HL Deb 09 February 1990 vol 515 cc1063-85

1.31 p.m.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

I should like to express my appreciation to those noble Lords who are spending this part of Friday afternoon in the House to take part in this important deliberation. I must declare an interest. I am president of the Institute of Trading Standards Administration, a body which has been for a long time concerned about the matters dealt with in this Bill. Indeed, it has played a major part, together with the Automobile Association, in doing the work leading up to the preparation of the Bill.

I remind your Lordships that about 7.5 million secondhand cars are sold each year. Regrettably many are in an unroadworthy condition or with false mileages shown on the clock, or odometer. The purpose of this Bill is to give added protection to the purchasers of used cars. Consumer complaints about secondhand motor vehicles have consistently topped the list of categories collated annually by the Office of Fair Trading. The bulk of traders undoubtedly carry on their businesses properly, but an important minority continue to trade in a way which defrauds and misleads consumers and reflects badly on the trade as a whole.

It was for that reason that in 1987 a joint committee was set up under the chairmanship of Sir Gordon Borrie, Director General of Fair Trading, to look into this whole matter. The membership of that body was wide ranging indeed. It consisted of the four local authority associations, the Consumers Association, the National Consumer Council, the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, The Royal Automobile Club, the Automobile Association, the Scottish Motor Trade Association, the Society of Motor Auctions, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the Vehicle Builders and Repairers Association and the Motor Agents Association. I read out that list in order to emphasise the importance which all those bodies connected with the motor business attach to these matters.

As a result of that wide-ranging inquiry conducted by those bodies, a letter was written by Sir Gordon Borrie on 29th December 1987 to the then Secretary of State for Transport with specific recommendations dealing with the sale of unroadworthy vehicles and the clocking of odometers. I regret that relatively little progress on those recommendations has since been achieved. Therefore, this Bill is an attempt to take the matter forward. A similar initiative is being undertaken in another place.

I now turn to the Bill in more detail. I refer first to Clause 1, which deals with unroadworthy vehicles. This clause does not seek to create any new offences but to provide for more effective enforcement of the adequate offence which already exists in Section 75(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988. The offence has associated with it a statutory defence in Section 75(6) of that Act. That defence allows a dealer to escape conviction if he can satisfy a court that he had reasonable cause to believe that the vehicle would not be used on a road until it had been put into a lawful condition.

Given that the court need only be satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the dealer would have put the car into a roadworthy condition before it was driven away, enforcement authorities, who have to prove their case beyond any reasonable doubt, are understandably reluctant to pursue prosecutions knowing that the balance is so heavily weighted in favour of unscrupulous dealers. This matter was considered during consultation on the Government's White Paper The Road User and the Law in February 1989, when Ministers agreed with the Director General of Fair Trading that the offence is difficult to apply and that the statutory defence should be tightened up, while still making provision to permit genuine sales of unroadworthy vehicles.

There are, indeed, several examples of situations in which dealers might genuinely wish to sell vehicles in an unroadworthy condition; for example, sales between traders when the purchasing trader will take responsibility for carrying out repairs, or sales of cars to the public for use as spare parts, particularly in the building of so-called kit cars. This Bill does not seek to interfere with that legitimate element of the motor trade but to ensure that all car purchasers are clearly aware, before making up their minds, whether the vehicle falls into the unroadworthy category.

The Bill therefore proposes that the present defence should include two new provisions. The first would require the dealer, if he is to escape conviction, prominently to display a notice on an unroadworthy vehicle indicating that the vehicle was in an unroadworthy condition and that use on a road in its present condition would be unlawful. The second requires that, where an unroadworthy vehicle has been sold, similar warnings appear prominently on all documents associated with the sale.

There are, in fact, two difficulties associated with the effective use of the existing offence. I have dealt with one of them —the statutory defence. The other relates to those who are responsible for its enforcement. At present that responsibility lies with the police and vehicle examiners appointed by the Department of Transport. In terms of priorities and resources neither of those agencies has been able to make significant checks on cars before they are sold to the public.

Many local authorities have decided to use their general powers to bring prosecutions where examples of unroadworthy cars being sold come to the attention of their trading standards officers. However, those officers, who in the course of their duties under the Trade Descriptions Act already spend much of their time looking at cars on dealers' forecourts, have no power to check whether they are safe to use on the roads before they are sold. The situation only alters if a dealer makes a specific claim that the vehicle is, for example, in good condition. In that case the trading standards officer can check whether the description complies with the Trade Descriptions Act.

Where a vehicle is on a forecourt marked only with its price, as things stand at the moment a trading standards officer has no power to check if it is safe. This anomaly goes further when one considers the general duty and extensive powers which trading standards officers now have under the Consumer Protection Act 1987 to ensure the safety of all manner of consumer goods. Because it was thought that adequate safeguards existed elsewhere, motor vehicles were specifically exempted from that Act.

In April 1987 trading standards officers joined forces with Department of Transport vehicle examiners to establish the extent of the problem. Inspections were carried out in five areas of the country on 82 premises and 217 cars were examined. Of those cars 77 per cent. were found to be unroadworthy and 13 per cent. were in the dangerous category. That was the largest of a number of surveys, each producing a similar result. These are very startling figures.

Active forecourt inspections must be the key to greater protection both for car buyers and road users and they would provide fairer competition for traders. Therefore, the proposals in Clause 1(3) of the Bill suggest that in order to provide for the involvement of trading standards officers, a new class of enforcement person, the authorised officer, should be created alongside the authorised examiners currently recognised in Section 77 of the Road Traffic Act. Those officers would be appointed by the local weights and measures authorities, which is the term used in the Weights and Measures Act to denote the authorities responsible for trading standards functions. In addition to having the powers of a vehicle examiner, the officers would have the same powers that they currently exercise under the Trade Descriptions Act. Where necessary, they would be accompanied by expert assessors. These are the immediate changes that the Bill would bring about.

The Bill is also concerned with the offence of winding back vehicle mileage recorders and I wish to deal briefly with that subject now. It is covered in Clause 2 of the Bill as one of the several areas relating to the supply of motor vehicles, regarding which it is proposed that powers be given to the Secretary of State to make appropriate regulations. The regulations relating to mileage recording are in Clause 2(2)(a). A trader who clocks a car or who sells one which has been clocked already commits an offence under the Trade Descriptions Act. Trading standards officers take many hundreds of prosecutions each year for such offences while still unfortunately only touching at the tip of a huge iceberg. Surveys conducted by local authorities over the past 10 years have revealed that 20 per cent. of the cars monitored have had their mileage altered —20 per cent.!

A typical example of the gain to be made by the clocker is that of a popular saloon car four years old. At auction such a vehicle, with 65,000 miles on the clock, could be expected to fetch £2,500. If that car is sold by a trader at a retail outlet the cost would be about £3,100. With an odometer wound back to 25,000 miles instead of the 65,000 miles actually covered, the retail price would increase to £4,000. That would result in an illicit profit of £900. These are vast costs to the community when one considers the total cost to the consumers, to legitimate motor dealers and to enforcement bodies.

Plainly, the problem needs other solutions. The Office of Fair Trading Joint Committee to which I have referred came out strongly in favour of mileages being declared by vehicle owners each time they relicense the car. This information should be stored at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre. While not being 100 per cent. foolproof, in most instances this suggestion would provide a full history of the vehicle for prospective purchasers and enforcement bodies. With such a high deterrent to would-be clockers, it was felt by all parties to be an effective solution to an age-old problem. Unfortunately, it did not find favour with the Government.

We are aware that some system of mileage recording and storage is still under consideration. For that reason, at this stage we seek only to provide the necessary enabling powers and a full consultation process. When an acceptable way forward is reached, a legislative framework will already be in place to enable speedy action to be taken by Ministers to protect the public from this very important fraud. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Lord Ezra.)

1.45 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am quite sure that your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for introducing this Bill and for explaining to us how he sees its operation. Equally, I am quite sure that you will be grateful to him for highlighting three particular areas of great concern.

I have a great admiration for the noble Lord and for his work in a number of areas, not least as president of the Institute of Trading Standards Administration. But at this stage I part with the noble Lord on a number of concerns. He described to us the various bodies which formed the working group under the chairmanship of the Director General of Fair Trading. I believe that he will agree with me that, while all the members had sympathy with the cause, they did not agree with the outcome demonstrated by the introduction of this Bill.

It is my belief that both the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and the Royal Automobile Club did not agree with the Bill. They certainly agreed with the causes and perhaps with some of the solutions. It is a pity that the working group under the chairmanship of the OFT should have brought forward a Bill at this stage which does not have the complete agreement of all the parties in that advisory group. Not to put too fine a point on the matter, I am suggesting the ITSA and the AA have rather jumped the gun.

I would have preferred a greater measure of agreement not only between those groups but also with the Government and a rather more pragmatic Bill produced, if a Bill was then thought necessary, which had the Government's total commitment and agreement. I have to go back a few years to when I was a junior at the Department of Transport and, to use the jargon, clocking was discussed. We failed to find a solution. I am not going to weary your Lordships with the technical details of clocking. We could not find a solution.

The Bill deals with a number of matters. Perhaps I may come first to the question of unroadworthy vehicles. There are two points to be made here. The first concerns the write-off when the insurance company decides to pay cash to a claimant in an accident purely and simply because the cost of repairs exceeds the value of that which remains within the policy. Subsequently, the salvage is sold by the insurance company. The insurers have a serious responsibility to ensure that those vehicles which are written off beyond economic repair are not sold as salvage to persons who, in the jargon, do the cut-and-shut job. If they are to be written off because they no longer have an economic value, they should be written off and destroyed, as should the documents. That is the responsibility of an insurance company, not of a salvage operator. I therefore depart immediately from the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra.

Perhaps I may now deal with the question of those vehicles which are quite properly bought at or offered at auction. (To digress for a moment, I wonder whether the electricity supply to the clock might be restored in order to help me. If it cannot, so be it.) I refer also to the vehicle taken quite properly in part exchange which is not roadworthy but has a number of useful sales outlets. It seems wrong that that vehicle should be offered for sale either to a private individual or to a trader without the necessity of sticking labels on it or of documenting it. That seems to be a rather useless occupation. I therefore depart from the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, in that regard too.

I again depart from the noble Lord on his contention about the registration of mileage at various stages, whether on the anniversary of the test, the third anniversary of the Department of Transport test, or on exchange. There is no provision —the noble Lord may say that this is a Committee point —for the audit, if I may put it that way, if the owner of the vehicle wishes to relicense his motor car. We have 24 million of them. The noble Lord is quite right when he talks about 7.5 million used car transactions, the bulk of which are handled through the trade. We must therefore also deal with those transactions which are privately conducted, but the Bill does not deal with them. The application for renewal of a licence must be accompanied by a declaration of mileage. Unless that can be audited or confirmed, it is meaningless.

I shall not go into the long story of how to break the sequence of mileage which is illustrated in the Bill. It is easy to break with or without another set of regulations or documentation. A potential buyer of a second-hand vehicle may on the completion of a form and/or the payment of a fee obtain the recorded mileage from the DVLC which would add some authenticity, although that would be totally spurious. Once again, the noble Lord's argument does not stand. There is a practical difficulty. I understand that the DVLC handles some 40 or 50 million paper transactions each year. If 7.5 million transactions were carried out and there was additional documentation, we would have great problems.

I sympathise on the point concerning trading standards officers, but there is a training problem and the cost of training to be considered. There is already a great deal of pressure on our trading standards officers in respect of matters which are perhaps more important.

Finally, if the group has been brought together properly, as I believe it has been, I would suggest that it consider these three issues —unroadworthy vehicles, clocking and other authorised persons to make examinations —separately because they do not come together quite as neatly as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, suggested. I also suggest that it produces proposals that may be accepted by everyone concerned —retailers, owners, motoring organisations, insurance companies and so on. The Government could then embrace those suggestions in regulations which could be entered into under the Trade Descriptions Act, consumer protection Acts and road traffic Acts, all of which are already in place. We would then have a consensus and an easier way of moving forward into an area that causes a great deal of concern.

Finally, in my long experience, I know that it is not difficult for a potential purchaser using facilities which are available, or his own integrity and energy, to find out more about a vehicle that is offered for sale. The Bill highlights areas of great concern but —I make no apology for the pun —it is quite the wrong vehicle for dealing with the matter.

1.58 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, I find myself following the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and I cannot see any reasoning in his argument for not supporting the Bill. One would have thought that any Bill was worth while which protects the consumer —not only the person who buys the vehicle but all other road users. We know that unsafe vehicles can cause accidents on the road and may cause serious injury to others driving roadworthy vehicles. We must consider the two aspects together. I should like to compliment the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, on giving a comprehensive account of the Bill.

Perhaps I should declare my interest in the Bill. I have been interested in consumer affairs for more years than I care to remember. I started off in the co-operative movement alongside my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton who is on the Front Bench. I was also on the Consumer Affairs Committee of the European Parliament and I am at present a vice-president of the Institute of Trading Standards Administration.

We should consider the Bill seriously. As the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, it is simple in its application, easy to understand and the majority of people in the motor trade go along with it. The reputable dealer who sells second-hand cars has no fear of this Bill because he makes quite sure that he is not selling unsafe vehicles. The Bill deals with the rogue element in the industry; for example, the Arthur Daleys of the car trade.

As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, in the main the cars we are concerned with are those at the cheaper end of the second-hand market; that is, the little cheap ones that the loving husband buys for the dear wife so that she can take the children to school. I refer to those at the cheaper end of the market. Although they look good and the seating and paintwork look good, the vehicles are completely unroadworthy. Therefore, we must protect some consumers who are perhaps not in a position to be able to take expert advice from the relevant organisations. As I said, let us ensure that we are only dealing with the rogue element of the trade. It is those people we wish to bring to book.

However, it is those people we are finding it increasingly difficult to tackle because of the inadequacies in the present legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, pointed out, at present the only people who can visit car lots or places where second-hand cars are being sold in order to inspect them are the police or the department's own officers. I am sure that all of us in this House would agree that in the present situation the resources of the police could be better used in other ways than visiting car lots and inspecting such cars.

I suppose it is because the trading standards officers are known in the localities for dealing with consumer complaints of all kinds that such difficulties will be referred to them. If a person feels that he has been "done" —to use a colloquial expression —because he has been sold an unroadworthy vehicle, he will go to the trading standards office. Therefore, for that reason it makes the task of those who are asked to look after consumer interests much more difficult. They cannot go to the root cause; they cannot visit car lots and see matters for themselves.

Let us now consider trading standards and consumer legislation. We see that under such legislation, as the noble Lord pointed out, trading standards officers have the power to inspect the safety of all other consumer goods, except unroadworthy vehicles. That seems to me to be very strange. I see that the noble Lord wishes to intervene, and I have no objection.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for her kindness. The trading standards officer has power, but this applies after the purchase takes place. I am sure that she would not disagree with that fact. However, the Bill introduces the involvement of trading standards officers at an earlier stage in the proceedings. Therefore, she is quite wrong to say that trading standards officers are unable to exercise authority in the matter of used motor cars. In fact, they can do so and they do.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, if the noble Lord had allowed me to continue with my speech he would have heard me say just that. I shall repeat what I said. Trading standards officers have the power to inspect the safety of all consumer goods. For example, they can visit shops, warehouses, supermarkets and street markets. They can notify the people concerned and say to them, "We are going to pick up these goods to test whether they are safe or dangerous". However, in their capacity as trading standards officers they cannot visit a car lot, prove who they are and say, "I am now going to inspect that vehicle". They simply cannot do so. It seems strange that a consumer protection Act does not allow them to do so.

I know very well that trading standards officers get around that problem; but they do so in a way which they ought not to. I can give your Lordships an example. I come from the city of Birmingham. It has an excellent trading standards department, as one would expect such a city to have. I should tell the noble Lord that just before Christmas, because of all the complaints that were coming into the office, the officers decided to carry out a survey of garage forecourts and auction lots. However, they could not do so as trading standards officers. So what did they do? They had to pose as private buyers so that they could purchase cars.

The survey was carried out in Birmingham at various places and 17 cars were bought by trading standards officers posing as members of the public. They did that because there was no other way it could be done. I should point out that all of those 17 vehicles were dangerously unroadworthy. It may also interest noble Lords to know that all those traders are now in the process of being prosecuted.

Perhaps the noble Lord will now agree with me that although trading standards officers find a way around the problem it is not an ideal solution and they should not have to do so. It would be preferable if they were able to visit such places, inspect a vehicle and say, "Look, mate — come on! —you know very well that that vehicle is unroadworthy and you know you ought not to be selling such a vehicle". Therefore, with that safeguard, if you are looking around and you cannot spot the Arthur Daley who is trying to sell you a car, you will be able to read for yourself that it is unroadworthy. We know that this is a safeguard which we can all accept. If we look at the way in which trading standards officers take care of the affairs of the consumer, it is an expensive way of dealing with the problem: going round, picking up cars, taking them away, having them inspected and then having to take out prosecutions. It is a very expensive and time-consuming way of doing things.

I do not know whether the Minister can say this when he comes to reply, but we would all accept that somebody ought to prevent unsafe vehicles being on the road. It is important that they should be taken off the road and we can only do that by not allowing them to be sold.

On expenditure, the Government constantly tell us that we must save money, be efficient and cost-effective. This would be a saving to a local authority. No local authorities think that there will have to be more examiners; they think that in the long run they will need fewer. If vendors know that a vehicle is unroadworthy they will not put it up for sale because they know very well that there will automatically be a prosecution. So there will be no extra expenditure and no extra manpower necessary for local authorities.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, described the second problem dealt with in the Bill with a different term from that used by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I shall call it "clocking", but the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, used the technical term. Clocking means that a considerable amount of time is wasted by trading standards officers. Overall, up and down the country many hours are spent every week dealing with this problem. Noble Lords may have missed me because I was not in the House yesterday —I hope that they did. Yesterday one of these "freebies", as we call them in the Birmingham area —free newspapers —came through my door. It was interesting. There was one column, "Here to help" which concerned a husband and wife who wanted to foster children. Another query concerned insurance, but there was one that particularly interested me in the copy of the paper for 7th February 1990.

The article states: Q. I have just bought a car and suspect that it's been 'clocked', even though I was assured by the vendor that the mileage was genuine. What should I look for to determine whether this is true and what can I do if it is? It is relevant to read the answer to noble Lords as it gives information on the problem. It mentions, excessive quiver of the speedo needle, damage to the screw heads holding the speedometer in place or hairbrush marks on or around the speedo figures". That did not mean much to me but it was the advice given. The final sentence suggested that it would be helpful if the questioner consulted Birmingham City Council's environmental services department. So even that paper gave the information as to what should be done. I read the quotation because it was in the newspaper only yesterday.

In this House we have had various debates and Questions on clocking. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has raised the matter of clocking two or three times, as have other Members on both sides of the House. As the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, why do people turn the speedo back? It is just to make more profit. If a vendor did that when selling anything else he would be prosecuted for fraud. Why should people be allowed to get away with doing this? That is what it means —getting away with it.

Trading standards officers throughout the country realise the problem. In Birmingham the trading standards offices have a computerised vehicle mileage checking system in operation. It operates nationally with trading standards officers all over the country sending details of cars that come up for auction. Officers can try to trace owners back so that prosecutions can take place. That works fairly effectively but, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, it catches only a few culprits rather than many. Although that system works it does not go far enough.

The measure that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, proposed as regards combating clocking seems such a simple one. When we dispose of our cars we have to rip off the bottom part of the vehicle registration form. I did so myself just before Christmas. When you dispose of your car, whoever you are selling it to, you have to tear off the bottom part of the form and return it to Swansea. You fill in the slip and inform the licensing centre at Swansea that you are disposing of your car. However, you do not have to say where the car will go to. If a garage buys your car it has to send the form back, as does any new owner of the car. Therefore the tear-off slip is returned to Swansea. I cannot imagine that it would be very difficult to send another form back at the same time stating how many miles were on the clock when the car was disposed of. The slip already has your name and address and the make of the car on it, so it would seem simple to add the number of miles registered on the clock.

One wonders why such a simple proposal cannot be implemented. As the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, we need a national register. Then we would know that the mileage was correct. I hope that the Government will seriously consider the proposal. I know that the Minister will probably say that it will cost money. But I point out that at the present time the licensing centre in Swansea is selling what are called cherished number-plates. I do not know how many thousands of pounds were raised at the last auction of such number plates. I suppose that that money must go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, if this proposal would cost Swansea money, some of the money from the sale of the cherished number plates could be used to pay for it.

I hope that the Minister will give a satisfactory reply to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and the House this afternoon on what are two simple and practical measures. They would not only protect the consumer but also other road users as they concern safety. They would also stop people who are out to make a quick buck.

2.17 p.m.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I feel I should start by damning the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, with faint praise. This Bill is rather like the curate's egg —good in parts.

I shall deal first with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher. I would not trust a word of what her "freebie" states as regards how one tells whether a speedo has been clocked. The fact that the needle is quivering probably only means that there is a kink in the cable. I have had brand-new cars which show such quivers. As regards brush marks on the speedo figures, they have nothing to do with the clocking of miles.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, although I read from an article I had stressed that I was not an expert in this matter. However, I presume that the people who replied to the query in the article were experts. I personally would not recognise any marks or quivers.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I claim to be something of an expert in this matter. I wished to put her right in that if she bought a car and saw the needle quivering, that would not necessarily mean that it had been clocked.

Several years ago I used to buy and sell second-hand and new cars. I worked for a group which to my certain knowledge was absolutely honest. I accept that there are rogues, but I ask your Lordships to accept that there are also rogues among the public. Some of the tricks they get up to are quite unbelievable. One asks them when they are trying to do a part exchange whether their car has ever been in a serious accident. They reply, "Oh no", as if butter would not melt in their mouths. However, they forget that they are dealing with experts and that if you stand in the right place you can see everything that has happened to the car.

They read in the "freebie" newspapers that if you have a high mileage car you change the brake pedal so that the rubber looks unworn. However, they do not realise that that has to be done well before the car is sold. Otherwise the salesman will see brand new brake pedals and think, "Hello, there's something wrong here". Another thing people do to older cars is to change the passenger seat, which has hardly been used, to the driver's side, and vice versa. Normally that is a dead giveaway.

The noble Baroness spoke about trading standards officers. Three of four years ago I went to my local trading standards officers in Finchley. As a result they brought the first successful prosecution against a motor trader who used to buy left-handed drive cars which had been exported to Europe, bring them back to this country and convert them. I had friends in Austin Rover. They offered to check out the car for me. They kept the car for two weeks, and the list of what was wrong with the car was pages long.

I asked the trading standards officers to prosecute. They said that that would be no good because Austin Rover would not support them. I replied that I had recently supported Austin Rover in the House of Lords and I thought that they would support me in this case. They did so. My car was extremely dangerous. Wrong parts had been fitted. Second-hand parts had been bent to fit. It was a death trap. The supplier received a summons and unfortunately for itself, found it was dealing with someone who was used to speaking in public. When it tried to browbeat me it did not work.

I find it difficult to understand the MOT. Anyone who knows anything about cars will know the expression, "It has a very good MOT". That means that it has been through the MOT and been thoroughly tested. The obverse of that is that a car has a dodgy MOT. Some 18 months ago I bought at auction a Ford Fiesta for my daughter. I saw that five days previously it had had an MOT and since then it had done 38 miles. When driving the car home I realised that something was wrong. My son, among other things, is an automobile heavy recovery expert and mechanic. He found that the front brakes had seized. That car could not genuinely have passed the MOT. I had been fooled, believing that the car must be all right because it had previously been a Panda car with the local police.

In the old days a car had a registration book which gave the name of the registered owner Now it gives the name of the registered keeper. I sold a van a few weeks ago. The buyer was hard up so I said that he could pay me in a couple of months. He applied to the DVLC to be registered as the keeper of the vehicle. The DVLC contacted me. I said that he had not paid. The DVLC asked whether he had the car. I said that he had. Apparently he was therefore registered as the keeper. He does not own the car because he has not paid me for it; I own the car. I have never been able to understand why that change was made.

Several noble Lords have quoted statistics. I too shall quote statistics. Unfortunately I have to read them out, and when I intend to say 28 per cent. I may say 82 per cent., or vice versa, because I am dyslexic. I hope that the House will bear with me.

We have already been told that there are 7.5 million used cars sold per annum. Incidentally, it is rather funny that we should call them second-hand cars since some have probably changed hands eight or nine times. Half of those used cars (3.75 million) are sold through the motor trade; of those cars, 75 per cent. (2.81 million) are sold in an unroadworthy condition. That means that the buyers of those vehicles could drive off and suddenly find that they have no brakes or no steering. There could be a serious loss of life. Even of those vehicles which the general public hire, a recent check in mid-Glamorgan showed that 13 out of 16 hired vehicles were found to be unroadworthy.

I turn to insurance write-offs, a subject which I know has already been mentioned. In 1985 an AA survey found that one in eight vehicles (17,500) were unsafe; 50 per cent. (70,000) still had defects. Any vehicle on the road that has a defect or is unsafe might kill the driver. Worse than that, the driver might kill you, me, your daughter, son or grandchildren. That is why this is a part of the Bill that I strongly commend.

In an RAC survey it was found that 3 per cent. of all cars examined had post-accident repairs and that 20 per cent. of those repairs had been done badly. It is terrible that on our roads today there are so many cars which are unsafe. That is certainly something which the MOT was intended to check. When I lived in Belgium there was an annual government check of cars. The government could not care less whether or not the vehicles passed as fit. It meant nothing in their pocket. It was nothing to them if a car needed two new tyres, because they did not supply tyres. It was a very good system and I wish that we had such a system in this country.

Reference has also been made to clocking —a £100 million a year fraud. One in five used cars (1.5 million) is likely to have its recorded mileage doctored. I once worked for a company (whose name I shall not mention) whose employees used company cars and were given a standard amount of money each month. If one travelled more than a certain number of miles one received more money. I experimented. I bought a new speedometer and ruined it. I learned how to clock. But I clocked the opposite way round. I took out the clock and turned on the mileage, so that certain people could claim extra money. It was quite illegal but I did not think of it in that light in those days.

As I believe was said by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, every 1,000 miles off the recorded mileage adds about £30 to the resale value of a vehicle. That means that some cars increase in value by about £1,000 when 33,000 miles have been taken off the clock.

I am sure that in an insurance write-off the registration document should be handed to the driver who should then send it to DVLC for it to be stamped with a record of that insurance write-off. If someone were to buy that vehicle and repair it, that vehicle could not then be taxed until it had been through a stringent test. For ever after the registration document would carry the fact in a stamp indicating that that vehicle was an insurance write-off. I am sure that that would be a great help.

I believe that one of the worst features of our system is that the registration document shows the name of the registered keeper. One may be a representative for a big company and travel over 100,000 miles a year in one's car. One may run it for one year and then sell it. The ordinary "Poor Joe" member of the public looks to see who is the registered keeper of the car. If he has been clocking, the car might be in excellent condition but the public are being "done" left, right and centre.

I wish that Lord Ezra's Bill was stronger and more detailed. It would be nice to think that the Government will dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s. However, judging by past performance, I have a nasty feeling that they will not do so.

2.30 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for introducing the Bill and speaking to it. I shall try to be brief in my comments. I must make it clear that although I speak from the Dispatch Box, I am not representing the Labour Party's position on the Bill because it is a Private Member's Bill. I am therefore speaking in my personal capacity.

The noble Lord's Bill seeks to address the issues of enforcement of the law relating to unroadworthy vehicles and what is known as clocking. As he rightly pointed out, the sale of unroadworthy vehicles is a criminal offence under Section 75 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and clocking is a criminal offence under the Trade Descriptions Act. We therefore have quite clearly established in law that there are two offences.

As the noble Lord pointed out, the problem is that in the first instance there is a defence under Section 75(6)(b) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 which is a little too wide. The noble Lord seeks to narrow that defence. I shall come back to that point in a moment.

The second problem that he seeks to address is one of enforcement. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, on that. I personally prefer the formula of the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, that the general safety requirement under the Consumer Protection Act should apply to motor vehicles. When we discussed the Bill in your Lordships' House, I could never see why motor vehicles were exempted from that. There should be some arrangement for proper inspection of vehicles on a forecourt or a lot.

It is clear to me that the right people to do that are the trading standards officers. The only point I make about that is the one that I made to the Government when the Consumer Protection Act was a Bill before your Lordships' House: it is no good imposing burdens on trading standards officers without giving them the resources to carry on the tasks imposed. Government after government have imposed tasks on those very hard working, conscientious people without giving them the resources that they need to carry them out. Therefore, I would say that Clause 5 of the Bill dealing with financial provisions could perhaps be amended accordingly. If there is to be serious enforcement of these two matters then the officers in question need to be properly equipped; there needs to be sufficient number of them; and they need to be properly trained.

The problem that I had with the narrowing of what I call the subsection (6)(b) defence in the Bill is that it would impose an onus on the proposed vendor of the vehicle to decide for himself whether or not a vehicle was roadworthy. The Road Traffic Act is quite specific on this matter. It defines the offence. It is quite clear that the question of whether an offence has been committed is a matter for the courts, after prosecution. It is very difficult to say to a dealer, "Will you please put up a notice on the windscreen of a car saying, 'This is unroadworthy' ". It is for the courts to decide ultimately what is unroadworthy and what is not. If a day later, after replacing the missing wheel, he says, "I am now going to take this off and declare it roadworthy", he is again making a judgment about the interpretation of the law. That raises many problems for the dealer and one must consider them most carefully.

I turn now to the subject of clocking. As was pointed out by my noble friend Lady Fisher, in discussions in this House many possible solutions have been put forward. However, none has commanded the universal support of all the organisations and the Government. It is an extremely difficult problem to solve. How does one enforce the offence under the Trade Descriptions Act? Apart from allowing trading standards officers greater liberty in enforcing whatever system is adopted, I understand that all the noble Lord's Bill does is to allow the Secretary of State to make regulations describing a system. We do not know what system the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, or anyone else has in mind.

In debates in this House all systems that have been put forward have been found to be defective in some way. Therefore, I do not believe that the clocking side of the Bill takes us much further. I should like to see much more thought given to the matter before primary legislation is produced. With that, we must have an idea of the kind of regulation and system for which the Government are able to command respect.

I have certain reservations about the Bill, but nothing that I have said detracts from my enthusiasm or that of my party for ensuring that the offences are prosecuted. As my noble friend Lady Fisher said, there is no doubt that the problem of unroadworthy vehicles on the road is a social menace. There is also no doubt that clocking constitutes fraud. Wherever there is a social menace and fraud, the offences must be prosecuted and brought to book. However, I wonder whether the Bill brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is the vehicle for that process. Nevertheless, we support its aims. We hope that the Government will take the Bill, build on it and bring back an improvement which meets the aims of which we all approve.

2.38 p.m.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I have listened to the debate with great interest. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for setting out his remarks, which were brief, as he said. I fear that my remarks will take a little longer because I wish to address the issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has chosen a subject for the Bill on which a number of noble Lords have experience. After a house, the purchase of a motor car is probably the biggest single expenditure which an individual or family undertakes. But what a contrast there is between the two transactions. Who would contemplate buying a second-hand house which was outside its warranty period without having at least a basic survey carried out by an independent expert? It would be folly to do so. However, when it comes to buying a motor car people appear to be prepared to commit themselves to an item costing thousands of pounds on the basis of little more than a quick look.

I find that most difficult to understand. In addition to the motoring organisations, there are independent motor consultants throughout the country who offer a pre-purchase inspection service. Yet they are comparatively little used by consumers who seem loath to spend £50 or so, even though it could save them hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds in the long run.

Noble Lords may point out that of course the difference between buying a house and buying a car is that the mortgage loan is normally contingent upon the house having a survey, whereas that is not the case with a car which is being financed by a loan. That is true, but even so I cannot understand why people seem to throw caution to the wind when they set out to buy a used car.

There is no shortage of advisory information on the subject. For example, the Office of Fair Trading has published an excellent leaflet on used cars giving advice on what to look out for, what questions to ask, what to ask to see, what do if things go wrong and so on. The leaflet also deals with car repairs and servicing and is available free of charge at citizens' advice bureaux and trading standards offices throughout the country. The Consumers' Association, in its Which? magazine, frequently publishes advice on buying used cars, and articles often appear in the national and local press. Surely there can be few people who do not realise that there are risks involved in buying used cars. There will always be risks whatever legislation one has but the consumer can keep those risks to a minimum by taking some elementary precautions and by going to a reputable dealer.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, quoted some remarkable figures which invite us to accept that those risks are great. We have been told by the noble Lord of the results of a 1987 survey which estimates that three out of every four cars sold are in an unroadworthy condition. I query that figure which I suspect has been derived from the results of a single survey carried out on 200 vehicles in only four areas of the country in 1987. I am doubtful about the validity of using such limited evidence to draw a conclusion in respect of a population of 7.5 million cars.

I should like to examine the considerable amount of regulation which is already on the statute book and which provides protection for buyers of used cars and users of garage services. First, there are various criminal statutes. The Trade Descriptions Act 1968 is the most notable of these, requiring that any trade description which is applied to a car, such as "excellent condition", "one lady owner", or even "good runner" must be truthful. Noble Lords will also doubtless be aware that it is the Trade Descriptions Act which makes it a criminal offence to wind back the odometer of a car —I believe it is known as "clocking" in the trade —to make it appear to have travelled less miles than it really has.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has experience of another form of activity which was useful to the debate but I shall not take that any further. Trading standards officers of local authorities took 379 successful prosecutions last year for offences involving false mileage readings on used cars and every dealer knows that he risks a heavy fine, or even imprisonment, if he tampers with a car odometer.

The Trade Descriptions Act also applies to garage services. If a dealer misdescribes servicing or repair work which he has carried out, he is again likely to fall foul of the Act and be liable to prosecution by the trading standards authorities. Another problem sometimes encountered by car buyers is also dealt with by criminal legislation. It is the practice of some disreputable dealers to advertise used cars as if the sales were private ones, thus depriving the buyer of some of his or her rights in civil law. This practice is the subject of the Business Advertisements (Disclosure) Order 1977 which requires the advertisement to make it clear that the goods are being offered by a dealer.

Of course, the consumer has a number of rights under the civil law, and it is appropriate to mention the Sale of Goods Act 1979, the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 and the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, all of which provide protection to purchasers of motor cars and garage services. Furthermore, where a car is purchased, as many are these days, by means of credit, the Consumer Credit Act 1974 may also provide additional protection for the consumer. For example, in certain circumstances the finance company shares legal liability with the supplier for defects in the goods supplied.

Under the provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1988 it is an offence for a person to sell, or to offer for sale, a motor vehicle or trailer which is in an unroadworthy condition. However, a person cannot be convicted of that offence if, among other things, he can prove that the vehicle or trailer would be put into a lawful condition before being used on the road.

I hope that your Lordships will agree that the protection which the law provides to those who purchase cars or have their cars serviced or repaired is already extensive.

Let me turn now to the Bill which is before your Lordships. Clause 1 would modify certain requirements of the Road Traffic Act 1988. In the case of unroadworthy vehicles that I have just mentioned, Clause 1 of the Bill would require the seller, to avoid conviction, to display a notice on the vehicle or trailer to indicate unroadworthiness, and to state this fact in sales documents. The Government have already agreed, in response to representations made by the working party under the chairmanship of the Director General of Fair Trading, that there is a case for tightening up the current defence. We intend to put proposals before Parliament in the autumn to limit the application of the defence to cases where the seller can prove that he has exercised all due diligence to avoid committing an offence. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, drew attention to that. However, arrangements will need to be made to exempt genuine sales of unroadworthy vehicles, such as sales between traders, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said.

The other main effect of Clause 1 would be to give trading standards officers the power to test and inspect used motor vehicles and trailers to determine whether or not they are unroadworthy. Under the Road Traffic Act 1988 these powers are already available to, and exercised by, authorised examiners as defined in the Act. These include vehicle examiners from the Vehicle Inspectorate Executive Agency, which is responsible to the Secretary of State for Transport. These people are experts in assessing vehicle roadworthiness, whereas the trading standards officers are generally not qualified in that respect.

In practice, vehicle examiners work closely with trading standards officers and their services are available on request to follow up suspected breaches of the relevant sections of the Act. Under current working arrangements vehicle examiners can also undertake routine dealer forecourt inspections on their own initiative. The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, did not mention that in regard to inspections of forecourts, so I draw her attention to that fact.

The Government consider that these arrangements for safeguarding against the sale of unroadworthy vehicles work well, though they are currently reviewing the means whereby additional vehicle examiner time could be made available to trading standards officers if required. If does seem, therefore, that these additional powers are unnecessary. Furthermore, extending these powers to trading standards officers would mean that they would not be so easily, expertly and consistently applied as they are at present.

Turning to Clause 2, your Lordships will recall that I have outlined the main aspects of the criminal law which apply already to the sale of motor cars and the provision of garage services. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, indicated that there are some deficiencies in the existing law and that his Bill seeks to put them right. However, Clause 2 does not make any specific proposals for what should be done, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, pointed out. The Bill would confer on the Secretary of State the most sweeping powers to make regulations to govern the motor trade. These enabling powers are so widely drawn that they could be used for almost any purpose from introducing a licensing system for the motor trade right down to regulating the width of the stripes on a car salesman's suit.

From what the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, however, I understand that one of the main objectives of Clause 2 of his Bill is to combat fraudulent alteration of car odometers —clocking. I understand that one proposal that the noble Lord has in mind is a national mileage recording scheme. That proposal has been made to government before. The suggestion is that it should be compulsory for every motorist to report the mileage reading on his or her car every time the car is taxed or sold; a point brought out by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher. The details would then be passed on to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre, which would transfer them to its computer records. These records would be made available to the trading standards officer investigating the previous history of motor cars sold or offered for sale to consumers.

Noble Lords might consider that this would be a very useful system which would make life much more difficult for the fraudsters. I have to tell noble Lords that the idea is fatally flawed. The DVLC has estimated that it would entail the recording of an extra 40 million pieces of data a year. That of itself would be a very expensive bureaucratic exercise. However, it could be financed if a suitable fee were charged for inquiries and if there was sufficient demand. But there is the rub. There would be no way of checking the accuracy of the information being recorded on the DVLC computer.

My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth drew attention to that fact. I believe the phrase he used was that there would be "no audit of it". The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, said that it would be easy to put the figures on the bottom piece of the vehicle documentation when it was returned. She did not tell us why false details could not be put on the transfer form.

I am sure that those who were intent on fraud would find ways of submitting false details. These, together with genuine errors, would assume a spurious authenticity. I believe that those were the words used by my noble friend Lord Lucas. Eventually the unreliability of the information would cause the system to fall into disrepute and the DVLC would be left with an expensive white elephant to maintain.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, the Minister gave the number of pieces of information that would be added to the records. However, the DVLC is automatically writing off cars every year as these take place. That must also be a costly exercise. In addition, there is the information which goes through to the computer of police records and which has constantly to be amended. I speak as a magistrate and I am referring to motoring offences. Those records are constantly being amended and I do not know how many thousands of them must be on record at the DVLC. There is no suggestion —is there?—of the Government ever saying "We have too many people with motoring offences and we are not going to record them any more".

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I was seeking to stress that there would be 40 million additional pieces of data to record per annum and there is a cost involved in that. The Government deplore the practice of car clocking, but they do not accept that the answer is to require the declaration and the recording to millions upon millions of additional items of information every year. When the working party under the chairmanship of the Director General of the Office of Fair Trading first came up with this proposal in 1987, the then Minister for Roads and Traffic explained these difficulties and invited the working party to look at a more cost-effective scheme.

He suggested that the scheme should be targeted on the vehicles most prone to clocking; that is, the ex-fleet cars which cover high mileages in a short time. He also suggested involving private companies which are already in the business of tracing and recording vehicle histories. The working party seems to have ignored these suggestions, however, and it is still asking the Government to set up a system which would involve a very large investment for a very doubtful return.

Surely, the permanent answer must be to make cars in such a way that it is physically much more difficult to alter the odometer reading. Motor manufacturers have an interest in maintaining a healthy market for used cars. I believe that they could do more than they are doing at the moment to find a technical solution to this problem. For example, I have heard that Rolls-Royce has started installing in its cars a secret computer chip which records the distance travelled independently of the odometer. I do not say that that is the answer, but it shows that there is room for development in this area.

Regarding other measures which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, may have in mind for the wide regulation-making powers of Clause 2, I do not know what these might be. However, I would argue that we already have on the statute book a wide range of legislation which protects the purchasers of motor vehicles and of other goods and services. The fact that trading standards officers took over 400 successful prosecutions last year for offences relating to the sale of motor cars suggests that the law is far from unenforceable. I am sure that every dealer knows the risk he runs if he contravenes the Trade Descriptions Act or the other consumer protection laws.

The Government are always prepared to consider specific solutions to specific problems, but we do not consider that it is necessary or desirable to have such sweeping and imprecise powers on the statute book. I am afraid, therefore, that I cannot commend this Bill to your Lordships' House.

2.55 p.m.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. I believe that I can conclude that, although not necessarily in support of the Bill or of particular clauses in it, all nonetheless accept that there are problems and that we should do something about them. To that extent, we have had a useful debate. I should like to consider briefly some of the points raised by noble Lords, comment on them and then conclude.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, with whom on many occasions I find myself in full agreement, did not find himself in support of the Bill. When he started speaking, I thought that he would tell us that there was no problem, but he ended by saying that these are areas of great concern. Those were his words, so he clearly thinks that there are problems but that the Bill does not address them.

The noble Lord queried the fact that all the organisations mentioned by the working party of the Director General of Fair Trading did not necessarily support the Bill. To my knowlege, they all do. The points raised in the Bill are the three points raised in Sir Gordon Borrie's original letter. I am not aware that any of the signatories to that letter said that they did not support the Bill, but I shall certainly look into the matter as the noble Lord referred to it.

The noble Lord said that he was very much against the documenting of unroadworthy vehicles or of showing that they were unroadworthy. However, unless that is done, how are people who go along to a forecourt and see masses of cars drawn up with all the prices clearly shown to know which are roadworthy and which are not? We have agreed that there are legitimate sales of unroadworthy vehicles for particular purposes and that they can be properly but clearly shown on the forecourt in the same way as goods which are damaged in any other respect. I believe that they are known in the trade as seconds. They must be properly advertised as such, so unroadworthy vehicles should be designated in some way.

It was suggested that it is perhaps difficult for traders to determine whether a vehicle is unroadworthy. I cannot see how else to do so. That is their expertise. To try to adjudge that after the sale and when the matter has been to the courts and when perhaps serious damage and harm have been done seems to be leaving it a little late. The point about not showing that cars are unroadworthy when they are on the forecourt is debatable.

All noble Lords raised the question of odometers and clocking. As everyone agreed, it is a serious problem. However, there is disagreement as to the solutions. That was why Clause 2 was widely drawn and left matters to the Secretary of State. I should like to ask the noble Viscount—perhaps he will write to me about the matter—whether I was right in supposing, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, that the Government are considering possible alternative ways of dealing with the matter or whether they are leaving it entirely to third parties to consider. Is there any initiative in that field or is it to be left to others to bring something forward? I should like to be assured on that point. I am not clear whether the Government have merely said that they do not like the solution brought forward but are leaving it to others to find something better, or whether they are to have some input.

I am most indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, for her strong support for the Bill and for the vigorous way in which she demonstrated that there are real problems for ordinary people with these two difficulties —unroadworthy used cars and clocking. She was quite right to demonstrate that clocking is regarded as a big problem by ordinary people when purchasing used cars. They do not have much idea of how to check on such matters. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, pointed out that even if they took the advice in the journal to which the noble Baroness referred, they would still get no further. All that makes it clear that this is a most difficult area. Therefore, perhaps some keen minds will try to look into the matter.

The noble Earl gave us a great deal of information about many aspects. I hope that we shall only treat them as matters brought forward in a debate and not go off, enter the trade to which he belonged and practise some of them. However, some of the statistics that he produced were very scaring. For example, in the case of unroadworthy cars he demonstrated that of the 7.5 million used car transactions per annum, 3.75 million cars were sold by the trade of which 2.81 million were shown to be unroadworthy. Those were the figures he quoted and he is an expert in his field. I think that that is a terrible indication of what is happening. He also mentioned the risks associated with car hire vehicles, saying that many were unroadworthy. Therefore, there is not the slightest doubt that we have a real problem in this respect. He fully supported clauses in the Bill which deal with unroadworthiness.

However, he did not think that the clocking provisions went far enough.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, made clear that he supported the broad intention of the Bill and that he recognised the fact that the real problem is not that these two aspects —namely, unroadworthiness and clocking —are offences (and they are offences) but how we deal with them. The question arises as regards the available defences which prevent proper prosecutions taking place. He felt that the TSOs had a role to play in gaining access to the forecourts and participating in inspections of such vehicles before they are sold. He emphasised that the officers would have to have the necessary resources to do so. I certainly agree with that conclusion. He too mentioned the matter of clocking. He was among the speakers who noted that this still remains a difficult issue.

In summing up the Government's point of view, the noble Viscount emphasised the importance of car purchases in the lives of ordinary people. He said that in regard to the purchase of a used car the purchaser should exercise the same care as he would when purchasing a house. He also pointed out that there are ways in which people can obtain advice at a relatively low cost. In fact, he drew our attention to the excellent OFT document on used cars. I believe that those words are most important and that such advice should be widely spread.

However, when the noble Viscount came to discuss the Bill he was not quite as positive as he had been in his opening remarks. In regard to Clause 1, he agreed that there was a case for tightening up the defence provisions as regards unroadworthy vehicles. He told us that the Government would be bringing forward proposals in the matter. That is a positive point. He did not agree that TSOs should be able to carry out examinations on forecourts, on the grounds that there are vehicle examiners who are experts in that field who are already doing this work. But he did say that the Government are looking closely at the possibility of extending and increasing the number of vehicle examiners, who, of course, work very closely with TSOs.

I am not entirely convinced about the noble Viscount's exclusion of TSOs. I do not see why they should not have the right to go and visit forecourts—if need be, with the vehicle examiners—because they have a clear role to play in the matter. I should have thought that it would strengthen their hand if they had such a right. I hope that we can come back to that later.

Finally, the noble Viscount criticised the wide-ranging powers that the Secretary of State may be given by Clause 2. I should be happy to look at that again at a later stage. However, in the case of the clocking problem, which was the main issue in mind under this clause,gave the reasons the Government had turned down the original proposals put forward by Sir Gordon Borrie after the deliberations of the working party. He said that asking the DVLC to keep this vast amount of information might not be helpful. The noble Viscount suggested various alternatives but I come back to the point that I put to him earlier. I hope that the Government themselves will look at the problem and come forward with proposals, just as I am convinced that other parties concerned will examine the matter. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at six minutes past three o'clock.