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Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that this is the quincentenary year of the College of Thomas Cranmer, the principal author of the Prayer Book? Is he further aware that Her Majesty the Queen will be opening the quincentenary library of Jesus College Cambridge, of which I have the honour to be Master? If there is a possibility of a commemorative stamp in relation to the Prayer Book, will my noble and learned friend pass on to the Post Office the suggestion that an image of the Great Gate of Jesus College might be suitable decoration?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, my noble friend spelt out his case so eloquently that it is unnecessary for me to pass it on. I have no doubt that his comments will be noted. From time to time stamps commemorate religious themes and noble Lords may be interested to know that next year there are to be commemorative stamps for St. Augustine and St. Columba, but nothing to commemorate the Book of Common Prayer.

Lord Gainford: My Lords, as the Book of Common Prayer seems unfortunately to be eclipsed by "alternative" series, will the Minister note that 1999 is also the first year since 1927 when there will be a total eclipse of the sun visible in Great Britain?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, my noble friend clearly draws conclusions from the movements in the heavens, although I do not believe that necessarily all of us would reach the same conclusions, but it is certainly to be noted. As I said, my noble friend the Leader of the House may be able to offer some comfort given the protection that he would wish to afford to the Book of Common Prayer.

Lord Peston: My Lords, perhaps I may bring this matter down to earth. Of course the Minister is entirely right in that this is an operational matter for the Post Office. However, can he tell your Lordships how the Post Office makes this kind of decision? Is the issue of commemorative stamps decided on a commercial basis--namely, what kind of stamp may appeal to collectors--or does the Post Office have a concern, and

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indeed an obligation, to consider what are the important national events that might be commemorated, which relate, of course, to the locus of the Government?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, yes indeed. Since 1969 the arrangement has been that the decision on the issue of a commemorative stamp is for the Post Office. Indeed, criteria have been established. They are to commemorate important anniversaries; to celebrate events of national and international importance; to reflect the British contribution to world affairs; to reflect the various aspects of Britain and the British way of life; to extend public patronage to the arts and also to fit in with the Royal Mail's commercial targets for philately. The Government are given an opportunity to comment on what is proposed and can certainly, as it were, veto an issue if the particular stamp proposed is considered unacceptable on political grounds.

Mileometers: Illegal Alteration

2.51 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress is being made in reducing the illegal alteration of mileometers in motor vehicles, commonly known as "clocking".

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, in 1992 the Government introduced a voluntary mileage recording scheme, administered by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, to address the problem of vehicle "clocking". We are currently reviewing the possibilities for improving the procedures in the light of the responses to a recent consultation paper.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply. Did he notice the conviction in Scotland of a crook who admitted 47 offences, and was known to have committed many more, wiping altogether about 3 million miles off the "clocks"? Will the Government congratulate the trading standards departments concerned and the police on their painstaking work and success in detection and in obtaining a conviction in this particular case? Since these criminals are becoming even more cunning and devious, can the Government do any more to ensure that further efforts are made to stamp out the fraudulent deception of the public?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, this is a very serious issue. My noble friend is quite right to highlight the enforcement effort made by trading standards officers. I understand that in the case to which my noble friend referred, the individual in question was found to have "clocked" about 47 cars. I understand that the figure of 3 million miles is roughly correct. Enforcement must form a major part of the strategy to address this major issue of vehicle "clocking".

Lord Ezra: My Lords, about three years ago I introduced a Bill to strengthen the law in this respect but unfortunately it never reached the statute book.

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Bearing in mind that at that time the Institute of Trading Standards Administration, of which I was president, estimated that the public, the purchaser of secondhand cars, had paid about £100 million more than they should have for vehicles that had been "clocked", can the noble Viscount indicate what the figure is now and whether, in the light of the developments to which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, referred, the law might now be strengthened?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I do not believe that it is possible to put a precise figure to the question which the noble Lord has raised. The point is that it would be a guess at the very best of times. Suffice it to say that it is a very serious problem indeed and one on which we must make a three-stranded attack: first, to pursue our efforts to record more vehicle mileages at the time of sale; secondly, to make sure that the enforcement is up to scratch; and, thirdly, for manufacturers to continue their efforts to produce odometers which are more difficult to tamper with.

Lord Monson: My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that one way to curb this crime is for guidelines to be set whereby a conviction would almost always result in a prison sentence, together with an order for substantial compensation to be paid to the victim?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, it is fair to say that sentencing is an extremely complicated issue. We must have the proper penalties. We must put proper effort into catching the criminals in the first place. I believe that is possibly where the difficulties lie.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal: My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that this is serious fraud and against the consumers' charter? Does he further agree that it is important that the Government pay greater attention to this matter? It is 12 months since there was a report that this problem was being studied and that action would be taken, but nothing seems to progress. Does the Minister agree that it is important to recognise that trading standards departments have the task of taking people to court, but that the departments are limited by the amount of funds from government? When the noble Viscount says that the authorities are doing all they can, that is very little.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, that is not the case at all. We have introduced a new system which gathers information on a voluntary basis when vehicles change hands. That must be a major factor in addressing this situation. We must get correct information which can then be disseminated. That is a major plank in our attack on vehicle fraud. Not only is this matter a serious offence but it also contravenes the Trades Description Act. Where evidence is available, trading standards officers take action which results in convictions.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the potential purchaser can go a long way to protect himself against fraud by buying through a franchised dealer outlet and/or using the services of independent engineers and/or the motoring services to carry out an examination which would reveal such a fraud?

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Viscount Goschen: My Lords, that would be one way for a potential customer to gain greater security. However, with private purchasers that is not always possible. We have tried to make more information available. We have pursued our attempts to make more drivers fill in a form, including the mileage, when they sell the vehicle so that that information can then be disseminated and people will have a much more reliable idea of the actual mileage covered. It is an important road safety issue.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, are the Government aware that there is an annual record of the mileage of cars over three years of age taken at the time of the MoT test? What is the Government's estimate of the cost of recording those figures centrally--presumably at the DLVA--in such a way that that record can be interrogated by the prospective purchasers of vehicles?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I welcome back the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, to the House after his enforced absence yesterday. He raises an important question about the MoT test. In the event that the test is computerised, that would provide a good avenue for the collection of this information. That might well be a useful tool at that stage.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, can the noble Viscount say what is the position of a motorist whose car mileometer breaks and who has to purchase a new one which begins at nought? What obligation is there for him to record the mileage on the old mileometer and then to start again with the new one?

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