HL Deb 10 March 1992 vol 536 cc1211-3

Lord Rodney asked Her Majesty's Government:

What precautions are taken to ensure that motor cars which have been written off as a total loss by an insurance company are not re-registered and put back on the road in a dangerous condition.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, there is no specific mechanism for preventing a rebuilt written-off vehicle from being relicensed. It is, however, an offence to sell, to offer for sale or to use an unroadworthy vehicle. The Road Traffic Act 1991 will strengthen the law on the sale of unroadworthy vehicles by requiring trade sellers to identify positively any vehicle which is unroadworthy. The Act will also enable the police and the department's vehicle examiners to prohibit the use of a dangerously defective car.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Would it not perhaps be advisable if a more stringent, special MOT test were introduced when re-registration of vehicles which have been repaired after being written off is sought? This would ensure that vehicles do not find their way back into circulation again in a dangerous condition.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, this is a complicated subject. The department has spent some time looking for a solution. If there were the statutory requirement of a safety check of rebuilt written-off vehicles there would need to be a mechanism preventing those vehicles from being relicensed if they had not passed the safety test. At present it is relatively easy to relicense a vehicle without the history of that vehicle being known to the person issuing the licence.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that this problem arises not only with vehicles which have been written off as unroadworthy by insurance companies? Is it not a fact that after a certain time all vehicles have to pass an MOT test? The safety of vehicles and the control of vehicles on the road are strictly regulated.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, my noble and learned friend is right. All vehicles, once they are three years old, have to pass the MOT test which should identify any problems with the vehicle. My noble and learned friend is also right in saying that this Question relates only to vehicles that have been written off by insurance companies. About 30 per cent. of cars are insured only against third party risk and therefore the insurance company would not necessarily know whether the car had been badly damaged and rebuilt. Therefore those cars would not be caught by a scheme such as the one proposed.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, in so far as insurance companies are aware of these matters, would it not be of great value to place a legal obligation on those companies to advise the relevant authorities, in particular the DVLA, of any write-offs that have come to their attention? Would that not help the situation in a material way? Are we to understand from what the Minister said that the Government do not propose to go further than the existing legislation?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, one way forward would be to ensure that registration documents for seriously damaged written-off vehicles were surrendered to the department by insurers. That happens now for many vehicles under voluntary arrangements aimed at combating the ringing of stolen vehicles. The problem is that so many people —well over I million each year—either buy or relicense a vehicle without a registration document.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in a recent test of 3,400 accident-damaged vehicles no less than 32 per cent. were found to be unfit for use on the roads? Does he recall that on 10th June last year, during the course of the Report stage of the Road Traffic Bill, he gave an assurance to my noble friend Lord Tordoff that the Government would seriously look into the question of proposing a scheme to deal with the issue? Has any progress been made in that connection?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, as I said earlier, we are indeed looking at a scheme but it is difficult for the reasons which I tried to outline. As I said during the debate to which the noble Lord referred, statutory controls over rebuilt damaged vehicles would do little to reduce the toll of deaths and injuries on our roads. Most casualties are the result of road user error. Only a very small percentage of casualties is directly caused by vehicle defects. Of the minority which result from defective vehicles, an even smaller number is likely to result directly from the inadequate rebuilding of seriously damaged vehicles.

Lord Carr of Hadley

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether a written-off car which is rebuilt and re-registered counts as a new car in the sense that it may not have to have a test for three years, or is the original date of registration used so that it has to be tested annually?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I do not have the answer to that question, but I believe that the vehicle would remain of its original age. If I am wrong, I shall write to my noble friend.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, does not the process known as "cannibalising" present great administrative difficulties in controlling this problem because one can end up with a car composed of a chassis from one car, the engine from another and the gearbox from a third and yet collectively it can be quite roadworthy?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, there is of course no reason to suppose that a car that has been written off by an insurance company cannot perfectly properly be rebuilt and still be roadworthy.

Lord Brain

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a scheme is being test marketed in the north of England whereby a potential purchaser of a car can, with the assistance of the insurance companies, ring a certain telephone number to find out whether that car has been accident-damaged?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, that is very helpful and shows the sort of co-operation from the insurance companies that we would welcome. Generally, I would advise noble Lords who might be prospective purchasers to have an independent expert look over the car. Many commercial and motoring organisations offer that service for a relatively modest fee.

Lord Strathcarron

My Lords, before my short intervention, perhaps I should declare that I am president of the Vehicle Builders and Repairers Association. "Write off" and "total loss" are emotive words which really mean that it is not economic for the insurer to repair the vehicle. A reputable firm, such as one of our members, will make the damaged car totally roadworthy, using special equipment. Does my noble friend agree that the documents should be returned to Swansea for the damage to be recorded and that the car should then be inspected by an independent authority, such as an Automobile Association or a Royal Automobile Club engineer?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am sure that the members of my noble friend's organisation operate only in the best possible way. As I said, I advise people to have an independent check carried out.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that many people would regard this issue as having nothing whatever to do with the insurance companies? Is it not the Government's job to ensure that there are MOT regulations to meet all such dangers? Does he agree that we should not try to fob things off by putting an extra obligation on, or giving an extra power to, the insurance companies whose job is not to look at that sort of thing?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I do not really agree with my noble friend. The Government have their own MOT regulations, but it is in the insurance companies' own interests to know about such matters also.

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