Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


DRIVING LICENCES (15820/03)

Letter from the Chairman to Rt Hon Alistair Darling MP, Secretary of State, Department for Transport

  Thank you for your letter of 17 January 2006[25] providing your assessment of the transport aspects of the UK's Presidency of the EU.

  Sub-Committee B considered this report at its meeting on 30 January 2006 and found it most helpful.

  In the letter you referred to political difficulties in other Member States which had made it impossible to reach an agreement in Council on the Driver Licences proposal (15820/03). We would be grateful for an explanation of what these political differences were.

1 February 2006

Letter from Stephen Ladyman MP, Minister of State, Department for Transport to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 1 February 2006 to Alistair Darling, responding to his letter of 17 January 2006 assessing the transport aspects of the UK's Presidency of the EU.

  In the letter you requested an explanation of the political differences that made it impossible to reach an agreement in Council on the Driver Licences proposal (15820/03).

  The delay in the Council reaching an agreement has been caused by some Member States having domestic difficulties with the proposal. These difficulties related to worries about the proposals for the withdrawal and replacement of old licences. There were particular concerns about elderly drivers who feared that the obligation to get a new licence might be linked to new checks, for example health checks. As a result agreement was not possible at the December Transport Council.

  The Austrian Presidency has indicated no intention to include this dossier on the agenda for the Council meetings during their term of office.

22 February 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Stephen Ladyman MP

  Thank you for your letter of 22 February, in response to my letter of 1 February, which Sub-Committee B considered at its meeting on 6 March 2006.

  We are grateful for your helpful explanation of the reasons behind the delay in the Council reaching agreement on the Drivers Licence proposal.

  We note that the Austrian Presidency has not indicated that it will pursue this dossier, but trust that you will keep us informed of any future developments as and when they occur.

8 March 2006

Letter from Stephen Ladyman MP to the Chairman

  This is to update you on developments following Alistair Darling's letter dated 17 January 2006 and my letter dated 22 February, and to inform you of the line I propose to take on this dossier in the Transport Council meeting scheduled for 27 March 2006.

  As I explained in my letter of 22 February, the Austrian Presidency had indicated that they had no intention of including this dossier on the agenda for the Council meetings during their term of office. Nevertheless, during March they embarked on rapid negotiations in order to reach an agreement. It is now confirmed that the proposed Directive on driving licences will be taken as an "A" item in the forthcoming Transport Council meeting of 27 March. The text remains unchanged from that on which we sought to secure political agreement at the December 2005 Council, with one exception. A small change is proposed by the Presidency to help address the concerns of some other Member States about the withdrawal and replacement of old model licences. It is proposed that licences to drive cars, light vans and motorcycles should retain their validity period of 10 years, but with the possibility of national extension to a validity period of up to 15 years. This will have no impact on UK practice, and it is a better outcome than allowing those countries to continue to use their old licences indefinitely.

  The Government supports much of what is included in the text. But it is concerned about the proposals on staged access for the younger riders to the larger motorcycles. The Government considers that the system of "motorcycle staging" as proposed will create significant difficulty for our motorcyclists with no tangible benefit for road safety in the United Kingdom. I therefore intend to abstain from the vote on this item and to enter a minutes statement along the lines of:

    The UK abstains. It continues to believe that the measures proposed for staged access to motorcycles for younger riders are too complex and too rigid, and that they are likely to achieve little if any improvement in road safety. The UK therefore has proposed amendments to reduce the complexity and increase the flexibility of these measures at key points. It expresses disappointment that the Council has found it impossible to reach agreement on such amendments.

23 March 2006  

Letter from the Chairman to Stephen Ladyman MP

  Thank you for your letter of 23 March 2006, replying to my letter of 8 March 2006. Sub-Committee B considered your letter at its meeting on 19 April 2006.

  We were surprised that the Austrian Presidency has sought to secure agreement on this Directive, having given no previous indication of such intent. You mention in your letter that the UK Government would abstain from the vote over the proposed system of motorcycle staging. Can you inform us whether the Government did abstain, and whether any outstanding issues remain?

24 April 2006

Letter from Stephen Ladyman MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter dated 24 April 2006.

  You ask why, in transport Council on 27 March this year, the Austrian Presidency sought to ensure agreement on this Directive, having given no previous indication of such intent. Jimmy Hood MP has also written to me asking why the Government chose to abstain from the vote on the text of the proposed Directive, rather than voting against it.

  The Austrian Presidency indicated at an informal meeting in Bregenz on 2-3 March its intention to secure agreement to a text in the 27 March Council. The changed intention of the Austrian Presidency was because it had unexpectedly found a new basis for agreement with those Member States which had expressed concern over the requirement to withdraw old model licences. That new basis was to make small changes to relax the permitted period of validity of the driving licence, to enable Member States if they wished to extend this validity period from 10 years up to 15 years. That is the sole amendment incorporated into the agreed text. As I explained in my previous letter, this amendment will have no impact on UK practice. Following the Bregenz meeting we made further strenuous efforts to secure support for a better deal on staged access for young motorcyclists to the larger machines, but were unsuccesful. Other Member States would also have liked to re-open discussions on different aspects of the proposal, and the Presidency were unwilling at this point to accept further changes as this could have unravelled the hard-won basis for an agreement.

  The UK announced our intention to abstain because we are, nonetheless, disappointed that it has been impossible to secure amendments to achieve better and more flexible arrangements for staged access by young motorcycle riders to the larger machines.

    —  Despite clear consensus in Europe in favour of staged access for young motorcyclists to the larger machines, the Government has consistently sought amendment to these particular proposals. After full consideration of all aspects, the Government does not believe that it could support measures so complex and rigid as those proposed without evidence that they would lead to improvements in road safety.

    —  We believe that our present practice on licensing motorcycle riders, which insists on Compulsory Basic Training and testing for all, is effective. We shall seek to work with motorcycle and road safety interests to devise as good as possible a way of retaining its benefits within the new EU framework.

  The UK requested a minutes statement, which was entered as follows: "The United Kingdom believes that the measures proposed for staged access to motorcycles for younger riders are too complex and too rigid, and that they are unlikely to achieve an improvement in road safety. The UK had therefore proposed amendments to reduce the complexity, and increase the flexibility, of these measures at key points. It expresses disappointment that the Council found it impossible to reach agreement on these amendments."

  Although the Government abstained because of its disappointment over staged access to motorcycles for young riders, it did not oppose because it welcomes most of the remainder of the agreed text.

    —  The Government welcomes the proposed new measures to tighten up the overall security of the driver licensing system, including the establishment of a limited period of validity for the licence. Much of what is proposed is already established practice in the United Kingdom (UK).

    —  The new security measures are welcome, because they will bring the rest of Europe largely into step with current UK practice on photocard driving licences. UK photocard licences currently remain valid for 10 years, at the end of which a new licence, with an up-to-date photograph, has to be issued.

    —  There is no suggestion that any entitlements to drive will lapse, nor that a new test will have to be taken, at the end of the validity period. Existing drivers' entitlements continue to be respected.

    —  Continued compliance with the required standards of physical and mental fitness will be required on renewal of the licence at the end of its period of validity, but we believe that is fully in accordance with the long-established practice of self-declaration in the UK.

    —  The new Directive will oblige the withdrawal of all pre-photocard licences and their replacement with photocards, by about the year 2032. The Government expects in any case to address this matter long before that date in order to improve the security against fraud of the UK driver licensing system.

    —  The Directive will permit the UK, should we decide to do so, to include a computer chip on our photocard licences, further to improve the security of our driving licences against fraud.

    —  The Government welcomes the emphasis placed on driving examiner competences. This will also encourage practice across Europe to be in accordance with our UK priorities for present and future action.

    —  The Government welcomes the proposals in support of "one person, one licence". These will make it more difficult for a driver already holding a driving licence or disqualified from driving in one Member State to acquire simultaneously a further licence in another Member State. We believe that the system for international checking will need to be designed with care so as to focus the use of Member State resources effectively on tackling the real miscreants.

    —  The Government is pleased that many amendments have been made since the original proposals were presented, so that in numerous areas the measures can now be expected to lead to real benefit commensurate with their costs. Numerous proposals which would have imposed costs out of all proportion to any road safety (or other) benefit have been negotiated out of the draft Directive.

    —  There is now no obligation to limit entitlements to drive to age 65.

    —  Although the truck and bus driving licence will be renewable five yearly at ages under 45 as well as at 45 and over, we have no plans to introduce medical checks at ages under 45.

    —  The maximum vehicle weight at which a medium goods vehicle licence would apply remains at 7.5 tonnes.

    —  For vehicles towing trailers, a clearer and more consistent set of rules eliminates loopholes which have encouraged the use of freak vehicles. The text of the proposed Directive as it stands will allow a "tractor unit" and trailer combination to be driven on a category B driving licence, so long as together tractor unit and trailer weigh no more than 4,250 kg. Only if the trailer weighs over 750 kg and the combination weighs over 3,500 kg will any supplementary training or testing have to be undertaken. This is a simpler and clearer rule than the present one. It is at the discretion of the Member State to determine on national implementation whether the requirement imposed should be for training, for testing, or for a combination of both. The United Kingdom authorities will wish to address this requirement with a light, if effective, touch.

10 May 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Stephen Ladyman MP

  Thank you for your letter of 10 May, which Sub-Committee B considered at its meeting on 22 May.

  We were most grateful to you for your full account of why in your view the Austrian Presidency had sought agreement on the Directive, and for your detailed explanation of the Government's stance.

23 May 2006



25   Correspondence with Ministers 45th Report of Session 2005-06, HL Paper 243, pp 224-226. Back


 
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