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Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I must offer the House an apology for intervening in this debate at such a late hour in your Lordships' proceedings on a Friday afternoon. But this draft statutory instrument
The first thing which I observed about this regulation is that it is 20 pages long. It contains numerous clauses which, in order to examine in any depth, one would have to refer to the Road Traffic Act 1988, to another Act of 1985 and to a further Act of 1989. But, on the basis of my experience of examining European Community legislation and checking it, that would take me many days and I am fairly experienced in tracing through such items in order to ensure that the United Kingdom's position, and particularly that of its citizens, is preserved fully and is in no way encroached upon.
I do not know, and I have not had time to find out, which committee in another place or indeed which Select Committee here had the opportunity to scrutinise these regulations. I should think that, by inquiry, the noble Earl will be able to tell me that when he replies. But the regulations require detailed examination. I should like to be reassured that that has been done by one or other of the Select Committees of the United Kingdom Parliament--if so, how long did it take--and whether the scrutiny was withheld temporarily at any point or whether it was passed through without scrutiny. As a representative of the Government, I am sure that the Minister will be able to tell me when the proposals were considered by the Council of Ministers and whether they were part of the list A which had been approved in COREPER, which nevertheless, by tradition, go through on the nod in the Council of Ministers, or whether they were discussed at all in the Council of Ministers, and, if so, when.
The Minister will no doubt appreciate that my inquiries are purely precautionary and are by no means hostile. I know that he will be able to answer me. I am quite sure that my fears and anxieties will be allayed. However--and I must apologise to the House for introducing a personal note here--I am a motorist. I hold a UK licence, and at present I do not endure any particular disability by being slightly over the age of 70. I shall not divulge my true age to noble Lords because I am quite sure that they would not wish me to satisfy such curiosity.
I should perhaps add that I intend later in the year to take my car over to continental Europe to visit some of the watering places which are occupied by the Council of Ministers from time to time. I would not wish anything in the regulations--and I am quite sure that the
My second point relates to the conditions under which Community driving licence holders are able to drive freely and without let or hindrance in the United Kingdom, subject, of course, to whatever provisions are contained within the various paragraphs in this 20-page document. As your Lordships know, a British driving licence in the United Kingdom is not issued to a British citizen unless he can satisfy the examiner of his knowledge of the Highway Code; indeed, he must have a complete and comprehensive knowledge of it. I am reliably informed that there are some aspirants to holding a licence who fail to get one on that account.
I shall be most interested to know whether Community licence holders are required to satisfy the authorities as to their knowledge of the British Highway Code before they drive on our roads. To my knowledge, its abrogation in favour of Community driving licence holders is by no means put into the regulations. I give way to the noble Earl.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, will the noble Lord study the Belgian and the French highway codes so that, when he drives on the Continent to check the watering holes to which he referred, he will have knowledge of them?
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I am afraid that I do not have the remotest idea. Indeed, it is not a subject in which I have a detailed interest, although I am concerned to some extent as regards my personal position and would like to be reassured in that respect.
It seems to me to be rather odd that we as UK drivers holding British licences and adhering to a different side drive than many people on the Continent have to satisfy the authorities as to our knowledge of the Highway Code, while others who hold a Continental driving licence may be exempt from that process. As I said, that seems to be a little odd. I will not detain the House any longer. Those are the only queries I have. I am quite sure the noble Earl will be able to satisfy me. I trust I may have his good wishes for my tour--to accompany his Ministers--on the Council of Ministers visit.
Viscount Simon: My Lords, I am not quite certain whether it is relevant that I declare an interest as a holder of a Class 1 police driving certificate. I have been an examiner of advanced motorists in Australia.
I am concerned about the exchange of information between police forces in the United Kingdom and in continental Europe. My understanding of these regulations is that a holder of a European licence or a Community licence can drive here on that licence without having to change it if he decides to live here. If he wants to change to a UK licence, he can do so. He can exchange it. Once he has exchanged it, is it then possible for him to obtain a Community licence so that he holds two licences, in which case there is the possibility of his being disqualified for some reason or
The second point I would like to make is that our police forces are generally more lenient towards drivers holding foreign licences and driving cars that are registered on the Continent. If someone is living here permanently, driving on his Community licence and driving a car registered in the Continent, and he is hauled up by a traffic officer, how does that officer determine where he is living? His European licence will have his photograph and his identity but it does not show an address. Can the information be obtained from abroad? Will they release it? Will the police here go to the trouble of obtaining that address to serve a summons?
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, this has been quite an interesting little debate. It has revealed a number of fascinating vignettes about the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, driving his heavy goods vehicle. I did not know about that. I have noticed that he takes a very keen interest in our transport debates but I thank him for revealing that practical knowledge, of which I was unaware. The points which he has addressed to the Minister are important points and hopefully will be responded to.
My noble friend Lord Bruce is never short on surprising the House. I wish him well on his tour. I hope that he will not get into any trouble in visiting the watering places of which he talks. I have always wondered, incidentally, whether he has one of the newfangled, European type passports. That must infuriate him enormously, but the thought of a European driving licence would drive him into an utter frenzy.
However, we are not talking about that at this stage. We are talking about the facilitation of mutual recognition of driving licences across the whole of Europe, which I believe is extremely important. I would not wish us to rise for our Summer Recess without saying that I hope he will experience a revealing tour, an encouraging tour, and one with which he will regale the House--no doubt interminably--in the future. I always enjoy his interventions; he is a good friend of mine.
My noble friend is right that this is a complex set of draft regulations. There is too much cross-referencing in our legislation anyway and this is a pretty poor example of how legislation should emerge. However, it is difficult to find a remedy for the complaint. We make it frequently but it goes on, regardless of which party is in power. We thank the Minister for introducing and explaining the purpose of the draft legislation. I hope that he will note the complaint yet again. No one seems prepared to do anything about it. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, also raised some interesting points.
I gave notice of the points which I wished to make to the Minister because in this type of debate it can be helpful, at least in obtaining a reply. First, what progress has been made in the European Union concerning the
For example, if a defendant who had sustained a conviction for a serious driving offence in France said that he was a man of good character when facing prosecution for a serious driving offence in this country it is right that notification can now be given to rebut that presumption of good character. Notification can also be given to offer proof of a conviction in another court. However, it does not often happen because the prosecution does not know.
Therefore, if it were incumbent upon one member state to provide that information to all other member states, it would be helpful. Since the Minister indicated some interest in the proposition, I wish to know what the Government are doing about it. It would apply to all kinds of drivers--long-distance HGV drivers moving between member states as well as drivers of long-distance coaches conveying passengers from one member state to another in the European Union.
Perhaps the Minister can inform the House what the Government have done or intend to do. If nothing has been done up to now, I suggest that, in the light of the Minister's interest, it would be appropriate, prior to the next Council of Transport Ministers, for the matter to be notified to the Commission as something on which it should report to the subsequent Transport Council. Such a matter is usually raised under "Divers" or "Any Other Business".
I believe that it was asserted by a Minister in the other place that something like only 0.3 per cent. of accidents on British roads involve foreign-registered vehicles. I wonder whether that figure includes foreign visitors to Britain who hire cars once they are here. I should think the answer is in the negative. In that case the situation might be rather more serious than is suggested by the figure of 0.3 per cent.--which can also include serious accidents.
The anomalous situation that arises is that, in the event of a foreign driver being banned in the UK, he or she can have their licence renewed once they return home. They are absolutely free to drive in their home country on the other side of the Channel. It would be appropriate for the Minister to take that matter up with Directorate-General VII. The European Union should be addressing this anomaly. Perhaps it can best be dealt with by means of a system of notification of convictions from one member state to another. There are other possible approaches and the Government should address the issue.
My next question to the Minister relates to the establishment of a technical committee which is about to be undertaken. That would be useful in considering proper recognition of the qualified entitlements to drive. What is happening in progressing that idea? Equally important is that no unnecessary bureaucratic impediment should stand in the way of people from this country as they pass through other member states. I hesitate to think what might happen to some of those who might question my noble friend in the event that any such bureaucratic impediments were to confront him. They would receive the worst of the argument.
What is happening in regard to the implementation of the new regulations concerning eyesight tests for HGV drivers? I believe that consultations are taking place between 1st July and 1st January next year, when the regulations come into effect. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that.
What is the Government's view about converting the driving licence into a form of identity card in the United Kingdom? Should driving licences carry the words, "the UK identity card", and include information that is not relevant to driving? As I understand it, the Government have canvassed the idea. It would be right to say that we should be deeply troubled if such a matter were canvassed without the assent of Parliament. This is a controversial issue. I do not hold very strong views on the matter. However, it should not be dealt with by stealth. It attracts a great deal of controversy. I hope the Minister will agree that no such proposals should be introduced by the British Government to the European Union without ensuring adequate consultation within this country and by this House and another place. It is quintessentially right for that to be done. I understand that some such proposal was advanced to the Council of Ministers and in their wisdom other member states decided that it had little value. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.
The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this very interesting debate. This is a complex area and I hope that the information I now give will add to your Lordships' further knowledge of these regulations.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred to drawbars and articulated lorries. My only practical knowledge of them is on farms, using agricultural tractors and large hay wagons, sometimes with four-wheeled trailers. The noble Earl is quite right; it is very difficult. His point related to the C+E class. I understand that Ministers will take final decisions on whether to grant undifferentiated C+E class as originally intended or to maintain restrictions in the light of public consultation which will shortly be undertaken.
UK drivers can also drive throughout the European Union without any restrictions. There will be no requirement for drivers in this country from the European Union--as for people from this country going to other member countries across the Channel--to know the Highway Code. I know from my own experience when travelling abroad that one is given extensive literature when passing through the ferry terminals.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, also asked where else and in what areas this legislation had been examined. I confirm that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has examined the regulations. The regulations primarily affect drivers from other European union member states and also countries within the European Economic Area who take up residence in this country.
The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, raised two queries. One very important area is whether someone can hold two licences at the same time. If a person has a Community licence and wants a licence issued by our own authorities, he must surrender the European Community licence first.
The noble Viscount also mentioned liaison between the different police forces with regard to convictions. That point was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. A certain amount of information flows between the European Union and our police forces but I cannot give any more detail on that matter at present. If there is anything more to say on that subject, I shall write to the noble Lord.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, mentioned the Transport Council and notification of serious convictions between different countries. I am told that that matter is outside the scope of the Transport Council and falls within the responsibility of the Justice and Home Affairs Council. The matter has been discussed in working parties under that council.
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