HL Deb 12 February 2001 vol 622 cc9-11

3 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps are being taken to deal with the problem of uninsured driving.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, we are taking the offence of uninsured driving very seriously. The police have powers to stop vehicles to check insurance and other matters. Every year, more than 250,000 drivers are convicted of driving without insurance. The Government are supporting the insurance industry in setting up a computerised insurance database with links to the vehicle register. That database should be operational later this year, enabling the police to detect and prosecute more uninsured and unlicensed drivers at less cost.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that response. Is he aware that, although the numbers prosecuted seem to have increased, the standard fine is only £150, whereas the average insurance premium is £350? Clearly there is an incentive for miscreants not to insure. Should not something more be done about the level of the fine, which is much too low for the offence?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I take my noble friend's point seriously. The maximum fine is £5,000. The licence can be endorsed by six to eight points and disqualification is discretionary for the court. However, in practice my noble friend is correct—the average fine is £210. That is higher than for other motoring offences but it is still much lower than the maximum. Last year, the courts imposed full disqualification in 28,580 cases. People should realise that the courts have powers to deal with that offence. In addition, the Home Office is currently engaged in consultation on penalties for motoring offences in general, including this one.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, although the Motor Insurance Bureau has to pick up the tab for uninsured drivers, the penalties are ludicrously low given the total financial disaster that befalls a family whose breadwinner, for example, is killed by an uninsured driver?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I accept that there is concern about the level of the penalties. As the noble Lord said, there is a safety net in most cases, operated by the insurance companies under the Motor Insurance Bureau, but the cost has to be handed on to the insurance companies and thence to other insured drivers who are obeying the law.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I understood the Minister to say that the department was helping the insurance industry by setting up a database at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in Swansea. Why does not that fall foul of the Data Protection Act?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, we have discussed the issue with the data protection authorities. Access will be by special agreement with the police authorities to enable particular inquiries to be pursued. The database will not be available to the general public.

Lord Acton

My Lords, it is not clear to me from what my noble friend said whether there are firm plans to raise the minimum fine.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the actual level of the fine within the maximum is always a matter for the courts. I said that the Home Office was currently engaged in a wide consultation about the nature of penalties in motoring offences, including this one. If noble Lords are interested, I think that the closing date for consultation is 9th March. That relates particularly to the seriousness of the offence of uninsured or unlicensed driving.

Lord Acton

My Lords, is my noble friend saying that there is no minimum fine?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there is rarely a minimum fine. There is a maximum fine of £5,000.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, when the department does spot checks for road tax, which one occasionally sees taking place, are checks also made on insurance? Is there a correlation between those who do not pay their road tax and those who are not insured?

Lord Whitty

Yes, my Lords, there is an almost automatic correlation in that a driver cannot buy a road tax disc without showing a valid insurance certificate. The two offences are frequently related.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, is there a further correlation between those who do not pay their road tax, those who are not insured and those who abandon vehicles by the roadside? How much of a problem is caused by abandoned vehicles and what is my noble friend doing about it?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, although I personally am doing little, my colleague Keith Hill and I are ensuring that the police, the local authorities and the DVLA co-operate on an apparent increase in the number of abandoned vehicles around the country. There are substantial powers, but they need to be co-ordinated and we need to target the areas of worst offence. A couple of pilot projects will be launched shortly to improve that co-ordination. All the authorities need to address the issue.

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