Clause 9 - All drivers

Road Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 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)

The Minister referred to the phasing out of licences. As the clause refers to all drivers, I just want to ask him a question about licences. There is a move in the European Union to restrict all driving licences to a term of five years and to require the renewal of eye tests and health checks. That runs contrary to the system that we have in force, whereby most drivers have a licence issued until they reach retirement age. Will he place on record—I hope that he will—his objection to the moves emanating from Europe and will he confirm that the British Government are not about to sign up to the Euro-idea of very short-term licences?

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

The clause gives effect to schedule 3, which we will come to in a moment. The clause and the schedule introduce a new system of endorsement for all drivers, which will be commenced at a later date than clauses 7 and 8 and schedule 2. When issuing a fixed penalty, enforcers will be able to check a driver's endorsement history by accessing the driving record and not by having to check the counterpart to the driving licence, as the law currently requires. As a result, the counterpart will no longer have any statutory function. Consequently, much of schedule 3 is concerned with the removal of all references to the counterpart from legislation.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the current licence in this country—and in many other European countries—gives a person who has passed their test a long period in which they do not have to be subjected to a further test or any sort of medical tests. We ask for self-certification from the older age group for eyesight and other medical conditions. Anybody who develops a serious medical condition has an obligation to inform the appropriate agency. Sometimes medical checks are undertaken, but that does not affect the majority of drivers.

There has been a discussion on this issue in Europe and one of the proposals was to have the driving licence renewed at more frequent intervals; five and 10 years were suggested. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that we have resisted that most strongly. We have done so because we know that the people who are at the greatest risk of having a collision are those who have just passed their driving test and are in the first one or two years of driving. Younger—or at least newer—drivers who have collisions tend to be in those early days. The longer people have been driving, the fewer collisions they have. They become more experienced.

Some other issues have been raised with us. For example, we test cars after three years, or every year, but often, because of their servicing history, they do not need testing. In this country, few collisions happen because the vehicle is in poor condition. In fact, 95 per cent. of collisions occur because of driver error or deficiency, not the state of the road or of the vehicle. Some people argue that we should test the driver more often, rather than testing the car. We are not persuaded about more regular testing for drivers—certainly not on a five-year spectrum—because experience shows that the more experience a driver has, the fewer collisions he or she has. 

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am grateful to the Minister for what he just said, but does he not accept that the greatest cause of accidents are those who do not have driving licences? Far too many people drive without a licence. Recently, a case was reported in the press of a girl aged 12 who, on Christmas day, was able to drive from Swindon through the Wiltshire countryside without attracting the attention of any police officer—probably because there were none around—before eventually being caught outside Reading. Obviously, that girl was an absolute menace on the roads and did not have a driving licence.

Given all the available new technology, why is it not possible to have a driving licence that would operate as an ignition lock, so that it would not be possible to start a car without having the driving licence of the driver? Those of us who have Sky television need a Sky viewing card to watch it. Later in the Bill, we will talk about alco-locks. Why is it not possible to have an ignition system for cars that is triggered by someone with a valid driving licence and which could not be triggered by someone who did not have a driving licence? Perhaps the Minister does not have an answer at the moment, but, to demonstrate that we are a constructive Opposition who are always trying to think of new ideas in line with developing technology, I thought that I would throw that into the debate as part of my challenge to the Minister.

Obviously, recently qualified drivers have a worse driving record than more experienced drivers such as the Minister and myself, but the biggest menace are those who do not have driving licences; those who have never bothered to pass a test or are driving while disqualified or under age. I do not know whether the Minister wants to respond to what, if I may so myself, is an imaginative solution. I am sure that, even if the Minister does not respond, someone from a European agency or the like will consider the debate and say, ''That's the answer. We must have a centralised system throughout Europe.'' I think I have said enough.

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

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me for saying that he has a fertile imagination. I do not want the Committee to think that his suggestion is agreed and approved Conservative policy. Someone with three endorsements for speeding who put their licence in the ignition would find, under my hon. Friend's suggestion, that the V8 engine would run on four cylinders only to slow the driver down. As the owner of more than one vehicle, his was not a suggestion that I would welcome. If I were moving my vehicles around the yard, I would have to stop one vehicle to take out the driving licence to start the other. So, while I do not want to dissuade the Minister from considering the suggestion, I hope that he does not feel that it is approved party policy.

Almost as an aside, the Minister made an interesting point that I thoroughly agreed with on the subject of MOTs. The matter is outwith the clause, but if he is considering introducing an MOT that runs for two years, he would get support on this side of the House. It seems to me that, in many cases, the MOT is a mechanism for making garages more money. In 12   months of use, a vehicle does not in my view deteriorate to the extent that it necessarily needs testing.

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

The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire has provided some good counter-arguments to the hon. Member for Christchurch. Far be it from me to intervene in this Conservative spat. The right hon. Gentleman raises a good point. One of the difficulties would be that the driving licence would have to be regularly updated, which would require the licence to be taken to some point where the information could be re-encrypted. If that was not done regularly, the offences would not be kept up to date. Someone who picks up a lot of offences would not be spotted. It is an interesting idea.

I can see the other difficulty. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has a penchant for classic cars. There could be an imposition on owners of classic cars to have all these devices fitted. I dare say that many of his good friends in the classic car fraternity—I have some interest in classic cars myself—would have a view on the proposals of the hon. Member for Christchurch.

The hon. Member for Christchurch made a serious point; unlicensed and uninsured driving is a problem on our roads. In a few years' time, the ANPR system will be able to pick up from the DVLA computer and cross-reference whether the keeper of the vehicle has a current licence.

In 80 per cent. of cases the keeper is the person who is driving the vehicle. In a couple of years' time it will be possible for a police officer at the side of the road to check the car's MOT record and to know whether it is taxed and insured. He will also be able to check whether the keeper has a current licence. That does not mean that the keeper will be driving that vehicle but, in most cases, it will be that person. That will be a further device for the police to use. They will not have to stop the car but can use this new technology to make those checks in an instant. If it is appropriate they will be able to pull the car over. At present they tend to use good sense, judgment and hunches about a driver. In future they will have that contemporaneous information to assist them to make the decision.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

Might I just explore what the Minister just said? He said that when automatic licence plate readers come in, the police will be able to see whether the keeper of the vehicle has a licence. Presumably if they see that he does not they will stop the vehicle; otherwise there is not much point in having that ability. First, what will they do with all the cars that are registered to companies? Secondly, what happens in a case like mine? For historic reasons, I am the keeper of a vehicle that belongs to my wife. I never drive it. It is her car and she drives it. Would she be repeatedly stopped if I did not have a licence?

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

First, the technology for the ANPR system is currently under way. It will soon carry more information that can be accessed. The police will still use good sense. They will not stop every vehicle because the keeper does not have a licence. Clearly members of the family could be driving the vehicle. I   do not think that the keeper has to hold a licence. Anyone can be the keeper of a vehicle. If the police had spotted someone who was driving in an unusual way or had committed an offence, this might be additional, good-quality information about the driver to help them decide whether to pull him over.

Obviously if they could see from their computer records that a car was not taxed or insured and the keeper did not have a current licence, it would be blue light time and they would pull the person over. However, the keeper of the vehicle not having a licence would not be sufficient grounds to pull someone over, especially if the vehicle was registered to a company. For example, in the case of a hire vehicle, it is fairly obvious that the person driving it is not the keeper.

Nevertheless, the additional good-quality information provided will help enforcement agencies gradually squeeze down the number of people who can drive on the road while they are either unlicensed or uninsured and ensure that the rest of us can go about our daily business and drive safely on the roads.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.