HL Deb 06 March 2001 vol 623 cc133-74

3.10 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee. —(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 17 [Requirement of registration for registration plate suppliers]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 31: Page 10, line 18, leave out paragraph (b).

The noble Lord said: Members of the Committee will have observed that this amendment attempts to remove paragraph (b) from Clause 17(3). Clause 17(3) requires anybody who produces vehicle number plates to be registered, but the paragraph which I suggest should be considered by the Committee provides that the Secretary of State may, by regulation, provide for people who are of a prescribed description to be exempt from that requirement.

I understand why the Secretary of State may want to make regulations to exempt various activities from the provisions of the Bill but not what type of person may be exempt entirely from the licensing requirements. It may be that there are deserving classes of person who should be allowed to make number plates without a licence but it would be helpful if the Committee were told who they are likely to be. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

The effect of the amendment would be to remove a power to exempt prescribed persons from the requirement to register while retaining the power to exempt prescribed activities.

That would be an unnecessary and potentially damaging restriction on the powers contained in the clause to draw up regulations. Preliminary consultation has already revealed some areas which the Government will have to consider carefully before making regulations.

The reference to persons as well as activities was included to provide the greatest possible flexibility. It is recognised that there is a danger that exemptions may provide an avenue for abuse but that should be kept to a minimum and that is the Government's intention. Nevertheless, there may be genuine reasons why a person should not be subject to registration. For example, we have already received representations from the retail motor industry which we shall wish to explore further during the consultation process prior to the making of regulations.

We cannot guarantee that we could indicate exhaustively at this point how far the exemption should go. In any event, it is our view that the task of prescribing the exemptions is properly a task for consideration in secondary legislation. It would be a mistake to tie our hands in advance of the consultation process which will take place.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I am not seeking to tie the hands of the Government. I merely want to find out what they are doing or are likely to do. I am not in the least surprised that they have received representations from the retail motor industry. It is substantially the motor retail industry which sells number plates. When you buy a new car, you buy a set of number plates to go with it, usually from the same supplier. If the retail motor industry were to be exempt from all this, there would be no point in this part of the Bill at all.

It would be extremely odd for part of the motor industry to be exempt when the whole point is that all those who sell number plates should be registered in the interests of stopping vehicle crime. It is rather difficult.

Can the Minister give any examples of people who will be considered, as a class, as a group of persons, to be exempt from the licensing requirement? I do not expect that the Government have made a firm decision to exclude anybody, but who are they likely to consider to be exempt, as a class, from the provisions?

Lord Whitty

I cannot answer that question directly because I should not wish to make any presumption as regards any whole class being excluded from these provisions. Clearly, there is a difference between those who provide second-hand number plates for cars already on the road and those who provide number plates as part of the package when one is buying a new vehicle. There is a difference between those who supply specialised number plates for specialised vehicles and those who supply the trade currently, more or less on demand, with little regulation. The structure of the trade is also important. There may be franchises and dealerships which must be dealt with in a slightly different way from the registration process itself.

If we were to delete this paragraph which the noble Lord seeks to delete, either by deleting that option or making specific prescription on the face of the Bill, we should eliminate any flexibility arising in the secondary legislation process and in the consultation process that goes with it.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

This gets more confusing. It may be, therefore, that those who sell number plates for new cars will not he licensed—and that is the vast majority of number plates that are sold—but only those who are supplying a new number plate to replace a broken one or a number plate that has deteriorated in some way should be licensed. It appears that where there is a franchise or a dealership—that is, when large numbers of plates are being sold—it is less likely to need registration than is the case in relation to an individual number plate. That seems odd.

The Minister seemed to object to my use of the words "whole class". I confess that was my phrase. The phrase used in the Bill is, persons of a prescribed description". I do not believe that I was misleading the Committee in using that phrase but if I was, then I shall revert to, persons of a prescribed description". It is extremely odd. Do I see that the Minister has further inspiration arriving?

Lord Whitty

No, I do not have any further inspiration because this is a matter for consultation with many parties. What I was objecting to and why I have risen to my feet again is as regards the noble Lord's inspiration. Because I referred to different categories, he immediately leapt to the conclusion that I was therefore going to exempt them. That is not the case. I am saying that there are a number of situations in relation to which representations have been made to us that they should be excluded or subject to a different form of registration from that pertaining to the trade as whole. There is clearly a difference between new-car dealers who supply number plates in conjunction with DVLA and those who are offering number plates in the form of a one-off service.

Nevertheless, I must make it clear to this Committee that I have not reached a conclusion on which groups should or should not be exempt. I am trying to preserve the clause so that it gives some flexibility if we consider that those representations allow appropriately for different treatment for different groups and different persons.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I was not leaping to the conclusion that, just because the Minister mentioned persons of a prescribed description, they would automatically be exempt. But they will be considered for exemption. It seems to me that a potentially enormous hole is being driven through this Bill which seems to run flat counter to what the Government were attempting to achieve; that is, the licensing of number-plate suppliers.

Consideration at least will apparently be given to not requiring a licence for the vast majority of number plates sold. That would be an extremely odd and not very desirable outcome. That is certainly not something which has been included in the way in which the Government have represented the Bill until now.

Clearly further thought must be given to this matter, and we shall give further thought to it. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 32: Page 10, line 22, leave out "; and cognate expressions shall be construed accordingly

The noble Lord said: I suggest that the words be left out because of their obscurity. A few years ago, Sir Ernest Gowers wrote a book entitled Plain Words. It was required reading for all people on joining the Civil Service. It was published in various editions over a number of years and I hope that it is still in print. I should hope that copies are still circulated in the Home Office, at least among the new entrants to the Civil Service, but perhaps that may be asking too much.

Can we not have more simple wording so that the Bill is clearer to those of us who are not as well educated as some of your Lordships? Is it really necessary to use words of that character? I beg to move.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, when I looked at the amendments this morning—after breakfast when my brain could register—I had to scratch my head and get out a dictionary. I was still not sure what the Bill meant and I agree that it would be far better if it were expressed in plain, simple English rather than in such obscure language.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am truly amazed. I should have thought that noble Lords such as the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Brougham and Vaux, would be well familiar with the term "cognate". It is used by the parliamentary draftsman and counsel in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions rather than by those in the Home Office, who may have a different level of erudition.

An example of a cognate expression is the term "registration", which appears in Clause 17(4). It is used frequently throughout the Bill. Thus in Clause 19 it is clear that an application for registration is to be construed as an application to be registered within the meaning of Clause 17. That is why we have used the term, cognate expressions shall be construed accordingly". The term "cognate" in Clause 31 means "of the same root". It is therefore not more vague or obscure but rather more precise than the term "related". Therefore, Amendment No. 57, by substituting "related" for "cognate", does not improve the clarity of the drafting. I hope that, despite his surprising deficiency in education in this respect, in this case we can leave the drafting as provided by the parliamentary draftsman.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I did not have the advantage of higher education; I was put into a counting house at an early age. Cognate is not among the words I habitually use, nor is it among the words I have frequently come across in legislation; and in various ways I have had a lot to do with legislation during the past few years.

I apologise to the Home Office because it is clear that Plain Words circulates in that department. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has failed to catch up with Sir Ernest Gowers and his sensible suggestions on writing.

The Minister explained that he did not believe that the word "relative" in Amendment No. 57 meant the same so I shall not press it. For that matter, I shall not press Amendment No. 32. However, I believe that the more legislation is written in English which we can all readily understand and which the poor garage owner can understand should he need to refer to it, the better. It is not only ourselves and lawyers who need to understand legislation; it is also the man in the street. If he cannot understand it, how on earth can he obey it? If he has to go to a large dictionary in order to look up a word, that is not helpful either.

Lord Campbell of Croy

I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I agree with him. I was working in Whitehall when Sir Ernest Gowers's book was first published. He described what he was commending as, taut and muscular English".

Lord Cope of Berkeley

It is no wonder my noble friend asks such clear questions and makes such clear speeches. He obviously studied the work carefully.

I am sorry not to have prevailed on this occasion but in the course of legislation we should all bear in mind that wider point. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 33: Page 10, line 22, at end insert— ( ) Nothing in this Part shall prevent a person from manufacturing a registration plate for his own use.

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 33, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 39 and 54. The Bill does not prohibit a private person from manufacturing his own number plates. Am I correct in that interpretation? If it is the intention, what is the point of the Bill? What stops a rogue from making up his own number plates for his subsequent illegal activity? If it is not the intention, will the Minister's regulations make it impractical for a private person to manufacture his own number plates? If that is the intention, what is the position with existing number plates? Millions are currently in service on our fleet of vehicles. Is there any intention to replace all number plates with ones of a more secure system?

Is there any intention to reduce the number of suppliers of number plates? Will future developments in technology lead to only one facility in each centre of population for the manufacture of number plates? Is there perhaps a long-term intention to concentrate that facility in a local vehicle licensing office? Perhaps, when dealing with the DVLA electronically, it will no longer be necessary to have LVLOs unless they are involved in the manufacture of number plates. Alternatively, what assurances can the Minister give me that the manufacture of number plates will continue to be a commercial activity?

Amendment No. 39 relates to costs and requires the Secretary of State to produce a report. Perhaps the Minister could indicate the long-term plans. What will Part II cost to implement now and what will be the cost of future enhancements in security? Looking further ahead, what will be the cost of pressed metal number plates with sophisticated security devices?

Finally, my Amendment No. 54 is closely related to Amendment No. 33. It deals with the supply of materials to facilitate private manufacture. I beg to move.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

I rise briefly to ask the Minister a question. Number plates are currently made from flimsy material and are placed on the most vulnerable parts of a car. Is the Minister discussing with the motor industry possible alternatives which would make it unnecessary constantly to replace number plates?

3.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty

The answer to the noble Earl's first question is that as the clause requires the registration of any business which acts as a plate supplier, persons who make their own plates without going into business as a supplier are not caught by the provisions. The noble Earl is therefore correct in saying that there is nothing in the Bill to prevent anyone providing his own plates for use on his own vehicle, provided that they comply with the legal requirement for construction and display. Therefore, the clarification provided by Amendment No. 33 is not necessary. Provided they are able to comply there is nothing to prevent their doing so.

Amendment No. 54 is also unnecessary as Clause 28(2)(a) makes clear that it is an offence to supply, a plate, device or other object to a person who is carrying on a business". Therefore, supply by a business is important, but there is nothing to prevent supply to a person who wishes to manufacture a plate for his own use. I believe that the contrary implication would lead to serious complexity in enforcement.

The opposite question posed by the noble Earl is: what is there to stop a rogue making his own set of plates and disguising the identity of a stolen vehicle? Accepting that today number plates are not always made of the most robust material, nevertheless it is quite difficult to manufacture plates to the existing standards. On 1st September we shall introduce a new British standard for the construction and display of number plates, together with the new structure of letters and numbers on the plate, and regulations are already in place in relation to the font. Therefore, it will become increasingly difficult to manufacture number plates to those standards.

Looking to the future, I draw the attention of the Committee to Clause 34 which makes provision for additional information to be included on or in registration plates. That allows for the inclusion of security features which will make it even more difficult for individuals to manufacture their own plates. Therefore, there is a sequential process from the designation of a font, the production of a new standard which makes number plates more robust and the subsequent move to the inclusion of more security information on plates. Even with that, one cannot guarantee that criminals will not attempt to manufacture number plates, but to manufacture them solely for their own use is extremely unlikely. Throughout the Bill, therefore, we concentrate on the sale of such plates without appropriate identification from the owner of the vehicle.

The noble Earl also asked whether the Government had it in mind to end the supply of number plates as a commercial activity. The noble Earl displays the normal Tory paranoia about this matter. There is nothing in the Bill which nationalises the number plate system. There are no plans to have single number plate suppliers through the DVLA or its local offices, although there are examples of that system in other countries. We are looking at what prevails in other countries, but there is nothing in the Bill which moves us in that direction.

In response to the noble Earl's Amendment No. 39 which requires a report, the regulatory impact assessment that accompanies this part of the Bill already makes it clear that the whole scheme is to be reviewed after two years. Obviously, that would need to include information from the police as to the enforcement aspects as well as an assessment of the costs to business. We do not believe that it is sensible to include details of all prosecutions on an annual basis as the amendment proposes. That would be burdensome and disproportionate. Although the review will cover the overall effects of the prosecution and enforcement processes, we do not believe that the requirement in this amendment to include all the details is appropriate.

I hope that I have answered some of the many questions asked by the noble Earl and that he will see fit not to pursue his amendment.

Earl Attlee

I am grateful for the Minister's reply. The noble Lord did not refer to the existing stock of number plates fitted to several million vehicles. Is there any intention that those should be replaced in future by more secure number plates? I still do not understand why the Minister is prepared to leave a huge loophole in the legislation. Why do the Government propose that any person who manufactures a number plate, as opposed to selling it in the course of a business, does not have to be registered? That leaves a large loophole. Perhaps the Minister will deal with the question of existing number plates before I withdraw my amendment.

Lord Whitty

The vast majority of existing plates would not be directly affected by these changes. There are some number plates which are, or have become, illegal following the prescriptions in the new font regulations. Once they became compulsory, existing number plates which used type faces that did not conform to them became illegal. But the vast majority of existing number plates are not touched by this legislation. As to the manufacture of one's own number plates, if one displays illegal plates one commits a criminal offence. There is no need for an additional criminal offence relating to self-supply. The provision applies to an individual who either trades in illegal number plates or supplies them to someone who is not entitled to that particular number.

Earl Attlee

I welcome the move to combat illegal fonts because that will facilitate the automatic reading of number plates. However, I put a very specific point. There is a large fleet of vehicles, most of which have legal number plates. In future will it be necessary for those number plates to be replaced at the motorists' expense by more sophisticated ones?

Lord Whitty

The answer is that that is not necessary either under the Bill or the regulations.

Earl Attlee

But what is the Minister's future intention?

Lord Whitty

With the gradual turnover of the fleet and the residual number of old plates, it is quite possible that a future Minister will have to take further measures. However, since the turnover of the fleet will extend well beyond a decade I suspect that neither the noble Earl nor myself will have to debate those considerations. For the moment, there is nothing in the Bill, the existing regulations, or the measures proposed under this legislation which requires ordinary motorists to change their number plates, provided they are legal under the regulations.

Earl Attlee

I am grateful for the Minister's response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Register of registration plate suppliers]:

[Amendment No. 34 not moved.]

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 35: Page 10, line 30, at end insert— ( ) Subject to subsection (6) below, information to be supplied under subsection (3) shall be available electronically.

The noble Earl said: The Committee may be assisted to know who will be able to access the register of registered suppliers of number plates. Will the motorist be able to assume that Halfords, or another motor factor, is properly registered without having to consult the register? The easiest way to consult any register is by electronic means. If everyone is able to access perhaps certain parts of the information, is it not better that that should be done electronically on the Internet? I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

The answer to the noble Earl's question is that it would be desirable but his amendment is not required to achieve it. As the noble Earl may be aware, the register will be held by the DVLA which has already begun to plan for the administration of the register and the release of information to interested parties as suggested in the amendment. Under the Modernising Government initiative, the DVLA is well to the forefront in working towards the provision of all its services electronically. Clearly, it would make sense for that facility to be made available electronically from the outset of the new service. We have not reached the point of a detailed user requirement, but in principle we have committed ourselves to providing information from the new register on the Internet with an interactive search facility. Responses to inquiries by e-mail are already part of the DVLA's normal process. There is nothing in the Bill that prevents that information being made available electronically.

Previously, in Committee, we indicated that references in legislation to information or record-keeping are nowadays construed as including electronic information or record-keeping. In case there are further technological advances that will remain the position. The provision will not spell out that electronically-provided information is appropriate. To do so would throw doubt on whether the same terminology means the same in other government services.

Earl Attlee

I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 [Applications for registration]:

[Amendments Nos. 36 to 39 not moved.]

Clause 19 agreed to. Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Cancellation of registration by the Secretary of State]:

[Amendment No. 40 not moved.]

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 41: Page 12, line 20, at end insert "and is unlikely to do so

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 41, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 42. Yesterday the Committee discussed a fairly similar issue. In the Home Counties each motor factor will manufacture several number plates each day, but in the wilds of central Wales a month may go by without any number plates being manufactured.

The tenor of Clause 21 is to concentrate the number of manufacturers. Perhaps the Minister can say whether that is correct. Is the motor trade aware of the likely concentration of manufacturers in order to meet the technological requirements?

Amendment No. 41 seeks to insert the important qualification, and is unlikely to do so", after the time limit for producing no number plates. Amendment No. 42 deals with the same issue, but in a different way. Clause 23 provides the appeal procedure. Presumably the appeal would be purely on the ground of disagreeing with the Secretary of State's view that no number plates have been produced within the previous 28 days.

Perhaps the magistrates' court can allow registration to continue, notwithstanding that no number plates have recently been produced. Perhaps the Minister can say what the power of the magistrates' courts will be under the Bill as drafted. However, the amendment is designed to allow the magistrates to consider whether cancellation is desirable in view of the lack of suppliers in the local area. It is not designed to cover a situation where there are plenty of alternative suppliers in the area. I beg to move.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Whitty

Under the existing draft of the Bill the Secretary of State may—I emphasise, may—cancel the registration if he is satisfied that the operator concerned has not been carrying on business as a supplier for at least the 28 days. Therefore, the only ground for appeal against the cancellation, which is what the amendment deals with, would be that the Secretary of State had been mistaken in that belief.

Amendment No. 41, as drafted, would require the Secretary of State to establish whether a supplier is still trading. In addition, it would require him to make a subjective judgment as to whether the supplier intended to resume trading at any future time.

Both in the original decision and in any appeal it is a matter of direct fact which has to be established, because even the supplier might not actually know whether he intends to supply again in the future. If he does then he should reapply for the register. Once a person has ceased to trade entirely, the question of his future intentions becomes immaterial.

The intention behind the provision is to ensure that the register of businesses is kept as reliable and as accurate as possible. If that is not managed, the register will not be of much value in the fight against vehicle crime. It is not sensible that the register should contain details of businesses which are not trading as registration plate suppliers. Already the Department of Trade strikes off companies which have ceased to trade. That system works well enough and this provision takes it a stage further.

Amendment No. 42 would mean that in the event of a business actively trading as a registration plate supplier being wrongly deregistered, the appeal would be dismissed if there was an assessment by the Secretary of State that there were already sufficient number plate suppliers in that area. This matter goes back to the original question asked by the noble Earl, as to whet her the provision is a means of controlling the structure of the industry in reducing the number of suppliers. That is not the intention of the provision. It may be that the industry structure changes in response to these regulations. But it is not our intention to use this measure to reduce the number of traders; nor is it to prohibit new traders entering or traders remaining within the market simply because there are other traders in the immediate vicinity. It provides the deletion of that trader from the register only if the supplier has deliberately ceased to trade in number plates.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may return to the question of 28 days. The Minister talked about suppliers ceasing to trade. There is a world of difference between a business which ceases to trade and a business which simply does not happen to sell some number plates that month. The point that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, makes, and the one which I made in Committee yesterday, is that it is entirely possible that the main business of a supplier will not be the supply of registration plates. It will be a garage or perhaps the seller of caravans. The supply of registration plates is simply something that it does. It is easy to see circumstances in which it will not sell a plate in 28 days. However, it would be caught by the provisions of the Bill.

I should like also to understand how the Secretary of State, the DVLA or anyone else will know whether someone has sold a plate in 28 days. I am not clear how that mechanism comes into play. I would appreciate some clarification on that matter.

Lord Whitty

The 28 days in the clause relates to 28 days in a later clause, on which I do not think there are any amendments. That clause requires the trader within 28 days to give notice to the Secretary of State of any changes affecting the accuracy of the information provided. That would include a requirement on the trader to notify that it had stopped trading. If it failed to do so, but the Secretary of State received information that it had stopped trading, then the Secretary of State has the discretionary ability to deregister the trader after the 28 days. Obviously, the Secretary of State, in reaching that decision, would need to take into account the nature of the business. Although this part of the Bill relates only to England and Wales, if it was a caravan seller in the Outer Hebrides, that would need to be taken into account and there would need to be further inquiries before that decision was made. This is a permissive power. The 28 days relates to the requirement on the trader himself or herself to notify changes.

Earl Attlee

I accept the Minister's point that we need a reliable register. However, the Committee is fairly sure that 28 days is rather on the aggressive side. The Minister talked about the subjective decision of the Secretary of State. Why not ask the supplier what his intentions are? If he says, "I intend to carry on producing number plates, but it is a fairly patchy business at the moment", then the Secretary of State should accept that. I am not convinced that the Minister fully recognises the needs in remote areas. I suspect that we shall return to this issue at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 21 agreed to.

Clause 22 agreed to.

Clause 23 [Appeals: Part 2]:

[Amendment No. 42 not moved.]

Clause 23 agreed to.

Clause 24 [Keeping of records.' Part 2]:

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 43: Page 14, line 9, at end insert— ( ) Regulations made under subsection (1) shall provide that records may be made electronically and the circumstances when a printed copy shall be made.

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 44. My estimation is that 10,000 to 15,000 number plates are manufactured every day. It would be helpful if the Minister could correct me if I am wrong. Record-keeping is onerous and a large number of transactions must be recorded. Record-keeping could be electronically linked to the manufacture of number plates when we move to more sophisticated number plates. Having an electronic search facility rather than having to go through a card index could also help the police in an investigation.

I turn to Amendment No. 44. What will happen to the records when the business closes? Some of these businesses do not last for very long. For how long should the records be kept? How does the Minister envisage the procedure for keeping the records when a business closes? It needs to be recognised that the value of the records is relatively short-term. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

As a quick piece of mental arithmetic, 6.5 million number plates a year works out at slightly over 15,000 a day, which was the figure referred to by the noble Earl. So, yes, we are in the same ball park.

The noble Earl referred to electronic record-keeping. In answer to questions raised on an earlier clause, I mentioned the general point about not prescribing such matters in the legislation. It would not be appropriate to prescribe it because it would throw doubt on other such provisions. In a practical sense, computerised records would be preferable for the purposes of this scheme. However, the legislation should not prescribe that, both for the reason of other legislation and because, while the Government encourage the use of electronic communication in record-keeping, it would not be acceptable to require small businesses to do so and thus put them outside the law simply because they had not introduced a computerised scheme and continued to use traditional methods. That is the implication of adopting it in this connection. Therefore, for a combination of reasons, I do not think that Amendment No. 43 is appropriate.

Amendment No. 44 is unduly prescriptive in the sense that it seeks to insert into primary legislation something that is more appropriate for regulation. It is true that the British Number Plate Manufacturers Association has suggested that records should be kept for the two-year period only. But we would want to consult more widely on the regulations before we reached a final decision. We need to strike a balance between the needs of criminal investigation, which is what the Bill facilitates, and the interests of small businesses. That means that not only small business interests have to be consulted, but also the police.

The same is true of the suggestion that records should be handed over to the police on cessation of business or on the death of the registered person. We need to be satisfied that the police are the most appropriate body for receipt of such records. That is an additional function for them. We need to address that issue as well in the course of consulting on the regulations. In any case, there are all kinds of complexities that make the drafting of the amendment a little suspect. For example, which chief constable should be handed the records in the case of a business covering more than one police authority? All of those issues would have to be addressed in the regulations even if we accepted that what the noble Earl proposes is the most sensible way of retaining the records.

I do not think that what is proposed is appropriate for primary legislation. We will be consulting all interests on this matter. I hope that the noble Earl will not pursue the amendment.

Earl Attlee

We are moving towards more sophisticated number plates. Therefore, anyone who wants to be able to manufacture number plates in the future will have to have more sophisticated facilities. There is a need for the police to be able rapidly to search. What would happen if false number plates were used in a crime but the number plates were produced a long distance away from where the crime was perpetrated? How would the police be able rapidly to search for where the number plates were manufactured? Can the Minister say whether there is any intention electronically to notify the DVLA each time a number plate is manufactured? Once one starts capturing that information electronically at the point of manufacture, it is not difficult to inform the DVLA with a code number where the number plates were made. Finally, the Minister has not satisfied me as to what in practice will happen to the records when a number plate supplier ceases trading.

Lord Whitty

I said that this would be a matter for consultation and subsequent regulation. I am not immediately jumping to the conclusion drawn by the noble Earl, that they should be lodged with the police. As to the question of police access to the records, clearly, the DVLA will be keeping its records electronically. Therefore, the arrangements that we have now provided, whereby the police would have access to the DVLA records, will apply. I agree that the records will have to become more sophisticated as manufacture becomes more sophisticated. At the moment, a number of small businesses keep records only in more traditional form and we would not want to put those small businesses under undue pressure to computerise. I suspect that the problem will be resolved over time, but legislation is not the appropriate place to do it.

The noble Earl referred to the tracing of manufacturers. The regulations will in future require the details of the manufacturer to be recorded on the number plate. Therefore, that is another dimension to the ability of the police to trace the origins of the number plate.

Earl Attlee

If I may deal with the Minister's final point first, sometimes one struggles to read the number on the number plate, let alone the small print. The principle of Part 2 of the Bill is clearly desirable. But what concerns me is the practicality. The Minister seems to be struggling with the practicality of what to do with the records of a business that no longer exists. He seems also to be reluctant to take full advantage of what we can do with the electronic interchange of information. I suspect that we shall return to this issue at some stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 44 not moved.]

Clause 24 agreed to.

Clause 25 [Provision of information on sale of registration plates]:

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 45: Page 14, line 23, at end insert— ( ) Regulations made under subsection (1) may not provide for the production of the vehicle registration document if the customer can show the registered person that it is inconvenient due to the distance away from where the registration document is kept.

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 46. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, referred earlier today to the ease with which number plates can be damaged in a minor accident. They can also be lost; and I suspect that, after the Bill becomes law, they may be stolen more often. Clearly, in that situation, it will be necessary rapidly to replace the number plate. What documents will be required by the number plate supplier before he is allowed to manufacture a number plate under the regulations? I beg to move.

4 p.m.

Lord Whitty

No doubt the noble Earl will accuse me of struggling with the detail but, once again, I must point out that the detail here should be decided in secondary legislation. The point of putting into Clause 25 a regulation-making power is to enable us to do so. That is the appropriate way in which to proceed. To some extent, the drafting of the noble Earl's amendments to this clause indicates the difficulty of putting such matters onto the face of the Bill.

The information prescribed in regulations will take into account a variety of different circumstances in which a registration document might not immediately be available. The noble Earl's amendments address one such occasion, but do so rather subjectively. The information referred to in the clause is information that would provide proof that the prospective purchaser is entitled to receive the plates he has requested and would confirm that they bear the appropriate registration mark. This could be done if, for example, the vehicle registration document was not available, by asking for proof of identity in the form of a driving licence or passport, or an indirect proof of entitlement to the registration mark.

The form of words used by the noble Earl in his amendments—for example, when he refers to the vehicle being some "distance away" from where the registration document is kept—is difficult to establish objectively. Again, in Amendment No.36 the use of the word "obviously" errs on the side of the imprecise for primary legislation purposes. Such matters can be spelt out in more detail in secondary legislation.

While I do not object to the intention behind the amendments tabled by the noble Earl, these are matters for secondary legislation. So far as concerns the documentation, clearly we would prefer it if the vehicle registration document is produced, but the regulations will have to deal with a wider range of circumstances than are dealt with here, where it is not practicable.

Lord Burnham

Vehicle registration documents notwithstanding, I think that it is timely to question the matter of false number plates, although one should not say anything that might be considered sub judice. Are the Government content that adequate checks are made on the provenance of the vehicle and of its owner before number plates are issued? We believe that we have seen false number plates issued over the past 48 hours. That would have contravened this regulation.

Lord Whitty

Any current circumstances cannot be in breach of this regulation because it has not yet come into force. It is being put in place to deal with circumstances such as those to which I believe the noble Lord refers. It will limit the ability of people to acquire illegal number plates in the first place because the buyer will have to prove to the seller his entitlement to those number plates. The best way to achieve that is through the registration document, but there are other ways of achieving the validation.

I can confirm to the noble Lord that it is our intention that this legislation and the regulations to be made under it will address, in part at least, the problem to which the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, has referred.

Earl Attlee

I accept that this is a matter for secondary legislation but, before passing the Bill, the Committee will want to be sure that the legislation will work, that it will be practical and that it will not impose an undue burden. While it is perfectly reasonable to expect a person requesting new number plates to produce a form of identification, in order that the registered vehicle keeper is made known, as soon as we move towards insisting on vehicle documents, we shall create severe difficulties. However, subject to the usual caveats, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 46 not moved.]

Clause 25 agreed to.

Lord Brougham and Vaux moved Amendment No. 47: After Clause 25, insert the following new clause—

"OFFENCES RELATING TO SALE OF REGISTRATION PLATES (1) Any person who, on purchasing a vehicle registration plate from a registered plate supplier, deceives the supplier by presenting false information shall be guilty of an offence. (2) A registered supplier who supplies a registration plate to another person when he knows or reasonably suspects that it will be used for an unlawful purpose shall be guilty of an offence. (3) A person guilty of an offence under subsections (1) and (2) shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 of the standard scale.

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 47 standing in my name. I seek to introduce a new clause to follow Clause 25 which addresses offences relating to the sale of registration plates. During the passage of the Bill in Committee in the other place, an amendment was accepted and inserted as a new clause. I refer to new Clause 10 in Part 1 entitled, Offence of making false statements". The clause "mirrors" Clause 19 in Part 2 of the Bill by making it an offence to make false statements when applying for registration as a salvage operator, as is the case covered in Clause 19 when applying for registration as a plate supplier.

This proposed new clause aims to rectify a possible omission in that in Part 2, there is no corresponding "mirror" of Clause 12 in Part 1 of the Bill. Clause 12 recognises that it is an offence for a citizen to provide false details when selling a vehicle to a registered salvage dealer. However, there is no provision which recognises and makes it an offence for a citizen to provide false details when applying to purchase a registration plate.

The general emphasis of Part 2 of the Bill is on the relationship between the DVLA as the keeper of registrations and registered plate suppliers. Information flows and possible offences are detailed in Clauses 24, 28 and 29. Only Clause 25 refers to the relationship between registered plate suppliers and the citizen seeking to purchase a plate. The clause aims to ensure only that the supplier records prescribed information, such as vehicle registration and driving licence details, from the purchaser.

While Clause 25 aims to establish that there is a required information flow, it makes no reference to any possible deception which could be deployed in order to achieve the sale of a vehicle of doubtful provenance, as, for example, has been specified in Clause 12. By that I refer to a vehicle which has been rung or cloned by an organised vehicle thief. It is the key intention of the Bill to restrict significantly the known operating methods of such criminals.

The proposed new clause aims to establish clearly that it is an offence for a purchaser to acquire a registration plate by supplying false information, while also recognising that it would be an offence for the plate supplier knowingly to collude in such a transaction. It is also suggested that the scale—in terms of potential financial gain and the impact on possibly unwitting and innocent purchasers of such vehicles, who run the risk of losing all moneys spent on the vehicle as well as having the vehicle confiscated and returned to its rightful owner—warrants a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale. Furthermore, in the case of a complicit plate supplier, Clause 20, Removal or suspension of registration by a court", offers the court the further option of suspending his registration for any period of up to five years. I hope that the Minister will look favourably on this new clause. I beg to move.

Viscount Tenby

I rise briefly to support the amendment tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux. This appears nicely to round up the parts of the Bill covering sanctions. It would be untidy and rather a pity if, at a later date, it was found necessary to include such a provision in one of the annual criminal justice Bills which have become such a feature of our political life.

As I have said, it would be a pity to have to wait until such a sanction was included in a separate Bill simply because we had not taken advantage of the opportunity now presented to us to block off this loophole, while it is in what might be described as its natural environment. That is why I support the amendment.

Viscount Simon

I, too, support this amendment. The only element that I, personally, would have preferred to see in the amendment is—similar to an amendment I moved yesterday evening—the imposition of a maximum fine rather than a fine set at a certain level. A magistrate can doctor such a fine according to individual circumstances, albeit that yesterday the Minister declared such an approach to be somewhat heavy-handed.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

The offences which the proposed new clause seeks to create are both necessary for the policing of the Bill. As to the first offence, there is a provision in Clause 25 to ensure that when a plate is bought, the person buying it has to supply certain information required by the Secretary of State. However, before my noble friend and the noble Viscount brought forward the amendment, I could see nothing in the Bill to say what would happen if a person did so through deception and deceit.

Similarly, there will be occasions when a number plate supplier realises that a particular number plate will be used for an unlawful purpose. He then becomes, as it were, an accessory before the fact of the unlawful use of the registration plate. I believe that such a person should be found guilty of an offence in such a case.

I support my noble friend and the noble Viscount in the amendment. I disagreed with the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, only when he said that we look forward to criminal justice Bills. It is true in the literal sense that we see them coming, but it is not true that we look forward to them with gleeful anticipation.

Viscount Tenby

I was of course using the expression in that sense.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

Then I am in agreement with the noble Viscount.

Lord Whitty

In default of an immediate criminal justice Bill which might create new offences, the amendment seeks to create yet a further offence in this area. My argument is that it is not necessary. We need to create an offence of illegally supplying documents without checking the validity of the application for them, as is provided here, but if the police wish to bring prosecutions against a purchaser—which might be difficult in certain circumstances—and believe that they have sufficient proof to do so, legislation already exists to meet that point. Sanctions exist under Section 1 of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 which make it an offence to create a false instrument. This would cover any attempt to pass off a false document as genuine in order to deceive a supplier.

There are also specific offences of forging a driving licence with intent to deceive under Section 173 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and of forging a registration document under Section 44 of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994. The use of an otherwise legal document, not a forged document, by someone who was not entitled to use that document is also covered in that photocard driving licences and passports are themselves secure documents which require identity checks before issue. The new driving licences require a photograph of the holder; paper driving licences and vehicle registration documents carry security features, including a watermark, to combat illegal copying. Therefore, so far as concerns deception and forgery, there are already checks to ensure that a purchaser can be prosecuted if caught.

There is no absolute guarantee that number plate suppliers will never unwittingly accept false documents, but the proposals in the Bill will in future present the purported owner of validation documents to purchase with a significant challenge where no such challenge exists at present. Suppliers will be protected from criminal sanctions where they can show that they have exercised due diligence in checking the documents.

Although we require a new offence in relation to the supplier, it is not necessary to create a new offence in relation to the purchaser. While I understand the intention behind the amendment, I do not accept that it is necessary.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

I am grateful for the support of the noble Viscount opposite and of my noble friend on the Front Bench. There seems to be a good case for some consolidation of the road traffic Acts in order that we may all understand the position. From the way in which the Minister described the situation, that would be a job for a lawyer.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I shall read what he said and reserve my option perhaps to come back at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 26 [Rights to enter and inspect premises: Part 2]:

4.15 p.m.

Viscount Simon moved Amendment No. 48: Page 14, line 38, at end insert ", or

  1. (b) premises that a constable or authorised person, with reasonable cause, suspects of being used by a person for carrying on a business as a registration plate supplier wholly or partly for the purpose of his business so far as it consists of selling or supplying registration plates"

The noble Viscount said: Last night my noble friend did not like my earlier amendment concerning a police constable's right to enter registered premises but not those which are not registered. I suspect that he will not like this amendment either for exactly the same reasons that he gave last night.

However, there will doubtlessly be premises which are not registered for selling or supplying registration plates and which police officers will have reason to suspect are being used for this purpose. A police officer should have the right of entry, and the amendment seeks to establish that right. I beg to move.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

I have added my name to this amendment in the light of the amendments I tabled to earlier sections of the Bill. in much the same way as the noble Viscount. I am concerned, and growing increasingly concerned, that what is called the Vehicles (Crime) Bill is turning into a massive bureaucratic exercise with weak links to the police and the work that they have to do. This amendment and others which have been tabled and, sadly, rejected, would strengthen the links between the kind of information collected under the provisions of the Bill and the uses to which it could be put by the police. I suspect that the amendment will go the way of all the others but, nevertheless, it has my support.

Viscount Tenby

I, too, support the amendment. I am in one of my rather more magisterial and draconian moods at the moment. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, that we should tie this in to the forces of law and order. We should try to do something about it rather than fiddle around with its bureaucratic nature. That is why I support the noble Viscount's amendment.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

In the debate on the Private Security Industry Bill we discussed powers of entry and an amendment similar to this was moved. During that debate, the Minister from the Home Office said that those who submit themselves for registration open themselves up, as it were, to being visited by the enforcement authorities, whereas those who have not registered should be entitled to their privacy. I think that is more or less a summary of what the Minister said. I expect that we shall get a fairly similar answer from a joined-up government when the Minister replies today.

However, there remains the difficulty that a police constable or an authorised person may suspect that premises are being used for an illegal and unlicensed purpose, in which case the only way an officer can find out whether or not they are being so used is to enter the premises and make inquiries. He will, of course, be able to go to a magistrate and say that he believes that an offence has been committed, and get permission to enter through a warrant in the usual way.

As the Bill stands, an "authorised person" can be an official of the local authority. I take it that this would be the trading standards officer. Amendment No. 49 suggests that only the chief constable should be able to authorise someone.

I have some sympathy with the amendment, not because I am against trading standards officers doing their duty, but because I believe that Parliament should be cautious about giving rights of entry. We do so very frequently in different Bills. We have done so twice this week already. Powers of entry were dealt with in the legislation we considered yesterday. We are constantly adding to the numbers of people who can enter business premises and homes for different reasons. It is part of the increasing regulation of society of which this Bill is a small part.

Not long ago my noble friend Lord Marlesford asked how many powers of entry were in existence and the Government said that it was too expensive to find out, which gives one pause for thought as to how many officials can enter premises for all kinds of different reasons. That is why I have some sympathy for the amendment being limited to a constable or someone authorised by the police rather than constantly extending such provisions.

I agree that it is a difficult matter. We all want this legislation to be enforced because there is no point in passing it if it is not. I am not sure that there is any point in us passing it since it has been discovered that one can now make one's own number plates and that there is a possibility of large numbers of people being exempt from the licensing procedure. But that is another matter.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am in an awkward position because noble Lords have left me with very little to say, having anticipated my argument. I am almost minded to say that this particular clause, as drafted, demonstrates the Government's liberal credentials, but that would be fallacious under the circumstances. Noble Lords were right in anticipating the argument.

Amendment No. 48 would make it possible for a constable or authorised person, with reason, to enter business premises which are suspected of selling or supplying registration plates. That is primarily because they signed up to a system of registration. It will be possible to enter and inspect registered businesses without a warrant, but one would certainly be needed to enter and inspect an unregistered business. We take the view that to give constables or authorised persons the right to enter without a warrant the unregistered premises of number plate suppliers in order to carry out inspections would be excessive, not to say heavy handed.

I turn to Amendment No. 49. The Bill already specifies that a constable may enter and inspect premises. Therefore, we take the view that there is no need to state that the chief constable may authorise people on his behalf to act as required by the amendment. Is it likely that the police will delegate the function to some other body? Discussions have been undertaken with the Local Government Association. It requested that the Bill should contain powers of entry and inspection by persons appointed by local authorities. As the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has suggested, it may well be the case that trading standards officers are the persons to whom part of that work may be delegated. That is a question of practical implementation. For those reasons I hope that noble lords will be able to withdraw their amendments.

Viscount Simon

I thank noble Lords who have spoken, and the noble Baroness. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, mentioned trading standards officers being allowed to enter premises. That may well happen. The only reservation I have about them is that a police officer can enter straight away, but a trading standards officer will be affected by his order of priorities and may not be able to enter immediately. This matter is certainly worth thinking about.

I am not quite certain what my noble friend the Minister has replied to. He has merely addressed the police constable's right of entry at registered premises. He has not addressed the problem of unregistered premises, which is what the amendment deals with. Perhaps my noble friend would like to address that problem.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I did. I said that noble Lords were right in anticipating my defence of the Government's position. It is right that the owner of premises not normally expected to be controlled by this legislation needs to be protected by the requirement for law enforcement officers to seek a warrant before entering such premises. That is entirely consistent with other enforcement powers. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, made that point. We looked at that argument when considering powers of entry for the private security industry legislation. There is a parallel.

Viscount Simon

I thank my noble friend for that clarification. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 49 not moved.]

Clause 26 agreed to. Clause 27 agreed to.

Clause 28 [Offences relating to counterfeit registration plates]:

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 50: Page 16, line 5, leave out subsection (1).

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment Nos. 51 and 52. In my opinion Clause 28(1) is fairly unintelligible. My Amendment No. 52 attempts to help very slightly by inserting the word "resemble". However I suspect that I shall have to return at a later stage with a better definition of a counterfeit number plate.

Amendment No. 51 deletes the words "sells" and inserts the words "or transfers". I do not understand why any person should be allowed to deal in counterfeit number plates. Why should we restrict the ambit of the Bill to selling number plates rather than widening the matter to transferring them? I suspect that the Minister will have more sympathy for my Amendment No. 51 than Amendment No. 50. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

The noble Earl said that the clause is unintelligible. If all his amendments were accepted, the result would also be fairly unintelligible as well. To delete subsection (1) would mean that the clause began with subsection (2) which includes a reference to the previous subsection. There is incompatibility there.

Earl Attlee

The effect of Amendment No. 52 is to replace subsection (1).

Lord Whiitty

It may be its effect, but not as regards the numerology. However, I take the noble Earl's point.

The point of substance is that Amendment No. 50 would remove the offence that has been conceived to prevent the sale of plates that do not meet legal requirements. It seems to me that that would knock the heart out of this part of the Bill. Taken alone, Amendment No. 51 would widen the clause to include the transfer of number plates as well as their sale. As has been rightly said, the clause is at present limited to the sale of plates because people who carry on a business as registration number plate suppliers are required to be registered. It is only the businesses that are required to register, as we discussed earlier, and not anyone else. Transfers between people who do not run businesses would not be covered by the requirements for registration. Therefore, it is consistent with the scheme as a whole and the registration of businesses for Clause 28 to apply to the sale of plates, but not as regards some other form of transfer.

The objective of the clause is to prevent businesses supplying plates which it would be illegal to display on vehicles. As the supply of such plates is carried out on a commercial basis, inserting the term "transfer" would cloud the issue.

The intention of Amendment No. 52 appears to be to shift the liability from the point of sale to the manufacturing process itself. It is, of course, desirable to make manufacturers accountable for their products but the Government wish liability to be incurred at the point of sale because it is the supply of number plates rather than their manufacture which provides the potential for criminal activity in the sense of displaying illegal number plates. The Committee will also note that the whole of Part 2 of the Bill concentrates on regulation of the supply industry. However, the manufacturing end of the process is not neglected in the Bill. Clause 28(2) ensures that manufacturers will not supply plates or materials that will facilitate the sale of illegal plates.

Unfortunately the amendment may well have unforeseen and unintended consequences, for example, if a manufacturer were to make or assemble something resembling a registration plate for some use other than display on a vehicle, there is no particular reason why he should not do so. For example, motor vehicle enthusiasts may wish to collect plates showing an obsolete format to put on their walls. They cannot put them on their vehicles because that would of itself be an illegal act. Manufacturers would, of course, be well advised to make clear that any non-regulation plates that they produce are not for display on a vehicle and should perhaps include a visual disclaimer to that effect.

The illegal activity we are trying to make more difficult is the illegal display of number plates and the point at which we are attempting to impose this registration system is at the point of sale. Under the terms of the amendment even the manufacture of a plate carrying an explicit disclaimer could be illegal because it could be construed as resembling a registration plate. I give a more extreme example. A plate made for a child's pedal car could theoretically be construed as resembling a registration plate. That is not intended to be a facetious example; it illustrates the point.

There is no harm in manufacturing a false plate that is for display indoors or in some other place, for example, a garage wall. The public mischief and the criminal dimension arise from selling plates for display on vehicles. The amendments, if coupled with the removal of subsection (1) under Amendment No. 50, would mean that someone could obtain a finished plate and sell it even if he knew or suspected it was not a true plate. I think that is not the intention of the amendments we are discussing, but they have all those pitfalls. The extension to non-commercial transfer is unnecessary and goes well beyond what the rest of this section of the Bill provides; namely, registration of commercial suppliers.

4.30 p.m.

Earl Attlee

I am grateful for the Minister's response. I accept his comments with regard to my Amendments Nos. 50 and 52. All opposition amendments have unintended consequences. My point was that the wording of subsection (1) of Clause 28 seemed to me to be rather peculiar. It states: A person who sells a plate or other device which is not a registration plate". That wording seems rather complicated. I accept the points the Minister has made in that regard, but I am unhappy about his comments on Amendment No. 51 which seeks to widen the effect of the Bill to include transfer. We shall need to return to that point as there is a big gap in the Bill. However, my amendments are not the right way to tackle that. As I say, we shall return to that point at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 51 to 53 not moved.]

Clause 28 agreed to.

Clause 29 [Offence of supplying plates etc. to unregistered persons]:

[Amendments Nos. 54 and 55 not moved.]

Clause 29 agreed to.

Clause 30 [Proceedings for offences under Part 2]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 56: Page 16, line 31, leave out "a local authority or".

The noble Lord said: This clause concerns how proceedings for offences under Part 2—that is, all the offences concerned with number plates—are to be instituted. It provides that proceedings for an offence can be instituted only by a local authority or a constable or, in any other case, with the consent of the Attorney General". Therefore, private prosecutions cannot be brought without the approval of the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General. The amendment examines the local authority's role in all of this. It seems to me that most of this part is to be policed by the Secretary of State, normally through the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), with the police prosecuting various offences, but on occasion a local authority is responsible for this matter. We have already mentioned trading standards officers or other authorised individuals being able to enter premises.

It would be helpful if the Minister could make clear when local authorities will be responsible for this matter. Are they to be responsible for running the system locally even though it is the Secretary of State's responsibility, or is the DVLA to run the system and local authorities will just give a hand, as it were, now and then and bring the occasional prosecution? The fact that the words "a local authority" appear before the words "a constable" in the clause suggests that the local authority will play the major role. However, I may be reading too much into the Bill. I should like to be clear whose responsibility it will be to manage the system. Will it be the responsibility of the DVLA with the assistance of the police or will the system be run by local authorities who will pursue those who may contravene the provisions of the Bill? I beg to move.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

I support my noble friend. Clauses 17, 18 and 19, which concern registration, appear to involve the Secretary of State. Local authorities do not appear to be involved. My noble friend has made a valid point.

Lord Whitty

The DVLA will be responsible for the administration of the register. However, enforcement, as with other DVLA offences, will often, in the first instance, rest with the police. The case for allowing local authorities to bring prosecutions is that they may well enter the relevant premises to investigate other trading offences—trading standards officers will be involved—and if the register is to be of any value in combating crime it must be as accurate as possible. Any sources of information as regards enforcement would be helpful. We believe that if we give both the police and local authorities the right to take proceedings that will increase the enforcement opportunities and hence compliance with the registration requirements.

The Local Government Association has been fully consulted on this matter. It has requested that local authorities' trading standards officers should be authorised persons in this respect who may be in the relevant premises on other business. It has requested that local authorities should be given powers to bring prosecutions. Therefore, we have included the provision we are discussing which will help to enhance enforcement on the ground. I hope that I have given the noble Lord sufficient explanation.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

Therefore the DVLA and the police will be responsible for the system and local authorities will be responsible only in so far as they may come across an offence. That makes the position clear although it does not explain why the words "a local authority" appear before the words "a constable" in the clause. However, I shall not press the Minister on that fine point of drafting. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 30 agreed to.

Clause 31 [Interpretation of Part 2]:

[Amendment No. 57 not moved.]

Clause 31 agreed to.

Clause 32 agreed to.

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 58: After Clause 32, insert the following new clause—

"DISPLAY OF REGISTRATION MARKS For section 23(4)(b) of the 1994 Act there shall be substituted—

The noble Earl said: In moving the amendment, I speak also to Amendment No. 59. The amendments provide for commercial vehicle trailers to be registered in the same way as motor vehicles. We are talking about heavier vehicles than the caravans and small trailers to which my noble friend Lord Astor referred yesterday.

Amendment No. 58 would allow different regulations regarding the display of number plates for trailers. At present the number plate of a goods vehicle trailer is displayed at the rear. I suggest that the registered number of the trailer allocated by the DVLA should be attached on the side of the trailer next to the goods vehicle plate.

Amendment No. 59 brings heavy goods vehicle trailers into the scope of the regulations. I accept that the drafting is not ideal. However, I wish to keep trailers which are heavy goods vehicles within that scope. The key point is whether heavy goods vehicle trailers will be registered with their own number with the DVLA. There is an additional advantage. For the convenience of large operators of goods vehicles, the DVLA could issue consecutive numbers for the fleet. That would assist the operators in their fleet management. The principle of the amendment links up with Part 1 of the Bill which provides for the regulation of salvage.

It is important to remember that those trailers can be valuable even as scrap. They often have special cranes. The material of the trailer can be expensive—stainless steel and aluminium—and very attractive to criminals. The trailers can be exported complete or cut up into smaller segments and placed in a container for export. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

As my noble friend Lord Bassam indicated yesterday, the department is considering extending registration to trailers. An initial informal consultation exercise has brought forward a favourable response. We need further detailed consultation before introducing such regulations.

However, we do not need the power to do so in primary legislation. The power to extend regulations by the registration provisions of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 already exists in Section 22(2) of that Act. Therefore, the separate provision in primary legislation here is not necessary.

Earl Attlee

I am grateful for that encouraging reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 59 not moved.]

Clause 33 [Issue of new registration documents: vehicle identity checks etc.]:

[Amendment No. 60 not moved.]

Clause 33 agreed to.

4.45 p.m.

Clause 34 [Imposition of requirements concerning registration plates]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 61: Page 20, line 7, leave out from "marks" to end of line 9 and insert "as may be necessary to link the registration plate to the vehicle for which it is intended

The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, it is suggested that we also discuss Amendment No. 62.

New Section 27A of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 provides for the Secretary of State to make regulations about the nature of number plates. We discussed this previously to some extent. We acquired some information from the Minister about the Government's thinking. The intention is to probe a little further.

On Amendment No. 61, the Bill provides that any special registration marks can be specified or described in the regulations so that the number plate can become extremely complicated. In this context, there is nothing to define what a special registration mark may be. The amendment seeks to limit special registration marks to those necessary to link the registration plate to the vehicle for which it is intended. For example, the chassis number, engine number and the vehicle's own identity number should be added to the plate. Anyone who makes inquiry can look at the small print on the plate and ensure that it is the correct plate for that vehicle. One could not do so from a distance. Such detail may be in a bar code and able to be read only by a device for that purpose rather than the naked eye. That is the intention underlying the amendment.

Without the amendment, the Bill seems to provide for special registration marks other than those which link the registration plate to the vehicle. I do not know what they are. I do not expect the Minister to give a final view as to exactly what the Government will do. It would be helpful to know their thinking. I do not want the noble Lord necessarily to commit himself. He seemed to think earlier today that I wanted him to commit the Government to a definite position. We seek to tease out the Government's thinking on these matters.

The noble Lord referred to the future possibility of a chip inserted into the plate which will enable it to be read electronically, presumably from the pavement or from inside a police car, to ensure that it is the correct registration plate.

Amendment No. 62 relates to flags and symbols on plates. Members of the Committee will have noted that more and more cars have the European flag with a small "GB" in the middle incorporated into the number plate. At Second Reading, I deplored flags on number plates—not only the euroflag, but also the Union Jack or the flag of St George. A number plate is not the right place for a symbol of that kind. The number plate should be simply the identification of the vehicle; otherwise it becomes cluttered.

At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that it is the intention to provide that the EU sign with stars—I think that he referred to the flag with the "GB" in the middle—should be able to be incorporated in a number plate voluntarily. It is already on some number plates, presumably voluntarily. Amendment No. 62 seeks to end that practice. We wish to keep number plates clean and tidy without the inclusion of a symbol which is a political statement. There has been a tendency in other countries, notably the United States, to have bumper stickers of all kinds. We all have window stickers from time to time. That is appropriate if people choose to put them on, but the number plate is not the right place. It should be kept clean and tidy. Amendment No. 62 would deal with a practice that is already spreading. I have nothing against the EU flag in comparison with other flags, but I do not think that it should be on number plates. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

Amendment No. 61 would limit the information that could be included along with the registration mark to information linking the registration plate with the vehicle for which it was intended. That is largely the purpose of the clause, but the amendment would prevent the future inclusion of information to make the plate more secure—for example, a manufacturer's serial number that would make the plate more difficult to copy, or the eventual incorporation of the chip to which the noble Lord referred. That would be unduly restrictive for the future improvement of the security of number plates.

The provision for a special registration mark was included primarily to enable what the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, sought just now—the display on the trailer of a registration mark that is unique to that trailer. If we go forward with the registration of trailers, following the consultation to which I have referred, we shall need provision for such a special registration mark. I am not saying that that is exclusive, but the noble Earl has let me off having to be exclusive in spelling out every potential use. That is one immediate use that should be covered by the legislation.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and congratulate him on moving his opposition to the EU symbol on number plates in such a restrained manner, unlike some members of his party in another place. Under the new regulations, which will come into effect in September, we will allow the optional use of the European symbol. Strictly speaking, the present regulations do not allow that if it affects the spacing between the letters. The new regulations will allow it within the new spacing and font provisions. I agree with the noble Lord that we do not want unnecessarily to clutter up number plates because of the potential effect on witnesses and on cameras.

The inclusion of the European symbol is uniquely provided for because it follows a European Council decision of November 1998 that required member states to recognise the European symbol on number plates in place of the traditional oval national identification sticker. Under European regulations, we have to allow for that to be on the number plate. It is voluntary and optional. There is no heavy hand of Brussels requiring us to do so, in case any Conservatives were concerned about that. We have to make that provision, but in general we do not wish to clutter up the number plates. The new regulations will make them clearer in the way that the noble Lord seeks. The Government have no plans to impose a requirement to include the symbol. I hope that that clarifies the situation and that the noble Lord will not pursue the amendments.

Lord Swinfen

Will the department make it clear to the manufacturers of number plates that the inclusion of the European symbol is only optional and that the purchaser, not the manufacturer, should make the decision? I suspect that manufacturers will put it on as a matter of course. Some of us do not want that. Will it also be perfectly in order for people to display the Union Jack on their number plate?

Lord Whitty

Not on the number plate, although it is perfectly permissible to use the GB sign or the Union Jack elsewhere on the back of the car. This is a specific requirement for number plates. European regulations require us to recognise that symbol as the national symbol.

Under the present provisions it is up to the purchaser to decide whether to have the symbol. Manufacturers have not provided it as standard. Our advice to the manufacturers will continue on that basis. We do not expect them to include it as standard and they will be advised not to do so. Even if they were to do so, the purchaser could require from the seller a number plate that did not include the EU symbol.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I was surprised by the Minister's reply to Amendment No. 61. He said that it may be a requirement that the manufacturer' serial number of the plate should be included, and maybe a chip. I thought that the purpose of including the serial number of the plate was to allow it to be tied to the identity of the vehicle. The amendment would cover that. Evidently the serial number of the plate is to be separate and present for some other purpose than making sure that the plate is on the right vehicle. I am a little mystified by that.

What information other than that linking the number plate to the vehicle will be on the chip? Is it intended that it should have information about, for example, whether the vehicle has a valid MoT certificate and when it will expire? Is it intended that the chip will enable a police constable to discover whether the vehicle is insured with at least third party insurance, in accordance with the law? Will there be any other information on the chip beyond that to ensure that the number plate is the correct one?

On Amendment No. 62, about flags, I am interested to hear that it is currently illegal to have the EU symbol on a number plate, although one frequently sees it. The Minister said that it will be permissible to carry the EU symbol on a number plate from later this year because of an EU agreement. Does that agreement go wider than Europe? I have not been able to look this up in detail, but I presume that there is a long-standing international agreement about the identification letters, such as GB in our case, which have been on vehicles for many years. I thought that there was a wide international agreement on what letters should be used for which country, so that the police in each country could know where a vehicle was registered and hence connect the number plate to the appropriate authority, which would otherwise be difficult to do.

Lord Bruce of Donington

I should be most grateful if the Government would let us have particulars, including the reference number if necessary, of the European law to which the Minister refers that makes it permissible in certain circumstances for the European symbol to be incorporated on our number plates. I ask only for information on how it came about, the necessary reference number, the date on which Her Majesty's Government gave assent and whether the decision was taken in conference or at a meeting. I would like to know the circumstances.

5 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I am sure that that information will be forthcoming from the Minister in a moment or two.

I was in the process of asking whether the longstanding international agreement between many nations has been renegotiated to allow a tiny "GB" on a number plate to replace the large letters which conventionally over many years we have become used to on cars from different countries. If so, I am not sure that that is desirable.

After all, as I said, the purpose of the letters is to enable a policeman of any nationality to trace the country from which a vehicle comes. Looking at the number plate enables him to approach the necessary authority to discover who owns the vehicle. If the "GB" is to diminish in size to tiny letters on the end of the number plate in the middle of the flag, the policeman will have to get much closer in order to spot which country the vehicle comes from.

Lord Berkeley

I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene briefly. When he spoke to this amendment originally, he made great play of the fact that it was important that the number plate should be clean and tidy. Does he agree that having a small "GB" on a number plate rather than large letters elsewhere means that the policeman has to look only at one place on the car? The car would appear cleaner and tidier than it would if it had two symbols in different places.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has made a shrewd point and I believe that, as usual, we can certainly discuss the matter. However, the symbol will clutter the number plate and will not make it easier for a policemen to read because the letters will be only half an inch or an inch high, as opposed to two or three inches high. One is supposed to be able to read a number plate, and hence the "GB" plate, or whatever the nationality might be, from a distance of 25 yards. I do not believe that it is possible to read small letters from that distance. Unlike the current plain white plate with black letters to indicate the nationality, the use of colours will also clutter the symbol.

However, my main question is whether the wide international agreement to which I referred has been superseded by another agreement to allow very small letters to pass muster so far as concerns the nationality of the car.

Lord Whiny

The reason that I believe the amendment might limit the application is that it seeks to insert the words, as may be necessary to link the registration plate to the vehicle". It could be argued that the number alone would be sufficient to link the registration plate to the vehicle. However, it may be easier and more effective to have other means of identification, including, for example, a bar-coded chip or other information.

Therefore, not only would the amendment limit the purpose of this clause, as is its primary intention, but it could also limit future decisions to include more security information in relation to the car. Under this Bill, we plan to include only information which links the vehicle or its secondary features to the registered number. In future, we would have to go through a registered process—that is, at least secondary legislation—to include other information of the kind to which the noble Lord refers.

With regard to the EU symbols, I did not say that such a symbol would be absolutely illegal. Under present regulations, it would be illegal only if the inclusion of the EU shield altered the spacing between the font letters. That would be the case in relation to certain combinations of letters and numbers but not in relation to others. Therefore, currently a few may be illegal. That matter is not covered by existing regulations, and this provision regularises the position in accordance with our obligations under the European agreement. Although I cannot give my noble friend Lord Bruce the precise reference number, as I indicated, following a long process, the agreement was reached in November 1998.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, is correct to say that the basic recognition of symbols is covered by the Geneva Convention. The identification symbol for the UK is "GB". However, the EU has agreed that the use of the symbol by any member state as described in the November 1998 decision will, for international organisation purposes, be regarded as a form of designation of the individual member state under the Geneva Convention. Therefore, blanket clearance for its use in that context also exists provided, of course, that the "GB" is present and visible. That is the main point of tidying up number plates and introducing a clear regulation to cover the optional use of the symbol.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

Geneva is clearly not what it was. With regard to the number of the directive, or whatever, from the European Union, perhaps I may take it that the Minister will write to his noble friend. The Minister indicates assent and, no doubt, he will send me a copy of his letter. With that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 62 not moved.]

Clause 34 agreed to.

Clauses 35 and 36 agreed to.

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 63: Before Clause 37, insert the following new clause—

"COMPONENT SERIAL NUMBERS (1) Any person who offers for sale, purchases, receives or transfers a specified component which has a defective serial number without lawful reason or excuse shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level four on the standard scale. (2) In this section a "specified component" means a vehicle component that normally carries a serial number allocated by the manufacturer or other person and is—

  1. (a) an engine,
  2. (b) electronic engine management system,
  3. (c) gearbox,
  4. (d) drive axle,
  5. (e) chassis, or
  6. (f) a principle component of a vehicle's entertainment system.
(3) In this section a defective serial number is one which is—
  1. (a) missing,
  2. (b) defaced, or
  3. (c) obviously not the correct one for the specified component.
(4) The Secretary of State may by order add classes of components to subsection (2). (5) This section does not apply to covert serial numbers or other covert identifying marks applied by the manufacturer or any other person. (6) The courts when considering whether a person has a "lawful reason or excuse" may take into consideration that person's experience of the repair, recovery, manufacture, design and trade of motor vehicles.

The noble Earl said: This amendment is designed to make the Bill more effective in combating vehicle crime, particularly the trade of parts stolen from vehicles. The Committee will be aware that it is already an offence to receive stolen goods. However, sometimes it can be difficult to prove that such goods are stolen.

When a vehicle is broken up, legally or otherwise, most of the value lies in the major assemblies listed in subsection (2) of the proposed new clause. An engine for a heavy commercial vehicle or a luxury car can be worth several thousand pounds. The assemblies normally bear a serial number of some kind. If they do not, they are outside the scope of the amendment.

The serial numbers on stolen assemblies are frequently removed by criminals in order to make it much more difficult for the authorities to trace their source or legality. The serial number may have been damaged accidentally or inadvertently. In the case of, say, a fire-damaged large engine, considerable value will still remain. The term "lawful reason or excuse" in subsection (1) covers that eventuality. In those circumstances, a wise person would want further, alternative details, such as the serial and chassis numbers of the vehicle.

The Committee should be aware that subsection (2)(f) of the amendment is designed to cover car radios and similar equipment. A stolen car radio usually has its serial number removed. Any person with enough skill and experience to fit a car radio would be aware of this new provision—should the Committee agree to it—from reading the motoring press. If a person attempted to market a stolen car radio with a defective serial number, he would be caught by the clause, as would someone who claimed that he was given the radio by a friend.

Subsection (6) is designed to have the same effect as the words "knew or should have known", but is more specific. It is designed to protect people, such as Ministers, who are inexperienced in the matters listed.

The amendment would make it much more difficult to market major assemblies from stolen vehicles but would affect only those who knew or should have known what they were doing. It would not affect the existing laws regarding the handling of stolen goods. I beg to move.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

I support my noble friend Lord Attlee. It is a well known fact that, when heavy goods vehicles are stolen, the tractor part of an articulated vehicle is stolen only in order to sell the spare parts—the engine, the electronic management system and the gear box. Lorries are not sold complete; they are sold purely for their spare parts. I believe that the amendment would go a long way in combating this crime.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Anyone who has had his or her vehicle broken into or attacked in some way will have some sympathy with the amendment, which is designed to tackle the trade in stolen vehicle parts. That is undoubtedly a worthy aim but we do not believe that the amendment will achieve what it sets out to achieve. It requires that those who have a lawful reason or excuse for having a specified vehicle component with a defaced serial number shall not be guilty of an offence. I understand the reasoning behind that, but such a provision would make the new offence difficult to enforce. The police would find it difficult to distinguish between legitimate and unlawful removal of serial numbers and to obtain evidence of sufficient quality to present to a court.

The trade in stolen vehicle parts is undoubtedly a problem—that is one reason why the Bill is necessary. However, we think that the problem is addressed by other provisions in the Bill, which are designed to drive out the criminal element from the motor salvage industry. It is interesting that the police estimate that about 40 per cent of vehicles that are stolen but which are not recovered are broken up for their parts. We believe that regulating the motor salvage industry will help successfully to tackle that problem.

Finally, I want to make a wider point. Serial numbers on vehicle component parts are most useful to the police when they can access a database that provides an audit trail and links a particular component to a particular vehicle. Motor manufacturing is, as we all know, a world-wide industry. The vehicle crime reduction action team is setting up a working group to examine the use of international standards for the marking of vehicle component parts and of databases that are accessible by the police. It will also give further consideration to the need for legislative changes to protect marks.

Although we in government have some sympathy with the amendment—I am sure that all Members of the Committee have much sympathy with its approach—we do not think, for the reasons that I have given, that it is the right way to tackle the problem. However, I am grateful to the noble Earl for moving the amendment in a public-spirited manner.

Earl Attlee

I am grateful to the Minister for his response but I am not entirely satisfied. My noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux referred to the breaking up of commercial vehicles. It is important to understand that experts can break up a heavy commercial vehicle in a matter of hours, put all the components in a container and export it or send it to another part of the country. There is much concern in the commercial vehicle world about the lack of progress on the Government's part in dealing with the theft and breaking up of commercial vehicles. Clearly, the Bill will go some way towards solving the problem. It is important to realise that a commercial vehicle can be broken up extremely quickly and that one does not require large premises to do it; it can be done in the middle of a wood or in a farm.

The Minister referred to the amendment's "lawful reason or excuse" provision. With regard to the offence of receiving stolen goods, there must be a "lawful reason or excuse" for having accidentally received stolen goods.

I shall read the Minister's comments very carefully but I expect that I shall come back with a stronger amendment at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 37 agreed to.

5.15 p.m.

Clause 38 [Unified power for Secretary of State to fund speed cameras etc.]:

Baroness Scott of Needham Market moved Amendment No. 64: Page 22, line 45, at end insert "; or

  1. (c) other purposes directly connected with improving road safely under subsection (2A)"

The noble Baroness said: I begin by reiterating my support for the general principle that income from fixed penalty speeding fines detected by cameras should be kept by the local police and used for local speed-limit enforcement. I speak to the amendment as someone who has been involved in local speed-management strategies for the past eight years. While the enforcement of a speed limit is without doubt of crucial importance, it must also be seen as a kind of backstop, which comes into play when education and engineering have failed to make a particular speed limit self-enforcing.

Self-enforcement should be our objective. That can be achieved by an ongoing educative campaign that aims to achieve the cultural shift that we saw in relation to drink-driving a decade or so ago. So far as engineering is concerned, there are roads that are designed in such a way as to almost encourage drivers to drive faster than would otherwise be appropriate. I refer to long straight roads but on which there are many side entrances, or perhaps a school or an elderly people's home. In such cases, I do not believe that education alone will do the job. In the short term, the deterrent effect of speed cameras can be dramatic, as we have seen from the pilot schemes. Eventually, however, something should be done about the road itself. It could perhaps be realigned or treated in a way that makes speeding less likely.

Without that approach, an over-reliance on enforcement could have two undesirable consequences. First, we might begin to lose the battle for greater public awareness about and acceptance of the need to keep speed down. An inappropriate attitude will, unfortunately, be encouraged by those who seek to generate a climate in which motorists are seen as some sort of victim. Secondly, there is a danger that the financial incentive to enforce fixed-penalty speeding offences will result in a reduced emphasis on other driving offences, such as careless or dangerous driving or, perhaps, drink-driving.

Those issues are far from straightforward and their effects cannot be certain. For that reason, I support Amendment No. 66, which appears on the Marshalled List in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and which seeks a review of the Bill's proposals.

I appreciate that hypothecation in the way that is proposed in Amendments Nos. 64 and 65 would involve a major step for the Treasury. I congratulate the Minister on achieving as much as he has done in that regard. However, in the interests of developing a road safety strategy in its widest context, I hope that my proposed changes will at least be considered in due course. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

The amendment would extend the purposes for which the money can be paid. The noble Baroness said that that approach involved hypothecation. She is probably correct, but only probably so. The provision does not appear to insist that the money to be applied to the relevant purposes, which may be those referred to by the noble Baroness or those that are already in the Bill, should necessarily come from fines involving speed cameras; the requirement is merely that the Secretary of State may make payments. Under the Bill's provisions, those payments may or may not relate to money that is obtained through fines. We know from what has already been said that that is the broad intention. However, that does not involve, as it were, direct hypothecation.

I make that point as a former Treasury Minister. I want to be sure about what exactly will happen from the technical point of view. I share the Treasury's hesitation about hypothecation. It is not clear where hypothecation might lead and it might ultimately involve difficulties. I should add that I was primarily on the money-raising side of the Treasury rather than on the spending side—although perhaps we should refer to the "stopping-of-spending side". Most of my activities were concerned with getting money out of taxpayers rather than deciding how money should be spent. Those of us who have been responsible for raising money from taxpayers know how difficult that is—and how important it is to ensure that that money is properly spent. Such an experience only reinforces one's feelings in this respect.

On the noble Baroness's amendment, I am sure that traffic engineering and educational work can make a contribution to road safety, although sometimes I begin to feel that it is overdone. I have a flat in Lambeth. Recently, a number of sleeping policemen were put in all the roads nearby. Now it is intended to introduce a 20 mile-an-hour limit. That is rather ridiculous because with all the parked cars and the sleeping policemen it is impossible to reach 20 miles an hour anyway without knocking your car to bits. Even if you did, nobody could possibly catch you and certainly no policeman is going to enforce it. So I suspect that we are merely getting a lot more street furniture.

Viscount Simon

It is not really a matter of the police catching you in the 20 mile-an-hour limit zone. It is the possibility of hitting a young child who runs out from behind a parked car.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I appreciate that but the sleeping policemen and the amount of parking allowed and so on ensures that it is very difficult to reach 20 miles an hour anyway unless one is extremely reckless. If someone is extremely reckless, then he is likely to go on being reckless regardless of the fact that there is more street furniture about.

Lord Whitty

These amendments seek to extend the Secretary of State's ability to fund road safety measures other than those relating to safety cameras. The noble Baroness makes clear in the amendment that that could include road humps and other engineering measures and, indeed, publicity and education on road safety.

On this side of the Committee, we have some considerable sympathy with what is intended by these amendments. We should not rule out that possibility for the future. But my message is that we should take these matters one step at a time. A former Treasury Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has reminded us that my ministerial colleagues in the Treasury took the unusually and historically enlightened decision to allow fine revenue to be netted-off, which is the term that the Treasury prefers to use. It does not sound to me as nice as hypothecation but the Treasury has a horror of hypothecation. There is a possible expansion of that implied in the noble Baroness's amendment.

The existing funding system does not allow the recycling of any fine revenue. That means that any body or organisation involved in enforcement of safety through cameras must meet the costs of that through its own resources. Therefore, it is particularly important that we have provided that the netting-off proceeds should go back into funding not only the establishment of speed cameras but also the enforcement, administration and court procedures which result.

This clause gives legal effect to the roll-out of what we have achieved in the pilot studies which have been running very successfully in eight areas in Great Britain. It would allow us to roll out the provisions of those pilot schemes more generally across the nation. But those pilot schemes are based on a decision in December 1998 which made clear that any future funding under the rules would apply only to netted-off fine revenue. Under the Treasury Rules, receipts from fixed penalties must be offset against related departmental expenditure on enforcement activities; in other words, fixed penalty revenue from offences being used to fund camera-enforcement activity.

I do not want to mislead the Committee in expressing general sympathy for the objectives of this amendment. Although the reference to prevention in Clause 38(1)(a) could notionally be interpreted as meaning the use of revenue from camera detection to fund measures such as road humps and traffic calming, although not for other non-speed offences or offences such as those relating to bus lane or box junction enforcement, at the moment, and under the provisions which we intend to roll forward, such expenditure would not be included within the Treasury Rules for those pilot studies and therefore for what we intend immediately under this Bill.

Having put on that limitation, we should not underestimate the huge step that has already been taken by the Treasury in allowing that netting-off. For the reasons referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, generally speaking hypothecation is regarded as part of the pernicious path to financial disorder. If we use it judiciously and take one step at a time, it need not be that. It is important that local authorities, the police and the courts should be able to cover their costs in that way.

There is also the indirect effect to consider. Currently, local authorities use their local transport plans and some of their internal money to fund cameras and enforcement. That money will thereby be released and could be spent on other aspects of road safety.

Therefore, the message that I am giving to the Committee is that the Bill may allow some further extension at a later date. We do not intend to use the extension as broadly as these amendments would allow. We intend to limit it to the cameras themselves, the enforcement and court processes relating to those cameras. As I said, I do not rule out a later broadening of the system. But for now, for the national roll-out, let us take one step at a time. Therefore, I ask the noble Baroness not to pursue her amendments which I should otherwise have to oppose.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I wonder whether the Minister can tell me whether "netted-off" is a cognate expression to "hypothecation".

Lord Whitty

I think that it is a cognate expression stemming from the word "net", which means that you have to be caught first.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

I thank the Minister for that reply. His commitment to road safety is well known and appreciated by all of us who work in the field.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, for emphasising two points which I have been trying to make. The first is that there appears to be something of a gap between the intentions of the Bill and an understanding of how it will work in practice. That is something which we have seen over and over again and it is giving rise to concern around the Committee.

Secondly, the noble Lord referred to Lambeth where I also have the pleasure of living during the week. He made the point that it is not the imposition of the speed limit which makes the difference; it is the physical conditions of the road, either through conventional traffic calming such as road humps or, indeed, less conventional means such as parked cars. That is really the point I am trying to make. An over-reliance on enforcement through speed cameras or anything else will, in the end, undermine a road safety strategy. We need to look at that in the round.

However, I feel encouraged by what I have heard and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 65 not moved.]

Viscount Tenby moved Amendment No. 66: Page 23, line 30, at end insert— ( ) The Secretary of State shall review the operation of speed cameras funded under this section. ( ) The Secretary of State shall publish a report of the review within 2 years of the day on which this Act comes into force. ( ) The Secretary of State shall lay a copy of the report before each House of Parliament.

The noble Viscount said: The terms of this amendment are self-explanatory. The purpose is to ensure parliamentary and, therefore, public monitoring of this important initiative.

On Second Reading, I made no secret of my wholehearted support for this development and I congratulate the Government on securing it. Excessive speed is a killer. But, despite all the available evidence, that fact has not been grasped by the majority of otherwise law-abiding motorists.

It has been said by some in another place and in the sillier types of newspaper that hypothecation or, as I shall call it, allocation—I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cope, on his knowledge of these arcane Treasury matters—of speeding fines is in danger of becoming a form of stealth tax. I am trying desperately to think of a parliamentary phrase that I can get away with. What total balderdash; what a load of rubbish. In fact, it is a fine for a criminal offence, nothing more and nothing less. For example, is it seriously suggested that a fine for stealing soap powder from a supermarket is taxation by the back door?

I strongly believe that the hearts and minds of the motoring public must be addressed on this important point. People have to be won over and that will take time. That is why I want maximum publicity about how the initiative is working in reducing accidents and how it is working in increasing the number of loaded cameras in use.

Having read the proceedings of the Select Committee In another place, I am sure that the Government are not unsympathetic to the concern in principle. I am also aware that there is an undertaking to report back at the end of the pilot scheme, which will be in one year's time. I hope I am not giving the Minister the answer to the amendment I have tabled. Nevertheless, it seems that a more permanent reporting regime needs to be established, which is what the amendment seeks to do. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Viscount Simon

In the eight police areas where a pilot scheme for hypothecation is on trial, during the first nine months the cameras have proved to work in terms of saving lives and avoiding serious injury. Consequently, they have saved the NHS certain costs, too.

It is important that the results of the hypothecated speed cameras are publicly known, and therefore I support the amendment completely and utterly.

Lord Whitty

I fully understand the concerns behind the amendment and the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and my noble friend Lord Simon. The move is not without some controversy and we must take the public with us.

Let us be clear about the pilot schemes. We shall soon have the results of the first nine months of their operation. As I indicated at Second Reading, they all look promising. By June we should have the full year's monitoring results and shall turn those into a report somewhat earlier than a year from now. That report will be made generally available and if the pilot schemes fulfil our expectations that will help when we advocate the rolling out of the system.

That is dependent on the Bill receiving Royal Assent. Once it does, the funding system will be put in place. That will require locally formed partnerships to work up acceptable operational cases and it may well take up to two years for all those who want to take up such funding to do so. It will therefore take longer than that for us to make a further meaningful report on the operation of the full national scheme.

Therefore, while I understand the psychology and politics of ensuring that we review the system and continue to make our case for it, tying ourselves to two-year intervals, especially starting immediately the Bill comes into effect, would not be appropriate. I can give an undertaking that we shall continue to make available information on camera funding and progress on the results of that funding on a regular basis, but I resist the commitment to a rigid timetable. I hope that noble Lords who have tabled the amendment will accept the Government's good will in that respect and recognition of the requirement to provide such information.

Viscount Tenby

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. It is very difficult to push at an open door. I understand what he said and of course one can always table a Written Question. The trouble is that I am basically lazy and as I get older I am more and more forgetful. I shall have to rely on other noble Lords to do it for me.

I understand the point the Minister made and shall have to go away and think about it. I shall take on board the fact that we shall have a full survey of the pilot schemes, which for the time being will assuage my fears. I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 38 agreed to.

Clauses 39 and 40 agreed to.

Clause 41 [Orders and regulations under this Act]:

On Question, Whether Clause 41 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Brougham and Vaux

I apologise to the Government Front Bench for not having given notice of the Motion. During today's discussions we heard mention of regulations in respect of almost all the amendments. Everything will be done by regulation. Can the Minister tell the Committee when the regulations will be printed and laid so that we can view them? Will they be affirmative or negative regulations?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I fear that I need notice of that question. It will be some time before regulations will be available under the various parts of the Bill. Some of the measures will take a significant number of months. We are about to discuss Amendment No. 67 which proposes imposing a deadline within 12 months of Royal Assent. It is our understanding that some measures will require longer than that. I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord a more accurate answer because it depends on going through each of the regulatory powers provided for in the Bill. Some of the regulations will take some time, as will become apparent in our discussions on the next amendment.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

Perhaps it would help my noble friend if I said that all the regulations which are introduced under the Bill will be subject to the negative procedure? The exceptions are those relating to commencement, which have no procedure. All the regulations about which we have spoken will be subject to the negative procedure.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply.

Clause 41 agreed to.

Clauses 42 and 43 agreed to.

Clause 44 [Commencement]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 67: Page 25, line 26, leave out "on such" and insert "twelve months after the passing of this Act or on such earlier".

The noble Lord said: As the Minister indicated, the intention of the amendment is to probe when various parts of the Bill will come into force. In order to get the discussion off the ground, we suggest in the amendment 12 months. We do not propose to insist on that but wanted to be given an idea of when, say, Parts 1 and 2 will come into force. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

We agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that there should be no undue delay in bringing parts of the Bill into force. However, we do not believe that it is appropriate to stipulate it in law. We have agreed to consult further on most of the provisions before introducing the regulations. For that reason, regulations will be introduced over a period of time. We hope that that will take no more than 12 months but we want to have flexibility so that we can discuss the regulations fully with the industry and the other key stakeholders.

In addition, we will not be able to introduce some of the measures in the Act within that 12-month period. For example, we will not have available the technology to give the police bulk access to the motor insurance industry data base until after 12 months have elapsed. Therefore, for those technical reasons there will be a further slight delay. We shall approach the matter pragmatically and in the spirit of co-operation and consultation. With those two caveats, which we are sure the noble Lord, Lord Cope, understands, we intend to proceed as speedily as possible.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

That response is helpful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 44 agreed to.

Remaining clauses and schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.

Forward to