Clause 34 - Registration plates

Road Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 1st February 2005.

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Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:15 pm, 1st February 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 67, in clause 34, page 40, line 38, at end add—

'(1C) Nothing contained herein or in any other statute shall prevent the manufacture, production, sale or display of any black and white registration plate or mark intended for display on a historic vehicle and which is in keeping with the style of registration plates produced when the said vehicle was manufactured.'.

This is a probing amendment, and I hope the Minister will assure the Committee that it is not necessary. Perhaps I should start by declaring an interest; not a financial interest, in the sense that I have a business involved in this area, but more a declaration of passion. I have an interest in historic vehicles, and collect classic cars. Most of them display the old-style non-reflective black-and-white number plates, in keeping with the period when the cars were first manufactured.

My concern is that the new rules in clause 34 might impinge on the current activity of manufacturing registration plates to maintain a supply of the old black-and-white plates. If I take a classic car to a show and it is hit by an incompetent who damages my number plate, I will seek to replace it with a like number plate; that is, a black-and-white one of the type in general use when the vehicle was manufactured. I do not want to be forced into having to affix to an historic vehicle a reflective number plate  with a modern typeface. I hope the Minister is able to assure me that the amendment is unnecessary, and that nothing in the Bill will prevent the manufacture, production, sale or display of the old type of number plate.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Having more than a passing interest in classic cars and vehicles myself, I can give some fairly robust assurance to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire. We totally understand the desire of owners of historic vehicles to display number plates in keeping with the historic nature of the vehicle.

Under the Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001, vehicles constructed before 1 January 1973 are allowed to display traditional-style plates with white, silver, light grey or translucent characters on a black background. Businesses that supply such plates must register as number plate suppliers with the DVLA and keep records of sales. They must make statutory checks to establish the entitlement of the customer to buy the plates requested, the reasons for which I am sure hon. Members will understand. Owners of historic vehicles should have no difficulty obtaining the appropriate number plates, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that nothing in the Bill will prevent them from doing so in the future.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, as will be the hundreds of thousands of historic vehicle owners in all parts of the country. For the first time during our proceedings—but, I hope, not for the last time—he has satisfied me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 4:30 pm, 1st February 2005

The Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001, to which the Minister referred in answer to the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, were discussed on the Floor of the House in 2001. During the course of that debate, I clearly recollect the Minister giving undertakings that amendments would be tabled to ensure that the GB symbol could be incorporated on number plates. When I last inquired about that, I was informed that it was taking a long time to draw up the necessary amending regulations, and that in the meantime I should not worry because people could put stickers over their number plate to indicate that it was a GB plate.

As the Minister knows, there is quite a lot of resentment that unless one spells it out to the contrary, the default position of most number plate suppliers is those ghastly stars. Sometimes, people do not realise that they are going to get the stars on their number  plate until it is too late, but on a recent occasion when I specified to the vehicle supplier that I wanted a plate without stars and I ended up with a vehicle with stars, I am afraid that that cost the supplier some money, because he had to do it all again in accordance with the instructions I had given.

Some of us take that issue seriously, and the Minister will remember the debate, which was quite heated. The Government came under a lot of pressure to give way on that issue, and in the end they did. It is now three to four years since the debate, and the amendments that we were promised have not been brought forth. Will the Minister use the provisions of this Bill and clause 34 in particular as the means by which the amending regulations are brought forward or included in the Bill? That is another example of where the Government have failed to deliver even in accordance with their own words.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Assistant Chief Whip, Whips

My hon. Friend has partly made one point that I wanted to raise. I hope that we do not move to a situation where we have to have a pseudo-national flag stuck on our vehicles by virtue of those silly little yellow stars. I shall not go too far down that track, other than to say that I am totally opposed to anything that purports to be to do with a united states of Europe, and I do not wish to see it forced on us in any shape or form.

New subsection (1B), which amends section 28 of the Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001, says:

''The Secretary of State may by regulation provide that the offence under subsection (1A) is not committed in circumstances prescribed by the regulations.''

Reading the explanatory notes, I am concerned that that gives the Secretary of State the right to say, ''Notwithstanding the regulations, I hereby decree that this will not be an offence.''

Another bee in my bonnet is advertising on number plates. I made it my business when I was changing cars to double check exactly what is permitted. In my view, a registration plate should have nothing on it other than the number, but I was told that there had to be a very small identification of its supplier, so that it could be checked. I also discovered that the requirement for a mark indicating who supplied it did not extend to large type underneath, saying, ''Joe Bloggs Ltd. Vauxhall dealers'', which is what tends to appear on number plates. I sincerely hope that the Minister will give us an assurance that the Secretary of of State will not succumb to the blandishments of the motor trade and allow adverts on number plates. Whenever I have changed cars, I have always said to the supplier that I would deduct £500 from the purchase price as an advertising fee if he wished to advertise his garage on my number plates. I do not understand why those people should use number plates for free advertising.

I hope that the Minister can assure us that advertising will not become an exception and that the only thing allowed on the number plate will be some very small indication of the supplier. If he went further and said that he will ban the blue flags, I would be even more grateful. 

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Will the Minister confirm that nothing in this clause will be retrospective? For example, many plates on motor vehicles do not have the typeface that the Department now prefers, yet the typeface was perfectly legal at the time the plates were produced. Many plates do not state who the supplier was, and some people have preferred to have running along the bottom of the plate their own name or the make and model of their vehicle, for example. Will the Minister confirm that he is not about to start making owners affix to their vehicles new plates if they are not seeking to replace their plate but wish to continue with their existing one, which complied with the law at the time it was issued?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The clause makes it an offence to supply vehicle number plates that do not comply with regulations on the typeface, dimensions, colouring and British standard. Members of the Committee will know that number plates that are not standard—that have been customised in some way—are often difficult to read. If there has been an accident, or the police want to check up on somebody, it can be difficult to identify people, particularly in the case of hit-and-run accidents, which, sadly, are all too common. It may be difficult to read some number plates in certain circumstances, so there are good reasons for the clause and the new requirements.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Does that apply to foreign vehicles? For example, if a foreign lorry with one of those very small, unreadable number plates is involved in an accident that results in a number plate being damaged, would the replacement number plate installed by a British supplier have to be of a size that conforms with the standard that we regard as essential in this country?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Only if the vehicle were then being registered in this country. After 12 months, it would have to be registered in this country and, obviously, the number plate would have to comply with regulations. If the vehicle is registered in another country and is only here for short periods of time, it does not need to have a British registration mark but would have to provide one from the country of origin.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Why is it that we allow foreign vehicles to have indistinguishable number plates while we impose draconian penalties, not only on the people who are using number plates that do not comply with our own regulations but on those who supply them?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I suppose that if British vehicles were driven in mainland Europe or other parts of the world, people might think that our number plates were fairly indistinguishable. I agree that ours generally look extremely clear, especially if one is British and used to them.

We are trying to achieve some commonality within the European Union, which makes sense. Common recognition of plates would be better for enforcing the law within the Union. However, at present, there is no question of the 25 countries in the Union having totally standardised plates.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I know that the Minister is very tolerant, but is he intolerant of the officials and, perhaps, his colleagues from other parts of the UK for having stalled the implementation of the changes that were promised—in good faith, I am sure—to the House of Commons in 2001? It is now 2005; when will that issue be brought to a conclusion?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I am somewhat impatient, but the matter has to be resolved fully and properly. If the hon. Gentleman wants to talk in further detail about that, I shall happily do so, but I do not want to detain the Committee any longer than necessary.

The hon. Member for Spelthorne quite properly made the point that we do not want number plates to have a plethora of information on them, other than that needed to identify the vehicle and the supplier of the plate, which is not necessarily the dealer that sold the vehicle. I am anxious that we do not have a lot of clutter on plates; only information that is absolutely essential.

The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, with all of his knowledge on such matters, may know of certain show plates, which people might want to put on their bedroom wall or wherever and are not intended for a motor vehicle. Goodness knows why people want those, but they certainly do. Those will have to be clearly marked ''not suitable to go on a vehicle'' or words to that effect, demonstrating that they are not legal plates to use on a vehicle. There is quite a market in these, and we do not want to spoil it. However, we do not want a loophole to appear so that those plates can appear on vehicles.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I wonder whether the Minister would clarify what he said about show plates. Coming from an agricultural part of the world, I notice that many tractors like to have the proper legal plates fore and aft, while often in the cab there will be a plate with the name of the farm or the driver. Are those show plates illegal, or is it legal to have them in the cab? Does the legislation affect them?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I have no doubt that that should be legal. In such cases, having a proper number plate in the proper place on the vehicle is different from having something that looks a little like a number plate but clearly is not. There are certain number plates containing digits and letters that make up someone's name, for example, that could be a real number plate. If it had ''Farmer Giles's Farm'' on it, no one could mistake it for a real number plate, but there are some plates that actually look like someone's name. We want those clearly marked, so that they could not be  taken from the cab and used on the vehicle. Of course, if the vehicle is used entirely off the road, there is nothing to stop someone putting those plates on it.

The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire wants to know whether the provision will be retrospective. It will not be, so people's existing plates will not be affected. It is a good and useful little clause, and I hope that the Committee will accept it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.