Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

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,

6 Mar 2001 : Column 138

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.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

6 Mar 2001 : Column 139

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.

6 Mar 2001 : Column 140

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

6 Mar 2001 : Column 141

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.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page