HC Deb 26 February 1991 vol 186 cc880-1
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

I beg to move amendment No. 73, in page 14, line 14, after 'corporate', insert ', or in Scotland a partnership or an unincorporated association,'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 74 and 36.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Amendments Nos. 73 and 74 correct an omission in clause 18. Where a body corporate is charged with an offence under section 172 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988—failing to provide information as to the identity of the driver at the time of an alleged offence—it can only benefit from the "due diligence" defence if it can show that no record was kept of drivers using the vehicle and that the failure to keep a record was reasonable. The amendments will make certain that the same qualification will apply in the case of offences by Scottish partnerships and unincorporated associations.

Amendment No. 36 responds to concerns expressed in Committee. It deals with the offence of failing to provide information about the driver of a vehicle, particularly a vehicle involved in an offence detected by the use of camera technology. There is already an obligation on a registered keeper, when required by the police, to give such information as he is able about the identity of a driver who may have committed a road traffic offence. Obviously, this is particularly important for camera-detected offences, where the camera will have recorded the vehicle's registration plate but not the driver.

If these provisions are to work, there must be no built-in incentive for the registered keeper to withhold information when he may himself be the driver, so the offence of failing to provide information must be treated with the same level of seriousness as the offence about which information is sought. Companies should have the same responsibility to provide information as a private individual, and it is right that a director or other officer who has connived at failing to provide information or who is negligent should share in that responsibility. There will be a defence that a company could not ascertain who the driver of the vehicle was at a particular time, if it can be demonstrated that failure to keep a record was reasonable. I do not, therefore, believe that companies should be absolved of responsibility.

A point was raised in committee by a number of hon. Members—in particular, by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller), in whose name the amendments were tabled, and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King). We are persuaded that it is not necessarily appropriate for the penalty to include the endorsement of penalty points on a licence where the offence is committed by a company and its officers. The connection with the driving of the particular company vehicles involved in the offence is remote, and too much would turn on whether the relevant director held a driving licence. In such circumstances, I am sure it is right to rely on a financial penalty. Hence, the amendment removes endorsement and discretionary disqualification from the penalty in these cases—and meets the point that was made in Committee.

For the sake of consistency, it also removes endorsement and discretionary disqualification in cases which may arise in Scotland where a partner in a partnership or an officer of an unincorporated association is prosecuted for an offence committed by the partnership of association.

I commend these three amendments to the House.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 74, in page 14, line 16 after first 'above', insert 'or subsection (11) below'.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]

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