Clause 32 - Driving instruction

Road Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:56 pm on 1st February 2005.

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

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The explanatory notes on clause 32, which gives rise to schedule 4, state:

''driving instructors have to be registered if they give paid instruction of any prescribed description. This enables the existing provision regarding paid driving instruction in the driving of motor cars to be extended, by regulation, to other motor vehicle types in addition to motor cars, for example, driving instruction in respect of lorries, buses and motorcycles.''

What is the justification for that extension in regulation?

People who run courses for those who wish to get a heavy goods vehicle licence and bus companies that want to train drivers are concerned that their regime would be much better if it were applied to driving instructors—in other words, if driving instructors were deregulated in the same way that their sector is relatively deregulated. However, the Government seem to be going in the opposite direction. They are introducing more controls and are doing so without any justification.

One of the biggest concerns is the need for people to get quick access to training. If people want to engage in a career change and to train to use a heavy goods vehicle, they want to get that instruction straight away, get their qualification and go on the road. At the moment, as I understand it, there are substantial delays in getting a test for a heavy goods vehicle or a bus. As a result, the potential drivers of those vehicles do not own them themselves and have to hire them from the people who are training them, which creates additional delay and expense. Indeed, there have been cases in which, for no apparent reason, the arranged times for such tests have suddenly been cancelled on the basis that conditions might be slippery. As a consequence, the total cost falls on the individual who is trying to improve his finances by becoming an HGV driver. Hon. Members will be aware of the overall shortage of HGV drivers. With the new drivers hours regulations, there is an even greater need for well qualified HGV drivers.

Surely we should be deregulating and encouraging more people to go into the business of training lorry drivers. We should also be thinking about deregulating the whole system of lorry driving testing so that it can be carried out close to the time when someone is ready for the test, rather than delaying it for weeks or months, at the behest of the monopoly provider of such services, which is, inevitably, what the agency is. The clause raises some important issues and I would be grateful if the Minister could justify the increased regulation. 

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

I support my hon. Friend's comments. It is essential that an unnecessary bureaucracy is not created for those who undertake the tests. One complaint has been brought to my attention by a constituent who runs a haulage business. He told me that whenever a driver books in for a test, in addition to revealing the driver's details, which is understandable as the authorities need to know who they are testing, full details of the vehicle that the driver will be using for his test also have to be supplied.

My constituent finds that unnecessarily bureaucratic. Provided that the vehicle is roadworthy and of the relevant class, why do the authorities need to know the specific details of the vehicle that is to be involved in the test? That can create a problem for small businesses if the particular vehicle that they had previously nominated for the test is out on a run and is not back on time. Instead of allowing the test to go ahead with a substitute vehicle, they would have to reschedule the whole thing. That is unnecessarily bureaucratic.

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)

I seek your guidance, Mr. Pike. I have a specific question to ask which relates to this clause, but it falls more properly into schedule 4. Would it be appropriate to ask that question of the Minister now and avoid speaking later?

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

We will come to schedule 4 in a couple of minutes.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The short answer is that the clause is about quality of instruction. It replaces the current one-size-fits-all scheme for car driving instructors with provisions that allow the introduction of flexible and effective standards of insurance for different types of professional instructors. The new provision will allow registration to be extended to professional instructors for any class of motor vehicle. That applies to various circumstances, such as emergency response, remedial training for drivers and HGV training.

The system has been in place for 40 years for car driving instructors. All we are doing is extending it to other classes of instructor. Given that people pay something like £1,500 for HGV training, they need to be assured that that driving instruction is competent and of a good quality. It is a lot of money to pay out and we want to ensure that there are assurances for the HGV driver applicant, just as there would be if our sons and daughters were having driving instruction from a driving instructor in a car.

I am told that the target waiting time for HGV tests is three weeks. I assume that vehicle details have to be given because we have to be sure that it is an appropriate vehicle in which to take the test. Given that the system has been in place for car driving instructors for 40 years, it makes sense for the regulation to be extended to other classes of driving instructor to ensure that quality prevails.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The Minister asserts that because we have had the system for 40 years for car drivers, we should to extend it without further argument. The counter-argument is that we have managed for 40 years without implementing the system for other   categories of vehicle. Have there been any complaints? Is there any reason to suppose that the market is not operating? I would have thought that it would be difficult to establish a business as an HGV driver trainer—most of the training would be for businesses—if one was not reasonably competent at it. What case are the Government putting forward, other than their obsession with increasing regulation?

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

We made it clear in our road safety strategy that we wanted to raise standards. The regulation is one way of doing it. We made a commitment to raising standards and raising the status and quality of professional driving instruction. The regulation is the way in which we want to do that.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

We have heard much from the Minister today, but that was the weakest of her responses. Where is the justification? Where is the evidence that there is any shortage of good quality instruction? This is just another regulation that is being brought in to address some imaginary mischief. If she said that there is evidence that there are a lot of duff HGV driving instructors who are causing danger to others because of their level of incompetence, she might have a case.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The Minister obviously has some more information.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

It is simply that the industry itself—the road haulage industry, the bus industry, road transport organisations and certainly motorcycling interest groups—fully support the regulation. The hon. Gentleman is clearly out of step with the industry. He may well have evidence to the contrary, but we are responding to the industry by introducing the regulation. If he wants to oppose the interests of the industry, he may proceed. We are trying to ensure that we raise road safety standards. That is what the Bill is about and that is why we are introducing the regulation.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The Minister says that the industry is in favour of the regulation, but we have not seen any documentation to suggest that. She has just been given a briefing by her officials saying that it is in favour of it. Let us be clear about this: quite often providers are in favour of introducing restrictions on potential competition. My concern is that this is an activity in which an open market has effectively been operating, with all the flexibility that that entails. We need to get more HGV drivers trained. At the moment, there is no suggestion that anybody involved in the industry is not producing training to the right standard.

One of the biggest constraints that I have heard about is the constraint on the time to get a test. The Minister says that the target waiting time is three weeks. Why is it so long? Why can somebody who has gone on one of these courses not take the test the   following week? Although three weeks is the target waiting time, what happens if the actual waiting time is much longer, as I understand it is in some test centres? Is the individual, who may be unemployed, expected to hang around waiting for this career move until he can get a time for his test? What happens when the tests are cancelled, as they often are, at short notice and must then be rescheduled, again introducing extra delay? Surely the problem with the heavy goods vehicle sector is that there is already too much regulation rather than too little. I am extremely suspicious of this regulation-making power and I am not encouraged in the knowledge that some of those who are already incumbents think that they will be able to use it to further their own interests in a monopoly.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 4:15 pm, 1st February 2005

The fact that only about 50 per cent. pass the HGV licence indicates that there is an issue over the quality of training. We want to ensure that the man or woman who is training as an HGV driver does not waste their £1,500. If someone is unemployed and wants to make that sort of career move, they can hardly afford to let £1,500 go down the drain. Therefore, we are interested in raising the quality of training to help trainees and employers and to ensure that we protect the safety of all road users.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill—

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 4.

Division number 12 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 32 - Driving instruction

Aye: 10 MPs

No: 4 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 32 ordered to stand part of the Bill.