Clause 10 - All drivers

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:00 am ar 23 Mawrth 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister referred to this set of clauses as a whole in his opening remarks on the amendments tackled under clause 8, but I want to pick him up on one or two things that he said then, because I understand that they should rightly be dealt with under clause 10.

The clause introduces the new system of endorsement that we have talked so much about this morning. It is based on the inspection of the driving record rather than the counterpart. As I understand the clause, and as the Minister has made clear, the counterpart is currently a legal document, but will cease to exist as one. In attempting to clarify what will happen for their lordships, the Government spokesman in the other place said:

“in place of the counterpart ... there will be a document containing information useful to a driver”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 27 June 2005; Vol. 673, c. 62.]

Is the counterpart being replaced, and if so, exactly what is replacing it? Am I right in thinking that whatever replaces it will not be a legal document? Exactly what information will be held on it? We have touched on the way in which it will be updated and changed, but some questions remain open about exactly how the system will work, and I am keen to hear the answers. Will there be a replacement to the counterpart for every driver and how will the driver be notified of the changes? How will the driver be able to correct the information, if it is erroneous, on the   record or on the non-legal document that is given to him? Under the present system, all of that is relatively obvious, but it is not clear how it will work under the new system. If there is a document or record for each driver, will there be electronic access to it? From what the Minister said, there clearly will be, so we will need to debate potential misuse.

On Tuesday night we tackled a number of amendments on the clause, and the misgivings that we had then have not receded. In spite of the Minister’s assurances, we remain extremely concerned about the extension of Vehicle and Operator Services Agency examiners’ powers. Is it necessary? There is little evidence that VOSA examiners have had training to the standard of the police laid down in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 on the rules of evidence or the necessary contemporaneous notes. As we said, we believe that VOSA examiners should be able to stop a vehicle and prevent it from driving on the roads, but we are reluctant to accept the Minister’s reasons for changing the status quo.

Let us say that it is a dark night and someone out there in overalls is trying to flag down a vehicle, which has a lady driver. If somebody steps out into the middle of the road and tries to flag her down, she will not recognise them as officialdom or authority and may understandably be cautious about stopping. In those circumstances, I would be too. Under the current system, vehicles are usually flagged down by the police. They are then inspected by VOSA examiners, who do their job and are accredited, as the Minister said, under his regulations. The police then issue, or not, the fixed penalty notice.

I ask the Minister to reconsider what he said about how it would pervert the clause and his purpose if VOSA examiners could not issue fixed penalty points. Opposition Members accept their power to stop a vehicle and prevent it from moving on, but we remain extremely uneasy about extending their powers. I ask the Minister to think again about that, and I should be grateful for any reassurance that he can give on my questions about the replacement document.

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

I shall deal first with the replacement document. The hon. Gentleman is right: if the Bill is passed, the counterpart will have no legal standing. In theory, therefore, when the DVLA sends an individual a driving licence, it could send simply the piece of plastic in an envelope, with nothing else in it. Clearly it would not be good business practice to send a piece of plastic with no explanation of what it was or how it was to be used. We would need to send people a holder for it, it needs to be held in the envelope and it needs some explanatory material. That explanatory material will have no legal standing. However, we will ensure that, in essence, it is the same information as that currently carried on the counterpart, so the individual will know what categories of vehicle they are entitled to drive, when they reach the age when the licence must be renewed and what endorsements are on the licence.

The endorsements will not be marked on the piece of plastic: they will be held on a computer somewhere else. Therefore, when the police want to check the endorsements, they will have to use the piece of plastic   to obtain the information that they need to access the remote database. It is important that people have a piece of paper that says what their endorsements are. Whenever they get new ones and the driving record is changed, we will ensure that we write to tell them that that has happened.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I think I understood the Minister correctly. We were talking about the piece of plastic that we will all have. Is it now the Government’s intention that it will be necessary for someone to have it with them when driving?

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

No more than it is currently the practice that we require people to have their driving licence with them when driving. Some people do and some do not. The police will be able to require people to present it to them at some point in the future. However, my personal view is that people would be best advised to keep it with them when driving, because as they will not have to have the counterpart with it, it will be a much more convenient document. It will help to facilitate the police’s work should they ever need to see it. It will also mean that the police do not think that someone is the sort of person who might not have a fixed address. They might be inclined to want a deposit from someone or to immobilise their car if for some reason they suspected that that person was not all that they said they were. It would be helpful for people to have the card with them, but we will not make that compulsory, and have no intention to do so, any more than it is currently compulsory to carry one’s driving licence.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

Will the driver have the right, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 or any other Act, to look at his record? He might take the view that the explanatory piece of paper, which has no legal standing, might not be compatible with his record. He might want to verify that the DVLA is keeping an accurate record of what points are recorded against him. Will it be possible for a motorist to request to see the original record held on him?

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

I might be about to get myself into trouble, because I am unsure whether I have announced this publicly and told Parliament about it in the proper way. The Department for Transport and the DVLA are keen for there to be electronic access to all records.

The right hon. Gentleman will doubtless have renewed his car tax many times—11 times, I think, in his particular case. I hope that some of the vehicles he has to renew the tax on in the future will benefit from the Budget. I suspect most of them will not, but never mind. He can now renew his car tax online for vehicles that are less than three years old. I realise that many of his vehicles are heritage vehicles and therefore he will not be able to do that until they have a valid MOT. By the end of this financial year—this month—every MOT centre will be computerised and the MOTs will also be online. Soon, everyone will be able to renew their car tax online without ever going to a post office or touching a piece of paper.

We intend that people should also be able to amend and deal with their driving records in exactly the same way. I have asked questions of my officials about security arrangements. I need to convince myself that only the individual who holds the driving licence will be able to get electronic access to their driving record. Once I am convinced about that, that is what we intend to do. Everyone will be able to see their driving record and their endorsements online, just as they can see their vehicle details online. I hope that answers the right hon. Gentleman’s question.

Let us move on to VOSA. Before I address the points made by the hon. Member for Wimbledon, may I say something to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire? On Tuesday, I think he used the expression “swinish followers”. It was entirely jocular and we all took it as good natured. However, there was a spokesman from VOSA in the gallery listening to his comments. The organisation is entirely professional and would not take umbrage to that comment in any way, shape or form. However, if I were him, I would make sure that all my 15 vehicles were thoroughly roadworthy

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee 10:15, 23 Mawrth 2006

I was not seeking to be gratuitously offensive. A person might be an ace vehicle examiner who knows the construction and use regulations backwards, but he may be swinishly ignorant of the rules of evidence. He may not have the expertise of a police officer when dealing with a member of the public. I hope that I never have first-hand experience of knowing whether that is true.

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

I am sure that most members of the Committee understood what the right hon. Gentleman was getting at. If examiners are now checking the roads of East Yorkshire for heritage Bentleys more assiduously than previously, I am sure that it has nothing to do with his comments.

I say to the right hon. Gentleman and to the hon. Member for Wimbledon that such people are trained in the rules of evidence. They have to collect the evidence and use the same procedures to take something through the legal system—to issue fixed penalties or go through the court—as the police. I have no reason to believe that their training is any one wit less than that given to a police officer. They are excellent vehicle examiners and excellently trained in the procedures necessary to gather evidence and issue penalty notices. They use high-visibility Ford Galaxy vans with automatic number plate reading equipment, light-bars and variable messaging facilities to carry out mobile stopping exercises. They are uniformed, police trained and accredited. Frankly, I do not know what more I can do to give hon. Members the reassurance that they seek, other than to say that I am personally absolutely satisfied that there is no question but that they have received the appropriate training needed to do the job thoroughly and professionally, and with every bit the same level of accuracy as the police.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I thank the Minister for his comments. We shall give the matter further thought. As we said on Tuesday, we may wish to re-examine it on Report.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3 agreed to.