Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Mr. Bercow: I agree strongly with my hon. Friend's comments. The fact that the Government have decided not to issue draft regulations before the Bill is enacted but rather to await consideration of amendments is a good reason why those regulations should be subject to the affirmative procedure. We would then have an opportunity at a later stage to examine them and express an opinion on them.

Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend is right. As I said earlier, we are a legislature and our job is to scrutinise legislation. Provisions such as this avoid such scrutiny, which is dangerous. We will discuss amendment No. 32 later, and I believe that it would provide a useful alternative to subsection (2)(a). It would provide tighter but reasonable constraints that would still give the Home Secretary flexibility to ensure that the legislation would be applicable in changing circumstances.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I apologise for my late arrival, Mr. O'Brien.

I thank the Minister for replying to me on a separate matter, in which he referred to the Weights and Measures Act 1985. I support the amendment because—I hope that the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) will not take exception to this—subsection (2)(a) appears to be a Liberal solution, proposing different solutions for different parts of the country. Worse still, it could appear to be a federal solution and, as the Minister will appreciate, the official Opposition are opposed to federalism in any shape or form.

Mr. Bercow: Will my hon. Friend confirm that when she says that the subsection appears to be Liberal, she does not mean to imply that it is permissive, but merely that it cannot make up its mind?

Miss McIntosh: I thank my hon. Friend for that clarification, with which I agree entirely.

I referred to the Weights and Measures Act 1985 in relation to the empowerment of the Secretary of State because I fear problems similar to those that arose from a recent court case, details of which were spread across the national newspapers last weekend. Under the Bill as it stands, statutory instruments could be passed at short notice and without proper scrutiny—which I always understood was the purpose of Standing Committees— resulting in prosecutions that were unintended by the Government of the day. I urge the Minister to support the amendment and not to put himself and his Government into that situation. Any regulations and their application, to which subsection (2)(a) refers, should be put before the Committee today. I associate myself with the amendment and want to see subsection (2)(a) struck from the Bill.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): Good morning, Mr. O'Brien. I almost felt glad to be back from my excursions to the frozen north of Europe, but hearing points of order about colleagues being frozen out, I felt that I had never been away.

I have some reservations about subsection (2)(a). Most parliamentarians would agree that it is typical for the Government to define its legislation in this way, but my main concern is that it provides no opportunity for Parliament to scrutinise or approve any such exercise of powers that a Minister may require. My intervention will be brief, although it is neither illiberal nor undecided. My point is simply that I would prefer such orders to be brought before Parliament, so that they can be challenged as necessary.

Mr. Charles Clarke: A number of the comments that have been made relate to amendment No. 32 and I hope that they will be considered in that context.

    As the hon. Member for Buckingham said in moving the amendment, we fully debated a number of the points in Committee, so we should get to the nub. Subsection (2) states that

    Any power of the Secretary of State . . . may be exercised—

so it is a permissive clause. As the hon. Member for Eastleigh said, such clauses are a common feature of legislation—but what is their purpose? Specific detailed legislation should be discussed substantially and in detail with those affected by it; that is true of not only this Bill but other measures. Those affected include the various organisations of the motor salvage industry, the number plate suppliers, the Local Government Association, the Institute of Trading Standards and the motor safety organisations. Such a discussion can best take place on the basis of a knowledge of what Parliament's intention in these matters is.

Mr. Bercow: Are.

Mr. Clarke: No, I said ``Parliament's intention is''. The hon. Gentleman may have misheard me, perhaps deliberately—although my paranoid streak may be showing.

Such a clause is correct in the context, given that we are interested in discussing and consulting the industry. Specific examples of the reasons for consultation have already been given, but I will recite them again. They include the need to take account of the different sizes and natures of businesses and the need to be prepared to consider the precise way in which we apply regulations to take account of the different natures of the businesses. The hon. Member for Buckingham referred to that last point in previous debates on the matter. Whether we will need different characteristic approaches for different types of businesses depends on the consultation that I described.

Mr. Bercow: Is there a read-across between sub-paragraphs (2)(a) and (b)? Does the Minister envisage circumstances in which differential application of the power will be applied to large and small businesses in relation to transitory matters?

Mr. Clarke: I can envisage it, but I do not anticipate it. Precisely because I can envisage it, we seek to establish flexibility through the clauses that we have discussed, by laying regulations for different circumstances.

Mr. Bercow: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Clarke: No. We are about to discuss amendment No. 32, which deals with affirmative resolution. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider withdrawing the amendment, because—

Mr. Bercow: I am trying to help the Minister, although he seems oblivious of the fact. Having explained the theory, will he give me one example of differential application based on science? That is all I ask for, as I am a modest fellow with modest ambitions and modest expectations even of this rising Minister. Will he give one instance of how the Government might apply regulations differentially, as between a larger or smaller company?

Mr. Clarke: It is imaginable—although not the Government's intention—that we may be able to introduce regulation earlier for large number plate suppliers than for small number plate suppliers. I emphasise that that is not the Government's intention, but we seek to be flexible as possible, and not to have a uniform approach to every type of enterprise and circumstance when we receive representations about the implementation of the legislation.

Mr. Bercow: That seems clear but, for the avoidance of doubt, will the Minister answer one question? Would the desire to save money for small companies or, at least, to stagger the introduction of new regulations in order to minimise the short-term burden, be a factor that inclines the Government to apply the regulations differentially?

Mr. Clarke: It could be, but the real issue is the burden of regulation on different types of industry. We are keen, for reasons with which the Committee is familiar, to tailor the burden to the size of the industry. We do not have a specific intent, but seek a permissive ability for us to take account of representations made about the burden of legislation and the cost to particular businesses. For that reason, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment so that we can have the power to talk properly to the types of businesses of which he has rightly urged us to take account.

Miss McIntosh: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Clarke: Very well.

Miss McIntosh: How does the Minister propose to avoid a situation whereby innocent people are prosecuted under a change that is subsequently introduced by Order in Council?

11.30 am

Mr. Clarke: It might have been helpful if the hon. Lady, who has spoken on this matter in relation to other areas, had listened to what I had to say on those occasions, or done us the courtesy of being present at the beginning of the debate. I was reluctant to give way because, for that reason, I could not take her seriously. There will be no prosecutions of innocent people in this regard. As I have said on a number of occasions, the purpose of the Bill is to enable the Secretary of State to be flexible, and to take account of the interests of the industry in knowing what the regulations do, in fact, bring forth. I have tried several times to wind up, and I urge the hon. Member for Buckingham to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Bercow: I am content to withdraw the amendment. Once again, I find the Minister's words reassuring. However, I return to a point recognised and accepted by all legislators—a measure should be judged on its merits, and on its potential demerits in the wrong hands. Although I am inclined to give the Government the benefit of the doubt on this occasion because of what the Minister has said, I might be much less comfortable with the differential application of the powers in the hands of a less benign Minister. I certainly do not rule out the possibility of returning to the matters at a later stage, but as an earnest of good intent and a sign that we are willing to take his intentions at face value, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Bercow: I beg to move amendment No. 32, in page 23, leave out lines 34 to 36 and insert—

    `(3) The Secretary of State shall make no orders or regulations under this Act (other than an order under section 43) unless a draft of the order or regulation, as the case may be, has first been laid before, and approved by, a resolution of each House of Parliament.'.

I shall be a model of brevity. My hon. Friends and I have argued many times in Committee that regulations flowing from the Bill should be subject to the affirmative procedure. I know that the Minister disagrees, but I believe that the regulations flowing from the Bill will represent its heart or meat. It is not right that they should simply be nodded through.

I am happy to rest the case in deference to other members of the Committee, including hon. Friends who might wish to contribute, and also to the hon. Member for Colchester, who was angry that he was not able to contribute the other day and who I am sure will want to contribute today. The arguments have been rehearsed many times, and the Minister knows where I am coming from on the subject. We have to agree to differ.

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