Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Whitty: The effect of the amendment would be to remove a power to exempt prescribed persons from the requirement to register while retaining the power to exempt prescribed activities.

That would be an unnecessary and potentially damaging restriction on the powers contained in the clause to draw up regulations. Preliminary consultation has already revealed some areas which the Government will have to consider carefully before making regulations.

The reference to persons as well as activities was included to provide the greatest possible flexibility. It is recognised that there is a danger that exemptions may provide an avenue for abuse but that should be kept to a minimum and that is the Government's intention. Nevertheless, there may be genuine reasons why a person should not be subject to registration. For example, we have already received representations from the retail motor industry which we shall wish to explore further during the consultation process prior to the making of regulations.

We cannot guarantee that we could indicate exhaustively at this point how far the exemption should go. In any event, it is our view that the task of prescribing the exemptions is properly a task for consideration in secondary legislation. It would be a mistake to tie our hands in advance of the consultation process which will take place.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I am not seeking to tie the hands of the Government. I merely want to find out what they are doing or are likely to do. I am not in the least surprised that they have received representations from the retail motor industry. It is substantially the motor retail industry which sells number plates. When you buy a new car, you buy a set of number plates to

6 Mar 2001 : Column 135

go with it, usually from the same supplier. If the retail motor industry were to be exempt from all this, there would be no point in this part of the Bill at all.

It would be extremely odd for part of the motor industry to be exempt when the whole point is that all those who sell number plates should be registered in the interests of stopping vehicle crime. It is rather difficult.

Can the Minister give any examples of people who will be considered, as a class, as a group of persons, to be exempt from the licensing requirement? I do not expect that the Government have made a firm decision to exclude anybody, but who are they likely to consider to be exempt, as a class, from the provisions?

Lord Whitty: I cannot answer that question directly because I should not wish to make any presumption as regards any whole class being excluded from these provisions. Clearly, there is a difference between those who provide second-hand number plates for cars already on the road and those who provide number plates as part of the package when one is buying a new vehicle. There is a difference between those who supply specialised number plates for specialised vehicles and those who supply the trade currently, more or less on demand, with little regulation. The structure of the trade is also important. There may be franchises and dealerships which must be dealt with in a slightly different way from the registration process itself.

If we were to delete this paragraph which the noble Lord seeks to delete, either by deleting that option or making specific prescription on the face of the Bill, we should eliminate any flexibility arising in the secondary legislation process and in the consultation process that goes with it.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: This gets more confusing. It may be, therefore, that those who sell number plates for new cars will not be licensed--and that is the vast majority of number plates that are sold--but only those who are supplying a new number plate to replace a broken one or a number plate that has deteriorated in some way should be licensed. It appears that where there is a franchise or a dealership--that is, when large numbers of plates are being sold--it is less likely to need registration than is the case in relation to an individual number plate. That seems odd.

The Minister seemed to object to my use of the words "whole class". I confess that was my phrase. The phrase used in the Bill is,

    "persons of a prescribed description".

I do not believe that I was misleading the Committee in using that phrase but if I was, then I shall revert to,

    "persons of a prescribed description".

It is extremely odd. Do I see that the Minister has further inspiration arriving?

Lord Whitty: No, I do not have any further inspiration because this is a matter for consultation with many parties. What I was objecting to and why I have risen to my feet again is as regards the noble Lord's inspiration. Because I referred to different

6 Mar 2001 : Column 136

categories, he immediately leapt to the conclusion that I was therefore going to exempt them. That is not the case. I am saying that there are a number of situations in relation to which representations have been made to us that they should be excluded or subject to a different form of registration from that pertaining to the trade as whole. There is clearly a difference between new-car dealers who supply number plates in conjunction with DVLA and those who are offering number plates in the form of a one-off service.

Nevertheless, I must make it clear to this Committee that I have not reached a conclusion on which groups should or should not be exempt. I am trying to preserve the clause so that it gives some flexibility if we consider that those representations allow appropriately for different treatment for different groups and different persons.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I was not leaping to the conclusion that, just because the Minister mentioned persons of a prescribed description, they would automatically be exempt. But they will be considered for exemption. It seems to me that a potentially enormous hole is being driven through this Bill which seems to run flat counter to what the Government were attempting to achieve; that is, the licensing of number-plate suppliers.

Consideration at least will apparently be given to not requiring a licence for the vast majority of number plates sold. That would be an extremely odd and not very desirable outcome. That is certainly not something which has been included in the way in which the Government have represented the Bill until now.

Clearly further thought must be given to this matter, and we shall give further thought to it. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 32:

    Page 10, line 22, leave out "; and cognate expressions shall be construed accordingly"

The noble Lord said: I suggest that the words be left out because of their obscurity. A few years ago, Sir Ernest Gowers wrote a book entitled Plain Words. It was required reading for all people on joining the Civil Service. It was published in various editions over a number of years and I hope that it is still in print. I should hope that copies are still circulated in the Home Office, at least among the new entrants to the Civil Service, but perhaps that may be asking too much.

Can we not have more simple wording so that the Bill is clearer to those of us who are not as well educated as some of your Lordships? Is it really necessary to use words of that character? I beg to move.

Lord Brougham and Vaux: My Lords, when I looked at the amendments this morning--after breakfast when my brain could register--I had to scratch my head and get out a dictionary. I was still not sure what

6 Mar 2001 : Column 137

the Bill meant and I agree that it would be far better if it were expressed in plain, simple English rather than in such obscure language.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am truly amazed. I should have thought that noble Lords such as the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Brougham and Vaux, would be well familiar with the term "cognate". It is used by the parliamentary draftsman and counsel in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions rather than by those in the Home Office, who may have a different level of erudition.

An example of a cognate expression is the term "registration", which appears in Clause 17(4). It is used frequently throughout the Bill. Thus in Clause 19 it is clear that an application for registration is to be construed as an application to be registered within the meaning of Clause 17. That is why we have used the term,

    "cognate expressions shall be construed accordingly".

The term "cognate" in Clause 31 means "of the same root". It is therefore not more vague or obscure but rather more precise than the term "related". Therefore, Amendment No. 57, by substituting "related" for "cognate", does not improve the clarity of the drafting. I hope that, despite his surprising deficiency in education in this respect, in this case we can leave the drafting as provided by the parliamentary draftsman.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I did not have the advantage of higher education; I was put into a counting house at an early age. Cognate is not among the words I habitually use, nor is it among the words I have frequently come across in legislation; and in various ways I have had a lot to do with legislation during the past few years.

I apologise to the Home Office because it is clear that Plain Words circulates in that department. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has failed to catch up with Sir Ernest Gowers and his sensible suggestions on writing.

The Minister explained that he did not believe that the word "relative" in Amendment No. 57 meant the same so I shall not press it. For that matter, I shall not press Amendment No. 32. However, I believe that the more legislation is written in English which we can all readily understand and which the poor garage owner can understand should he need to refer to it, the better. It is not only ourselves and lawyers who need to understand legislation; it is also the man in the street. If he cannot understand it, how on earth can he obey it? If he has to go to a large dictionary in order to look up a word, that is not helpful either.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page