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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340 - 359)

WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY 2001

MR CLIVE BENNETT, MR DEREK HARVEY AND MR MAURICE NEWEY

  340. Would it be possible to share in more detail the evidence you have on that specific point with the Committee?
  (Mr Newey) Do you mean now?

  341. In writing.
  (Mr Newey) I can send that to the Committee.

Chairman

  342. Are the numbers of checks you do rising? I cannot carry in my head the number of vehicles there are on the road and therefore it is difficult for me to estimate what percentage that 16,000 checks really represents.
  (Mr Newey) With UK based vehicles we reckon to see on average a vehicle (HGV) every five years[6], if you take the total fleet size. The difficulty with foreign vehicles is actually having accurate statistics showing how many are on our roads at any time. A UK vehicle will be on the road all the time, a foreign vehicle will only be there for a small proportion of the year, so trying to get some proportionality into the figures is quite difficult, but it is our objective to treat foreign vehicles in the same way we would treat our own. If we are doing random checks obviously they get stopped randomly. Increasingly the Inspectorate is doing targeted checks which rely to some extent on intelligence.

Miss McIntosh

  343. When you said that Customs & Excise look at red diesel and you look at other things, it set alarm bells ringing. Are you convinced that every offending vehicle from a non-British source is being apprehended? It is not falling between two stools and different Agencies?
  (Mr Newey) It would not fall between two stools for that purpose. In terms of whether I can say every vehicle which is doing something illegal would get caught, I cannot say that obviously because the level of checks clearly means that some would get through whatever, and we would have to put in an enormous amount of resource to check everything. We are increasingly targeting our efforts and, for example, the Dutch authorities tell us about operators they believe are becoming more illegal and companies we ought to have a look at, and we increasingly do that. We are trying to filter out the ones which we think are most at risk of offending.

  344. Do you think there is some justification for British road hauliers making these comments?
  (Mr Newey) It is very difficult to say.

Chairman

  345. Have you noticed any difference in the amount of fuel being carried by those vehicles you are stopping?
  (Mr Newey) There is very little evidence of that, I have to say.

  346. So your own instinct would be that there is no hard evidence that would back this story up?
  (Mr Newey) No. The main benefit foreign hauliers get is that they buy cheaper fuel overseas and they continue their journey in the UK and can often complete a journey and get back before they have to buy any more fuel. That is their main advantage.

Mr Bennett

  347. Mr Bennett, this question of enforcement, in a large proportion of car crime in terms of parking offences and speeding offences the fines are not collected because it is difficult to track down the addresses. How satisfied are you that the addresses on the majority of people's driving licences are accurate?
  (Mr Bennett) Accuracy is one of our key issues around enforcement of all kinds. One of the things we do is regularly check the level of accuracy of the driver data base, in fact the data base on the whole. On enforcement, we have been running at about 4.1 per cent for VED evasion and we are down in 1999 to 3.9 per cent, so we are confident that the constant attention to putting in punitive measures, if you like, on inaccuracy is yielding a greater accuracy and we are collecting more enforcement year-on-year.

  348. You are collecting more enforcement. Other people are able to collect more enforcement because of the information you give them which is accurate, is that it?
  (Mr Bennett) Both. We are supplying information to a wide range of people, primarily the police who are using the information for criminal prosecutions of all kinds. But we are also using it ourselves when it comes to VED based on reports coming from the police and traffic wardens and pursuing those through to completion, very often without a court settlement, but taking a large number—something like 300,000—to court each year and prosecuting accordingly.

  349. So for somewhere like Manchester City Council, for instance, and its parking provisions, it is getting more accurate information from you as to the addresses of people who are committing parking offences?
  (Mr Bennett) I would hope it is getting more and more accurate. Whether it happens specifically in Manchester is difficult to say but in overall terms we are confident that accuracy is improving. We are taking significant steps—as you are probably aware, the wheel-clamping initiative has helped with the public approach to this and indeed stops evasion—

  350. That stops evasion of VED, yes, but what about the rest of the fines which have to be collected?
  (Mr Bennett) The point I was making about Vehicle Excise Duty is that any time you are putting that through, you are checking the validity of the record, so it is quite an important point. You are talking about drivers however.

  351. Yes.
  (Mr Bennett) The drivers prosecution side we do not do, that is done by the police and also by VI.

  352. But it is dependent on your records.
  (Mr Bennett) It is dependent on our records, absolutely.

  353. How accurate are your records? Do you do a sample of records and check the address on the driving licence against the address people are living at?
  (Mr Bennett) Yes, we do a sample regularly of a representative number of drivers, check the details against the base file. That is where that figure comes from, so we know the last time we did that exercise it was 2.1. It is not accurate enough, we could always make it more accurate, and that is our thrust.

  354. How do you establish that someone lives at the address mentioned on the driving licence?
  (Mr Bennett) We cannot do that directly, we can only do it against a declaration, but it will ultimately come through once the police deal with the case.

  355. You have just given us some figures from which you are claiming the performance is improving, what I want to know is how you do that sample.
  (Mr Bennett) We can only do that against data, so we will check the data on the driving licence against the data on our data base. We cannot validate that everyone lives where they say they live, that would be a difficult thing to do.

  356. So people can actually live at an address which is advantageous as far as their insurance policy is concerned, but also is advantageous in that when fines are sent to their address for parking offences and for some road driving offences they are not known at that address. Is that right?
  (Mr Bennett) It is possible we cannot trace them back to an address, of course. It is very difficult to tie down an individual to an address. We depend really on self-notification.

  357. The enforcement of a substantial amount of the fines process is dependent on that, is it not? If we go increasingly to fines being based on registration numbers for speeding offences, it will become even more crucial, will it not?
  (Mr Bennett) The accuracy of the address, yes.

  358. You are not doing any checking up yourself, you are simply relying on other people for that?
  (Mr Bennett) Yes. There is a new initiative on the name and address file to centralise all changes to the name and address files, but most of that is based upon a self-declaration of an individual as to where they have now moved. Short of visiting each address and checking out the detail, it would be very difficult, and of course you are only looking at the vehicle keeper on the licence.

  359. So most students who move away from home to an area where the insurance policy would go up are unlikely to declare to you they have changed their address?
  (Mr Bennett) There is a problem, of course, with notification of change of address. We cannot legislate for that but what we are doing is picking up the vehicle side of things from our point of view, the driver inaccuracies tend to be picked up through the normal channels of investigation, the police and so on.


6   Note by Witness: The equivalent figure for PSVs is three years. Back


 
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