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Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: I apologise for not having addressed that question directly. I assumed that I had, at least indirectly, given comfort to the noble Lord. In regulation we shall provide for the disabled, but the exact form of that provision is subject to further consultation. We believe that some of the issues raised by the noble Lord are better defined during that consultation period.
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: That is exactly the kind of detailed question that is perhaps best addressed in consultation. Therefore, at this stage I do not want to respond to the noble Lord's question definitively.
Lord Dixon-Smith: We have had a very constructive, useful debate. If all of us have come to the subject from slightly different perspectives at least we are agreed on the principle, even if the detail is not accepted. The problems of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, in
I have a good deal of sympathy with the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and my noble friend Lord Swinfen in relation to the registered disabled. I deliberately did not table amendments to deal with it because I was absolutely confident that others would do so, as they have. There is a very persuasive case in that situation. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, may not agree that he supported me, but he did. In seeking to tackle a fundamental aspect of the problem in this particular field the noble Lord spoke to what I might call a negative exemption.
The Minister has given a very detailed exposition of the flaws in our drafting, among other things, and the difficulty of dealing with such matters on the face of the Bill. I am the first to accept that they are difficult to deal with in legislation. However, they are no less difficult to deal with in regulation and certainly in guidance. They remain problems. The only difference is that, to a greater or lesser degree, by being dealt with in that way they escape our supervision. As to that there is a fundamental difference.
That said, the appropriate national authority, be it the Assembly for Wales or the Minister in England, will be charged with making these regulations. He will make national exemptions. Further, because he has power to approve local schemes in effect he will make regulations which local people wish to apply. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. If one is a wild optimist it will work beautifully; if, like me, one is a sceptical old pessimist it will not work quite so well. The whole purpose of this process is to ensure that it works as well as possible. Nothing in this world is perfect.
In the previous clause we accepted wide differences in principle and differentiation in charges at different times. I do not see why more of the considerations that the Minister dealt with in his detailed response cannot be put into the Bill. They must be put onto paper and spelt out in detail in due course. Somebody must account for it, even in this Chamber. Therefore, in part this debate seeks to prevent future trouble.
The debate has been helpful. The Minister has dealt with the matter as helpfully as possible, for which I respect him. I believe that in this instance the Minister has helped all Members of the Committee. I shall study the response of the Minister with great care. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 228 is another simple amendment. The Bill provides that the removal of a penalty charge notice from a vehicle is a criminal offence. I entirely accept that in appropriate circumstances it should be a criminal offence. However, the Bill is drafted in such a way that if the notice is removed inadvertently, or whatever, somebody may be charged with a criminal offence when he has no such intention; indeed, the removal may have been done by somebody else. It appears that the mere fact of its removal makes the owner of the vehicle automatically liable to the charge.
It may be that the Minister will tell me that this matter is to be dealt with subsequently by regulation. Here we go round the mulberry bush again. None the less, this particular group of amendments is designed to produce consistency and to introduce intent in relation to criminality. It would be unfortunate if inadvertence became a cause of criminality. I beg to move.
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: I thank the noble Lord for his explanation of this group of amendments. Perhaps I may take a few moments to explain our thinking behind the enforcement of charging schemes. In so doing I hope to convince the noble Lord that his amendments are unnecessary as the Bill already provides for what he seeks to achieve. We amended the Bill in another place in response to concerns raised by his honourable friends on this very subject. The criminal offences described in Clauses 172 to 174 deal with both wilfully defrauding a charging authority and the effective enforcement of schemes.
If an enforcement agent has reason to believe that an individual has the intent to avoid payment, or has been identified as having failed to pay, he must be able to undertake certain actions. Those actions, for example entering a vehicle, need to have the same sanction as the original misdemeanour in order to be effective. If that was not the case it would make schemes particularly difficult to enforce. Thus, in this instance what the noble Lord seeks is already catered for within the Bill.
However, to require proof of intent for each criminal offence would make some charging schemes unenforceable. For example, schemes that rely on manual enforcement need effective sanctions. If there were no effective sanction to prevent a person from removing a penalty charge notice from a windscreen, or tampering with an immobilisation device, regardless of whether or not he had a financial interest, a scheme that depended on that type of enforcement could be unenforceable.
If with that scenario the noble Lord's amendment were carried, the enforcement agent would have to demonstrate that whoever interfered with the penalty charge notice of the immobilisation device did so
I hope that the noble Lord can see the logic behind the balance which we have sought to achieve, taking into account the arguments of his noble friends in another place, and that he will be content to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Dixon-Smith: Once again, the Minister explained the difficulties involved in trying to put into words the concepts with which we are dealing. He has given assurances which are most helpful and which I shall study with care. I hope that I shall have no need to return to the subject and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: This group of amendments is aimed at giving to local authorities, rather than to the "appropriate national authority", power to decide how they want to enforce the schemes. I dislike the term "appropriate national authority" because it sounds as though it is connected to a science fiction society. However, now that we have various forms of national authority we must use the term.
If local authorities want to devise a scheme they should have the power to decide how to enforce it. Subsection (5) enables the national authority to insist that a charging authority must take a power to seize and detain anything as evidence of the commission of an offence. I do not see how one can bring a charge connected with the commission of an offence unless one collects the evidence. It struck me that the provision almost authorised local authorities to employ one of the local car thieves to enter a vehicle in order to remove evidence.
I well remember after a garden party being stuck in The Mall with a car which had locked itself. Its locking system completely floored the AA, the RAC and all the local police. Eventually, a Flying Squad car came along. The officer got out and said, "I see you have a little difficulty". The driver confessed that that was the case. He said, "Well, don't look", and in three seconds the car was open. There is no need for that because we can deal with the matter by other means.
However, I am back in the business of arguing for local discretion. If we are to have local schemes, we should leave them to the locals, particularly when dealing with powers which relate to property. I beg to move.
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