HL Deb 03 July 1989 vol 509 cc960-2

2.41 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will take action to reduce the fraudulent abuse known as "clocking" in the re-sale of motor vehicles.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, the Government are discussing with the Office of Fair Trading's used car working group its proposals for making clocking more difficult. The Government do not accept that the compulsory and blanket mileage recording system recently proposed by the group would be sufficiently effective to justify its costs and disadvantages. Suggestions for a more targeted approach have been made to the group, whose attention has also been drawn to existing and proposed private sector initiatives.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. Has he seen reports that the public are still being extensively deceived over mileage figures by unscrupulous dealers? Is there any way of stamping out this malpractice other than by insisting on complete records which can be checked and by imposing severe penalties?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am of course aware of the problem. The proposals which were put to us would have involved motorists every year entering their cars' mileages on their road tax application forms, and also when cars changed hands. That would involve in the region of 40 million transactions at the DVLC and cost around £2 million to set up and £3 million a year to run. We did not consider the proposals to be justified. On the other hand, as I said in my original Answer, we are exploring other ways of dealing with the problem.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, as president of the Institute of Trading Standards Administration, I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that trading standards officers are seriously concerned about the limits of the law enabling them to follow up the clocking process. Recommendations have been made by all the motoring and consumer protection organisations. Can we not have stronger penalties and controls imposed on this most fraudulent practice as soon as possible?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, it is an offence under the Trade Description Act and successful prosecutions are being made by trading standards departments. In the year ended 30th September last there were 533 successful prosecutions involving mis-described used cars, mostly in relation to clocking. The sum of £413,840 was imposed in fines and a number of prison sentences were given.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, does the Minister recall that I asked a Question on this matter on 7th November? I referred to proposals that had been submitted by a working party comprising 16 responsible organisations. I was told by the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, that the matter would be given consideration. Is the Minister aware how extremely disappointing his reply has been as it is in accordance with a letter sent on 16th March by his ministerial colleague, the Minister for roads and traffic, to the Director General of Fair Trading? Can the Minister tell me what consultation there has been with the organisations which comprise the working party to which I have referred? Among them are the RAC, the AA, five national local authority associations, the Institute of Trading Standards Administration, the Office of Fair Trading and five motoring trade organisations. Can the Minister not agree that consultation with them is justified, rather than offering simply the negative reply which he has given following on the negative letter received from the Minister?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I should have expected the noble Lord to have been even more surprised if my reply this afternoon had not coincided with the letter that my honourable friend sent to the Director General of Fair Trading on 16th March. A copy of that very long and detailed letter is in the Library. I suggest that those noble Lords who are interested should study it. That letter gives reasons why we were not able to accept the recommendations.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, would not endorsement of the mileage on the annual MOT certificate make a significant contribution to the problem on the basis that, if one buys a secondhand car without its current certificate, caveat emptor?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the mileage is recorded on the MOT certificate but that applies only to cars more than three years old. A significant part of this problem concerns cars below that age.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, nearly every car carries a service record and if the public demanded to see it before buying a secondhand ca r, that would overcome many of the difficulties.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, that is the case. If a person is thinking of buying a secondhand car there are many ways in which he can have it checked over by a reputable organisation. I recommend that potential buyers should have that done.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, the Minister referred to the letter being in the Library. The Minister may be interested to know that I have read it because it was attached to a Department of Transport press notice. In view of the criticisms of a responsible nature of the working party proposals, does the Minister not agree that those organisations should be consulted? They strongly disagree with the viewpoint expressed by the Minister and repeated this afternoon.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, we are grateful to the Director General of Fair Trading for co-ordinating the views of the bodies representing motor dealers, trading standards professionals and others to which the noble Lord referred. Their opinions were studied with great care. No doubt we shall receive a response from the director general to our letter putting forward further proposals.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, can the Minister tell me whether I am committing an offence if my speedometer stops working while I am driving my car but I continue to drive? If I am committing an offence can we have a definition of it? Can the Minister also tell me, if I am not committing an offence, how one can protect the speedometer?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

That is rather a different question. We are here discussing the matter of whether the mileage recorded on the speedometer has been tampered with when the car is offered for sale secondhand. The industry itself should be working towards producing a tamper-proof mileage recorder or some device that makes it obvious that the recorder has been tampered with.