Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Mr. Clarke: I do not know about humble.

Mr. Bercow: The Minister objects to the world humble; maybe I am not as humble as I should be, but I am a junior cog in the wheel. I am happy to serve the public purpose as my limited talents enable me to do. I certainly do not mix in the celebrated up-market circles with which the hon. Gentleman is familiar. I am but a Member of Her Majesty's Opposition, and am accustomed to consuming fish fingers for dinner. I make no complaint about that, although it is probably a long time since the Minister ate them. He mixes in altogether more exalted circles with distinguished and up-market people, who either are grand, think that they are grand or aspire to be grand—I know not which.

Mr. Bob Russell: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he is a proud graduate of the University of Essex?

Miss McIntosh: With first class honours.

Mr. Bercow: I am delighted to do so, and am bound to say that that is a fair point for the hon. Gentleman to make. I think that I am right in saying—he will correct me if I am wrong—that that university is located in his constituency.

Mr. Russell: No.

Mr. Bercow: I am wrong—it is, then, located in the constituency of the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin).

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Member for Buckingham should stick to the business in hand, and not be provoked by the hon. Member for Colchester.

Mr. Bercow: I will chat with the hon. Member for Colchester about the University of Essex, of which I am a graduate, on another occasion. I am grateful for the commendation of the quality of my degree offered by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York. However, I will not be diverted because you, Mr. O'Brien, mixing your avuncular manner with just a hint of menace, have emphasised that I should not.

Let me focus on the consultation, and on how and when it will be conducted. Finally—and this point I can make in a pithy manner—will the details of the consultation, a summary of the discussions that took place and the results therefrom, be published? Will we have to take a ministerial interpretation of the consultation at face value?

Miss McIntosh: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Bercow: I am trying hard to conclude because I do not want to detain the Committee a moment longer than is necessary. I therefore put it on the record that I am being detained as I must give way to my hon. Friend simply out of my natural chivalry.

Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful. Is there not a huge omission on the part of the Government, who places such great credibility on regional government, in that there is no consultation with the regional development agencies? Does my hon. Friend not share my surprise at that?

The Chairman: Order. We are not going to start discussing regional agencies. We will stick to the clause.

Mr. Bercow: I will not animadvert to that point, because you have told me that I must not, Mr. O'Brien. However, I suppose that the point is narrowly relevant—it is probably relevant more widely, but I am not allowed to say so—in the sense that it suggests that less than full thought has been given to the composition of the clause. It would not be right of me to go further, but my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York makes a point that the Committee might usefully consider. ``Local authority'' is, by its nature, if not an all-embracing term, a term that incorporates a multitude of different categories.

Mr. Simpson: Of sins.

Mr. Bercow: Indeed, as my hon. Friend remarks, it sometimes embraces a multitude of sins. There is a degree of ambiguity and a degree of specificity in the clause. The ambiguity lies in the reference to the local authority, the specificity in the reference to a county council. I am not sure why it is thought appropriate to contain a reference to county council but not to a borough, district or city council. That is relevant. I hope that we are not getting county councilitis in this Committee, and that a political hegemony is not being exerted within the Home Office by what might be called the ``county council brigade''.

Mr. Clarke: The county set.

Mr. Bercow: Yes, I am bound to agree that ``set'' is the more appropriate term. I was not always a natural friend of what might be called the county set—and I think that the Minister will readily understand that—because, hailing as I do from the wing of the Conservative party that pays mortgages and buys his own furniture, I do not always identify with those people. However, there is a lack of specificity, and it would be helpful if there were some clarification.

9.15 pm

The case rests. It may be that my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York would prefer to develop her own argument at length, but within order. That would be an exacting challenge, to judge by the robust approach that you are now taking, Mr. O'Brien.

Miss McIntosh: Strictness.

Mr. Bercow: Strictness is the order of the day—certainly as far as a Chairman, if not my hon. Friend, is concerned. I am happy to rest my case, and I look forward to the Minister's comments before we take the weighty decision on whether to allow the clause to stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Fabricant: My main concern relates to clause 14(1), but I should point out that, for one moment, I feared that my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York was going to ask why the European Commission has been excluded from consultation. I was therefore delighted to discover that she was in fact talking about regional government.

I have read clause 14(1) several times, and having argued that clause 12 was too specific, I think that this one is far too broad. It states:

    The Secretary of State may by order amend or repeal any provision of a private or local Act passed before or in the same session as this Act, if it appears to him necessary or expedient to do so.

That seems to be an extremely broad provision, given that there is no definition of what might constitute ``necessary'' or ``expedient''.

Mr. Bercow: Will my hon. Friend allow me to intervene?

Mr. Fabricant: Just a moment.

I read and re-read clause 14(1) and it made no sense at all—until I consulted the explanatory notes. They state:

    Clause 14 allows the Secretary of State to amend or repeal any private or local Act if it appears to conflict with this Act.

Does omitting from clause 14(1) the sense of its explanatory note create an all-powerful clause that will enable the Secretary of State to amend or repeal any private or local Act passed before, or in the same Session as, this Bill, whether or not it conflicts with this Bill?

Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend is prescient, and he is also multi-faceted. He has many talents, most of which are available for public inspection, although others are perhaps not. Does he have the foggiest idea—the square root of a clue—which private or local Act, or Acts, the Government might have in mind? One cannot seriously believe that this apparently innocuous, brief and curiously elliptical clause was inserted without Ministers having at least some idea of the circumstances in which it will be invoked.

Mr. Fabricant: Having read the explanatory notes, which, as ever, are very well written, I now understand what the clause is getting at. Certain local Acts or private Acts—I do not expect the Minister to give examples—could be in conflict with the Bill, although I find it hard to believe that such Acts exist. I see no reason why any Act should have been created that might so conflict. Nevertheless, it is good drafting that such a clause be included, just in case.

Mr. McCabe: As the hon. Gentleman is such an expert on the North Yorkshire Act, does he think it possible that Acts relating to the sale of second-hand goods, which might include motor vehicles, could contain provisions that conflicted with the Bill?

Mr. Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. As I said, he and I had the joy of serving for several weeks on the Committee that considered the North Yorkshire Bill—although I was assured by certain parties that our considerations would take only a couple of weeks.

The Chairman: Order. That is the fifth time that reference has been made to the North Yorkshire Act, and it is time that we drew the matter to a close.

Mr. Fabricant: I was merely going to say that I do not see how that Act would conflict in any way with the Bill. However, that is not the point. I am not saying that there are no such Acts. I accept that it is right and proper that Home Office drafters should think it fit to include the clause in case there was—or were, to use the subjunctive—an Act—

Miss McIntosh: Conditional.

Mr. Fabricant: Well, conditional and subjunctive are the same thing. We must not get into philology, as that would be out of order.

I can understand that there may be an Act that would conflict with the Bill. However, the drafting of the clause may not be tight enough to restrict the Secretary of State to repealing or amending only an Act that, in the words of the explanatory notes,

    appears to conflict with this Act.

Does the Minister agree with the wording of the explanatory notes?

Mr. Charles Clarke: Yes.

Mr. Fabricant: The Minister says yes from a sedentary position. Does he not therefore agree that the Bill would be clearer if the words that I quoted were included in clause 14(1)?

Mr. Clarke: No.

Mr. Bercow: I am much impressed by the advocacy of my hon. Friend. I noticed the alacrity and immediacy with which the Minister of State said that he agreed with the explanatory notes from which my hon. Friend quoted. Perhaps he can therefore tell us immediately, and preferably word for word, exactly what the explanatory notes to clause 14 say.

Mr. Clarke rose—

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Member for Buckingham is intervening on an intervention by the hon. Member for Lichfield.

Mr. Fabricant: Thank you, Mr. O'Brien.

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