New Clause 5

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:30 pm on 18th April 2006.

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Compulsory surrender of old-form licences

‘(1) In the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c.52), after section 98 insert—

“98A Compulsory surrender of old-form licences

(1) The Secretary of State may by order require the holders of licences of a specified description, or any specified description of the holders of such licences, to surrender the licences and their counterparts to the Secretary of State.

(2) An order under this section may specify as the description of licences to be surrendered—

(a) licences which are not in the form of a photocard, or

(b) licences in the form of a photocard of a description no longer specified by the Secretary of State as a form in which licences are granted.

(3) An order under this section must specify the date by which the licences to which it relates (and their counterparts) are to be surrendered; and may specify different dates in relation to different descriptions of licence holders.

(4) An order under this section must include provision for the grant of a new licence to every holder of a licence surrendered (with its counterpart) in pursuance of the order who—

(a) pays such fee (if any) as is specified by the order, and

(b) provides the Secretary of State with such evidence or further evidence as the Secretary of State may require (which may include a photograph which is a current likeness of him).

(5) A replacement licence granted pursuant to provision made by virtue of subsection (4) above expires on the date on which the surrendered licence would have expired had it not been surrendered (but subject to subsection (6) below).

(6) Where the period for which the surrendered licence was granted was based on an error with respect to the licence holder's date of birth such that (if the error had not been made) that licence would have been expressed to expire on a different date, the replacement licence expires on that different date.

(7) A person who, without reasonable excuse, fails to comply with any requirement to surrender a licence and its counterpart imposed by an order under this section is guilty of an offence.

(8) An order under this section may—

(a) make different provision for different cases, and

(b) contain such incidental and supplementary provisions as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.

(9) The power to make an order under this section is exercisable by statutory instrument.

(10) Before making an order under this section the Secretary of State must consult with such representative organisations as he thinks fit.

(11) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”

(2) In Schedule 1 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (c.53) (offences to which certain sections apply), after the entry relating to section 94A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c.52) insert—

“RTA section 98A(7)

Driving licence holder failing to surrender licence and counterpart.

Section 6 of this Act.”

(3) In Part 1 of Schedule 2 to that Act (prosecution and punishment of offences: offences under the Traffic Acts), after the entry relating to section 96 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c.52) insert—

“RTA section 98A(7).

Driving licence holder failing to surrender licence and counterpart.

Summarily.

Level 3 on the standard scale.

”.'.

[Dr. Ladyman.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government new clause 6—Fee for renewal of photocard licence and issue of certain alternative licences.

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

We are making good progress, and I hope that we can continue to do so.

Government new clauses 5 and 6 return to the Bill two clauses that were removed in the Lords. I like to think that that was because the Lords were mistaken in  their intent, and that had they heard my arguments, they would not have done so. I hope that the Committee will agree to put them back in.

The fact is that there are in circulation not just photocard licences—licences with drivers’ pictures on them, each accompanied by a piece of paper establishing the driver’s details and any endorsements that he carries—but licences held by people who have never received a photocard. They have only paper licences and, therefore, have no photographic identification to establish that they may drive particular vehicles, which can present the police with considerable problems. When they stop somebody and are presented with a perfectly valid driving licence in the form of a piece of paper, they have no way of determining whether the person handing them that piece of paper is the person who is entitled to that driving licence.

It was our intention that the Bill would enable us to require, at various points in the future, the return of those paper driving licences, and the issuing in their place of photo ID card-type licences. Their lordships, mistakenly, I can assure the Committee and them if they are listening, thought that that might be a cunning plot to introduce the ID card by the back door, so they removed these clauses from the Bill. I assure the Committee that it was not an attempt to do any such thing. The driving licence is not designated as a document that one cannot receive without having first applied for an ID card. This is a sensible measure to improve law enforcement and to ensure that somebody who presents a driving licence is the holder of that licence.

As well as allowing the Government to charge for the process of changing licences at various times in the future, the clause will give the Government the power, if the licence changes again, to require people once again to submit their old licences in exchange for new-format ones. If, for instance, we decide in future to add a further security device to the driving licence, to make it even more secure and to try to improve the integrity of the database, as the hon. Member for North Shropshire requested, we will be able to do that under these new powers. In addition, the Committee agreed earlier that the paper part of the driving licence—the so-called counterpart—is no longer the legal document. In fact, the database of the DVLA will be the legal document for enforcement purposes in future.

One of the things that we will be able to do will be to require people to return their old paper licences, and to receive photo ID card-type licences. We will also be able to require people to return their existing photo ID card-type licences and to receive in return licences that include information about endorsements and so on—if that is what we wish to do—and to get rid of the counterpart. These are sensible measures. They will improve road safety and the enforcement of driving licences, and will help the police immeasurably. They will also help to improve the integrity of the DVLA database and they are in no way a Trojan horse that will allow ID cards to be introduced without the approval of Parliament.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The new clause was given a thorough airing in another place, where there were real fears that it was a Trojan horse for identity cards. My main concern is that this will be a huge task. We have already discussed the burden that the DVLA has because of the way that it is constituted, and we established that it is not 100 per cent. accurate. We also established the difficulty in other countries of getting an accurate database.

I am not sure what the gain will be, although it is clear that the establishment of a valid, water-tight database is important. My worry is that we will go to huge efforts regurgitating data from that vast majority of law-abiding people whose records are not out of order. There will be a titanic administrative task, but in the meantime my party’s fears about what we call the hard core—that small group of people who have come up again and again in our debates, who are outside the law, who drive uninsured and without MOTs or licences—will not be addressed. Those are the people whom we should be after.

My worry about the proposal is that it will involve an enormous administrative effort by the DVLA to change everyone’s paper licence when well over 98 or 99 per cent. of people are thoroughly law abiding. Their records are in order and they will not cause a problem. I wonder how many staff will be involved in the exercise. Will the DVLA engage a whole new section? Will it have a new budget? How long will the process take?

We detect the hidden hand of the European Union, which has taken competence in this area. It proposes that licences should be renewed every 10 years for drivers up to the age of 65 of mopeds, motor cycles, cars and light vans, and every five years for drivers of medium and large goods vehicles, mini-buses, buses and coaches. It has been said that the proposed new measure will have the potential for administrative and customer service advantages, and that it would facilitate greater accuracy of the record and of the data on the licence. That may be right, once the DVLA gets to dry land, but it will be an enormous exercise getting there.

I would like the Minister to comment, first, on the mechanics—how this will be done, how many people will be involved, how long it will take—and, secondly, on the Commission’s proposal that licences should be changed every 10 years for those up to 65. In fact, the recommendation is that they should be changed every five years for drivers over 65 of mopeds, motorcycles, cars and light vans, and every year for drivers over 65 of medium and large goods vehicles, mini-buses, buses and coaches. That will lead to an enormous churning of data about people who act within the law. They are not the bad lads whom we should be trying to catch. I would be grateful if the Minister would comment on that before we pass judgment on the new clause.

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

The proposal certainly will involve a huge task—there is no question about that. The intention is that the DVLA will deal with it as a one-off exercise over two years. We estimate that in 2008 there will be some 13 million paper licences still in circulation that will have to be changed over the two-year period.

The new licences will not be free. A small charge will have to be made for them, and that is covered in the new clauses. We estimate that it will be about £5 to £10.

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

It is not a huge amount of money, but the benefits to society will be considerable. As I explained earlier, it is a common offence to present a paper licence to a policeman if one does not hold a licence oneself. Providing a paper licence and not giving the policeman an opportunity to check any identification is a good way of getting around law enforcement, and the police are clear that they want photographic ID.

The hon. Gentleman will also be well aware that the driving licence is seen by many people as the first step on the ladder to creating a false identity. There are people who, for nefarious purposes, want to build an artificial identity for themselves—some because they should not be in the country and others because they want to avoid their obligations or avoid law enforcement. The driving licence is a first step; once a person gets any sort of driving licence it is easy to deal with several organisations and obtain further items of correspondence addressed to them, creating the aura of identity that can be used to fool law enforcement.

It is very important—I think all members of the Committee would agree that it is essential—that we can rely on driving licences and that the police can check that a person is a genuine holder of such a licence. One of the best ways to achieve that is to make it possible to check the holder’s face against the photocard. It will be possible, under the relevant powers, at some point in the future, to require people to return the card for updating—perhaps every 10 years. I suspect that not many people would be able to identify me had they seen a photograph of me 10 years ago. We all change in our visual appearance. It is therefore important that we should have the power to update the licence. The measure is a sensible one. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that it is in no way related to the issue of ID cards and that he will support the new clauses.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport 6:45 pm, 18th April 2006

I do not know whether I should declare an interest as the holder of one of the old-style paper records. Initially, when I heard the Minister speak I wondered what all the concern was about. However, having listened to his answers to the points made by the hon. Member for North Shropshire, I became concerned. We are told that the measure is to help the Government. Then we are told, “Oh, there is to be a small charge.” We are then told that licences will have to be renewed every five or 10 years depending on the holder’s age. It does not take much in the way of deduction to see that, although the charge may be reasonable now, future Ministers may increasingly use it as a cash cow for the Department.

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

The issue that the hon. Member for North Shropshire raised about renewal every five or 10 years relates to an EU directive which is under  discussion. The hon. Member for Rochdale must accept that the European Union has a view on the robustness of licences and the need to ensure that they are enforceable throughout the European Union. The mere fact that something is being discussed does not mean that it will immediately be implemented.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

I accept the Minister’s point, but I am sometimes sceptical enough about the EU to believe that we should not necessarily always implement everything that Brussels bureaucrats want to impose.

Cost is an issue, and so is the fact that the cost can be increased over time. Another thing that causes me concern is the provision to increase the amount of information stored on the card. We have had the debate on ID cards. It will not be that difficult, when the measure is enacted, for all sorts of information to be stored on a microchip on the card. Either people have one ID card or they do not; we should not then go about increasing the amount of information about citizens that is stored on other bits of paper. I have my old licence and can provide many other pieces of information to demonstrate who I am. I can be required by a policeman to go to the police station to provide that information. I cannot see why that is not sufficient.

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

If the hon. Gentleman feels that way about ID cards he should have voted with the Government when he had the opportunity. That was the point that we made. However, he did not, and the simple fact of the matter is that the driving licence, as I, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Transport have said, will not be part of the ID card system. However, if the hon. Gentleman cannot understand the need for the new clause, I would ask him to imagine that he was a policeman. If somebody handed a policeman a paper licence, what right would that policeman have to require that individual to go to a police station to show the licence that he had just shown? That person’s paper licence might be a forgery or might not belong to them, and that would be the only opportunity that the policeman had to catch that person. If the hon. Gentleman thinks about the example that he gave, he will understand why he should vote for the Government’s new clauses.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

I understand the Minister’s point, but I do not agree with him. There are safeguards. I return to the point made by the hon. Member for North Shropshire that the vast majority of people are honest and law abiding. We are talking, however, about a vast bureaucratic exercise—the Minister admitted that it will involve 13 million licences—the benefit of which might apply only in a tiny fraction of cases. The public will, however, be required to pay for it. We have to ask whether the benefits will outweigh the costs, but I do not agree with the Minister on that.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Like the hon. Member for Rochdale, I am rather moved the other way by the Minister’s words. We have not got to the bottom of the issue of cost, but the exercise is going to be very expensive. Instead, the DVLA could be spending funds on tightening up on the hard core, as we suggested.

The other point that we have not mentioned is that the vast majority of people with paper licences will be in the older section of the population—in which I include myself—and will be more likely to be of a law-abiding tendency, as the hon. Member for Rochdale said. We go on about this, but we want to concentrate on the hard core, who tend to be younger and who will already have been issued with new photo licences.

The Minister did not touch on proposed new section 98A(2)(b), which relates to

“licences in the form of a photocard of a description no longer specified”,

but he did say that some existing photo licences will be recalled. The whole exercise sounds as if it will be even more complicated. It is a bit glib to say that the DVLA will carry out a special concentrated blitz and that everything will take two years. Surely that will cause a massive disruption to the DVLA, and I am not convinced that it is worth the candle.

I entirely sympathise with the Minister’s aim. It would be easier for policemen to check motorists if they all had photo identity cards, but the provisions will catch the older section of the population, who will almost certainly have other forms of identity on them, such as credit cards, so their signatures can be checked. This will be an enormously expensive, complex exercise, with little gain. It seems to be driven by the European Union directive, under which our licences will apparently be changed every 10 years.

The Minister laughed when I blurted out the words “stealth tax”, but there is no doubt that this is another tax on hard-working, law-abiding citizens. I really am not convinced that the Minister has made his case.

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

Briefly, it certainly would be a stealth tax if we did not charge people for it, because the cost would then fall on those in the rest of society, who would have to pay higher taxes. If people want to drive, they need to cover the cost of their driving, and a small charge of the order of £5 to £10 for the renewal is entirely reasonable. We have just launched a thorough consultation about the charges the DVLA imposes for renewing licences and for other services that it provides. That consultation has gone through two phases to identify the most appropriate structure for future charging.

However, the simple fact of the matter is that someone who has only a paper licence can drive while disqualified, and the policeman will not know that they are doing so, because they will hand over a piece of paper that looks like a driving licence. People have also used paper driving licences to steal hire cars. They have handed paper licences over to hire car companies, only for it to turn out that they are not the individual concerned. People can also use paper licences to get on the ladder towards creating false identities and being engaged in many types of fraudulent activity. The people who will benefit from new clause 5 are the 13 million honest motorists who currently have paper licences and who in future will be part of the robust licence system, because they will no longer be cheated by the very few people who currently use paper licences to cheat the system.

I strongly advise Opposition Members to think carefully before voting against a measure that is of obvious benefit to the vast majority of people, who are honest. It is a measure that the police clearly want and that all other law enforcement agencies and advisers suggest is necessary. I can understand why the Liberal Democrats would vote against the new clause, because they do not vote for anything on law enforcement. People can do what they like in Liberal Democrat world these days, but I thought that the hon. Member for North Shropshire, on the Conservative Front Bench, would at the very least stand up for an easyand practical, although admittedly large-scale, improvement in the way in which we enforce law and order in this country.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

If photocards are the answer to all the problems, why must certain existing photocards be withdrawn? We have not got into that.

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

I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about what withdrawal there is of existing photocards. I am not aware of any withdrawal, unless there are doubts about people’s identity. Following inspiration from above, I can say that there are no plans to recall the existing photocard licences, so I do not know where he got his information from.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I got it from proposed new section 98A(2)(b), which refers to

“licences in the form of a photocard of a description no longer specified by the Secretary of State as a form in which licences are granted”.

I am only reading the Minister’s own new clause.

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

I am sorry; I did not understand the hon. Gentleman’s question. I thought that I had explained that provision. We are taking the power now, because at various times in future it will be necessary to issue new types of photocard licence. For example, we may wish to put a chip on a photocard licence to prevent it from being copied. Such technology might emerge in future and provide a better way to identify the licence holder. We want to ensure that when we need to change the photocard licence, we have the power to do so. However, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, we will not do so willy-nilly, because there are 34 million vehicles out there and God knows how many people have a driving licence—probably about 40 million. Changing everyone’s driving licence would be a big exercise, but we need, and future Governments will need, the opportunity to do that when it becomes necessary. That is the only reason why the new clause has been drafted in this way.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

May I return to the question of the length of time? I understand now what the Minister is talking about as regards the withdrawal of existing photocards, but the Commission document that I have seen indicates that, up to the age of 65, people will have their licences changed every 10 years and those over that age will have their licences changed every five years. This is a whole new way of carrying out the exercise. It may be worth while, but it seems to be an enormous churning exercise and I should like the  Minister to explain how the DVLA will cope with it. He says that it will have a blitz and that we are talking about a figure of two years for existing paper licences, but we then appear to go into a permanent state of revolution whereby every year we renew large numbers of licences. I am with the Minister on any measure that will bear down on the hard core, but I am worried that this will be an enormously expensive administrative exercise, churning existing information on large numbers of law-abiding citizens.

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

Rather than detain the Committee any longer, it is probably best if I write to the hon. Gentleman and the Committee about the mechanics with which we plan to phase in the exchange of licences and the consultation on changes that will be needed.

The hon. Gentleman is gradually coming to realise the merit of the Government’s case. My final point to him is that the hard core whom he is so anxious to get at will immediately be exposed by the measure. They are the ones who will be unable to get a photocard licence and will have to rely on a paper licence until the very last moment. Once a paper licence is no longer legally useful as a driving licence, they are the ones whom the police will instantly be able to recognise when they stop them out on the roads. I hope that he will now support the new clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.