HL Deb 12 July 1996 vol 574 cc606-7

4.10 p.m.

The Earl of Courtown rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 26th June be approved [25th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this draft order is essentially a tidying-up measure. It deals with several small separate matters. Before I come to the order itself, your Lordships may like a little background. The rules and conditions for international road traffic are set down in a number of international agreements. The most important of these are the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic of 1949 and the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic of 1968. In order to give effect to some parts of those conventions, the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Act 1952 empowers Her Majesty the Queen by Order in Council to make certain provisions regarding vehicles and drivers.

The principal Order in Council made under the 1952 Act is the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Order 1975. It deals with documents for drivers and vehicles going abroad from the UK, driving permits for visitors to the UK, and exemption from vehicle excise duty for vehicles brought temporarily into the UK. The 1975 order has been amended several times. This draft order before the House today contains a number of further changes that we propose to make. I will explain them briefly in order.

Article 3 contains two separate items. Paragraph (1)(a) abolishes a requirement for goods vehicles to be marked with their maximum load and weight if they go abroad. That is obsolete because nowadays all lorries, whether they go abroad or not, have to carry a plate showing their maximum permitted weight. The remainder of Article 3 concerns the fee chargeable for the issue of international driving permits that British residents need for driving in many countries abroad, mainly countries outside Europe. The same fee is also payable for an international certificate for British registered vehicles that their owners want to take abroad to broadly the same countries. These permits and certificates are issued on behalf of the Secretary of State by the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club, the Royal Scottish Automobile Club and Green Flag. Between them these four bodies issue something like 400,000 of these documents a year. The vast majority are the international driving permits. The fee was last set at £3 in 1989. The draft order would allow the issuing bodies to raise the fee to £4 in order to cover their increased costs.

Article 4 contains three separate items. Paragraph (1) corrects a small anomaly. Visitors to Britain who are residents of another member state of the European Union and who hold appropriate visitors' driving permits may drive in Great Britain not only heavy goods vehicles and buses which have been brought here temporarily on an international trip but vehicles of that type which are registered and based in Great Britain. Paragraph (1) extends that right to residents of the Isle of Man and Jersey, which are not part of the EU.

Paragraph (2) stops up a small loophole. The existing order allows holders of foreign driving licences the same rights while driving in Great Britain as holders of British licences. However, it makes no distinction between full licences and provisional licences. Thus, it enables the holder of, for example, an Irish provisional licence to drive in Great Britain as if he were the holder of a full driving licence. So he does not need to be accompanied by a fully qualified driver, and he is able to drive on motorways. Holders of British provisional licences can do neither of those things. This seems wrong in principle and potentially dangerous. So paragraph (2) ensures that holders of foreign provisional licences would be on all fours with holders of British provisional licences.

Paragraph (3) puts right an unintended effect of one of the earlier amendments of the principal order. It restores to foreign military personnel who hold appropriate driving licences the right to drive large buses and lorries in Great Britain.

Article 5 is to be read together with paragraph (3) of Article 6. These provisions update the legal framework for exempting from vehicle excise duty foreign registered vehicles that are legitimately brought temporarily into Great Britain. They do not make any substantive change in the position which has existed hitherto.

Lastly, I come to the remainder of Article 6. Again this is a tidying-up change only. The principal order of 1975 contains parallel and identical provisions for vehicle excise exemption for Great Britain (Article 5) and for Northern Ireland (Article 5A). The reason for that is that the Vehicles (Excise) Act 1971 applied to Great Britain only, while Northern Ireland had its own separate Act. The vehicle excise legislation has now been consolidated as an Act applying to the whole of the United Kingdom, the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994. There is no longer, therefore, any need for the separate Article 5A in the principal order.

I commend this order to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 26th June be approved [25th Report from the Joint Committed].—(The Earl of Courtown.)

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I thank the Minister for setting out with quite unbelievable clarity this document, which we have all read with great care. I am sure that the House will be permanently indebted to him for that. We actually agree with every word of it. I am sure that my noble friend might seize on something given a little further reflection—which might interfere with his trip to the watering place—but we thank the Minister for coming forward with the order and we support it.

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his support. I beg to move.

On Question, Motion agreed to.