Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Mr. Bercow: Will my hon. Friend confirm that he is arguing for a more relaxed regime for salesmen of older parts because the use of such parts in the commission of vehicle crime is relatively infrequent, compared with that of newer and arguably more robust parts?

Mr. Fabricant: Yes, and I am arguing for it for another reason. I suspect that it is mainly hobbyists who undertake such activity—the Minister may be able to advise the Committee on that. I am sure that it is not the Bill's intention that they should be squeezed out of the activity through high charges.

Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend is making an interesting point. Such people may be part-time operators who are engaged in other businesses, and the business in older parts—perhaps through the internet—may be only a small proportion of their total business turnover. If that is what my hon. Friend is saying, will he accept that such individual operators would have to be registered in order to comply with the general terms of the Bill, even if they make only a small part of their income from the activity?

Mr. Fabricant: As ever, my hon. Friend raises an interesting and perceptive point. I sometimes think that he can read my mind.

I have a friend from university who read medicine and is a GP. He visits his patients on a motor bike and also has a hobby of providing such parts. His long-suffering wife has to put up with spare parts in their home, as well as his medical kit, and she has said to me that she sees an incompatibility between the greasy components and the cleanliness that a GP must maintain.

Would my friend, the GP who collects spare parts as a hobby, and passes them on to other BSA owners—not for a profit but to cover his costs—be prevented from continuing his hobby because of high charges? The point of the earlier part of new clause 3 is that there should be a sliding scale.

As has almost become a tradition in the Committee, I invite the hon. Member for Eastleigh to intervene. He has set a number of price and income criteria. New clause 3 states that for operators with an income of

    less than £1,000,000 per annum, the maximum fee that a local authority may determine under section 3(1)(b) shall be calculated on a sliding scale.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, far from introducing a blank cheque, he has created too much inflexibility? Does he agree that if the new clause were incorporated in the Bill—I suspect that it will not be—there should be an additional subsection that would allow a multiplier that took account of inflation, or even deflation?

Mr. Chidgey: I do not want to eat into time at the end of the debate. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, when setting out new areas to be considered in the Bill, there must be a starting point, and that the appropriate costs at that time should be set out? It would not be inflexible as, if the Government responded to the new clause positively, we would expect to see detailed legislation, through regulations, to make it work in the long term. Does he agree that the main issue is to ensure that the Government consider the matter?

Mr. Fabricant: Yes. The Minister might be sympathetic to the broad principle. He has mentioned several times in this Committee that he is unwilling to put unreasonable burdens on businesses. By extension, I suspect that he is also unwilling to put unreasonable burdens on hobbyists, particularly when they provide a valuable service in offering spare parts—legitimately—to those who run motor cycles and cars for which spare parts are not normally commercially available. I hope that he will say that a sliding scale of charges will apply to people who operate businesses at a low level.

Mr. Bercow: I fear that my hon. Friend is correct in predicting that the Government will not accept the new clause. The Minister has said that he does not want to tell us in advance the form that the draft regulations will take because he feels that doing so would compromise the consultation process. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a useful earnest of the Minister's intentions if he were to let us know whether he thinks that the ballpark figures mentioned by the hon. Member for Eastleigh in the new clause are broadly right, or whether he has substantially different figures in mind for differential application?

Mr. Fabricant: Yes, and I would go further. It would be helpful to know what guidelines the Government might give to registrars for the fees that should be charged generally, and whether they will encourage a sliding scale. Subsection (2) (a) and (b) states:

    Where a person who carries on the business of a motor salvage operator purchases a part of a motor vehicle for less than £20, or five or more parts together for less than £100, he shall not be obliged by such regulations as may be made under section 7(1) to keep a record—

I do not wish to try your patience, Mr. O'Brien, but I am reminded of the Committee stages of the Kent County Council Bill and the Medway Council Bill. The police in Kent felt that, below a certain level of purchase price, it was not necessary to include information on a register to comply with the provisions of the Bill. Although it was agreed that there should be a register of sales and purchases of second-hand goods by second-hand dealers—by the nature of new clause 3 these would be second-hand goods—the Kent police recognised that it was an excessive burden on business to keep a register of small transactions, because it would be unlikely that anyone would commit a crime involving such small sums; it would not be worth while. I share the view of the Kent police and would like to apply it to the Bill.

Does the Minister agree that it would be unnecessarily onerous to keep records for such low-value items? If so, does he agree that the exemption level should be £20 or the aggregate of five items for less than £100? If he does not agree, has he a view about the age of the spare parts? What if a part were over 10 or 20 years old because it was for an ``historic'' vehicle—that is not an unreasonable adjective to use when talking about old Bantams and BSAs? Should only price come into it? Should there not also be an exemption to register based on the age of the spare part?

Mr. Chidgey: Will the hon. Gentleman clarify his statement? Should he not refer to spare parts for vehicles of an age of more than 20 years, rather than the spare part itself? The spare part may have been professionally manufactured by one of the owners clubs' organisations. The issue is about vehicles of an age of 20 years or more, not about spare parts of such an age.

Mr. Fabricant: Yes, that definition would be a good one. However, I am slightly mindful of vehicles that have not changed—Land Rovers might be one example, but I could be slandering the Land Rover company, so I am cautious. I do not wish a commercial operation that might be open to crime to be exempt from the clause. The only circumstances in which that might happen is in relation to a vehicle that is available new but has continued to be produced, with some parts virtually unchanged, for 20 or more years. With that particular caveat, I agree to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

However, I suspect that the debate is somewhat hypothetical because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham said, new clause 3 probably will not be included in the Bill. Nevertheless, it is worth discussing because the Minister should respond to the point.

Mr. Bercow: I agree that the new clause is unlikely to be accepted because Ministers have not yet accepted any new clauses or amendments. That does not reduce or remove our responsibility to consider the merits of new clauses and amendments. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to establish from the hon. Member for Eastleigh whether his figures, for example in subsection (2) (a) and (b), are purely illustrative and for the purpose of engendering debate, or whether they are based on his consultations with the sector and reflect the volume of sales of given parts that are, ordinarily, not caught up in the commission of crime?

Mr. Fabricant: I suspect that the figures were suggested by the British Motorcyclists Federation.

Mr. Chidgey: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, as I stated earlier, advice was taken from the British Motorcyclists Federation, and that it is to be expected that the figures were suggested on the basis of their knowledge of the sector?

Mr. Fabricant: Yes, of course I accept that. However, I believe that the figures were included more for debate, as was the case with new clause 2, than with the intention of being included in the Bill. Nevertheless, the Minister said that he does not want an unnecessary burden to be placed on business and I hope that he will confirm that he does not want such a burden to be put on hobbyists either. I wonder whether it would be possible to ensure, through secondary legislation—the sort to which I object so much—that guidelines are given to local authorities, not only on using a sliding scale of charges, based on turnover and age, as the hon. Member for Eastleigh suggested in subsection (3) of the new clause, but on whether there can be complete exemptions based on transaction size.

Finally, does the Minister agree that subsection (4) is wholly undesirable?

Mr. Bercow: I hope that I did not misunderstand or mishear what my hon. Friend said. One thing that is clear is that there is no provision for total exemption in the proposed new clause. I do not think that that possibility arises at all.

Mr. Fabricant: I must read further to find out whether that is the case, during the intervening period before we meet again at 4.30 pm.

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

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

The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Brien, Mr. Bill (Chairman)
Bercow, Mr.
Chidgey, Mr.
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Fabricant, Mr.
Gilroy, Mrs.
Hill, Mr.
Jones, Helen
McIntosh, Miss
Miller, Mr.
Pope, Mr.
Russell, Mr. Bob
Shaw, Mr.
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.

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