Clause 8 - Unlicensed and foreign drivers

Road Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 25th January 2005.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I want to ask the Minister a question. There is a reference in the clause to a person who is not the holder of a licence. What is the status of the document that is called an international driving permit? I have never held one; I have driven in other parts of Europe on my UK driving licence, but I understand that if I wish, I can apply for an international driving permit. If a person produces one of those in the UK, would it be deemed to be a licence under the clause?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The clause gives effect to schedule 2, which we shall come to shortly. The clause and schedule introduce a new system of endorsement for   unlicensed and foreign drivers who do not hold a counterpart to the driving licence. That will bring them into the fixed penalty system. The clause enables enforcers to check the driving records of such drivers when issuing a fixed penalty, removing the need for the counterpart to be checked. Bringing those drivers within the fixed penalty system will make it easier to take action against them should they offend. Furthermore, the threat of being issued with a fixed penalty will provide an increased deterrent.

The clause mainly deals with those who do not have a licence or anything that can be checked. The police are able to check a driving record by using their computer, which is linked to the DVLA computer, without having to examine a counterpart. Information can be put on that record and checked in the future so that even someone with no licence—who can get away with it at the moment because no record is kept—can be checked.

The international driving permit has to be presented with the foreign licence to be valid. To use the permit, one has to have a licence from one's country of origin. There may be those who cannot produce the licence at all, but if they have a permit they would have had to produce a licence at some stage, so they must have one. The clause deals with those who do not have the counterpart, which would be foreign drivers who did not have a licence at all.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The Minister seems to be setting up a bureaucratic system that will be replaced by a super-efficient, computerised system. At present, if one shows a police officer or a local court a counterpart or old-fashioned licence, it is apparent from it what the status of the person's driving record is. Clause 8 establishes a system for dealing with those who do not have counterpart licences. As I understand the notes, the only reason for introducing the clause is a bizarre decision by the European Commission in 2000. Paragraph 32 of the notes says that we are

''obliged . . . to make this change following a complaint . . . by a Dutch licence holder who was resident in the UK but did not possess a counterpart to her Community licence. Having committed a driving offence, she was obliged to be prosecuted in court, which led to her receiving a fine higher than the fixed penalty would have been and the imposition of court costs. She argued that the fixed penalty system was discriminatory against European Community licence holders in general. The Commission upheld the complaint and the Government undertook to make the necessary legislative changes to put an end to the discrimination.''

It seems inherent in that paragraph that the Government undertook to do that in 2000. It is now 2005. The Government seem, by their reaction, to have demonstrated that they do not consider it a top priority.

Will the Minister admit that the provision is being introduced to address that problem and that it will create more bureaucracy rather than less? If, as he said, it is to have effect from 2007, seven years after the European Commission ruling, and to be replaced by a new system in 2010, is it worth the candle? I should be grateful for the Minister's comments on whether the provision is a cover for the fact that we are being forced   to change our law but are reluctant to do it, and the Minister is trying to justify that change for other reasons.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I can bring some comfort to the hon. Gentleman. No new bureaucracy is being created. The record already exists with the DVLA, but we needed to enshrine it in law so that the counterpart is no longer needed. I have one here for the Committee's perusal. The provision was partly triggered by the case of the Dutch licence holder who took the issue to the European Court, but the new system covers not just that lady and anybody else from another European country who may not have a counterpart, but others such as those who have no driving record—in other words, no licence. The case may have been a stimulus, but it has helped us to take action and remove some of the bureaucracy. In years to come the police will not need the counterpart, which is bureaucratic and cumbersome, to check a person's driving record at the side of the road or in relation to any penalty that has been imposed.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Is it not the case that if those of us with old-fashioned driving licences, like me, change our licence, we are given a counterpart, which in itself will be made redundant? Why can people with old-fashioned licences not keep them until 2009 or 2010, when the counterpart will be phased out? Why replace our licence with a counterpart that is about to become redundant?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 10:00 am, 25th January 2005

People have to change their licence if they change address and the address on the licence is no longer accurate. One of the reasons why I have the nice sparkling new licence and the counterpart is because I changed address and very properly informed the DVLA of that. Eventually, some of the bureaucracy will be phased out, but we had to enshrine in law the driving record that can be accessed. It is currently on the computer system, but needs to be placed in law as accessible by the enforcing agencies. That is what the provisions are about. Eventually, there will be a phasing out, but that will be in some years to come. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that in the meantime he will be able to keep that nice old green licence for a few more years.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2 agreed to.