8 (1) The regulations may make provision as to the meaning for the purposes of the regulations of "owner" as regards a vehicle.
(2) In particular, the regulations may provide that for the purposes of the regulations the owner of a vehicle is taken to be the person in whose name it is then registered under the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994.
9 (1) The regulations may make provision as to the meaning in the regulations of "authorised person".
(2) In particular, the regulations may provide that—
(a) references to an authorised person are to a person authorised by the Secretary of State for the purposes of the regulations,
(b) an authorised person may be a local authority or an employee of a local authority or a member of a police force or some other person, and
(c) different persons may be authorised for the purposes of different provisions of the regulations.
10 In this Schedule—
(a) references to an immobilisation device are to a device or appliance which is an immobilisation device for the purposes of section 104 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (immobilisation of vehicles illegally parked), and
(b) references to an immobilisation notice are to a notice fixed to a vehicle in accordance with the regulations.""
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Schedule 4 [Driving instruction]:
moved Amendment No. 122B:
Page 82, line 35, at end insert—
"(3) The regulations shall make special provision for the police, fire, ambulance and defence organisations."
Schedule 4 inserts new Sections 123 and 124, among others, into the Road Traffic Act 1988. New Section 123 means that driving instruction businesses as well as instructors will have to be registered. I am not convinced about the desirability of further regulations—so I have just shot myself in the foot regarding the previous debate—but I will trust the Minister's judgment. However, new Section 124 allows for regulations to be made to exempt prescribed types of driving instruction from the newly drafted Section 123.
My amendment seeks to clarify that Section 123 would not apply to police, fire, ambulance and defence organisations. Those organisations have excellent driver/training schools and to require them to register would be a waste of resources. I beg to move.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, says that the police have excellent driving schools. All I can say is that their results are pretty dismal. Police cars manage to kill several hundred people every year. There was an article in the Times yesterday about Chief Superintendent Les Owen, who led the anti-speeding campaigns in London. He was given a written warning for allowing his police driver to do 86 mph in a 50-mph zone. The irony is that the poor old driver was given a £250 fine and six penalty points, which was reduced to three on appeal, and the chief superintendent received a written warning. If the police want to have any credibility when driving, they must set an example. This kind of attitude—and I can quote several incidents in Oxfordshire that I have witnessed in the past year or two—is about the worst possible example that they can give to the general public.
I think that there is an argument for tabling an amendment on Report that states that police drivers must obey all traffic regulations except, possibly, when responding to emergency calls. I do not think that this applies to ambulances or fire brigades because they seem to behave responsibly, but I cannot say. There are obviously some very good police drivers but there are enough bad drivers around to give the force a very bad name. So I am not sure whether the answer is that the new Police Complaints Authority should have a role in ensuring proper driving standards among the police or whether it is a management issue, but this is a serious matter of concern that is not doing the police any good.
It is my misfortune to have to navigate between the Scylla of the position of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the Charybdis of my noble friend's one—one in favour of reducing regulation and the other introducing I am not sure what. My noble friend did not specify what improvement he wanted to see in police officers' driving. We are all mindful of those cases which, from time to time, hit the headlines, when mishaps occur during emergency driving. It goes without saying that authorities responding to emergencies need to take special care when driving and need to have high-level skills. That is why there is high-level training for such drivers. I bear in mind my noble friend's anxiety.
I assure the noble Earl, Lord Atlee, that we do not seek to place an unnecessary burden on those persons providing driver training to members of the emergency services or defence organisations. New Section 124 allows the Secretary of State to prescribe by regulations the circumstances in which the registration requirements set out in new Section 123 will not apply. That provision will enable exemptions to be made, where appropriate, from a general requirement to be registered, for example, in order to enable persons to acquire experience in giving driving instruction as provided for in subsection (2) of the new Section 124.
It is clear that the Bill can already adequately meet the specific needs of the police, fire, ambulance and defence organisations. We recognise that they are special categories. My noble friend may say that he is not satisfied with present standards although I believe that he reserves his criticisms for police driving. He has the right to comment on circumstances as he sees them. However, he will recognise that we have specific exemptions for such drivers and their instruction because they are in a special category.
I am aware of noble Lords' concerns about driving standards in certain sectors. My noble friend gave a sharp illustration. The Bill will enable the Secretary of State to regulate any area of driving instruction to meet the needs of different sectors and, by raising driving standards, improve road safety.
Amendment No. 122B is unnecessary. It places an obligation on the Secretary of State to provide exemptions from registration even when they are not required or justified on the ground of road safety. I assure the noble Earl and the Committee that we have a Bill which provides such exemptions. I hope that I have allayed his anxieties. Also, although my noble friend Lord Berkeley can continue to raise the points that he made, we are catering for several generic categories and he has illustrated his point with only one category. On that basis, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
I understand why the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made his contribution. My amendment referred to schools rather than skills. There is not much that a school can do if a police officer subsequently behaves appallingly. However, he raises an important point. We have debated a suitable amendment at an earlier stage of the Bill. I am grateful for the Minister's response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
In moving Amendment No. 123, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 124 to 126. Paragraphs (b), (c) and (f) of subsection (5) of new Section 133ZA, on training, set out in Schedule 4, provide for the approval of persons providing training, their supervision and so forth, and the making available of information about them. Doubts have recently emerged about whether the existing wording clearly indicates that the provisions cover both training course providers and individual instructors. Amendments Nos. 123, 124 and 125 provide clarity in that they amend paragraphs (b), (c) and (f) of subsection (5) of new Section 133ZA to make it clear that the provisions apply to those giving instruction as part of training as well as training providers.
Paragraph (e) of subsection (5) of new Section 133ZA provides that regulations made under that section may include provision for the evidencing of the successful completion of training. There is a consequential need to include that evidence within the ambit of Sections 173(2) and 174(1). Amendment No. 126 ensures that the scope of Sections 173(2) and 174(1) are extended accordingly. In addition, Amendment No. 126 also inserts under Section 173(2) new paragraphs (ga) and (gb) concerning certificates issued under Section 133A to disabled drivers who successfully complete an emergency control assessment and the certificates or other items issued to a person by virtue of regulations made under Section 135(1)(a) as evidence of his registration in respect of a description of driving instruction. I ask Members of the Committee to agree to these amendments. I beg to move.
I have no objections to the amendments that have been moved. But I am unable to find anywhere else to intervene and ask the Minister to explain Clause 32(3)(e). With the leave of the Committee, I shall do that now. Clause 32 is entitled, Tests: approved assistants. Subsection (3) states:
"The regulations may make provision in relation to the approval of test assistants and may, in particular, include provision".
Paragraph (e) will include a provision,
"for an appeal to lie to the Transport Tribunal against a refusal of an application".
There may be a very hidden meaning here, but the phrasing seems to be extremely infelicitous if people are to be able to appeal to tell lies to the tribunal. That is how it reads. If that is not correct, at some stage we may want to amend the text. It seems a very strange way of putting things into legislation.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, on her forensic look at this matter. On the face of it, it sounds a little strange. I shall have a good look at this and return to the noble Baroness if further clarification is needed.
moved Amendments Nos. 124 to 126:
Page 92, line 2, at end insert "or giving instruction as part of training"
Page 92, line 8, at end insert "or giving instruction as part of training"
Page 96, line 22, at end insert—
"26A In section 173(2) (forgery of documents etc.), for paragraph (g) substitute—
"(g) any document evidencing the successful completion of training provided in accordance with regulations under section 133ZA of this Act,
(ga) any certificate under section 133A of this Act,
(gb) any certificate or other item prescribed under section 135(1)(a) of this Act,".
26B In section 174(1) (false statements), after paragraph (d) insert—
"(da) of obtaining a document evidencing the successful completion of training provided in accordance with regulations under section 133ZA of this Act, or"."
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 127:
After Clause 32, insert the following new clause—
In section 64 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (c. 27) (general provisions as to traffic signs) after subsection (6) insert—
"(7) Regulations made under subsection (1)(a) above shall require all distances, dimensions and speeds marked on traffic signs to use the metric system exclusively, in the case of—
(a) special roads (motorways) within 18 months of this Act coming into force,
(b) strategic and trunk roads within two years, and
(c) all other roads within five years.""
I know perfectly well that Members on all sides of the Committee will delight in shooting me down in flames on this amendment. It seeks to make it necessary for all traffic signs to be in metric in respect of speeds, distances and dimensions. I believe that one day a Minister will promote legislation that achieves just what I am now proposing. The amendment will make it easier to comply with speed limits because the speedo display will be much clearer with only one set of graduations on the dial. The Committee will not be aware that around 400,000 lorry drivers already have to contend with a tachograph whose primary speed display is in kilometres per hour and not in miles per hour. In the early 1980s, when I worked at Smiths Industries, we accidentally produced 3,000 speedos with an imperial counter stack mechanism, although the speedo dial was in kilometres per hour. They were fitted in cars, and the recall costs were horrendous.
Although we generally understand kilometres, as we frequently drive on the Continent, when our continental partners drive in the UK they have absolutely no idea at all how far 37 miles is. The grid squares on an Ordnance Survey map are one kilometre square, so that would work very nicely with a speedo in metric. Also, sooner or later—this will interest the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley—there will be a terrible accident when a continental lorry hits a railway bridge just at the wrong moment and causes a derailment. We need one set of measurements on our roads to eliminate an obvious source of confusion and prevent a possible tragedy. I beg to move.
This is an excellent amendment. Such a measure should have come in years ago. It is a little like still buying a pound of butter. Why do we not go totally metric? All governments appear to have been frightened of that. We even have a maximum speed for lorries which is 56 mph. I know that that is 80 kph—I do not know how many noble Lords know that—and that presumably was the figure that came from the Commission at some stage. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned the difficulties for continental drivers, but at the moment, as they appear not to pay any funds at all for any offences they commit, it probably does not matter, except that they will kill more people as a result, and that does matter.
The noble Earl is right about railway bridges. We should make this change now and stop pussy-footing around with two different speeds, two different heights and two different widths. It will simplify things. The average person in the street is quite capable of understanding what a metre, a centimetre or a millimetre is, or even a kilometre. It is not that difficult. I strongly support the amendment.
I apologise for striking a discordant note in your Lordships' House. Some of us are quite proud of the fact that the House of Lords is the last bastion of reactionary thinking. I am beginning to sound like a reactionary thinker, but here we are, apparently wishing to consign many years of our own tradition to—I would not call it modernity—this view that we are penalising those from the Continent when they drive in the United Kingdom. Like the noble Earl, I drive quite a lot on the Continent. I do not find any great difficulty in adjusting to kilometres, if that is what people on the Continent prefer. Equally, I do not see any great difficulty for somebody coming to this country in adjusting to the system that we have had for very many years.
I did some surveys on bridge-bashing some years ago when I was in the other place. Comparatively few continental lorries hit bridges. Most that do are driven by home-grown lorry drivers who are apparently incapable of reading signs, whether they are in feet, inches, metres or anything else. If we want to prevent people bridge-bashing, a few exemplary punishments should be administered. I incline to agree with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that, sooner or later, a fatal accident will be caused, but I doubt whether it will have anything to do with the fact that the height of the bridge is measured in feet and inches rather than in metres. As a comparatively new Member of your Lordships' House, I hesitate to suggest that we would rather make fools of ourselves if we blithely accept this amendment, but I am tempted to do so.
Perhaps I may be even more reactionary than my noble friend. If continental drivers have problems adjusting to imperial measures, why do they not use imperial measurements over there? I really do not know. My final thought is a minor correction: 80 kilometres per hour is 50 miles per hour.
This issue has been debated for the past 30 years. I thought for a moment that we were in danger of debating it for the next 30 years, but I am grateful for the succinct comments that everybody has made in this interesting debate.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, spoke about the enormous difficulty in this country of adjusting to different road-length measurements. That is as nothing, I should have thought, to the difficulty faced by the continental driver who finds that we drive on the other side of the road. Drivers have to have the skills to cope with that and do so well. Therefore, I think the issue of calculation of distances can be greatly exaggerated. Suffice it to say that if we went metric with our road signs we would need substantial preparation. The idea that we might slip it in on a wet October afternoon in a modest, unostentatious little Bill such as this, having made no attempt to prepare the nation for the shock of waking up to this change is obviously risible. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, never fails to trigger wide-ranging debates. On this occasion, he has not perhaps derived quite the degree of support that he might have expected.
Bridge heights are often expressed in metric measurements on signs because we are mindful of the fact that lorries colliding with bridges is a potential hazard, although it seems that many home-grown buses and lorries collide with bridges, but very few double-decker buses come from overseas.
I hear what the noble Earl says. The innovation of the national cycle group never ceases to amaze me. I wholly applaud everything it does, and if it shortens the pain for cyclists by convincing them they are doing rather more than they have done, that is a plus. However, a newly-created national route is different from translating policy on to all our roads. Noble Lords will recognise that we would want just one obvious pattern.
I would not want to guess at official Conservative Party policy—although I am delighted that this amendment is not their policy—but I am sure they will be as persuaded as I am that there are substantial costs involved in changing the mileage on every road sign in Britain to metric. It would be a significant measure that one would not take on light-heartedly. We would need preparation on a huge scale. I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, on having aired this important issue again, but this is not the place to effect such a radical change. I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Snape, was talked about lorry drivers. I say to noble Lords, what if you were a lorry driver and you had to work out whether fourteen feet four inches was higher or lower than 4.4 metres? It seems peculiar that we happily consider opting for a single currency but are not prepared to use the metric system on our roads. However, I am grateful for the contributions from noble Lords, and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Training of people for the road passenger industry, aviation and the railways, but not goods vehicles, is in the hands of the Sector Skills Council for Passenger Transport. This has been welcomed by the Minister's right honourable friend in another place, David Miliband, who, when it was launched, said that he "very very very" much approved of the professionalisation of training in the whole of the passenger industry. The council has been set up for this purpose.
There is a huge shortage of bus drivers. Drivers are coming here from eastern Europe and elsewhere to take up jobs, but that supply cannot be guaranteed. We ought to be training our own young people to be the next generation of bus drivers. A lot of people in the industry are going to retire in the near future.
One problem is entry into bus-driving. The purpose of this amendment is to give the Government the opportunity to bring forward on Report amendments to the regulations regarding what vehicles young people can drive. There seems to be a case for allowing younger people than at present to drive smaller vehicles so that they might begin to gain expertise, because much of the work in the road passenger industry needs you actually to be on a bus. We do not have bus conductors any more. In fact, the last bus conductors in London are to be phased out within the next few weeks.
So we have a problem in getting people who are coming out of education into the world of work. We cannot put those skills in place unless steps are taken to allow them to drive smaller, less heavy vehicles, obviously after having passed the tests to ensure that those skills have been imparted. That is why we are proposing the amendment. I will not be very prescriptive at this stage, in the hope that the Minister will say that the Government will look at the amendment with a view to bringing their own amendment back on Report. If they do not do so, I will—and I will then run the risk of the Minister saying that what I have drafted is not as good as the amendment he might have drafted. I beg to move.
I rise on this occasion to support the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. As your Lordships who served in the Armed Forces will be aware, young members of the Armed Forces under the age of 21 have for very many years been able to drive heavy goods vehicles, including buses, for obvious operational reasons. I do not think that that has proved particularly unsuccessful. Indeed, I do not think that the accident rate among those younger drivers is any greater than it is for those over the official age for a PCV—as it is known these days—of 21.
When I got to my feet I should have declared an interest as an employee of the National Express Group, which has employed lots of bus drivers. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, there is a shortage of bus drivers. Noble Lords will not have heard it, but one of my colleagues on this side of the Committee muttered something about wages in the bus industry. Perhaps he and other noble Lords feel that wage levels have helped to cause the shortage, but it is not entirely that. The National Express Group is renowned for paying some of the highest wages in the bus industry but there is still a shortage, particularly in and around our major conurbations. It is not a particularly attractive job. The days when you could spend 10 minutes at the terminus at either end of the journey are long gone. Modern-day traffic conditions make it an extremely onerous job. I do not envy for a moment those who do it every day of their lives.
Importing—if that is the right term—drivers from eastern Europe has been one method of combating that shortage and this proposal may well be another. I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to the amendment. Like the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, I feel that we should return to the subject on Report if we cannot get a satisfactory answer at this stage.
I have put my name down to support the amendment. Both noble Lords who have spoken have talked about the shortage of drivers. One has only to look at the age profile on the buses one passes or travels on to see that there will be an even bigger problem in the future. The lorry driver shortage is to some extent being mitigated by eastern European drivers, who of course sleep in their cabs. I do not imagine that that is intended for the bus industry but it certainly reduces the costs. The wage rates on lorries are very low compared with here, so they may well like to become bus drivers. Whether they will be required to speak English is a good question. Train drivers in Germany have to speak German. I am not sure whether there is a requirement for bus drivers in this country to speak English but it would clearly be helpful.
I think that this is a very good scheme and it deserves every support if we are to have a good-quality bus service with helpful service-directed drivers who have consideration not only for other road users but for their passengers in how they accelerate, decelerate and do other things. I fully support the amendment.
I too support the amendment. It is important to remember that by 21 most school leavers will have already established their career. So they will simply not go into bus driving unless they can start early.
I am grateful to noble Lords for contributing to the debate, especially to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, in his introduction and thinly veiled threat that unless I produce a decent, helpful response today, we shall hear more on Report. He may not consider my response sufficient to obviate that need but I shall do my best.
First, I shall be negative about his amendments because although I have heard from all parts of the Committee some approval of the scheme—even from the Benches behind me—all noble Lords have expressed themselves in fairly general terms. The devil lies in some of the detail. I hear what the noble Lord said about improving recruitment to bus driving—we know of the difficulties with recruitment, and the scheme has its attractions.
I am minded to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, on emphasising the fact that if we are concerned about developing the skills of the younger generation, this is one that we should attend to. But there are problems with the amendment. I do not want to be too brutal in dismantling it, but will argue against it on three grounds. Ending on a rising note of optimism—not to say a constructive stance—I hope to win the support of the Committee.
The trouble with the amendment is that it looks as though we are saying to the nation that there is a driving age of 17 for car drivers, but you may find yourselves on a bus with a 16 year-old driver. That is an interesting concept that might be difficult to sustain.
There is no end point to the scheme. It says that 16 to 21 year-olds can join, but can someone keep struggling on? Can someone be a member of a young person's scheme when he is 42 because he has failed over the previous 20 years to satisfy the examiner? The amendment is defective on such matters, so I cannot accept it.
I should emphasise, too, that it is contrary to European legislation. A European directive provides that passenger-carrying vehicles, such as buses, cannot be driven by anyone under 18, so there would be a European problem to overcome if we accepted the amendment.
I hear what my noble friend Lord Snape said about all sorts of young people in the Armed Forces careering around in wagons. First, the Armed Forces are careful enough to ensure that vehicles are driven in fairly restricted circumstances. Secondly, 16 year-olds are not engaged in the Armed Forces, so there is no direct parallel with the scheme.
Let me get on to the positive side of the amendment. I am sure that noble Lords have formed the impression that I have lost all imagination or commitment to the development of our nation's skills. The European Parliament and Council are providing for the introduction of a certificate of professional competence for bus and lorry drivers, and its renewal every five years. That will link with European rules on minimum driving ages, and the implementation of the directive will provide an excellent opportunity to produce a coherent stakeholder-supported scheme for young drivers, which is what the noble Lord's amendment seeks to do.
We cannot do that with this amendment, but we shall shortly have the European directive, which will oblige us to respond positively to the concept of enhancing and developing the skills of younger drivers. I hope that the noble Lord will think that that is a sufficiently sound answer that merits not renewing the issue on Report, and that he will withdraw his amendment.
I will withdraw the amendment but I do not think that the answer was totally satisfactory. First, I want some assurances about the timescale of the directive. When will it be passed and implemented? There is a skills sector now, which can train people to the sort of standards produced in the Army—or probably better than that. We are talking about providing a ladder of opportunity into employment. We also have a very bad shortage of bus drivers. I hope that the Minister can give an assurance regarding the timescale of the European directive; otherwise, I shall have to bring forward a more solid measure at Report.
I cannot talk in terms of immediate months but I assure the noble Lord that we shall implement the directive by secondary legislation. An SI will be needed to implement it. Primary legislation will not be required. There will be no delay built into its implementation. We shall be able to do it readily. Once we have finished our consultations and have the scheme in place, we shall be able to go ahead reasonably promptly and seek the will of Parliament for implementation.
I do not like to throw a spanner in the works but the open access railway directives 2001/1213 and 1214, have still not been turned into regulations four years later. I know that the Government want to do that, and they are about to go to court if they do not do that by the end of the year, but these things can take time.
Further to that, the legislation for the introduction of cameras in bus lanes has taken at least five years to translate into regulations. It is reported in the press this week that the department has not yet type approved the cameras. Although the legislation is coming in on
moved Amendment No. 129:
After Clause 32, insert the following new clause—
After section 110 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) insert—
(1) The costs of any medical examination required for the issue or renewal of a licence to drive a large goods vehicle shall not fall to be met by the applicant for, or holder of, the licence, provided that the condition in subsection (2) is met.
(2) The condition referred to in subsection (1) is that the examination shall be carried out by a general medical practitioner.""
We are short on time and we are short on lorry drivers. It is very expensive to become a lorry driver as most have to pay for their own driver training—a point covered by my noble friend Lord Hanningfield. But before they can even go for an assessment, they need a medical for which they have to pay. In addition, older HGV drivers need regular medicals after a certain age. I do not dispute the need for a medical but it is a major deterrent to starting the trade of driving a lorry or to maintaining a licence that is not being used much—perhaps a holder has taken on other work or he has been promoted in the organisation but it is quite handy if he maintains a licence so that he can drive occasionally, perhaps to enable him to see what it is like for his employees.
But when a GP charges a working man, whose state of health he knows perfectly well, £100, the words "money" and "old rope" come to mind. I am lucky as Her Majesty pays for my medical. I beg to move.
I am grateful to the noble Earl for the precise way in which he tabled the amendment. We are not about the business of increasing costs for goods vehicle drivers. However, they are obliged to provide medical evidence at application for, and renewal of, their licence. That takes the form of a medical report completed by a qualified medical practitioner following examination. The requirement is based on the second European Community directive on driving licences, which applies to driving licensing in the United Kingdom.
There is currently no provision in legislation for the Department for Transport to meet the costs of that report. The general road user or the general taxpayer would be obliged to meet those costs if they were not paid by the applicant. However, we meet the cost of any further medical inquiries or examinations that are necessary where information in the report, or from another source, suggests that the individual has a medical condition which may affect their fitness to drive. So we do meet the additional costs, but not the initial ones. It would be an unfair charge upon the public purse for the initial fees to be paid. Again, this is against a background where the fee charged for completing the report would not be regulated by the DVLA. It would be the decision of the medical practitioner concerned, so it would have a distinctive, open-ended quality to it.
We have made some attempt to reduce burdens on the road-haulage industry. In March 2004, the fee charged by the DVLA for a vocational licence was abolished. This cost is now met through fees for other driver and vehicle licence transactions, but adopting a similar approach to the costs of the medical report required of lorry drivers would be a substantial burden indeed. Someone would have to meet those costs, with their element of open-endedness which I mentioned. While I hear what the noble Earl says, and we are concerned to encourage the development of skills among heavy goods vehicle drivers, I hope he will recognise that this is not a proper cost upon the public purse and therefore be prepared to withdraw his amendment.
I can understand where the Minister is coming from, but I hope he will note my concern, which is with the amount. Most GPs know their patients well. They will know whether they have a heart condition or a gammy chest, and a fee of more than £100 for a medical examination seems excessive. Would the Minister or his officials consider talking to the BMA, to see whether it really needs to be quite so expensive? In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My amendment is very simple. Part 2 of the Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001, which provides for the registration of number plate suppliers, shall cease to have effect. The legislation inconveniences no one except law-abiding motorists, and it has undesirable side effects.
Some time ago, shortly after implementation of the Vehicles (Crime) Act, I asked my friendly motor factor what documents I would need to obtain a number plate from him for my car's trailer. The answer was "Don't worry about that. We know who you are". The Committee will understand exactly what the motor factor meant, but that is not the point. On another occasion, when I went to Halfords—a major retailer of car accessories—one person did the paperwork and another produced the number plate. They both completed their tasks at the same time. What does that say about productivity? Does the Committee honestly believe that criminals will find obtaining a number plate an insurmountable obstacle to making several thousand pounds of profit from selling a stolen vehicle?
To be slightly more charitable about this issue, I was thinking that there might be one advantage. Quite often, youngsters have been buying false number plates from a motor factor, attaching it to their car, going to a petrol station and filling up, then driving away without paying. It could of course be thought that the new legislation would combat that. It is much more difficult for them to obtain number plates, because they are not fully fledged criminals. The problem is that they are now stealing the number plates from someone else's car. So we used to have a problem of kids buying a number plate from a motor factor to stick on the front of their car, but they are now seriously inconveniencing someone. If that someone is a long way from home—say he lives in Liverpool and his number plate is stolen in London while the log book for his vehicle is at home in Liverpool—he cannot even get a replacement number plate, because of the legislation that caused him the problem in the first place. I beg to move.
My Amendment No. 130A, which is grouped with my noble friend's amendment, seems to be coming from a different angle; we want to tighten it up. In speaking to the proposed new clause entitled "Designated registration plate manufacturers", I first declare an interest as I served as chairman of the European Secure Vehicle Alliance, an associated parliamentary group dedicated to the reduction of vehicle-related crime and disorder.
The central DVLA operation in Swansea opened 40 years ago in 1965 and was enabled by the growing power and availability of mainframe computers. Some 30 years ago, the UK vehicle registration plate makers market consisted of only a handful of manufacturers and distributors, but now new computer technology has resulted in a proliferation of supply sources who can access a variety of individual components required to assemble and produce a registration plate. The DVLA records indicate that 32,000 suppliers and 38,000 outlets are registered as a result of the Vehicles (Crimes) Act 2001.
It was only 30 years ago that technology was developing to enable the automatic reading of vehicle number plates which, 15 years ago, provided a platform enabling the City of London to establish the ring of steel to counter the threat of terrorist bombs being driven into the City. The technology of camera quality has developed significantly so that now cameras can read accurately all lanes of fast-moving motorway traffic and, equally importantly, the back-office facility has been developed so that 32 million data inputs from automotive number plate readings can be processed every day.
Three elements of the proposed amendment aim to maximise the advantages of new technology that were not fully appreciated in the past decade and were neither incorporated in the Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001 nor the small but welcome amendments currently in the Bill. The extremely fragmented methods of supply and distribution of vehicle registration plates is completely in conflict with our growing capacity to track vehicle movement, which has the power to continue to reduce criminality across an extremely wide spectrum from congestion charge evasion to driving while disqualified, to stolen vehicles, burglary, drug dealing, and terrorism. The proposed amendments are all welcomed by ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers, as it addresses issues of growing significance that are detracting from its ability to continue to reduce crime and disorder.
For example, Luton police reported 316 known cases of stolen vehicle registration plates in the past year. Hertfordshire police reported an average of 83 cases of stolen vehicle registration plates per month over the past three months versus an average of 63 cases over the previous 12 months, which is an increase of 30 per cent. In addition, Hertfordshire police report that incidents of stolen vehicle registration plates now constitute 20 per cent of all instances of theft from motor vehicles versus being only 10 per cent in the previous months.
The amendment seeks to enable a step change in our capacity to reduce all elements of criminality associated with vehicles. The market for manufacturing, assembly and supply of vehicle registration plates must be reframed as a service business for a limited number of approved manufacturers receive, accredit and despatch orders in required time frames for both the vehicle industry and consumers. That outcome will help enhance the ability of cameras to read vehicle registration plates that are produced to precise standards. Currently, the maximum standard for the ANPR system is 95 per cent readability. Encouragingly, 98 per cent is capable of being achieved. Many problematic motorists fall in that remaining 2 per cent.
Finally, the ultimate crime reduction approach is to eliminate the value of any crime by ensuring that criminals do not receive any benefit whatever. The DVLA, working in partnership with the police, needs to develop a system whereby any stolen vehicle registration plate is made void, and therefore has no value to the thief. The database comprising all stolen vehicle registration plates would be fed in to the ANPR database, and stops of vehicles carrying such plates would be given a high priority of apprehension.
I support what the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, has said. I am aware that all number plate suppliers have had to be registered with the DVLA since January 2003. I do not know what branch of government that comes under, but I would like to know if any enforcement action is taken and, if so, by whom.
We are anxious that number plates are manufactured in accordance with the regulations, and that they are not in types of script which their owners think draw attention to themselves, or are difficult for the police to read. Most importantly, the DVLA should maintain an up-to-date register of number plate thefts and other infringements that pertain to a certain car. They should get us out of a position which I witnessed about three weeks ago when I was with the police. We followed a vehicle quite a long way and stopped it. The lady in it, a very respectable schoolteacher, was very shocked. She had bought the car from somebody else six months previously, but the records had not been amended. The previous owner had been a criminal and had used the car for criminal purposes—of course, he had not had insurance and all sorts of other things. That is why the automatic number plate recognition machine worked.
We have advances in technology and a sort of creeping, groaning bureaucracy to back them up, which does not enable the technology to be up to date and as useful as it could be. The theft of number plates is a serious business and is increasing. I look forward to hearing what the Minister says can be done about it.
One thing that could be expanded upon at some stage is that there are sometimes places at markets where you can have a number plate made up without any identification whatsoever. On the stand, there is sometimes a small sign saying "For home use only". These people should be completely banned from using their facilities.
The Committee will be surprised to hear that I support my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux if, and only if, the number plate were much more sophisticated. If it had an electronic chip, some sort of tag, then there would be much to commend the noble Lord's amendment.
There is a difficulty with the last part of his amendment, which suggests that the number of a stolen number plate should be voided. Of course, people pay an awful lot of money for a cherished number plate. I suspect that if they paid £20,000 for the number plate "WE1", for instance, and then that plate was stolen and they lost its identity, that would be a bit of a problem.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate.
I recognise that, in his amendment, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, shares my concerns over the use of vehicles that facilitate crime. Not all drivers, of course, are criminals, but pretty much all criminals are drivers. That is why we need to get some control over the issue. The disguising of the true identity of vehicles though the display of false plates is a matter of great concern, which will jeopardise the future use of camera technology if not controlled. It also allows people to evade fines and charges for more modest traffic offences.
The significant contribution made by the regulation of number-plate suppliers to achieving the Vehicle Crime Reduction Action Team's target of a 30 per cent reduction in vehicle crime has been acknowledged by both the Home Office and the police. It is not a system that I would want to see stopped or interfered with; it is making progress. The evidence from police is that organised criminals find getting number plates more difficult under the scheme in place than was the case.
I understand the anxieties expressed. The DVLA is working with the number-plate industry to develop tamperproof plates and increase the security of plates by including an identification chip. We are making progress in the area, and are of one mind in all parts of the Committee on the importance of dealing with this issue in reducing crime. I understand very well the noble Earl's introduction of the amendment to highlight an important issue. I am grateful for that, but we have a scheme in place that is increasingly proving its worth and has been commended by the police. On that basis, I would be loath to accept an amendment that changed the basis on which we now work.
I shall turn to the amendment so ably spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux. With his vast knowledge of the issue, he knows that it is already the case that only suppliers registered on the DVLA register may produce number plates. Few, if any, manufacturers of number plates are not also suppliers, so the database is not huge or extensive. We have controls in place; namely, prosecution and suspension from the register for transgressions. I reassure the Committee that the Bill increases capacity for surveillance. At present, the police have to take the initiative to examine the premises on which they think that false number plates are being produced illegally. Under the Bill, the DVLA will be able to send in inspectors to look at registered premises and bring prosecutions. The Bill tightens up procedures and puts additional controls in place. I hope that the Committee will welcome that and recognise that it fits exactly with all the arguments on the need to establish significant controls in the area, which is important.
The problem is that most of the provision at present extends only to England and Wales. That is the point about Clause 35, which extends the legislation to provide the necessary protection for Scotland and Northern Ireland. I agree of course with the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, that it would be desirable to have fewer suppliers from the point of view of controlling supplies, and will look at the concept in his amendment to see what we can do about it. We are mindful of the fact that maintaining a register is one thing, but controlling entry to an activity is a little different, so we have to proceed with some care.
Number plates are already required to comply with the Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001. The regulations prescribe the typeface, size, colouring and the British standard to which number plates must conform. I am sure that, if I do not mention this en passant, I shall get a contribution from a noble Lord who has seen some weird and wonderful plate that looks more like someone's favourite girlfriend's name than a number plate. Having such a plate is dicing with the law. I can only state that of course under our increasing requirements of surveillance, which will necessitate standardisation of plates, people who think that in almost a light-hearted manner they can dispense with the normal formula will find themselves in considerable difficulty. Specifications are already laid down. The DVLA also holds a register of number-plate suppliers, which records all of those entitled to sell number plates, so to have another register, which is recommended in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, would add a substantial administrative burden and I am not sure where the additional gain would be.
I reassure the Committee that we are fully cognisant of the problem at which the two groups of amendments are directed. It is increasingly important and significant, but in short a registration plate register would not offer significant benefits over and above our present scheme. The costs in setting up and administering such a scheme would be considerable. We maintain that we have the framework within the Bill to cover the whole of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland adequately against this important feature with regard to crime.
We debated a similar amendment in May 2001 on the Vehicles (Crime) Act. I was assured then that number plates would all be the same, the typeface would be the same; yet, for example, D11CSO is jammed up to read "disco". We are still no further forward on having a uniform registration plate system. I do not mean cherished number plates: I am talking about ordinary number plates where the letters are pushed in together like the example I have just given.
We are aware of the strength of arguments being put. I will in due course give further reassurances to the noble Lord. I emphasise that we are active in this area. We are monitoring our progress. The noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, is right to attest that not all number plates look to be of a standardised form. Standardised form has some variants but we know that standardisation is not at the level that we would want or need it to be when registration plates are used for more information gathering about the use of the motor car than at present. I cannot speak too much about uniformity, but the police consider the number of illegible plates to be decreasing, so we are making progress in that area.
Will my noble friend write to Members who have contributed to the debate to say how many successful prosecutions there have been and by whom for people who have had number plates that are illegible, in stupid writing or something like that?
My department is not responsible for keeping a register of prosecutions, so that may be a difficult task. However, I will bear in mind my noble friend's point and ensure that, as the Bill proceeds, I can give even greater reassurance than I have today that we are making progress in that respect.
The Minister mentioned that the Bill extends the standardisation regulations to Scotland and to Northern Ireland. Will that lead to the end of people in Scotland enjoying having on the left-hand side of their number plates European Union markings and the letters "SCO", identifying that the car comes from Scotland, which is in some cases a security measure?
No, it does not proscribe that. One of the additional components of an approved number plate can be the use of the European symbol, which also indicates the area of Europe from which the vehicle comes.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made an important point. It is very important that the Minister tells us how many prosecutions there have been under this new legislation. It is a bit surprising that when we introduce some new legislation there is no system to record the number of prosecutions.
I am grateful for the contributions of all noble Lords on this amendment. The Minister mentioned organised crime. If those involved in organised crime can illegally import a pretty girl from Moldova for the purposes of sex trafficking, I doubt that they will experience much problem obtaining illegal number plates. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 130A:
After Clause 34, insert the following new clause—
"DESIGNATED REGISTRATION PLATE MANUFACTURERS
(1) Only manufacturers designated by the Secretary of State may produce registration plates.
(2) The number plates described in subsection (1) shall be manufactured in accordance with regulations published from time to time by the Secretary of State.
(3) The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency shall maintain an up to date register of registration plates, taking immediate account of those notified as having been stolen."
moved Amendment No. 131:
After Clause 37, insert the following new clause—
"CONDITIONS ATTACHED TO LICENCES
In section 21 of the Goods Vehicle (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995 (c. 23), after subsection (1) insert—
"(1A) On issuing an operator's licence, or on varying such a licence under section 17, a traffic commissioner may attach to the licence such conditions as he thinks fit to ensure that vehicles authorised to be used under it are properly inspected, including—
(a) requiring the use of serial numbered inspection reports supplied by the Secretary of State or his agent;
(b) requiring copies of each inspection to be sent to the Secretary of State or his agent.""
When the traffic commissioner is dealing with a goods vehicle operator who appears to be experiencing difficulties in meeting the required standard of maintenance, he can impose conditions. They frequently involve maintenance arrangements and, in particular, inspections. When the Vehicle Operator Services Agency announces a site inspection, it is often the case that the operator has no inspection records because he is poor at paperwork. It does not necessarily mean that he has not been maintaining his fleet properly, but the Committee will recognise that the maintenance records are extremely important.
If he does not have proper records of inspections, the operator's solution would be to find an experienced mate who knows how to create inspection records that will tie in with the bills for spare parts. It is not too difficult for an expert in vehicle maintenance to do that, and it is hard to detect except, perhaps, by means of an unannounced visit. However, serial-numbered inspection reports would make it much harder, by orders of magnitude, to falsify the inspection record, even if only three vehicles were involved. When trying to falsifying the records, it is far too easy to make errors that would be detectable in an audit, and the operator would not be able to destroy a serial numbered inspection report because there would be gaps in his records. I beg to move.
I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. I assure him that the Government share his concern that goods vehicles should be properly inspected and maintained. This is one of the prime objectives of the goods vehicles licensing system. As the noble Earl will know, the traffic commissioners set requirements that applicants must meet. Before issuing a licence, traffic commissioners are required to satisfy themselves that there are satisfactory facilities and arrangements for maintaining vehicles in a fit and serviceable condition. Applicants are required to provide an example of the form or checklist that will be used for safety inspections or to state how often such inspections will be carried out. Applicants must also provide details of their maintenance facilities and staff or, if a contractor is used, the contractual arrangements for maintenance and inspection. Applicants are also required to sign an undertaking that vehicles will be kept fit and serviceable; that record of maintenance and safety inspections will be kept for 15 months; and that they will be made available to the traffic commissioner on request. This undertaking is binding and an ongoing obligation. Failure, as the noble Earl will know, to comply with it may lead to revocation of the licence.
Guidance on the maintenance standards which operators are expected to meet is contained in Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness published by the Department for Transport. These include a safety inspection of each vehicle at regular intervals—normally not more than six weeks. A suggested form for recording these inspections is also included in that guide.
Examiners from the department's Vehicle and Operator Service Agency (VOSA) have powers to check maintenance arrangements and records, and to examine vehicles at the operator's premises or the roadside. Any shortcomings will be brought to the attention of the relevant traffic commissioner. VOSA examiners aim to visit all newly licensed operators within a few months of their starting operations to ensure that they are aware of and meeting their obligations. VOSA examiners also focus their attention on operators where shortcomings have been found previously or where other intelligence suggests that requirements are not being met.
I hope that this explanation will reassure the noble Earl that effective arrangements are already in force to ensure that goods vehicles are properly maintained and would ask him to withdraw his amendment.
I listened carefully to the Minister's response. I am sorry to say that she did not produce a single argument why serial numbered inspection reports should not be required. Of course it is not something that you would want to put into regulations and you certainly would not want it in primary legislation, but, surely, it is something that the traffic commissioners should be regularly asking for when they identify a failing operator. I have to say that I am extremely disappointed with the Minister's response and I shall certainly be returning to this matter at a later stage in the Bill. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Clause 38 provides statutory authority to the DVLA in Great Britain and Driver and the Vehicle Licensing Northern Ireland (DVLNI) to disclose certain data to foreign counterparts. I have a number of concerns about the clause and wish to probe the Minister on the circumstances and extent to which these powers will be used.
According to the Explanatory Notes the provision will allow the government to ratify the European Vehicle and Driving Licence Information System (EUCARIS) treaty. If so, why is the power that is accorded to the DVLA, the DVLNI and the department so wide? If the purpose is simply to allow ratification of the EUCARIS treaty, then why is the power not restricted to the relevant signatories—a treaty that other prominent European countries, such as France, Italy and Spain, have conspicuously not signed? Instead the clause permits that any information, subject to paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsections (1) and (2) can be made,
"available to the authorities of any country or territory outside the United Kingdom".
Why should the power be so extensive? I wish to probe the Minister as to the exact nature of the circumstances that would justify such disclosure. Does the clause allow the disclosure of information to foreign authorities where no reciprocal relationship exists? Where such a relationship is clearly and legally established, what are the exact purposes for which this information will be disclosed? How can British drivers be sure for what purposes foreign authorities will use this information? Once the information is disclosed to foreign authorities, how can we be sure that it is stored safely and used correctly in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998?
I wish to probe further. What safeguards are in place to prevent the improper use of such information by foreign authorities? How do we ensure that the information is used only for the agreed purpose? Furthermore, putting aside the reservations I have expressed, perhaps we may consider the intended purpose of the clause. It is worth considering the conclusions of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety. It suggests that in its current state the clause does not make the necessary provisions for any enforcement which might result from the intended disclosure. The PACTS suggests that in order to work effectively it will require the introduction of "some form of owner liability". Consequently, without that element any disclosure is simply a pointless exercise which jeopardises valuable information about British citizens by allowing it to be passed into the hands of foreign governments. I hope that the Minister will respond to my concerns. I beg to move.
The noble Lord raises an interesting point. There have been recent press reports about the number of European foreign-registered vehicles where parking or speeding fines have not been paid, with no response to charges relating to drivers' hour-enforcement or construction use regulations. It appears that certain member states are making it extremely difficult for the UK prosecuting authorities to obtain the information.
While the clause may be sufficient in a reciprocal way, it is essential that the UK prosecuting authorities are able to obtain this information from all parts of the 25 EU countries and some of the countries bordering on the east. I suspect that we shall give away all the information without any information coming back to us; and, therefore, that fines for parking, speeding or anything else can be avoided by obtaining a foreign-registered vehicle and one can get away Scot free. I shall be pleased to hear the Minister respond that I am totally wrong.
I go straight to the specific questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and my noble friend Lord Berkeley. Why does Clause 38 extend to all countries and not just to Europe? If Clause 38 restricted disclosure to Europe, the UK could not exchange outside that boundary without amending legislation. The present medium of exchange is the EUCARIS system. But we do not want to preclude the ability to exchange outside the EU in the future. Japan and the USA are major exporters of vehicles to the UK and the USA has already shown an interest in EUCARIS.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, also asked what protection the British driver has against misuse of data by a foreign body. Any country with which we exchange information must have secure systems in place. That would be part of any agreement. In doing that, we would ensure that the principles contained in the Data Protection Act would be followed to ensure that information was not improperly released to third parties. Such provision is contained in the EUCARIS treaty which the clause will allow us to ratify.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and my noble friend Lord Berkeley also asked why we pass vehicle information to countries which do not reciprocate: that there is no one-way link on driver information. The United Kingdom has a one-way link to Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, the Republic of Ireland and Gibraltar. Those countries have asked for a link to the United Kingdom and are able to check for stolen, scrapped vehicles being imported. There are benefits to the public and the insurance industry by closing the loophole for the traffic of stolen vehicles.
Countries may also choose to have only one-way links to EUCARIS as that is a cheaper option and is effective if the traffic of vehicles is only one way. Sometimes that option is used while waiting to accede to the EUCARIS treaty. The benefits of EUCARIS can be used to persuade ministries that the system is successful in fighting against vehicle crime and fraud.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, made the point that not all EU countries had signed up. Currently, the EU Commission is looking at using the EUCARIS system as the technical solution for exchanging information between all EU countries. The noble Lord also asked what the Government are doing to prevent overseas vehicles circulating in the United Kingdom without being registered or licensed. Vehicles that are licensed and registered overseas can be used on UK roads for up to six months, whether continuous or otherwise within a period of 12 months. After that, they are subject to enforcement action for evasion of vehicle excise duty. If they are not licensed in their country of origin, enforcement action can be taken at any time. We have recently reached agreement with the Republic of Ireland to check the status of Irish registered vehicles in the UK. Discussions are being held with Sweden, Lithuania and Poland to begin a pilot to take action against any vehicles not properly registered in those countries circulating in the UK.
I was also asked about enforcement and stolen foreign vehicles detected by the DVLA. Those cases are passed to the police for investigation. I hope that that meets some of the questions that Members of the Committee have asked on this clause.
It is terribly exciting that Sweden, Lithuania and Poland have a reciprocal arrangement. However, if I have got it right, a further 21 member states are not on that list. To return to my question earlier—if the Minister does not have the information today perhaps she will write to me:—in how many of those member states is it possible to enforce parking or speeding fines or anything else that domestic drivers suffer daily if they contravene the law?
As an addenda to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, why is it not possible—there being so few places where vehicles can leave the country—that before a vehicle leaves the country, outstanding fines are paid? They can be easily transmitted. There seems to be no reason why a vehicle which has incurred penalties here should not pay at the point of exit.
I, too, need some clarity. We all want to stop vehicle crime and will do what we can to stop it wherever it is perpetrated. My concern is not just the exchange of information to the European countries. The Minister referred to Japan and the United States, but I would be rather concerned about some other countries to which we might pass information—not just about vehicle crime. As I said earlier, we must worry about the protection of the individual as well. There are several questions that need to be answered. The noble Baroness has said that she will write to others; perhaps she will also write to me to give clarity to her answer.