Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Mr. Hill: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, with his usual ingenuity, will be able to ensure that that cadence and emphasis is appropriately recorded in Hansard.

I feel strongly that we need to take a step back from the terminology in which the issue is addressed. The hon. Member for Eastleigh talked about appellants and redress. In that context, we are talking not about criminal activity or court accusations, but about whether a supplier is carrying on a business or has ceased to trade. It is as simple as that. We are beginning a process not of prosecution but of information gathering. In that context, it is perfectly reasonable to say that a representative of the Secretary of State should be able to interface with the number plate supplier to consider matters more carefully, hear representations and make a recommendation as to whether the business is continuing or has ceased to trade.

On the question of an appeal procedure, the independent adjudicator requirement is surely covered by clause 22, which provides for appeals to be taken to the magistrates courts. Clause 21 relates simply to information gathering, so that a decision can be made. Therefore, I would argue that, in due course and as part of a normal procedure, there is already provision for appeals to be heard by someone other than the registration authority. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Bercow: On the strength of the assurance given by the Minister, I am happy to do so. I still think that further thought should be given to the matter, but the Opposition do not intend to press the amendment to a vote. I have noted the observations that he has made, I will reflect on the arguments and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.45 pm

Mr. Bercow: I beg to move amendment No. 23, in page 12, line 4, leave out `and'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 24, in page 12, line 5, at end insert


    (d) the procedure for re-registration'.

Mr. Bercow: Committee members will immediately see the content and purpose of the amendment. They will be aware that under subsection (8) there is a reference to a right of appeal under section 22 against the cancellation, a time within which such an appeal may be brought and the date on which the cancellation is to have effect. There is, however, no reference to the procedure for re-registration.

Earlier in our proceedings, the Minister confirmed that an invalid application to register, in which there was incorrect information, would be a factor in denying that person subsequent registration, or delaying that registration, and that seemed reasonable. I hope, however, that it is not suggested that someone who suffers de-registration, but who at some subsequent date wishes to re-register, should not have the opportunity to do so. Ministers may be examining the matter entirely in the context of whether there has been a cessation of trade, and therefore of whether the de-registration, which may well be the subject of an appeal and the consideration of a person appointed by the Secretary of State, is thought to have been correct.

I invite Ministers to consider the possibility that an individual who turns out wrongly to have been de-registered should have the chance to re-register, or that an individual who has correctly been de-registered might subsequently wish to re-register on the resumption of trade. There is currently no provision for that. Will the Minister tell us why that is so, whether he will consider the inclusion of the amendment to admit such a possibility, and if not, why not?

Mr. Hill: Although I will yet again have to ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment, I appreciate the positive spirit in which it was moved. It is the view of the Government that amendments Nos. 23 and 24 are redundant. There is no need to specify that a notice of cancellation must state the procedure for re-registration, because that procedure will be the same as that for the original registration. Re-registration is the same, in practical and procedural terms, as registration. If a business recommences as a registration plate supplier, it will be necessary for it to register under the terms of clause 18.

Mr. Bercow: I understand what the Minister is saying and it seems entirely reasonable. However, if an individual is de-registered as a result of ceasing to trade, and fails to notify the authority of that cessation, would that be counted in the balance against that individual if he or she later wished to resume trade and therefore wished to re-register? Is there not a danger that because he or she ceased to trade and did not have the good sense or decency to tell the authority, there would be official uncertainty as to whether he or she was a fit and proper person?

Mr. Hill: If there is a challenge to vehicle registration, we have the courts procedure outlined in clause 22. I would expect the case of an erstwhile supplier who has been de-registered but who then makes a re-registration application to be treated wholly on its merits in an entirely objective and totally professional, expert manner.

Mr. Bercow: I am reassured by that. One of the Under-Secretary's merits is that he is explicit. Some might say that he is excitable, although I would not hold that against him because excitability is a quality—or a demerit, as the case may be—not infrequently associated with myself. However, he is specific. With all the force and eloquence that he could muster and with what looked like a sincere expression, he told me that the fact that somebody had been de-registered would not count against him if he sought subsequently to re-register on resuming trade. In those circumstances, it would be churlish of me not to accept his assurance—and I am not churlish. I am happy to accept the good spirit volunteered by the Under-Secretary and am content, on behalf of my colleagues, to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 22

Appeals: Part II

Mr. Bercow: I beg to move amendment No. 25, in page 12, line 11, at end insert—

    `(2A) The Secretary of State may extend the period specified in subsection (2) where he receives representations in writing after the 21 day period showing good cause why an appeal could not be brought within the given period.'.

The purport of the amendment is clear. An individual might typically be away for the sorts of reasons that I gave earlier. There could be other business, family, or personal reasons why an individual was not able to make representations in the 21-day period and representations were subsequently to be made. In that circumstance, there should surely be flexibility for the Secretary of State. It does not currently apply. If we are to achieve the objective of firmness with fairness, which is surely what we are about, my hon. Friends and I believe that such flexibility should apply.

Mr. Kidney: I hesitate to say that once upon a time I was a practising solicitor in magistrates courts, but confess that I have forgotten whether magistrates have the power to extend the time for an appeal if a person is out of time. Nevertheless, should not magistrates courts, rather than the Secretary of State, extend the time for the appeal if the 21-day time limit is not met?

Mr. Bercow: I would have thought that that would fall to the Secretary of State, because it is within the relevant terms. There is some head-shaking going on from a person in the Room whom I cannot identify.

The Chairman: Nor refer to.

Mr. Bercow: I am guided by you, Mr. Sayeed, but if that individual could be referred to, he would be referred to as ``august''. I am influenced by that consideration. However, as I said to the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) when he picked me up on something in another context, if I turn out to be wrong in Committee and we have an opportunity to debate the matter, I shall of course readily concede. I apply a similar philosophy to the Under-Secretary. If it is a matter for a magistrates court, so be it.

Mr. Kidney: I take no pleasure in pointing out that the hon. Gentleman is wrong, I merely think that the amendment is incorrect.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whom I respect as a committed parliamentarian.

The wording or precise categorisation is not strictly relevant to the validity of the argument, but it may be a good reason for the Minister to resist the amendment. However, even when there is little good reason to resist an amendment, it is Ministers' habitual practice to do so. We want to ensure that legitimate businesses are given the greatest opportunity to go about their trade lawfully. We want to punish the criminal, protect the innocent and create, maintain and nurture a climate in which legitimate commercial activity can survive and flourish. That is my concern in proposing the amendment. I await, with eager anticipation, bated breath and beads of sweat upon my brow, the Under-Secretary's considered response.

Mr. Hill: Not for the first time, I defer to the wisdom and professionalism of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford. The question is one of the consideration of powers; it is a matter of whether the Secretary of State may or may not intervene in the judgments of the courts. I must say, absolutely categorically, that it would be inappropriate to give the Secretary of State the power to extend the period in respect of named individuals. That is the best legal advice that we have, and my hon. Friend—needless to say—anticipated it in his extremely pertinent intervention.

Mr. Bercow: I am content, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 23

Keeping of Records: Part II

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

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