Clause 35 - Reduced qualification period for attendance on course

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:00 pm on 28th March 2006.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I shall take it and listen with great interest.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

Thank you, Sir Nicholas. Clause 35 deals with disqualification. My point of order relates to it and to clause 36, which relates to driving tests, to clause 38 on the granting of licences and to any other parts of the Bill or its provisions that may be affected.

Yesterday, the European Union made a decision to apply new rules to driving licences. The testing of motorists applying for driving licences would be co-ordinated. Motorists who are banned from driving in  the UK will apparently no longer be able to apply for a licence anywhere else in Europe. The change co-ordinates, for the first time, the testing and licensing requirements for all drivers—of anything from mopeds to lorries—across all 25 member states. There is a full report on that decision in The Times for today, on page 8. It quotes the Minister as saying:

“It’s negative, but we have no choice but to make the best of it”.

The report goes on to say that under the rules, which must be introduced within six years, bus and lorry drivers under the age of 45 must renew their licences and declare that their health is good every five years rather than every 10.

Earlier in proceedings, the Minister said that he had no intention of making any change to the UK’s provision of driving licences. Yet today we read in The Times that the Minister has apparently thrown in the towel and accepted that EU decision.

My point of order is that, surely, the Minister should provide for every member of the Committee a statement about what effect the decision in the European Union will have on our further consideration of those clauses to which I referred and any other parts or provisions that might be relevant. Would not it be appropriate if our proceedings were suspended until he issues the statement to us all?

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 6:15 pm, 28th March 2006

The right hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. I can say only that I believe that the Minister has heard what has been said.

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

Further to that point of order, Sir Nicholas. I am not aware of saying anything that conflicts with what is in the third driving licence directive. Although the directive was agreed yesterday at the European Transport Council, with mine being the only dissenting voice in the entire European Union, it still has to go through Parliament before it can be enacted, and even then, we will have six years in which to so.

The comments in the newspaper to which the right hon. Gentleman referred were taken slightly out of context. I was discussing the motorcycle parts of the directive. I freely admit that I believe that they are rigid and unnecessary. They add nothing to motorcycling safety while possibly damaging the motorcycling industry. That part was the reason why I did not support the directive yesterday.

We broadly support the rest of the directive. Our legislation and arrangements are in line with it, but I am happy to undertake to review it, since we shall have to prepare an impact assessment for the European Scrutiny Committee. If there are any differences between what I have said in Committee so far and what we will have to do in the future, I shall write to the Committee to let Members know.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I am most grateful to the Minister, as I am sure the whole Committee is, for the nature of that response. Many Opposition Members wish that he had had a veto yesterday.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

From the Chair, as it was a point of order, I consider that the Minister has been very helpful in his response. He has indicated that this may not be the last we hear of the matter raised by the right hon. Gentleman. With that statement from the Minister in reply, we can continue our debate.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move Amendment No. 81, in page 40, line 35, leave out subsection (7).

Clause 35 extends to those people who have committed more serious offences, particularly drink driving, the principle of a rehabilitation scheme and a discount for attending a training course. It applies to those who have been disqualified for 12 months or longer, or those who are about to be disqualified. There is talk on page 63 of the explanatory notes about the success of those courses:

“Only 35 per cent. of all offenders referred to a course actually go on to complete it. Research conducted by the TRL has indicated that the most common reason given by offenders for not attending is cost and difficulty of paying for the course.”

That may be so, but surely part of the reason is that attendance is also non-compulsory.

Amendment No. 81 would make course attendance mandatory. It would not represent a discount for a sentence. The individual would actually have to attend. The additional mandatory attendance and completion of the course would be prerequisites for the return of a licence. The amendment would toughen up the clause significantly. The Government and the Opposition have said that we wish to be tough on serial offenders. Here is the opportunity. By accepting amendment No. 81, the Government would make course attendance additional and a prerequisite for the return of the licence.

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

I accept that disqualification from driving is one of the most potent weapons that we have against offences of bad driving, and there are serious powers in the hands of the court. In the quest for new disposals to deal with drink drivers, the review of road traffic law—the so-called North report in 1988—pointed us in the direction of rehabilitation and retraining courses, and the Conservative Government, in the early 1990s, introduced the drink drive rehabilitation scheme.

The principle behind that was that in return for a reduction in the disqualification the offender would pay for, attend and complete a course. The payment arrangement ensured that the cost of providing courses was not borne by the taxpayer. After an experimental period of seven years, research suggested that course attenders were more than two times less likely to reoffend than others who had not benefited from a course. On the strength of those findings, the current Government decided to roll out the scheme to the whole of Great Britain. It is a model that we envisage using under the Bill for other retraining schemes involving courses designed to deal with other aspects of bad driving, such as speeding and carelessness.

By removing subsection (7) from proposed new section 34A of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, amendment No. 81 would undermine the scheme completely. Without an incentive to participate in a course an offender would probably not be willing to pay for it. If we want the courts to require offenders to  attend such courses, we are moving away from the type of courses for which the clause provides, towards the separate realm of probation, which, among other things, involves additional costs. It is difficult in those circumstances to support the amendment, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman withdraws it.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. He is, of course, not necessarily completely correct on one point. There would be an incentive to attend the courses—it would be a prerequisite to regaining one’s licence. We may well want to return to the matter on Report, and having heard what the Minister said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.