Draft Department for Transport (Driver Licensing and Vehicle Registration Fees) Order 2003

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Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham): The Liberal Democrats agree in principle with the need for simpler and flatter fee structures, and the Minister and his team deserve some credit for trying to introduce the measure. On charges for the over-70s, I note that in 1999 the Government attempted to raise the fee from £6 to £8.50, but had to beat a hasty retreat. It is therefore good news that they have decided to scrap the fee.

Overall, I am more than happy to support option 1 and the dispensations for licence entitlement additions. I also support the dispensation for costs associated with vocational driving licences. It would be helpful to some bus and lorry companies. It seems from the documents before us that there is general consensus in favour of the order.

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However, some objections are buried within the DVLA website. It is clear that the principle of the order is opposed by the International Powered Access Federation, as it is by the Agricultural Engineers Association and the National Council on Inland Transport. I am sure that the Minister is aware of such opposition. Similarly, it is opposed by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. In a letter to the DVLA, its chief executive, Christopher Macgowan, stated:

    ''The recent proposal from DVLA to increase the fee for first registration has caused considerable concern amongst vehicle manufacturers and their franchise dealers. I am particularly distressed that this proposal should have progressed despite its clear rejection by members of the Modernising Vehicle Registration Implementation Board at its September 2002 meeting.''

That shows the clear consternation felt by the society. Christopher Macgowan was also worried that the costs that will be faced by vehicle manufacturers and dealers in adapting their advertising and marketing materials will also have been borne by those organisations, and that the partial regulatory impact assessment did not even mention that.

The AA Motoring Trust argued that the fees should not be raised, for two reasons. It said that the customer service offered by the DVLA is currently far from state of the art and does not meet many customer needs, and that

    ''new services and systems are promised but it is wholly wrong to raise fees before they are in place.''

I should appreciate it if the Minister could deal with that point. The AA Motoring Trust went on:

    ''Those who flout the rules should pay, and not be subsidised by those who comply.''

It has expressed some genuine concerns. It would like an overarching public information campaign to make the public aware of the changes.

I have a series of questions to ask the Minister. What criteria were used to work out the flat rates? I agree with them in principle, but in the interests of transparency it is important to know how the sums of £38 and £19 were derived. How many jobs does the hon. Gentleman estimate will be lost from car fleet and business car operators, given the £18 million additional costs to those sectors? Clearly, the changes are based on hypothetical and statistical information, but if any excesses are brought about from the fee changes, what will happen to the money? If there are any shortfalls, how will they be made up?

How long will it be before the introduction of the new fees? To make sure that the system is workable, what steps will be taken to build a consensus, given that there are some objections to it? As the AA Motoring Trust commented, how will the DVLA be modernised with more customer-friendly initiatives, such as electronic and telephone licensing? I accept that I will be ruled out of order if I mention identity cards, but will we be back in Committee in 12 months or two years having to review matters, because of a massive hike in the charges as a result of the Government's identity cards proposal?

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9.14 am

Mr. Jamieson: I was running a book earlier on how long it would be before the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) mentioned stealth tax. I said that he would do so in the first 30 seconds of his speech, but he waited for at least two minutes before he referred to it. The fees do not represent a tax of any sort. The order will ensure that the fees charged properly reflect the costs. That is the long and the short of it.

Mr. Chope: If the Minister were consistent in his argument, the costs of the vehicle first registration would not be sufficient in themselves to justify an increase to £38.

Mr. Jamieson: Within the pool, they are. That is why we have a pooling order. We are sharing some of the costs across the pool.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for noting that we have created a sustainable framework for the future. Although both the hon. Member for Christchurch and the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden) tried to raise the issue of identity cards, I assure you, Mr. Cran, that the matter under discussion has nothing to do with identity cards, as you rightly pointed out. I will certainly not go down that road today. The document sets out a number of options, but they are for well into the future and do not relate to the order today.

Mr. Chope: Options are set out, which I do not want to go into—

The Chairman: Order. I will not have another intervention on identity cards. We must get back to the order in question.

Mr. Chope: May I carry on with my intervention?

The Chairman: As long as it is not about identity cards.

Mr. Chope: It is about driving licences, Mr. Cran. Documents that have already been published have made apparent the Government's policy on the incorporation of new technology into driving licence photographs. Surely the Minister can address the cost implications arising from that policy announcement.

Mr. Jamieson: That is a much better question. Part of the reason why the fees are being adjusted is to recognise changes in technology and to make licences far more secure, thus giving people a better service and driving down crime. The type of technology that we are introducing will make the production of illegal and forged licences much more difficult in the future. Unfortunately, that has a cost, which must be borne somewhere. It is modest, but a cost it is.

The hon. Member for Christchurch asked about the first registration fee and said that that would go up to £100. That is clearly not the case. In the past five years, there has been no increase in the £25 charge. That charge will now go up to £38. There is no intention to impose any huge extra increases. The hon. Gentleman welcomed the reduction of the fee for those of 70 years and above, who now get a free licence renewal. There is also a £3 reduction for those getting their first licence—younger drivers, mainly. The first provisional

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entitlement for vocational licences was £29, but will be free from now on. That takes account of some of the problems of the transport industry in finding suitable people to drive buses and lorries.

To answer the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, we have placed the burden heavily on those who break the law. People who have had their licences revoked or who have been disqualified will pay substantially more to have their licences returned. That is the right balance—the pensioners gain and those who break the law pay more. That is absolutely right.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): On the issue of breaking the law, last weekend I had the sad experience of somebody smashing the window of my car and rifling the glove compartment. Most people carry their vehicle documents in the glove compartment to prove that the vehicle is theirs if they are stopped by the police. There seems to be no dispensation to cover the theft of the vehicle registration document. Usually, if a person produces a police certificate to show that they have been robbed of something, they can claim insurance on it. Will there be dispensation for the replacement of a stolen vehicle registration document? Or will the victim be penalised twice—once by the theft, and a second time by being charged by the DVLA?

Mr. Jamieson: I am afraid that the charge for a replacement licence will increase from £17 to £19. It is generally unwise to leave the documentation inside a vehicle. It would be better if a driving licence, or any other documents relating to a vehicle, were kept away from it. There is a large cost involved and many people carelessly lose their documents. I shall, however, consider what my hon. Friend said about people whose documents are stolen. I agree that those may be stolen in a house burglary. The trend these days is for burglars to go into a house, steal the car keys, rather than the video recorder, and take the car.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham generally welcomed the order. I am grateful for his support on vocational licences and pensioners. A wide range of views was expressed in the consultation. There was very little opposition to the idea of pooling, but the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that organisations will be mindful of their own interests

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and express their views accordingly. That is what the consultation is for.

When considering the removal of the £6 cost to pensioners of a new licence, the extra £13 on a new vehicle, which could cost £6,000, £20,000 or £40,000, is not too large in relation to such a capital sum. Having carefully weighed matters up and considered where we ought to put the cost, it is, on balance, probably better borne by those who are most able to afford it—those who are incurring a capital cost by purchasing a new vehicle.

I do not anticipate that any jobs will be lost. We still have a thriving economy, and the car market is doing well. Any excess in the fund would be carried forward and reflected in any future bid for an increase or decrease in fees. As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, the DVLA usually has to come back to the House on negative resolution if it wants to increase or alter fees, thereby giving the Opposition an opportunity to pray against such measures. Equally, any shortfall would have to be addressed in the next year. The DVLA cannot put its hand into a pot of taxpayers' money and suddenly find more cash if there is a shortfall or inefficiency.

The measure will be introduced as soon as the House has deliberated and the order is signed. We try to build consensus and listen carefully to the AA and many other bodies to ensure that we consider their views.

Mr. Chope: In his response to my first intervention, the Minister said that he would deal with the matter of renewals.

Mr. Jamieson: I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I should have dealt with that matter first. No fee is proposed for the 10-year renewal of photo driving licences.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Department for Transport (Driver Licensing and Vehicle Registration Fees) Order 2003.

Committee rose at twenty-three minutes past Nine o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Cran, Mr. James (Chairman)
Best, Mr.
Betts, Mr.
Blizzard, Mr.
Chope, Mr.
Coffey, Ann
Connarty, Mr.
Field, Mr.
Jamieson, Mr.
Marsden, Mr.
Stewart, Ian
Twigg, Derek

 
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Prepared 13 November 2003