Clause 39

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 18th April 2006.

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Driver training

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move amendment No. 97, in page 46, line 39, leave out subsection (3).

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 99, in schedule 5, page 99, leave out lines 33 to 35.

No. 100, in schedule 5, page 102, leave out lines 17 to 19.

No. 101, in schedule 5, page 106, leave out lines 30 and 31.

No. 102, in schedule 5, page 108, leave out lines 34 to 36.

No. 98, in clause 41, page 48, line 2, leave out from ‘assistants' to end of line 4.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I welcome you back to the Chair, Sir Nicholas, and I trust that I can say on behalf of the Committee that I hope that you had a good and restful recess as well.

Our next subject is a series of clauses on driving instructors and driver training. Amendment No. 97, which I and my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) tabled, deals with the power to make available information on people who provide courses and give instruction. The amendments selected with it, to schedule 5 and clause 41, are all to the same effect, which is to prevent the Secretary of State or the Minister taking powers to disclose the personal details of those persons who are registered.

I guess that the Minister will say that the powers are necessary for transparency and so on. However, many members of the Committee will have been briefed by the Driving Instructors Association, which represents more than 13,000 driving instructors and is consulted regularly by the Department for Transport, the Driving Standards Agency, the Driver Vehicle Testing Agency, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the  Vehicle and Operator Services Agency. It is a member also of the Department for Transport’s advisory group on testing and training. Therefore, it is interesting to hear what the DIA has to say.

The DIA is quite concerned that unless the amendments are accepted we will single out driving instructors and deprive them of some of the normal rights to privacy that are afforded to other citizens under the Data Protection Act 1998. It claims—and based on our research, we would agree—that it can find no parallel in statute to the draconian use of such mandatory disclosure of personal information. I wonder whether, when the Minister responds, he will be able to satisfy us that he has used such disclosure elsewhere.

It is a concern that a huge amount of information would be requested. For instance, the DIA believes—again, it is a concern that I share—that there would be some clear human rights implications, and certainly under article 8 of the European convention on the right to respect for private and family life. If the amendments are not accepted, much of that privacy will be affected. Therefore, the Secretary of State’s statement that the Bill is compatible with the convention on human rights must be challenged.

The Government set out in their road safety strategy, “Tomorrow’s Roads—Safer for Everyone” the objective of ensuring that performance and other information was made available to the public to “empower customers” and to

“encourage intelligent use of driving instruction”.

The message, therefore, is that that could have been more easily achieved by aiming for voluntary consent rather than including in the Bill the need to disclose such personal information. The information commissioner has said that it would have been possible to look for a voluntary disclosure of the information on certificates rather than statutory disclosure.

Our amendment would give back some protection to the driving instructors. I know that a number of them are concerned that the enforced publication of their home addresses may result in a substantial invasion of their privacy. As many as 98 of the UK driving school businesses are sole traders or franchises. In both cases they are either based at their home address or their home address will be published under the Bill. Therefore, they might be worried about being contacted by people wishing to get information out of them unreasonably by extortion or to steal their vehicles, which is a ready concern. Publishing such information is unnecessary. The fact that someone has attained the necessary qualifications is all that needs to be published on a certificate; there is no need for the extra disclosure.

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

Like the rest of the Committee, I hope that you had a good Easter, Sir Nicholas. You will not be surprised to learn that I shall advise the Committee to resist the amendments. There are legitimate concerns that driving instructors might have about the release of information about them. Obviously, I understand that they would be concerned if personal information were released. That clearly is not our intention. I can also see that they might have  legitimate concerns if we published raw data about their performance that was out of context and did not enable consumers to make sensible choices. That is clearly not our intention. We want to be able to provide objective information to individuals who wish to purchase training so that they can ensure that they do so from an appropriate person.

I readily accept that the approved driving instructors and some of the people who represent them have not felt that the Driving Standards Agency has properly engaged with them on some issues in the past. I have spoken to the new chief executive about that and she and I are determined to put that right and to have a much better relationship with those organisations and with approved driving instructors in the future. We want to take them with us and to ensure that they understand why we are attempting to drive the sector forward and how we intend to do it.

We intend that any information we publish should be thoroughly discussed with all sides of the industry, including the organisations mentioned by the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond). We want to construct a way of publishing that data that takes account of people’s very real concerns. As far as personal information is concerned, those individuals already enjoy the protection of the Data Protection Act. Nothing in the Bill will take that right from them.

The amendments would make the whole clause redundant. Its purpose is to give us an enabling power so that, when we and the industry devise the best way of producing statistics on performance, people can make good judgments about who is good and who is bad, who is effective and who is ineffective, and who is providing the best training service. We want to make that information publicly available so that people can make those choices. If the amendments were accepted, we would not be able to provide that information. We would not even be able to provide information about the availability of trainer assistants who are there to help people who are deaf or have other special needs and require the services of an assistant when they are training to drive. It seems entirely reasonable that we put that information in the public domain. The Driving Standards Agency is collecting it anyway, and it is appropriate that we make it available to the public, but in a form that the public can understand and that does not treat unfairly a driving instructor who concentrates on more difficult cases. The information will need to be published in context.

I give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that we will consult thoroughly on what the information will consist of, how it will be published and in what context. In order to utilise the power we will, at some point, have to come back to the House for its approval of the necessary regulations. I hope that, with that promise and assurance, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment and the Committee will allow clause 39 to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to the Minister. We got a number of important assurances from him, including that while he is Minister this Act will not be used to deny the right of driving instructors to enjoy the protection of personal data provisions. I am still concerned that if my amendments are not accepted it will be possible for driving instructors’ personal details  to be published. I will need to look further at the matter and take further advice.

I am grateful to the Minister for his assurance that there will be further consultation. As he is well aware, it has been a long-running concern of the DIA that it is not suitably consulted by the DSA. The concern was initially that raw data on driving examinations would be passed on. Indeed, a series of inquiries has shown, in data for individual driving instructors, that some of the fault markings in tests have not been as accurate as one would have hoped. I reserve the right to return to the matter on Report if I am not satisfied by legal advice on the disclosure of personal information, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 40 ordered to stand part of the Bill.