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Mr. Goodwill: The Minister referred to my point about interest. It is set out in the order that a rate of interest is to be paid on a deposit that is refunded to the driver. My point is about costs associated with making a refund through an international money transfer. A refund could be refunded fairly cheaply to a credit card account, but with a cash payment it may be necessary to make an international money transfer to the person’s account. Will the cost of the transfer be carried by the driver whether he is acquitted or not, or by the UK court system? If he is acquitted, he could argue that he should not carry any costs.
Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman did indeed raise that point and I am sure that I will get to an answer before the end of my remarks. In fact, I can answer him now as that is the sensible way to proceed. The straightforward answer is that the cost must be picked up by the Government if there is unfair levying on individuals who do not contravene regulations. In such circumstances, fairness and common sense will apply.
I think that I have answered the point raised by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire on reasonable addresses. He also asked what form immobilisation will take. The immobilisation device used by VOSA will be a steel cable lashed through the driving wheels. Vehicles on busy roads will not be immobilised, which he asked about quite appropriately; they will be moved to other locations, usually to a compound if it is likely that the vehicle will be immobilised for a long period. The charges involved for obtaining a vehicle that is taken to a compound will be prescribed in the regulations that will follow in due course.
Mr. Knight: Does the Minister anticipate that when a motorist is acquitted, which may be an unusual circumstance when a vehicle is immobilised, they will not have to pay any compound charges?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I fully anticipate that if an innocent person is unfairly accused of an offence, it will be for the authorities to make reparation. The right hon. Gentleman is asking a legitimate question, but with the greatest of respect, I would be very surprised if road traffic officers or VOSA enforcement officers were to make a mistake, given their experience. However, it is possible to make mistakes and in such instances the authorities would have to make reparation.
The right hon. Gentleman also raised the matter of mistakes being made. VOSA and the police will deal with cases on their merits, but the regulations ultimately provide for dispute resolution. Nobody should end up paying charges for which they are not liable. The dispute resolution procedure enables direct financial losses, such as immobilisation charges, to be repaid if the rules were not complied with.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about guidance. The Department will sign off guidance and Ministers will be involved in that process. They will be responsible for its publication, as is the case with any Department for Transport guidance. It is quite a common process, where, for example, the existing guidance documents on prohibitions and prosecutions, and fixed penalties and deposits, will be provided and produced in the usual way.
The hon. Member for Bosworth asked whether the DFT can increase fixed penalties without coming back to the Committee. Fixed penalty levels and immobilisation fees are prescribed by order, and any increase must be authorised by statutory instrument—I know that he was expressing his dissatisfaction with that procedure, but it means that the order has to come back to the House. We would consult on any proposals, which will, in any event, be subject to the negative resolution procedures. Deposit levels will be subject to an affirmative resolution procedure, and we will also consult on such proposals.
The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby asked why it took so long to implement the procedures. They are both new and complex, and required considerable work on the IT systems in the courts, the police, the DVLA and VOSA.
We held an initial consultation on the principles of the scheme in the summer of 2007 as part of the Road Safety Act 2006. In the summer of 2008, there was a detailed consultation on draft statutory instruments, of which there are eight or nine—forgive me; I cannot remember exactly—and we have been working hard to ensure that the scheme will be workable and effective.
In conclusion, the measure is important, and I am grateful for the welcome given to it by the Committee. It will provide more assurance that we are doing all that we can to make our roads safer, and on that basis, I commend the order to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Road Safety (Financial Penalty Deposit) (Appropriate Amount) Order 2009.
11.17 am
Committee rose.
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