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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank the noble Earl for his remarks on the delicate question of equal opportunities. I spoke perhaps mistakenly and over-hurriedly on such an extremely delicate matter. I should not have mentioned Field Marshal Montgomery. I should like to apologise to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Driving Licences (Community Driving Licence) Regulations 1996

3.25 p.m.

The Earl of Courtown rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 17th June be approved [25th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move. These regulations represent one of the stages in the process of implementing the Second EC Driving Licence Directive. They may be regarded as paving legislation, amending primary legislation to give effect to some of the

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provisions of the directive. With the exception of one set of measures which I shall presently come to, the UK will implement the directive on 1st January 1997.

Implementation also requires changes to secondary legislation. Regulations introducing theory testing for cars and motorcycles took effect on 1st July. Regulations covering the remaining changes--theory testing for other vehicles, additional tests to drive certain vehicles, including minibuses and small goods vehicles, and changes to eyesight requirements for lorry and bus drivers--will be presented to the House for approval in the autumn, following public consultation.

The second directive takes forward harmonisation of driver licensing and testing within the EU initiated by the First Driving Licence Directive of 1980. This introduced mutual recognition of driving licences, underpinned by minimum health and testing standards, and licences in a common format. As a consequence, checking driving entitlement throughout the Community became easier. Mutual recognition effectively meant that drivers who took up residence in another member state could exchange their licences after a year without having to pass another driving test. The second directive consolidates mutual recognition by removing the exchange requirement.

These regulations primarily affect drivers from EU member states and other states within the European Economic Area who take up residence here. For convenience I shall refer to these as Community licence holders. The key provisions are as follows. Paragraph 9 of Schedule 1 gives to all Community licence holders the same right to drive as their British equivalents. It also makes their licences valid for the same period, unless those licences expire earlier. Community licence holders who take up permanent residence in Britain may still exchange their licences for British ones if they wish.

Paragraphs 3 to 5, 11 to 12 and 20 to 28 of Schedule 1 bring resident Community licence holders within the same medical and conduct regimes as British licence holders. For example, if they are entitled to drive lorries or buses, they will need a medical examination at the age of 45, then every five years till 65, and every year thereafter to renew their licences. And they may be disqualified or have their entitlements suspended on grounds of conduct.

Effective enforcement of the medical and conduct regimes depends on the DVLA being aware of the drivers concerned, as they are of British licence holders. Paragraph 10 of Schedule 1 requires Community licence holders authorised to drive goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes or passenger vehicles with nine or more passenger seats to register with the DVLA within a year of taking up residence. Other drivers may register if they wish. A registered driver will receive a counterpart to the licence--like the document that accompanies a British licence. Registration and the issue of a counterpart will aid the recording of endorsements ordered against Community licence holders. But they will also bring benefits to the drivers concerned: it will be much easier to replace their lost or stolen licences; they will have access to the fixed penalty regime which, among other things, makes it unnecessary to attend court

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for each offence; and the DVLA will be able to contact them about licence renewals and send them information about driving in the UK.

Paragraph 2(2) and 2(3) of Schedule 1 will require an applicant for a licence to be normally resident; that is, to have lived here for at least six months in any year. Noble Lords may recall press reports some months ago about the thriving business of driving licence tourism, with disqualified German drivers coming here to obtain a UK licence. These provisions will make that type of operation much less likely.

Schedule 2 incorporates amendments to the Road Traffic Offenders Act to bring Community licence holders within the scope of penalties associated with the above provisions.

The regulations also extend to Community licence holders certain entitlements which currently are only available if a British licence is held. These include, in Schedules 3 and 4, the right to be licensed to drive taxis or private hire vehicles or to drive small buses for charitable and similar purposes.

In summary, therefore, the changes which these regulations introduce will enable new residents from other member states to drive on the same footing, with similar entitlements and subject to similar constraints, as those who hold British licences. British licence holders will of course have commensurate benefits when they take up residence in another member state. The Government believe that these regulations fulfil the aims of the directive to promote the free movement of people throughout the European Union on the basis of parity of treatment of drivers, underpinned by common testing and health standards. This is an important landmark in driving licence legislation. As such, I commend the regulations to the House.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 17th June be approved [25th Report from the Joint Committee].--(The Earl of Courtown.)

3.30 p.m.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his explanation of the regulations. The debate provides a convenient vehicle for me to address concerns about licences to drive articulated vehicles. First, I should declare an interest as I am president of the Heavy Transport Association. I also have a Class 1 HGV licence, now known as a C+E licence, by test. I also employ HGV drivers in the Territorial Army.

Perhaps I should enlighten your Lordships as regards the terminology. An LGV is a large goods vehicle. An HGV is a heavy goods vehicle. They are determined by the weight of the vehicle. I understand that in Germany the terms are PKW and LKW.

Perhaps I may give your Lordships a little of the history of HGV/vocational driving licences. They were introduced in the Transport Act 1968 and there were three classes. A Class 3 vehicle was a rigid goods vehicle with no more than four wheels in contact with the ground. A Class 2 vehicle had more than four wheels in contact with the ground and was generally a six-wheeler or an eight-wheeler. A Class 1 vehicle was an articulated vehicle.

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There is not much difference between driving a six-wheeler and a four-wheeler but an articulated vehicle is a completely different beast to drive. The trailer cuts in rapidly and it is extremely easy to allow the rear wheels of the trailer to mount the kerb or, even worse, to crush a cyclist or pedestrian. I have extensive experience of driving very large goods vehicles. Most have involved recovery vehicles or towing draw-bar trailers. Despite my experience, whenever I drive an articulated vehicle I do so with some trepidation.

With the original Classes 3, 2 and 1 vehicles no special licence was needed to tow a draw-bar trailer. The draw-bar trailer is attached to the rear of the goods vehicle but no weight of the draw-bar trailer is imposed on the tractor unit. However, with an articulated vehicle about 20 per cent. of the weight of the trailer is applied to the tractor.

A draw-bar trailer is much easier to tow down the road and therefore there was considered to be no need to have an additional licence in order to tow such a trailer. A Class 1 HGV licence was not needed to tow a draw-bar trailer.

We then introduced the new EC driving licence classes and there were three. Class C relates to a rigid goods vehicle, no matter how many wheels it has. Class C+E generally relates to an articulated vehicle. Class C+E restricted--and this is the important part--allows people who had an entitlement under their old Class 2 or Class 3 licence to tow a draw-bar trailer to continue to do so. However, they are not allowed to tow an articulated trailer because that is much more difficult to drive.

I thought it rather unwise at the time but it did not appear to cause a problem. But now we have further harmonisation of EU driving licence classes and it appears that we are to ditch the C + E restricted class. To do that, as I understand it, the Government intend that people who have a C + E restricted licence will now be able to drive an articulated vehicle, even though they may never have towed any form of trailer behind a rigid goods vehicle, they have certainly never driven an articulated vehicle and they have certainly never undergone a DoT test to show that they can handle a trailer. I assure your Lordships that the DoT test for driving an articulated vehicle is a very stiff one indeed.

This new arrangement is extremely unfair to those who have recently passed their C + E test because they will have spent as much as £1,000 in order to achieve the vocational licence to drive an articulated vehicle. They will see people who have never taken a test and who have no experience of driving an articulated vehicle being given free, gratis, the right to drive an articulated vehicle. That is rather unfair.

I appreciate that that is a fairly technical point and the Minister may not have a full answer now. However, I look forward to hearing or reading a considered response in due course.


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