Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Mr. Russell: The debate is on the record, so the spirit of the amendment and the Minister's response will be there to be referred to should there be any breakdown in relationships between a local authority and the police, which we hope does not happen.

I wonder whether it has yet dawned on the hon. Member for Buckingham that in less than two hours this morning I have achieved more constructive rephrasing and remodelling of the Bill than he has in three days. There may be a message in my approach as opposed to his.

Mr. Bercow: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Russell: No. I am also grateful to him for referring to a certain gentleman in Colchester, whose name is not well known in my constituency, because that will be the only time that his name will appear in Hansard. With that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Russell: I beg to move amendment No. 36, in page 3, line 9, after `applicant', insert

    `or any person employed by him in the business, or associated with him in the conduct of the business,'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 37, in page 3, line 11, after `applicant', insert

    `or any person employed by him in the business, or associated with him in the conduct of the business,'.

No. 38, in page 3, line 12, at end insert—

    `(c) whether the applicant, or any person employed by him in the business, or associated with him in the conduct of the business, has been convicted of theft or handling of motor vehicles; and

    (d) whether stolen vehicles or parts have been recovered from any premises occupied by the applicant, or any person employed by him in the business, or associated with him in the conduct of the business.'.

Mr. Russell: These are very important amendments; indeed, any amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrat Benches is important as opposed to frivolous.

A loophole in the law on off-licence premise sales was found: a servant of the employer was not embraced by legislation on selling alcohol to under-age drinkers. It was necessary for the loophole to be closed by a private Member's Bill, which I think I am right in saying is now on the statute book. Similarly, the amendments would ensure that no applicant could find a loophole in the legislation when one of his or her employees—servants, or whatever legal phrase—is blamed for anything that goes wrong. It is important that the whole undertaking is watertight, so that no applicant can distance himself or herself from something that has gone wrong. I dare not use the term ``common sense'' again, suffice it to say that the rational, sensible and logical proposal is to agree the amendments.

Mr. Bercow: I am pleased to follow the hon. Gentleman. I am sorry that he is starting to spoil the record. He has done so unfortunately in two respects. First, he was obviously ill at ease with the material that he has just presented. I presume that he saw it only at short notice once he realised that his hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh would not be present and that he would have to move the amendment instead. Secondly, it is a shame that the hon. Member for Colchester, who has been trying hard in Committee—and I have been grateful for his efforts—should claim a credit that is not his due.

I have a high regard for the hon. Member for Colchester—he works hard—but I hope that he will not take it amiss when I say that, on the whole, I prefer my approach and do not want to subordinate it to or exchange it for his. If he wants, in his prosaic fashion, to pursue his own course, he may carry on doing so. Although I am grateful for his offer of wisdom—and I note his suggestion of superiority—it was not entirely persuasive.

The hon. Member for Colchester was probably told by the hon. Member for Eastleigh when he had to hand the business on to him today that the provenance of the amendments was not the imaginative mind of the hon. Member for Eastleigh. I emphasise that he has an imaginative mind, but, for the elucidation of the hon. Member for Colchester, who seems blissfully unaware of the fact, I inform the Committee that the provenance of the amendments is an outside organisation, which had good ideas and commended those ideas to the hon. Member for Eastleigh and to my hon. Friends and me. Therefore, all that nonsense about good Liberal Democrat ideas achieving great success, about wisdom and about how thoroughly laudable they all are is just the sort of stuff and nonsense that we habitually encounter in Liberal Democrat ``Focus'' leaflets, which literally litter most communities throughout the country. Under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 the hon. Gentleman's argument would get absolutely nowhere.

I put that on the record because I am an accommodating fellow, and in the Committee I have tried to be as inclusive as possible.

Mr. Bob Russell: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bercow: In a moment.

I have practised the politics of the big tent. I have sought consensus and have been accommodating to the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones), a very intelligent member of the Committee. However, if the hon. Gentleman wants to pick an argument with the official Opposition, we shall join that argument, and, in the politest possible sense—that is, in a parliamentary, not a physical, sense—he will be well and truly roughed up.

Mr. Russell: The hon. Gentleman is clearly riled. Is he saying that it is wrong for Members of Parliament, from whichever party, to ask for outside briefings and guidance? Is he saying that all the amendments that he has tabled and that have been dismissed are his own work, and that it is only with the outside assistance that those—

The Chairman: Order. We are moving away from the Bill. Hon. Members should return to the amendments.

Mr. Bercow: It was probably an act of kindness on your part, Mr. O'Brien, to rescue the hon. Gentleman from the mess into which he was falling. He will improve in future, and I hope that that will be a helpful lesson for him.

Of course we take note of arguments advanced by outside organisations. I shall not dilate on the point, as you have exhorted us not to do so, Mr. O'Brien. It is spectacularly stupid to suggest that we should not take representations from, and to an extent be guided by, what outside organisations say. For hon. Members, and especially the hon. Member for Colchester, to stumble over such a poor point was unfortunate.

Let us see whether we can raise our game, Mr. O'Brien, as you effectively invited us to do. I do not believe that there is much prospect of the hon. Member for Colchester doing that, but my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and I will endeavour to take matters forward beneficially for the Committee and the sector, which is what matters.

The problem is, as the hon. Member for Colchester rightly emphasised, that the Bill allows scope for people to evade the new law by employing people who are unsuitable even though they themselves may be judged suitable for registration by the authorities.

Mr. Fabricant: Does my hon. Friend agree that the law might be circumvented in an alternative way—by someone who is not suitable employing someone who is suitable, who can then make the application on that person's behalf?

Mr. Bercow: That is a classic example of the ingenious lateral thinking for which my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield is renowned. He is absolutely right. We should be prepared to consider the argument both ways. My hon. Friend's comments in no way detract from the amendments originally proposed by the hon. Member for Colchester; rather, it serves to reinforce them. A business may have several constituent parts, including an owner, a director and an employee or several employees. Each part of the business should be judged suitable for registration before the local authority grants the business a licence.

To that end, we propose that people employed in the business and people associated with the business, such as directors, should be suitable. The provision that relates to stolen parts would enforce the fact that the business must be fully legitimate before it is registered with the local authority. The amendments seem to make good sense, and I would be genuinely interested both in what other hon. Members have to say—several have not yet made their maidens—and, above all, in the Minister's response.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I was slightly bemused by that phrase for a second.

Mr. Miller: Don't tempt him.

Mr. Clarke: No, I shall let it stand.

Under the amendments, local authorities would have to have regard not only to whether directors of companies or members of limited liability partnerships were fit and proper to operate in the motor salvage industry but to whether all of their employees and business associates were, too. We rejected that for the salvage industry, as we have done with regard to number plates, because it would be administratively impossible. It would create a huge burden on local authorities and businesses if a fit and proper person test had to be carried out on all employees and associates. What would happen when employees leave a company and new people start? Would local authorities continually have to update their information, which would be a substantial process?

It is necessary for directors of motor salvage companies and members of motor salvage limited liability partnerships to be subject to a fit and proper person test. Evidence exists of criminal activity within the industry, which is why local authorities with local knowledge will set standards for the industry by operating a test. It is right that directors, but not their employees and associates, should be responsible for the companies within their industry. The same applies for members of limited liability partnerships. That is the basic reason why we shall resist the amendment.

 
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