Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): I will try not to take up my entire four minutes. As my votes on the subject yesterday suggest, I believe that the time allocated is inadequate. However, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the assurance that he gave yesterday, which was that the usual channels will consider the whole set-up. We are creating a precedent, as we are the first Committee to use the new procedure. The Government must regret the fact that, by design or default, they have created a situation in which the hon. Member for Buckingham, for two and a half hours last night and another 25 minutes today, has gone out of his way to try to prolong matters rather than to shorten them.

We will support the Bill in general terms, but with reservations. I cannot say that that is necessarily the view of the Conservative Opposition. I believe that the Minister took on board the points made last night. I can only conclude that the hon. Member for Buckingham does not have the interests of the Bill at heart. We have heard his long speeches, last night and today. If he were to bore for Britain—small bore—he would certainly win a gold.

In the Division, we will vote against the inadequate amount of time, but in debate we will make constructive arguments. If the Conservatives want to be the vehicle villains' friends, let them, but we do not.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I thank the hon. Member for Colchester for his brief and pithy remarks of two minutes. I know that his contribution and that of his party in support of the Bill will be constructive.

In the 30 seconds that the hon. Member for Vale of York had to speak, she made a remark that was pithy and to the point. The definition of vehicles in the Bill covers motorbikes. We have received representations by telephone from the British Motorcyclists Federation, which has been in touch with the team on the Bill. If she tables amendments that are informed by such groups, we will consider them seriously and properly. I encourage their involvement in the debate, and the way in which she made her point.

All the points made by the hon. Member for Buckingham, who spoke for 23 minutes, related to the programming process itself. They are perfectly fair points, although he perhaps made them in an overly lengthy way. The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk might perhaps be an example to him. As I said at the meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee last night, we are discussing through the usual channels the important issues of whether the hearings should be heard in public, how the Committee is formed, and so forth. We shall pursue those discussions. They are matters for the House and for you, Mr. O'Brien, to take up, not for the Committee—

It being half an hour after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, the Chairman put the Question, pursuant to paragraph (6) of the Order of the House of 7 November 2000 relating to Programming Sub-Committees.

11 am

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 5.

Division No. 1]


Clarke, Mr. Charles
Gilroy, Mrs. Linda
Jones, Helen
Kidney, Mr. David
McCabe, Mr. Stephen
Miller, Mr. Andrew
Pope, Mr. Greg
Shaw, Mr. Jonathan R.
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.


Bercow, Mr. John
Chidgey, Mr. David
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Russell, Bob
Simpson, Mr. Keith

Question accordingly agreed to.

The Chairman: Before we move on, I remind the Committee that there is a financial resolution in connection with the Bill. Copies are available in the Room for hon. Members. I also remind hon. Members that adequate notice must be given of amendments. As a general rule, my co-Chairmen and I do not intend to call starred amendments.

Clause 16

Requirement of Registration forRegistration Plate Suppliers

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Charles Clarke: The clause deals with the requirement for registration plate suppliers to register, and I shall simply describe its purpose. The clause requires anyone carrying on a business as a registration plate supplier in England and Wales to be registered by the Secretary of State for Transport—which, in practice, means by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority. It is a devolved matter, and it will be for the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly to pass similar legislation, if they wish.

Under the clause, suppliers will be required to operate the secure system created by the legislation if they wish to continue trading. The courts will have the power to suspend the registration of businesses that do not comply with the provisions of the Bill. It will be an offence, subject to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, that is to say £5,000, to carry on a business as a registration plate supplier without being registered. The level of the fine reflects the seriousness that the Government attach to the offence and our determination to tackle the problem.

A register will provide the police with information on the state of any business that they wish to investigate and an audit trail for them to follow. It will also reassure others in the trade that they are dealing with a legitimate business. The Government have decided that a single centralised registration authority will provide a convenient and efficient route for inquiries. The DVLA has substantial experience in the maintenance of the driver and the vehicle registers, and it is well placed to administer a register of number plate suppliers. In addition, the creation of a single registration authority reduces the burden on business, because only one registration fee will be due from businesses with multiple outlets.

Mr. Bercow: Will the Minister say something about whether an individual's conviction for trading without registration and the fine imposed on that person would be a material factor in preventing him or her from subsequently registering? If a conviction would not prevent registration, would it at least delay it?

Mr. Clarke: I think that it would be a material factor. The issues involved are important, and the question of the character and nature of the business is relevant.

Miss McIntosh: It is a great honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. O'Brien, particularly as we are both well versed in transport matters through our honorary positions on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee. Through your capacity as a member of that Committee, you will be familiar with my modest portfolio of investments. The only one of any possible relevance to this debate is in Eurotunnel. That would be particularly relevant to the clause in terms of rogue dealing or trading in illegal supplies of registration plates. I would also like to take this opportunity to declare an interest through my membership of the RAC Foundation public policy committee. That membership, and the hospitality that I receive through it, is declared on the Register of Members' Interests.

I congratulate the Minister on his explanation of clause 16. Will he say more about the role of the registration authority? A single registration authority would be a positive step forward, but will he reassure my constituents and me that another quango is not being created? What size of authority does he envisage and what would its specific role be?

Mr. Bercow: There are indeed cogent arguments in support of a single authority, but is my hon. Friend concerned that unless we have further and better particulars about the authority's intended operation, it might not be the model of efficiency or market testing that we ordinarily now expect of Government agencies?

Miss McIntosh: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his characteristically eloquent points. He has encapsulated my concern on the matter. The Minister has been relatively silent on the role of the authority, and bearing in mind the fact that both Opposition parties have expressed their disappointment at the amount of time that we have to devote not just to the clause but to the whole Bill, I hope that his reticence will not be regarded as intended to stifle debate or restrict the available information.

It is important to remember that there is an existing trade in plates and that rogue dealers sell them on. I would like to share with the Committee the experience of my parents. They would not like me to say so, but they are now elderly. The incident that I am about to relate happened when they were both in their mid-70s. They live in an isolated position in a village in the north of England, and at the time of the events they did not have a burglar alarm on the garage that is attached to their house. One evening in October, five or six years ago, when a gale-force wind was blowing, some very skilful burglars took the window out of the garage by removing the putty. They then disarmed the car's immobiliser and alarm and opened the garage doors, which in normal circumstances would have made enough noise to wake up the neighbourhood, but which, with a gale-force wind blowing, nobody noticed. The car was then moved, by stealth, up the drive and on to a low loader, and was never seen again.

My father had a shrewd idea that the person who stole the vehicle was someone who had offered to sell him new registration plates, because it was a new vehicle and he thought that a man of his stature would like private registration plates. The rogue trader had also offered to sell him a security package for the vehicle, and my father had assumed that the purpose of the visit was to check the age of the car, which was then three months old. It was distressing to find that the car had been removed. My mother checked the garage at 7 o'clock in the morning and my father realised that the car had not been taken to be serviced, as my mother had hoped. Most distressing was the fact that the police made no attempt to search for the vehicle.

I know that if the vehicle had cost substantially more than a Peugeot 306 costs, the police would have advised installing a tracker or bugging device. I wonder whether the Government have considered whether registration plates can be used to provide an electronic mechanism for tracking cars. I imagine that, in the example that I have given, the vehicle went from the north of England to a container ship and left this country's shores the next day, or that it was broken into parts. Could not the Bill provide for bar codes or other security mechanisms on registration plates, to prevent such crimes in future?

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