Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Mr. Fabricant: Then it is clear that the information given to me was incorrect. I believe that the Minister is an honourable man and I do not believe that he would lie to the Committee or the House. On that basis, I withdraw my remarks.

Mr. Clarke: I unequivocally accept that. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for taking that approach, which has set the matter to rest as far as I am concerned. I do not want the issue standing on the record, and I am grateful for the way in which he has dealt with the matter.

The Chairman: I thank the Minister.

Mr. Bercow: I beg to move amendment No. 81, in page 19, leave out lines 26 to 28.

In keeping with the point that I made in relation to the previous amendment, lines 26 to 28 are permissive rather than prescriptive. However, by definition they permit future prescription, and because I am unclear about the merits of potential prescription, I have tabled what is, in a sense, a probing amendment. I want to tease from the Government the reason why they believe those lines to be indispensable to the efficacy of the clause.

I am not entirely sure, however, that the Minister will advise me on the purport, significance or justification of those lines. In fact, I am not entirely sure that I know what they mean. Will they enable the statutory instrument to give greater power to the Secretary of State so that he can make different provisions for different areas? How much power does the Secretary of State in fact want? In what way might differing circumstances and differences between operators require a variation in application of the information requirements for which the clause provides? The meaning of this provision is simply not clear, and for that reason we have tried to clarify the Government's intentions by tabling this probing amendment.

If the provision on notification is to apply, it should surely apply equally to all businesses in all areas. It is important for the clause to have a degree of predictability, symmetry and uniformity. Given that the DVLA is a national body, it ought to be able to rely on a standard service from scrap metal dealers. To that extent and for that reason, the Bill should be as prescriptive as possible. We need to know what the Home Secretary intends by this measure. I cannot believe that those lines were included lightly or without thought, but I am unsure what the thinking is. As far as we can see, there is no reason to retain this element of the clause, so we therefore propose that it be deleted. We are happy that the Secretary of State should have that power, and at this stage we are content that it should be exercised by statutory instrument. However, if it is to exist it should be exercised fully, and I am unclear how—or even whether—that will be achieved.

With regard to the question of indispensability, it is not clear that lines 26 to 28 are in fact indispensable, but if the Minister is to contend otherwise, so be it. I shall be all ears—an appropriate term in this context, given that the Minister has a fine pair himself. No doubt he will explain cogently the justification for potential differences in treatment and application.

Mr. Charles Clarke: The position is much the same as that relating to amendment No. 80. We want the flexibility to allow the Secretary of State, through regulations, to take account of different cases or areas, so that regulations made under this legislation will dovetail with the EU end-of-life vehicles directive on its implementation in 2002.

As I have said, because the way in which this directive will be transposed into UK law has yet to be finalised in detail, we do not know for certain that the power will be needed, but it is sensible to have it in reserve.

I realise that the amendment was a probing amendment, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will now withdraw it.

Mr. Bercow: I will withdraw the amendment, although I am still not entirely content. What bothers me about much of the legislation that we debate, especially enabling clauses in Bills, is that we receive so little specific information or reassurance by example.

In effect, the Minister is saying, ``We have to allow ourselves maximum flexibility by entertaining many different scenarios—that is reasonable and sensible, because we do not want to tie ourselves down.'' I would be more comfortable if he were able and willing to say, ``We need this provision because there could be a difference between business X and business Y in terms of size, location or something else.'' He has not been specific about differential application, and that lack of specificity makes me unhappy. The Minister is quivering with a purpose, and we wait to hear what it is.

Mr. Clarke: I always act with a purpose, but it is not always shared by Opposition Members. If it would help the hon. Gentleman, when I send copies of the European directive, I will include in the letter any further clarifications that I can give about the kinds of circumstances that might be discovered.

Mr. Bercow: The Minister's words cause a warm glow. I am encouraged, and without further ado I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Bercow: I beg to move amendment No. 82, in page 19, line 33, leave out subsection (6).

This is a procedural amendment. As the Minister knows, perhaps to his cost, we have already sought to ensure that any orders or regulations under the Bill may be made only after a draft has been laid before the House—they would be subject to the affirmative resolution and would have to be approved by Parliament.

I want those who attend to our proceedings to understand the significance of that point. If Parliament is to carry people with it and enjoy greater respect than it has been given in recent years, it is important that people should understand its functions and procedures. They should not wrongly think that this is merely an ``anorakish'' point, or a matter of pomp and circumstance, because it has a significant practical effect. We are talking about the difference between a procedure that allows parliamentary scrutiny and one that does not.

Even if regulations are subject to the affirmative procedure, that does not necessarily allow great scrutiny or extensive debate. More often than not, it means that at a relatively late hour the House of Commons has an hour and a half to scrutinise and approve—or withhold approval from—a statutory instrument. Nevertheless, it is an important safety valve in terms of the operation of Parliament and of satisfying the principle that the Executive should be accountable to the legislature.

Subsection (6) of proposed new section 4A of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 assumes that the order will be made by negative resolution and will therefore apply unless it is annulled by the House. Conservative Members disagree with that, and I have taken this opportunity to reassert and expand upon our belief that orders and regulations should be laid before and debated by the House. The amendment would remove the presumption that orders will be introduced automatically without the approval of the House of Commons or the other place.

In this context, I must refer to a point that the Minister made at an earlier stage of our proceedings. When I argued that the House should debate such matters, he did not agree, and, in fairness, he explained why. He said, ``Oppositions always argue for these matters to be debated, but we must have a proportionate approach. In practice, we cannot debate all the regulations that the Government wish to commend to the House. If we did, we would never do anything else. On minor, uncontentious matters, it is more sensible to nod them through so that they can be speedily implemented, in the interests of the sector.'' I accept his argument, but I hope that he will accept that the requirement to debate many regulations imposes a discipline on the Government to ensure that those regulations are as watertight, effective and error-free as possible.

10.45 am

There is a balance to be struck, but if we were to pursue what I would describe as executive man's argument, there would be a reductio ad absurdum. No regulations would be debated by Parliament. That might satisfy Ministers' advisors, and perhaps it would satisfy Ministers who, having spent their careers on the Front Bench, are not attentive or sympathetic towards the rights of the House of Commons.

Mr. Pope: What?

Mr. Bercow: The hon. Gentleman cavils from a sedentary position, but it was not a party political point. The Minister need not quibble and can rest content, because it was not a personal attack.

Mr. Charles Clarke rose—

Mr. Bercow: I shall give way in a moment.

Mr. Clarke: Why not now?

Mr. Bercow: No—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hyndburn is getting frightfully excited. Why is he in such a frisky mood this morning? There is no justification for it, because I am developing a reasonable point. If he waits, he will hear me go on to say that this phenomenon happened under the previous Government as well, although it has got worse under this Government.

It is tempting for Ministers to ram through regulations without debate, which means that they are strewn with errors that damage legitimate business. Those problems can be anticipated and prevented if Parliament has the opportunity to say, ``Wait. Look at line 12. What does this mean? Could it have an undesirable, unintended consequence?'' If the Minister denies that principle, it is unclear why he believes in parliamentary debate. I assume that he does believe in parliamentary debate, so I hope he will accept that it is more likely that regulations will be effective and contain fewer errors if we have had an opportunity to examine the details. I hope that he will respond sympathetically and constructively to that point.

Miss McIntosh: I enthusiastically endorse and support the amendment. Following the Minister's earlier remarks, and the implementation of the directive on end-of-life vehicles, there is a disturbing trend in the volume of statutory instruments associated with the Bill. If it were subsection (6) of proposed new section 4A of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 only, one might be minded to allow it to proceed. However, elsewhere in the Bill we have regulations prescribed by the Secretary of State that will be introduced some considerable time after the Committee has finished its consideration.

 
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