Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Mr. Bercow: Does the Minister have any objection in principle to the provision of draft regulations before the conclusion of the passage of the Bill in the House? If not, can he envisage that happening in this case?

Mr. Clarke: I have no objection in principle. There are serious practical questions about what has to be done, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman on that point before we meet again later this week.

The hon. Member for Lichfield correctly identified a genuine dilemma. If we go into consultation implying that most of the proposal is signed, sealed and delivered beforehand, we are subject to the charge of not being genuinely interested in the results of consultation. If, on the other hand, we do not provide the documentation to the House in the way mentioned, we are subject to the charge of not allowing Parliament to have its say. As always, this Government tread these narrow paths extremely delicately and effectively, and will continue to do so in this case. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman further on the matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9

Rights to enter and inspect premises

Mr. Bob Russell: I beg to move amendment No. 40, in page 6, line 8, after `yard', insert `or other premises'.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 43, in clause 15, page 7, line 41, after `yard', insert `or other premises'.

No. 47, in page 8, line 42, after `yard', insert `or other premises'.

No. 48, in page 8, line 43, after `yard', insert `or other premises'.

No. 49, in page 9, line 1, after `yard', insert `or other premises'.

No. 50, in page 9, line 8, after `yard', insert `or other premises'.

Mr. Russell: The amendment addresses a small point. I cannot understand why the phrase ``motor salvage yard'' is used in every case. To most people, the term ``yard'' conveys the idea of an open area. It is generally understood that a motor salvage business can, and does, occupy physical buildings. Those can be warehouse-type structures or roofed buildings, such as Dutch barns. It could be argued some of those large containers can hide a good deal of illegal activity. The Bill fails to take account of the idea that the business of a breaking dealer can be conducted in a range of premises. In order to remove any doubt, the term ``motor salvage business'' rather than ``motor salvage yard'' would cover all the points of possible concern and confusion without altering the thrust of the clause.

Mr. Charles Clarke: The hon. Member for Colchester, by the clear and blunt language in which he puts his point, makes a consistent and coherent assault on the prize awarded to the common-sense member of the Committee. However, I think that I can help him. Clause 15(1) defines the meaning of ``motor salvage yard''. It means:

    any premises where any motor vehicles are received or kept in the course of the carrying on of business as a motor salvage operator so far as the business consists of any of the activities mentioned in section 1(2) (excluding any premises where only salvageable parts of motor vehicles are so received or kept).

That comprehensive definition clearly sets out the position for anyone who wants to read the Bill. We have chosen to use that particular phrase because it specifically incorporates all other premises. The addition of the phrase ``or other premises'' is therefore unnecessary, and I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

6.15 pm

Mr. Russell: I will seek to withdraw the amendment, but I have not yet been told why the word ``yard'' has been used, given that it is necessary to explain what a yard is. If we were to use instead the phrase ``motor salvage business'', such an explanation would not be necessary. The business is the activity, and the yard is the place.

Mr. Clarke: Even if we used the phrase ``motor salvage premises'', which might be clearer than ``motor salvage yard'', it would still be necessary to define such a key term. Every Bill has to define key terms so that they can be set out in law. Whatever phrase we use, clause 15(1) would have to clarify it, so that people could be clear about its meaning. In my view, the phrase ``motor salvage yard'' is readily understandable and fully explained, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider withdrawing the amendment.

Mr. Russell: I still feel that mine is the more valid of the two points. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 6—Right to enter and inspect premises (No. 1)—

    `(1) A justice of the peace may issue a warrant authorising a constable or (as the case may be) an authorised person to enter and inspect premises, provided that admission to the premises is reasonably required to secure compliance with the provisions of this Part, or to ascertain whether these provisions are being complied with.

    (2) A constable or an authorised person may, if necessary, use reasonable force in the exercise of his powers under a warrant issued under subsection (1).

    (3) A constable or an authorised person may at any reasonable time—

    (a) require production of, and inspect, any registration plates kept at the premises; and

    (b) require production of, inspect and take copies of or extracts from any records which the person carrying on business as a registration plate supplier is required to keep at such premises by virtue of this Part.

    (4) A constable or an authorised person is seeking to enter any premises in the exercise of his powers under a warrant issued under subsection (1) shall, if required by or on behalf of the owner or occupier or person in charge of the premises, produce evidence of his identity, and of his authority for entering before doing so.

    (5) Any person who obstructs an authorised person in the exercise of his duties under a warrant issued under subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale.'.

New clause 7—Right to enter and inspect premises (No. 2)—

    `.(1) A constable or (as the case may be) an authorised person may at any reasonable time enter and inspect premises, provided that admission to the premises is reasonably required to ascertain whether the provisions of this Part are being complied with and, if necessary to secure compliance with the provisions of this Part.

    (2) A constable or an authorised person may, if necessary, use reasonable force in the exercise of his powers under subsection (1).

    (3) A constable or an authorised person may at any reasonable time—

    (a) require production of, and inspect, any registration plates kept at the premises; and

    (b) require production of, inspect and take copies of or extracts from any records which the person carrying on business as a registration plate supplier is required to keep at such premises by virtue of this Part.

    (4) A constable or an authorised person in seeking to enter any premises in the exercise of his powers under subsection (1) shall, if required by or on behalf of the owner or occupier or person in charge of the premises, produce evidence of his identity, and of his authority for entering before doing so.

    (5) Any person who obstructs an authorised person in the exercise of his duties under a warrant issued under subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale.'.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to you, Mr. O'Brien, and on this occasion I am even more grateful to the gentleman on your left, who must not be identified.

You are rightly enthusiastic, Mr. O'Brien, about the hectic rate of knots at which our consideration of the Bill is advancing. However, as I said in another context, we must not proceed too quickly, because matters need to be discussed. The central thrust of new clauses 6 and 7 is to try to tease from the Government whether they will consider—and if not, why not—the pursuit of a uniform and consistent approach to registered and unregistered motor salvage operators.

I do not intend to develop the argument at length, because I made it last week on registration plate suppliers, but the central point still applies. As observers who are attendant on our proceedings will be aware, the Government propose that, where a constable or other authorised person wishes to enter and inspect the premises of a registered motor salvage operator, he or she will not require a warrant. On the other hand, where such a person proposes to enter and inspect the premises of someone who is not a registered motor salvage operator, a warrant will be required. Our view in relation to plate suppliers, which applies with equal force in the context of motor salvage operators, is that that inconsistency is unjustified.

I recall the Minister saying previously—by his own high standards, he seemed to be flailing somewhat—that someone who is registered will have signed up to the regime. That implies that such a person is approving of, game for, or content with whatever enforcement or inspection might be visited upon him—a somewhat dangerous doctrine. By contrast, the Minister implied that an unregistered person would be treated, in relative terms, with kid gloves.

The Minister said that the difficulty with unregistered people is that there is no entry in the register for them and that it is impossible to ascertain whether illegal activity has taken place until the premises have been inspected—all there is to go on is a tip-off, and it is therefore appropriate that a warrant should be required. I did not find that argument persuasive. I still maintain that it is sensible and defensible either to require a warrant for the inspection of the premises of registered and unregistered salvage operators or to argue that a warrant should not be required in either case. This may be a case of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object, but it is worth airing the point.

As the Minister is aware, I wrote to him on 5 January in advance of the commencement of our proceedings to explain that I would table amendments on this subject that might seem too be—and, in a sense, are—contradictory, in order to tease out the Government's intentions and rationale and to allow the issues to be discussed. However, I feel no need to dwell further on the points that I made on registration plate suppliers.

I vouchsafe to members of the Committee that I err on the side of being libertarian in such matters. I recognise and respect the role of legitimate authority, including our great police force, but power should be exercised with responsibility. If an individual's premises, whether his private dwelling or his commercial outlet, are to be subject to entry and investigation—possibly without notice or at an uncertain time—it is not unreasonable that a warrant should be required.

I am aware that many hon. Members would argue the opposite, and I point out that this is not a party matter. My amendments were tabled in the names of official Opposition Members and on behalf of the official Opposition, but members of all parties have different views on the subject, as is the case with regard to identity cards. I believe that identity cards are profoundly un-British and I am deeply opposed to them because they offend my libertarian instincts, but I know that many Conservative Members feel differently—as does the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), for example. This debate should be conducted with mutual respect. I am not suspicious of the Government's motives, but their reasoning is a little off-cue or awry.

I rest my case, and I shall be interested to hear the Minister. I also look forward to any contributions that my hon. Friends the Members for Vale of York and for Lichfield make.

 
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