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Lord Davies of Oldham: The surrender of the old-form driving licences, which we propose, is nothing to do with Europe. It is government-led; it is not a requirement from Europe, nor is it inspired from that source.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, spoke of his familiarity with the old-style driving licence, one of which I have in my pocket. However, it is a document that goes back a very long time. It has very poor security provisions within it. Our problem is fraud. Those licences can be used, copied and abused with far greater ease than we are able to tolerate in contemporary society with all its problems with significant crime.
The issue is driven by the question of security. It is also a reflection of the fact that, of course, technological improvements enable the production of photocard licences, which guarantee that it is more difficult for criminals to carry out identity fraud when a photograph is involved. That is the motivation behind this clausenothing more and nothing less.
Of course, I would imagine that the driving licence belonging to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, looks remarkably similar to mine, although mine is probably more dated than his. But, over the years, there have been changes. There are quite a variety of paper driving licences that remain in circulation, which lend
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themselves wide open to misappropriation. The different forms, levels and types of security feature make it very difficult for any inquiring authority to cope with what is very far from being a standard form of driving licence, to say nothing of the fact that the older ones do not contain any photographic evidence.
The plastic photocard licences provide a new type of production technology that allow a range of rather more sophisticated security features to be incorporated. The photocard licence contains five times as many security features as the old paper licences, including a range of covert and overt features that protect the card and its holder from a range of threats. I have to say that those threats are real: there is a wide range of abuse. Foreign licensing authorities return on average some 60 counterfeit paper licences to the DVLA every year. There are cases where drivers try to exchange counterfeit paper licences for valid European Community licences in other member states. Valid licences could, of course, be subsequently used by drivers to drive in the UK.
The police bring to the DVLA's attention some 300 counterfeit paper licences a year. It provides the police with witness statements confirming that the licence is counterfeit, which is used to take forward prosecuting action. The police have also reported cases where disqualified and unqualified drivers have used another person's paper licence to avoid detection. When stopped and challenged by the police, those people will provide the personal details of the proper licence holders and produce the paper licences to substantiate their identity and driving licence entitlement. The absence of any photographs make it very difficult for the police to detect or to prove the impersonation.
The Driving Standards Agency reported that paper licences were used to support impersonations at driving tests. Although the introduction of the photocard licence has helped to stifle that particular abuse, the continued validity of paper licences could still be used for that purpose. We have a real problem that these licences are wide open to abuse. Our motivation is to cope with that level of fraud and difficulty, against a background where we obviously have enhanced technological capacity well beyond anything that obtained some years ago with the concept of a document of this kind.
The noble Lord will expect me to say this, and I shall not disappoint him in his expectation. I am not in a position to talk about the level of fees involved. We have not reached anything like that stage in our deliberations yet. I recognise fully his anxiety on that front. We all appreciate the fact that a fee will be necessary to meet what will be significant costs and there will be great public interest and interest in this House and in another place in the level of the fee, but I am not in a position to discuss that in any detail, save to confirm that there will be one involved.
Existing photocards will be withdrawn only if they are seriously compromised in terms of security, so we will retain what we have that is effective. The noble Lords, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Hanningfield, are
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right in indicating that a substantial number of driving licences will have to be enhanced. They are significant documents: significant enough for fraud to be perpetrated using them on considerable occasions and often in serious circumstances. We all know that a great deal of serious crime takes place with the use of motor vehicles that have to be obtained. They can be begged, borrowed, stolen or hired. If they are hired, you need fraudulent papers if you drive them. If the police stop you, you have to be able to defend yourself. Therefore, crime based on the use of the motorcar often involves fraudulent use of papers and we have an obligation to use the technology that we have to improve that position. That is the basis of the clause. I hope that the Committee will support it.
Viscount Simon: I have a serious, somewhat searching question for my noble friend. It is not intended to be frivolous. If I have a new photocard and the new format is supposed to provide proof of identity, overcome fraud and all kinds of other things, does that mean that those people who hold such licences will no longer need the proposed identity cards?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My noble friend is being as helpful as ever. He has drawn attention to the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, had hinted at that issue too and I had not answered the point. I would be straying somewhat far afield from my brief if I discussed the issue of identity cards, which the Committee will recognise are the subject of intensive consultation at the present time. Suffice it to say that if my noble friend has the advantage over the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and indeed myself by having a relatively modern driving licence, he is in a far healthier position than we will be when such regulations come into play.
Lord Hanningfield: Does the Minister realise that there will be a great deal of speculation about the new driving licence and ID card? The issues cannot be separated. We are in the process of discussing the legislation. We are only at Committee stage; we are going to go through Report stage and Third Reading. It would be appropriate for the Government to clear
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up whether there is a connection between the new driving licence and the ID card, which will become important. Will the Minister comment further?
Lord Davies of Oldham: The noble Lord has merely reinforced his earlier point to which I was not able to respond particularly positively. I hear what he says; I recognise the importance and it is unlikely that this is the only time I shall be challenged on this point at the Dispatch Box. For the moment I will have to say to him that I am concerned that we need to enhance the quality of the paper driving licence. Indeed, in terms of the numbers, they are decreasing. My noble friend Lord Simon is not in a tiny minority in boasting of his new driving licence. A very large number of our fellow citizens already benefit from it; something in the order of 20 million. The licences are coming on stream at the rate of 2 million a year. We are making rapid progress, but it does not alter the fact that our fellow citizens, including the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw and myself, will have to comply. Issues will arise in that regard.
Lord Hanningfield: Perhaps I may go a little further because as yet the Minister has not come back on the point I made. I too am the holder of a paper licence which will last until I am 70 years old, which is a few years off. Why should I have to pay for a new licence which, if it insists that I need a new licence, should be provided by the state? The Minister did not respond to that point. Should not the paper licences be replaced by the state? While it is different if you apply for a new licence or pay a yearly fee, something that is being taken away from people ought to be replaced by the state.
House adjourned at four minutes before ten o'clock.
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