Specified Agreement on Driving Disqualifications Regulations 2017 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 27th April 2017.

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Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 3:15 pm, 27th April 2017

My Lords, this statutory instrument is being made to reintroduce an agreement to allow for the mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Noble Lords may recall that our previous arrangement on this matter under the 1998 European Convention on Driving Disqualifications ceased to apply in the UK from 1 December 2014, when the UK exercised its right to opt out of various EU police and criminal justice matters under the treaty of Lisbon.

The United Kingdom has one of the best road safety records in the world, and this co-operation between the Administrations of Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will improve it further. This measure is particularly important for the people of Northern Ireland, who share a 310 mile-long border with Ireland, where around 15,000 people cross at 300 crossing points on a daily basis, travelling between the two. Last year, traffic accidents caused 68 people to needlessly lose their lives in Northern Ireland.

In summary, if a British or Northern Irish driver receives an instant disqualification from driving while travelling in the Republic of Ireland—say, for example, for drink-driving or for causing a serious injury to another road user—the disqualification can follow the individual back home. The same is true for Irish drivers disqualified here in Britain or in Northern Ireland.

The treaty that my officials have negotiated with the Irish is almost identical to the now defunct European Convention on Driving Disqualifications—but with one important difference. The convention gave rise to a loophole in its wording, whereby some drivers could escape a ban following them home by falsely claiming normal residence in the country where the offence occurred. We have amended the wording accordingly, to close this loophole. This will ensure that those unscrupulous individuals trying to escape punishment can no longer do so.

The mutual recognition process is straightforward. When a British or Northern Irish court determines that a driver is to be disqualified, and that driver is normally resident in Ireland—the driver can be the holder of any particular driving licence, whether Irish, EU or another—the driver will be able to appeal the decision. If an appeal is either heard and rejected, or not filed, the DVLA will write to the Road Safety Authority in Ireland and inform it that a driver resident in Ireland has been disqualified. It is then that the case is referred to the Irish courts, and judges there can elect to uphold the ban. Again, the same is true of British and Northern Irish drivers disqualified in Ireland.

These measures are not to be considered as a double punishment. Drivers have the right of appeal against the initial ban, and indeed against the ban applying in the country of normal residence. But a driver who commits an offence serious enough to merit instant disqualification needs to be taken off the road both in the UK and Ireland for the appropriate duration. If the Irish court imposes the additional punishment of being forced to resit a driving test or taking an extended driving test, we in Great Britain and Northern Ireland will similarly impose such additional punishments. Any driving disqualifications arising from the totting up of penalty points are not covered in this series of measures. However, Ireland and Northern Ireland are continuing to engage on a bilateral basis, through discussions in the North/South Ministerial Council, for the mutual recognition of penalty points.

The agreement on the mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between the UK and Ireland will not be affected by the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union. Indeed, as the Prime Minister herself stated on 30 January following a meeting with the Taoiseach, for the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland the ability to move freely across the border is an essential part of daily life. That is why the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister have both been clear that there will be no return to the borders of the past. Maintaining the common travel area and excellent economic links with Ireland will be important priorities for the UK in the talks ahead. I look forward to the brief debate this afternoon.