Examination of Witnesses (Questions 324
WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY 2001
324. Good afternoon to you, gentlemen. I apologise
for making you wait. As you can understand, one of the hazards
of having important jobs is that you will occasionally find yourself
in a situation where people are asking you and your colleagues
difficult questions. Can I ask you to identify yourselves for
(Mr Bennett) I am Clive Bennett, Chief Executive of
(Mr Harvey) I am Derek Harvey, Chief Executive of
the Vehicle Certification Agency.
(Mr Newey) I am Maurice Newey, Chief Executive of
the Vehicle Inspectorate.
Chairman: Do you, collectively or individually,
have anything you want to say to us before we start? You are happy
to face the firing squad. What additional duties are going to
be placed on you if the Vehicles Crime Bill is enacted?
(Mr Bennett) We have been working quite hard with
the Home Office and the police. In terms of what DVLA are bringing
to that, with the current Bill everything we are doing is in line
with police requirements, which is of importance to us because
they are our major customer. For us it means, largely, the movement
towards the regulation of number plates, which for years have
been unregulated. People can buy a number plate and put it on
their vehicle, and also the control of the layout of that number
plate, so that we are moving towards enforcement for automatic
number plate use as, indeed, do the police and other authorities.
325. Do you expect to have additional staff?
(Mr Bennett) The number of staff is very low. In fact
the total staffing for that is about two.
(Mr Bennett) You register the outlets, they are put
into place and we simply ensure that should there be a problem
the police identify a problem in enforcement. Then we can obviously
take away the licence for that particular outlet.
327. You would say that because you are working
with the Home Office and because you are doing things that you
are building on something that you already have been doing and
you would assume that you are going to be able to absorb the effects
of this particular Bill?
(Mr Bennett) It is the establishment of the register.
We are not talking about huge numbers, about 27,000 outlets, but
once you have got those the actual management of them is simply
on the basis of when they step out of line of the responsibilities
they have to maintain the criteria for number plate issue, then
we would remove that registration. So it is more of a negative
control than a positive one.
328. What difficulties do you face as a result
of the introduction of the graduated Vehicle Excise Duty regime?
(Mr Bennett) Really two-fold I think. We have been
working very closely with the DETR and Treasury on this because
it was part of the move towards the green movement, and it revolved
around the emission of CO2, and the problem for us was that there
was no authoritative CO2 data on DVLA records so that needed to
be established. The move towards grad VED is starting in March
based upon the fact that we will get that information directly
from manufacturers now, which goes on to the data base and drives
the rates. That was one issue, actually collecting the data and
making sure we could get that data from manufacturers. The second
issue related to the whole question of physically being able to
handle the rebates in relation to the new grad VED rates, and
that has been deliberately done in a slow but sure way to make
sure we could honour the rebates which were issued.
329. On the numbers of staff, the staff has
gone up 16 per cent in two years to 4,700, but your number of
transactions has only gone up by 4 per cent. It is therefore quite
possible that when you say to me you only expect to have a small
percentage increase in your staff that is because you have actually
done rather well ahead of it.
(Mr Bennett) That is on the VCRAT issue. On grad VED
of course it is very different. If you take things like graduated
VED, the SORN implementation and you take photocards on licences,
all of which have been three major activities taking place in
the last year to 18 months, that has had a huge impact on staff,
for example, the photocards on licences is now a more complex
process so it has added to the quantity of work. Sixty per cent
of the increase we have experienced has been on those three areas.
Miss McIntosh: May I just remind the Committee
of my interest in the RAC, sitting on their Public Policy Committee.
Chairman: We are learning to appreciate your
many and varied interests.
330. Can I also declare an interest as I do
sit on the Standing Committee for the Vehicles (Crime) Bill. If
you read the explanatory notes on that Bill the cost to the public
sector of that Bill is going to be substantial, therefore I want
to ask you
(Mr Bennett) Sorry to stop you, but the total cost
would be in DVLA terms about £11 million but there are four
items in the Bill and a number of items outside, for example,
mandatory mileage recording alone which is £3 million.
331. Relating to the question which was put
by Madam Chairman, are you convinced you are going to have sufficient
resources in terms of manpower and budgetary resources to meet
these new responsibilities?
(Mr Bennett) All of the resources for the items within
the Bill and outside the Bill are within the SR 2000 settlement,
we had that money agreed within that settlement, so I think the
answer to your question is yes.
332. I was assured by the Home Office, and I
have no reason to doubt that information, that certain technology
at the moment does not exist. I am going to ask a very technical
question for which I apologise, the bar code on the back of the
new driving licence enables a certain level of information to
be read from the bar code, at what stage do you think the technology
will be available so you can have a similar bar code on the registration
plate that would enable that information to be read in the same
way as when you go through the Dartford Tunnel?
(Mr Bennett) You are talking about the DECAL on the
(Mr Bennett) I think the technology exists, I think
the issue is around the implementation of that kind of control
and being able to use it, so I do not think it is a technological
issue, it is really the process of getting that on to number plates.
That is being looked at very closely by the Agency at the moment
as part of the VCRAT initiative.
334. When do you think it will be available?
(Mr Bennett) Precisely I cannot tell you, I can find
out and let you know. My understanding is that it is dependent
upon the other side of the Bill and not the Bill that is going
through Parliament at the moment, so it needs that passage through
Parliament for the balance.
335. Will the Vehicle Inspectorate also have
duties under the Bill?
(Mr Newey) I think our duties will be limited to giving
any technical support to DVLA if they require it.
336. One of the issues which has to be addressed
is if a vehicle is stolen, as happened in the case of my parents,
and never seen again, if it is broken down into spare parts, is
it possible within the provisions of the Bill to trace those parts
and make sure they do not turn up on another vehicle?
(Mr Newey) That would not be a role I believe the
Vehicle Inspectorate could take on because of the sheer size of
it compared with the number of resources we have.
337. Could I ask a more general question within
the role you currently perform, what percentage of foreign, ie
European, registered vehicles are currently checked for both road-worthiness
and any illegal fuel they may be carrying?
(Mr Newey) It is roughly the same proportion as UK
vehicles which are checked. Last year, if you take both the traffic
checks and vehicle condition checks, I believe the aggregate total
was around 16 to 17,000.
338. What action are you able to take against
EU-registered vehicles which are proved to have committed an offence
under the provisions that you are entitled to stop them for?
(Mr Newey) If it is a serious fault with the mechanical
condition of the vehicle, we can place an immediate prohibition
on it. What we cannot do is place a delayed prohibition on a vehicle
in the way we would with a UK vehicle. Similarly, if there is
a driver's hours offence, we can prohibit the vehicle from proceeding
in the same way we can with a UK based vehicle.
So we are getting closer in terms of treatment but the fact is
that the legislation which governs European vehicles and UK based
vehicles is slightly different. I have to say that the defect
rate we find on foreign vehicles and UK based vehicles, to the
extent that we do check the same thingsthe serious faultsis
about the same on the two sets of vehicles.
339. There are what I think to be quite serious
allegations made by a number of road hauliers, some of which are
based within my constituency, and others which we heard from in
the context of the evidence which the Committee took on road haulage
and in particular fuel duties. There is a concern that our hauliers
are being penalised by respecting the law and not carrying illegal
fuel, whereas they do feeland I do not know if this is
borne out by evidence which your Inspectorate would like to share
with the Committeethere is a rising opportunity which is
perpetrated by particularly Dutch, Belgium, French, Spanish hauliers
of availing themselves of the lower rates of duty, plus the fact
their currencies are currently on a more competitive rate against
the pound, and really carrying more fuel than they would otherwise
be entitled to, giving them an unfair competitive advantage against
our hauliers. Do you have any evidence you could share with us
in that regard?
(Mr Newey) Our checks of vehicles would certainly
look to see whether there was any illegality in the fuel system.
I do not mean red diesel, for example, which is a different matter
and a matter for Customs & Excise, I mean if the vehicle had
tanks filled above the safe level to a level where it might be
a safety factor. That could come into our checks. The other thing
to say about trying to keep an even playing field with foreign
vehicles is that we are increasingly exchanging information and
intelligence with our European partners about operators who are
doing things which are outside the law, either here or in their
own countries. We have set up and are increasingly setting up
more effective networks to do that.
4 Note by Witness: The actual number was 17,474. Back
Note by Witness: Powers to prohibit UK vehicles for drivers hours
and tacho offences come into force on 1 February 2001 under the
Transport Act 2000. Back