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Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 58:

For section 23(4)(b) of the 1994 Act there shall be substituted--
"(b) the manner in which registration marks are to be displayed and rendered easily distinguishable (whether by day or night) and different provisions may be made for trailers from those provisions made for motor vehicles.""

The noble Earl said: In moving the amendment, I speak also to Amendment No. 59. The amendments provide for commercial vehicle trailers to be registered in the same way as motor vehicles. We are talking about heavier vehicles than the caravans and small trailers to which my noble friend Lord Astor referred yesterday.

Amendment No. 58 would allow different regulations regarding the display of number plates for trailers. At present the number plate of a goods vehicle trailer is displayed at the rear. I suggest that the registered number of the trailer allocated by the DVLA should be attached on the side of the trailer next to the goods vehicle plate.

Amendment No. 59 brings heavy goods vehicle trailers into the scope of the regulations. I accept that the drafting is not ideal. However, I wish to keep trailers which are heavy goods vehicles within that scope. The key point is whether heavy goods vehicle trailers will be registered with their own number with the DVLA. There is an additional advantage. For the convenience of large operators of goods vehicles, the DVLA could issue consecutive numbers for the fleet. That would assist the operators in their fleet management. The principle of the amendment links up with Part 1 of the Bill which provides for the regulation of salvage.

It is important to remember that those trailers can be valuable even as scrap. They often have special cranes. The material of the trailer can be expensive--stainless steel and aluminium--and very attractive to

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criminals. The trailers can be exported complete or cut up into smaller segments and placed in a container for export. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: As my noble friend Lord Bassam indicated yesterday, the department is considering extending registration to trailers. An initial informal consultation exercise has brought forward a favourable response. We need further detailed consultation before introducing such regulations.

However, we do not need the power to do so in primary legislation. The power to extend regulations by the registration provisions of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 already exists in Section 22(2) of that Act. Therefore, the separate provision in primary legislation here is not necessary.

Earl Attlee: I am grateful for that encouraging reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 59 not moved.]

Clause 33 [Issue of new registration documents: vehicle identity checks etc.]:

[Amendment No. 60 not moved.]

Clause 33 agreed to.

4.45 p.m.

Clause 34 [Imposition of requirements concerning registration plates]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 61:

    Page 20, line 7, leave out from "marks" to end of line 9 and insert "as may be necessary to link the registration plate to the vehicle for which it is intended"

The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, it is suggested that we also discuss Amendment No. 62.

New Section 27A of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 provides for the Secretary of State to make regulations about the nature of number plates. We discussed this previously to some extent. We acquired some information from the Minister about the Government's thinking. The intention is to probe a little further.

On Amendment No. 61, the Bill provides that any special registration marks can be specified or described in the regulations so that the number plate can become extremely complicated. In this context, there is nothing to define what a special registration mark may be. The amendment seeks to limit special registration marks to those necessary to link the registration plate to the vehicle for which it is intended. For example, the chassis number, engine number and the vehicle's own identity number should be added to the plate. Anyone who makes inquiry can look at the small print on the plate and ensure that it is the correct plate for that vehicle. One could not do so from a distance. Such detail may be in a bar code and able to be read only by a device for that purpose rather than the naked eye. That is the intention underlying the amendment.

Without the amendment, the Bill seems to provide for special registration marks other than those which link the registration plate to the vehicle. I do not know

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what they are. I do not expect the Minister to give a final view as to exactly what the Government will do. It would be helpful to know their thinking. I do not want the noble Lord necessarily to commit himself. He seemed to think earlier today that I wanted him to commit the Government to a definite position. We seek to tease out the Government's thinking on these matters.

The noble Lord referred to the future possibility of a chip inserted into the plate which will enable it to be read electronically, presumably from the pavement or from inside a police car, to ensure that it is the correct registration plate.

Amendment No. 62 relates to flags and symbols on plates. Members of the Committee will have noted that more and more cars have the European flag with a small "GB" in the middle incorporated into the number plate. At Second Reading, I deplored flags on number plates--not only the euroflag, but also the Union Jack or the flag of St George. A number plate is not the right place for a symbol of that kind. The number plate should be simply the identification of the vehicle; otherwise it becomes cluttered.

At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that it is the intention to provide that the EU sign with stars--I think that he referred to the flag with the "GB" in the middle--should be able to be incorporated in a number plate voluntarily. It is already on some number plates, presumably voluntarily. Amendment No. 62 seeks to end that practice. We wish to keep number plates clean and tidy without the inclusion of a symbol which is a political statement. There has been a tendency in other countries, notably the United States, to have bumper stickers of all kinds. We all have window stickers from time to time. That is appropriate if people choose to put them on, but the number plate is not the right place. It should be kept clean and tidy. Amendment No. 62 would deal with a practice that is already spreading. I have nothing against the EU flag in comparison with other flags, but I do not think that it should be on number plates. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: Amendment No. 61 would limit the information that could be included along with the registration mark to information linking the registration plate with the vehicle for which it was intended. That is largely the purpose of the clause, but the amendment would prevent the future inclusion of information to make the plate more secure--for example, a manufacturer's serial number that would make the plate more difficult to copy, or the eventual incorporation of the chip to which the noble Lord referred. That would be unduly restrictive for the future improvement of the security of number plates.

The provision for a special registration mark was included primarily to enable what the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, sought just now--the display on the trailer of a registration mark that is unique to that trailer. If we go forward with the registration of trailers, following the consultation to which I have referred, we shall need provision for such a special registration mark. I am not saying that that is exclusive, but the noble Earl has let

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me off having to be exclusive in spelling out every potential use. That is one immediate use that should be covered by the legislation.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and congratulate him on moving his opposition to the EU symbol on number plates in such a restrained manner, unlike some members of his party in another place. Under the new regulations, which will come into effect in September, we will allow the optional use of the European symbol. Strictly speaking, the present regulations do not allow that if it affects the spacing between the letters. The new regulations will allow it within the new spacing and font provisions. I agree with the noble Lord that we do not want unnecessarily to clutter up number plates because of the potential effect on witnesses and on cameras.

The inclusion of the European symbol is uniquely provided for because it follows a European Council decision of November 1998 that required member states to recognise the European symbol on number plates in place of the traditional oval national identification sticker. Under European regulations, we have to allow for that to be on the number plate. It is voluntary and optional. There is no heavy hand of Brussels requiring us to do so, in case any Conservatives were concerned about that. We have to make that provision, but in general we do not wish to clutter up the number plates. The new regulations will make them clearer in the way that the noble Lord seeks. The Government have no plans to impose a requirement to include the symbol. I hope that that clarifies the situation and that the noble Lord will not pursue the amendments.

Lord Swinfen: Will the department make it clear to the manufacturers of number plates that the inclusion of the European symbol is only optional and that the purchaser, not the manufacturer, should make the decision? I suspect that manufacturers will put it on as a matter of course. Some of us do not want that. Will it also be perfectly in order for people to display the Union Jack on their number plate?

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