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The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the noble Lord says "at this stage". How long have the Government had to work out how much it will cost? This stage is the last stage of the Billnot the first stage. I understand that this fact may not have been known when the Bill went through the Commons, but for the Government not to
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have any idea how much it will cost at the last stage of this Bill in this House does not strike me as joined-up government.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we still have some way to go with this Bill but the principle behind it is straightforward; namely, that the DVLA is a trading fund. It is a government agency, but it is obliged to meet its costs. The nature of the driving licence has finally to be identified. We are still subject to probing and challenging amendments from the other side, as the noble Earl may have noticed, so I cannot be categoric about costs. However, I have indicated that there are costs. Photographic renewal will cost the DVLA an additional £60 million per annum and it does not have a budget from which it can produce a subsidy for that. There are costs but many renewals will be free. Following a fee restructuring in March last year, licence renewals for those aged 70 and over for large and passenger carrying vehicle licences and for licences with a restricted duration as a result of a medical condition are now issued free of charge and that will continue. Replacement licences for those categories will remain free. Nevertheless, noble Lords will recognise that we cannot expect a government agency, which is meant to operate on a not-for-profit basis, but which has to meet its costs, to write off such significant costs, so charges will be made. I accept that the noble Lord has identified a point on that.
Taken in the round, we are seeking to guarantee the security of the British driving licence when we are all too well aware of the inadequacy of the present form. It is true that more recent forms of the driving licence have been a great improvement. A police officer has a real problem when he stops an individual who shows him a piece of paper without a photograph but which contains the general details that we all know appear on the driving licence. The police have real difficulties in establishing that the owner of the licence is the person driving the car at the time.
As regards road safety measures, we cannot think of anything that is much more important than guaranteeing the security of driving licences. We need to combat fraud. This is an area where fraud clearly occurs, in Britain and through our licences being used elsewhere. I hope the noble Lord recognisesif I am not given fresh arguments todaythat I have reinforced and clarified some of the arguments I made in Committee and that he has had a sufficient answer to enable him to withdraw his amendment.
That is strangely inadequate. Is the Minister satisfied with the terminology "old-form licences"? When one buys a new radio it is out of date yesterday or the day one buys it. Does the phrase "old-form" adequately define the present licences or is it important to designate an exact time to which the phrase "old form" relates?
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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I can satisfy the noble Baroness on that point. She will recognise that the modern driving licence is very different from the old one, in particular with regard to the photograph. We can define when the improvements to the driving licence occurred, and we will call in licences issued in the old form that do not match current specifications.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I am sure he is aware that a modern photographic driving licence card is accompanied by a piece of paper. The owner of such a licence is supposed to keep them together and when asked to produce his licence at a police station within three days, he has to produce them both. This is total nonsense. Should not all the necessary information be on the photographic card, not partially on a separate piece of paper?
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he tell me why the Government have no plans to designate driving licences under the Identity Cards Bill? I would have thought that the scheme for designated documents suggests that, of all the different kinds of documents that might be designated, a driving licence would be the most useful. Why do the Government have no plans to designate it?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Baroness may have noticed that we have a few minor problems with the Identity Card Bill and its passage through both Houses. We do not think that we ought to have a problem with the driving licence. As I have indicated, we are not proposing to designate the driving licence. We want to eliminate fraud and make the driving licence an accurate and effective document. We are setting about that within the framework of the Bill. I reiterate to the House that identity cards are outwith this argument. Just before I sit down, I can see other noble Lords rising, but there is a limit to the contributions I can make before I sit down.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I normally thank the Minister for his answer but today, as he said himself, he has not given us any information other than what we debated in Committee. I shall repeat our concerns. The Minister said that the Government "have no plans" to designate the driving licence as part of the identity card scheme and that this matter will be put to Parliament in the form of an affirmative order. We all know that that means that, although there may be some debate, the matter will sail through. We feel that there is far too close a link between the potential identity card legislation and this suggestion from the Government.
We want to stop fraud and make certain that driving licences are used legitimately, but to replace 22 million licences would involve enormous cost. The Minister gave us no idea the cost, but he did talk about £60 million a year for a proportion of the licences, so we are talking about a tremendous cost, either to the
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state or to the individual. A lot of that money would be better spent on other road safety measures. We are debating a road safety Bill and if we are talking about, possibly, hundreds of millions of pounds, I am sure that many noble Lords have better ideas for saving lives and improving safety than spending this enormous amount on licences.
I have an old paper licence. They are being phased out. As one gets one's new licence, one gets a new photographic licence. As the Minister said, fraud has been less prevalent with the new type of licence. So, under the current situation with no new legislationno new clausespeople will have a better licence. I feel that these two clauses are a step too far. They give the Government too many powers and pose enormous potential cost on either the motorist or the state. I think that we should test the feeling of the House on the matter.
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