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Earl Attlee: The problem with a pushbike is that it would still not be essential to the operation of the crane. Therefore the mobile crane would not be able to carry a pushbike.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, mentioned the problem of bridge bashing. The most significant problem arises when relatively normal vehicles bash the bridge. They are not especially high ones. They are just a little higher than the minimum height limit of the bridge!

I am not surprised by the Minister's reply to my first amendment. I am sure that I would have said exactly the same thing if I were in his position. I am very reassured by his response to Amendment No. 409. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 401.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 402 not moved.]

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 403:


EFFECTS OF DELAYS IN GRANTING PROVISIONAL HGV DRIVERS LICENCES: PUBLICATION OF ANNUAL REPORT

(" . In the Road Traffic Act 1988, after subsection (2) of section 111, there shall be inserted--
"(3) The Secretary of State shall produce an annual report on the effect of delays in the granting of provisional vocational drivers' licences."").

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 405 and 426E. We are short of about 2,500 bus drivers and a large number of heavy goods vehicle drivers. These amendments seek to deal with that problem. The bus

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industry is experiencing difficulties with the delay in issuing PSV licences. That is largely due to the need to issue licences with a photograph. Unfortunately, the bus industry frequently loses good applicants due to the delay in issuing a new licence with a photograph on it.

First, what is the Minister doing about the delays in general? Secondly, is there any way in which he could provide a dispensation to allow training to commence--although not on fare-paying services--before the issue of a new licence? There may be difficulties, but if so, what are they?

Amendment No. 405 deals with a little difficulty for the Armed Forces, created by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. The forces can allow young drivers to drive heavy vehicles before they are 21 years old. This is both desirable and necessary. There is a limited safety risk because such drivers are well trained and under military discipline. For some time, several penalty points on a driving licence meant that a vocational driving licence could not be issued. That was bearable, but now, I understand, any penalty points issued would mean that a vocational driving licence cannot be issued to a driver under the age of 21. This means that youngsters with only a very minor speeding offence cannot join many regiments in the force, especially the Royal Logistic Corps. Will the Minister review his policy in respect of the Armed Forces?

Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 426E. The House decided that a driver should be able to lose his licence for reasons totally unrelated to his driving. We shall not revisit that debate, but we need to be able to measure any adverse effects. My fear is that these changes will severely undermine road safety. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell the Committee that he will ensure that the DVLA keeps full records so that after a reasonable time, noble Lords will be able to table Questions in order to detect any adverse effects arising from the new legislation. I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Whitty: We are dealing once again with slightly disparate amendments all related to issues of licensing. Amendment No. 403 is defective in that it will not achieve what the noble Earl is seeking. The information required to publish such a report is not held centrally. In his amendment, the noble Earl has made no provision for the collection of such information.

What is held centrally is licensing information. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency already publishes an annual report showing its performance in meeting performance targets, which includes a customer service target. The noble Earl has expressed concern about bus driver licences, but the target for turnaround of vocational driving licences for the year 2000-01 is 95 per cent within eight days; namely, eight days from receipt of the application. The DVLA has met that target consistently over the past three years. Market research conducted among vocational drivers, which included bus drivers, indicated that, generally speaking, a high level of satisfaction has been

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expressed over that standard. I believe that that performance in turning around volume applications is better than in many other parts of either the public or the private sector.

The annual report of the DVLA, which details those figures, was laid before both Houses on 24th July and will be published formally in mid-August. Should the noble Earl so wish, I shall send him a copy direct.

Delays in the issuing of provisional driving licences are sometimes inevitable where there is a need for proper medical checks or a problem is encountered as regards validating an applicant's identity. For obvious reasons of safety, applicants for vocational driving licences are required to demonstrate that they are responsible people and have a higher standard of fitness that would be expected of applicants for ordinary licences.

I shall turn now to Amendment No. 405, which would allow members of the Armed Forces to be granted a vocational driving licence even when six valid penalty points have been accumulated through driving offences. This amendment implies that we should treat driving offences committed by young drivers in the Armed Forces more leniently than those committed by young civilian vocational drivers or, for example, young drivers on the young driver training scheme. I do not think that that is a reasonable request. Young military drivers already benefit from a driving licence concession in that they are allowed to drive vocational vehicles from the age of 17, whereas non-military drivers must be 21 years old, with some exceptions. I do not believe that such a provision is vital. The conduct of vocational drivers, especially those under 21, ought to be exemplary. There are road safety implications in allowing young military drivers in effect to commit two driving offences before having their vocational entitlement refused.

Amendment No. 405 would also conflict with the Road Traffic (New Drivers Act) 1995. A new military driver would be able to continue driving with six penalty points whereas a new civilian driver who had accumulated six points within two years of passing his or her driving test would have the driving licence revoked. I do not believe that there is a need for preferential treatment of military drivers in this respect. Indeed, the DVLA has regular meetings with the military to discuss all areas of licensing arrangements and policy in related areas and the matter has never been raised in that context. It would seem, therefore, so far as the DVLA is aware, that the Armed Forces are content with current procedures.

Amendment No. 426E is intended to secure the annual publication of statistics detailing the number of drivers disqualified from holding a driving licence as a result of judgments made under provisions in child welfare legislation. I am not entirely clear what this means, and the noble Earl did not refer to it. There is currently no child welfare legislation on the statute book which provides for the disqualification of drivers. I am not sure, therefore, what lies behind the noble Earl's amendment unless he is thinking of the child support Bill that has just completed its passage.

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The provisions in that Bill relate to the Child Support Agency and are different from child welfare provisions.

The Home Office publishes annual statistics dealing with motoring offences, broken down by type of offence, and lists the numbers of people convicted of driving while disqualified. Those statistics are placed, as a matter of course, in the Library of the House. They are sufficient to provide a record of the number and type of offences and offenders. I hope that the noble Earl will not press the amendments.

Earl Attlee: I am grateful to the Minister for that response. He mentioned that the DVLA is turning round licences within eight days. That is commendable. I shall be interested to see what feedback I receive from industry as a result of our discussions.

I am rather disappointed with the Minister's response to my amendment relating to the Armed Forces. My understanding is that there were some breakdowns in consultation prior to the changes being made. We shall have to re-examine this matter, either by parliamentary opportunity or at the later stages of the Bill.

As regards child support legislation, it is difficult to draft an amendment that covers a Bill rather than an Act of Parliament. We shall return to most of these issues at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 404:


    After Clause 256, insert the following new clause--

DRIVING INSTRUCTORS: REGISTRATION ETC

(" . In section 123(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988, after "motor car" insert "or heavy motor car".").

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 417 and 424. These amendments deal with driving instructors. I must declare an interest as a qualified Army driving instructor, although I cannot benefit from Amendment 417 as drafted.

Amendment No. 404 provides that instructors for vocational driving licences, as well as ordinary licences, must be approved. It is a probing amendment. Has the Minister any intention of introducing such a provision?

Turning to Amendment No. 417, the Armed Forces operate an excellent defence school of transport at Leconfield, near Hull. All their instructors and examiners are trained there. As I understand it--I am ready to be corrected--a qualified Army driving instructor cannot, by virtue of his military qualifications, become a DETR approved driving instructor.

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Amendment No. 424 is in a different group, but perhaps it ought to be in this one. The amendment calls for another report by the Secretary of State on the supply of drivers. I shall not move it but I am sure that it is more relevant to this debate. I beg to move.


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