HL Deb 23 July 1980 vol 412 cc446-53

5.53 p.m.

Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 26th June be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the House should resolve that this order be made under the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Act 1952. This Act enables Her Majesty to make Orders in Council, subject to the approval by each House, to give effect to any international agreement concerned with the movement of motor vehicles or their drivers to which the United Kingdom is a party. The main purpose of this draft order is to amend the order of 1975 to enable the United Kingdom to ratify—with certain reservations on some of the provisions to safeguard our particular needs and customs —the Convention on Road Traffic and the Convention on Road Signals drawn up under the aegis of the United Nations and signed by countries, including the United Kingdom, in Vienna in 1968, and the supplementary European agreements made in Geneva in 1971.

Broadly speaking, the conventions and their supplementary agreements may be said to serve as an "International Highway Code". States ratifying the conventions agree to have a common set of traffic rules, and to permit the free passage through their territories of drivers who hold suitable driving licences, and of their vehicles, provided they meet specific technical and other requirements. The two previous conventions of 1926 and 1949, to which we subscribe, have broadly similar aims without being nearly so comprehensive. The European agreements are intended to achieve even greater uniformity in the rules governing road traffic, signs and signals in Europe. The United Kingdom already conforms with most of the provisions of the 1968 conventions, and the making of this order before you now, together with a complementary order for Northern Ireland, which I understand is to be laid shortly, will enable us to ratify them. The harmonisation in Europe (and elsewhere) of traffic rules, signs and signals must have a beneficial effect on road safety. Moreover, as a full party to the conventions, we shall be better able to promote concerted action on further improving road safety internationally. This, then, brings me to the amendments which it is proposed to make.

While there are many countries which recognise the British domestic licence for visiting drivers, some do not, and, in these cases, an international driving permit in the form provided for in an international convention recognised by that country is necessary. The provisions in the 1968 Convention on Road Traffic, relating to the issue of international driving permits for drivers visiting countries adhering to that convention, require us to issue a new form of permit and to restrict its issue to motorists who hold a valid United Kingdom full licence; and to recognise the new form of permit held by visiting drivers from those countries.

The amending order therefore provides for the issue of a permit under the 1968 convention, but will continue to provide for issue of international driving permits under the 1926 and 1949 conventions for use in those countries not parties to the new convention. The 1975 order allows special tests of competence to drive for applicants for international driving permits who have not passed the driving test required by the Road Traffic Acts. These special tests, the conduct of which has been delegated to the motoring organisations—the AA, the RAC, and the Royal Scottish Automobile Club—are not recognised in the new convention, and it is proposed, for consistency, to discontinue the power to carry them out as a qualification for an international driving permit issued under the 1926 and 1949 conventions. In practice, these tests are rarely given.

It is necessary also to clarify the minimum age requirements for visiting drivers. As a party to the 1926 and 1949 conventions, we are obliged to accept a minimum age of 18 instead of 21 for drivers of large passenger and heavy goods vehicles brought temporarily into this country from countries which are parties to these conventions. By ratifying the 1968 convention, we will no longer have to accept these drivers where their country is also a party to the 1968 convention. Moreover, Community regulations and the European Agreement concerning the Work of Crews of Vehicles Engaged in International Road Transport—commonly called AETR—to which the United Kingdom is a party, further curtails our 1926 and 1949 convention obligations, where they apply to Community and AETR countries, by requiring a minimum age of 21 for large passenger vehicles, and young heavy lorry drivers to hold an internationally recognised certificate of profesisonal competence issued by their country of origin. The provisions as reflected in these amendments to the order mean that the great majority of visiting drivers to Great Britain will not now be able to drive over here in circumstances which require us to relax our licensing laws. It is proposed also to take the opportunity to make the forgery or misuse of a United Kingdom international driving permit or the obtaining of it by fraud an offence, as it is in the case of a domestic driving licence.

The final amendment proposed relates to the fees charged for the issue of international driving permits; and also for the international certificate for motor vehicles, which is usually required only when the normal registration document is, for some reason, not available. The powers to charge fees for these documents derive from paragraph (6) of Article I of the 1975 order. The function of issuing these documents has, for many years, been delegated to the motoring organisations. This is, of course, a convenience, since many motorists travelling abroad already utilise the services of one or other of these organisations in arranging their travel. I would stress, however, that it is not necessary to be a member of any of these organisations in order to obtain one of these documents from them. The present fee for either document is £1.50. It was fixed at that level in 1975. Since then, of course, costs have unfortunately risen, and a new fee of £2 is proposed to become effective as soon as administrative convenience permits. I am satisfied that this modest increase is no more than is necessary to cover increased administration costs.

If I may sum up, the main function of the order before your Lordships is to enable us to ratify the 1968 Conventions on Road Traffic, and on Road Signs and Signals. Ratification will be to the general benefit of those who wish to travel internationally with their vehicles. It also provides for a modest increase in the fee payable for two documents which are sometimes needed for international motoring for strengthening the law relating to these documents; and makes some tidying up amendments to take account of changes in the driver licensing law since the last order was made. Once the order—and the separate order I mentioned for Northern Ireland—have been approved, the instrument of ratification of the conventions and agreements will be deposited with the Secretary General of the United Nations. They will actually enter into force for the United Kingdom 12 months after that date, and the relative provisions of the order will then be operational. My Lords, I recommend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 26th June be approved.—(Lord Mowbray and Stourton.)

6 p.m.

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, I just want to ask two questions of the noble Lord, although I believe he may have answered one of them already in his Statement, which I shall read with care. The first question I want to ask relates to paragraph 1(b) of Article 3, which refers to the issue of licenses to persons for the driving of motor cycles or invalid carriages. It ends with the words, "or both." Apart from those words, it reproduces in different words what appears in the present order of 1975. But the 1975 order suggests, as I should have thought was right, that a certificate of competence to drive an invalid carriage is an alternative to a certificate of competence to drive a motor cycle. I should not have thought one could imagine a case where somebody who needed a certificate to drive an invalid carriage could properly have a certificate to drive a motor cycle.

I apologise to the noble Lord for not having given him notice of this, but I wonder whether he could say how the words "or both" were brought in. In fact, I would go a little further and suggest that the words "or both" are in any case quite unnecessary, because the clause says that a permit shall not be issued to any persons under 18 years of age unless the permit is restricted to the driving of motor cycles or invalid carriages. So I should have thought that, if there was a person who was going to drive both, that would already be covered. My second question relates to Article 4. According to the explanatory note, this in fact removes from the Minister and his agents the function of carrying out tests of competency. Perhaps it is in relation to that that the noble Lord was speaking of tests being carried out by the motoring organisations, and it may well be that when I read what he said, that answers my question.

6.3 p.m.


My Lords, first of all, I should like to thank the noble Lord the Minister for outlining so clearly the provisions of the order. In general, we welcome this order, as it is a preparatory step for the United Kingdom ratifying yet another convention to which it is a party.

I should like to ask the Minister two or three questions. Is it the position that the three alternative permits—A, B and C—will cover the majority of countries? No doubt there are countries which are not party to any one of the conventions of 1926, 1949 or 1968. If that is so, what is the position of persons from those countries who may seek to drive a vehicle while visiting the United Kingdom?

One of my other questions relates to the question that has just been asked in regard to the test of competence. Am I to assume that the deletion of the reference to the test of competence in Article 4 of the order now brings us to the position that anyone with only a provisional licence will not be issued with a permit unless he or she has passed the normal official driving test and is awaiting a full driving licence?

My other question relates to the proposed reduction of age for drivers from 21 to 18. Incidentally, that point is not mentioned at all in the explanatory note on page 9 at the end of the order. When your Lordships were discussing the Transport Bill reference was made to the position of drivers of public service vehicles. Such drivers will be permitted to drive public service vehicles at age 18 only if the route is 50 kilometres or less. This is in accordance with the EEC regulation, and reference is made to the same regulation in the order.

Therefore, is it not the position that we have a situation where, under this order, a visiting driver could drive a heavy goods vehicle at age 18, whereas he could not drive a public service vehicle at age 18 unless the route was below 50 kilometres? That would appear to me to be an anomaly. Also, am I correct—the noble Lord will put me right if I am not—in thinking that the law in this country is still that a person cannot drive a heavy goods vehicle unless he is 21? I may have slipped up, but I looked hastily at the Road Traffic (Drivers' Ages and Hours of Work) Act 1976 before I came into the Chamber and I was under the impression that the age is still 21 for a driver of a heavy goods vehicle. If that is so, then there is another anomaly, in that a visiting driver could at the age of 18 drive a heavy goods vehicle whereas a home-based driver could not. I should be pleased if the noble Lord could answer those three questions.

6.6 p.m.


My Lords, these traffic orders are extremely simple in themselves but they refer to three different conventions and two supplementary agreements, and when one goes into the whole they become totally complicated and involved. I should like to read what the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, said because I did not hear it completely. I will undertake to write to him on his points. I think that, rather than dart about, I might help both noble Lords—and I thank both of them for their welcome for this order—with reference to documents going abroad by reading quickly the background note about Article 3, which amends Article 1 of the 1975 order. This is to enable the Minister to issue for use outside the United Kingdom an international driving permit, in the form set out, to a person who holds a full driving licence issued in Great Britain or Northern Ireland or who is entitled to hold one or to obtain one where he surrendered his licence for change of address reasons or has passed a driving test but has not yet applied for the licence. These criteria are applied for consistency to the issue of international driving permits in the form set out.

On the question of qualification for issue of international driving permits, this article was abolishing the special driving test given by the motoring organisations, under delegation, as evidence, in the absence of a driving licence or other acceptable evidence, of competence to drive, because the 1968 convention does not recognise any alternative to a full domestic licence. To be consistent, therefore, power to carry out tests as a qualification for a 1926 or 1949 convention permit is discontinued. But, in fact, these were so rarely given, as I said, that the motoring organisations welcomed their abolition. I must apologise to your Lordships. I am reading these background notes because some of the questions are quite complicated, and it so happens that the Government's advisers have been held up going round the Palace, no doubt finding their way in.

Dealing with the matter of visiting driving permits, which I was asked about, I can say that this forbids visitors to Great Britain to drive or be employed in driving under the age at which a United Kingdom resident would be permitted to drive a similar class of vehicle. Exceptions to this rule are made for the driving of heavy goods and large passenger vehicles in circumstances where the United Kingdom's international obligations require different minimum age rules to be applied. Section 96 of the Road Traffic Act 1972, which was amended by the Road Traffic (Drivers' Ages and Hours of Work) Act 1976 in order to give effect to the minimum age rules contained in EEC Regulation 543/69, expresses minimum age rules for Great Britain for holding or obtaining a British driving licence.

The most important of the relevant age limits are 17 for the drivers of motor cycles, motor cars up to nine seats and good vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes; 18 for the drivers of good vehicles between 3.5 and 7.5 tonnes; 21 for the drivers of goods vehicles over 7.5 tonnes and passenger vehicles having more than nine seats. Article 5(1)(b) of the Community Regulation 543/69, to which I have referred, permits goods vehicles over 7.5 tonnes to be driven by 18-year-olds, provided—and I stress, provided—they hold a certificate of professional competence issued by the authorities in their member state.

Section 96 of our Road Traffic Act 1972 allows this option to be exercised in Great Britain by registering under the young heavy goods driver training scheme and obtaining a young heavy goods vehicle driver's licence. Under the Community regulation, to which I have referred, no exception can be made to the 21 years minimum age limit for drivers of large passenger vehicles on international journeys.

We have an international obligation to recognise the heavy goods vehicle driving licences of 18- to 21-year-olds, driving temporarily imported vehicles, who do hold these certificates of competence, granted in other countries. The number of cases arising out of the 1926 and 1949 Geneva Conventions will get steadily less as more countries join the Vienna Convention. Many countries have not yet signed. We have been 12 years in getting round to doing so. Some countries have signed, but others will take longer than we have taken.

I am quite certain that there are other points which I have not answered in the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. However, if they will forgive me I shall undertake to look very carefully at what they have said and write very fully to them. If any other noble Lord indicates that he would like to have the information, I shall see that he gets a copy of the letters.

On Question, Motion agreed to.