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Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): If, as can happen, on closer inspection the article appears later to be worth a great deal more than £10, does it become an offence for the dealer to sell it for more than £10 if he or she has allowed the vendor to disappear without registering the provenance?

Mr. Clark: That is a valid question. Obviously, a judgment could be made and subsequently the item bought could be found to be more valuable than at first thought. The Bill provides for that not to be a criminal offence. Clearly, if someone consistently undertook that line of defence, one would take the necessary action. I commend the amendments to the House.

Mr. Wyatt: This is the trickiest part for antique traders, the group whom I represent. My comments relate specifically to page 5, lines 36 to 40.

When a house is cleared there are often between 3,000 and 4,000 objects. Their worth will vary from nothing to thousands and thousands of pounds. We are looking for an upper threshold. I wonder whether the sponsor will give some thought to that.

In the antiques trade it is unusual for jewellery, watches and musical instruments to be worth less than £100; the price tends to be much higher--so we are putting in the same bracket objects with different values. It is incredibly bureaucratic for dealers to have to list 4,000 or 5,000 objects, or even fewer, from a house. Will the hon. Gentleman consider raising the £100 threshold to £500?

Mr. Clark: My hon. Friend's amendments are opposed for the simple reason that the effect of raising that limit to £500 would be virtually to annihilate the basis of the Bill. As for excluding specifics, such as jewellery or watches, they are the very items that the police will say are stolen and passed on and that they want to follow through. We must remember that at the end of the day about £110 million worth of goods are stolen every year in Kent. That is last year's figure and it may well have gone up. Only about 25 per cent. is returned.

My hon. Friend's amendments would undermine the main provisions of the Bill, which are to put in place a paper trail that is useful to the police and trading standards officers, and will enable them to return the goods, bring to justice those who have stolen them, and provide some compensation to victims.

4.30 pm

Mr. Wyatt: If the figure cited by my hon. Friend is correct, I guess that it must be for recorded crime and that it must be a valuation. I do not know who carries out such valuations, but let us accept the figure. Less than

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2 per cent. of that relates to the antiques trade. The provisions would increase bureaucracy and red tape for a fine profession. That will cause real damage to communities in Kent and Medway. The easiest solution would be to exempt the antiques trade. Will my hon. Friend consider that? The provision seems incredibly unfair.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House proceeded to a Division; but no Member being willing to act as Teller, Madam Deputy Speaker declared that the Ayes had it.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Amendment made: promoters amendment No. 2, in page 4, line 29, leave out 'his business' and insert--

Mr. Wyatt: I beg to move amendment No. 27, in page 4, line 29, leave out from 'business' to 'enter' in line 30.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal): With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 34, in page 6, line 3, after 'shall', insert 'not'.

No. 35, in page 6, line 4, leave out from 'county' to end of line 12.

Mr. Wyatt: My concern is that the provision applies to non-Kent crime. It is hard enough that it should apply even to Kent. Will the sponsor consider adding the word "not" to subsection (7), so that it reads:

That would seem to me to be an extension of the principle of the law. Will the sponsor reflect on that?

Mr. Paul Clark: We do not accept that. The simple reason is that if one takes away the requirement that purchases outside the county of Kent be recorded, a rogue trader could argue--when questioned about a certain item--that he or she had bought it outside the county. That excuse could be used by people who did not want to assist in providing the information required under the Bill. The claim that items were bought outside the county would be a simple way of overcoming the requirement to record the purchase. We cannot accept the amendment--to do so would negate the Bill and undermine its provisions.

Amendment negatived.

Amendments made: promoters amendment No. 6, in page 5, line 17, leave out from 'than' to end of line 19 and insert--

Promoters amendment No. 7, in page 5, line 23, at end insert--

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Promoters amendment No. 8, in page 5, line 24, leave out '(7)' and insert '(8)'.

Promoters amendment No. 9, in page 5, line 36, leave out '(4)' and insert '(5)'.

Promoters amendment No. 10, in page 6, line 2, leave out '(4)' and insert '(5)'.

Promoters amendment No. 11, in page 6, line 3, leave out '(4)' and insert '(5)'.

Promoters amendment No. 12, in page 6, line 21, leave out '(4), (8) or (9)' and insert '(5), (9) or (10)'.-- [Mr. Paul Clark.]

Clause 7

Offences under Part 2

Amendments made: promoters amendment No. 13, in page 6, line 39, leave out '(4)' and insert '(5)'.
Promoters amendment No. 14, in page 6, line 42, leave out '(4)' and insert '(5)'.--[Mr. Paul Clark.]

Clause 8

Exemptions under Part 2

Amendment made: promoters amendment No. 3, in page 7, line 18, at end insert--
'(e) a person engaged in business as a dealer in second-hand books, in respect of his business as such; or
(f) a person engaged in business as a dealer in animals, in respect of his business as such; or'.--[Mr. Paul Clark.]

Clause 11

Notice of occasional sales and squat trading

Amendment made: No. 41, in page 8, line 11, after 'trading', insert 'in the county'.--[Mr. Wyatt.]

Clause 12

Information to be kept by holder of certain occasional sales

Amendments made:
No. 45, page 10, line 33, leave out first 'business address' and insert--
'his business address or business telephone number'.

No. 46, in page 10, line 33, leave out second 'business address' and insert--

No. 47, in page 10, line 39, leave out 'business address' and insert--

Mr. Wyatt: I beg to move amendment No. 53, in page 12, line 41, leave out from beginning to end of line 4 on page 13.

22 Mar 2001 : Column 549

This provision relates to another tough matter for the antique dealers. There is an implication that dealers will be penalised if they do not know or cannot be certain of the information that they were given. For example, if the information is from a stolen credit card or a false driving licence, the dealer will be penalised. With the best will in the world, how is a dealer to know whether such documents have been stolen? It is a tough call to ask dealers to be responsible for that. Will the sponsor consider my amendment?

Mr. Paul Clark: The defence provided under the clause is extremely well precedented in national as well as local legislation--for example, in the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, the Trade Marks Act 1994, the Video Recordings Act 1984 and many other Acts, and all other private Bills would contain such a provision. The amendment could result in courts wasting time and it would allow the person charged with an offence to pass the blame on to a third party, without allowing the council or the police to check the circumstances before going to court. So court time would be wasted and the circumstances could not be checked thereafter.

The provisions are well documented elsewhere. People are not criminally liable if they have in place a generally good system and can prove that fact. The clause, as drafted, will not resolve the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt).

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