Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 324 - 339)




  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 the record?
  (Mr Bennett) I am Clive Bennett, Chief Executive of DVLA.
  (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.

  326. 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.

Miss McIntosh

  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 number plate?

  333. Yes.
  (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[4].

  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[5]. 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 things—the serious faults—is 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 feel—and I do not know if this is borne out by evidence which your Inspectorate would like to share with the Committee—there 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

5   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

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