HC Deb 31 May 1962 vol 660 cc1651-5

6.20 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)

I beg to move, That the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) (Amendment) Order, 1962, a draft of which was laid before this House on 9th May, be approved Under the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Act, 1952, powers are given to the Minister of Transport to make Orders in Council to provide for two matters. The first is the issue to British motorists taking their vehicles abroad of any necessary documents. The second is to enable our laws relating to vehicles or their drivers to be modified in favour of foreign visitors coming here with their vehicles. The provisions contained in any such Order must be those which are necessary to enable effect to be given to any international agreement for the time being in force in respect of the United Kingdom", so before any Order can be made under the Act there must be an international agreement in force which applies to this country.

Britain is already party to several international agreements relating to motor vehicle circulation. For example, we were party to the United Nations Conference on Road and Motor Transport of 1949, and an Order made under the Act in 1957 enabled us to give effect to the decisions of that conference. As a consequence, visiting motorists are, for example, not required to hold British driving licences, or to pay vehicle and excise duty, or to have British registration plates on their vehicles while they are here.

When an Order is made under the Act, it must first be presented to both Houses of Parliament and approved by affirmative Resolution, and the Order that I am moving tonight is one of these. I said just now that there was an Order of this kind made in 1957. The present Order modifies that one so as to enable us to give effect to certain agreements which have been reached more recently by various international bodies. I do not pretend that the changes are of vast importance, but they are intended to ease somewhat the path of international tourist traffic and to reduce the formalities. Frankly, if even a short time can be saved in dealing with each visitor who comes here with his car, something of our bad reputation for undue formalities and delays at the ports may be removed.

Five changes are proposed by this Order, and they are contained in the three main articles— Articles 3, 4 and 5. The first change relates to documents for drivers and vehicles going abroad. In 1957, the O.E.E.C. circulated a decision which provided that any country could require chauffeur-driven hired vehicles coming from other countries to carry a special identification plate. In fact, no country has yet imposed such a requirement, and we in the United Kingdom certainly do not intend to do so. But we must take powers against the contingency of such a plate having to be issued to United Kingdom motorists going abroad to a country which may eventually implement that decision.

The second change is to be found in Article 4 and relates to visitors' driving permits. This is a little complicated, but I will explain the matter as clearly as I can. Article 2 of the 1957 Order provides for two types of international driving permit to be recognised. One form is that which was provided for in the 1926 Convention relating to motor traffic. The other is the form provided by the 1949 Convention on Road Traffic, and we recognise this form when it is issued by a country which was party to the 1949 Convention. But we also recognise the 1926 Convention type permit when it is issued by a country which was party either to the 1926 Convention or to the 1949 Convention.

Article 4 of the proposed Order revises the definition of "Convention driving permit" contained in Article 2 (6) of the 1957 Order so as to give effect to a recommendation of U.N.E.S.C.O. This was that countries party to the 1949 Convention should recognise international driving permits of the kind recommended in that Convention, whether they are issued by countries who signed that Convention or not. The basic effect is simply to limit henceforth the degree of recognition accorded to the 1926 type permit, which is much longer than the 1949 type, and to give wider recognition to the 1949 type permit.

A further change made by Article 4 affects the B.A.O.R. Service men and their dependants. At present, they are permitted to drive their private motor vehicles in Germany on a special driving licence which is known as a B.F.G. licence issued by the Army authorities after a driving test. This driving test, and the standards applied, are the same as are laid down for Service drivers in the United Kingdom. For many years these have been accepted as entitling the Service man to our domestic driving licence.

Although the holder of a "Foreign domestic driving permit" is at present entitled to drive here, without any test, for twelve months, the definition in the 1957 Order of a "domestic driving permit" does not include the B.F.G. licence which can be obtained by the British Service man in the B.A.O.R. The consequence of this is that unless the holder of such a licence already has a British driving licence, before he can drive his car away from the port when he comes home on leave, has to obtain a British driving licence. He can get a licence by producing his certificate of competence to drive to a licensing authority, but he has to leave his car at the port until he gets his licence.

On the other hand, his dependants—his wife or children—although they may hold the same driving licence as he does, are not issued with a certificate of competence to drive and have not open to them the course open to him. They have to take a test and obtain a British licence before they can drive a car away from the port, and as the House can imagine this causes considerable delay and inconvenience.

Since, under the 1957 Order, driving permits issued by the Armed Forces of any country outside the United Kingdom are acceptable in Britain, a member of the United Kingdom forces serving in Germany, and his dependants, are, when they visit this country on leave, in an inferior position to the foreign Service man also visiting this country. This is what we want to alter.

Since the issue of a B.F.G. licence is tied to a test comparable to our driving test, we should not be weakening our arrangements in any way by according to it the same recognition that we give, under the 1957 Order, to a foreign Service man's driving permit, or indeed, to a foreign domestic driving licence. Article 4 of the proposed Order therefore puts B.F.G. driving licences on the same basis as those other forms of driving permit. People who hold them will, if they are resident outside the United Kingdom, and are temporarily in this country, be entitled to use them for driving here, for periods of up to twelve months.

The next change is one of two which are made by Article 5. Under the 1957 Order, regulations could be made for what were known as "international circulation permits" to be issued to temporarily imported vehicles, for the registration of such vehicles, for the assignment to them of registration marks, for the issue of registration cards, and to exempt them from paying vehicle Excise duty. The present period of exemption is laid down in regulations as being a maximum of 90 days. Article 5 will, first, enable the period of exemption from vehicle Excise duty to be increased so as to correspond to the period of exemption from Customs duty, but this is subject to a maximum period of one year, with the sole exception of public passenger vehicles.

Article 5 also omits the present power to issue international circulation permits to visiting motorists. I am sorry to say that the United Kingdom is the only European country which still requires the displaying of an international circulation permit on a visiting motor vehicle so as to show that Excise duty is not payable for the period for which the permit is granted. But now we are extending the period of exemption from the duty, and fewer motorists are likely to become liable to it, so the need for the permit as an aid to enforcement reduces it almost to vanishing point.

This again, I think, will help to speed up the clearance of vehicles through our ports, although I must add, for the sake of clarity, that the visiting motorist will still be given a record of his period of exemption by means of an endorsement on another document which he already has to carry. But this should not take very long to carry through.

I have done my best to explain the somewhat complicated provisions of this Order which I commend to the House as being a useful easement to the freer circulation of motor traffic between countries and the improvement of international tourism.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

I wish to place on record that we on this side of the House welcome this Order and wish to express to the Parliamentary Secretary our appreciation of the way in which he has explained what, on the face of it, appeared to be a very complicated business.

Its advantages, as he has pointed out, are that it is designed to enable Britain to receive tourists much more quickly and freely and encourage them to come to this country to spend their money. We hope that at the same time they will enjoy our scenery. We are bringing ourselves a little more up to date and that is something to be welcomed. This Order is progressive and we have the greatest pleasure in supporting it.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) (Amendment) Order, 1962, a draft of which was laid before this House on 9th May, be approved.