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Lord Whitty: Not on the number plate, although it is perfectly permissible to use the GB sign or the Union Jack elsewhere on the back of the car. This is a specific requirement for number plates. European regulations require us to recognise that symbol as the national symbol.

Under the present provisions it is up to the purchaser to decide whether to have the symbol. Manufacturers have not provided it as standard. Our advice to the manufacturers will continue on that basis. We do not expect them to include it as standard and they will be advised not to do so. Even if they were to do so, the purchaser could require from the seller a number plate that did not include the EU symbol.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I was surprised by the Minister's reply to Amendment No. 61. He said that it may be a requirement that the manufacturer' serial number of the plate should be included, and maybe a

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chip. I thought that the purpose of including the serial number of the plate was to allow it to be tied to the identity of the vehicle. The amendment would cover that. Evidently the serial number of the plate is to be separate and present for some other purpose than making sure that the plate is on the right vehicle. I am a little mystified by that.

What information other than that linking the number plate to the vehicle will be on the chip? Is it intended that it should have information about, for example, whether the vehicle has a valid MoT certificate and when it will expire? Is it intended that the chip will enable a police constable to discover whether the vehicle is insured with at least third party insurance, in accordance with the law? Will there be any other information on the chip beyond that to ensure that the number plate is the correct one?

On Amendment No. 62, about flags, I am interested to hear that it is currently illegal to have the EU symbol on a number plate, although one frequently sees it. The Minister said that it will be permissible to carry the EU symbol on a number plate from later this year because of an EU agreement. Does that agreement go wider than Europe? I have not been able to look this up in detail, but I presume that there is a long-standing international agreement about the identification letters, such as GB in our case, which have been on vehicles for many years. I thought that there was a wide international agreement on what letters should be used for which country, so that the police in each country could know where a vehicle was registered and hence connect the number plate to the appropriate authority, which would otherwise be difficult to do.

Lord Bruce of Donington: I should be most grateful if the Government would let us have particulars, including the reference number if necessary, of the European law to which the Minister refers that makes it permissible in certain circumstances for the European symbol to be incorporated on our number plates. I ask only for information on how it came about, the necessary reference number, the date on which Her Majesty's Government gave assent and whether the decision was taken in conference or at a meeting. I would like to know the circumstances.

5 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I am sure that that information will be forthcoming from the Minister in a moment or two.

I was in the process of asking whether the long-standing international agreement between many nations has been renegotiated to allow a tiny "GB" on a number plate to replace the large letters which conventionally over many years we have become used to on cars from different countries. If so, I am not sure that that is desirable.

After all, as I said, the purpose of the letters is to enable a policeman of any nationality to trace the country from which a vehicle comes. Looking at the number plate enables him to approach the necessary authority to discover who owns the vehicle. If the

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"GB" is to diminish in size to tiny letters on the end of the number plate in the middle of the flag, the policeman will have to get much closer in order to spot which country the vehicle comes from.

Lord Berkeley: I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene briefly. When he spoke to this amendment originally, he made great play of the fact that it was important that the number plate should be clean and tidy. Does he agree that having a small "GB" on a number plate rather than large letters elsewhere means that the policeman has to look only at one place on the car? The car would appear cleaner and tidier than it would if it had two symbols in different places.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has made a shrewd point and I believe that, as usual, we can certainly discuss the matter. However, the symbol will clutter the number plate and will not make it easier for a policemen to read because the letters will be only half an inch or an inch high, as opposed to two or three inches high. One is supposed to be able to read a number plate, and hence the "GB" plate, or whatever the nationality might be, from a distance of 25 yards. I do not believe that it is possible to read small letters from that distance. Unlike the current plain white plate with black letters to indicate the nationality, the use of colours will also clutter the symbol.

However, my main question is whether the wide international agreement to which I referred has been superseded by another agreement to allow very small letters to pass muster so far as concerns the nationality of the car.

Lord Whitty: The reason that I believe the amendment might limit the application is that it seeks to insert the words,

    "as may be necessary to link the registration plate to the vehicle".

It could be argued that the number alone would be sufficient to link the registration plate to the vehicle. However, it may be easier and more effective to have other means of identification, including, for example, a bar-coded chip or other information.

Therefore, not only would the amendment limit the purpose of this clause, as is its primary intention, but it could also limit future decisions to include more security information in relation to the car. Under this Bill, we plan to include only information which links the vehicle or its secondary features to the registered number. In future, we would have to go through a registered process--that is, at least secondary legislation--to include other information of the kind to which the noble Lord refers.

With regard to the EU symbols, I did not say that such a symbol would be absolutely illegal. Under present regulations, it would be illegal only if the inclusion of the EU shield altered the spacing between the font letters. That would be the case in relation to certain combinations of letters and numbers but not in relation to others. Therefore, currently a few may be illegal. That matter is not covered by existing

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regulations, and this provision regularises the position in accordance with our obligations under the European agreement. Although I cannot give my noble friend Lord Bruce the precise reference number, as I indicated, following a long process, the agreement was reached in November 1998.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, is correct to say that the basic recognition of symbols is covered by the Geneva Convention. The identification symbol for the UK is "GB". However, the EU has agreed that the use of the symbol by any member state as described in the November 1998 decision will, for international organisation purposes, be regarded as a form of designation of the individual member state under the Geneva Convention. Therefore, blanket clearance for its use in that context also exists provided, of course, that the "GB" is present and visible. That is the main point of tidying up number plates and introducing a clear regulation to cover the optional use of the symbol.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: Geneva is clearly not what it was. With regard to the number of the directive, or whatever, from the European Union, perhaps I may take it that the Minister will write to his noble friend. The Minister indicates assent and, no doubt, he will send me a copy of his letter. With that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 62 not moved.]

Clause 34 agreed to.

Clauses 35 and 36 agreed to.

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 63:

    Before Clause 37, insert the following new clause--

(1) Any person who offers for sale, purchases, receives or transfers a specified component which has a defective serial number without lawful reason or excuse shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level four on the standard scale.
(2) In this section a "specified component" means a vehicle component that normally carries a serial number allocated by the manufacturer or other person and is--
(a) an engine,
(b) electronic engine management system,
(c) gearbox,
(d) drive axle,
(e) chassis, or
(f) a principle component of a vehicle's entertainment system.
(3) In this section a defective serial number is one which is--
(a) missing,
(b) defaced, or
(c) obviously not the correct one for the specified component.
(4) The Secretary of State may by order add classes of components to subsection (2).
(5) This section does not apply to covert serial numbers or other covert identifying marks applied by the manufacturer or any other person.

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(6) The courts when considering whether a person has a "lawful reason or excuse" may take into consideration that person's experience of the repair, recovery, manufacture, design and trade of motor vehicles."

The noble Earl said: This amendment is designed to make the Bill more effective in combating vehicle crime, particularly the trade of parts stolen from vehicles. The Committee will be aware that it is already an offence to receive stolen goods. However, sometimes it can be difficult to prove that such goods are stolen.

When a vehicle is broken up, legally or otherwise, most of the value lies in the major assemblies listed in subsection (2) of the proposed new clause. An engine for a heavy commercial vehicle or a luxury car can be worth several thousand pounds. The assemblies normally bear a serial number of some kind. If they do not, they are outside the scope of the amendment.

The serial numbers on stolen assemblies are frequently removed by criminals in order to make it much more difficult for the authorities to trace their source or legality. The serial number may have been damaged accidentally or inadvertently. In the case of, say, a fire-damaged large engine, considerable value will still remain. The term "lawful reason or excuse" in subsection (1) covers that eventuality. In those circumstances, a wise person would want further, alternative details, such as the serial and chassis numbers of the vehicle.

The Committee should be aware that subsection (2)(f) of the amendment is designed to cover car radios and similar equipment. A stolen car radio usually has its serial number removed. Any person with enough skill and experience to fit a car radio would be aware of this new provision--should the Committee agree to it--from reading the motoring press. If a person attempted to market a stolen car radio with a defective serial number, he would be caught by the clause, as would someone who claimed that he was given the radio by a friend.

Subsection (6) is designed to have the same effect as the words "knew or should have known", but is more specific. It is designed to protect people, such as Ministers, who are inexperienced in the matters listed.

The amendment would make it much more difficult to market major assemblies from stolen vehicles but would affect only those who knew or should have known what they were doing. It would not affect the existing laws regarding the handling of stolen goods. I beg to move.

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