Clause 35 - Extension to Scotland and Northern Ireland

Road Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 1st February 2005.

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

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, who represents a Scottish constituency—if not half of Scotland—wishes to join the debate. It is quite a significant move, in so far as we are legislating for Scotland and Northern Ireland in one clause in a substantial way without there being any Scottish Minister present to explain the implications. I would be interested to know what consultation there has been about the extension to Scotland and Northern Ireland in the way suggested in the clause.

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) 4:45 pm, 1st February 2005

That is a straightforward question. The proper convention would be the Sewel convention of the Scottish Parliament, where devolved legislation is being enacted at Westminster, as this would appear to be. Can the Minister confirm that there is or is likely to be a Sewel on this clause?

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

This is quite an important little clause. At present, particularly in the north of England, it is possible to trot across the border and get oneself a number plate, without having to show one's own identification or the identification on the vehicle, which is a bit of a loophole. That is also true of Northern Ireland. It is particularly a problem in the border area, because one set of rules applies south of the border and another north of the border.

Originally it was thought that the Bill was a devolved matter. Sometimes, because of the complexities between various parts of the United Kingdom, the talents of those who draw up the laws are extended. However, we know now that it is a reserved matter for Westminster. It is simply a matter of bringing Scotland and Northern Ireland into line. It is my understanding that separate consultation exercises have been conducted in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and in both instances the proposal to extend the regulation of number plate suppliers was well received and generally well supported. Therefore, it is simply a matter of closing a loophole. I think that there was a misinterpretation in the first instance. It is   important that the need to check up when one buys a number plate appertains to all parts of the United Kingdom.

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 have no problem if this is a reserved matter. I did not bring my well-thumbed copy of the Scotland Act with me, so I cannot look at schedule 5 and the headings therein to check whether what the Minister has said is accurate. However, I know that there is considerable confusion on occasions between Westminster and Holyrood; Holyrood seems to think that things are devolved and Westminster seems to think that they are not. I am grateful for the Minister's assurance, but could he let me know the precise heading under which the Bill is deemed to be reserved rather than devolved. At first glance it falls into the category of justice—perhaps if I keep going for a moment, he will be inspired—which is broadly a devolved matter. It is important that, were a Sewel required, the convention is adhered to.

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

Will the Minister confirm that no discussions are taking place that seek to extend the rules on number plates beyond these islands? Will he confirm, for example, that no discussions are taking place in the European Union to harmonise vehicle registration plates across the EU?

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

I am told that no Sewel motion is required, because this is deemed, as a reserved matter, to be for Westminster. It has been agreed that it is a reserved matter. I think that there was some discussion as to whether it was or was not, but now it has been accepted on both sides of the border that it is, so it does not attract the attentions of a Sewel motion.

I have entirely forgotten what the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire said.

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

My question was about Europe and the harmonisation of registration plates.

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

There is absolutely no discussion of this matter, certainly on format and presentation. We are considering how we can recognise another country's plates, which is much more important. I am not sure that harmonisation takes us any further forward. What is important is that an automatic number plate recognition camera can pick up the various number plates from other countries in the European Union and vice versa; that other countries can pick up ours. That is far more important than harmonisation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.