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Session 2000-01
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Standing Committee Debates
Vehicles (Crime) Bill

Vehicles (Crime) Bill

Standing Committee A

Tuesday 16 January 2001


[Mr. Bill O'Brien in the Chair]

Vehicles (Crime) Bill

Clause 1

Requirement of registration formotor salvage operators

10.30 am

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): I beg to move amendment No. 33, in page 1, line 22, at end insert—

    `(2A) For the purposes of this Part a person carries on business as a car park operator if he carries on a business which consists of—

    (a) wholly or partly in the provision of parking spaces for motor vehicles in areas and premises reserved for that purpose and for which he makes a charge.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 41, in clause 11, page 7, line 9, after `vehicle', insert

    `or part of a motor vehicle'.

No. 42, in clause 11, page 7, line 10, leave out from `operator' to `gives' in line 11.

No. 44, in clause 15, page 7, line 41, after `vehicles', insert

    `or parts of motor vehicles'.

No. 45, in clause 15, page 8, line 1, leave out from `operator' to end of line 3, and insert

    `within the meaning of section 1(2)'.

Mr. Russell: I apologise on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) for his absence. There was strong competition to secure places on the Committee to discuss such flagship legislation but, unfortunately, my hon. Friend is on a trip with the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): A trip?

Mr. Russell: A fact-finding visit! My hon. Friend will be returning to the Committee as soon as those endeavours are completed. It is a great joy to have the opportunity to speak to the amendments.

Mr. Bercow: I note what the hon. Gentleman said, somewhat elliptically, about the hon. Member for Eastleigh, but before he develops his arguments in support of the important amendments, will he welcome warmly to the bosom of the Committee its previously lamented member, my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), who has recovered from being ferociously attacked by a spider?

Mr. Russell: I do indeed welcome the hon. Member for Lichfield to our deliberations. [Interruption.]

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): I heard a member of the Committee ask from a sedentary position where I was bitten. It was in a sensitive part—in Kimberley.

The Chairman: I hope that the Committee will not involve itself in any more dialogue about the hon. Gentleman's bite. God help the spider.

Mr. Russell: At the Committee's first sitting, the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) referred to the omission from the Bill of motor cycles. As a lifelong wordsmith, I hope that we shall receive a ruling on whether ``motor cycle'' is one word, two words or hyphenated.

The amendments are designed to assist the thrust of the clause, which deals with the sale of stolen vehicles. There is more to such matters than just the sale of a complete vehicle because, on many occasions, it can be broken up and the parts then sold. I accept that the Committee wants sensible contributions to the debate which are to the point; it can be sure that mine will be short. The amendments deal with parts of motor vehicles rather than complete vehicles. They apply particularly to motor cycles because they are smaller and therefore easier to break up. We must bear in mind illegitimate trading and the opportunities for thieves to break up cars or motor cycles and take the parts to their local scrap dealers to be disposed of. I hope that the Minister will take the amendments in the spirit in which it was intended.

Mr. Bercow: It is a pleasure to welcome you again to the Chair, Mr. O'Brien. In the spirit of the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell), I too will be brief.

The hon. Gentleman made the central point on behalf of the British Motorcyclists Federation, which, I believe, has attended closely to the Bill and supports the measure in general, but has concerns about errors or weaknesses of omission. For that reason, my hon. Friends and I support the amendment—and jousted in competition with the Liberal Democrats to be first to do so.

As we see it—and as, I think, the Liberal Democrats and certainly the British Motorcyclists Federation see it—the problem is that part I is incomplete. As far as we can tell, it does not contemplate the breaker whose legitimate business is a cover for the purchase of stolen parts from thieves who have broken a motor cycle or cycles. The object of our attention is the dealer who buys stolen motor cycles alongside legitimate second-hand motor cycles in order to strip parts off them to ring or repair other motor cycles. As far as we and the Liberal Democrats are concerned, the solution is to agree our amendments in order to include those who deal in parts of vehicles.

There is no reason why crime should not be as easy to commit when dealing in parts of vehicles as when dealing with the entirety. The purpose of the amendments is not to detract from but to add greater force and credibility to the Bill. On that basis, and—if I say so myself—with remarkably brief introductory remarks, I commend the amendments to the Committee.

Mr. Fabricant: It is a pleasure to join the Committee, albeit belatedly. I rise in support of the amendment, in a sort of Lib-Lab-Con alliance—something which I would not normally wish to support but because I am a member of the all-party motorcycling group. In the past, I have ridden across Europe on a Yamaha FJ1200, but early in 1993, as our majority was slim and getting increasingly smaller, the Whips suggested that I should adopt four-wheeled transport instead.

Mr. Bercow: I am much enlightened by what my hon. Friend said about his predilection for riding motor cycles. It is a commonplace and a truism that he is a rarity on the Opposition Benches—indeed, on any Benches. If it is of any comfort or succour to him, he is not entirely unique amongst Conservative Members in that predilection, because he is joined in his youthful enthusiasm by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis).

Mr. Fabricant: I think that he has a pedal cycle, or ``push bike'', as they call it in the United States, rather than a motor cycle. My hon. Friend will know that Michael Jopling, a former Chief Whip and colleague of ours in the House, was and still is a keen motor cyclist—but if I pursue that avenue, I may be ruled out of order.

I do not think that people generally understand that motor cycles are not cheap. Riding a motor cycle is not cheaper than driving a four-wheel vehicle—a Yamaha motorbike costs approximately £15,000 to £20,000, and one can buy a car for a lot less than that. I commend the hon. Member for Colchester for moving the amendment, because it recognises not only an omission but that a motor cycle is of considerable value both in its entirety and as spare parts.

My Yamaha FJ1200 once slipped from between my legs as I was driving along the port of Piraeus, and fell over. Some Greek port workers helped us pull it up, as motorbikes can be heavy when loaded with panniers, tents and so forth. Considerable damage was done. A mere fall incurred a cost of about £5,000 in spare parts. I can therefore well understand that a black market in spare parts may exist. I need not remind the Committee that spare parts that have been damaged can endanger the rider. Spare parts that are available on the black market and not properly tested should be illegal. The adoption of the proposed provision would deal with that omission.

Mr. Russell: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the phrase that he uses is no longer acceptable? He should have referred to a ``grey economy''.

Mr. Fabricant: There is a difference between a grey economy and a black economy. Grey products on the grey market are out of date and are not supported by the manufacturer who originally produced them. Although the products involved were originally produced by a manufacturer, they could have been broken up inexpertly and might have been damaged. That is not a grey market. In the broad spectrum of safety, security and great danger, and of that which is legal and illegal, that is not grey. In those spectrums, it is black. Before the hon. Gentleman intervenes on me again to say that there are but seven colours in the spectrum and that none of them are black—

Mr. Bercow: Is.

Mr. Fabricant: None of them are black. At least I have not split an infinitive—which I often do in speech, although not in writing—because I know that my hon. Friend would correct me for doing so. Spare parts for motor cycles are expensive, so a market for them exists, and it is right and proper for the provision to be included in the Bill.

I should like to ask the Minister whether the term ``motor vehicle'' includes motor cycles of the two-wheeled variety—or, indeed, the three-wheeled variety; we have not even discussed Reliant Robins, which are made in my constituency. They used to be made in Tamworth, but they are now made in Burntwood—I suppose that I should buy one and drive it to and from the House from and to my constituency.

The hon. Member for Colchester asked whether ``motor cycle'' is one word or two. I rather think that it is one word, because when I typed ``motorcycle'' in Microsoft Word, the spell check did not pick it up. That is according to Microsoft, if not Dr. Johnson, who wrote the first dictionary—and who was, of course, born in my constituency. Although I think that ``motor cycle'' is one word, I wonder whether ``motor vehicle'', which is plainly two words, encompasses motor cycles as well as three-wheeled vehicles. Perhaps that is why the term was not included in the Bill. If the Minister cannot say assuredly that that is so, it is vital for the safety of motor cyclists that the provision be included in the Bill.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): I join my colleagues in welcoming you to our proceedings, Mr. O'Brien. I know that you presided over the first sitting, which, unfortunately, I was unable to attend. I am delighted to serve under your excellent chairmanship.

I add to those of my colleagues my word of welcome to the hon. Member for Lichfield, too. Much concern has been expressed about the reasons for his absence, so we are delighted to have his reassurance about the precise location of the famous bite, and to see him in excellent fettle.

The amendments, to which the hon. Member for Colchester spoke so succinctly, would significantly widen the scope of the Bill. They would include businesses not involved in the dismantling of vehicles which buy, use or sell on used vehicle parts, and those which buy vehicles and use or sell the parts while keeping the shell of the vehicle rather than selling or scrapping it.

10.45 am

Let me take a step back and remind the Committee that the purpose of this part of the Bill is to tackle the criminal element that takes advantage of the salvage industry to ring cars—in other words, to disguise the identity of stolen cars with that of written-off vehicles or to break up stolen cars for their parts. That is why we are targeting those who receive whole vehicles to sell on or dismantle.


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Prepared 16 January 2001