Why is this requirement being extended to keepers of vehicles rather than just applying to buyers and sellers as is currently the case? If the purpose is to ensure that when vehicles change hands there is a record of the odometer reading, what difference does it make if the vehicle is being used by a whole host of different people, but has not actually changed hands? Surely the significant time and the point at which fraud arises is when somebody sells a vehicle with a reading that is inaccurate. It would be the owner of the vehicle who sold it, and the previous owner of the vehicle who sold it before that. Why should the keeper of the vehicle be under any obligation to keep the DVLA informed of the odometer reading in the interim period?
The intention is that when a vehicle changes hands from one keeper to another a record of the odometer reading—not the mileometer reading—is passed on. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is considerable fraud involving turning back the clocks on vehicles. That is an old practice and I am afraid that it has not been made any more difficult by the modern digital odometers. In fact, the other day I passed—I think that it was on the A40—a little sign that said that if anybody wanted their odometer attended to, they could ring that number. It seemed to me it that was just trying to attract somebody who wanted to turn the odometer back 50,000 miles and probably add a couple of thousand pounds to the value of the vehicle.
That is what the measure is intended to address. It is a good measure, and intended for the changeover point between one vehicle keeper and another. There is not necessarily any point in informing the DVLA, except when a car is going for an MOT test, at which point the reading is routinely recorded. In the case of cars that are younger than three years, people would not need to inform the DVLA, unless the car was changing ownership.
Having this information available on the record will be useful in two respects. If the DVLA spots that a vehicle's mileage has gone backwards over a period of time, it will set alarm bells ringing. It will want to check why that vehicle has gone several thousand miles or more backwards, which could occasion enforcement action.
Does the Minister accept that there may be some cases in which a reduction in mileage is innocent? A friend of mine used to run—he may still run it—a Rover P5B 3.5 litre coupe, which was the same model of Rover car that Harold Wilson used when he was Prime Minister. The speedometer on the vehicle ceased to work. He could not buy a new one, but he managed to obtain a working replacement speedometer from a scrap yard which allowed him to continue to run the car. However, the mileage was different.
In such a case, the DVLA would have to make checks with the person, who would have to present some evidence that they had done that. In any case, if someone changes the speedometer with the odometer reading, he would be advised to obtain some evidence at the time, either from the dealer or someone else, to show that he had made that change so that he had the necessary documentation.
There is an important extra check that will help the person buying the vehicle. If the car has changed hands before and the documentation has the odometer reading from the last time, the person can look at the odometer in the vehicle and, if he sees that it has gone backwards or done a low mileage that the customer suspects is not right, he will have the opportunity to back out of the deal.
The clause also gives dealers an opportunity to do checks when vehicles are brought into them. They are canny operators and are not going to buy vehicles that they think are clocked. It is not in their interests to do so because they will pay more for those vehicles. For the person buying the car, it is worth checking with a company such as HPI, Experian or Carwatch UK, who will, for a fee, check whether there is any outstanding hire purchase, whether the vehicle has been written off and so on. Such information, including the odometer reading, will be contained in a readout and is useful for someone who is investing from a few hundred to many thousands of pounds on a vehicle.
What makes me cross is that the people who lose out are the little people, which is why I want the provision. They are often the poorest people and are buying cheap cars. Often, they are youngsters buying their first car. Those people buy in good faith, either privately or from an unscrupulous dealer. They pay good money that they have saved up from their low income, only to find that someone has clocked the car and they have paid £1,000 more than it is worth. A dealer in the west country set my pulse racing. He had made millions by clocking cars and selling them for more than they were worth. Those cars were mainly at the lower end of the market and went to people on a low income. That is why the issue is so important.
There tends to be less of a problem at the quality end of the car market, as the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire knows, because the service record often contains all that information. However, at the cheap end of the market, that information is often not there. The clause offers a good bit of consumer protection and I hope that the Committee will give its full support to the clause.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 36 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 37 ordered to stand part of the Bill.