HC Deb 18 January 1989 vol 145 cc328-30
13. Mr. Atkinson

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he plans to introduce new measures to combat the practice of altering the odometers of used cars.

Mr. Forth

I have no current plans to do so, but my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic is considering the feasibility of a scheme for the centralised recording of car mileages, as suggested by a working party under the chairmanship of the Director General of Fair Trading. I understand that a considered response to the suggestion will be made soon.

Mr. Atkinson

Does my hon. Friend accept that the existing laws and deterrents are proving insufficient in protecting consumers from unscrupulous second-hand car dealers who fail to resist the temptation to turn their clocks back, and are giving their trade a bad name? Will he suggest to the Department of Transport the reintroduction of a modern form of the old-style log book containing a complete history of the ownership and mileage of every car as a legal document for the greater protection of consumers?

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend's suggestion is interesting, and I am sure that he will have let our hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic know about it. I shall certainly draw it to his attention. Existing laws on consumer protection already deal with this matter. Car clocking, as it is commonly called, is a criminal offence under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 and carries a maximum penalty on conviction of two years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine. In 1987, the last year for which figures are available, there were 556 successful prosecutions for misdescribed cars, mostly for the offence of clocking. The penalties are already in place. I think that a scheme similar to that which my hon. Friend has suggested is being looked at, and I am sure that he will do his best to promote it with my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic.

Mr. Morgan

Does the Minister not agree that the moral authority with which the Government can attack the problem of fiddling the clocks of cars is greatly weakened by the fact that the Government have been doing the same thing with the unemployment statistics for the last nine years?

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman tried hard and almost succeeded in making a point that amused his colleagues. Whether what he has said will help people who suffer from the serious problem of the clocking of cars is for others to decide. We take these matters seriously and my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) made a serious and considered suggestion. I should like to see the Opposition doing the same.

Mr. Latham

Will my hon. Friend ask the Minister for Roads and Traffic to deal with this matter with tremendous urgency? Leicestershire council is very concerned about it. Is my hon. Friend aware that some of the people involved in this activity make Mr. Arthur Daley look as honest as St. Francis of Assisi?

Mr. Forth

The problem concerns people, because they are making one of the larger purchases that they are likely to make. If they fall prey to those involved in such practices it can cause great distress. The right thing to do is to find the most effective way to deal with it. If we take a combination of what is already being looked at by my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic and the idea that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East suggested we are likely to find a solution.