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Earl Attlee: I am grateful for the Minister's response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Register of registration plate suppliers]:

[Amendment No. 34 not moved.]

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 35:

"( ) Subject to subsection (6) below, information to be supplied under subsection (3) shall be available electronically."

The noble Earl said: The Committee may be assisted to know who will be able to access the register of registered suppliers of number plates. Will the motorist be able to assume that Halfords, or another motor factor, is properly registered without having to consult the register? The easiest way to consult any register is by electronic means. If everyone is able to access perhaps certain parts of the information, is it not better that that should be done electronically on the Internet? I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: The answer to the noble Earl's question is that it would be desirable but his amendment is not required to achieve it. As the noble Earl may be aware, the register will be held by the DVLA which has already begun to plan for the administration of the register and the release of information to interested parties as suggested in the amendment. Under the Modernising Government initiative, the DVLA is well to the forefront in working towards the provision of all its services electronically. Clearly, it would make sense for that facility to be made available electronically from the outset of the new service. We have not reached the point of a detailed user requirement, but in principle we have committed ourselves to providing information from the new register on the Internet with an interactive search facility. Responses to inquiries by e-mail are already part of the DVLA's normal process. There is nothing in the Bill that prevents that information being made available electronically.

Previously, in Committee, we indicated that references in legislation to information or record-keeping are nowadays construed as including electronic information or record-keeping. In case there are further technological advances that will remain the position. The provision will not spell out that electronically-provided information is appropriate.

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To do so would throw doubt on whether the same terminology means the same in other government services.

Earl Attlee: I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 [Applications for registration]:

[Amendments Nos. 36 to 39 not moved.]

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Cancellation of registration by the Secretary of State]:

[Amendment No. 40 not moved.]

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 41:

    Page 12, line 20, at end insert "and is unlikely to do so"

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 41, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 42. Yesterday the Committee discussed a fairly similar issue. In the Home Counties each motor factor will manufacture several number plates each day, but in the wilds of central Wales a month may go by without any number plates being manufactured.

The tenor of Clause 21 is to concentrate the number of manufacturers. Perhaps the Minister can say whether that is correct. Is the motor trade aware of the likely concentration of manufacturers in order to meet the technological requirements?

Amendment No. 41 seeks to insert the important qualification,

    "and is unlikely to do so",

after the time limit for producing no number plates. Amendment No. 42 deals with the same issue, but in a different way. Clause 23 provides the appeal procedure. Presumably the appeal would be purely on the ground of disagreeing with the Secretary of State's view that no number plates have been produced within the previous 28 days.

Perhaps the magistrates' court can allow registration to continue, notwithstanding that no number plates have recently been produced. Perhaps the Minister can say what the power of the magistrates' courts will be under the Bill as drafted. However, the amendment is designed to allow the magistrates to consider whether cancellation is desirable in view of the lack of suppliers in the local area. It is not designed to cover a situation where there are plenty of alternative suppliers in the area. I beg to move.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Whitty: Under the existing draft of the Bill the Secretary of State may--I emphasise, may--cancel the registration if he is satisfied that the operator concerned has not been carrying on business as a supplier for at least the 28 days. Therefore, the only

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ground for appeal against the cancellation, which is what the amendment deals with, would be that the Secretary of State had been mistaken in that belief.

Amendment No. 41, as drafted, would require the Secretary of State to establish whether a supplier is still trading. In addition, it would require him to make a subjective judgment as to whether the supplier intended to resume trading at any future time.

Both in the original decision and in any appeal it is a matter of direct fact which has to be established, because even the supplier might not actually know whether he intends to supply again in the future. If he does then he should reapply for the register. Once a person has ceased to trade entirely, the question of his future intentions becomes immaterial.

The intention behind the provision is to ensure that the register of businesses is kept as reliable and as accurate as possible. If that is not managed, the register will not be of much value in the fight against vehicle crime. It is not sensible that the register should contain details of businesses which are not trading as registration plate suppliers. Already the Department of Trade strikes off companies which have ceased to trade. That system works well enough and this provision takes it a stage further.

Amendment No. 42 would mean that in the event of a business actively trading as a registration plate supplier being wrongly deregistered, the appeal would be dismissed if there was an assessment by the Secretary of State that there were already sufficient number plate suppliers in that area. This matter goes back to the original question asked by the noble Earl, as to whether the provision is a means of controlling the structure of the industry in reducing the number of suppliers. That is not the intention of the provision. It may be that the industry structure changes in response to these regulations. But it is not our intention to use this measure to reduce the number of traders; nor is it to prohibit new traders entering or traders remaining within the market simply because there are other traders in the immediate vicinity. It provides the deletion of that trader from the register only if the supplier has deliberately ceased to trade in number plates.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may return to the question of 28 days. The Minister talked about suppliers ceasing to trade. There is a world of difference between a business which ceases to trade and a business which simply does not happen to sell some number plates that month. The point that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, makes, and the one which I made in Committee yesterday, is that it is entirely possible that the main business of a supplier will not be the supply of registration plates. It will be a garage or perhaps the seller of caravans. The supply of registration plates is simply something that it does. It is easy to see circumstances in which it will not sell a plate in 28 days. However, it would be caught by the provisions of the Bill.

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I should like also to understand how the Secretary of State, the DVLA or anyone else will know whether someone has sold a plate in 28 days. I am not clear how that mechanism comes into play. I would appreciate some clarification on that matter.

Lord Whitty: The 28 days in the clause relates to 28 days in a later clause, on which I do not think there are any amendments. That clause requires the trader within 28 days to give notice to the Secretary of State of any changes affecting the accuracy of the information provided. That would include a requirement on the trader to notify that it had stopped trading. If it failed to do so, but the Secretary of State received information that it had stopped trading, then the Secretary of State has the discretionary ability to deregister the trader after the 28 days. Obviously, the Secretary of State, in reaching that decision, would need to take into account the nature of the business. Although this part of the Bill relates only to England and Wales, if it was a caravan seller in the Outer Hebrides, that would need to be taken into account and there would need to be further inquiries before that decision was made. This is a permissive power. The 28 days relates to the requirement on the trader himself or herself to notify changes.

Earl Attlee: I accept the Minister's point that we need a reliable register. However, the Committee is fairly sure that 28 days is rather on the aggressive side. The Minister talked about the subjective decision of the Secretary of State. Why not ask the supplier what his intentions are? If he says, "I intend to carry on producing number plates, but it is a fairly patchy business at the moment", then the Secretary of State should accept that. I am not convinced that the Minister fully recognises the needs in remote areas. I suspect that we shall return to this issue at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 21 agreed to.

Clause 22 agreed to.

Clause 23 [Appeals: Part 2]:

[Amendment No. 42 not moved.]

Clause 23 agreed to.

Clause 24 [Keeping of records: Part 2]:

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