Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 43:

"( ) Regulations made under subsection (1) shall provide that records may be made electronically and the circumstances when a printed copy shall be made.

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 44. My estimation is that 10,000 to 15,000 number plates are manufactured every day. It would be helpful if the Minister could correct me if I am wrong. Record-keeping is onerous and a large number of transactions must be recorded. Record-keeping could be electronically linked to the manufacture of number plates when we move to more sophisticated number

6 Mar 2001 : Column 145

plates. Having an electronic search facility rather than having to go through a card index could also help the police in an investigation.

I turn to Amendment No. 44. What will happen to the records when the business closes? Some of these businesses do not last for very long. For how long should the records be kept? How does the Minister envisage the procedure for keeping the records when a business closes? It needs to be recognised that the value of the records is relatively short-term. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: As a quick piece of mental arithmetic, 6.5 million number plates a year works out at slightly over 15,000 a day, which was the figure referred to by the noble Earl. So, yes, we are in the same ball park.

The noble Earl referred to electronic record-keeping. In answer to questions raised on an earlier clause, I mentioned the general point about not prescribing such matters in the legislation. It would not be appropriate to prescribe it because it would throw doubt on other such provisions. In a practical sense, computerised records would be preferable for the purposes of this scheme. However, the legislation should not prescribe that, both for the reason of other legislation and because, while the Government encourage the use of electronic communication in record-keeping, it would not be acceptable to require small businesses to do so and thus put them outside the law simply because they had not introduced a computerised scheme and continued to use traditional methods. That is the implication of adopting it in this connection. Therefore, for a combination of reasons, I do not think that Amendment No. 43 is appropriate.

Amendment No. 44 is unduly prescriptive in the sense that it seeks to insert into primary legislation something that is more appropriate for regulation. It is true that the British Number Plate Manufacturers Association has suggested that records should be kept for the two-year period only. But we would want to consult more widely on the regulations before we reached a final decision. We need to strike a balance between the needs of criminal investigation, which is what the Bill facilitates, and the interests of small businesses. That means that not only small business interests have to be consulted, but also the police.

The same is true of the suggestion that records should be handed over to the police on cessation of business or on the death of the registered person. We need to be satisfied that the police are the most appropriate body for receipt of such records. That is an additional function for them. We need to address that issue as well in the course of consulting on the regulations. In any case, there are all kinds of complexities that make the drafting of the amendment a little suspect. For example, which chief constable should be handed the records in the case of a business covering more than one police authority? All of those issues would have to be addressed in the regulations even if we accepted that what the noble Earl proposes is the most sensible way of retaining the records.

6 Mar 2001 : Column 146

I do not think that what is proposed is appropriate for primary legislation. We will be consulting all interests on this matter. I hope that the noble Earl will not pursue the amendment.

Earl Attlee: We are moving towards more sophisticated number plates. Therefore, anyone who wants to be able to manufacture number plates in the future will have to have more sophisticated facilities. There is a need for the police to be able rapidly to search. What would happen if false number plates were used in a crime but the number plates were produced a long distance away from where the crime was perpetrated? How would the police be able rapidly to search for where the number plates were manufactured? Can the Minister say whether there is any intention electronically to notify the DVLA each time a number plate is manufactured? Once one starts capturing that information electronically at the point of manufacture, it is not difficult to inform the DVLA with a code number where the number plates were made. Finally, the Minister has not satisfied me as to what in practice will happen to the records when a number plate supplier ceases trading.

Lord Whitty: I said that this would be a matter for consultation and subsequent regulation. I am not immediately jumping to the conclusion drawn by the noble Earl, that they should be lodged with the police. As to the question of police access to the records, clearly, the DVLA will be keeping its records electronically. Therefore, the arrangements that we have now provided, whereby the police would have access to the DVLA records, will apply. I agree that the records will have to become more sophisticated as manufacture becomes more sophisticated. At the moment, a number of small businesses keep records only in more traditional form and we would not want to put those small businesses under undue pressure to computerise. I suspect that the problem will be resolved over time, but legislation is not the appropriate place to do it.

The noble Earl referred to the tracing of manufacturers. The regulations will in future require the details of the manufacturer to be recorded on the number plate. Therefore, that is another dimension to the ability of the police to trace the origins of the number plate.

Earl Attlee: If I may deal with the Minister's final point first, sometimes one struggles to read the number on the number plate, let alone the small print. The principle of Part 2 of the Bill is clearly desirable. But what concerns me is the practicality. The Minister seems to be struggling with the practicality of what to do with the records of a business that no longer exists. He seems also to be reluctant to take full advantage of what we can do with the electronic interchange of information. I suspect that we shall return to this issue at some stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 44 not moved.]

6 Mar 2001 : Column 147

Clause 24 agreed to.

Clause 25 [Provision of information on sale of registration plates]:

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 45:

    Page 14, line 23, at end insert--

"( ) Regulations made under subsection (1) may not provide for the production of the vehicle registration document if the customer can show the registered person that it is inconvenient due to the distance away from where the registration document is kept."

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 46. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, referred earlier today to the ease with which number plates can be damaged in a minor accident. They can also be lost; and I suspect that, after the Bill becomes law, they may be stolen more often. Clearly, in that situation, it will be necessary rapidly to replace the number plate. What documents will be required by the number plate supplier before he is allowed to manufacture a number plate under the regulations? I beg to move.

4 p.m.

Lord Whitty: No doubt the noble Earl will accuse me of struggling with the detail but, once again, I must point out that the detail here should be decided in secondary legislation. The point of putting into Clause 25 a regulation-making power is to enable us to do so. That is the appropriate way in which to proceed. To some extent, the drafting of the noble Earl's amendments to this clause indicates the difficulty of putting such matters onto the face of the Bill.

The information prescribed in regulations will take into account a variety of different circumstances in which a registration document might not immediately be available. The noble Earl's amendments address one such occasion, but do so rather subjectively. The information referred to in the clause is information that would provide proof that the prospective purchaser is entitled to receive the plates he has requested and would confirm that they bear the appropriate registration mark. This could be done if, for example, the vehicle registration document was not available, by asking for proof of identity in the form of a driving licence or passport, or an indirect proof of entitlement to the registration mark.

The form of words used by the noble Earl in his amendments--for example, when he refers to the vehicle being some "distance away" from where the registration document is kept--is difficult to establish objectively. Again, in Amendment No.36 the use of the word "obviously" errs on the side of the imprecise for primary legislation purposes. Such matters can be spelt out in more detail in secondary legislation.

While I do not object to the intention behind the amendments tabled by the noble Earl, these are matters for secondary legislation. So far as concerns the documentation, clearly we would prefer it if the vehicle registration document is produced, but the

6 Mar 2001 : Column 148

regulations will have to deal with a wider range of circumstances than are dealt with here, where it is not practicable.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page