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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the way in which he introduced the amendment. As he recognises, Clause 7, which he seeks to amend, introduces the concept of a driving record maintained by the Secretary of State, which would be the official record of a driver's endorsement history. That would enable the introduction at Clause 9 of the new system that we propose of endorsement for all drivers based on inspection of the driving record rather than the counterpart.
I bear in mind what the noble Lord says about the difficulties with regard to technology and how we have to take care with a data bank of such significance. We think that it will take considerable time before we can commence the new system of endorsement. We cannot see it being in place in any fewer than three years, and it will probably be as many as five years before it is implemented. That is because we need to take care, as he indicated, of the creation of the new system. Noble Lords will recognise the complexity of any system that creates the necessary electronic links between the police, the courts and the DVLA, and establishes alternative procedures for all the other functions that the counterpart currently provides.
We have tried to identify all the persons who at this stage we envisage would require access to information held on the driving record. But it may be apparent, when we come to implement the new system, that others require access in order for the system to work. That is why we have the provision in the clause for the Secretary of State to make additions.
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In view of the potential significance of the power to extend the categories in new Section 97A(2)(e), the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommended at paragraph 28 of its report that the affirmative procedure should apply. We are of course content to follow that recommendation, and we amended the Bill in Committee so that the affirmative rather than negative resolution procedure now applies to the power to make regulations under new Section 97A(2)(e).
That means that regulations prescribing persons other than those detailed in the Bill to have access to the driving record would be subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament. I maintain that that safeguard meets the anxieties of the noble Lord regarding this very difficult question. I am at one with him in recognising that the matter raises significant technical issues of implementation. That is why we intend to take our time and to take great care over the procedure. We recognise how important this record is. However, I think the noble Lord will recognise that to delete from the Bill an opportunity for the Secretary of State to add additional persons to the list through regulation rather than to introduce primary legislation would constitute a great limitation, if only because we have also given the clear assurance that any regulation adding names will be brought before both Houses. I hope the noble Lord will recognise that the powers which are sought here are subject to effective parliamentary scrutiny and that he will withdraw the amendment.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I thank the Minister for those comments. He did not respond to all my points. I hope that he will reflect on them and write to me. I still do not understand why the Government need to introduce this system. The public do not like having endorsements but at least those are recorded on driving licences and are known about. I do not believe that the storing of endorsements on a computer system will be popular with the public. I am not certain how the system will work. The Minister assures me that it may be five years away. On the other hand, five years can pass quickly. I hope that the Minister will reflect further on the matter and before Third Reading communicate any further points that he believes noble Lords should be aware of. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(1) In section 15 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52)
(a) in subsection (1), for "fourteen" substitute "sixteen";
(b) in subsection (3), for "fourteen" substitute "sixteen".
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(2) In Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (c. 53) (prosecution and punishment of offences)
(a) in the entry relating to RTA section 14, in column (6) insert "Obligatory.";
(b) in the entry relating to RTA section 15(2), in column (6) insert "Obligatory";
(c) in the entry relating to RTA section 15(4), in column (6) insert "Obligatory"."
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to provide for a measure that was omitted from the Road Traffic Act 1988. I have been advised on the matter by the police who seek to fill this gap in the previous legislation. That legislation allows the police to prosecute someone driving with a child passenger when the latter is not wearing a seat belt provided the child is 14 years of age and under. When the relevant person reaches 17 years of age he is deemed to be responsible on his own account and he can then be prosecuted for not wearing a seat belt. Apparently, no one aged 15 or 16 can be prosecuted for not wearing a seat belt. The purpose of the amendment is to complete the cycle to enable the person driving the car to be prosecuted when travelling with a child up to the age of 16 when the latter is not wearing a seat belt, as a person aged 17 can be prosecuted on his own account for not wearing a seat belt. I beg to move.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord both for his accuracy and his brevity, which I shall try to match in my reply. I understand his concern that as persons under 16 cannot be charged with the offence we are discussing there is an apparent gap in the law. I am at one with him in seeking to ensure that compliance with seat belt laws extends as far as possible. We have no doubt at all about the efficacy of seat belts as a road safety measure. That applies to young passengers as much as to drivers and others. I share that objective with the noble Lord.
There is no doubt that getting people to wear seat belts has made an enormous difference to road casualty figures, and the noble Lord is seeking to build on that. As I explained in Committee, the two proposals made in this amendment raise wider issues about law enforcement and levels of fines. Consistency is also important, and the issues should be considered as a whole and not piecemeal, offence by offence.
Reference was made in Committee to what Home Office circulars say about young offenders. Home Office Circular 7/97 advises that fixed penalty notices can be given to 16 and 17 year-olds. Home Office Circular 92/85 advises that fixed penalty notices for road traffic offences should not be given to younger juveniles. That is simply because they may not have the money to pay. If the fines are to be realistic, how do they pay such an amount? If they do not pay, parents or carers may find themselves, as guardians, with an
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unexpected summons in respect of a fixed penalty notice. It is therefore police policy not to issue fixed penalty notices to juveniles for failure to wear a seat belt.
However, that does not mean that the police cannot deal with juveniles; they can take whatever action they consider appropriate. They can, if necessary, charge someone with an offence, which means a summons to appear in court. It is not true that the courts cannot deal with people under the age of 16. The normal penalty for seat belt wearing offences would apply, which is a fine up to a maximum of £500. It remains the Government's view, as I said in Committee, that it would be unwise to change the arrangements just for this one offence until we have properly considered the wider question in the round. It was explained in Committee that the Home Office is addressing the issue of juveniles, and I hope that the House will recognise that wider issues are involved.
It was explained in Committee why the Government consider that the endorsement of licences with penalty points should be reserved for the most serious driving offences. Having regard to that and to the structure of penalties generally, the Government believe that the proposed level 2 fine of £500 is appropriate for the offence of not wearing a seat belt. Endorsement, which automatically increases the fixed penalty fine from £30 to £60, would put the offence on a par with speeding and traffic light offences. I put it to noble Lords that they are not the same level of offence, not least because of the danger to other road users caused by the other offences, which scarcely would apply with regard to the seat belt offence. The best approach is to continue our constant attempts to educate drivers about the importance of seat belts, supported by police enforcement as appropriate.
I am not complacent about rates of seat belt use; we campaign constantly to get them higher because we are not satisfied. Even 93 per cent compliance by people in the front seats of cars is too low, and there is still a problem with children in the rear of cars. Nevertheless, we have been making considerable progress with compliance in recent years. I accept that there is a lower level of wearing of seatbelts for adults in the rear of cars, and we intend to continue to campaign and work on that problem. I hope the noble Lord will recognise that there are difficulties with his amendments, although I entirely share his objectives. We have good reasons why we want to consider the offences within that context, and I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
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