Vehicles (Crime) Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Bercow: I do not accept that for a moment. The Minister conceded, as a result of the challenge by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York, that the distinction between a directive and a regulation is that there is scope for flexibility in terms of transposition into UK law. He is now saying that because the Government have not yet got round to deciding exactly what the terms of that transposition should be, he wishes to confer upon himself and his colleagues maximum flexibility under the Bill.

It is not satisfactory that because the Government have not made up their mind about the details of the directive—of which they have long been aware—they require the Committee to pass a vague, unspecific clause of uncertain effect. The Minister and his colleagues must get their skates on and decide on the terms of the transposition of the directive to allow the clause greater specificity.

Mr. Clarke: This is becoming somewhat repetitive. I can help the hon. Gentleman by writing to him and to other members of the Committee with the final text of the directive. However, I cannot write to him with the detailed arrangements for the transposition of the directive—which leave some discretion to member states—because they are still under discussion. He is entitled to say that that should not be so—that the matter should not be considered by the industry concerned—but it is right to discuss the process by which the directive is transposed into UK law to ensure that it is done correctly. It is also right that we should allow ourselves the ability to make regulations under the Bill as required.

Three possible positions can be taken: first, to deny the Government the right to lay regulations before the House at all, which would necessitate deleting the relevant subsection; secondly, to require the Government to lay regulations, which is the aim of the amendment; or, thirdly, to provide sufficient flexibility to consider the situation as it develops. As is usually the case, the provision of flexibility is the right way to proceed.

Mr. Bercow: I would find the Minister's argument less constitutionally grating and offensive if, when the final form of the intended regulations were devised, the House were to be given the opportunity to debate them. The fact that the Government prefer the negative procedure to the affirmative procedure and that the House will be denied the opportunity to scrutinise the regulations causes me to be critical and quizzical. It is important to explain why I am unhappy, although I realise that the Minister disagrees with me and thinks that I have no good cause to be.

Mr. Clarke: It is not that I think the hon. Gentleman does not have good cause, because there is always substance in arguments about how laws are made and the relationship between the European Union and here. His point is not trivial, silly, insignificant or insubstantial. However, we may have to agree to disagree—or to disagree to disagree. The DTI has 18 months from last October in which to transpose the directive, which is a routine period. The reason, which I expect him to support, is that when implementing EU directives, different national Governments take account of the situation in their own countries and consult with their industries. That takes time and directives cannot be implemented instantaneously.

The hon. Gentleman made the familiar argument that Oppositions always make for the affirmative procedure instead of the negative procedure. We have already debated that and I shall not repeat what I have said previously. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider withdrawing his amendment in the light of the clarification, if not assurance, that I have given.

Mr. Bercow: Yes, I shall be happy to withdraw my amendment. The arguments have been rehearsed and I understand the Minister's position. I am not persuaded by his argument and I regret the degree of fealty towards the European Union that his position represents. The truth is that this morning he will not persuade me and I will not persuade him; he thinks that I am wrong and I know that he is wrong.I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Clarke: On a point of order, Mr. Sayeed. I notified you that I wanted to raise a point of order about our proceedings on Tuesday, for which we have now received Hansard. At column 146, the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) said:

    The Minister who laughs—

laughing is not such a crime in politics—

    is the one who pressured the chief constable in my area not to supply me with information to that effect, which is a scandal—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 16 January 2001; c. 146.]

That is a strong assertion and it is constitutionally improper to assert that the Minister with responsibility for the police could or would pressurise a chief constable to do anything, especially to refuse information to an elected Member of Parliament. It is totally untrue in every respect. Not only is it untrue that I pressured the chief constable, it is untrue that I had any communication or conversation with him at any time. The matter has not arisen between us and would not have done. The hon. Gentleman should withdraw his assertion.

There was then an exchange, which concluded with Mr. O'Brien telling the hon. Gentleman:

    It would be in everyone's interest for him to withdraw the remark and consider it further

I emphasise those last words—

    because it can be raised in some other forum.

The hon. Gentleman replied:

    I will withdraw my remark out of respect for your request, Mr. O'Brien. —[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 16 January 2001; c. 147.]

That was out of respect for the office of the Chair, which you now occupy, Mr. Sayeed, not because his assertions were wrong, slanderous and libellous to me in my constitutional position. I now ask you formally, Mr. Sayeed, to request the hon. Member for Lichfield, who has had the opportunity to consider the situation further as Mr. O'Brien invited him to do, formally to withdraw his assertion that I put pressure on the chief constable of Staffordshire not to supply information to the hon. Member for Lichfield. That is what any hon. Member should do and I hope that the hon. Gentleman now does so.

Mr. Fabricant: First, I draw the Committee's attention to our previous sitting when the Minister said:

    I accept that the hon. Member for Lichfield formally withdrew his allegations about me in the Committee in response to your request, Mr. O'Brien.—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 16 January 2001; c. 180.]

I am not sure whether I can withdraw what I said twice, Mr. Sayeed.

Mr. Greg Pope (Hyndburn): Withdraw properly, and apologise.

10.30 am

Mr. Clarke: I made that comment in that way because the hon. Gentleman withdrew his allegations specifically out of respect for Mr. O'Brien's request. That is not satisfactory, because the withdrawal was made formally in response to the Chair. The hon. Gentleman should make an actual withdrawal of his comments about me and my conduct, and he should, in honour, place that on the record.

Mr. Fabricant: Would it be in order, Mr. Sayeed, to ask the Minister a specific question before I take the matter further?

Mr. Clarke: I have no objection, Mr. Sayeed.

The Chairman: On this occasion, I shall permit it.

Mr. Fabricant: I am grateful to you, Mr. Sayeed, because it may be helpful to the Committee and enable us to move on.

The Minister will recall that, in a question to the Prime Minister some time ago, I quoted the final paragraph of a letter written to me by John Giffard, chief constable of Staffordshire. Did the Minister at any time, in a telephone conversation or in formal conversation with the chief constable, discover the content of that letter and that specific paragraph?

Mr. Clarke: I am glad to say that I did not. I do not recall the exchange that the hon. Gentleman is describing, but I recall that he raised the matter at Prime Minister's questions. I have never discussed with the chief constable the detail of any letter between him and Members of Parliament in Staffordshire; nor have I sought to bring pressure to bear on any words or in any other direction. The hon. Gentleman knows that I have regular meetings with Staffordshire Members of Parliament and the chief constable, which the hon. Gentleman sometimes attends. We discuss openly the resource and other issues facing the force and what is happening in crime in the area. I welcome those discussions. However, I have never had discussions outside the context of those meetings on such issues and, specifically, I have never discussed the content of letters that the chief constable might have written to Members of Parliament in his area.

Mr. Fabricant: MayI ask one final question, because our discussion is helpful and we are reaching a conclusion—[Interruption.] I am discussing the matter because the Minister raised it. If we can clarify it, it will be for the benefit of the Committee, as well as the Minister and me, who generally get on well.

Further to my intial question, did the Minister discuss the letter in general, either with the chief constable or any of his staff?

Mr. Clarke: No, again, I did not. That is not how I operate.

I see that the hon. Gentleman is accepting what I have said, and I hope that he will respond to that in a moment. My relationship as a Minister with chief constables—and that of my predecessors of all parties in this office—has been to respect their independence. I encourage them to talk routinely to Members of Parliament in their police authority areas and to make that dialogue as constructive as possible. I encourage dialogue because it is good for Parliament and for the police, but I never have and never would suggest what form that dialogue should take or what information should or should not be given, because that would be improper. That is why I took such offence at the hon. Gentleman's assertion at column 146.

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 18 January 2001