Clause 11 - Financial penalty deposits

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

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Amendmentmoved [this day]:No. 49, in clause 11, page 9, line 26, at end insert—

‘(c)that the motor vehicle is not registered in the United Kingdom, and

(d)that the person is not resident at an address in the United Kingdom or an address in the United Kingdom at which the constable considers it likely that it will be possible to find the person.’.—[Stephen Hammond.]

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Llafur, Rossendale and Darwen

I remind hon. Members that with this we are discussing the following amendments: No. 50, in clause 11, page 9, line 33, leave out subsection (4).

No. 51, in clause 11, page 10, line 7, leave out from ‘in’ to ‘and’ and insert

‘cash, bank-backed funds, debit card, credit card or cleared cheque’.

No. 52, in clause 11, page 10, line 11, leave out

‘in an order made by the Secretary of State’ and insert

‘up to a maximum of £2,500’.’

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport) 1:00, 23 Mawrth 2006

To conclude my earlier remarks, I ask the Minister again why the deposit figure cannot be included in the Bill. If the amount of deposit we are talking about differs from the figure that I have proposed, will he give us a clear explanation why?

Photo of Lee Scott Lee Scott Ceidwadwyr, Ilford North

We were talking about foreign cars in Britain. In my constituency there are many vehicles belonging to builders who come to England with no abode here whatsoever. It would be impossible for the police authorities to find them. A deposit and fine as proposed in the amendment would therefore be beneficial. The owners of such vehicles are not usually citizens of European Union states, so they are difficult to find, and I would be doubtful about the viability of the vehicles on our roads in the first place. I hope that the Minister can answer that.

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

I shall be brief, because my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) has given us a good introduction to the amendments. I want to chip in to support them.

The Minister kindly gave me a written reply in January that showed a spectacular increase in the number of foreign registered vehicles coming to this   country. The number has gone from 671,000 in 1997 up to 1,595,000 in 2004. That highlights some of the problems that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) mentioned.

We wholeheartedly welcome what the Government are trying to do in the clause, although I believe that our amendments would beef it up. It is worth pointing out that the Freight Transport Association also welcomes the moves to fine foreign lorry drivers. It has sent me a memo saying that

“it is not possible to give foreign drivers an endorseable fixed penalty notice and when they are summonsed or issued with a non-endorseable fixed penalty notice, there is no mechanism to ensure that they do not evade punishment by leaving the country.”

The matter has been brought to my attention several times by hauliers in this country, who feel that there is inequity. They feel particularly strongly about regulation, and I wonder whether the Minister could deal with that point. There is a feeling that our haulage industry is better regulated, and that our vehicles are better maintained and more money is spent on them. It may be anecdotal, but there is a gut feeling among our hauliers that the foreign trucks coming into the country are less well maintained. I hope that what we are trying to do today will give the authorities the ability to stop trucks that may not be as well maintained as our domestic fleet.

Generally we support the clause, although I also support our amendments.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

We also welcome the Government’s proposals. We agree about the seemingly innocuous way in which foreign lorry drivers have so far been able to evade the normal penalties faced by our truck drivers. We have no problem with the amendment, as it seems to tidy up and make more explicit what the Government seek to do. I hope that the Minister will accept it.

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

Before I speak to the Opposition amendments, I have an offer to make to Opposition Members that I hope will provide them with some of the reassurance that they sought earlier—in particular, for the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), if he is brave enough to take the offer up. The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency has kindly agreed to take members of the Committee out with it to give them a practical demonstration of how it operates, its training standards and its swinish qualities. [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman may have an enjoyable afternoon with the agency if he wishes to take up that offer. I hope that that reassures Opposition Members.

The purpose of the clause is quite clear. Some people who cannot be issued with a penalty notice simply do not answer their summons. Others do not have a proper address. People from abroad sometimes ignore the penalty notice; they go home and do not pay the fine. That must stop, and we are determined to ensure that it does so. That is why we want to take a deposit from people who the police have reasonable grounds to believe do not have a fixed UK address. Under the amendment, that could happen only to people who are driving a registered foreign vehicle, but such provision   would not deal with people from abroad who are driving a hired vehicle and who would be just as likely to abscond without paying their fine. That is why we feel that the clause should be passed as it stands.

The hon. Member for Wimbledon also asked for details such as the size of any deposit to be stated in the Bill. The idea is that the deposit would be the same as the fine or the fixed penalty. The intention is not merely to ask for a particular sum and then refund people any surplus. The police officer or whoever is taking the deposit will make a judgment as to what the appropriate penalty notice or fine is and take that amount. Clearly if the person involved decides to challenge the accusation and is subsequently found to be innocent they will get their money back. There is no question about that, but the idea is that the officer would take as a deposit the money that would otherwise be paid as a fine.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister may be clarifying the point that I wanted to raise. Let us assume that the decision is challenged in the court or that the offender is someone whose offences tot up to 12 points, and the court imposes a higher sum than the fixed penalty notice. In such cases, would not the police officer potentially want to take a larger deposit?

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

I would hope that ultimately the police will be able to inspect the driver record, which the Committee is happily agreed now will be the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency database. At the point of having the discussion with the motorist, the police will have access to that information and know that the individual has numerous endorsable offences and that the case should automatically go to court.

At present, whatever an individual from abroad has done, he can simply go home and ignore the fine. By introducing a deposit system, we are at least putting in place measures to ensure that people must face the consequences of their actions and pay the fine that is likely to be allocated. Specifying the fine in the Bill would not be appropriate. We are not just talking about speeding tickets. As the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) pointed out, we are also talking about heavy goods vehicles and lorries.

I do not claim that Britain does everything better than everyone else and that foreign vehicles are automatically less well maintained. That is not true. Many foreign vehicles come into this country that are run by perfectly reputable companies and maintained to the highest standards possible. Equally there are some that are not maintained to those high standards, and also some British lorry drivers do not maintain their vehicles to the high standard that we would want.

We have to enforce the rules of roadworthiness with an even hand, irrespective of whose vehicle we are looking at. At the moment we cannot do that, because we know that the only people who will have to pay their fines if they are driving with an unroadworthy vehicle are British hauliers. We are simply creating a system in which people who come from abroad who have not met the standards that we require for our roads will have to pay their fines and deal with the problem.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Opposition Whip (Commons)

We have dealt with fines and deposits, but what about persistent offenders who get so many points that if they had a UK licence, they would lose it? How do we take some of those persistent offenders off the road? The Minister mentioned that the records will now be with the DVLA, but how will the police know how many previous offences a driver has?

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

Is the hon. Gentleman referring to drivers from abroad?

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

That comes back to the point that I made earlier to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire: ultimately, the only way to deal with that problem is for countries to recognise each other’s legal systems and driving licences. Incidentally, I understand that although the thrust of my explanation on that subject earlier was accurate, I may have misled the Committee about which directive was involved. I intend to write to the Committee to clarify that, but the point that I was making is valid.

We need to move to a system in which every country in the EU can access information about drivers in another country, and we need to recognise one another’s driving licences. We need to bring into play a system in which totting-up arrangements and the legal systems of each country are understood, so that we can make sure that penalties and endorsements gained in one country are recognised in another. There is no short-term answer to the problem, I am afraid. It is going to take a very long time. We have to deal as best we can with the immediate problem that we in this country face, and the clause helps us to do that, particularly together with the amendments that we shall soon discuss.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am grateful to the Minister. He has answered the point; the Government are trying to make progress, but obviously it will be difficult to deal with those overseas drivers. What happens if a driver from one of the accession countries—say, Poland, Estonia or Slovenia—commits a very serious offence, such as drunken driving, and the court wants to take him off the road? The Minister has discussed the dimension of fines, deposits and even impounding the vehicle—we will come to that later—but if the court actually wants to take the driver off the road, how does it ensure that that happens, and that a Polish driver working in my constituency does not just borrow a car from a friend and go on driving?

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

I may have to write to the hon. Gentleman to clarify how that would happen. Frankly, under the present arrangements, in which there is no mutual recognition of one another’s driving licences, it would probably be possible for such an individual to continue driving on a driving licence issued in another country. That is certainly a very important factor, and we need to move towards regulating for such situations. That is not what the clause is about, but I give the hon. Gentleman my assurance that I am very worried about the problem. I am keen to push forward on that with EU colleagues.

I now come to the final part of the answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Wimbledon. If a policeman believes that an offence is serious enough to go to court, where a higher fine could be imposed than the deposit, then the deposit that he will ask for will be commensurate with the higher potential fine. So if the individual answers the summons and goes to court and the court imposes a lower fine, clearly we will have to give that individual some of the money back. If the individual does not answer the summons, or if he did and the court imposes a higher fine, we will already have the money in place to be able to deal with the situation.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee 1:15, 23 Mawrth 2006

Will the Minister say something about amendment No. 51 and how he envisages payment being made? When the system is up and running, will a person who is asked for a deposit and who may be anxious to complete his journey but does not have sufficient cash be able to offer a credit or debit card to pay the deposit? Will the vehicle examiner have one of the mobile machines that are now coming on the market on which they can dial up the credit card company to ascertain that the money is there and that the transfer can be made?

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

That is exactly why we want the clause to stand part as it is, without the amendment. We want to be able to prescribe how money can be paid, and we will make that decision according to what is most practical. We may want to start off with cash payments only and, when it becomes possible, move to using mobile credit card collection systems. We may want vehicle inspectors and the police to carry credit card devices with them straight away. We want an opportunity to be able to prescribe by order how the money is paid, and we do not want to be restricted to something that is in the Bill, as suggested by the amendment, which I presume is a probing amendment.

Finally, if a driver from abroad were found to be committing a serious offence such as being drunk in charge of a vehicle and taken to a court in this country, the court would, of course, disqualify him. However, as we do not have mutual recognition of driving licences, he could presumably go home to his own country and carry on driving. The only two EU countries where that will not happen in the future are the United Kingdom and Ireland, which have signed an accord to move towards mutual recognition of disqualification. The sooner we sign similar agreements with the other 23 partner states, the better.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation and for some of his responses on our amendments. I understand why he wishes us not to proceed, and I look forward to learning how he will expand on the methods of payment in particular. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in clause 11, page 12, line 44, at end insert—

‘(8)Schedule (Prohibition on driving: immobilisation, removal and disposal of vehicles) to the Road Safety Act 2006 makes provision about the immobilisation of vehicles the driving of which has been prohibited under this section and about their removal and disposal.’.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Llafur, Rossendale and Darwen

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendment No. 4.

Government amendment No. 11.

Government new clause 4—Prohibition on driving: immobilisation, removal and disposal of vehicles.

Government new schedule 1—Prohibition on driving: immobilisation, removal and disposal of vehicles.

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

When we originally published the Bill, it included the deposit scheme, as we just discussed, but in consulting on how to move forward, many people asked what we would do if the person refused to pay the deposit. Usually, such a person would be from abroad, possibly driving a foreign vehicle, and they may be on their way out of the country. If they refused to pay the deposit in the knowledge that they would not be coming back here, got back into their vehicle and left the country, how would we make them pay it? It was at that point that we decided we had to go further than we originally proposed, so we introduced these changes to the clause to allow the police and others to immobilise a vehicle if for some reason the individual is unable to pay the deposit or is for some reason resistant to paying it.

The offences where immobilisation is appropriate are those where there would be a prohibition on moving the vehicle, such as with an offence of driving an unroadworthy vehicle. The vehicle should not be moved if a policeman has decided that it is unroadworthy. In such a case, we would clearly want to immobilise it. However, if a vehicle were stopped for any other offence, the police asked for a deposit and it was not paid, immobilisation would also be appropriate.

The amendments are relatively straightforward, and I hope that they will have the support of the whole Committee. We have all agreed that the deposit system is an important step forward in enforcing our road rules; the amendments are essential to make it practical and ensure that it can be enforced.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister is right; the amendments will enable the practical implementation of what we all agree should happen.

The Minister spoke about a number of cases of immobilisation, and I should like to be clear on one point: is it the intention that every vehicle stopped should be immobilised until the deposit is paid? My wife always complains that I never have any cash in my wallet, so if payment could be made only in cash, would I—or, say, my foreign cousin—have to get out of the car and walk to a cash machine, or would we be allowed to drive there?

Will every car be immobilised until the driver has physically paid the money to the constable, the VOSA examiner or whoever, or are we saying that we think certain people would refuse to pay? Like the Minister this morning, I could be cynical and think that some people would promise to pay, drive off supposedly to get the money, but not pay.

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

The deposit arrangements would bite only if the officer believed that he might not be able to enforce a fixed penalty or fine in the normal way. As a reputable character with an address, the hon. Gentleman would not be expected to pay the deposit. However, his foreign cousin, who might not have a UK address or be able to give the reassurances, might have to pay it.

I envisage that the police will have discretion in how they handle such matters. If an individual just wanted to go around the corner and take money from the cash machine, the policeman might sit in the car, rather than immobilise it, until they had done so. Equally, if the vehicle was unroadworthy because of a bald tyre, the policeman might think it appropriate, before the driver was allowed to move on, to escort the vehicle around the corner to Kwik-Fit for the tyre to be replaced. So a little discretion will be needed, but immobilising vehicles for all such offences would be a possibility.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

On new schedule 1, will the Minister explain the circumstances in which he envisages that a disabled person will be exempt? If someone drives an unroadworthy vehicle, it should not matter whether they have a disabled badge; their vehicle should be immobilised until the defect is put right.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

It is also fair to say that in certain circumstances a person who lived here and was driving a UK-registered vehicle might be stopped and required to pay a deposit. I am thinking of an itinerant family towing a caravan in a car that is in a dreadful state and whose road tax is out of date. In such circumstances, those people, although British, should be made to pay a deposit. Otherwise, we all know what would happen—they would disappear into the ether.

I want to ask the Minister a couple of questions about the new schedule. On the point made by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen), I presume that the regulations will refer to a valid disabled person’s badge being used by the person to whom it was issued, not merely to a badge on display that was not valid for that particular person. We are considering disabled people. I can understand circumstances in which the person is so severely disabled that if the vehicle were immobilised, that person would also be immobilised.

My main point concerns the removal and disposal of vehicles. The provision is rather vague. There may be nothing sinister about it, but paragraph 4(4) states:

“The regulations may provide that the person into whose custody the vehicle is delivered may dispose of it, and may in particular make provision as to—

(a) the time at which the vehicle may be disposed of, and

(b) the manner in which it may be disposed of.”

Can the Minister assure us that when the regulations are formulated, it is his intention that the vehicle will be disposed of at a fair price? What will happen if a real owner thereafter claims his vehicle, but cannot have it back because it has been disposed of? Does the Minister envisage that fair compensation will be paid in such circumstances?

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

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Rochdale about disabled people. They should have roadworthy vehicles and obey the rules of the road the same as everyone else. We must accept, however, that they are in a different position. The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire put it well when he said that if someone was genuinely disabled and had a blue badge on their car, immobilising the car might well immobilise that person. That may not always happen. The person may be driven by an able-bodied person or it may be possible to make other travel arrangements.However, I would not want to be responsible for a change in the law that meant that an over-zealous officer in the future clamped a disabled person’s vehicle in the middle of nowhere simply because it had a bald tyre, and left the person there. That is not what we are about. We must allow some leeway when dealing with special cases.

I can give the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire the assurance that he seeks about what would happen if a person’s vehicle was disposed of. We would retain the amount that we felt was appropriate to meet the person’s deposit or fine, and he would be entitled to the surplus back. Equally, the person would be entitled to get the property or its value back were it proven that they should not have been stopped in the first place. In any event, that is our intention.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 4, in clause 11, page 13, line 47, at end insert

‘(3)Schedule (Prohibition on driving: immobilisation, removal and disposal of vehicles) makes provision about the immobilisation of vehicles the driving of which has been prohibited and about their removal and disposal.’.— [Dr. Ladyman.]

Clause 11, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.