|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Even the noble Lord, Lord Cope, who although not churlish was tilted towards grudging, was reasonably constructive about the Bill while managing to try to land a few ideological blows. But I cannot really see the Bill as being yet another burden on business.
A number of points deserve a ministerial response. In its briefing the Local Government Association said that it did not want in this Bill specific legislation on abandoned vehicles but wanted to continue discussions with the police on the subject. If that is the way we go, I hope that there will be some urgency to those discussions. The abandonment of vehicles is a real problem. It puzzles me how, if one leaves one's car for half an hour, someone tows it away. Yet abandoned vehicles seem to be left for ever, with no one bothering about them, and if one rings the local authority it seems reluctant to take action. There is a serious side to the issue because abandoned vehicles then become subject to vandalism and a danger to children. I hope that the problem of abandoned vehicles is treated with urgency.
I hope that we do not become too frivolous about number plates. With the new fonts and with the making of names out of numbers, there is a danger of losing sight of the purpose of number plates. We need a more robust attitude to them. I was tempted to put down an amendment suggesting that all number plates should incorporate the European blue stars--just to guarantee the attendance of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, at the Committee stage.
My very good friends and colleagues, the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, and the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, are not present for the debate. However, as the House will know, they are the champions of the two-wheeled motor vehicle--the leather brigade. There are problems associated with two-wheeled vehicles. It would be reassuring to them when they read Hansard if the Minister were to indicate concern about two-wheel vehicle crime as well as car theft.
My only association with vehicle crime was when I was a student living in a hall of residence at University College, London. One of the lads in the hall of residence lost his very elderly Lambretta. He received a quite handsome sum from his insurance company for the lost Lambretta. But he drew the curtains one morning and looked out and there was the Lambretta, outside the hall of residence. I have to tell the House that that Lambretta is now in the foundations of one of the newer buildings of University College, London. I do not know what happened to him. He is probably a High Court judge now.
More seriously, I thoroughly agreed with what the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, had to say about the anti-social nature of speeding. There is too much association of macho, manly virtues with speeding and not enough realisation that when one is driving a car one is in charge of a lethal weapon and that it should be handled with commensurate responsibility. But it is also fair to congratulate the Government on the fall in road fatalities. It has come about through a combination of efforts--legislative measures, education and the response of manufacturers. Manufacturers have acted responsibly in making vehicles less prone to theft.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, made some good points. She suggested that the Highway Code should encourage drivers to be aware of anti-theft measures. She also suggested that there should be more IT support for the police so that they can react more rapidly. The point made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, about the export of stolen cars also bears examination. We are told that in some foreign parts one can almost custom order highly priced cars from countries such as Britain and have them delivered. There must be measures, including European co-operation, to counteract such crime.
The point made about hypothecation needs to be clarified. Whenever the Treasury appears to be generous, those not on the Government Benches will want to examine the small print very carefully indeed. The point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, that hypothecation should include using the money for wider purposes than just speed cameras was a valid one. Furthermore, we on these Benches will certainly associate ourselves with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on amendments to include yellow boxes in bus lanes.
The Minister may recall that some months ago I told him that I had been to an electronics exhibition which was demonstrating devices that could be put in cars to warn about speed cameras and speed traps. In his reply to me he said that the Home Office was looking at the legality of such devices--looking with a hostile eye in that respect. Has there been any progress in the matter?
Perhaps I may return to the issue of speed. I see that the Conservatives are discussing increasing the speed limit on motorways to 85 miles an hour. I hope that the speed limit does not become a party political issue. It is more important to aim the enforcement of speed limits in areas where exceeding them can be highly dangerous. Most Members agree that very few drivers--with the exception of my father-in-law, who sticks to 41 miles per hour regardless of where he is driving--have never driven over the speed limit at some time. Indeed, even my father-in-law may have exceeded the limit in a 30 mile-per-hour zone. Nevertheless, politicians should be careful of implying that speed is not a factor in road accidents. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, pointed out that even on the safest of motorways, drivers are dangerous when they drive at very high speeds.
What has emerged most strongly from this debate is how constructive are Members from all sides of the House in their approach. For that reason, I believe that the Committee stage should prove to be both interesting and productive. I hope that we shall also be able to explore the points made by my noble friend Lady Scott. In her peroration she paid tribute to my wise advice--I was particularly taken by that--and, along with the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, pointed out that, if we are to make this strategy work well, along with legislation, we need to foster education and community involvement.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, along with other noble Lords, I give the Bill a general welcome. I shall undertake two tasks this evening: first, I thank the Government for introducing this measure; secondly--and perhaps more important--I wish to congratulate my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy on giving the Government the idea for it in the first place. He deserves credit for that and I hope, when the Minister winds up the debate, that he, too, will pay tribute to my noble friend.
Not unreasonably, the Government want us all to drive carefully, to keep to the speed limits and to obey the rules. However, I have to say that it is a pity that neither the Prime Minister nor the Home Secretary have set a good example in this respect. The Prime Minister was driven along the bus lane of the M4 when he was late for a meeting. On another occasion, the Home Secretary was happy to be driven at over 100 miles an hour--again because he was late for a meeting. If the Government wish the public to stick to the law, they must ensure that they encourage their drivers to do the same.
As I have said, we welcome the Bill and we shall examine its detail closely when we come to the Committee stage. However, I was somewhat depressed when I read through Clause 1. I thought, "Oh God, more garbage in the drafting". In that clause we find that subsection (2)(b) states:
We agree that registration will be important. However, we cannot gloss lightly over the fact that costs will attach to this new form of regulation. I am concerned not so much with the larger groups, but
As my noble friend Lord Cope pointed out, we are concerned also about the powers of entry. It seems rather bizarre that greater powers of entry are available for registered businesses than is the case for unregistered businesses.
When the Bill was considered in the other place, the Minister, Mr Keith Hill, when questioned on hypothecation, was asked whether the Government would spend all the receipts. The Minister was not able to answer the question. He said:
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, spoke of how the punishment should fit the crime. We agree entirely with that sentiment. However, there is a considerable variation in the punishments dealt by magistrates' courts. One is often surprised, when reading the newspapers, to see that quite serious offences are sometimes treated rather lightly, while other offences which appear less serious attract far higher fines or heavier penalties. If the law is to work properly, it has
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, referred to several matters in her interesting speech. In particular she mentioned car parks. This is an important point. As someone who uses a railway station car park, I have to tell the House that they can be some of the worst car parks in this country. In the area where I live, to park one's car overnight in a railway station car park is almost to guarantee that it will be broken into. The car will not be stolen, but it will be broken into, the radio will be stolen and the car may be trashed. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, observed, when one's car is stolen, only one thing is worse than the fact of the theft; that is, when a kind person returns the car a month later after it has been thoroughly trashed. That is truly awful.
If the Government are serious about their transport policy, which seeks to encourage us to use trains, then railway station car parks must be examined. I know for a fact that, if I use the train to come to London, I cannot leave my car overnight in the railway station car park because the odds are that it will be broken into.
Much has been made of the use of speed cameras. The system has worked well and has been extremely successful in encouraging drivers to drive within the law. However, as a result of speaking to various people who have been photographed while speeding, I have discovered that it is almost impossible to secure a copy of the picture. If you say to the police, "I do not know if I was driving down that road on that day. I cannot remember. Can you send me a photograph?", one is told, "No, that is not possible. It is too expensive and too inconvenient". There should be a mechanism whereby people who receive a summons asking whether they were driving on a particular day--because sometimes a summons arrives four months later--can have access to the photograph.
Many noble Lords were concerned about abandoned vehicles. This is a big problem, particularly in the countryside. I have noticed them most when I have been driving around a corner in a country lane and suddenly there is an abandoned vehicle. It is extremely important that the Government continue their discussions with local authorities on this issue. I hope that the Minister will tell us what progress is being made in this matter.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that he was not going to bring forward an amendment about the EU symbol on number plates. From looking at the House of Commons Hansard, it would appear that the Government plan that there will be an EU symbol on all new number plates from September this year. Perhaps the Minister will confirm whether or not that is the case.
Turning to the issue of number plates, my noble friend Lord Attlee made an extremely important point about commercial trailers, ordinary trailers, caravans and so on. He gave a figure of 15,000 number plates being made each day, which poses the question of whether the system will work. It is a huge number of number plates. We shall have the expertise of my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux at Committee stage. I was somewhat alarmed when my noble friend Lord Attlee spoke about the cloning of cars. I have only recently understood the concept of Dolly the sheep and now it seems that I have to move on to Dolly the car.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I find myself in a rather infrequent position--responding to a debate in which there has been universal approval for at least the main principles of the Bill. Most complaints have been about what is not in the Bill rather than what is. I appreciate the support of the House and the indications of commitment to the objectives of the Bill. Whether they have been expressed with the pride of paternity, as by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, or with a certain twinge of cynicism, as by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, I regard them as all positive and supportive.
I shall divide my remarks between the three main areas--salvage, number plates, and safety and speed cameras. Generally, noble Lords on the Front Benches opposite raised the question of regulation and cost. These propositions have been based on full consultation, not only with business in general, but specifically with the Federation of Small Businesses, the salvage trade associations, the police and the local authorities. We believe that they are sensible and proportionate regulations. In terms of cost, we do not believe that the estimates in the Explanatory Notes will be exceeded.
I do not need to deal with the principles of the Bill because they were broadly supported. I shall therefore attempt to deal with the detail. As to salvage, the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Campbell of Croy, raised the question of vehicle identities and suggested that vehicles which were not insured would not receive an identity check. All vehicles which have been previously written off would be required to be submitted for a vehicle identity check should someone apply for new registration documents. That would apply also to those vehicles which were self-insured and to fleet cars.
As to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, as to why VIC does not cover self-insured cars, such vehicles will be included by introducing a requirement for the registration documents to be surrendered together with a declaration that the vehicle has been sold as scrap.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, raised the question of the regulation of the salvage industry and its relationship to the voluntary code applied by salvage companies which are members of trade associations--he is right, they form a relatively small proportion of the industry--and those which are not. The trade associations very strongly support the regulations as do many outside the trade associations. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, pointed out, there are some dodgy operators in this field. Although there is a highly respectable element in the salvage trade, there are some dodgy operators who are unscrupulous and who, in effect, deal with cars which could be a threat to life and limb. They are the ones who operate ringing and cut-and-shut operations without proper safety precautions; they are the ones we are trying to catch. By and large, the regulations are accepted and supported by the majority in the trade.
The noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, also asked about the involvement of insurance companies. I think I have largely answered that question. Representations to us suggest that this industry is questioning whether the regulations will push companies abroad. We have generally assessed the economic position of this trade as insufficient to generate the kind of legal profits which would lead to people going abroad--or to Scotland or Northern Ireland, where these regulations will not apply. In the long run, the end-of-life vehicle directive will require identification of all authorities which have the right to break and end the life of vehicles. Eventually, there will be identification across the whole of the European Union.
As to the question of the effectiveness of these registrations in terms of the right of inspection and the right of entry, this probably relates more to the issue of number plates than to the issue of salvage operators.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, and my noble friend Lord Simon, both raised the issue of whether there was an inconsistency between the inspection of registered and unregistered number plate suppliers. The Bill will permit searches of unregistered premises only with a warrant, as would be the case in any other situation where a crime was suspected. Unregistered premises in which it is suspected that criminal activity is taking place, in that they are being used to operate in areas for which they should be registered, are covered by the general provisions. Registered operators will, in effect, have signed up to being inspected without a warrant when they register. That is why we need these provisions in the Bill.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, showed a suspiciously detailed knowledge of all the tricks of the trade in relation to number plates. He raised a number of points which even my detailed brief does not cover. Nevertheless, he rightly identified that there are a number of problems. He indicated that the system would, of itself, put further responsibilities on DVLA staff and the registration system. However, I take issue with him when he says that the progress towards electronic provisions via the DVLA are somewhat backward. In reality, progress towards electronic options for the DVLA is moving forward fairly rapidly
The noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, raised the question of what exactly are the offences when a number plate is erroneously handed over. He suggested that an additional offence might be created. The supplier will have a statutory duty to obtain information from the purchaser so as to verify that he is entitled to buy the number plates. If the supplier colludes with the purchaser, he commits an offence himself. A separate offence of effectively counterfeiting is not necessarily appropriate in this case. If the purchaser produces false documents, again, offences are created.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, and others asked what information we eventually intend to see on number plates. Clause 34 allows for additional information to be included on number plates. The precise information to be included will be prescribed by regulations after further consultation. It is envisaged at this stage that it could include, for example, a manufacturer's serial number, so as to combat illegal copying. This could be dealt with in the future by a bar code or microchip in the number plate. We shall return to the matter when we deal with the regulations under Clause 34.
Mischievously, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, referred to aspects of the regulations regarding the nature of number plates. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that the present manipulations and the use of obscure fonts are contrary to good enforcement. Therefore, we have brought forward regulations to make sure that people work to a standard font. There is also to be a bigger change in the nature of number plates: we have run out of numbers on the old system and, from September, there will be an entirely new system.
The allegation, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, gave credence, that the regulations will include provision for a compulsory EU sign, is erroneous. They will include the ability voluntarily to include the EU sign with the stars and the GB plate. However, it will not be mandatory and there is no such intention on the part of Her Majesty's Government to make it mandatory--whatever the noble Lord, Lord McNally, may wish in his heart of hearts.
Perhaps I may move on to aspects that are not included in that part of the Bill, but which noble Lords may feel should be included. A recurring theme was that of abandoned cars. We recognise that they present a problem. Although they are not covered by the Bill, there are provisions for co-operation between the various authorities. We have attempted to ensure that the existing regulations in regard to abandoned and unlicensed vehicles bring together all the authorities so that we can tackle what is undoubtedly a growing problem in many of our towns and villages.
I am very pleased to receive the support of the House for the provisions on safety cameras, referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and others. The pilot schemes that we are running on the funding of safety cameras have not yet been completed. However, as was indicated in statements by ACPO last week, the results so far are very encouraging. They indicate a substantial improvement as regards the number of fatalities and serious injuries. They show a major improvement in Strathclyde, of over 40 per cent; an improvement of over 30 per cent in Nottinghamshire; and an improvement of over 25 per cent in Lincolnshire. For some reason, the improvement in Essex is somewhat less. However, only one or two of the indicators are in single figures; all the others reveal an improvement of over 20 per cent. There is a clear indication that, with proper resources, speed cameras not only reduce speed but also reduce accidents and deaths.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page