HL Deb 12 March 1985 vol 461 cc155-9

5.16 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I beg to move, That the draft Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) (Amendment) Order laid before the House on 12th February be approved.

By the authority of the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Act 1952, Her Majesty may make Orders in Council, subject to approval by each House, to give effect to international agreements concerned with the movement of motor vehicles or their drivers to which the United Kingdom is a party.

The 1975 order, which I shall refer to as the principal order, and which this draft order further amends, covers a wide range of provisions made by international agreements. Examples of the subjects covered are the recognition of driving permits held by temporary visitors; the issue of international driving permits to drivers visiting other countries; and exemption of visiting vehicles from payment of vehicle excise duty. These agreements are designed to ease the movement of traffic across international frontiers and to accommodate tourists and visitors.

Perhaps at this point I should make it clear that the international agreements to which I refer are not necessarily European Community agreements: their application may be much wider, and include, for example, parties to the North Atlantic Treaty or the United Nations. Though some of the provisions of the amendment order can apply to a wide geographical area, I hope the House finds them both minor and uncontroversial.

Since the amendments number only six I shall cover them in turn. They begin at Article 3 of the draft order. This amends Article 2 of the principal order so as to allow temporarily imported public service vehicles to be driven by holders of British Forces Germany driving licences valid for that class of vehicle when visiting Britain. This fills a gap in the provisions of the principal order, which allows for such vehicles to be driven here by holders of other overseas domestic driving licences of the appropriate class. I should explain to the House that, although issued by the British Army, British Forces Germany driving licences are civilian driving permits issued to dependants of the British armed forces in Germany and their civilian component and to servicemen who wish to drive in the Federal Republic for non-military purposes. They are issued by agreement with the German authorities, on the basis of a full British licence, or a British-style driving test, under the NATO Status of Forces Agreement 1951.

Article 4 of the draft order further amends Article 3 of the principal order to allow the dependants of members of visiting forces and related civilian components to drive ordinary vehicles in Britain—that is, excluding heavy goods and public service vehicles—using driving permits issued by the sending country or its military authorities. The visiting forces themselves, and the attached civilians, can already drive in Britain on these terms under Article 3 of the principal order, but at present their dependants, like other visiting drivers, can drive here for only one year without obtaining a British licence. These facilities are far less favourable than those enjoyed by dependants of our armed forces and attached civilians in Germany. Under the British Forces Germany licensing scheme, the Germans require dependants to take a driving test only if they do not hold a full British licence of the relevant class. The new provisions will apply while the people concerned retain the necessary status and provided they are not disqualified by age or by a British court.

Article 5 deals with vehicle excise duty exemptions, and matters connected with registration of temporarily imported vehicles. For many years now foreign vehicles brought into this country on a temporary basis have been given exemption from vehicle excise duty—the normal British tax disc—for a period of up to 12 months. This concession has always been subject to Customs and Excise officials at the port of entry being satisfied that the vehicle in question is here on a temporary basis and granting it exemption from the VAT and Customs car tax which is levied on new vehicles.

An EC directive which came into force on 1st January last year required a change to this period of exemption. It specified that all relevant tax exemptions—which includes exemption from vehicle excise duty—for vehicles temporarily imported into one member state from another should normally be limited to a period of six months in any 12. Longer periods of exemption may be allowed in particular cases at the discretion of member states but the visitor has to prove continuing entitlement. The intention behind the directive is to bring procedures for visiting vehicles into line throughout the EC. It will not in any way restrict movement of such vehicles.

By Statutory Instrument 1983 No. 1829, Customs legislation has already been amended to reflect the generally shorter period of exemption specified in the directive. Enforcement of the exemption from vehicle excise duty for visiting vehicles is primarily a matter for Customs and Excise officials together with the police. It is necessary to bring vehicle excise duty provisions into line with the changes already made to the Customs and Excise legislation and Article 5(1) (a) of the draft order amends the existing provisions accordingly. A similar provision is made for vehicles brought temporarily into Northern Ireland by Article 5(2) (a) of the draft order.

I now turn to Article 5(1) (b). This deals with fees connected with the registration of temporarily imported vehicles. For most vehicles of this kind the Department of Transport does not keep registration particulars. Where information is required about these vehicles the police normally contact the relevant foreign registration authority. However, certain overseas vehicles do not display registration plates made up of Arabic numerals and Roman letters. To enable these to be readily identified the department registers them while they are in this country. As with all other vehicles registered here, members of the public who can show reasonable grounds can ask the department for the name and address of the keeper of these vehicles. The amendment makes it clear that the fee for this service may be set by regulation subject to negative resolution. This will bring the provision into line with that applying to the fee for inquiries about British vehicles. Article 5(2) (b) makes similar provision for Northern Ireland.

Article 5(1) (c) is concerned with a slightly different aspect of this. Until 1974 the GLC acted as a registration authority for temporarily visiting vehicles. Since then, its function has been carried out by the Department of Transport. The Government are therefore taking the opportunity to amend the principal order to reflect the present position.

Finally, Article 6 amends the fee chargeable by the motoring organisations for the issue of international driving permits and international certificates for motor vehicles. While many countries recognise the British domestic driving licence, some do not and in these cases an international permit in the form provided for by international convention is necessary. An international certificate of motor vehicles is usually needed only when the normal registration document is for some reason not available. The power to charge fees for these documents derives from Article 1(6) of the principal order.

The function of issuing these documents has for many years been delegated to the motoring organisations. This is convenient since many motorists travelling abroad already use the services of these organisations. I would emphasise, however, that it is not necessary to be a member of any of these organisations to obtain one of these documents from them. The present fee for either the driving permit or the motor vehicle certificate is £2. It was fixed at that level almost five years ago. Since then the costs of the issuing organisations have risen and they have applied for an increase to £2.50. This seems not unreasonable in the light of movements in the retail price index over that period, and Article 6 gives effect to it. My Lords, I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th February be approved. [12th Report from the Joint Committee.]—(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)

5.23 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that explanation, which was very clear. He will appreciate that with an order such as this a great deal of research by a back-bencher or by someone without Government resources is necessary in order for him to understand exactly what is meant by the order. So I am sure that his explanation has been of considerable help to everyone in the House.

When a matter has already been to the Committee on Statutory Instruments one is always slightly concerned at raising points which I am sure will be easily answered and make one feel that perhaps a little more digging would have obtained the answer. However, I gave the Minister notice that I was slightly concerned about one point in the order; namely, the question of the use of the British Forces German licence for a public service vehicle in Great Britain. I am quite happy that that is permissible except on the question of the period of 12 months from the date of the user's last entry into the United Kingdom. Someone could have been in Britain for, say, six months, nine months or ten months. If he went away and came back, does this mean that he would have to start again from scratch? I am sure there is a simple explanation. I think it would be helpful if we could have from the Minister the exact details in that regard.

The Minister suggested that a PSV test was required for anyone in the British forces. Is this statutory, or is this merely the procedure that is always gone through? Must a PSV driver with the British forces in Germany have the equivalent of a British PSV licence? If that was the case, it would be all right. Such a licence would presumably be required to be renewed every 12 months in any case. However, if not, a difficulty could arise if the standard demanded in such a licence was less than that concerning a British PSV. Someone could have a British forces licence to operate in Germany with PSV vehicles and drive here virtually without limit. I hope there is an easy explanation. Having given the Minister a rather late note of my anxiety, I hope he will be able to allay it, at least to some extent.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, for the welcome he has given to this order. I can confirm to him that "last entry" means the most recent entry. In other words, the 12-month period would be reactivated by any new entry into the county. Regarding the standard of driving test for BFG PSV licences, it is necessary to pass an HGV type driving test on a bus, carried out by an army-qualified testing officer, in order to obtain the relevant licence and we are fully satisfied that their testing is perfectly satisfactory.

On Question, Motion agreed to.