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8 Mar 2010 : Column 110

Amendments 59 and 61 are designed primarily to ensure that offences are committed only where there has been what lawyers describe as appropriate knowledge or mens rea. Amendment 61 deals with corporate bodies and neglect. The present drafting makes it an offence for the corporate body where there has been neglect. "Neglect" means no more than omission, which by itself, in my view, should not constitute a criminal offence. There may be circumstances where it should, but not by definition. The word "culpable" is designed to ensure that only omission or neglect that is truly criminal-worthy should be caught by the Bill. "Culpable", then, would ensure that mere oversight cannot be held to constitute a criminal offence; that is the purpose.

As for amendment 59, I am basically always against strict or absolute offences, so my drafting is designed to ensure that the occupier commits an offence only if he is aware or has knowledge of the underlying facts that show that the operator is acting unlawfully. At present, the drafting allows the occupier to be held liable criminally, even in the absence of specific knowledge. It is thus a strict or absolute offence, so I am against it.

Amendment 60 deals with issues of appeal. The current drafting is largely procedural. I am not saying that the requirements are exhaustive-they may not be-but what is contemplated by this part of the Bill are procedural defects. What I have in mind is that the appellate authority should be able to review on the merits whether or not the charge is appropriate. We dealt with a number of examples in Committee-some from the Liberal Democrats-of people who were marooned by snowstorms and were obliged to leave their vehicles in a particular place. A charge was levied and nobody would remove that charge, which is clearly unfair. I want to be sure that the appellate authority has the ability to form a view on the merits as to the justice or reasonableness of the levying of the charge. If the appellate authority comes to the view that it is unreasonable or unjust, it should be within its discretion to reverse the previous decision. I do not think that the Bill as drafted makes that crystal clear, and I am in favour of it so doing.

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I think we all welcome the substance of what the wheel-clamping measures are intended to achieve. During an extensive debate in Committee, we covered many of the points made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), among others.

I think that every Member has encountered constituents who have been clobbered by cowboy clampers, and we are pleased that the Government are attempting to deal with the problem. Because of the shortage of time I will not give all the examples that many of us could probably recite on the basis of constituency experience, but I should like the Government to consider some of the points made so eloquently by my right hon. and learned Friend.

Of course we want appropriate sentences for those who are found guilty of illegal clamping under the new law. When we debated in Committee the question of whether prison sentences were appropriate, I agreed with my right hon. and learned Friend that a two-year sentence was sufficient. We did not agree on every point, but we agreed on that one. I still think that two
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years constitutes a legitimate maximum, but I also agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that it is a sentence that we should be slow to impose. I do not think that a prison sentence should be imposed lightly and without due attention to detail.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if intimidation, extortion, violence or some other harassment were involved in the collection or releasing of a car, those offences could be dealt with under existing laws? We do not need a five-year sentence, and a sentence of two years strikes me as a considerable penalty for clamping offences alone.

Andrew Rosindell: No doubt the Minister will respond shortly, but I agree that two years should be the maximum and that a five-year sentence is excessive.

As my right hon. and learned Friend said, the insertion of the word "culpable" would clarify the difference between the deliberate commission of an offence and an oversight, which, as we all know, can happen in such circumstances. He also spoke of the merits involved in a particular situation. In Committee, the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) described the clamping of his constituents' cars when the signs were covered by snow.

We need a system that would allow individuals to appeal and the authorities to take a sensible view based on the circumstances and on all the facts rather than necessarily following the legislation to the letter. We need flexibility and sensible judgment. My right hon. and learned Friend has made a number of sensible observations which the Government will doubtless consider, and to which the Minister will no doubt respond tonight.

Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): The Government are trying to introduce a complex and bureaucratic procedure to deal with the problem of wheel-clamping on private land, which is often carried out by cowboys who are effectively indulging in extortion. We made that point in Committee, and experienced a glorious defeat by one vote. It would be much simpler to follow the Scottish procedure and simply outlaw wheel-clamping on private land.

Mr. Alan Campbell: Let me say in response to the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) that we had an extensive debate in Committee, and our proposals were subjected to extensive consultation. A variety of suggestions were made, including the banning of wheel-clamping. In Committee we discussed ticketing systems, and I made it clear then-as I will this evening-that we wished to license the companies that were involved in clamping. We believe that private landowners have a right to protect their land, and that although a system exists to enable them to do so, in some instances it works very badly. We therefore propose to introduce a licensing system. We have considered the proposals, but we believe that, on balance, we have got this right.

The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham has been extremely consistent in his argument, and I am sure he will not be surprised to learn that I shall be consistent in mine. As I promised in Committee, I have reflected on what he has said, but the main reason why we have decided not to change our
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position is that we want a consistent approach to other areas that are similarly licensed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman calls this heresy, and says he would not choose it as a starting point, but I want to set out our point of view.

Amendments 55 to 57 would remove the option of imprisonment on summary conviction in a magistrates court and would reduce the maximum term of imprisonment on conviction on indictment from five years to two years. It is unclear from the short debate this evening why the proposal is for two rather than five, except that two is less than five. The right hon. and learned Gentleman described that as adequate, but what might be adequate for some will not be adequate for others, and that is the difference between us on this matter. The provision as currently drafted provides for penalties that are directly in line with those contained in section 5 of the Private Security Industry Act 2001 for the offence of using unlicensed security operatives.

That is what this is about; it is not about whether or not a vehicle has been clamped properly, or even the methods that might be used and how the law might be brought in in other ways. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about that, and what he said was right, but this is about using unlicensed security operatives, and I fear that if we begin to pick at that, we will end up in a situation where there is no consistency, and where there is a lack of transparency and fairness. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and I start from different sides; we accepted that in Committee, and I acknowledge that again tonight.

I acknowledge that many of the cases-I hope all of them-that fall foul of these provisions will not warrant imprisonment. That will depend on how successful these provisions are, but offences against business licence requirements and the terms of the licence could be very serious. That is why we seek to retain imprisonment as a necessary option for the worst offences. Again, these penalties are consistent with those contained in section 5 of the 2001 Act for the offence of using unlicensed security operatives. Individuals involved in wheel-clamping are currently subject to those provisions, and there would be a problem in having the businesses subject to different penalties from the individuals involved in wheel-clamping. The right hon. and learned Gentleman calls this heresy. We simply disagree on the route to take to arrive at these decisions.

Amendments 58 and 59 would require that, in order to be guilty of an offence-under proposed new section 6(1A) of the 2001 Act, as introduced in clause 42- of allowing an unlicensed wheel-clamping business to work on his premises, the occupier of those premises must know that the business is carrying out licensable activity without being licensed. As we set out in Committee, we believe that what these amendments seek is already provided for in the 2001 Act, as it already provides a defence for the occupier that he either did not know or had no reasonable grounds for suspecting that the individual in question was not the holder of a licence, and that he took all reasonable steps to ensure the individual did not carry out licensable activities when he did not hold a licence. Although the point of these amendments is clear and useful, I hope it will be recognised that their provisions are already catered for in legislation.

Amendment 61 would raise the threshold for liability for an offence committed by an unincorporated association, but why should businesses of different models be treated
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differently under the law? Amendment 60 deals with the issue of appeal. In our proposals, there is already an avenue for appeal for motorists in respect of release fees imposed by businesses carrying out wheel-clamping and related activities, and that would include issues such as release fees, the length of time taken, and adequate signage. Therefore, we do not see the need to accept these amendments.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman made a point about the appellant authority. We are seeking to base this upon the ticketing tribunal that already exists, where people with a legal training act as adjudicators in such cases, and there are-

9 pm

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, 18 January) .

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the amendment be made.

Question negatived.

The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).

Clause 45

Offence of possessing mobile telephone in prison

Amendment made: 19, page 96, line 31, leave out from 'security)' to end of line 36 and insert-

'(a) in subsection (1)(b), for "or any sound" there is substituted ", sound or information";

(b) in subsection (3), paragraph (b) and the preceding "or" are repealed;

(c) after subsection (3) there is inserted-

"(3A) A person who, without authorisation, is in possession of any of the items specified in subsection (3B) inside a prison is guilty of an offence.

(3B) The items referred to in subsection (3A) are-

(a) a device capable of transmitting or receiving images, sounds or information by electronic communications (including a mobile telephone);

(b) a component part of such a device;

(c) an article designed or adapted for use with such a device (including any disk, film or other separate article on which images, sounds or information may be recorded)."'.- (Mr. Hanson.)


Amendment made: 20, line 5, leave out 'of mobile telephones' and insert

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will have noticed that that the only issue of real substance that we have not had time to discuss today is the amendment that stands in my name, which raises the cap on the criminal injuries compensation scheme for those of our constituents who have been blown asunder by terrorist outrages. So I hope that on Third Reading I will be able to keep in order so that I can raise that issue and seek an assurance from the Government.

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Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman's amendments were not reached, but we were acting under the Standing Orders of the House. He will be aware that the only thing that can be debated on Third Reading is the contents of the Bill, but he is a very experienced Member of this House so I shall listen carefully to what he has to say.

Third Reading

9.1 pm

Mr. Hanson: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third Time.

I thank the hon. Members for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire), for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) for their constructive role in the debates on Second Reading and in Committee. I wish to place that on the record because as a result of our debates we have introduced amendments that have helped to improve the Bill. That is not to say that there are not real differences between us-there are and there have been-but it is incumbent on me to place my thanks on the record initially.

If you would allow me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should also like to place on the record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook) and the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) for their chairmanship of the Public Bill Committee. I also wish to thank the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell) and my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Watts), for helping in the passage of this Bill, along with all the members of the Committee, who have contributed to the Bill.

The Bill will protect communities by ensuring that we take action on a number of key issues. I believe that not because the Government have failed on tackling crime-I do not believe that we have; we have had a strong record on tackling crime and disorder since 1997, as witnessed by the fact that when we entered the Public Bill Committee crime had fallen by 36 per cent., violent crime had fallen by 41 per cent., the amount of woundings had fallen by 42 per cent., the level of robbery had fallen by 19 per cent., muggings had decreased by 10 per cent., and domestic violence had fallen by 64 per cent. Indeed, as we considered the Bill crime figures were released which showed that confidence in policing had increased to 50 per cent. and that the chance of someone's being a victim of crime was at its lowest since records began.

I am very proud of the fact that we had a very strong message to deliver on tackling crime before the Bill, but during its passage we have explored some issues that will make society safer still and will build on the record of the past year, during which violence has decreased by 4 per cent., robbery has fallen by 13 per cent., domestic violence has decreased by 15 per cent. and wounding has fallen by 2 per cent. All that has happened in the past year alone. That has something to do with the record number of police officers and police community support officers on our streets, but it is also down to legislation that has been passed previously and the partnership work with local authorities.

This Bill will do several key things. It will make our streets safer by allowing families to take responsibility for their children's antisocial behaviour, by assessing
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parental needs when young people are considered for an antisocial behaviour order and by imposing parenting orders where they have breached their ASBOs. It will make our streets safer by enabling, in pilot form initially, and thereafter rolled out across the country, the use of gang injunctions to prevent young people under 18 from becoming involved in gang activity. It will help the police to make our streets safer not only by allowing record numbers of officers to patrol our streets more safely-we now have 142,688 police officers, an increase of 16,863 in the past 13 years-but by freeing up police time by tackling the issue of stop and search forms in clause 1. We also have record numbers-some 16,000-of police community support officers.

The Bill will prevent crimes against the vulnerable by allowing the piloting of domestic violence protection orders, which, added to the range of domestic violence legislation that we have introduced, allow police officers to require perpetrators threatening individuals in their property to leave the premises for a fixed period, empowering victims to feel safe. When the pilot scheme is rolled out, we will take that a step further and extend the measure across the country as a whole.

The Bill enables us to take steps-this has not featured in the debates to the extent that we would have liked-to ensure that air guns are safely locked up and out of reach of children, preventing senseless tragedy through the improper storage of those dangerous weapons.

The Bill will also shut down criminal and exploitative markets by preventing the use of unauthorised mobile phones in prisons. That is something that we have tried to do in the past, and we are working hard to make sure that we tie up this loose end. I am grateful for the help and support of the Opposition in those debates, and we have made amendments 18 and 19 this very evening.

The Bill will, thanks to a great deal of campaigning by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth, license wheel clampers in order to prevent unscrupulous companies from exploiting citizens by imposing exorbitant fines.

Crucially, the Bill will also ensure justice for victims and their families. Not only do we have in place a scheme for compensating victims of terrorist activity, in which I know my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) will be taking an interest, but we are putting in place a scheme to compensate victims of overseas terrorism, which from 18 January will ensure that in the hopefully uncalled-for event of future terrorist activities abroad, victims from Britain will be compensated on a par with those affected in the United Kingdom.

The Bill also deals with the DNA database and how we approach the use of DNA to ensure that we convict offenders who are guilty of heinous crimes, that we prevent heinous crimes and that we give justice to victims' families in doing so. That is where the real difference between us has been in these debates. We have had debates on antisocial behaviour, mobile phones in prisons, gang injunctions and compensation for victims of terrorism. Ultimately, it is on the question of DNA that we have had the major difference in Committee and on the Floor of the House.

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