My Lords, we know how difficult it can be for local authorities to use civil enforcement mechanisms against foreign-registered vehicles. We keep the traffic and parking regulations for England under review and we are always willing to consider specific suggestions for improvements, but a definitive solution could be achieved only through international legislation or agreements. The equivalent traffic and parking regulations for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are matters for the devolved Administrations.
I thank the Minister. He will know that I asked this Question in April 2008 and that the Minister in replying said that the Government expected conformity in number plates. He said:
“The typeface of number plates has to be substantially the same. If it is not, the police are entitled to investigate and to bring an offence. The issue is important”.—[Official Report, 22/4/08; col. 1379.]
Would the Minister consider doing a feasibility or cost-benefit analysis of issuing such plates on arrival in this country of these imported cars with either Arabic, Cyrillic or unreadable plates and charging a bond at the same time so that on departure, on handing the plates in, any amounts owing could be collected more simply?
My Lords, I think that when the noble Baroness first asked her Question the Minister was slightly caught out by her supplementary. Since 1983, Q plates are issued to temporarily exempt vehicles, which cannot use foreign plates during their visit because those plates had to be surrendered to the foreign authority before the vehicle left; the number plate is not of an acceptable form—for example, it is in Arabic script; or the vehicle came from a country where such vehicles are not registered, such as a bike in France.
My Lords, nobody would wish to catch the Minister out, but I am sure that he is aware of the statement made by his noble friend, who is sitting next to him, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, on 28 June this year, which said that the outstanding fines incurred by the diplomatic missions in London in respect of the London congestion charge had reached £36 million by January this year, with the United States, Russia and Japan being by far the worst offenders. Can he give an assurance that it is the view of the present Government, as it was of their predecessor, that the congestion charge should be paid by diplomatic missions in London?
Would the Minister go for a more imaginative solution? France has just announced that it is implementing a road-charging scheme for lorries and Germany did so two years ago. Why do we keep saying that we will not have a scheme in this country for charging foreign vehicles for using our roads?
Will the Minister reconsider the inadequate answer that he gave to my noble friend a moment ago? This Question is about traffic offences and congestion charges are part of traffic offences. My noble friend asked about the vast sums of money owed by certain diplomatic missions for their offences with regard to congestion charges in London. We want a better answer from the Minister.
My Lords, I accept the noble Lord’s point. We will exercise pressure on diplomatic missions when they are not paying their fines or congestion charges. However, the noble Lord will understand that it is a difficult problem, which is why the previous Government found it just as difficult as we will find it in future.
Will the Government not make this even more difficult by their indication that they will phase out speed cameras and that they disapprove of speed cameras? It really will not matter whether this is a foreign or British number plate because photographs will not be taken of cars that are speeding.
My Lords, I welcome my noble friend Lady Gardner’s Question. In my own council ward we have a number of so-called “supercars” that are imported for a few weeks in the summer. The two main problems that cause disturbance to residents and visitors alike are the noise generated by very powerful engines as cars race around the streets and appalling traffic congestion. Kensington and Chelsea Council took some well publicised—
My Lords, we will listen carefully to any suggestions that local authorities make about how to solve this problem. They need to remember that there are two problems: first, there is criminality, and with criminal problems it is easier to get the details from local authorities; but when, secondly, there are civil offences, registering authorities overseas are much less willing to give us the data that we need to pursue these civil debts.