HL Deb 19 May 1977 vol 383 cc879-82

3.11 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why the current form of driving licence issued by the Department of the Environment is designed to permit the owner to think that, by removing the perforated slip at the bottom right-hand corner, he is removing evidence of his date of birth from the document; whereas, in fact, the date of birth remains a part of the driver's number on the top left-hand corner of the document but in coded form, designed to leave the owner in ignorance of the fact that the date of his birth still remains on the document.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, people receiving a new style driving licence for the first time (but not thereafter) will find their date of birth printed at the bottom right-hand corner of the licence, together with an invitation to check whether it is correct and is therefore correctly incorporated in the driver number. Once they have checked its accuracy they may, if they wish, cut off that corner of the licence. I can assure your Lordships that there is no intention of subterfuge.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer and for the reassurance at the end. But does she not believe that if it is necessary to have the age on the licence it should remain there? Can she explain why one is given the option of removing it if it is not, in fact, to encourage the belief that one's date of birth no longer remains on the licence, whereas in fact the form is so constructed that it does?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I can only assume that some members of my sex are a little chary about having their date of birth on a document. I can think of no other reason for it.


My Lords, do Her Majesty's Government realise that I asked almost exactly the same question at least six months ago, although I am afraid that I have not looked up the date? I inquired then whether this was some subterfuge by which the age could be known to the police and anyone so informed, and whether this was not a rather distasteful way of going about the new driving licence records.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I do not think that it is distasteful. It is needed for driver licensing purposes—primarily for identification. There are 25 million driver records which are held on a single continuous file. Each driver must have a unique reference number. A date of birth is short, permanent and easily remembered, and everyone either has one or can adopt a likely one. The name and sex on their own are not enough. Addresses may be changed and other means of identifying people—by National Insurance numbers and so on—are not universal. A large number of drivers, particularly housewives and students, do not even have a National Insurance number. However, there is no subterfuge about this. It is primarily for identification purposes.


My Lords, would it not be better to allow the number to remain on the licence? Speaking as a female driver, I have no reason to worry whether anyone knows my age—it is a jolly good thing that they should. I hope that the noble Baroness will ensure that this so-called subterfuge is now made clear to the public.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, the whole object of putting the date of birth on the bottom of the first licence that is issued is that the recipients can check that the correct date of birth is included in the licence number. It does not appear on any subsequent licences. If the date of birth is wrong, we hope that the licence holder will so advise the licensing centre and then the necessary adjustments can he made to the permanent number.


My Lords, apart from the ingenious answer that has already been given, is there any other or primary reason for the inclusion of the date of birth?

Baroness STEDMAN

No, my Lords; it is simply as I said. It is a unique reference number and it seemed to us to be the easiest one to incorporate in the driver vehicle records.


My Lords, if there is no element of subterfuge, why is not the date of birth put on the licence clearly instead of being in code? At the minute the code at the top is given in six numbers. Is it not a fact that in that code the fourth and fifth numbers denote the day, the second and third numbers denote the month and the first and sixth numbers denote the year: therefore, the number 207079 would denote 7th July 1929? If there is no subterfuge why not put that on the licence? There is no respect for ingenuity if I am right and this code can so easily be broken.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, we have no objections to people breaking the code. The noble Lord is not quite right about the arrangement of the numbers. It is rather complicated and if he likes I shall explain it to him later.


My Lords, although I accept that such a reference number is of the very greatest help to the police when checking licences and looking for stolen cars, can the noble Baroness say why in these figures there is also an indication whether the holder of the licence is male or female? Will she explain that to us?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, that information also is a help to the police in checking on falsified driving licences. If the noble Lord were to be stopped by the police and asked to produce his licence and produced one that indicated that it belonged to a woman, no doubt the police would make further inquiries about the noble Lord.


My Lords, does it follow from what the noble Baroness has said that two people born on the same day will have the same number, and is that helpful?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, we have a very ingenious system of having a tie-breaker should such a thing occur.