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The point of substance is that Amendment No. 50 would remove the offence that has been conceived to prevent the sale of plates that do not meet legal requirements. It seems to me that that would knock the heart out of this part of the Bill. Taken alone, Amendment No. 51 would widen the clause to include the transfer of number plates as well as their sale. As has been rightly said, the clause is at present limited to the sale of plates because people who carry on a business as registration number plate suppliers are required to be registered. It is only the businesses that are required to register, as we discussed earlier, and not anyone else. Transfers between people who do not run businesses would not be covered by the requirements for registration. Therefore, it is consistent with the scheme as a whole and the registration of businesses for Clause 28 to apply to the sale of plates, but not as regards some other form of transfer.
The objective of the clause is to prevent businesses supplying plates which it would be illegal to display on vehicles. As the supply of such plates is carried out on a commercial basis, inserting the term "transfer" would cloud the issue.
The intention of Amendment No. 52 appears to be to shift the liability from the point of sale to the manufacturing process itself. It is, of course, desirable to make manufacturers accountable for their products but the Government wish liability to be incurred at the point of sale because it is the supply of number plates rather than their manufacture which provides the potential for criminal activity in the sense of displaying illegal number plates. The Committee will also note that the whole of Part 2 of the Bill concentrates on regulation of the supply industry. However, the manufacturing end of the process is not neglected in the Bill. Clause 28(2) ensures that manufacturers will not supply plates or materials that will facilitate the sale of illegal plates.
Unfortunately the amendment may well have unforeseen and unintended consequences, for example, if a manufacturer were to make or assemble something resembling a registration plate for some use other than display on a vehicle, there is no particular reason why he should not do so. For example, motor vehicle enthusiasts may wish to collect plates showing an obsolete format to put on their walls. They cannot put them on their vehicles because that would of itself be an illegal act. Manufacturers would, of course, be well advised to make clear that any non-regulation plates that they produce are not for display on a vehicle and should perhaps include a visual disclaimer to that effect.
The illegal activity we are trying to make more difficult is the illegal display of number plates and the point at which we are attempting to impose this registration system is at the point of sale. Under the terms of the amendment even the manufacture of a plate carrying an explicit disclaimer could be illegal because it could be construed as resembling a registration plate. I give a more extreme example. A plate made for a child's pedal car could theoretically be construed as resembling a registration plate. That is not intended to be a facetious example; it illustrates the point.
There is no harm in manufacturing a false plate that is for display indoors or in some other place, for example, a garage wall. The public mischief and the criminal dimension arise from selling plates for display on vehicles. The amendments, if coupled with the removal of subsection (1) under Amendment No. 50, would mean that someone could obtain a finished plate and sell it even if he knew or suspected it was not a true plate. I think that is not the intention of the amendments we are discussing, but they have all those pitfalls. The extension to non-commercial transfer is unnecessary and goes well beyond what the rest of this section of the Bill provides; namely, registration of commercial suppliers.
Earl Attlee: I am grateful for the Minister's response. I accept his comments with regard to my Amendments Nos. 50 and 52. All opposition amendments have unintended consequences. My point was that the wording of subsection (1) of Clause 28 seemed to me to be rather peculiar. It states:
It would be helpful if the Minister could make clear when local authorities will be responsible for this matter. Are they to be responsible for running the system locally even though it is the Secretary of State's responsibility, or is the DVLA to run the system and local authorities will just give a hand, as it were, now and then and bring the occasional prosecution? The fact that the words "a local authority" appear before the words "a constable" in the clause suggests that the local authority will play the major role. However, I may be reading too much into the Bill. I should like to be clear whose responsibility it will be to manage the system. Will it be the responsibility of the DVLA with the assistance of the police or will the system be run by local authorities who will pursue those who may contravene the provisions of the Bill? I beg to move.
Lord Brougham and Vaux: I support my noble friend. Clauses 17, 18 and 19, which concern registration, appear to involve the Secretary of State. Local authorities do not appear to be involved. My noble friend has made a valid point.
Lord Whitty: The DVLA will be responsible for the administration of the register. However, enforcement, as with other DVLA offences, will often, in the first instance, rest with the police. The case for allowing local authorities to bring prosecutions is that they may well enter the relevant premises to investigate other trading offences--trading standards officers will be involved--and if the register is to be of any value in combating crime it must be as accurate as possible. Any sources of information as regards enforcement would be helpful. We believe that if we give both the police and local authorities the right to take proceedings that will increase the enforcement opportunities and hence compliance with the registration requirements.
The Local Government Association has been fully consulted on this matter. It has requested that local authorities' trading standards officers should be authorised persons in this respect who may be in the relevant premises on other business. It has requested that local authorities should be given powers to bring prosecutions. Therefore, we have included the
Lord Cope of Berkeley: Therefore the DVLA and the police will be responsible for the system and local authorities will be responsible only in so far as they may come across an offence. That makes the position clear although it does not explain why the words "a local authority" appear before the words "a constable" in the clause. However, I shall not press the Minister on that fine point of drafting. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.