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Lord Brougham and Vaux: I have much sympathy with my noble friend's amendments. I cannot add anything to what my noble friend has said. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 would require the local authority to charge for inspection and copies of the register, but only a sum equivalent to the cost of meeting the request for inspection or copies. The fee could not be less, nor could it be waived, and the amendments would remove all flexibility--perhaps an unintended consequence of the noble Viscount's desire for transparency.

Clause 2 as drafted provides that the fee, if charged, cannot be set at a level higher than would be "reasonable". The ultra vires rule prevents government from raising more than costs through fees. In practice, the clause will allow the local authority the flexibility to vary or waive fees according to the circumstances of the applicant and its own circumstances.

Amendment No. 6 would require the local authority to charge for registration the amount necessary, if any, to recover the costs of processing applications only. No recovery of the costs of reviewing or cancelling registrations would be made, which could leave the authority severely out of pocket.

Amendment No. 7 would have the effect of requiring the authority to set any charge at the level necessary to recover the costs of cancelling registrations and maintaining the register. Clause 3 as drafted provides that the fee cannot be more than the "reasonable" costs incurred for administering the registration scheme, but could be less. It therefore creates greater flexibility and is more appropriate than either Amendment No. 6 or Amendment No. 7.

Amendments Nos. 34, 36 and 37 would have a similar effect on Clauses 18 and 19, which relate to number plate suppliers. As they stand, the clauses allow the Secretary of State to prescribe a fee for the disclosure of information from the register and the registration of a supplier. The level set must cover the cost of the request or application. However, the clauses do not make it mandatory that a fee must be charged. A power to charge a fee does not provide the Secretary of State with the power to trade--a very important point upon which the noble Viscount may care to reflect. Therefore it would be ultra vires to charge a fee which exceeds the cost of administering the request or application. This means that the prescribed fee will be set at a level to recover reasonable administrative costs only. It can go no further.

Although no detailed calculations have yet been made on the level of the registration fee, it is anticipated that the costs of registration may differ according to the size of the business. For example, a national chain store with multiple retail outlets necessarily would have a larger and more complex entry on the register than a small business operating from a single outlet. Further consultation with the industry is needed before making final decisions. We

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take the view that it would be a mistake to remove the flexibility afforded by the fee-charging power in advance of those consultations.

Amendments Nos. 34 and 36 are not necessary as the clauses already allow the Secretary of State to prescribe a fee to recover the reasonable costs incurred by the Secretary of State in connection with the administration of this part of the Bill. For the reasons already stated, Amendment No. 37 is not necessary and subsection (2) should stand to require the payment of the prescribed fee at the time of registration. With those explanations, I trust that the noble Viscount will feel able to withdraw his amendments.

Viscount Astor: The Minister's answers were helpful, particularly in regard to the latter amendments, and have put my mind at rest. I shall of course study carefully what he said. I noted with interest that he said my amendments would prevent local authorities from charging less. The chances of a local authority charging less are pretty remote; I doubt whether the flexibility goes that way. It may be, of course, that, in his experience of local government, the Minister found that authorities did charge less for certain services. I thank the Minister for responding to the amendments; I shall study his reply carefully. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Applications for registration and renewal of registration]:

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 5:

    Page 2, line 44, after "prescribed;" insert--

"( ) shall be accompanied by a notification of the outcome of any application for registration by that person in that particular area, or in any other area of a local authority, in the preceding six years;"

The noble Viscount said: Amendment No. 5 is a probing amendment which deals with applications for registration and renewal of registration. It is designed to ensure that a person seeking registration provides the local authority with the outcome of any previous application.

As I understand it, Clause 10 provides sanctions for the making of false statements but, at the moment, without seeing the prescribed form, we do not know whether applicants will be required to provide information of previous applications. It may be that my amendment is unnecessary but, until we receive some indication or confirmation from the Government of what applicants will be asked, the situation is unclear. The six-year period was chosen to cover two three-year periods. I should be grateful for an explanation, which may put my mind at rest. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Amendment No. 5 would require applications for registration to be accompanied by notification of the outcome of any earlier such applications over the previous six years. In our view, it is unnecessary for the Bill to be amended

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in this way; it would make for inflexibility if that were the case. The noble Viscount has assured the Committee that this is a probing amendment and I am sure that he is not trying to inflict inflexibility upon us. Clause 3(1)(a) already provides for applications to be made in accordance with any such requirements that may be prescribed.

I am happy to confirm that there will be full consultation over the content of any regulations before they are made. We are more than happy to take on board the noble Viscount's point. Matters of detail such as those to which he has drawn attention in moving the amendment will be addressed at that point. We shall pick up the issue and I am confident that we can bring forward suggestions to cover his understandable concern.

Lord Brougham and Vaux: The Minister mentioned a period of six years. If it is a new registration, how can evidence from six years back be given when it has not even started?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: It is not my amendment; it is the noble Viscount's amendment. Perhaps the noble Lord should ask his noble friend that question.

Viscount Astor: Perish the thought that I should answer. I shall leave the answers to the Government. I am grateful for the Minister's explanation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 not moved.]

Baroness Scott of Needham Market moved Amendment No. 8:

    Page 3, line 9, after "area" insert--

"( ) notify the police and receive any representations that they may have occasion to make; and"

The noble Baroness said: At Second Reading, I referred to some of our worries in regard to increasing the regulatory burden. I also explained that because of the rising tide of vehicle crime we were happy to accept some degree of regulation in the Bill. However, I am worried that, while bringing in a new regulatory regime and the associated bureaucracy, Part I of the Bill is rather weak in some respects. We may end up with the worst of both worlds; that is, some new regulation, but regulation which is not tough enough to do the job. It is against that background that I have tabled a number of amendments to Part I of the Bill and put my name to others.

As it stands, Clause 3 simply requires the local authority to create and keep a register. It makes a presumption quite rightly that an applicant will be registered unless the local authority decides that he or she is not a fit and proper person. However, it is not at all clear from the Bill how the local authority is to arrive at that judgment. While I am usually in favour of a high degree of local autonomy, I am rather concerned that in this case there ought to be

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consistency right across the country. In that regard I have some sympathy with the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor.

It is also important that information is available across local authority boundaries. It strikes me that police records are probably the best way to achieve that. My Amendment No. 8, and Amendment No. 14 which follows on from it, seek to strengthen the Bill by ensuring that when a local authority is compiling the register it will notify the police of any applications it has received and will also take note of any comments the police have made on an applicant.

I am sure that it usually is the case that local authorities and local police work closely together and would consult. However, I should be happier in this case to see something on the face of the Bill. That approach would be entirely consistent with other kinds of local authority registers where it is common to conduct police checks before someone is placed on a register. I beg to move.

7 p.m.

Viscount Falkland: On behalf of the motor cycle industry, I support my noble friend Lady Scott. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, mentioned caravans and trailers. However, under the Bill as drafted motor cycles in particular have been somewhat diminished in importance. Some criminals make a good living from stealing motor cycles. I declare an interest in that I was for 10 years the chairman of the MotorCycle Industry Theft Action Group. Over that period we have seen the rise and fall of the statistics of motor cycle theft. At the moment they are rising. We have not only the traditional kinds of motor cycles which are so popular in this country--sports bikes mainly--but we also now have many scooters and small machines which are popular as a means of commuting.

Recently criminals have had a field day with the smaller vehicles due to their owners' ignorance of the necessity properly to protect them. The police, and in particular the Metropolitan Police stolen vehicles squad, with whom I have had a close association over the years, have done a great deal of detailed and important work in this whole area. They have liaised with local police vehicle squads and also with Interpol.

As criminals make such a good living from stealing motor bikes and are relatively immune from prosecution because of the technicalities involved, they are anxious to keep ahead of the game. They do so in a sophisticated manner, even to the point of infiltrating companies developing new technology.

I support the point made by my noble friend Lady Scott; namely, that local authorities may not be aware--as, indeed, many motor cyclists are not aware--of the important work that the police have done and the amount of technology that has been brought to bear in this area. The help of the police will be invaluable to local authorities when they are making these decisions. I support absolutely what my noble friend has said. It is vitally important that local

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authorities take note of the expertise which has been built up by the police and that that should be recognised on the face of the Bill.

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