Clause 22 - Offence of keeping vehicle which does not meet insurance requirements

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:45 pm ar 28 Mawrth 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport) 4:45, 28 Mawrth 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 64, in clause 22, page 27, line 20, at end insert—

‘(d)at the relevant time the vehicle has a Statutory Off Road Notification.’.

I am aware of your stricture, Sir Nicholas, that we should move a little faster this afternoon. After the two important debates on clauses 20 and 21, I am sure that the Committee will be able to proceed with some speed.

Amendment No. 64 is a probing amendment. The offence is keeping a vehicle that does not meet insurance requirements. Keepers will not commit any offence if the vehicle is kept off the road, and rightly so. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire has spoken several times in this Committee about his fleet of cars. I have no doubt that at any one time some of them are off the road.

As I understand it, keepers will have filled out a statutory off-road notice in most cases, but some vehicles may have been off the road since before January 1998 and therefore the owners will not have completed a SORN. The amendment proposes an exemption if someone has a SORN. Although it is the Government’s intention that that exemption should exist, it is not in the Bill. I would be grateful if the Minister clarified that.

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

I understand what the hon. Gentleman is trying to achieve with the amendment, but it is not necessary to put that exemption in the Bill as it will be included in regulations. I give him an absolute assurance that as long as someone has declared their vehicle to be off-road and obtained a SORN for it, they will not be liable for any penalty.

The hon. Gentleman’s other amendment would increase the penalty from £100 to £1,000 and three penalty points—

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

Order. That amendment comes in a moment or two—and I hope that it will be a moment or two.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

With those assurances from the Minister, we shall look forward to ensuring that the exemption is included in the regulations. I accept his assurances and beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move amendment No. 65, in clause 22, page 28, line 37, leave out ‘£100’ and insert

‘£1,000 and 3 penalty points.’.

The amendment addresses what is potentially quite a serious offence. We are concerned about people who habitually break the law and try to kid the authorities or the insurance companies. They are not slip-of-the-mind offenders or offenders with mitigating circumstances.

Five per cent. of drivers on the roads today do not bother with insurance. Those drivers are 10 times more likely to be convicted of drink driving, six times more likely to be convicted of unsafe driving, and three times more likely to be convicted of driving without due care and attention. I contend that if they are prepared to do those things, they are equally likely to be keepers of vehicles without insurance, so let us catch them before they go on the roads and drive.

Driving without third party insurance attracts a £5,000 fine and six to eight penalty points at the moment. The Bill proposes a fixed penalty of £100 and a fine of £1,000 if prosecuted. That is simply not enough. The people the Minister wants to catch are precisely those we should be catching so that we can improve road safety. They keep their vehicles without insurance and if they can get away with it they drive them without insurance. The fine is too low, not a deterrent and is often less than the insurance payment. Let us make the fine worth something.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport 5:00, 28 Mawrth 2006

Nobody will out-bid me on the need to be tough with uninsured drivers. In my view, uninsured drivers should ultimately see their vehicles going into the crusher and our only debate should be whether the drivers should be in them at the time. However, to reach that position we must catch people and to catch them we must create the new offence that we shall discuss when we come to the stand part debate. You may allow me, Sir Nicholas, to anticipate that debate by saying that we are creating a new offence of keeping an uninsured vehicle that has not been declared to be off the road. By doing that, we will be able to check even more thoroughly from the record than at present. We will know whose cars are registered and whether they are off the road, and we will be able to check the electronic insurance database and to find out whether they are uninsured. We will know in future whether they are taxed. We will be able to do all that without even requiring a policeman to go out and see someone.

The penalty for the offence has been set at a relatively low level because we are not changing the importance of not driving without insurance. The penalty will remain at a £5,000 fine and six to eight points to reflect the seriousness of driving without insurance. We have just had a debate about the serious risks to other road users from driving without insurance.

The consequence of the hon. Gentleman’s amendment to increase the penalty from £100 to £1,000 and three penalty points strikes me as disproportionate. If someone were guilty of a momentary lapse of concentration, as we discussed earlier, and simply forgot to issue the off-road notice but the vehicle was not being driven on a public road and was standing on their path, the hon. Gentleman would fine them £1,000 and impose three points. I am sure that the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire declares all his 15 vehicles off-road if they are, but if he   did not he would incur a fine of £15,000 and 45 points. That might be a reason to accept the amendment, but I suspect that most people would judge that to be a bit over the top. I strongly recommend that the hon. Member for Wimbledon stick with our figure of £100.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

During the previous debate, the Minister argued that a slip of the mind would allow mitigating circumstances to be considered. Surely a slip of the mind for a SORN would also allow mitigating circumstances. If he is so keen on people not driving without insurance, this is the preventive measure that would allow him to be that tough. This is the amendment that would say, “You habitually fail to apply for insurance and you keep your vehicle off the road without insurance with the intent of driving.”

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

The penalty of £100 will be a fixed penalty. We hope that it will be sufficient to prod the significant number of habitual non-payers of insurance to think better of it in future. We also hope that it will catch those who are not habitual non-payers of insurance, but are conveniently lax about when they renew and take advantage of the fact that they do not need an insurance certificate until the next time they renew their car tax. The penalty will also target those who take the view that they need insurance only long enough to tax a car, and who cash in the tax and continue to drive without insurance or tax.

In my view, £100 is the appropriate penalty for what is essentially a paper offence; the more serious offence of taking the car on to the road will attract much higher penalties. The hon. Gentleman will see later that schedule 4 specifies the circumstances under which it will be possible to immobilise or take away people’s vehicles. [Interruption.] I am delighted that the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire has returned to his seat in time to hear his hon. Friend propose that he should be liable for 45 penalty points and £15,000 in fines. He will be able to ally himself with me on this amendment.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

My right hon. Friend will have done the right thing and made his SORN declarations, which I mentioned in my opening remarks.

I hear what the Minister says, although I am surprised at the level at which the Government have set the fine. It is not even as much as the average insurance premium, which might have been a more appropriate level. Should the Government wish to rethink that and come back with an increased fine for the offence, they would have Conservative support. However, I have listened to the Minister and do not wish to delay the Committee any further and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.