Vehicles (Crime) Bill

[back to previous text]

Miss McIntosh: I support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham, with the exception that I am in the category of hon. Members who would like to see the introduction of identity cards, albeit on a voluntary basis. In France, the system is entirely voluntary, but citizens cannot open a bank account or rent or buy property without possessing such a card. Perhaps registration through voluntary cards should be considered.

Mr. Bercow: This has been a revealing moment in our proceedings. Nothing could dim the high esteem in which I hold my hon. Friend—

Miss McIntosh: And affection.

Mr. Bercow: And affection, as my hon. Friend helpfully points out from a sedentary position. However, I am bound to say that my sensibilities have been somewhat offended by what she has just disclosed. I can only ask whether she is aware that I never knew that she was so strict. [Laughter.]

Miss McIntosh: I give way to the Minister.

Mr. Clarke: That was territory on which I do not intend to tread. I am well aware of the tensions and difficulties in the parliamentary Conservative party, but I did not expect them to be so openly displayed today.

I want to be clear about what the hon. Lady was saying. Was she commenting on registration in the context of a national identity card system, or was she saying that registration ought to be voluntary under the Bill? Voluntary registration would completely undermine the purpose of the Bill.

Miss McIntosh: I am grateful to the Minister for assisting me in that regard. I am suggesting that official registration could be accompanied by the voluntary carrying of a card that could act as proof of registration.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham said, I am extremely strict. I had an extremely strict upbringing, and it did me no harm. I remember with great fondness the months that I spent as a Member of the European Parliament, steering through what was purported to be—I realise that I am treading on dangerous ground now—an embryonic voluntary card. I refer to the new driving licence, which includes a barcode, a photograph of the holder and useful information such as the holder's blood group and any diseases or allergies from which he or she suffers. In the unfortunate event that you or any other hon. Member were involved in a road accident, Mr. O'Brien, such a voluntary card would be extremely useful. Its barcode could provide helpful information.

Mr. Clarke: Does that relate to clause 9?

Miss McIntosh: Yes. However, I shall move on to safer ground that might cause less offence or concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham.

Why have the Government made no provision for the registration of premises, thereby leaving a big lacuna in the Bill? In asking that question, I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham. New clauses 6 and 7 may appear, prima facie, to be contradictory, but are intended to tease out the information that my hon. Friend has forcefully and eloquently sought from the Minister. Was omission of the provision intentional, or do the Government intend to return to the matter before we conclude our proceedings? Registration of the premises would surely have been helpful, not only for those who ply the motor salvage trade, but to make the Bill as watertight as possible.

Clause 9 provides that a constable

    may at any reasonable time enter and inspect premises for the time being entered in the register of a local authority

for reasons that the clause proceeds to set out. Our new clauses 6 and 7 make a similar provision. As you, Mr. O'Brien, will appreciate, from the expert knowledge gained during our work together on the Select Committee on Environment, Transport and the Regions, my constituency is in North Yorkshire. I have difficulty with the clause as drafted and with new clauses 6 and 7 because North Yorkshire is currently 37 constables down on the figure for the total number of police officers who policed North Yorkshire on 1 May 1997. Sometimes, especially in the evenings, only two police officers are on duty to cover an area of 300 square miles.

6.30 pm

The Chairman: Order. I was listening carefully, but the hon. Lady is moving away from the question of inspections. I hope that she will return to the clause.

Miss McIntosh: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to my hon. Friend who has depicted a worrying scenario in the Vale of York. I understand her extreme anxiety. However, will she confirm that she is saying that the requirement in both cases for a police constable to have a warrant before entering and inspecting premises—which would, as I suggested, be my preference—would impose a burden on the depleted force about which she is worried? Is that the thrust of her anxiety?

Miss McIntosh rose—

The Chairman: Order. I appreciate what the hon. Member for Buckingham has said, but we are discussing the inspection of premises, and whether constables are available is another matter. I ask hon. Members to keep to the clause and the new clauses.

Miss McIntosh: The thrust of my argument is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham suggested, how, if the police simply are not available, a warrant can be requested and a constable asked to inspect the premises. That goes to the heart of the clause and is the subject of new clauses 6 and 7. Are the Government suggesting that police forces will have to use resources that are currently available, which have, as my hon. Friend and I have said, been severely depleted since 1997, or will the Government miraculously provide new funds for additional officers?

Mr. Charles Clarke: We debated that matter at length, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), responded in detail. I do not believe that there would be any value in my simply repeating what my hon. Friend said about the increase in police numbers for north Yorkshire, and, since it is all that I can do, I do not intend to do so. I hear what the hon. Lady says, but I have nothing further to say beyond what has been said, which adds up to a strong and positive record.

Miss McIntosh: I am sure that the Minister was trying to help me with his remarks, but the facts speak for themselves. We are currently 37 police officers down, and we have no prospect, even by the end of March 2002, of simply reverting to the position in 1997. It is hugely unfair to ask police officers to take on additional responsibilities.

Mr. Fabricant: I share my hon. Friends' views, but I shall certainly not discuss the lamentable lack of policing in Lichfield, as I did so this morning. The clause contains echoes of the Kent County Council and Medway Council Bills and the North Yorkshire County Council Act 1991, which concerns, among other things, the registration of second-hand car dealers. The Act also requires registration. The hon. Member for Hall Green and I said at the time of the passage of that Bill that it was extraordinary that people who were law-abiding and chose to register were not protected by the usual conditions of the law that states that a constable cannot enter premises without a warrant, while the very people who had not registered and, by virtue of that, might be breaking the law were protected by magistrates courts and the common law. [Interruption.] I apologise to the Committee. I was distracted by a photograph of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York being passed to and fro.

Given that when the Kent County Council Bill and the Medway Council Bill were being discussed, arguments were advanced about the situation whereby a police officer can enter premises without his needing a warrant, there seems to be a breach of natural justice in the Vehicles (Crime) Bill. Does the Minister accept that it is extraordinary that, if a trader is carrying out his business legitimately and registers, he no longer has the protection of a magistrates court, while those who are not registered and who may be carrying out their business in conflict with the law and the Bill, if it is enacted, have the protection of the law because a magistrates warrant is required? Will the hon. Gentleman deal with that point, instead of saying that such people signed up to such conditions?

Mr. Clarke: I wish first to deal with the point of substance made by the hon. Member for Vale of York. I know that she has had some difficulty in Committee after the various exchanges that have been made, but I want to be helpful to her. Clause 2(3) makes it possible for the regulations to prescribe the details on the register.

Mr. Bercow: I am sorry to intervene. I do not want to lower the tone of the Committee, because it is good at present. However, the Minister is being cheeky by making remarks about my hon. Friend experiencing difficulties. I want to put it on the record for the avoidance of doubt and in the knowledge that she will not contradict me, that she and I are good personal friends. Indeed, we have been sitting next to each other in the Chamber for more than two years.

Mr. Clarke: Given my hitherto high regard for the hon. Member for Vale of York, I can only congratulate the hon. Member for Buckingham on his taste. However, I am sorry for the hon. Lady.

Clause 2(3) enables regulations to prescribe the details on the register. That will include all premises that the applicant says are used for the business. They will thus, in effect, be registered premises subject to clause 9. Although the registration is of the organisation, the specifics of registration will include the premises where the work is done, thus meeting the point raised by the hon. Member for Vale of York.

Miss McIntosh: I wish simply to endorse the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham that we are firm personal friends. We enjoy each other's company on the third Bench and destroying the credibility of the Labour Government at Question time.

As for the point raised by the Minister, clause 2(3) actually states:

    Each person's entry in the register shall contain such particulars as may be prescribed.

I am probably missing something, but where is the prescription of the description?

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 16 January 2001