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Mr. Bercow: Police officers will be able to do that only with great difficulty, if at all. The experience in the centre of Lichfield to which my hon. Friend referred is by no means atypical. He will find that it is replicated throughout the country in constituencies of my right hon. and hon. Friends and, importantly, those of Government Members. I hope that Government Members will have something to say about the mismatch between the responsibility that will be imposed and the resources that will be provided. However, I am not to be distracted from the important point.
Mrs. Gilroy: The hon. Gentleman may wish to take advice from the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), in whose constituency violent crime has gone down in the first eight months of this year. Violent crime has gone down by 23 per cent. in Plymstock Radford in that constituency; by 13 per cent. in my constituency; by 38 per cent. in Efford; by 21 per cent. in Plymstock Dunstone; by 4 per cent. in Plympton St. Mary; and by 18 per cent. in Plympton Erle. Therefore, there are examples to which the hon. Gentleman can look to see what works.
Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for steering me back on to the path of virtue, along which, as you know, I ordinarily tread. I am not going to be diverted again by observations about violent crime, and shall focus on vehicle crime.
As I said a few moments ago, I want to emphasise the fact that the DVLA must issue V5s for cars which, it knows, no longer exist, and of which it can only notify the police. In practice, the police investigate differently in different areas. Some police investigate routinely, but others investigate only a few offences. It is notable that an experienced observer advised Her Majesty's Opposition that, nationally, the chance of being investigated is about 7 per cent. I must tell the Home Secretary that I can see nothing in the Bill that will change the law and allow the DVLA to refuse V5 applications for vehicles for which it has received V860s. Is that not a loophole, and do the Government intend to close it? If not, Ministers must provide more police to allow for routine investigation of such cases, which the fight against crime and the protection of the public patently require.
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): I thank the hon. Gentleman for his usual courtesy in giving way. To help him, does not clause 32 enable the Secretary of State to make new regulations to permit the DVLA to refuse to issue the new certificate?
Mr. Bercow: I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is right in supposing that the Bill will prevent the automatic issue of V5s. I have looked at the Bill closely and consulted on it. However, I am a generous and gracious chap, so I say to the hon. Gentleman, who is a keen observer of all our proceedings, that I shall happily concede to him if he is right and I am wrong. I hope that he is right, but I am not optimistic.
There are a number of other concerns about part I. For example, the British Motorcyclists Federation thinks that it is deficient in particular respects and is susceptible to amendment in Committee. For now, however, I shall focus on part II, which deals with the regulation of registration plate suppliers. It is estimated that approximately 27,000 outlets assemble number plates and that they supply about 6 million to 7 million plates each year. About 2 million plates are fitted to new vehicles and a further 2 million are trade-ins. Replacement plates account for the balance.
The main objective of part II is to regulate the supply of number plates in order to combat vehicle ringing and cloning. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary is pointing to the time. I am sure that other hon. Members want to contribute, but, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the matter must be thoroughly examined. Earlier, he referred indirectly to the phenomenon of vehicle ringing, but did not define it. It is, however, important, as it is central to the Bill. To elucidate for people outside the House who are listening to our proceedings, I should point out that vehicle ringing is the name attached to the process of giving to stolen vehicles the identity of legitimate vehicles that have been seriously damaged or written off. Vehicle cloning uses the identity of an existing vehicle to disguise another vehicle.
I think that I am right in saying that Sweden, which has tightly controlled number plate supply since 1993, is much more successful in deterring criminal offences and in identifying those that have been perpetrated. Part II, which contains clauses 16 to 30, provides for the registration of persons who supply number plates and allows the Secretary of State to make details of the register available to the police. It provides also for the charging of a registration fee and confers a power by which the court may suspend registrations of persons who contravene it. In addition, it provides a power to prosecute for contravention of statutory requirements.
Mr. Bercow: I shall do so in a moment. Part II also allows the Secretary of State to remove from the register persons whom he believes to have ceased trading. There is some uncertainty about the reason for the specific provision on that. However, before I come to that concern, I must, of course, come to my hon. Friend's aid.
Mr. Fabricant: After his study of the Bill, does my hon. Friend know whether licence plate manufacturers will be subject to a tighter obligation to ensure that they produce plates in the proper manner? Has he noticed the number of licence plates with italic writing or strange graphics that make them difficult to read? Such plates are not printed in Roman, sanserif script, which is the prescribed form.
Mr. Bercow: I do not know how heavy an obligation will be placed on plate manufacturers. On the plates' composition and appearance, my feeling is that what counts is the capacity to detect crime. If virtual or total uniformity of appearance aids and abets the detection of crime, I am happy to settle for it. However, I must emphasise to my hon. Friend that if the different composition or appearance of number plates seemed to be insignificant to the level of crime, I would be much more
I want to deal with the point about removing people from the register of practising plate suppliers, about which, I say to the Home Secretary, I was a little quizzical. If memory serves me correctly, the Bill provides a power, which he can exercise, to deregister a registered plates supplier who has not practised that trade or profession for 28 days. I do not want to do him a disservice: the Bill provides for such an individual to make representations, there is a period of grace--14 days, if memory serves me correctly--in which to make those representations, there is the prospect of an appeal and, ultimately, in the event of a continuing disagreement between a plate supplier and the Secretary of State, the matter can go to a magistrates court. However, I am intrigued, first, as to why 28 days was chosen. I have made discreet inquiries and understand that the figure was a brainwave of those in his Department who advise him, though it was plucked arbitrarily from the air and there is no particular reason for specifying 28 days rather than 42 or 56.
Secondly, what would lead Ministers to suspect that someone had ceased to trade? I may have failed to notice an obvious point, but feel sure that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Streatham, would put my mind at rest in such circumstances. I put it to the Home Secretary that it is entirely possible that someone might cease to trade for such a period because he or she had gone abroad or for personal or family reasons, so it seems rather draconian to put or to threaten to put such a person out of business. What scope will there be for recompense should it transpire that an error has been made in deregistering him or her?