HL Deb 14 April 1989 vol 506 cc481-3

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What further action they propose to take to prevent owners of unlicensed vehicles from using them on public roads.

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, virtually all DVLC local offices now have direct and immediate computer links to the central tax disc records at Swansea. Full use of this new technology will enable the police and the department to deal with vehicle licence offenders more efficiently and in greater numbers than ever before. At the same time in 1989 we shall be running in co-operation with the police the biggest programme so far of intensive regional and local campaigns against evaders.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that welcome reply. Since the Government have not accepted the recommendation of the North Committee that clamping be introduced for this offence in persistent cases, does my noble friend agree that strong deterrents are needed? Unlicensed cars, usually also not road-tested, are often owned by unlicensed and uninsured drivers, thus constituting a menace to all other road users?

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, the reason we decided not to adopt the North recommendation on clamps was that we thought that extended use would run the risk of undermining public acceptance of the need for, and the desirability of, clamping. I assure my noble friend that our campaigns to deter people from failing to licence vehicles will not be neglected.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, is it not the case that the reason for the rejection of the North Committee recommendation, to which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, referred, was raised by myself during our debate on the road user and the law? I said that far from having their confidence in clamping reduced, the great majority of the 33 million owners of vehicles resented the fact that a certain number were getting away with not meeting what was a proper responsibility? I am afraid that the noble Earl's ministerial colleague did not give an answer. Will the Government reconsider the matter because the great majority of the public would appreciate the implementation of the North Committee's recommendation?

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, I entirely accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that the public resent people who get away with not licensing their vehicles. As I have just said, it is the Government's view that it would undermine public acceptance of the whole business of clamping if we were to clamp vehicles because they were unlicensed. The Government's policy towards evaders is that we are not actually dealing with a crime. While, of course, we still want penalties and fines and prosecutions to deter, we do not want to lump evaders with criminals. That is the basis of our policy.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords is my noble friend aware that some of us who agree with the Government's view against widening the scope of clamping, because clamping perpetuates obstruction, would nonetheless like to see severe penalties being imposed for use of unlicensed vehicles? Has consideration been given to confiscating such vehicles?

The Earl of Dundee

Indeed, my Lords. One recommendation of the North Report to which we are giving serious consideration is that when cars are clamped in the normal way because a parking offence has been committed, they might not be released from the clamping pound, if they should also be unlicensed, until the licence is paid.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, are the penalties which can be imposed on those who commit these criminal offences adequate? Should they be increased? Should there be a general warning in view of the threat to the public at large, as noble Lords have said previously, of this malpractice, which is what it is?

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, the Criminal Penalties Order of 1984 raised the maximum level of fines for vehicle licence evasion from £200 to £400, or five times the annual rate of duty, whichever is the greater. There has been a slow but steady increase in the level of fines and penalties imposed by the courts. Since 1985–86 the average total penalty for vehicle licence evasion has increased by 20 per cent. to £105. The department considers that this is too low to be an effective deterrent and has made its views clear to the Magistrates' Association and other court-related bodies quite a number of times.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, is it not the case that if fines are not collected it does not matter how big they are? Surely the opportunity, when people have their cars impounded, to make sure that licences are in place and that previous fines have all been paid should be taken by the authorities? There seems to be a reluctance on the part of the Government to take what seem to us obvious steps.

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, I entirely accept that whatever the level of fine, if it were not to be collected, there is not much point in having a fine. I can reassure the noble Lord that some £25.7 million was recovered in fines, back duty orders, penalty payments and costs in the financial year which has just ended.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, can my noble friend tell me why one should be clamped merely for parking in the wrong place if one is not clamped when one should not be there at all?

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, I assume that because my noble friend asks that question with such emphasis he himself would never park in the wrong place or only very occasionally. However, I imagine that your Lordships would agree that there are certain advantages in continuing with our practice of clamping, although it is quite a relief for me on a Friday when I travel from London to Edinburgh to be able to relax in a city where as yet that practice has not been adopted.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, presuming that every car was originally licensed, is there any computerised system capable of discovering how many cars are not relicensed and how many are redundant?

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, as I said in my opening remarks, improved technology is now in place at the centre in Swansea. It is possible to record all the relevant details with regard to the ownership of a car, duration of the licence and so forth.

Lord McGregor of Durris

My Lords, the Minister said that last year £25 million was paid in motoring fines. Can he give the figure of the total number of unpaid fines during that period?

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, I would need notice of that question; I shall write to the noble Lord.

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