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 Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 3:15 pm, 27th April 2017

I note that the Minister referred to the “brief debate” this afternoon. I take it that that is a statement of hope on his part—although, judging by the numbers in the Chamber at the moment, perhaps we have both misjudged the situation and the debate on the Specified Agreement on Driving Disqualifications Regulations 2011 really is packing in noble Lords. I thank the Minister for his explanation of the purpose of these regulations, which we support, and the background to them—but I have one or two queries that I would like to raise.

The Explanatory Note indicates that mutual recognition of driving disqualification between the UK and Ireland was previously in operation between January 2010 and December 2014, pursuant to the European Convention on Driving Disqualifications. It indicates that, following the Lisbon treaty, we opted out of the convention from December 2014 as part of a block opt-out under the treaty. It states that the purpose of this instrument is to specify a bilateral agreement dated 30 October 2015 between the UK and Ireland on the mutual recognition of driving disqualifications imposed by either state for certain specified road traffic offences, which, as I understand it, and indeed as the Minister has confirmed, do not include disqualifications arising from the totting-up process. Now that the Minister has confirmed that that is the case in relation to the totting-up process, I invite him to say a little more about why.

In the Commons the government Minister said that Northern Ireland and Ireland were engaged in bilateral discussions through the North/South Ministerial Council about the mutual recognition of penalty points, but added that it was still work in progress. Is this such a big problem that it still cannot be resolved some 18 months after the bilateral agreement dated 3 October 2015, even accepting that penalty points are assessed in a different way in Ireland? Frankly, how much longer is it going to take?

However, the main point I want to clarify is the length of time for which there has been no mutual recognition of driving disqualification between the UK and Ireland. On the understanding that the previous arrangements ceased on 1 December 2014, I simply want to clarify—although I think I know the answer—that they were not then reinstated through the signing of the bilateral agreement dated 30 October 2015, and that the impact of that agreement is being brought into effect by these regulations only some 18 months later and some two and half years after they ceased to apply. That appears to be the situation, and I think it is what the Minister has indicated.

If indeed these arrangements have not applied for that lengthy two-and-a-half-year period, why has it taken so long? Presumably, the Government had decided well in advance of the 1 December 2014 opt-out date that they would be making the block opt-out from the Lisbon treaty, and surely steps that would at least have reduced this apparently lengthy gap could have been put in train much earlier. I would like an explanation from the Government of why this whole process could not have been expedited more quickly. It does not look as though it has been given very high priority even though it relates to road safety, and even though the opt-out led to a weakening of legislative powers on road safety for which there was no supporting evidence or justification on road safety grounds.

What happened to the mutual recognitions on disqualifications then in force under the convention when we opted out? Did they remain in force, or did they then no longer have any legal standing? What is the Government's estimate of the number of people who could have been disqualified under the mutual recognition arrangements had these not apparently been brought to an end in 2014 with the opt-out, in respect of whom who it has not been possible since then to apply the mutual recognition arrangements because they have no longer been applicable since the opt-out? In particular, how many people to date have we had who have been able to drive in the United Kingdom who would not have been able to do so if we had not opted out of the convention on the mutual recognition of driving disqualifications? How many of those people have subsequently committed road traffic offences in the United Kingdom?

If the Minister thinks that I am asking for somewhat obscure information, I am certainly not; this is about road safety and potentially about people who should not be driving around on the roads in the United Kingdom. I ask for this specific information particularly in the light of paragraph 7.2 of the Government’s own Explanatory Memorandum, which accepts that it,

“is important to the UK for reasons of road safety to ensure that drivers so disqualified in Ireland cannot drive on UK roads”.

It appears that they have been able to drive on UK roads for the last two and a half years.