Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Mr. Bob Russell: At what point does a whole car become an incomplete car? Is it the removal of a windscreen, or is it more than that?

Mr. Hill: That is a perfectly reasonable question, which I hope to answer in the course of my response.

If we accepted the amendments, we would bring within the scope of the Bill most garages in the country, retail shops and vintage car clubs, which often circulate used specialist parts for repair purposes. That would unnecessarily burden those businesses, which have not been consulted about that matter, and we have not received any representations that such amendments should be made. The amendments are inappropriate; we have not been advised of a significant crime problem within the industry that uses or sells on second-hand parts.

I am aware that the British Motorcyclists Federation is concerned that those who break up parts of bikes and pass them on are not caught by the Bill. However, salvage operators will have to record the parts received, so those who break up the bike for parts are covered by the legislation.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the Under-Secretary give way?

Mr. Hill: Motor cycles are covered by the definition of vehicles in clause 15(1), on line 4 of page 8. It might be more appropriate for us to debate motor cycle theft when we reach that part of the Bill. The amendments have been drafted in such a way as to have a wider effect, which would be unhelpful.

Miss McIntosh: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hill: Of course I will give way. The hon. Lady should be firmer in her interventions. If she whispers, it is not clear at which point the intervention is being made.

Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful to the Under-Secretary for allowing me to make these points. To put the record straight, I am not normally a shy and retiring person.

Have the Under-Secretary and his Department had a chance to consider how they will deal with the counterfeiting of parts? Is it appropriate to consider that matter in the context of the Bill?

Mr. Hill: I believe that it is appropriate, and shall explain why that is the case.

The Bill will tackle the problems of stolen parts at their source. The police will have the necessary powers to drive the criminal element out of the motor salvage industry.

I have explained why we think it inappropriate to target businesses that are simply involved in the purchase, use or resale of parts, as suggested in paragraph (e) of amendment No. 33. Paragraph (f) would include those businesses that buy cars and then use or sell the parts. Most such businesses are covered by clause 1(1) (a). Those businesses that are not covered keep the remains of a car rather than selling or scrapping it. There cannot be many businesses that buy cars, recover parts and then do not sell or scrap the remains, so that part of the amendment is unnecessary.

Mr. Bob Russell: The Minister again refers to motor cars. Opposition Members are concentrating on motor cycles, as it is easier for those who steal motor cycles to break them into parts and introduce them to the second-hand chain than to do so in relation to cars. If I may return to my previous point, when does a car cease to be whole?

Mr. Hill: I suppose that it is when that car is broken up. I hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman that the Bill includes motor cycles. Vehicles are cars and motor bikes, and all my references to cars include motor bikes. I hope that that will be sufficient reassurance. Clearly, however, I must deal with the amendments as they appear on the amendment paper.

Amendment No. 42 would omit some of the words in clause 11. It is essential that those words are retained. Some businesses might be both a normal garage and a motor salvage operator. We want to catch only people who give false details to the motor salvage part of the business. If the proposed words were omitted from the Bill, a person who gives false details on selling a second-hand car or vehicle to a garage for resale would, when that business is mixed, also commit a criminal offence. Although we would not encourage anyone to give false details when selling a second-hand car, we do not wish to create new criminal offences if there is not a significant problem and without having consulted on the matter.

Mr. Bercow: If the amendment were accepted, approximately how many companies would be excluded from the purview of the Bill? Can the hon. Gentleman offer details on which companies they might be?

Mr. Hill: I think that I have indicated that, if the amendments were accepted, they would extend the Bill's coverage to a range of businesses. Those businesses would include garages, some of which engage in some of the activities concerned, retail shops and vintage car specialists. The Bill would therefore reach further into the car trade and the sale and resale of vehicles and parts of vehicles, even though we are not aware of significant criminal activity in those parts of the industry. We therefore have no desire for those parts to be caught by the provisions of the Bill. It would be ludicrous if the Bill were redrafted so that every garage in the country were caught. I hope that I have responded to the broad thrust of the hon. Gentleman's question, although I am not able to provide specific numbers. If he wants to press that point, I dare say that I could respond in writing in due course.

We do not intend to apply the effects of the registration scheme—for example, record-keeping requirements and powers of entry and inspection—to the parts of mixed businesses that are not concerned with motor salvage, as a significant criminal element does not operate in that part of the industry. To apply a criminal offence to a part of a business that will not otherwise be covered by the Bill would simply not make sense.

I now turn to amendment No. 45. Clause 15 defines a motor salvage yard. At the top of page 8, we included the words

    so far as the business consists of any of the activities mentioned in section 1(2)

to allow for businesses that operate as part motor salvage dealer and part other business.

Their inclusion becomes important when read with clause 15(5), the result being that where there is a mixed business falling within two local authority areas, the operator need register with both local authorities only if the motor salvage part of his business is carried on in both areas. If, alternatively, he carries on his non-motor salvage business only in local authority area A and his motor salvage business in local business area B, he needs to register only with local authority B. That is because we are targeting the motor salvage industry, where we believe that a significant criminal element is operating, and we want to keep the burden on other non-salvage parts of a business down to a minimum. We do not have evidence to suggest that criminals are making the same use of other parts of the business.

Mr. Bob Russell: Is the Minister stating that the illegitimate motor trade that the amendment would cover can be dealt with by other provisions in the Bill and by existing legislation?

Mr. Hill: The answer to that, succinctly and in the hon. Gentleman's spirit of brevity, is yes.

The Government are committed to tackling the criminal element within the motor salvage industry. That criminal element is significant within the ringing or breaking up of stolen cars for their parts. Part I of the Bill introduces regulation. The Government are in favour of better regulation, but do not wish to impose unnecessary regulation. Regulation of outlets which buy and use or sell used vehicle parts is unnecessary: it would bring a large number of additional businesses within the scope of the Bill and create an unnecessary burden on them. For all those reasons, I resist the amendment, and in the light of my arguments, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will seek to withdraw it.

Mr. Bob Russell: In view of the assurances that have been given and in the hope that the Minister and his team will consider the spirit of the amendments—and perhaps revisit them—I beg to ask to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Registers of motor salvage operators

Mr. Bob Russell: I beg to move amendment No. 34, in page 2, line 37, at end add—

    `(12) The local authority shall waive fees under subsection (9) and (10) for the police.'.

Mr. Russell: Again, in the spirit of unity and a common-sense approach to the Bill, I cannot believe that the Government intend to add to bureaucracy by requiring local authorities to charge the police and vice versa. The public good requires there to be a nil charge in any direction where the Bill is designed to deal with that problem. The amendment is simple and short and goes straight to the point: there should be no fee.

Mr. Fabricant: I, too, would be unhappy if a charge were made on the police. We know that the police are in crisis. The Police Federation has written a detailed report in The House Magazine, and I had the privilege to raise the matter on Second Reading.

There are a number of salvage yards in my constituency; there are also only two or three police officers in the whole of Lichfield to provide safety for people on a Friday or Saturday night. Since the last general election, we have lost 250 police officers from the Staffordshire police force; only 90 will be replaced through the recent panic initiatives introduced by the Government after the fall in police numbers. [Laughter.] The Minister who laughs is the one who pressured the chief constable in my area not to supply me with information to that effect, which is a scandal.

11 am

Mr. Bercow: Does my hon. Friend accept from me, on the strength of a cursory consideration of the relevant subsections of clause 2, that although the police may require protection from the imposition of fees under subsection (10), they may not require the same protection under subsection (9), which specifically refers to ``members of the public'', among whom police officers may not be numbered?

 
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Prepared 16 January 2001