That is for the simple reason that the central authority would know of the de-registration and, doubtless, of the reasons for it.

Mr. Clarke: I shall come back to the point about the period for which records will be required to be kept.

The re-registration procedure will be the same as that for the original registration. If business as a motor salvage operator is recommenced, it will be necessary to register under clause 3 in the exactly the same way as the organisation would have done before. When a person re-registers, the registration process will be set out clearly in the local authority's requirements.

Mr. Fabricant: The Minister will recall that I suggested that there should be a quicker process of deliberation by the local authority in the case of a re-registration. First, will the Minister comment on that? Secondly, will he answer my other question about whether the central authority or the Government will set guidelines as to how long the registration process will take?

Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman has already asked about time scales, and I shall answer his question as rapidly as he permits me to do so.

The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) asked about the three-year period. Just for clarification, let me say that, if the registration is cancelled because trading has ceased, the business can reapply for registration immediately. There is not a three-year gap.The three-year embargo on reapplying under clause 4(5), to which the hon. Lady referred, is when an organisation is struck off for failing the ``fit and proper'' test, but that does not apply to cancellations under clause 4(3).

The purpose of the three-year period is to drive the criminals out of business. If a person has been found to be unfit to run a motor salvage business, he should not be able to re-enter the business straight away. That is why we have distinguished between people who were struck off because they were found not to be ``fit and proper'' on the various tests, and those who were struck off because they ceased to trade. In the case of ceasing to trade, a person can immediately reapply, while the three-year gap targets those who are not ``fit and proper''—we are targeting different circumstances.

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): Does the Minister agree that there is a world of difference between being struck off for some wrongdoing and having a registration cancelled for legitimate business reasons? The use of the term ``struck off'' is both contexts is unfortunate. Surely, when there will be so few occasions when salvage operators wish to re-register there can be a question on the application form about the circumstances of their being previously struck off.

Mr. Clarke: If my use of the phrase ``struck off'' in two different circumstances offends—I do not mean offends in a personal way—I shall try reconsider my language. The fundamental point that the hon. Gentleman makes is right: there is a difference between being found not to be a ``fit and proper'' person and ceasing to trade.

Mr. Bercow: Will the Minister allow me to intervene?

Mr. Clarke: Not at the moment. I am still sweeping up a number of points. When I have finished doing so, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

To clarify the point raised by the hon. Member for the Vale of York, let me say that the Bill makes it clear that the three-year gap is not mandatory. A local authority can re-register a motor salvage business earlier if it so chooses. As for putting the information about previous de-registration on the application form—a point raised by the hon. Member for Colchester—I will re-examine the matter and discuss it with other organisations. My initial instinct is that it would be neither necessary nor desirable to take such action, and drag up the past in those circumstances. That is why it is not in the Bill, but his point is fair and I shall reflect on it.

I now turn to the time scale point, raised by the hon. Member for Lichfield. The specification on data is much less clear. The data protection legislation requires personal data to be held only for such time as is reasonably necessary, so it depends on the circumstances, and it is a matter on which we will seek to give guidance in the process that we have described. I do not expect local authorities to keep records for more than a few years in such circumstances. We want to consult closely with the industry and local government about the amount of time that it takes to be registered. I acknowledge that it is beneficial to have some guidance on time scale, providing that it is not too rigidly drawn, so that people can reasonably know in what time they might expect to have their application heard and adjudicated.

Mr. Bercow: I have some sympathy with the argument of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell). Without wishing to pursue ad nauseam a semantic point, may I ask the Minster whether he accepts that the essential distinction is between being struck off a register and finding that, because of changed circumstances, a person's registration naturally lapses? Might not the distinction between struck off and naturally lapsing be useful?

Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman's linguistic point has helped to make the matter clear. Thus far, at any rate, I agree that he has focused on the points under discussion throughout our proceedings, and not at inordinate length. I was not certain that that would be the case, but it has been, and I am sure that the Committee, especially Oppositions Members, welcome that. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment, given that I have tried to clarify as best I can the reasons for the original text under the Bill.

Mr. Bercow: As I believe that the Minister readily understood, I was mainly concerned that someone who was de-registered should have the chance to re-register and should be aware that he or she had that chance. As soon as it is available, I shall take the opportunity to study the Official Report of our proceedings but, as far as I can recall what the Minister said—I have been attending closely to his remarks—he offered sufficient reassurance to cause me to say with alacrity that I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6


Mr. Bercow: I beg to move amendment No. 73, in page 5, line 12, at end insert—

    `(2A) The Secretary of State may extend the period specified in subsection (2) where he receives representations in writing after the 21 day period showing good cause why an appeal could not be brought within the given period.'.

We come to the issue of appeals. In inverse order of appearance in the clause, clause 6 deals with the cancellation of a person's registration in the register for his or her area, a refusal to re-register a person, and a refusal to register an operator in the first instance. Under subsection (2), the Government provide for appeals to be made

    within the period of 21 days beginning with the day on which the person concerned is served with a notice under section 5(7).

The reference to the 21-day appeal period appears in lines 10 to 12.

The amendment that my hon. Friends and I propose would, if incorporated, become paragraph (a). Our anxiety, as I am sure that the Minister will accept even if he disagrees with the amendment, is to ensure that, as far as possible—mistakes will always be made, but we should try to minimise the scope for them—the Secretary of State does not remove legitimate businesses from the register without good cause or reason.

We are slightly uneasy about the restrictive 21-day period, which is why we suggest that, if people can show good reason why they were unable to make representations within the 21-day period, representations received after it should be duly considered. I have a hunch—I put it no more strongly than that—that the Minister might feel inclined to resist my amendment. The Minister is now helpfully nodding in a sedentary position while sucking his spectacles, making it clear that he intends to resist.

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