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Lord Brougham and Vaux: I am grateful for the support of the noble Viscount opposite and of my noble friend on the Front Bench. There seems to be a good case for some consolidation of the road traffic Acts in order that we may all understand the position. From the way in which the Minister described the situation, that would be a job for a lawyer.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I shall read what he said and reserve my option perhaps to come back at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 26 [Rights to enter and inspect premises: Part 2]:

4.15 p.m.

Viscount Simon moved Amendment No. 48:

(b) premises that a constable or authorised person, with reasonable cause, suspects of being used by a person for carrying on a business as a registration plate supplier wholly or partly for the purpose of his business so far as it consists of selling or supplying registration plates"

The noble Viscount said: Last night my noble friend did not like my earlier amendment concerning a police constable's right to enter registered premises but not those which are not registered. I suspect that he will not like this amendment either for exactly the same reasons that he gave last night.

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However, there will doubtlessly be premises which are not registered for selling or supplying registration plates and which police officers will have reason to suspect are being used for this purpose. A police officer should have the right of entry, and the amendment seeks to establish that right. I beg to move.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I have added my name to this amendment in the light of the amendments I tabled to earlier sections of the Bill, in much the same way as the noble Viscount. I am concerned, and growing increasingly concerned, that what is called the Vehicles (Crime) Bill is turning into a massive bureaucratic exercise with weak links to the police and the work that they have to do. This amendment and others which have been tabled and, sadly, rejected, would strengthen the links between the kind of information collected under the provisions of the Bill and the uses to which it could be put by the police. I suspect that the amendment will go the way of all the others but, nevertheless, it has my support.

Viscount Tenby: I, too, support the amendment. I am in one of my rather more magisterial and draconian moods at the moment. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, that we should tie this in to the forces of law and order. We should try to do something about it rather than fiddle around with its bureaucratic nature. That is why I support the noble Viscount's amendment.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: In the debate on the Private Security Industry Bill we discussed powers of entry and an amendment similar to this was moved. During that debate, the Minister from the Home Office said that those who submit themselves for registration open themselves up, as it were, to being visited by the enforcement authorities, whereas those who have not registered should be entitled to their privacy. I think that is more or less a summary of what the Minister said. I expect that we shall get a fairly similar answer from a joined-up government when the Minister replies today.

However, there remains the difficulty that a police constable or an authorised person may suspect that premises are being used for an illegal and unlicensed purpose, in which case the only way an officer can find out whether or not they are being so used is to enter the premises and make inquiries. He will, of course, be able to go to a magistrate and say that he believes that an offence has been committed, and get permission to enter through a warrant in the usual way.

As the Bill stands, an "authorised person" can be an official of the local authority. I take it that this would be the trading standards officer. Amendment No. 49 suggests that only the chief constable should be able to authorise someone.

I have some sympathy with the amendment, not because I am against trading standards officers doing their duty, but because I believe that Parliament should be cautious about giving rights of entry. We do so very frequently in different Bills. We have done so twice this week already. Powers of entry were dealt

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with in the legislation we considered yesterday. We are constantly adding to the numbers of people who can enter business premises and homes for different reasons. It is part of the increasing regulation of society of which this Bill is a small part.

Not long ago my noble friend Lord Marlesford asked how many powers of entry were in existence and the Government said that it was too expensive to find out, which gives one pause for thought as to how many officials can enter premises for all kinds of different reasons. That is why I have some sympathy for the amendment being limited to a constable or someone authorised by the police rather than constantly extending such provisions.

I agree that it is a difficult matter. We all want this legislation to be enforced because there is no point in passing it if it is not. I am not sure that there is any point in us passing it since it has been discovered that one can now make one's own number plates and that there is a possibility of large numbers of people being exempt from the licensing procedure. But that is another matter.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am in an awkward position because noble Lords have left me with very little to say, having anticipated my argument. I am almost minded to say that this particular clause, as drafted, demonstrates the Government's liberal credentials, but that would be fallacious under the circumstances. Noble Lords were right in anticipating the argument.

Amendment No. 48 would make it possible for a constable or authorised person, with reason, to enter business premises which are suspected of selling or supplying registration plates. That is primarily because they signed up to a system of registration. It will be possible to enter and inspect registered businesses without a warrant, but one would certainly be needed to enter and inspect an unregistered business. We take the view that to give constables or authorised persons the right to enter without a warrant the unregistered premises of number plate suppliers in order to carry out inspections would be excessive, not to say heavy handed.

I turn to Amendment No. 49. The Bill already specifies that a constable may enter and inspect premises. Therefore, we take the view that there is no need to state that the chief constable may authorise people on his behalf to act as required by the amendment. Is it likely that the police will delegate the function to some other body? Discussions have been undertaken with the Local Government Association. It requested that the Bill should contain powers of entry and inspection by persons appointed by local authorities. As the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has suggested, it may well be the case that trading standards officers are the persons to whom part of that work may be delegated. That is a question of practical implementation. For those reasons I hope that noble lords will be able to withdraw their amendments.

Viscount Simon: I thank noble Lords who have spoken, and the noble Baroness. The noble Lord, Lord

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Cope, mentioned trading standards officers being allowed to enter premises. That may well happen. The only reservation I have about them is that a police officer can enter straight away, but a trading standards officer will be affected by his order of priorities and may not be able to enter immediately. This matter is certainly worth thinking about.

I am not quite certain what my noble friend the Minister has replied to. He has merely addressed the police constable's right of entry at registered premises. He has not addressed the problem of unregistered premises, which is what the amendment deals with. Perhaps my noble friend would like to address that problem.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I did. I said that noble Lords were right in anticipating my defence of the Government's position. It is right that the owner of premises not normally expected to be controlled by this legislation needs to be protected by the requirement for law enforcement officers to seek a warrant before entering such premises. That is entirely consistent with other enforcement powers. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, made that point. We looked at that argument when considering powers of entry for the private security industry legislation. There is a parallel.

Viscount Simon: I thank my noble friend for that clarification. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 49 not moved.]

Clause 26 agreed to. Clause 27 agreed to.

Clause 28 [Offences relating to counterfeit registration plates]:

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 50:

    Page 16, line 5, leave out subsection (1).

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment Nos. 51 and 52. In my opinion Clause 28(1) is fairly unintelligible. My Amendment No. 52 attempts to help very slightly by inserting the word "resemble". However I suspect that I shall have to return at a later stage with a better definition of a counterfeit number plate.

Amendment No. 51 deletes the words "sells" and inserts the words "or transfers". I do not understand why any person should be allowed to deal in counterfeit number plates. Why should we restrict the ambit of the Bill to selling number plates rather than widening the matter to transferring them? I suspect that the Minister will have more sympathy for my Amendment No. 51 than Amendment No. 50. I beg to move.

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