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The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I believe that the police have experimented with cameras linked to automatic number identification systems to detect cars that are being driven with number plates that are not registered or are fictitious. Although I am not against that, I wonder what happens to the data. In view of our questions and discussions yesterday, are such data stored and kept? Some of the data will be personal information as to who was where and when. It is a point we should consider in the future.
Lord Colwyn: My Lords, perhaps I, too, may add to the Minister's burden with one further simple question. When the DVLA writes to licence holders informing them that their licences are due for renewal, is there a system to register that they have renewed? Assuming that there is, is there also a system to register that they have not renewed? If that information is registered, is there a follow-up system? If the DVLA knows that a licence has not been renewed, does it get in touch with the driver to follow up?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful for the support from all sides of the House for this order. Perhaps I may address the last point first, which is very much fresher in my mind. A communication is sent to the person concerned. We are seeking to improve communication through the use of modern technology. Very soon, when registration is effectedfor example, in post officesthat information will be automatically transferred to the computer at the DVLA, where it will be recognised and registered. There have been difficulties in the past with regard to transition that we want to avoid.
Communication with the people concerned reflects the more general point raised by my noble friend Lord Simon. We plan a major publicity drive and campaign in the new year, before the new requirements come into force, so that people will be well aware of their obligations. In that campaign we will be able to identify a wide range of issues.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for indicating some of the questions that might be appropriately answered in the leaflets and the campaign. I hope that in the department we can say that we have put our best minds to work and have thought about some of these issues. I have no doubt that my noble friend has added to the sum of general knowledge of what people will need to know.
Of course, he is right. A failure to register a vehicle because a person is out of the country at the time when the licence falls due is not a new problem. Everyone knows that they have to register their vehicles. As my noble friend rightly said, people have the expectation that they will not be pursued too aggressively in the first 14 days of failure to obtain the new tax disc, but they are liable in that period.
Of course, under the new arrangements, we will make clear exactly what the liability is. After all, this drive is to protect the interests of the law-abiding majority in the country who pay their vehicle taxes properly. I am sure that the whole House recognises that it is high time that we drove down the numbers of those who deliberately evade vehicle excise duty. That is the main thrust of today's regulations.
I can reassure the House that the new obligations will be given full publicity. It is not in our interests for people to fall foul of the law when they have no intention to do so. However, it is very much in the country's interests that those who deliberately set out to evade payment are pursued rigorously. There will be no formal system of appeal. But it is a civil offence and, therefore, the department will have to produce a civil case when pursuing someone for failure in this respect. The citizen, in response, will have time in which to organise their defence.
As regards whether the penalty figure is right, it will be recognised that that must be a matter of some experience and some element of best guess of what is appropriate. The penalty for this offence can reduce to £40 if the penalty is paid within 28 days. We are giving an incentive for people who have failed to obtain a tax disc to comply, and comply promptly. The penalty for a breach of the congestion charge is £80. The fee for declamping an
I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said. We must be careful that penalties are not set so low that there is an economic incentive or a financial gain from evading the law. I recognise his point about insurance, although that is a rather separate matter. He will appreciate that prolonged wholesale evasion of vehicle excise duty will prompt a fine of £1,000. That should be a sufficient deterrent.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, made the point that we now have systems for more effective scrutiny of vehicles on the road. Part of the publicity campaign will be to emphasise that vehicle numbers can be taken at regular points around the country, as noble Lords are well aware. If the number of a vehicle that is not licensed comes up on police cameras and so forth, inevitably the driver will be vulnerable to challenge.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, if a car is not licensed, how does one know where it is? How does one get hold of the person who was supposed to have been driving it on the day? If there is no record, he cannot be found.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is true. That is why, through these measures, we are seeking to reduce the number of unlicensed cars. As the noble Lord will concede, they are driven by the hard core of drivers who are exceedingly difficult to pursue.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, if the DVLA is contacted by a police force or by the congestion authorities in London, and a vehicle is found not to be licensed, does the DVLA follow up the last known owner or keeper of the vehicle?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is exactly the intention. But it is only one component of the package of measures that we have announced relating to the issue of tightening up vehicle registration. Of course, it is now much more possible, within the framework of new technology, to address that issue and the DVLA will be better equipped to pursue unlicensed vehicles.
As the noble Lord indicated, that is possible where the vehicle has been licensed in the past because there has been an owner to check on. In future, it will be incumbent upon such an owner to inform the DVLA that they have disposed of the vehiclefor example, through sale or rendering it unfit for further use. So we have tightened up that position considerably.
I turn to the more general question: is the technology of any use when the vehicle has never been licensed? As I have indicated, we are hoping to reduce the number of vehicles that fall into that category, but it would be naive in the extreme not to recognise that there are substantial numbers of vehicles in that position. All I can say is that, whenever tax discs are not displayed, we shall be taking more intensive measures to bring the owners of those vehicles to book. For example, the police will have the right to clamp unlicensed vehicles and to take action
I turn to the more general point made by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll. The police keep numerous databases on vehicles which, when not in use, are retained securely and within the realms of our data protection legislation. I seek to give him the assurance that that data are related solely to the question of whether the DVLA should be expected to act on them or perhaps to bring forward a prosecution. However, such data are kept within the framework of data protection measures in order to ensure that they are not used more generally in a way that would cause anxiety to the noble Earl and to all those who participated in the extensive debates held yesterday on these issues.
The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene with one question. The data that worry me are not those which are used to prosecute the owner of an untaxed vehicle, but those of a vehicle that is in a perfectly legal state on the road. If there is no problem with a vehicle, I wonder whether such traffic datait might well be called that, although the traffic data we dealt with yesterday in regard to communications providers and regulation of investigations legislation are different kinds of datathat is, the personal data about people who have not committed any offence, should probably not be retained on a database. If the data are kept, they should be retained under a tight regime and we should consider them in the same light as the subjects we considered yesterday.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my colleagues will have heard the point made by the noble Earl and I shall ensure that my noble friends who are more directly responsible for this area are made aware of his views. I had thought that yesterday's extensive debates had covered almost every angle, but that was not so. I shall make sure that our exchange is conveyed to the Ministers concerned with these issues.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, before the noble Lord finally moves the Motion on the regulations, I observe that he defended the figure of £80 as the maximum penalty in this area by comparing it with the charge made for declamping and the surcharge made on the congestion charge. That rather surprised me. Surely the congestion charge is in the province of the Mayor of London. Does this indicate yet more love-ins in the Labour Party?
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