Clause 9 - Unlicensed and foreign drivers

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 23rd March 2006.

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

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I do not want to detain the Committee too long on this part of the Bill. As with clause 8, we support entirely the thrust of the Government’s purpose. However, as I have not had the opportunity before, I wish to explore three items with the Minister.

Throughout subsection (3) there is continual reference to “particulars”. Could the Minister clarify exactly what they are? I assume that they are about the nature of the fine, custodial sentence or courses attended, as the subsection already refers to fixed penalty points. Particulars are something extra, and I would like to hear what the Minister has to say about them.

I understand that the intent of the clause is that non-holders of UK licences can get an endorsement on their record. Is the intent also that UK citizens who are unlicensed and who have driven without a licence should get an endorsement on their record prior to getting a licence, or will the fixed penalty notice be only a fine for such individuals?

Finally, proposed new section 57A refers to a sum being paid to the fixed penalty clerk and the fixed penalty clerk sending notice to the Secretary of State about the endorsement. What happens if an unlicensed individual does not pay? Am I right in thinking that those circumstances will be caught by clause 11, which deals with deposits, or will a separate prosecution be necessary? There is also reference to payments within the suspended enforcement period, but I would like to know what will happen at the end of it. Will there be an increase in the fixed penalty notice and, possibly, punishment? If the Minister clarified those points, I am sure that we could move on swiftly.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I shall do my best to clarify those points. Clause 9 is about unlicensed and foreign drivers. Proposed new section 57A in the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 describes the process for endorsing   driving records that might be needed in the future. If the driver has requested a hearing, the driving record cannot be endorsed, but if a payment has been made, the fixed penalty clerk must inform the Secretary of State—in practice, the DVLA—of the details to be endorsed on the driving record, including the particulars of the offence, the date it was committed and the number of penalty points attributed. In cases where payment has not been made by the end of the suspended enforcement period, the fixed penalty clerk will forward the endorsement details to the Secretary of State.

These clauses came about as a result of the situation alluded to by the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk. A Dutch citizen committed an offence that, for a British driver, would have been an opportunity for a fixed penalty notice, but she could not be issued with a fixed penalty notice because she did not have a counterpart. She had to go to court, where the potential fine was much greater and, in addition, she had court costs. She argued correctly that she was being discriminated against because, had she been a British citizen, she would not have had to go through that procedure. This group of clauses is intended to rectify that situation and allow people who for good reason do not have a counterpart to their licence to be treated in the same way as British citizens. I hope that that is sufficient explanation for the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport) 9:45 am, 23rd March 2006

That certainly addresses the point I was trying to reach with my third group of points about proposed new section 57A. I understand that clause 11 will be helpful, as it will enable the taking of the fixed penalty deposit. It will cover that circumstance, and I just wanted to clarify as much.

The Minister has not clarified—I am sure he will do so quickly—the provision in proposed new section 44A, which states:

“endorsement of a person’s driving record with any particulars or penalty points”.

Will he confirm that the particulars are fines, custodial sentences, anything that the magistrate or court might say and any courses attended as reparation for or for making good someone’s driving habit? Is that what particulars means?

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

Broadly speaking, the hon. Gentleman is right. Particulars refers to the offence code, fixed penalty fine, the date of the offence and any penalty points issued.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I rise to ask the Minister how he envisages the system working for someone who is from overseas and refuses to co-operate with the police, as in the case described by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk. If that person were a multiple or—if I may put it this way—serial fixed penalty receiver, and he received a ticket and continued to commit offences, would there be a mechanism to deal with them? There must come a point when the driving record is such that the police   want to consider further action. How does the Minister see the system working in the case of someone who will not co-operate, may not have much use of English, and may give an address which is a caravan moving around Norfolk?

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

There are two answers: one answer is in the Bill, and we shall come to it when we discuss under clause 11 the ability to take deposits and to immobilise vehicles if we do not think that somebody has a suitable address. The other answer—this is where my officials might start to panic, because I am going to lapse into areas of legislation and European directives that are not directly part of the Bill—is in the second EU driving licence directive. It puts in place a mechanism whereby EU countries will recognise the penalty points, endorsements and licences of each other’s country.

The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for speaking from memory, but I think that the directive does not come into force until every member state has ratified it, and currently only three have done so. It provides for bilateral agreements between member states to try to deal with the situation. So far, we have entered into a bilateral arrangement with the Irish Government to recognise each other’s driving licences. If somebody loses their licence in the UK, they will not be able to return to Ireland to get another one; likewise, if somebody loses their licence in Ireland, they need not think that they can come to the UK to get a licence.

The arrangement has been complex, because Ireland’s totting up system is different from ours and much negotiation is required to reach synergy in two different legal systems. It is complicated and it takes a long time. Given that it will take even longer—almost glacial periods—to get EU-wide agreement to all those arrangements, we must do the best that we can in the meantime. This set of clauses and clause 11, which provide powers to take deposits, immobilise vehicles and change our arrangements so that the counterpart licence is not necessary to access our fixed penalty point system, are the best that we can do in the meantime.

I freely acknowledge that a thorough EU-wide system of checking each other’s driving records and licences with synergy of our legal systems would be better, but it will be a long time coming.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

May I ask the Minister for further clarification on two points that I mentioned earlier? First, am I right that the clause does not deal with unlicensed UK citizens, but with only unlicensed foreign citizens? Secondly, at the moment, if one receives a parking fine, it is a fixed penalty fine and not endorsable. If one pays within a certain amount of time, one pays a certain amount, after which the amount is increased. There are continual references in the clause to payments within the suspended period. Is it intended that someone who makes a payment after the suspended period—either because they knowingly decide to, or because it slips their mind—will be   covered by the deposit that has already been taken? If not, is there an increase in the amount that would be paid?

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I am grateful for the Minister’s answer to my earlier question. He mentioned the European directive. As recently as last year there was a view in Europe that a new driving licence directive should require all member states to issue short-term licences for, say, five years, with regular eye and health checks when licences came up for renewal. That runs contrary to our system, in which licences are generally issued until the driver reaches retirement age. Will the Minister confirm that the Government’s view is the same as it was18 months ago—that that proposal should be resisted?

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I can certainly confirm that we would resist that. The third European driving licence directive will be discussed at the Transport Council in Brussels on Monday, which I shall attend on behalf of the Government. There are no such recommendations in that directive. I suspect that it will be adopted by the Council on Monday, although the Government are resisting parts. Not for the first time, however, we stand alone, and therefore it will be adopted. Nevertheless, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the third driving licence directive does not include the sort of measure to which he refers. It may be an ambition of some Eurocrat for the fourth or fifth directive, but that is a battle for the far distant future.

On the question raised by the hon. Member for Wimbledon, my understanding is that if the fine is not paid within a specified period it can be recorded as an outstanding debt. One would hope, though—subject to the Committee’s agreement to the clauses following this group—that we will not get into that situation. I hope that, if a policeman is not convinced that an individual is contactable and has a proper address, the vehicle will be clamped at the road-side until such time as that person has been to the cash machine and returned with some money. The situation that the hon. Gentleman mentions might arise if such drivers were caught by a speed camera, and the police were not dealing with the individual at the time. In those circumstances, the debt would be recorded and efforts would be made to recover it later.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister has been helpful on several issues that we wished to probe.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.