Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn is liberal in his approach to such matters. His whole demeanour and style is intended to encourage open debate and the fair exchange of ideas, in the best traditions of this Government. That is an effective way of proceeding.

We chose the period of 28 days to ensure that the entire process was kept up to date. The 28-day period came from previous legislation and we did not believe that there was sufficient reason to create a different time scale. In a belt-and-braces sense, the four-stage process will ensure that the provision is properly carried through. Although I accept the legitimacy of the points made by the hon. Member for Buckingham, I hope that he will agree that the Bill is reasonably drafted and that he will therefore withdraw his amendments.

Mr. Bercow: I have listened carefully to the Minister. I would not go so far as to say that I entirely accept his reasoning or the Bill's present drafting, but it is incumbent on us to reflect carefully on the points that he has made, and that we will do. We may or may not return to these issues, but for now I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

4.45 pm

Clause 5

Right to make representations

Mr. Bercow: I beg to move amendment No. 72, in page 4, line 9, leave out `and'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 71, in page 4, line 15, at end insert

    `and; (d) the procedure for re-registration'.

Mr. Bercow: Clause 5 relates to the right to make representations and follows logically from clause 4, which provides for the cancellation of registration. I shall not use a French expression, Mr. O'Brien; were I to do so, you would chide me. However, we have been down this track before in relation to another part of the Bill. It was a matter of some concern to my hon. Friends and me that the clauses appeared to provide no specific procedure for re-registration. That led us to fear that the Government might be thinking that once someone had been de-registered, the opportunity for him or her to re-register would not arise.

I was assuaged at the time by the Minister who replied, but given the other provisions in the Bill, I am still uncomfortable with the idea that it is sensible not to provide for the option and possibility of re-registration. The problem can be simply stated. The Secretary of State should not be able to assume that a de-registered person will never be allowed or inclined to reapply for the register. The circumstances in which someone might be so inclined are readily imaginable.

Even if our amendments were accepted, the de-registration process would still make it possible for legitimate companies to be removed from the register. There is no question of preventing a person from being de-registered where and when appropriate, but the Bill should provide the opportunity for that person to be re-registered when circumstances change. We want to alter the de-registration process to allow genuine businesses to reapply when circumstances have changed in such a way that they wish to reapply.

The de-registration process should also include sufficient information on being added to the register once more. After all, the register is an enabling rather than disabling device. Access to it should be made as easy as possible for legitimate businesses. At present, that does not seem to be the case. I am still not entirely clear why that is so, and I confess to being—if it is not an incorrect, inappropriate or trite term to use in this week of the parliamentary calendar—somewhat foxed as to why the Government are resisting what seems a fairly reasonable proposal.

I hope that the Ministers and the Whip have come to realise that, consistently throughout our deliberations, my hon. Friends and I have tried to make our points in a reasonable way, and not at inordinate length. I have advanced the basic argument before, so I see no reason to reinvent the wheel. The point is made and I am genuinely interested to hear comments from other members of the Committee, but I am particularly interested in the authoritative view of the Government.

Mr. Fabricant: I agree with my hon. Friend that this clause follows logically from clause 4. Similarly, the points that I wish to make follow logically from my question to the Minister about the possibility of a person's removal from the register when there is no criminal reason to do so. However, it was reassuring and useful to hear that simply not trading for 28 days will not necessarily mean that one is deemed not to be in business for that time.

Mr. Bercow: Far be it from me to deflect my hon. Friend from pursuing his argument, but although he has made a good point about the distinction between ceasing to trade and ceasing to be in business, it has unfortunately eluded me thus far. I should therefore be grateful for his clarification.

Mr. Fabricant: In that direction I look to the Minister, who said—I hope that he will intervene if I misrepresent him—that where someone is away on business or on holiday and no transactions take place, the business will not necessarily be deemed to have ceased trading per se. Therefore, the authority would not necessarily issue a notice to say that the company has ceased trading for 28 days and will be taken off the register. Given that the Government have decided that this 28-day rule will still stand, I can understand the concern of people in the salvage industry that they might, inadvertently, be taken off the register. For that reason, the amendments—which would add the words ``the procedure for re-registration'' as information that would be provided to the person being taken off the register—are important.

The Minister, for all sorts of different reasons, may say that he is not prepared to accept the amendments. He gave an undertaking to the Committee this morning that, after consultation with local authorities and the salvage industry, there would be a plan to introduce a standardised form throughout England and Wales. In addition to the standardised form and its questions, there should be either a booklet or notes attached to the form, including information about how those who are de-registered can re-register.

Mr. Bercow: Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be useful, in that context, if any advisory material from the central authority made it clear whether a person seeking to re-register would be obliged to state the fact of his or her former de-registration and the circumstances and reasons for it?

Mr. Fabricant: I did not quite follow what my hon. Friend was asking. Was he saying that the person applying for registration should make that statement or that the authority managing the register should make that information known to the applicant?

Mr. Bercow: It is rare indeed for my hon. Friend and I to misunderstand each other in any way, but it appears that there is some uncertainty on this occasion. I am describing a situation in which somebody who has, at some stage, been de-registered seeks to re-register. Given that the personnel of the authority will change and that there may be a limited period in which records are kept, does my hon. Friend think that any guidance should be provided on the re-registration process to indicate that the individual seeking to re-register should have to declare the fact the he or she was once de-registered and the reason for it?

Mr. Fabricant: I assume that records would be kept by the authority concerned, even though the numbers of personnel in the authority might change. My hon. Friend has made an interesting point on which I dare say the Minister will comment. It may be more useful if it were obligatory for it to be made clear why the person was taken off the register in the first place, although I believe that there is provision for that in clause 5. I shall go further, Mr. O'Brien; I am going to get off the shelf—or fence—and disagree with my hon. Friend. It is not necessary for the applicant to have to remind the authority—which took him off in the first place—that he was taken off.

Mr. Bercow: I am a little concerned. My hon. Friend's self-effacing quality is universally understood and revered in the House, but I hope that he will not over-egg the pudding. Although it was probably an infelicitous use of terminology, there is no question of my hon. Friend being on the shelf. He is dynamic, exuberant, one of the great men of the present and one of the leading lights, I feel sure, of the future.

Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend is an expert on the matter, as he could be a future Prime Minister—

The Chairman: Order. The accolades are good, but the amendments are narrow. Hon. Members should stick to them.

Mr. Fabricant: The Minister may want to intervene; if so, I give way.

Mr. Clarke: We would certainly celebrate in the event that the hon. Gentlemen and his hon. Friend were to be leading lights in their party. We would feel that that was a positive step. Given the major split and disagreement that has emerged, will he clarify which is the common-sense solution? Is it his solution or that of the hon. Member for Buckingham?

Mr. Fabricant: The Minister is demonstrating his incisiveness. Clearly, I feel that I have the more common-sense view. I, of course, always listen to my Front Bench. I listen even more to the Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson), who, I am relieved to see, is not in the Committee at present. My serious point, which I hope that the Minister will address, is that there should be not only a standardised form—which the Minister has conceded would be a good idea—but standardised explanatory notes, including instructions on how to re-register and guidelines to local authorities on how quickly such a re-registration might take place. I accept that an initial registration might take time, as inquiries have to be made of the police and other relevant authorities. However, a re-registration arising from someone being struck off—perhaps because of inadvertent non-compliance with the regulations, and not because of an illegal act—would merit being dealt with more quickly. The Minister might also consider setting time guidelines as targets for local authorities, with regard to registration and re-registration.

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