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Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 2:

(1) 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.
(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 of the standard scale."

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, Amendment No. 2 follows an amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux in Committee. On that occasion, I believe that the Minister tried to give a helpful answer. However, we find ourselves somewhat confused by the Bill in relation to the offences. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said:

    "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".--[Official Report, 6/3/01; col. 151.]

I have studied the Bill with as much care as I can muster, but I admit that I am not a lawyer. It seems to me that the Minister has acknowledged a need for a new offence relating to the supplier. I cannot find in the Bill any provision for such an offence. That is why I have tabled Amendment No. 2. I beg to move.

Lord Brougham and Vaux: My Lords, as my noble friend has said, we discussed this matter fully in

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Committee. I should briefly like to say that, having considered all the responses made in Committee, we do not believe that the Bill as currently drafted makes provision for this offence. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Bill deals with the question of who can supply number plates and on what terms. To go beyond those terms would clearly constitute an offence under the provisions of Clause 25(1) of the Bill. The Bill would require the supplier to carry out checks to ensure that the purchaser is entitled to the plates that he asks for. The question of deciding whether the plates would be used for illegal purposes would not then arise. If the requisite checks are made with due diligence, the plates would be sold only to a genuine purchaser.

If this amendment is passed, it will place an unreasonable burden on suppliers by forcing them to make a subjective judgment about whether plates may be used for an unlawful purpose. If, in checking the credentials of the purchaser, due diligence was established, it would be difficult to place a further burden on the supplier to establish that he was supplying somebody who was deceiving him.

The existing criminal sanctions already allow for the prosecution of persons who obtain plates by deception. Section 1 of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act makes it an offence to issue a false instrument. That would cover any attempt to pass off as genuine a false document in order to deceive a supplier of number plates. There are also specific offences of forging driving licences with intent to deceive and forging vehicle registration documents. Therefore, offences already exist which deal with a purchaser practising a deception in such a way that leads to him being legally supplied with number plates by a supplier, without an offence being committed by the supplier. This amendment attempts to create a new offence relating to the purchaser, and that is covered by existing legislation. I hope that--

Viscount Astor: My Lords, before the Minister proceeds, perhaps I may ask a question which I hope will be helpful. The Minister said that my amendment would impose a burden because it would mean that a supplier would have to make a judgment. My amendment states,

    "when he knows or reasonably suspects".

If he does not know or does not reasonably suspect, he does not need to make any difficult judgments. Does the Minister accept that? I believe that that is the case. What he said implies that a supplier would have to guess, and that is certainly not the case; nor is it part of the amendment.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, a supplier would clearly have to check the documentation. If apparently genuine documentation is provided, it would be unreasonable to expect a supplier to make further additional checks in relation to whether those documents were in order, whether they related to the vehicle to which they purported to relate, and whether

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the individual possessed the personal driving documents to establish that he was the keeper of the vehicle. But if those documents were forged, or if a person claimed a different identity--in other words, if they were not forged documents but stolen documents--there should be no duty on the supplier to establish that. One would not expect that. But a criminal act would already have been committed by that purchaser either forging documents or representing himself to be another person. Either way, the offence by the purchaser is covered by long-standing law.

8.45 p.m.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, the Minister has put forward an interesting argument. However, it does not address the bones of this amendment. The Minister has talked about the purchaser. This amendment has nothing to do with the purchaser; it concerns the supplier. The Minister has referred to forged documents. This amendment is quite simple. It does not suggest that the supplier should make a huge number of background checks on anybody. The Minister has used an argument against it which does not relate to the amendment. The amendment is quite simple. It states:

    "when he knows or reasonably suspects that it will be used for an unlawful purpose".

If he does not know and does not reasonably suspect, there will be no offence. The Minister does not appear to accept that. If the Minister wants to intervene and agree that that is the case--some form of divine intervention may reach him to help to settle this debate--or if he would like to clarify any point before I decide what to do with this amendment, I shall, of course, be grateful for any assistance.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I shall have to repeat the point that I am making. There is provision under Clause 25(1) for the supplier to obtain proof that a prospective purchaser is entitled to receive plates. What does the noble Viscount's amendment mean over and above the requirement that he "knows or reasonably suspects"? What requirement does that put on the supplier over and above that which already exists in Clause 25(1)? If it does not require the supplier to do what I suggest--that is, to go behind the documents and make further inquiries to establish evidence one way or another that a purchaser is entitled or not entitled to present those documents, and therefore is an unreasonable burden on the supplier--what other additional requirement does his amendment mean? We believe that what he has just said is covered by Clause 25(1) in any event, or will be covered by the regulations to be made under Clause 25(1).

Viscount Astor: My Lords, the Minister has moved on. When he began his reply, he said that its provisions were covered by Clause 25(1). They are not presently covered by Clause 25(1). That refers to,

    "information of a prescribed description from their prospective purchasers before the completion of a sale".

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But the first line states that the Secretary of State "may by regulations provide" that. If the Minister is suggesting that the regulations will cover the instances that this amendment addresses, that is a different matter altogether.

I recognise that the Minister has, as ever, tried to be helpful. However, his initial arguments on this amendment did not help the process very much. He has moved a little. I hope that he now understands more clearly our thinking behind these amendments. I am not satisfied with the Government's answer, but it is an area that we might be able to consider between now and the next stage of the Bill. I hope that the Minister too will study Hansard and consider what has been said. I think that the intention is the same. It is a matter of how we reach agreement. It is quite clear to me that as drafted Clause 25(1) does not cover the offences that are dealt with by my Amendment No. 2.

The noble Lord said that he will bring forward regulations but he has not been clear what those regulations will be and how they will work. We shall certainly give him the opportunity to do that at Third Reading. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 3:

    Page 18, line 34, at end insert--

"( ) notification of serious damage to vehicles,"

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment deals with the need to destroy the identity of a vehicle, especially when it is unlikely to be used again. That is necessary in order to avoid the cloning and ringing of stolen vehicles which, as your Lordships know, is one of the key objectives of the Bill.

In Committee, I moved Amendment No. 27. At the time I accepted that it was not perfectly drafted and therefore the Minister was unable to give as full an answer as he would have liked. I described why it was desirable to destroy the identity of the vehicle as soon as possible, or perhaps not to destroy it but to make the identity unusable for a criminal. In order to do that, we must make sure that the DVLA is aware that a particular chassis number or a particular vehicle registration number no longer relates to a serviceable or repairable vehicle. Of course the chassis number and vehicle registration number should not be erased from the DVLA computer for obvious reasons.

The Minister said that he had some sympathy for my point and, subsequently, I received a helpful letter from him which referred to the Motor Conference code of practice regarding the destruction of a vehicle's identity. In principle, that requires the salvage operator to remove the number plate and the vehicle identification number plate--the shiny little plate that is in the engine compartment.

But the problem is that criminals are interested only in a vehicle's identity; that is, the VIN number and the registration number to which it relates. The log-book or registration document would be helpful, but at the

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moment, although the Minister may have plans to change this, it is possible to tax vehicles without their registration documents.

Your Lordships will recall that in Committee we agreed that only company directors of salvage companies need to be clean, if I can use that expression. Very few checks would be carried out on employees of vehicle salvage organisations. So there would certainly be no criminal record check and it would be impossible, for practical reasons, to avoid dubious characters accessing the information.

Noble Lords should not get too excited about the VIN plate being destroyed under the code of practice. It is very easy to manufacture and forge a vehicle identification plate. It is a simple photographic process. Indeed, I have my own kit for making aluminium name plates. It is for a strictly legal purpose--doing decals on controls on some sophisticated engineering equipment. I assure your Lordships that I have no intention of making an illegal VIN plate.

But I suggest that the solution to all this is for the DVLA to be informed as soon as either the vehicle is a complete write-off--that is, a burn-out--or is so severely damaged that its future is questionable. If the vehicle finds that it has a second life after extensive repairs, the Bill provides for how that vehicle can continue to be registered.

It is no use relying on the Hire Purchase Investigations database because, as we discussed in Committee and on Second Reading, not all write-offs are recorded. That occurs especially if the vehicle comes to grief when it is only covered by third party insurance or, indeed, no insurance at all.

If the Minister accepts my amendment, he will be able to use his powers under new Section 22A of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 to avoid the possibility of a cloned vehicle being taxed and, therefore, used apparently legally on the road, because the DVLA will have put a flag against that particular vehicle registration number, indicating that there is something questionable about that vehicle.

Without my amendment, the Bill will be weak, unless one looks at the operation of the vehicle salvage industry through rose-tinted spectacles. I beg to move.

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