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The noble Lord said: Clause 4 relates to the cancellation by a local authority of a person's registration. That can occur if a person has not carried on business for 28 days. That seemed a rather short period. A person involved in such a business might be ill and away for a month. Business may be slack; he may not have been active in business for 28 days. To have his registration cancelled automatically at that time seems harsh. The amendment proposes:
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I put my name to Amendment No. 40, although I also agree with many of the sentiments expressed about motor salvage. I was particularly concerned about the short period of 28 days for those issuing registration plates. Apart from the fact that that period could easily be accounted for by holidays or sickness, in rural areas it is entirely possible that a garage may not issue a registration plate over 28 days.
To show that our contacts on these Benches extend beyond those wearing leather, I have also had discussions with the caravaning fraternity, who tell me that during the quiet winter months many outlets do not sell a caravan and therefore fall outside the 28 days for supplying a registration plate. If they lost their registration, someone who bought a caravan the following month and wanted to register it might have to go a long distance to do so.
I do not understand why such a short period has been specified, how it will work in practice or what bureaucracy will be required to chase up the issue. Will people be sent a 15-page form on day 29 that they then have to fill in? I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply to understand the issue better.
Lord Brougham and Vaux: I, too, support the amendments, mainly for the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. Caravans are very seasonal and cars are not sold all year round in rural areas, unlike in towns. There could be long periods when someone in the north of Scotland, for example, is not producing any number plates because nobody is buying any cars.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Clause 4 provides that a local authority may cancel a registration if it is satisfied that a business has ceased trading as a motor salvage operator for at least 28 days. Amendment No. 15 would extend that period to 56 days. Clause 21 has a similar effect for number plate suppliers and allows the Secretary of State to cancel a registration if he is satisfied that the business has ceased trading as a number plate supplier for at least 28 days. Amendment No. 40 would extend that period to 56 days.
We consider 28 days to be a sufficient period. This is not a punitive measure. I do not understand where that view comes from. It is only a means of ensuring that the register is kept up to date. The provision is permissive. That is another important consideration. If a person had good reason for not trading for 28 days, the local authority or the Secretary of State would be likely to take that into account and would not exercise the power of cancellation. The Secretary of State must be satisfied that the business has ceased to trade. Before cancelling the registration, the Secretary of State must also serve notice on the person concerned and give him the opportunity to make representations. That will guard against cancellations based on misinformation.
As an additional safeguard, there is an appeal procedure under Clauses 6 and 23. In most cases, the Secretary of State or the local authority will learn of a cessation of business from the suppliers themselves. Suppliers are required to give notice of a cessation of business under Clauses 11 and 27. Furthermore, the use of 28 days is entirely consistent with the period for notification in Clauses 11 and 27.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: I appreciate that there are some relieving provisions, if I can so describe them. The measure is permissive and there is an appeal mechanism. I am not sure that the Government have justified the choice of 28 days. That seems a short period, particularly for registration plate suppliers. However, I am not prepared to press the issue at this point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: It will be sensible to consider Amendments Nos. 17 to 19 with this amendment. They all relate to what happens when a local authority refuses to grant someone a licence. It has to serve a notice saying that it is not going to grant the licence and giving its reasons. It then has to give the individual concerned time to make representations before the final decision is taken. I have summarised the provisions, but I think that that is broadly accurate.
The Bill provides 14 days for a person to make representations in favour of being given a licence. Amendment No. 16 would change that to not less than 28 days from the day on which the notice is served.
Amendment No. 17 concerns a slightly later stage in the process, when the local authority has to allow what is vaguely described as "a reasonable period" for representations. We have tried to tighten up the timetable by specifying the same period as in Amendment No. 16--not less than 28 days and not more than 42. If the local authority subsequently proceeds with its proposed refusal or cancellation, it must serve a notice on the person concerned informing him of its decision.
The local authority should not have an infinite time to make up its mind. This is quite late in the process, after the representations have already gone backwards and forwards several times. Amendment No. 18 would limit that period to seven days, to give the local authority a spur to make its decision promptly and put the chap out of his misery if it is going to insist on cancelling his registration.
Cancellation is particularly important, because it is an axe hanging over the chap's whole business. Cancelling his registration will put him out of business. It is slightly different from not granting registration in
Amendment No. 19 relates to how long someone whose registration has been refused or cancelled should have to appeal. The Bill suggests 21 days, which seems very short. We have proposed 28 days for representations, so we believe that the same period should be available in which to decide whether to appeal. There could be legal matters involved. The person concerned could need to take advice before deciding. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord, Lord Cope, has summarised accurately the effects of Clauses 5 and 6. Clause 5 deals with refusals and cancellations. Clause 6 deals with appeals. Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 aim to extend the period in which a motor salvage operator may make representations from 14 days to between 28 and 42 days. Amendment No. 18 aims to ensure that local authorities notify the salvage operator of their intent to continue with their decision to refuse or cancel registration as a motor salvage operator within seven days of their decision. Amendment No. 19 seeks to extend from 21 to 28 days the period within which an appeal may be brought to a magistrates' court against a refusal to register or renew registration or a decision to cancel registration.
With regard to the time limits set out in subsections (2) and (4) of Clause 5, we believe that 14 days is sufficient. It must be borne in mind that this is not a punitive measure but simply a means of ensuring that the register is kept up to date. However, if a representation is not made during that period, it is possible to make appeals under Clause 6.
The Government do not consider it necessary to impose a time-scale for service of notice of a decision to proceed with a proposed refusal or cancellation. We expect local authorities to be prompt with their decision and notification, and certainly we expect them to do so within a reasonable period of time. In addition, if notification is delayed, it must be taken into account that salvage operators will have a chance to appeal under Clause 6.
We consider that in all those circumstances 21 days is a reasonable period in which to bring an appeal. Before refusing or cancelling, a local authority is required under Clause 5 to serve notice of its intention on the person concerned and to allow him at least 14 days to indicate whether or not he wishes to make representations. If he indicates that he does, the authority must then allow him a reasonable period in which to do so.
In practice, at least 35 days will have elapsed between the notification of intention to refuse or cancel and the expiry of the period permitted for an appeal. In those circumstances, I believe that the time limits that we propose are entirely reasonable and
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