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Mr. Forth: I am fascinated by that analysis of a matter that is relevant to the Bill and to the licence plate regime that is proposed. Is my hon. Friend not worried, as I tend to be, about the possible effect on that technology of either stray dirt, or a strategically placed item to change the nature of a letter or a number, which is prevalent, as he will know? How confident can we be that the technology, in which I know he places great faith, will be able to produce accurate and not misleading information on vehicle registration plates?

Mr. Fabricant: We can never be confident of that. A machine will always be a machine and will never be able to think in quite the way we think, although some people might say, "Thank God for that." Nevertheless, it is important that we try to standardise to some degree licence plates to ensure that they are readable--if nothing else, by police officers from a distance when they are following in a police car.

We heard a eulogy for speed cameras from the hon. Member for Stafford. He would wish to see them in every street, every lane and every village of Staffordshire, let alone the rest of the country.

Mr. Kidney: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that he is misrepresenting the speech that I made in this very Chamber on this very day, and that it is important that speed cameras are in areas where they will reduce casualties? We should not put them in every street in the country.

Mr. Fabricant: I am greatly relieved to hear that, but what a shame that we did not hear about how there are so

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few police officers in Staffordshire to arrest the people who have gone over the speed limit and then do not pay their fine.

There needs to be a register of those who supply registration plates to ensure that they supply plates to people who own the cars with that particular registration. That makes good sense. The register will be held centrally by the Secretary of State--by the Home Secretary presumably, although I am not sure. Will it be held by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions? Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State can clarify that.

The Secretary of State will have discretion to levy a fee to cover "all reasonable costs incurred". What does that mean? What if I am not Halfords plc, but a small dealer in auto spares who also makes money by making licence plates? How much will I have to pay to be registered with the Secretary of State? Is another burden on small businesses being imposed by the Government?

How easy will it be for me to register? How will I get the form? Will it be available on the internet? Three years ago, the Government boasted that, within two years, we would have internet-based government, where every form could be downloaded. Nothing has happened--it is another broken promise. What burden will there be on small businesses to register? We need the details. The small business man needs the detail.

Mr. Syms: My hon. Friend is developing an argument about information and processing information. Under clause 35, it is clear that the Government wish the insurance industry database to be made available to the police. There may be good reasons why that should be so, but there is an issue of data protection. I served on the Committee that considered the Data Protection Bill, which was based on a European directive. Is there not a danger that the Government will have to go to Europe to get a derogation to allow the database to be available to the police?

Mr. Fabricant: That comes under the new police powers, which I will go into later, but, again, there is the problem of intrusion into people's private lives. It is a question of balance. I will not condemn it outright. There must be some control over the activities of people who might be behaving unlawfully.

It is like the debate that we hear from time to time on identity cards. The civil liberties people say that they are dreadful. I am not arguing for them tonight--far from it--but people say that they are terrible because they would give police and other authorities extra access to information about our private lives, but let us not kid ourselves. There is a central police database. There is the database for cars at DVLC in Swansea. They are all interconnected anyway, so there is already a fair amount of intrusion into our lives. We have to trust those who are stewards of that information to ensure that they hold it for the betterment of the good. We have to trust that they are not big brother and that those who are behaving lawfully and decently have nothing to fear.

It seems fairly logical that people such as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friend and I, who pay a lot of money for fully comprehensive insurance, should not pay a proportion of that insurance for people who are uninsured. A person involved in a car accident where the

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person at fault is not insured finds that his insurance company has to bail him out. It puts up the cost for those of us who are law abiding.

Therefore, the move is a logical extension of modern technology. I welcome it, provided, again, that there are safeguards. There need to be safeguards to ensure that this country's privacy laws and databases are not--[Interruption.] Would my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) like to intervene? No.

With regard to the register for licence plate suppliers, we must discuss what will happen where an error is made in adding or deleting a person from the register. Where will the line of accountability be? Will it lead to the decision maker, and if so, who is the decision maker in that instance? There need to be adequate provisions for the vehicle plate supplier to seek recompense where an error is made.

Clause 33 allows the Home Secretary to make regulations on the size and content of registration plates for motor vehicles. It is a particularly interesting matter. Does the Secretary of State--again, I wonder whether it will be the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions--envisage a change in the shape of licence plates? We are aware of the fact that, for example, Belgium has much smaller licence plates. Holland's licence plate sizes are similar to our own.

Mr. Syms: My hon. Friend is developing a good point. Many licence plates are not particularly traditional. Under existing law, many of those may be illegal, but it is still a burden on the police to chase people up. Given police numbers, does he think that that will be a priority?

Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend raises a valid and powerful point. I will repeat it for a third time, although I shall not push the--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman did not repeat it. He is getting very repetitive, particularly on police numbers.

Mr. Fabricant: I certainly shall not mention the number of police, of whom there are fewer now, but it is worth answering the question; I think that that is in order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: No.

Mr. Fabricant: It is not, so I shall not answer the question, but I fear that little can be enforced if there are not the police officers there to do it.

Clause 33 allows the Home Secretary to make regulations on the size and content of registration plates. That is understandable. Does that mean that there will be a change in the size of number plates? If that happens, will those who have the "wrong-sized" licence plates have to change them? If so, how long will they have to do so? How much will it cost them to change their plates? The Home Secretary did not address those issues in his speech.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The reason why they were not addressed is that they are issues for consideration in Committee. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are on Second Reading.

Mr. Fabricant: I thank you for your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

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The other issue that was not addressed, possibly because it is for consideration in Committee, is that of national identification on licence plates.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and of course I shall observe your exhortation, Mr. Deputy Speaker, not to discuss the Bill's specific details. However, does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to know whether the regulatory impact assessment, in making a judgment on the costs imposed by the Bill, has taken account of the potential for change as a result of the specifications provided for in clause 33? We need to know whether the prognosis on cost has fully taken on board that potential for change, or whether it has failed so far to do so.

Mr. Fabricant: I rather suspect that the Government have failed to take account of that cost. I do not believe, from the question-and-answer session that we had during the Home Secretary's speech, that the Government have considered the cost of implementing any of the Bill's provisions, or the change in costs for those who are affected by the provisions.

Will we, for example, be forced to have the European Union flag on our licence plates? At one point, the Home Secretary said that having the flag would be an option, not a necessity. Later, however, he said that he thought that it would be a necessity. I certainly share the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham on that matter. Even without trains to Lichfield, I will be blowed if I am going to go in a car with a European Union flag on the back of it. Will we have to have a European Union flag on our licence plates? As I have a Union flag stuck on the side of my licence plate, am I committing an offence?

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