Road Safety Bill [Lords]

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New Clause 5

Compulsory surrender of old-form licences
‘(1) In the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c.52), after section 98 insert—
“98A Compulsory surrender of old-form licences
(1) The Secretary of State may by order require the holders of licences of a specified description, or any specified description of the holders of such licences, to surrender the licences and their counterparts to the Secretary of State.
(2) An order under this section may specify as the description of licences to be surrendered—
(a) licences which are not in the form of a photocard, or
(b) licences in the form of a photocard of a description no longer specified by the Secretary of State as a form in which licences are granted.
(3) An order under this section must specify the date by which the licences to which it relates (and their counterparts) are to be surrendered; and may specify different dates in relation to different descriptions of licence holders.
“RTA section 98A(7)
Driving licence holder failing to surrender licence and counterpart.
Section 6 of this Act.”
(3) In Part 1 of Schedule 2 to that Act (prosecution and punishment of offences: offences under the Traffic Acts), after the entry relating to section 96 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c.52) insert—
“RTA section 98A(7).
Driving licence holder failing to surrender licence and counterpart.
Level 3 on the standard scale.
[Dr. Ladyman.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Dr. Ladyman: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government new clause 6—Fee for renewal of photocard licence and issue of certain alternative licences.
Dr. Ladyman: We are making good progress, and I hope that we can continue to do so.
Government new clauses 5 and 6 return to the Bill two clauses that were removed in the Lords. I like to think that that was because the Lords were mistaken in their intent, and that had they heard my arguments, they would not have done so. I hope that the Committee will agree to put them back in.
The fact is that there are in circulation not just photocard licences—licences with drivers’ pictures on them, each accompanied by a piece of paper establishing the driver’s details and any endorsements that he carries—but licences held by people who have never received a photocard. They have only paper licences and, therefore, have no photographic identification to establish that they may drive particular vehicles, which can present the police with considerable problems. When they stop somebody and are presented with a perfectly valid driving licence in the form of a piece of paper, they have no way of determining whether the person handing them that piece of paper is the person who is entitled to that driving licence.
It was our intention that the Bill would enable us to require, at various points in the future, the return of those paper driving licences, and the issuing in their place of photo ID card-type licences. Their lordships, mistakenly, I can assure the Committee and them if they are listening, thought that that might be a cunning plot to introduce the ID card by the back door, so they removed these clauses from the Bill. I assure the Committee that it was not an attempt to do any such thing. The driving licence is not designated as a document that one cannot receive without having first applied for an ID card. This is a sensible measure to improve law enforcement and to ensure that somebody who presents a driving licence is the holder of that licence.
As well as allowing the Government to charge for the process of changing licences at various times in the future, the clause will give the Government the power, if the licence changes again, to require people once again to submit their old licences in exchange for new-format ones. If, for instance, we decide in future to add a further security device to the driving licence, to make it even more secure and to try to improve the integrity of the database, as the hon. Member for North Shropshire requested, we will be able to do that under these new powers. In addition, the Committee agreed earlier that the paper part of the driving licence—the so-called counterpart—is no longer the legal document. In fact, the database of the DVLA will be the legal document for enforcement purposes in future.
One of the things that we will be able to do will be to require people to return their old paper licences, and to receive photo ID card-type licences. We will also be able to require people to return their existing photo ID card-type licences and to receive in return licences that include information about endorsements and so on—if that is what we wish to do—and to get rid of the counterpart. These are sensible measures. They will improve road safety and the enforcement of driving licences, and will help the police immeasurably. They will also help to improve the integrity of the DVLA database and they are in no way a Trojan horse that will allow ID cards to be introduced without the approval of Parliament.
Mr. Paterson: The new clause was given a thorough airing in another place, where there were real fears that it was a Trojan horse for identity cards. My main concern is that this will be a huge task. We have already discussed the burden that the DVLA has because of the way that it is constituted, and we established that it is not 100 per cent. accurate. We also established the difficulty in other countries of getting an accurate database.
I am not sure what the gain will be, although it is clear that the establishment of a valid, water-tight database is important. My worry is that we will go to huge efforts regurgitating data from that vast majority of law-abiding people whose records are not out of order. There will be a titanic administrative task, but in the meantime my party’s fears about what we call the hard core—that small group of people who have come up again and again in our debates, who are outside the law, who drive uninsured and without MOTs or licences—will not be addressed. Those are the people whom we should be after.
My worry about the proposal is that it will involve an enormous administrative effort by the DVLA to change everyone’s paper licence when well over 98 or 99 per cent. of people are thoroughly law abiding. Their records are in order and they will not cause a problem. I wonder how many staff will be involved in the exercise. Will the DVLA engage a whole new section? Will it have a new budget? How long will the process take?
We detect the hidden hand of the European Union, which has taken competence in this area. It proposes that licences should be renewed every 10 years for drivers up to the age of 65 of mopeds, motor cycles, cars and light vans, and every five years for drivers of medium and large goods vehicles, mini-buses, buses and coaches. It has been said that the proposed new measure will have the potential for administrative and customer service advantages, and that it would facilitate greater accuracy of the record and of the data on the licence. That may be right, once the DVLA gets to dry land, but it will be an enormous exercise getting there.
I would like the Minister to comment, first, on the mechanics—how this will be done, how many people will be involved, how long it will take—and, secondly, on the Commission’s proposal that licences should be changed every 10 years for those up to 65. In fact, the recommendation is that they should be changed every five years for drivers over 65 of mopeds, motorcycles, cars and light vans, and every year for drivers over 65 of medium and large goods vehicles, mini-buses, buses and coaches. That will lead to an enormous churning of data about people who act within the law. They are not the bad lads whom we should be trying to catch. I would be grateful if the Minister would comment on that before we pass judgment on the new clause.
Dr. Ladyman: The proposal certainly will involve a huge task—there is no question about that. The intention is that the DVLA will deal with it as a one-off exercise over two years. We estimate that in 2008 there will be some 13 million paper licences still in circulation that will have to be changed over the two-year period.
The new licences will not be free. A small charge will have to be made for them, and that is covered in the new clauses. We estimate that it will be about £5 to £10.
Mr. Paterson: A stealth tax.
Dr. Ladyman: It is not a huge amount of money, but the benefits to society will be considerable. As I explained earlier, it is a common offence to present a paper licence to a policeman if one does not hold a licence oneself. Providing a paper licence and not giving the policeman an opportunity to check any identification is a good way of getting around law enforcement, and the police are clear that they want photographic ID.
The hon. Gentleman will also be well aware that the driving licence is seen by many people as the first step on the ladder to creating a false identity. There are people who, for nefarious purposes, want to build an artificial identity for themselves—some because they should not be in the country and others because they want to avoid their obligations or avoid law enforcement. The driving licence is a first step; once a person gets any sort of driving licence it is easy to deal with several organisations and obtain further items of correspondence addressed to them, creating the aura of identity that can be used to fool law enforcement.
6.45 pm
It is very important—I think all members of the Committee would agree that it is essential—that we can rely on driving licences and that the police can check that a person is a genuine holder of such a licence. One of the best ways to achieve that is to make it possible to check the holder’s face against the photocard. It will be possible, under the relevant powers, at some point in the future, to require people to return the card for updating—perhaps every 10 years. I suspect that not many people would be able to identify me had they seen a photograph of me 10 years ago. We all change in our visual appearance. It is therefore important that we should have the power to update the licence. The measure is a sensible one. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that it is in no way related to the issue of ID cards and that he will support the new clauses.
Paul Rowen: I do not know whether I should declare an interest as the holder of one of the old-style paper records. Initially, when I heard the Minister speak I wondered what all the concern was about. However, having listened to his answers to the points made by the hon. Member for North Shropshire, I became concerned. We are told that the measure is to help the Government. Then we are told, “Oh, there is to be a small charge.” We are then told that licences will have to be renewed every five or 10 years depending on the holder’s age. It does not take much in the way of deduction to see that, although the charge may be reasonable now, future Ministers may increasingly use it as a cash cow for the Department.
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