Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Mr. Clarke: As the hon. Member for Buckingham says, the debate is familiar. It is not dishonourable. It is a perfectly fair and reasonable discussion between Opposition and Government about how to deal with matters. I argue only for a sense of proportion. As currently drafted, clause 40 requires all orders and regulations made under the Bill except commencement orders to be subject to the negative resolution procedure, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, offers an opportunity to pray against an order or regulation within 40 days of its being laid, failing which it becomes law. Regulations that require affirmative approval should be matters of weight and substance for the attention of the whole House. There are areas in which we would all agree that that is necessary, and I do not think that it is necessary in this case.

Mr. Bercow: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Clarke: No. I will let the hon. Gentleman make his point in his summation on the amendment. The negative resolution procedure is perfectly adequate to deal with such matters. I see no point in my dilating at greater length on the arguments, which are familiar and have been well rehearsed, including in the Committee. I urge him to withdraw the amendment. If he does not do so, I ask my hon. Friends to vote against it.

Mr. Bercow: Seasoned observers of Parliament will be aware of the distinction between the affirmative and negative procedures. However, it is possible that there will be people taking an interest in the Bill, either as individual citizens or on behalf of pressure groups, who will not be well versed in or even remotely aware of that distinction. The affirmative procedure allows debate on regulations and the negative procedure denies it.

The Minister and I will have to agree to differ. I accept that it is a matter of judgment. I am not arguing that every single regulation that flows from every piece of Government legislation should be subject to debate in Parliament. I am arguing that in many cases regulations should be debated in Parliament and that in many cases it would have been in the Government's own interest for them to have been properly debated. I will not animadvert to matters that are not within the purview of this Committee because you would upbraid me, Mr. O'Brien, were I to do so, but it is relevant by way of analogy to underline why my hon. Friends and I are concerned about the intended absence of debate on those matters. We know, simply from reading the book, the difficulties into which the Government have plunged as a result of earlier denials of debate. I refer to the 71 pages of A4 on the regulations to give effect to the working time directive as an example. That example motivates me in the amendment. The Government chose to steamroller regulations through Parliament without debate. Subsequently, it was seen that those regulations contained grave flaws, and a subsequent Secretary of State had to revise them. It is at least arguable that if they had been subjected to full and thorough scrutiny by the House, that problem would not have arisen.

The Minister has been inclined to argue that there is limited parliamentary time and that such debates are not the best use of that time. However, it is not quite as simple as that. If Ministers decide that a matter should not be debated in Parliament because it does not merit parliamentary time, and if subsequently the regulations are shown to be burdensome or inadequately drafted in one form or another, will the Minister acknowledge that at that point the regulations will have to be amended and might well be the subject of parliamentary scrutiny, debate or questioning, which would also absorb time? Some generosity of spirit, as well as simple prudence, at the outset might avoid the wasting of time at a later stage, as well as the attendant personal embarrassment to the Minister, who is obliged to eat his earlier words or those of one of his predecessors.

One other point is worth making, although I will then be content to withdraw the amendment and not to subject it to a vote. We are talking about a very small amount of time. Will the Minister at least recognise that? He has often talked about it as though a great burden would be imposed. Will he at least confirm by nodding that we would be talking about 90 minutes of debate, no more?

Mr. Clarke: I have never implied that it is a great burden, as it is not, but nor is it a relatively small amount of time. It is a question of the best way of dealing with a situation.

Mr. Bercow: Indeed. The Minister believes that the best way is by the negative procedure, whereas I believe that it is by the affirmative procedure. That is why I tabled the amendment. I have listened to his response. I do not agree with it, but I do not wish at this stage to put the matter to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 40 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 41 and 42 ordered to stand part of the Bill.


Consequential amendments

Question proposed, That the schedule be the schedule to the Bill.

Mr. Bercow: Can the Minister explain paragraph 1(4)?

Mr. Clarke: I can, and am glad to do so. The schedule details consequential amendments to the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964, the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 and the Justices of the Peace Act 1997. It is given effect by clause 42.

Clause 34 closes a loophole in the regulatory apparatus for motor salvage by amending the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964. It enables regulations to be made requiring registered scrap metal dealers to notify the destruction of a motor vehicle, which mirrors the provision in clause 8 for registered salvage dealers. Paragraph 1 to the schedule amends the section of the 1964 Act dealing with rights of entry and inspection to extend the powers to the records of notification of destruction of motor vehicles.

Mr. Bercow: The Minister is pronouncing ``schedule'' the American way.

Mr. Clarke: That is my pronunciation. Paragraph 2 adjusts the definition of carrying on business as a scrap metal dealer to exclude motor salvage operators required to be registered under the Bill who carry on ancillary scrap metal dealing activities. This ensures that there is no undue overlap between the 1964 Act and the Bill.

Paragraphs 3 and 4 are related to the provisions of clause 31 and to the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994. Clause 31 enables the Secretary of State to require applications for vehicle licences to furnish ``documentary or other evidence''. Paragraph 3 inserts similar provisions in section 7(2) of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 in relation to goods vehicles. Paragraph 4, to which the hon. Member for Buckingham referred, amends section 22(2A)(d) of the 1994 Act to reflect the provisions in clause 31 in relation to exempt vehicles.

I will not deal with paragraphs 5 and 6 in detail, as the hon. Gentleman asked specifically about paragraph 4.

All these provisions are consequential, because a vehicle that needs to be submitted for a vehicle identity check will not necessarily have a current vehicle excise duty licence. The keeper of a vehicle that does not have one will be unable to obtain one until the vehicle has passed a vehicle identity check.

I hope that those explanations are satisfactory to the hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

Clauses 43 to 45 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 2

Registration of car park operators

    `.—(1) Any person who carries on business as a car park operator in the area of a local authority without being registered for that area by the authority shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.

    (2) For the purposes of this section a person carries on business as a car park operator if he carries on a business which consists wholly or partly in the provision of parking spaces for motor vehicles in areas and premises reserved for that purpose and for which he makes a charge.

    (3) In this section ``registered'' means registered in a register established and maintained by a local authority under subsection (4); and cognate expressions shall be construed accordingly.

    (4) Every local authority shall establish and maintain a register for their area of persons carrying on business as car park operators in that area.

    (5) The register shall, subject to any requirements that may be prescribed, be in such form as the local authority consider appropriate.'.—[Mr. Chidgey.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Chidgey: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time. The new clause deals with the registration of car park operators. We are dealing with vehicle crime, and car parks are at the hub of such crime.

The new clause is designed to raise standards in car parks. The Committee may not realise that motorists at present have no consumer rights at all in exchange for paying a parking fee to enter a car park. Case law, which has been established for more than 50 years, since before the war, is very clear on the point: the payment of a parking charge is the purchase of a licence to enter private land, and that is all. The car park's owner is under no obligation whatever to try to prevent theft of or from cars in the car park.

11.45 am

Mr. Fabricant: I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's proposals, but would he not accept that case law exists that states that a contract is entered into when the car park is entered? National Car Parks will often have terms and conditions that must be agreed before a contract is engaged in. The contract is undertaken between the owner of the car and the car park company as soon as the barrier is lifted and the owner enters the car park.

Mr. Chidgey: That may be the case, but the terms and conditions set out at the entrance to a car park are those imposed by the car park owner on the car owner. The new clause would impose obligations on the car park operator. It has been established in case law over more than 50 years that the person driving the car into the car park purchases no more than a licence to park there and has no protection whatever. Many, if not most, car park operators in Britain do not provide even basic levels of security in their car parks, so it is hardly surprising that 25 per cent. of car crime occurs in car parks. That is significant because, on Second Reading, the Home Secretary said that he hoped to reduce car crime by 10 per cent.—that was the Prime Minister's target—yet 25 per cent. of that car crime is neglected by the Bill as it stands.

Car crime drops dramatically when a car park operator introduces anti-vehicle crime measures, especially when the operator decides to develop the car park to secured car park award standards. The fact that car parks are not included in consumer protection regulation is an anachronism. Motorists and car owners, like other consumers, have the right to expect high levels of protection. It could be argued that consumers may have to go to court to prove that they are right, that they can simply claim from their insurance companies for the loss suffered, or that car park operators could insure their car parks against third party claims—but those arguments miss the point.

Motorists parking in car parks have no rights at all. It is pointless for them to claim against the operator because, uniquely, the law is wholly on the side of the service provider rather than the consumer. The new clause would not place the total liability on car park operators for the protection and security of cars parked on their property. We propose instead a means by which we would place an obligation that the operator take reasonable measures to protect motorists' property in exchange for the parking charge paid.

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