Road Safety Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:20 pm on 22nd November 2005.

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Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport 3:20 pm, 22nd November 2005

My Lords, we debated at length in Committee the implications of subsection (2)(e) and the unease surrounding a provision that gives the Secretary of State the power to make arrangements for other persons to have access to the electronic driving record. I am pleased to say that this concern was allayed by a government amendment to subsection (4). However, a number of important concerns remain with a project of this significance.

First, is the substitution of the counterpart with an electronic driving record a truly practical measure? In Committee, the Minister was probed on the type of persons or organisations that would be granted access to this new driving record. A number of different suggestions were made regarding the type of employer that might require such information.

To my knowledge, a vast number of employers, large and small, currently require prospective employees to hold a clean driving licence. This can be easily ascertained by the presentation of a person's driving licence for inspection, since the counterpart is a legal document.

What will happen under the driving record system? Many businesses and organisations will still require employees to provide that they have a clean driving licence. In the light of the amendment recently moved by the Government, does the Minister propose that on each occasion the Secretary of State should place a draft instrument containing the name of such a business—say, for example, a small courier firm—before Parliament, to be approved for access to the driving record computer systems?

That may seem like an absurd and ridiculous possibility, but the reality is that a large number of businesses require such information, and, since individuals will no longer be in possession of the legal documentation necessary to demonstrate themselves, these businesses will need access to the electronic driving record. A natural consequence will be a huge number of persons and organisations requiring access to the electronic driving record system, and this will present a number of serious logistical and security problems. Will the DVLA be responsible for the verification of the driving licences for employer inquiries, or will employers be granted access to the database? I am curious to know how the Government intend to address this system and eventuality.

Secondly, can we trust the integrity of the driving record? Without a paper copy to prove that we do not have any driving endorsements, how can we dispute information contained electronically? In Committee, the Minister stated that the DVLA would write to an individual every time that person's driving record was amended, thereby allowing that person the opportunity to challenge the endorsement.

Yet how would a person be able to do so in practice? At present, I imagine that it is decidedly unlikely that such a mistake could be made, because the licence available obviously has the endorsement on it. It can be presented to authorities, as we all know, if you have a conviction on a driving offence. Therefore, under the present system, it seems unlikely that a person will allow their licence to be endorsed without guilt of any offence.

As I understand from the Minister's explanation in Committee, under the proposed electronic driving records system, a person may request a paper copy of his or her driving record. However, unlike the counterpart, that will not be considered a legal document and will, as a result, not constitute adequate proof. The seriousness of that possibility is amplified by the growing trend in electronic identity theft. Once we remove privately held legal documentation and choose to concentrate valuable personal information in a single electronic system with no tangible mechanism for verification, how can we but increase people's vulnerability to fraud, as there are mistakes and computer errors?

Furthermore, judging by the Government's record on information technology—we all know how difficult some such systems are—is it wise to transfer all this important information on to such a system? The Government's latest foray into the world of budget information technology systems—the NHS project Connecting for Health—is not faring too well, running over-budget and over-time. Remember, this is a project that follows in the less-than-successful path of similarly expensive and ambitious IT projects created for the Passport Agency, air traffic control and the CSA. Will the Minister assure the House that the driving records project will not face a similar fate? I beg to move.