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Standing Committee Debates
Vehicles (Crime) Bill

Vehicles (Crime) Bill

Standing Committee A

Tuesday 23 January 2001

(Afternoon)

[Mr. Bill O'Brien in the Chair]

Vehicles (Crime) Bill

New Clause 3

Relief of small motor salvage operators from excessive expense and bookkeeping, etc

    `.—(1) Where a person who carries on the business of a motor salvage operator has a turnover from the activities that are specified in section 1(2) of less than £1,000,000 per annum, the maximum fee that a local authority may determine under section 3(1)(b) shall be calculated on a sliding scale from—

    (a) turnover less than £100,000 per annum: maximum fee that may be determined £20, to

    (b) turnover less than £1,000,000 per annum: maximum fee that may be determined £200.

    (2) Where a person who carries on the business of a motor salvage operator purchases:

    (a) a part of a motor vehicle for less than £20, or

    (b) five or more parts together for less than £100,

    he shall not be obliged by such regulations as may be made under section 7(1) to keep a record of the description of the part or parts (save that the part in question has been marked with a vehicle identification number under the provisions of regulation 67(3) of the Road Vehicles (Construction & Use) Regulations 1986).

    (3) Where a person who carries on the business of a motor salvage operator purchases for less than £100 a motor vehicle whose engine and chassis or frame are over 10 years old, he shall not be obliged by such regulations as may be made under section 8(1) to notify the destruction of the motor vehicle.

    (4) Where a person carries on the business of a motor salvage operator in whole or part on domestic premises, the right of a constable to enter and inspect premises under section 9(1) shall not extend to the domestic premises.'.—[Mr. Chidgey.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question proposed [this day], That the clause be read a Second time.

4.42 pm

Question again proposed.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): I must confess that I had forgotten precisely where I was in my speech, but I shall resist the temptation to recap all that I said this morning.

Subsection (4) is inappropriate. I believe that it is quite proper for a police officer to have the right to enter and inspect domestic premises if business is carried on there. I have some sympathy with hobbyists and those who provide spare parts that have a low value, and I was comparing that provision with a similar provision in the Medway Council Bill; the Kent police took the view that it might be too burdensome for business to have to record every transaction, particularly those transactions with a low value. Does the Minister believe that it might be worth introducing such an amendment on Report?

What is the Minister's view on the sliding scale? Does he plan to table an amendment on Report—or even now, as we have had a few hours to consider the matter since this morning's Sitting—on what the limits should be and whether those proposed in subsection (1) are appropriate?

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I welcome your return to the Chair, Mr. O'Brien. I said this morning that I was misty eyed, leaden footed and sad at the thought of the conclusion of our proceedings. We really are now approaching their end, this being our last sitting. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) has eloquently dealt with several of the issues that were helpfully raised by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey). However, I should like to say a few words on the new clause.

It was helpful of the hon. Member for Eastleigh to make it clear that the genesis of his new clause was a discussion that he had with the British Motorcyclists Federation. I see some merit in the new clause, but there are some problems with it. I am sorry to have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman over subsection (4). I could tell from his expression during the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield that the hon. Gentleman was taken aback that other hon. Members disagreed with him about the right of a constable to enter and inspect domestic premises.

4.45 pm

As became clear earlier in the Committee's proceedings, I take a relatively libertarian line on such matters, and on the whole I am inclined to the view that if a police constable or other representative of authority is to enter and inspect a private citizen's premises, whether that citizen is in the role of a business practitioner or is at home, he should be obliged to carry a warrant. My bona fides on that subject are fairly clear. What I found curious about the hon. Gentleman's stance—I was anticipated in making this point by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield—was that he seemed to rest his case entirely on the nature of the premises, whereas it would seem sensible to focus on the nature of the activity taking place on the premises. If that activity is, or is reasonably suspected to be, unlawful or, indeed, criminal, it is not clear why it would be unreasonable for a police constable to enter and inspect the premises. I am engaging in some exegesis, to discover the hon. Gentleman's thinking, but I think that he had in mind the notion that an Englishman's, or an Englishwoman's, home is his or her castle. However, that cannot be an absolute. I see that the hon. Gentleman is teetering on the brink, so I give way.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): Not teetering, Mr. O'Brien. The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point. In what circumstances is he aware at present of police officers entering domestic dwellings without a warrant? Does he recognise a distinction between, for example, a back bedroom containing recycled, second-hand vintage motor cycle parts and one containing a laboratory for prohibited drugs?

Mr. Fabricant: The North Yorkshire County Council Act 1991.

Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend, in what was intended as a helpful interjection from a sedentary position, referred, almost as though it were his mantra—some might suspect that it is—to the North Yorkshire County Council Act 1991. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that I do not intend to expatiate on its contents, let alone its merits or demerits. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend tries to tempt me along a path that would not meet with the Committee's approval—I am grateful for the Minister's confirmation of that—and might even incur the wrath of the Chairman.

The hon. Gentleman is right. I cannot readily think of a circumstance in which a police constable has entered and inspected an individual's home without a warrant. Doubtless, there are cases where the extremity of the alleged offence and the urgency of investigation justify such action, but I cannot think of one.

I should like the hon. Gentleman to understand—even if we are to disagree—that I do not disagree with him on the desirability, indeed necessity, of the constable having a warrant. I agree that, in the context of the offences that we are discussing, it would be inappropriate for a police constable, or other accredited representative of the law—as Sherlock Holmes would have described them—to enter and inspect premises without a warrant. However, the hon. Gentleman takes that one step further. He is guilty of an extreme liberalism that he cannot expect me or other sober and sensible members of the Committee to sign up for. The hon. Gentleman seems to argue that—[Interruption.]The Minister chunters something about The Daily Telegraph, which I did not hear. If he wants to make an intervention, I will be happy to take it.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh seems to argue that, not only is it wrong for a constable to enter and inspect premises without a warrant, but that it is wrong in principle—without exception—for a constable, or other representative of authority, to enter and inspect the domestic premises of a motor salvage operator even when in possession of a warrant, which is extraordinary.

Mr. Chidgey indicated dissent.

Mr. Bercow: The hon. Gentleman now dissents from that. I give way because it is an important point.

Mr. Chidgey: Does the hon. Gentleman interpret that from the clause or from the debate; if the latter, he may have misheard? My understanding of the clause is that it applies only where a constable wishes to inspect the premises without a warrant. It may not be clear in the phrasing and, if that is a drafting error, I will accept it. However, my interpretation is that he or she should have a warrant.

Mr. Bercow: That is a remarkably helpful clarification. I speedily avert my eye from the hallowed words of the hon. Gentleman's proposed new clause to clause 9(1), page 6, lines 5 to 34. If within those lines, the point that the hon. Gentleman now seeks to make is accounted for and clearly addressed, I—in the spirit of amity that is now engulfing the Committee—am happy to apologise to him.

I would just pray in aid, however, the fact of the wording of the clause, and—without seeming to rub in the point—amplify what the hon. Gentleman has just said. The wording is not clear. The burden of my criticism of new clause 3(4) is that it seems to assume that it is wrong in principle for a constable to enter and inspect even with a warrant. If the hon. Gentleman says that is not his point, and that it is only where there is no warrant, he and I will be in agreement.

Mr. Fabricant: I do not wish to give the Committee the impression that there is any dissent on our Benches. However, I believe that my hon. Friend accepts that we have agreed that a constable can enter the premises of a registered trader without a warrant. New clause 3(4) states,

    the right of a constable to enter and inspect premises—

those are domestic premises—

    shall not extend to the domestic premises,

where the business of a motor salvage operator is located. If my hon. Friend accepts that a registered business can be inspected by a chief constable without a warrant, why should a business that extends to domestic premises be exempted?

 
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Prepared 23 January 2001