Driving Instruction (Suspension and Exemption Powers) Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 17th June 2009.

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[Mr. David Wilshire in the Chair]

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne 9:30 am, 17th June 2009

Before we start discussing of the Bill, may I make a few comments? First, as Mr. Donohoe was anxious to know, of course everybody may take their jackets off if they feel the need to do so. Secondly, will those with a mobile phone either turn it off or put it on silent?

If anybody is tempted to try to table amendments at this stage, I must make it clear that I do not like late amendments, so I am unlikely to consider them. I remind you that there are money and ways and means resolutions on the table. Finally, having consulted with the interested parties on the Bill, I think that one way of dealing with it expeditiously would be to discuss the substance of the clauses when debating amendments to them. That way, I will not have to call stand part debates, unless anybody objects. I see no objections.

Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 9, after ‘section’, insert ‘127(5) or’.

This amendment would allow the Registrar to suspend an instructor while considering whether to refuse an application to extend the instructor’s registration, where the Registrar believes the instructor would pose a significant threat to the safety of members of the public unless suspended.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 12, after ‘considering’, insert

‘whether to refuse the application for an extension of the person’s registration or (as the case may be)’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 1.

Amendment 3, in clause 1, page 1, line 13, leave out ‘to terminate the registration’ and insert

‘so to refuse or terminate’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 1.

Amendment 4, in clause 1, page 2, line 3, after ‘section’, insert

‘127(5) or (as the case may be)’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 1.

Amendment 5, in clause 1, page 2, line 4, after first ‘section’, insert ‘127(5) or’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 1.

Amendment 6, in clause 1, page 2, line 4, after second ‘section’, insert ‘127(5) or’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 1.

Amendment 7, in clause 1, page 2, line 7, after ‘Registrar’, insert

‘decides not to refuse the application for an extension of the person’s registration or (as the case may be)’.

This amendment would provide for a suspension relating to an application to extend an instructor’s registration under s127(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (‘RTA 1988’) to end where the Registrar decides not to refuse that application.

Amendment 8, in clause 1, page 2, line 8, after ‘decides’, insert

‘to refuse the application for an extension of the person’s registration or (as the case may be)’.

This amendment would provide for a suspension relating to an application to extend an instructor’s registration under s127(1) of the RTA 1988 to end where the Registrar refuses that application but the decision has not taken effect and the instructor successfully appeals it.

Amendment 9, in clause 1, page 2, line 11, after ‘decided’, insert

‘whether to refuse the application for an extension of the person’s registration or (as the case may be)’.

This amendment would provide for a suspension relating to an application to extend an instructor’s registration under s127(1) of the RTA 1988 to end where the Registrar fails to decide whether to refuse that application within 75 days of serving a notice under section 127(5) of that Act.

Amendment 10, in clause 1, page 2, line 13, after ‘section’, insert ‘127(5) or’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 9.

Amendment 11, in clause 2, page 3, line 13, after ‘Registrar’, insert

‘decides not to refuse the application for an extension of the person’s registration or (as the case may be)’.

This amendment would extend the circumstances in which compensation may be payable to those where the Registrar suspends an instructor pending a decision in respect of an application made under s127(1) of the RTA 1988, but then decides not to refuse that application.

Amendment 12, in clause 2, page 3, line 16, after ‘Registrar’, insert

‘to refuse the application for an extension of the person’s registration or (as the case may be)’.

This amendment would extend the circumstances in which compensation may be payable to those where the Registrar suspends an instructor pending a decision in respect of an application made under s127(1) of the RTA 1988 and subsequently decides to refuse that application, but the instructor successfully appeals that decision.

Amendment 13, in clause 2, page 3, line 19, after ‘Registrar’, insert

‘to refuse the application for an extension of the person’s registration or (as the case may be)’.

This amendment would limit compensation so that, where the Registrar decides to refuse the instructor’s application under s127(1) of the RTA 1988 and that decision is successfully appealed after taking effect, it may only relate to any suspension imposed in relation to the application.

Amendment 20, in schedule 1, page 7, line 13, at end insert—

‘2A After subsection (8) of section 127 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (extension of duration of registration) insert—

“(9) Sections 128(7A) to (7G) and 131A apply in relation to suspending a person’s registration in connection with an application under subsection (1) above as if the references in sections 128(7A) to (7G) and 131A to—

(a) a notice under section 128(4) were references to a notice under subsection (5) above, and

(b) the removal of the person’s name from the register were (or, in the case of section 128(7E)(d), included) references to the refusal of the person’s application for the retention of the person’s name in the register.”’.

This amendment would enable the Registrar to suspend a person’s registration while considering an application under s127(1) of the RTA 1988 (as it currently has effect, without the substitution of that section by Schedule 6 to the Road Safety Act 2006). Provisions relating to compensation would also apply.

Amendment 21, in schedule 1, page 8, line 8, at end insert—

‘4A After subsection (8) of section 129 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (as it has effect without the omission of that section by Schedule 6 to the Act of 2006) (licences for giving instruction so as to obtain practical experience) insert—

“(9) Sections 130(7) to (13) and 131A apply in relation to suspending a person’s licence in connection with an application for a new licence in substitution for a licence current at the date of the application as if—

(a) the references in sections 130(7) to (13) and 131A to—

(i) a notice under section 130(3) were references to a notice under subsection (7) above,

(ii) the revocation of the licence were (except in section 130(11)(d)) references to the refusal of the person’s application for a new licence, and

(iii) the decision not being in effect were references to the decision not being in effect because the licence has not expired, and

(b) section 131A(3), and the words “(whether or not the Registrar’s decision has taken effect)” in section 131A(2)(b), were omitted.”’.

This amendment would enable the Registrar to suspend a person’s licence while considering their application for a new licence in substitution for a current licence under s129 of the RTA 1988 (without its omission by Schedule 6 to the Road Safety Act 2006). Provisions relating to compensation would also apply.

Amendment 26, in schedule 2, page 9, line 35, at end insert—

‘Section 127(9).’.

This amendment is consequential on amendment 20. When the amendments to the RTA 1988 made by Schedule 6 to the Road Safety Act 2006 are brought into force, the transitory amendment of the RTA 1988 as it currently has effect will need to be repealed.

Amendment 27, in schedule 2, page 9, line 36, at end insert—

‘Section 129(9).’.

This amendment is consequential on amendment 21. When the amendments to the RTA 1988 made by Schedule 6 to the Road Safety Act 2006 are brought into force, the transitory amendment of the RTA 1988 as it currently has effect will need to be repealed.

Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Wilshire, in debating this important Bill, which we are pleased to support. The amendments are necessary to enable the suspension power to operate effectively. The Bill as published makes changes to the regulatory scheme for driving instructors set out in the Road Traffic Act 1988. At present, there are two main categories of regulated driving instructors who are entitled to give paid driving tuition: fully qualified, approved driving instructors, who are registered; and partially qualified trainee driving instructors, who are licensed. Trainee instructors can give paid driving instruction in order to gain practical experience in giving instruction, with a view to taking the final examination to become a fully approved driving instructor.

Both registrations and licences are administered by the registrar of approved driving instructors, an employee of the Driving Standards Agency. At present, if it becomes necessary to revoke an instructor’s permission to give paid instruction, either by removing their name from the register or by revoking their licence, the registrar must follow the statutory processes set out in the 1988  Act. Those processes take 45 days or more to complete, during which time the instructor may continue to give paid instruction. In certain circumstances, that is inappropriate and dangerous, so the Bill will give the registrar the power to suspend a driving instructor, with immediate effect, while he completes the statutory process revoking their permission to give paid driving instruction. The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife highlighted the issue when the Bill was introduced.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

Following on from what the Minister just said, will he confirm that he envisages that the Bill’s powers of suspension will be used only in the most serious cases?

Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Absolutely. That is certainly the intention. The Bill states that the registrar should use the powers only accordingly and where he or she believes that it is a danger to the public for the person to be allowed to continue giving tuition while a case is investigated.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

The amendments are useful. Having come from the teaching profession, and having held the elected position of president of a region in Scotland, it is clear that, in that profession, there are such things as malicious accusations that can run for a considerable time and disrupt a teacher’s career. What safeguards are there to ensure that the suspension process will not lead to such malicious accusations being made and the disruption of someone’s career by unfounded allegations?

Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

In terms of the provisions, it is for the registrar to use his or her judgment on the revocations made. We are talking about the most serious cases. The overriding need is to protect the general public from individuals who may be a danger, as has been highlighted by the case of the constituent of the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife, but there is a provision within the arrangements to make compensation available for loss of earnings and for damage to reputation.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

The case that brought the issue to the public’s attention involved a conviction that did not result in a custodial sentence, which is a loophole that has been identified by the Bill. Does the Minister envisage that there will be cases where people will have to be suspended when charged or arrested, rather than waiting for a conviction?

Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We have been talking about the use of the supervision power when a conviction is already in place. I do not envisage that the provision will be used in the way that he describes.

Returning to the amendments, as I have already indicated in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, the Bill provides for a compensation scheme, providing payments to suspended instructors where the registrar does not subsequently remove their permission to give paid instruction, or where they have successfully appealed against the revocation.

The Road Safety Act 2006 makes some significant changes to the regulatory scheme for driving instructors, which have not yet been commenced. In particular, the  Act will abolish the licensing system for trainee instructors and will introduce a new system of exemptions from regulation. The Bill therefore makes changes to the system as it stands and to the way in which it will have effect once the 2006 Act is fully commenced. The Bill ensures that the new suspension power remains available under the new regulatory scheme, as well as the existing one.

The amendments will enable the registrar to suspend instructors not only where he or she intends to revoke their registration or licence, but where an instructor has applied for renewal of their authorisation to instruct. Suspension will be possible only where the registrar considers the application for renewal; where the registrar is minded to refuse their application; and where he or she believes that the instructor poses a significant threat to public safety that merits suspension. The amendments apply both to the current regulatory regime as set out in the Road Traffic Act 1988, and to the new regulatory regime to be introduced by the 2006 Act, once it is fully commenced.

The amendments also alter the compensation scheme in paragraph 5 of schedule 1 for the existing regulatory scheme, and in clause 3 for the new regulatory scheme to be introduced under the 2006 Act. The amendments provide for instructors who are suspended pending the registrar’s decision on their renewal or extension application to be compensated, and provide for the circumstances where the application is subsequently granted, or where instructors have successfully appealed against a refusal to grant.

The amendments clarify how the removal, revocation, renewal and extension procedures work together. In the Bill as drafted, there may be uncertainty about how an instructor’s application to extend their registration may affect an ongoing procedure to remove their name from the register, or how an application to renew a licence affects a revocation process. The amendments make it clear that suspension is available in all cases, and that it is safeguarded by compensation where appropriate.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr. Wilshire. I also congratulate the Minister on his survival following the reshuffle.

Credit is due to the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife, for his tenacity in promoting the Bill. It is an example of how parliamentary democracy should work when a case brought to the attention of a constituency Member by a constituent results in a private Member’s Bill getting to this stage of the process. I am pleased that Her Majesty’s official Opposition support the Bill, and I hope that it quickly gets on to the statute book.

We should be clear from the start that the legislation will apply to only a small number of approved driving instructors. The vast majority of the 40,000 driving instructors who teach our young people and others to drive are fit and proper people to carry out that role. The legislation might be needed in a very small number of cases.

We have a responsibility to protect learner drivers, especially as many of them are young. The fact that we use the word “approved” driving instructor, means that we can expect the person in question to meet certain  standards. As the Minister has said, we have an obligation to driving instructors to consider their appeals as quickly as possible. If those appeals are successful, compensation will be paid.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk raised the issue of vexatious or malicious claims, but I think that we have got the balance right. In other cases, such as those of teachers or people who drive school buses, if a malicious allegation is made, the person often finds that they are suspended for a considerable period. There was a case in my constituency of a school bus driver who, it was alleged, had paedophile information on his computer. It turned out that that was a malicious allegation and that there was nothing on the computer. However, because of the backlog in police computer forensics, it was more than six months before that person could commence work again.

In the present case we have got the balance right, and I say that for two reasons. First, we are generally dealing with young adults. The youngest person involved would be 16—a moped rider, perhaps—but the majority will not be as vulnerable as school children or those adults who suffer from mental health conditions that might make them vulnerable. Secondly, if we were to embark on an arrangement in which a person would be suspended when an allegation or an arrest was made, we might be looking at paying compensation for far more than 45 days, which is the duration of the average case.

I have pondered on the matter at length, and I think that we have got the balance right. The justice that we need to deliver for accused driving instructors and the protection that we must give to young people have both been covered. I am pleased that we can support the amendments, and I hope that the Bill reaches the statute book as quickly as possible.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

We are all gathered here today to support and pay tribute to the work of the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife in promoting the Bill. I agree with the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby that this is an excellent example of a case that was raised at a local level turning into legislation in Parliament that Members on all sides can support.

A instructor or teacher—I spent 14 years of my life as a teacher—has a duty of care to the person whom they are instructing or teaching. If they breach that duty, they cause a great problem not only for themselves but for those who wish to use and deliver the services. As has been said, the horrendous case that was explained to me by the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife is a terrible example of what can happen when someone takes advantage of that position of trust, and it exposed a loophole that we are now going to close.

I commend my hon. Friend the Minister for the way that he has phrased the amendments. Unfortunately, from serial cases of vexatious complaints against teachers, it is clear that often people never recover from such accusations, despite getting a clear judgment in their favour, due to the stigma and, in effect, being put out of the profession for some time. It is important that we protect the people affected by such complaints, but the balance must obviously be in favour of the person who puts their trust in the individual who offers to instruct them.

If there are any predatory people in the profession, hopefully the Bill will send a clear signal that they will be dealt with severely. If, however, at any time the legislation is used wrongly, the individual can be assured that they will be recompensed properly. I am therefore very happy to support the Bill, and I commend the efforts of the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee 9:45 am, 17th June 2009

It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr. Wilshire. It seems that I usually find you in the chair in the Smoking Room, so it is good to see you in harness in a different venue.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

Order. I just want to prove that I can stand up straight at this time in the morning. If I could ask the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw that, I would, but it is now on record.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I was not in any way implying that you were inebriated, Mr. Wilshire, but just that you are generous about buying your round when you are in the Smoking Room.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

Order. This is getting worse—I do not think it has anything to do with the Bill. If we can get back to the Bill, it will save me some blushes.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I will get a move on.

I rise not to oppose the Bill or the amendments, but to ask the Minister a number of questions. My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby referred to the scenario of paedophiles being employed as driving instructors. They should be immediately suspended either when an offence is committed or when certain circumstances are discovered, but surely the power of suspension goes wider than such cases. For example, will it include someone who was training to be a driving instructor and all the evidence revealed that they were basically an incompetent tutor and a bad driver? Will the Minister issue any guidance to the registrar about the sort of cases in which he should consider using the power, or will the power be at the total unfettered discretion of the registrar? Some members of the Committee would feel happier knowing that there was some sort of guidance for the registrar in respect the cases for which he ought to consider suspension and those for which he should not.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Chair of Parliamentary Campaigns; Shadow Defence Minister

I thank you, Mr. Wilshire, for the supportive way in which you have chaired this morning’s proceedings. I hope that the rest of the sitting will proceed efficiently.

I accept the Minister’s amendments. Basically, they are about ensuring that no one can avoid suspension by seeking an extension to their registration, which is logical. They will bring clarity to the process of removal from the register.

As has been explained, the Bill is about the 45-day period from when somebody has been convicted to when they can be at least removed from the register. The natural justice process means that one would have to write to the instructor to say that one is intending to  remove them. They then have the right to write back and give their opinion, and then the judgment is made and they have a right to appeal. There is therefore at least 45 days from the point of conviction to when they will at least be removed. That was where Lesley Anne Steele got caught, as the very next day after James McNair Bennett was convicted of the sexual offence on her, he was out teaching a young girl to drive in the very same community.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

Of course, the key point is that the person concerned was put on the sex offenders register, even though he was not given a custodial sentence. That is one of the key elements that the registrar would bear in mind when seeking to suspend someone.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Chair of Parliamentary Campaigns; Shadow Defence Minister

The hon. Gentleman is spot on. The seriousness of the offence has to be taken into consideration, and that is why we need to give the registrar discretion in how he judges whether somebody should be suspended.

The crucial thing, to which the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk and the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire referred, is the seriousness of the case. The registrar will suspend only when the person is on the road to removal anyway, so the decision will already have been made that they should be removed at some point. We are not setting up a different set of standards; we would be using the ones that already exist and under which the process towards removal would be under way. The proposal would ensure that no one in that sphere could operate as a paid driving instructor during the relevant period. The period of time would be closed down so that the person could not operate and pose any threat to the public. Young people tend to be the ones learning to drive and they are most vulnerable, which is why we need to provide extra protection.

The clause will enable the suspension of the instructor’s registration where the registrar is considering termination of that instructor’s registration, or when the instructor had applied for an extension to an existing registration. There might have been a loophole by which an instructor would seek an extension to their registration as a means to avoid suspension. That would be a travesty, were it allowed to happen, which is why the Government’s amendments are appropriate. A suspended instructor will be prevented from giving paid driving instruction while the registrar considers whether to terminate the registration. There will be a time limit. If the DSA does not get its act together and move speedily—within 75 days—there will be a time out and the instructor will be allowed to continue. That is appropriate, as there have to be some safeguards for instructors so that they are not penalised by the pace of the administrative process. I agree with the Minister’s amendments and am glad there have been supportive comments from both sides of the Committee.

Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I will be brief, bearing in mind that there is clearly strong support across the House for the Bill and the amendments in this group. Regarding the comments from the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, it is clear that the registrar will issue guidance for all to see. That comes back to getting the balance right, which was a point picked up by the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk.

We are dealing with the few, as I said when moving the money and Ways and Means resolutions in the Chamber on Monday. The vast majority of driving instructors—whether fully qualified or in training—are fine and fit for purpose. They have an important vocation that they undertake with due seriousness. However, we know there are others, which is why the Bill recognises what Lesley Anne Steele—the constituent of the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife—went through. We hope that there will be no need to use the provisions of the Bill—soon to be an Act—but we owe people such as Lesley Anne Steele protection, when necessary. I will only add that, on conclusion of this Committee stage, we look forward to joining you in the Smoking Room for a drink, Mr. Wilshire.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

It is going to be a long time before I live that one down. I was saying to the Clerk that I do not think that anyone from the Daily Telegraph is here, so perhaps that will not feature.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Amendments made: 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 12, after ‘considering’, insert

‘whether to refuse the application for an extension of the person’s registration or (as the case may be)’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 1.

Amendment 3, in clause 1, page 1, line 13, leave out ‘to terminate the registration’ and insert

‘so to refuse or terminate’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 1.

Amendment 4, in clause 1, page 2, line 3, after ‘section’, insert

‘127(5) or (as the case may be)’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 1.

Amendment 5, in clause 1, page 2, line 4, after first ‘section’, insert ‘127(5) or’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 1.

Amendment 6, in clause 1, page 2, line 4, after second ‘section’, insert ‘127(5) or’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 1.

Amendment 7, in clause 1, page 2, line 7, after ‘Registrar’, insert

‘decides not to refuse the application for an extension of the person’s registration or (as the case may be)’.

This amendment would provide for a suspension relating to an application to extend an instructor’s registration under s127(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (‘RTA 1988’) to end where the Registrar decides not to refuse that application.

Amendment 8, in clause 1, page 2, line 8, after ‘decides’, insert

‘to refuse the application for an extension of the person’s registration or (as the case may be)’.

This amendment would provide for a suspension relating to an application to extend an instructor’s registration under s127(1) of the RTA 1988 to end where the Registrar refuses that application but the decision has not taken effect and the instructor successfully appeals it.

Amendment 9, in clause 1, page 2, line 11, after ‘decided’, insert

‘whether to refuse the application for an extension of the person’s registration or (as the case may be)’.

This amendment would provide for a suspension relating to an application to extend an instructor’s registration under s127(1) of the RTA 1988 to end where the Registrar fails to decide whether to refuse that application within 75 days of serving a notice under section 127(5) of that Act.

Amendment 10, in clause 1, page 2, line 13, after ‘section’, insert ‘127(5) or’.—(Paul Clark.)

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 9.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.