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Lord Lyell of Markyate: I support my noble friend Lord Attlee in what appears to be a very timely and valuable initiative. With the increased number of speed cameras and other offence-catching cameras, the number of people approaching 12 points is increasing rapidly. The object of speed cameras and other cameras is to encourage better driving and to a very significant degree they are having that effect. I
 
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applaud that. If, as I fear may happen, an overwhelming number of people are approaching 12 points, there is a danger of motorists having an adverse reaction. If the court were able to say, "Look, normally we would disqualify you, but if you are prepared to undergo a course of retraining, we will give you the 12 points but we will not disqualify you", it seems to me that that would have a highly beneficial effect.

A short period of retraining will probably help to teach people not to speed, not to jump traffic lights and not to commit other such offences. It is a very valuable approach to a developing situation and I would have thought it was entirely in line with the Government's objectives, which I am fully prepared to accept are to improve the standard of driving rather than to raise money.

Lord Berkeley: I support the amendment. It is an excellent idea. One can think of it as no different from any other type of rehabilitation. People tend to think of driving offences as rather different from other offences. If people undertake the courses, complete them and pass—they will have to give up their time if they are working—that is an excellent idea. I trust that my noble friend will say what a wonderful idea that is and perhaps accept it.

Viscount Simon: I may be totally wrong, but I have a vague recollection that there are five retraining centres in existence now so we could see how they go. They are proving to be very successful. However, if someone commits another offence within a year, he or she cannot take the retraining course again.

7.45 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: I want to assure my noble friend Lord Berkeley that there are plenty of wonderful ideas that I am able to reject at this Dispatch Box and I am afraid that this is one of them. I shall pay the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, yet another tribute, which his noble and learned friend Lord Lyell emphasised. The concept of retraining is a good one. I can see its attraction. However, I am not able to accept the amendment for reasons I shall go into in a moment. I congratulate the noble Earl on the development of the concept. It parallels the drink-drive rehabilitation scheme, which has been in operation throughout Great Britain for more than five years.

Under sections of the Road Traffic Act 1988 courts have powers to refer persons convicted of drink-driving offences to an approved course which, if they complete successfully, will entitle them to a reduction in their period of disqualification of up to a quarter. However, the disqualification is already in operation when they embark on the course. The disqualification is immediate and that is an important point on which I differ from the noble Earl. Nevertheless, that concept is there. Drivers are under no obligation to undertake that, but if they choose to do so, they must pay the costs themselves.
 
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Courses are provided throughout Great Britain by some 25 course providers, all of which are approved by the Secretary of State. The minimum course requirements are laid down by the Secretary of State. Typically the courses are of 16 to 30 hours' duration, over a number of separate sessions and they involve groups of between eight and 20 participants. That is not a comprehensive description of the scheme, but it is an outline of what we already have in place. I would be only too happy to pass on to any noble Lord a leaflet setting out the details of the scheme. I recognise that the noble Earl is building on a concept that we have in place already.

I must now emphasise to the Committee why I cannot accept the amendment. It would provide that courts may order that a person convicted of certain specified offences should be disqualified from driving if, within a period of 12 months from the time of the order, he has not successfully completed an approved retraining course. The offences concerned are careless and inconsiderate driving, failing to comply with traffic signs or speeding.

The provision would apply only where the offender is not to be disqualified but is to have his licence endorsed with penalty points and the number of penalty points to be taken into account at the time of sentence is at least three points. If the course is not successfully completed within 12 months of the date of the court order, the person would be disqualified from driving. That brings in the concept of delayed disqualification which I must resist. I emphasise that under the scheme already in place for those who have committed drink-driving offences the disqualification is immediate. The court imposes enforced disqualification, but participation on a course can reduce the length of time of disqualification.

Nor does the noble Earl's amendment tackle the issue of whether a place is available on a course. To make the provision as strong as the noble Earl indicated he would want, we would have to guarantee that places were available on such courses in all such circumstances where an individual opted for that. The Committee will recognise the difficulties we would have in producing such an absolute guarantee.

The purpose of the amendment may be to try to widen the scope of retraining courses—in principle, I am with the noble Earl on the advantages of retraining courses to improve driving skills—but we find the issue of deferred disqualification extremely difficult to accept. There is no provision in law for disqualification to be deferred. It must commence from the moment the order is pronounced. It is an important principle. I think that the noble Earl would say, in his own defence of course, that he is prepared to introduce that principle. We would have some difficulties with the practical implications of that. As a consequence, although I recognise the advantages of retraining in relation to punishment for offences as an aid to improvement, I do not think that I can accept this amendment.
 
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Lord Lyell of Markyate: I am most grateful to the Minister, but I think that the answer he has given to the Committee has missed the point. As I understand the amendment of my noble friend Lord Attlee, deferred disqualification does not come into this. Proposed new Section 28A (1) states:

When you reach 12 penalty points disqualification by the court is not mandatory, it is discretionary. So the situation we are considering is where the court might well disqualify, but a thoroughly sensible motorist who realises that this had all gone on for too long and that he had better improve his driving will come to the court and say, "I will undertake a course"—and of course courses need to be provided—"if you will be prepared not to take away my licence at this point". I cannot see any objection in principle whatever.

My noble friend Lord Attlee, has brilliantly drafted these long and complex clauses and it would not surprise me at all if the department did not want to have another go at the clauses. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to say that this is a thoroughly good idea, as, indeed, he was kind enough to say in principle that the department would look at the setting up of sensible courses of this nature and would seriously consider perhaps coming forward with its own clause to provide this opportunity, which I believe will be very valuable.

Earl Attlee: I am grateful for the support of my noble and learned friend. Unfortunately, I think that the Minister might be right about the point on disqualification. I am also very grateful for the Minister's helpful response. He explained how my amendments work far better than I could. I shall be covering the point about lack of training capacity in the next group of amendments. I have an amendment that specifically deals with the point. Subject to the usual caveats, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 23 [Penalty points]:

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 103:

The noble Lord said: This series of amendments, as my noble friend Lord Attlee said, follow on from his amendment. In moving Amendment No. 103, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 104 and 107, which are all probing.

The clause enables the courts to offer offenders convicted of certain specified offences the opportunity to undertake a retraining course, which would give them a remission of penalty points. The clause inserts into the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 new Sections 30A, 30B, 30C and 30D, which enable a court to offer persons convicted of offences of careless and inconsiderate driving, failing to comply with traffic signs or speeding, the opportunity to pay for and undertake a retraining course in circumstances where
 
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the driver is not to be disqualified but his licence endorsed with penalty points, which is rather different from the discussion we have just had.

As the Bill currently stands, those circumstances are that at least seven and no more than 11 points are to be taken into account at the time of the sentence, which leads me on to the first amendment in this series.

Amendment No. 103 is designed to elicit from the Minister the reasoning behind why the benchmark of seven penalty points was set as the starting point where a driver could apply to carry out one of these courses.

It appears to me that surely we should be encouraging all individuals to be responsible road users and to have the opportunity to attend a retraining course along the lines of the debate we have just had if they are allocated any number of points. Surely it would benefit someone who has three points as much as it would someone with seven. Indeed, I would have thought that it would be advantageous for us to try and nip this irresponsible behaviour in the bud well before anyone gets close to amassing seven penalty points. I would therefore be most grateful if the Minister could shed some light on this reasoning.

Amendments Nos. 104 and 107 both have a similar intent. Amendment No. 104 is designed to tease out what other offences the Government have in mind that could either be added or removed in relation to the qualification for attendance on these courses. Also I would have thought it was sensible to have a period of evaluation to see whether the scheme is actually working. I hate to answer my own questions, but presumably such a period would then be useful to see if further offences could be included or removed under paragraph 2.

Finally, Amendment No. 107 is simply designed to probe the Minister as to what conditions specified by the national authority would the course have to meet before it was approved. Presumably the nature of the courses would differ between the different jurisdictions of, say, England and Wales. Again I should be grateful if the Minister would comment on how he sees such differences emerging and whether there would be any concerns over difficulties of interpretation as a result of these divergences.

Along the lines of the previous debate, I can see that there must be an expansion of these clauses. The Minister suggested that there are not enough trainers, so, whatever we do, there will have to be some expansion of these courses to enable these provisions to act. Therefore, I beg to move the amendment.


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