Road Safety Bill [Lords]

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Paul Rowen: I accept the Minister’s point, but I am sometimes sceptical enough about the EU to believe that we should not necessarily always implement everything that Brussels bureaucrats want to impose.
Cost is an issue, and so is the fact that the cost can be increased over time. Another thing that causes me concern is the provision to increase the amount of information stored on the card. We have had the debate on ID cards. It will not be that difficult, when the measure is enacted, for all sorts of information to be stored on a microchip on the card. Either people have one ID card or they do not; we should not then go about increasing the amount of information about citizens that is stored on other bits of paper. I have my old licence and can provide many other pieces of information to demonstrate who I am. I can be required by a policeman to go to the police station to provide that information. I cannot see why that is not sufficient.
Dr. Ladyman: If the hon. Gentleman feels that way about ID cards he should have voted with the Government when he had the opportunity. That was the point that we made. However, he did not, and the simple fact of the matter is that the driving licence, as I, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Transport have said, will not be part of the ID card system. However, if the hon. Gentleman cannot understand the need for the new clause, I would ask him to imagine that he was a policeman. If somebody handed a policeman a paper licence, what right would that policeman have to require that individual to go to a police station to show the licence that he had just shown? That person’s paper licence might be a forgery or might not belong to them, and that would be the only opportunity that the policeman had to catch that person. If the hon. Gentleman thinks about the example that he gave, he will understand why he should vote for the Government’s new clauses.
Paul Rowen: I understand the Minister’s point, but I do not agree with him. There are safeguards. I return to the point made by the hon. Member for North Shropshire that the vast majority of people are honest and law abiding. We are talking, however, about a vast bureaucratic exercise—the Minister admitted that it will involve 13 million licences—the benefit of which might apply only in a tiny fraction of cases. The public will, however, be required to pay for it. We have to ask whether the benefits will outweigh the costs, but I do not agree with the Minister on that.
Mr. Paterson: Like the hon. Member for Rochdale, I am rather moved the other way by the Minister’s words. We have not got to the bottom of the issue of cost, but the exercise is going to be very expensive. Instead, the DVLA could be spending funds on tightening up on the hard core, as we suggested.
The other point that we have not mentioned is that the vast majority of people with paper licences will be in the older section of the population—in which I include myself—and will be more likely to be of a law-abiding tendency, as the hon. Member for Rochdale said. We go on about this, but we want to concentrate on the hard core, who tend to be younger and who will already have been issued with new photo licences.
The Minister did not touch on proposed new section 98A(2)(b), which relates to
“licences in the form of a photocard of a description no longer specified”,
but he did say that some existing photo licences will be recalled. The whole exercise sounds as if it will be even more complicated. It is a bit glib to say that the DVLA will carry out a special concentrated blitz and that everything will take two years. Surely that will cause a massive disruption to the DVLA, and I am not convinced that it is worth the candle.
I entirely sympathise with the Minister’s aim. It would be easier for policemen to check motorists if they all had photo identity cards, but the provisions will catch the older section of the population, who will almost certainly have other forms of identity on them, such as credit cards, so their signatures can be checked. This will be an enormously expensive, complex exercise, with little gain. It seems to be driven by the European Union directive, under which our licences will apparently be changed every 10 years.
The Minister laughed when I blurted out the words “stealth tax”, but there is no doubt that this is another tax on hard-working, law-abiding citizens. I really am not convinced that the Minister has made his case.
Dr. Ladyman: Briefly, it certainly would be a stealth tax if we did not charge people for it, because the cost would then fall on those in the rest of society, who would have to pay higher taxes. If people want to drive, they need to cover the cost of their driving, and a small charge of the order of £5 to £10 for the renewal is entirely reasonable. We have just launched a thorough consultation about the charges the DVLA imposes for renewing licences and for other services that it provides. That consultation has gone through two phases to identify the most appropriate structure for future charging.
However, the simple fact of the matter is that someone who has only a paper licence can drive while disqualified, and the policeman will not know that they are doing so, because they will hand over a piece of paper that looks like a driving licence. People have also used paper driving licences to steal hire cars. They have handed paper licences over to hire car companies, only for it to turn out that they are not the individual concerned. People can also use paper licences to get on the ladder towards creating false identities and being engaged in many types of fraudulent activity. The people who will benefit from new clause 5 are the 13 million honest motorists who currently have paper licences and who in future will be part of the robust licence system, because they will no longer be cheated by the very few people who currently use paper licences to cheat the system.
I strongly advise Opposition Members to think carefully before voting against a measure that is of obvious benefit to the vast majority of people, who are honest. It is a measure that the police clearly want and that all other law enforcement agencies and advisers suggest is necessary. I can understand why the Liberal Democrats would vote against the new clause, because they do not vote for anything on law enforcement. People can do what they like in Liberal Democrat world these days, but I thought that the hon. Member for North Shropshire, on the Conservative Front Bench, would at the very least stand up for an easyand practical, although admittedly large-scale, improvement in the way in which we enforce law and order in this country.
Mr. Paterson: If photocards are the answer to all the problems, why must certain existing photocards be withdrawn? We have not got into that.
Dr. Ladyman: I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about what withdrawal there is of existing photocards. I am not aware of any withdrawal, unless there are doubts about people’s identity. Following inspiration from above, I can say that there are no plans to recall the existing photocard licences, so I do not know where he got his information from.
Mr. Paterson: I got it from proposed new section 98A(2)(b), which refers to
“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”.
I am only reading the Minister’s own new clause.
Dr. Ladyman: I am sorry; I did not understand the hon. Gentleman’s question. I thought that I had explained that provision. We are taking the power now, because at various times in future it will be necessary to issue new types of photocard licence. For example, we may wish to put a chip on a photocard licence to prevent it from being copied. Such technology might emerge in future and provide a better way to identify the licence holder. We want to ensure that when we need to change the photocard licence, we have the power to do so. However, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, we will not do so willy-nilly, because there are 34 million vehicles out there and God knows how many people have a driving licence—probably about 40 million. Changing everyone’s driving licence would be a big exercise, but we need, and future Governments will need, the opportunity to do that when it becomes necessary. That is the only reason why the new clause has been drafted in this way.
Mr. Paterson: May I return to the question of the length of time? I understand now what the Minister is talking about as regards the withdrawal of existing photocards, but the Commission document that I have seen indicates that, up to the age of 65, people will have their licences changed every 10 years and those over that age will have their licences changed every five years. This is a whole new way of carrying out the exercise. It may be worth while, but it seems to be an enormous churning exercise and I should like the Minister to explain how the DVLA will cope with it. He says that it will have a blitz and that we are talking about a figure of two years for existing paper licences, but we then appear to go into a permanent state of revolution whereby every year we renew large numbers of licences. I am with the Minister on any measure that will bear down on the hard core, but I am worried that this will be an enormously expensive administrative exercise, churning existing information on large numbers of law-abiding citizens.
Dr. Ladyman: Rather than detain the Committee any longer, it is probably best if I write to the hon. Gentleman and the Committee about the mechanics with which we plan to phase in the exchange of licences and the consultation on changes that will be needed.
The hon. Gentleman is gradually coming to realise the merit of the Government’s case. My final point to him is that the hard core whom he is so anxious to get at will immediately be exposed by the measure. They are the ones who will be unable to get a photocard licence and will have to rely on a paper licence until the very last moment. Once a paper licence is no longer legally useful as a driving licence, they are the ones whom the police will instantly be able to recognise when they stop them out on the roads. I hope that he will now support the new clause.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 6

Fee for renewal of photocard licence and issue of certain alternative licences
‘(1) In section 99 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c.52) (duration of licence)—
(a) in subsection (7) (grant of new licence free of charge on surrender of photocard licence after ten years, in cases of error and on change of name or address), omit “and any licence granted under this subsection shall be granted free of charge”, and
(b) After that subsection insert—
“(7ZA) The Secretary of State is not required by subsection (7) above to grant a new licence on the surrender of a licence and its counterpart by a person in pursuance of subsection (2A) above unless the person has paid the fee (if any) which is prescribed; but any other licence under that subsection is to be granted free of charge.”
(2) In section 117A(2)(c) and (3) of that Act (disqualification etc. of holders of Community licences: issue of alternative licences), for “, free of charge,” substitute “, on payment of such fee (if any) as may be prescribed,”.'. —[Dr. Ladyman.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 30

Safety arrangements at level crossings
‘(1) Section 1 of the Level Crossings Act 1983 (c.16) (safety arrangements at level crossings) is amended as follows.
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Roy.]
Adjourned accordingly at two minutes past Seven o’clock till Thursday 20 April at Nine o’clock.
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