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Viscount Simon: I am led to understand that the current retraining scheme and the extended test for those who are subject to it have been quite successful in that people do not re-offend to the same extent. It would be nice if magistrates seized their powers in appropriate circumstances not only to disqualify a person but also to take away the vehicle of the offender.

Lord Whitty: I agreed with quite a lot of what the noble Earl said even before I realised what amendment he was referring to. All those who have spoken will be pleased to hear that my colleagues at the Home Office with, in this case, rather more active participation by me in joined-up government, are about to issue a major consultation document, taking forward the right strategies in relation to penalties and the way they are enforced. The document will deal with stronger penalties for careless and dangerous driving, and also with the idea of providing an alternative of retraining in certain circumstances. Retraining, as we have just heard, does have a very good effect in the limited circumstances where it is now applied. It should be much more widely used. It deals also with re-testing in relation to offences attracting a penalty above a certain level. That will all be covered in the Home Office document. There will be a clear sense of direction there. Noble Lords will have the ability to comment on it. I hope that fairly shortly the Home Office will once again be legislating on that issue.

Earl Attlee: I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I shall read it carefully. I look forward to the Home Office consultation paper. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 416 not moved.]

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 416A:


(" . After subsection (1) of section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, there shall be inserted--
"(1A) No person may operate a vehicle under the provisions of subsection (1) unless he has been granted a special types licence for the vehicle by the Secretary of State.
(1B) The Secretary of State shall not grant a licence under subsection (1A) if it appears to him that the applicant is technically incompetent."").

The noble Lord said: Before moving Amendment No. 416A and speaking to Amendment No. 416B, I remind the Committee of my interest. The Committee may not be aware of how expensive vehicle excise duty can be for goods vehicles generally and vehicles carrying abnormal loads in particular. For many goods vehicles the rate is well over £3,000 but for a vehicles taxed as "special types" it is over £5,000. I have no problem with the actual rate. These vehicles

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often have very high axle weights and may need police escorts. It is right that they should pay their true costs and not be subsidised.

There are a number of difficulties. First, special types tax is required even if a vehicle is only running at just over 41 tonnes gross, just outside the construction and use regulations threshold. Vehicles that normally run within the construction and use regulations can occasionally be used as special types. However, the taxation class of that vehicle will have to be changed. It may be necessary only to change it for a week. Then the challenge for the operator is to get his refund back from the DVLA. That can take several weeks, as we found out from one of my written Questions for Written Answer answered by the Minister. Regrettably what happens is that some unscrupulous operators do not bother altering their vehicle's taxation class because of the difficulties that I have described. That is unfair to regular heavy hauliers who have all their vehicles properly taxed as special types.

Secondly, with developing trade, many abnormal loads go to or come from Europe. The European hauliers tend to have far lower vehicle tax rates. Their fuel at home is sometimes up to £1 per gallon cheaper. The Committee will not be surprised to hear that they do not avail themselves of the opportunity to contribute to the Chancellor's coffers by buying his fuel.

The amendments provide for a vignette scheme to permit abnormal load operation under Section 44. It would apply equally to UK or continental hauliers. The vignettes would be valid for a variety of periods but any period less than one month would not be refundable. I do not know what the Minister's reaction will be to the amendments. However, I would point out that several years ago it was possible to purchase seven-day licences for heavy haulage vehicles. That was because at that time the vehicle excise duty rate for such vehicles was considerable. The law then changed and special types tax was cheap, so the non-availability of seven-day licences did not matter. The rate now is very steep. If the Minister cannot accept the principle of my amendment, perhaps he could consider the re-introduction of seven-day licenses. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: With these amendments we return to the types of vehicles we discussed on Amendments Nos. 394 and 396; that is vehicles authorised under Section 44. Those vehicles which fall outside the construction and use regulations but may be used on the public road if granted permission by order under Section 44 of the Road Traffic Act. As before, most of those are goods vehicles which carry unusually large or heavy loads, but they might also be prototype vehicles or special vehicles used by the armed forces. If enacted, the clauses will require those operating the vehicles to obtain a licence from the Secretary of State, for which a fee will be levied. That fee will be no higher than the highest rate of vehicle excise duty set out in the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 and may be rebated

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to the extent of any vehicle excise duty, or its equivalent for foreign vehicles, paid on the vehicle. I hope that I have described the amendments correctly.

We do not believe that these measures are necessary or justified. They would simply add a layer of bureaucracy for those operating special types of vehicle. The noble Earl confirmed that the purpose of the proposal is to raise revenue through something akin to the vignette scheme which operates in some European countries, in which vehicles pay a fee to use that country's roads, rebated for domestic vehicles to the extent of their national circulation tax. There is no other service for which this fee pays. We believe that the proposal would be in breach of European law. It seems to us that the proposal would be caught by the Eurovignette directive, which sets a maximum level of 1,250 euros--less than £800--for a modern lorry.

Even if that were not the case, there would be difficulties arising from the maximum level of fee allowed under the amendment. The noble Earl proposes that the maximum fee should be equivalent to the highest rate of vehicle excise duty in the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994. I should point out that this is not the £5,170 currently paid by special types vehicles involved in heavy haulage but £9,250. The amendment would give the Secretary of State powers to levy an additional fee of £4,000 on a UK-registered heavy vehicle. That is surely not what the noble Earl proposes.

The noble Earl said that the fee should take account of road wear costs and the costs of providing police escorts. The Government are reviewing vehicle excise duty for lorries to ensure that rates more accurately reflect both wear and tear on the roads and their environmental impact. Until 1992 the taxation was based quite explicitly on track costs. Although that explicit link has been broken, the structure of goods vehicle taxation has not changed essentially since then. Thus road wear is already a factor in goods vehicle taxation. We intend that in future taxation should reflect road wear more closely.

Turning now to the point about the cost of police escorts, it is not normal practice for the police service to charge for the escort of abnormal loads. However, several police forces have introduced charging for their services dependent on local circumstances such as the urgency or timing. The issue of escorting abnormal loads is currently being reviewed by ACPO. The option of police charging is one that may be considered. But it would certainly be unlawful for the United Kingdom to put in place a charging structure for escorting those loads which discriminated against hauliers from other EU nations, which would be the case if those costs were taken into account in the excise duty. We are concerned about that problem. For those reasons, I ask the noble Earl not to press the amendment.

Earl Attlee: I am grateful to the Minister for his careful consideration of the amendments and for his full answer. I should love to make a quip about starting

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to read the Finance Bill, but perhaps we should move on. I shall probably come back with an amendment on seven-day licences if I can tempt the Clerks with it. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 416B and 416C not moved.]

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 416D:

    After Clause 256, insert the following new clause--


(" . After subsection (7) of section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 there shall be inserted--
"(8) Regulations made under this section shall provide that vehicles licensed under section 3(5A) of the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995 (international operations) shall be fitted with convenient means of access for inspection of the roof of the vehicle, in order to comply with the code of practice prescribed by section 33 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999."").

The noble Earl said: Section 33 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 provides for a £2,000 fixed fine for each illegal immigrant carried into the country. That is grossly unfair and I cannot see how it complies with the European Convention on Human Rights. We shall find out whether or not it does in October.

The Committee will be aware that there is a defence if the haulier or driver has complied with the code of practice under the Act. Unfortunately, in order to comply with it, it is necessary to examine the roof of the vehicle. It would not be safe to do so single-handedly with a ladder. It will therefore be necessary to have built into all trailers used for international operations suitable access to the roof. That is the purpose of my amendment. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response. I beg to move.

11 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The noble Earl's amendment seeks to address a serious problem. It is certainly true that the issue of illegal immigration has become especially serious, in particular after the deaths of 58 would-be immigrants. That was a terrible business.

The intention behind the amendment is to ensure that the drivers of all UK-registered lorries travelling internationally have a means of checking the roof. The noble Earl has pointed out that, under the provisions of the Immigration and Asylum Act, drivers have an obligation to ensure that they are not carrying illegal immigrants. They can discharge that obligation by following the code of practice laid down under the Act.

How that is done is a matter for the drivers, but I take entirely the point made by the noble Earl about the relevance of inspecting the roof. Illegal entry could be made through the roof of a lorry--but not of all lorries, such as container lorries. However, I do not believe that the amendment would deal with the problem. Other measures are being undertaken that may help to ease the situation.

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The Calais Chamber of Commerce has announced a number of measures to improve security at the port, including security fencing, CCTV, the employment of a private security company to guard the outer perimeter and the introduction of electronically controlled access to the restricted access lorry park. Two companies are actively involved in plans to establish commercial search facilities in and around the port of Calais. We are ready to move to do what we can to facilitate discussions with the French if that becomes necessary.

The difficulty about the amendment is one of practicality. For example, on a skeletal semi-trailer, if it is used to carry containers, there is nowhere to position a ladder. On some semi-trailers, fixing a ladder to the side or to the rear would take the trailer beyond the maximum permitted dimensions and thus could be dangerous to other traffic. Furthermore, space at the front of a lorry is often limited.

For practical reasons and because of other solutions being sought that may be more effective, I invite the noble Earl not to press his amendment.

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