Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.
I beg to move, that the Bill be now read the Third time.
I wish to thank hon. Members for their support for this measure. Indeed, in Committee such was the enthusiasm of colleagues that some who turned up were not even members of the Committee. I am very grateful to all those who did turn up.
In early January this year, I received an email from a constituent of mine who runs a driving school that employs about 200 drivers. He was concerned that his business and his customers were suffering from a lack of qualified driving instructors. I agree with my constituent, although I have to say that I have now received a few letters and emails from people throughout the country telling me that there is an excess of driving instructors. Perhaps we will not delay the House with that argument, because it does not relate to the core of the Bill.
I am happy to write to my hon. Friend to give him the precise details. Suffice it to say, it is a considerable number.
My constituent felt that this was a nationwide problem and asked if it would be possible to make the process of requalifying simpler for instructors who had, for whatever reason, been forced to take a break from instructing. He told me that many instructors who had left the register of qualified instructors for medical reasons—maternity leave, or to help care for a sick or elderly relative—found the process of requalifying too costly and time consuming to make it an attractive prospect. I imagine there can be occasions where driving instruction is rather stressful given some of the people they are trying to instruct, but it is not a physically taxing profession and it has great appeal to more mature, experienced instructors who can continue to instruct at the highest level for many years. I hope the Bill will go some way towards addressing my constituent’s concerns and assist many experienced instructors, who have much to give back to the profession, to return to the industry.
The Bill ensures that approved driving instructors are allowed re-entry to the register under a simplified procedure if they apply within four years of leaving by undergoing a standards check that is quite rigorous. For clarification, driving instructors are registered for four years. During that four-year period, they must successfully pass a standards check that assesses their continued ability to provide instruction during their registration period. This is known as a “continued ability and fitness check”.
I can absolutely confirm that to my hon. Friend. Indeed, I was challenged on that point in Committee. It will not diminish in any sense the very high standards we rightly require for those who instruct people how to drive.
If they pass the check, their registration can be extended for another four years. If they fail the check they are usually allowed another go, but they will be removed from the register if they do not pass. An instructor can also be removed for disciplinary reasons, for example for refusing to undergo a standards check, or for conduct or health reasons that mean they may not be fit to deliver instruction.
The Bill allows a driving instructor to request voluntary removal from the register and to return at a later date under the simplified process. As reported in Committee, last year more than 600 ADIs asked to be removed from the register, something most people would assume is a straightforward task. However, those ADIs were not allowed to be removed voluntarily. They had to be removed for disciplinary reasons by refusing a standards check, or they had to undergo a check and then let their registration expire at the end of the four-year period.
The reasons for ADIs wanting to leave the register are varied, but it is generally because they would like a break from the profession to start a family, as in a recent case where a female ADI felt compelled to renew her registration, despite taking a career break from delivering driving instruction to bring up her two young children. If she had not renewed the registration at a cost of £300, it would have lapsed, which seems very unfair. She would then have had to undergo the three-year requalification process, which takes 34 weeks on average. The ADI felt that this was discriminatory, and I certainly agree. She would have preferred leaving the register voluntarily and then returning at a later date via the simplified route.
A further example of how ADIs might benefit from the Bill is where an ADI is undergoing long-term medical treatment, and while receiving treatment does not feel well enough to continue working, but would afterwards be able to return to their profession without the stress of having to requalify. The Bill will work to benefit instructors, as with a recent ADI who allowed his registration to lapse due to a heart attack. At the end of the 12-month period in which he could re-register without requalifying, the ADI was still on medication and although he was able to drive, he did not feel well enough to resume instructing. He felt that he needed a little more time. While the registrar has no discretion in these matters under the current legislation, he did allow a couple of months’ grace, as an extension of the 12-month period. While this was welcome, the ADI still felt that this placed him under undue additional stress, which could further impact on his health, and I agree with that, too.
In those circumstances, an ADI who has not been able to earn a living for a while will no doubt be relieved that they will have an opportunity to return to work and start earning a living much more quickly than they would have done if they had had to requalify. The simplified procedures allow an ADI to be back in work in around six weeks, as opposed to the average of 34 weeks to requalify.
In promoting the Bill, I do not seek to compromise standards of instruction—this was the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray)—because the standards check carried out to ensure the ADI’s continued ability to instruct will be the same check that is carried out on practising instructors on the register. I am, however, seeking to make the legislation more proportionate and fair, making it more relevant to the 21st century by making two simple deregulatory changes. This certainly pleases Conservative Members and fits in with the Government’s commitment to removing unnecessary burdens, especially for small businesses, which make up the majority of the ADI industry.
I am delighted to see in his place the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), who will no doubt respond to the debate in due course. He made his debut as a Minister in Committee, and I am advised that if we are successful with this Bill, it will be the one and only piece of legislation that the Department for Transport has piloted in this parliamentary Session. I commend the Bill to the House.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) on his remarkable success in getting the Bill this far. He has steered it very well. He mentioned the Committee stage, which managed to last an entire 14 minutes. Approval for the ideas he brings forward is very clear, and I hope to see the Bill making it on to the statute book shortly. The Government support the Bill.
I shall be relatively brief and expeditious. Let me first confirm that, in my view, the provisions of the Driving Instructors (Registration) Bill are compatible with the European convention on human rights. Thanks to the great efforts of my hon. Friend, we are now aware that paid driving instruction in Great Britain has been regulated for many years—in fact, since the 1960s. It is therefore unlawful for a person to carry out paid driving instruction unless they are registered as an “approved driving instructor”, commonly known as an ADI. To become a qualified ADI, an instructor must take and pass a three-stage process. There is a purpose to the legislation, which is to ensure that an instructor is sufficiently qualified to deliver a robust standard of instruction to learner drivers and, through that, help to preserve road safety by making sure they become safe and responsible drivers.
The regime to control the process is proportionate. We need look only at our country’s record on road safety to see the contribution that ADIs have made; indeed, other countries look at our record with some envy and have sought to replicate our system. As my hon. Friend made clear in Committee, however, some of the legislation is out of date and due for a change. That, of course, is why we are here today.
My hon. Friend has identified two quite simple changes that can be made to the legislation to bring it up to date and make it more reflective of current work practices, without compromising instructor standards. As he has pointed out, driving instructors are primarily small businesses, often operating individually or perhaps as part of a smaller franchise arrangement. These simple provisions will provide benefits of a deregulatory nature for a group of small businesses, which is entirely in keeping with the Government’s intention to remove barriers to business.
The two ideas are quite straightforward. The first is to help people back into the industry through the removal of the requirement to redo their full three-part qualification. Last year, 2,500 ADIs allowed their registration to lapse, but only 1%—just 25—applied to requalify. I am sure that, had the requalification process been simpler, more would have tried to re-enter the industry. The requalification process will be reduced from a 34-week process to a six-week one, which is a very significant change.
The second idea relates to voluntary removal from the register and then re-entering via the updated, simplified procedure. Last year, 610 ADIs asked to be removed from the register because they had other commitments. The registrar cannot, however, legally do that because ADIs can be removed only for reasons relating to conduct, competence or discipline. If someone is taking a career break to be a carer or to bring up a family, having one’s competence challenged or being made subject to a disciplinary procedure seems entirely unfair. It does not reflect what is happening in people’s lives or careers, which is why we need to make the change.
As the Minister with responsibility for road safety, I am reassured that the Bill will not lower standards and will not compromise road safety; it will merely simplify access to the profession.
I did not have the opportunity to ask this question earlier, so I would like to ask the Minister now. Clause 5 enables the Secretary of State to use regulations made by statutory instrument to
“make such provision as the Secretary of State considers appropriate in consequence of this Act.”
That sounds rather broad, so will the Minister clarify the circumstances in which the provision might be used?
Yes, I think the clause provides consequential amendments to flow through the idea and basic concepts of deregulation and ease of process through other aspects of parliamentary business, as required. It is quite straightforward and does not change things; it simply follows it all through. If I am wrong, I will of course write to the hon. Lady, but that is certainly my reading of the clause.
We have two simple measures in front of us this morning, which will provide flexibility and financial benefits for the industry. I am very pleased to give the Government’s support to the Bill, and I hope that it receives a Third Reading.
I should like briefly to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) on introducing the Bill and so successfully steering it through to its Third Reading. I confirm that Opposition Members also welcome these sensible measures to update and simplify regulation on the registration of driving instructors. I particularly welcome the opportunities it provides for those instructors who take a career break, perhaps to care for children or elderly relatives, or indeed those who are returning after a period of ill health. This provides a really good example of the way in which private Members’ Bills can be used to make small changes that can make a big difference—in this case, to a number of driving instructors across the country.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.