Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Burnham: Vehicle registration documents notwithstanding, I think that it is timely to question the matter of false number plates, although one should not say anything that might be considered sub judice. Are the Government content that adequate checks are made on the provenance of the vehicle and of its owner before number plates are issued? We believe that we have seen false number plates issued over the past 48 hours. That would have contravened this regulation.

Lord Whitty: Any current circumstances cannot be in breach of this regulation because it has not yet come into force. It is being put in place to deal with circumstances such as those to which I believe the noble Lord refers. It will limit the ability of people to acquire illegal number plates in the first place because the buyer will have to prove to the seller his entitlement to those number plates. The best way to achieve that is through the registration document, but there are other ways of achieving the validation.

I can confirm to the noble Lord that it is our intention that this legislation and the regulations to be made under it will address, in part at least, the problem to which the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, has referred.

Earl Attlee: I accept that this is a matter for secondary legislation but, before passing the Bill, the Committee will want to be sure that the legislation will work, that it will be practical and that it will not impose an undue burden. While it is perfectly reasonable to expect a person requesting new number plates to produce a form of identification, in order that the registered vehicle keeper is made known, as soon as we move towards insisting on vehicle documents, we shall create severe difficulties. However, subject to the usual caveats, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 46 not moved.]

Clause 25 agreed to.

Lord Brougham and Vaux moved Amendment No. 47:

(1) Any person who, on purchasing a vehicle registration plate from a registered plate supplier, deceives the supplier by presenting false information shall be guilty of an offence.
(2) A registered supplier who supplies a registration plate to another person when he knows or reasonably suspects that it will be used for an unlawful purpose shall be guilty of an offence.
(3) A person guilty of an offence under subsections (1) and (2) shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 of the standard scale."

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 47 standing in my name. I seek to introduce a new clause to follow Clause 25 which addresses offences relating to the sale of registration plates. During the

6 Mar 2001 : Column 149

passage of the Bill in Committee in the other place, an amendment was accepted and inserted as a new clause. I refer to new Clause 10 in Part 1 entitled,

    "Offence of making false statements".

The clause "mirrors" Clause 19 in Part 2 of the Bill by making it an offence to make false statements when applying for registration as a salvage operator, as is the case covered in Clause 19 when applying for registration as a plate supplier.

This proposed new clause aims to rectify a possible omission in that in Part 2, there is no corresponding "mirror" of Clause 12 in Part 1 of the Bill. Clause 12 recognises that it is an offence for a citizen to provide false details when selling a vehicle to a registered salvage dealer. However, there is no provision which recognises and makes it an offence for a citizen to provide false details when applying to purchase a registration plate.

The general emphasis of Part 2 of the Bill is on the relationship between the DVLA as the keeper of registrations and registered plate suppliers. Information flows and possible offences are detailed in Clauses 24, 28 and 29. Only Clause 25 refers to the relationship between registered plate suppliers and the citizen seeking to purchase a plate. The clause aims to ensure only that the supplier records prescribed information, such as vehicle registration and driving licence details, from the purchaser.

While Clause 25 aims to establish that there is a required information flow, it makes no reference to any possible deception which could be deployed in order to achieve the sale of a vehicle of doubtful provenance, as, for example, has been specified in Clause 12. By that I refer to a vehicle which has been rung or cloned by an organised vehicle thief. It is the key intention of the Bill to restrict significantly the known operating methods of such criminals.

The proposed new clause aims to establish clearly that it is an offence for a purchaser to acquire a registration plate by supplying false information, while also recognising that it would be an offence for the plate supplier knowingly to collude in such a transaction. It is also suggested that the scale--in terms of potential financial gain and the impact on possibly unwitting and innocent purchasers of such vehicles, who run the risk of losing all moneys spent on the vehicle as well as having the vehicle confiscated and returned to its rightful owner--warrants a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale. Furthermore, in the case of a complicit plate supplier, Clause 20,

    "Removal or suspension of registration by a court",

offers the court the further option of suspending his registration for any period of up to five years. I hope that the Minister will look favourably on this new clause. I beg to move.

Viscount Tenby: I rise briefly to support the amendment tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux. This appears nicely to round up the parts of the Bill covering sanctions. It would be untidy and rather a pity if, at a later date, it

6 Mar 2001 : Column 150

was found necessary to include such a provision in one of the annual criminal justice Bills which have become such a feature of our political life.

As I have said, it would be a pity to have to wait until such a sanction was included in a separate Bill simply because we had not taken advantage of the opportunity now presented to us to block off this loophole, while it is in what might be described as its natural environment. That is why I support the amendment.

Viscount Simon: I, too, support this amendment. The only element that I, personally, would have preferred to see in the amendment is--similar to an amendment I moved yesterday evening--the imposition of a maximum fine rather than a fine set at a certain level. A magistrate can doctor such a fine according to individual circumstances, albeit that yesterday the Minister declared such an approach to be somewhat heavy-handed.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: The offences which the proposed new clause seeks to create are both necessary for the policing of the Bill. As to the first offence, there is a provision in Clause 25 to ensure that when a plate is bought, the person buying it has to supply certain information required by the Secretary of State. However, before my noble friend and the noble Viscount brought forward the amendment, I could see nothing in the Bill to say what would happen if a person did so through deception and deceit.

Similarly, there will be occasions when a number plate supplier realises that a particular number plate will be used for an unlawful purpose. He then becomes, as it were, an accessory before the fact of the unlawful use of the registration plate. I believe that such a person should be found guilty of an offence in such a case.

I support my noble friend and the noble Viscount in the amendment. I disagreed with the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, only when he said that we look forward to criminal justice Bills. It is true in the literal sense that we see them coming, but it is not true that we look forward to them with gleeful anticipation.

Viscount Tenby: I was of course using the expression in that sense.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: Then I am in agreement with the noble Viscount.

Lord Whitty: In default of an immediate criminal justice Bill which might create new offences, the amendment seeks to create yet a further offence in this area. My argument is that it is not necessary. We need to create an offence of illegally supplying documents without checking the validity of the application for them, as is provided here, but if the police wish to bring prosecutions against a purchaser--which might be difficult in certain circumstances--and believe that they have sufficient proof to do so, legislation already exists to meet that point. Sanctions exist under Section 1 of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 which

6 Mar 2001 : Column 151

make it an offence to create a false instrument. This would cover any attempt to pass off a false document as genuine in order to deceive a supplier.

There are also specific offences of forging a driving licence with intent to deceive under Section 173 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and of forging a registration document under Section 44 of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994. The use of an otherwise legal document, not a forged document, by someone who was not entitled to use that document is also covered in that photocard driving licences and passports are themselves secure documents which require identity checks before issue. The new driving licences require a photograph of the holder; paper driving licences and vehicle registration documents carry security features, including a watermark, to combat illegal copying. Therefore, so far as concerns deception and forgery, there are already checks to ensure that a purchaser can be prosecuted if caught.

There is no absolute guarantee that number plate suppliers will never unwittingly accept false documents, but the proposals in the Bill will in future present the purported owner of validation documents to purchase with a significant challenge where no such challenge exists at present. Suppliers will be protected from criminal sanctions where they can show that they have exercised due diligence in checking the documents.

Although we require a new offence in relation to the supplier, it is not necessary to create a new offence in relation to the purchaser. While I understand the intention behind the amendment, I do not accept that it is necessary.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page