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Road Tax

Volume 714: debated on Monday 9 November 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government why the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency has altered its practice in respect of road tax charged on vehicles registered in other European countries.

My Lords, the policy has not changed. Since 2006, we have pursued an education and enforcement campaign aimed at foreign-registered vehicles in the UK. This arose from public concern over the perceived increase in foreign-registered vehicles that were not subject to UK road-tax rules. Vehicles may be used by visitors for up to six months in 12 without having to meet UK requirements. The campaign continues and we believe that public concern has lessened.

My Lords, was it not the 1982 EU ruling that cars registered and taxed in one European country could travel freely in any other European country for up to six months, continuously or otherwise? Was that not drafted to permit easy travel throughout Europe? Why has the DVLA deleted the words “continuously or otherwise”? Cars are being impounded without any warning and their drivers forced to pay £420 to get them back. Is that fair?

My Lords, the policy has been driven by public concern over the very large number of foreign vehicles that are coming on to our roads, particularly since the enlargement of the European Union and the influx of workers from countries such as Poland and Lithuania. When a foreign car is first spotted by either the police or the general public it is arranged for a warning notice to be placed on that vehicle saying that the driver is required to register it if they are here for six months within a year. Only after the six months have elapsed, or the vehicle is spotted again, is enforcement action taken.

My Lords, my noble friend will know that I am always ready to defend my home city and my former constituents at the DVLA. Is it not true that the case which received publicity recently did not involve the DVLA in any way? The police in good faith, but wrongly, clamped a motor vehicle, and they put it right as soon as they could, without payment. Will he also confirm that, largely as a result of the publicity campaign to which he refers, concern over the number of foreign vehicles not paying our road tax has largely been allayed?

Yes, my Lords, my noble friend is correct—it has been a successful campaign. Obviously there will be the odd case when somebody is hard done by, and he has referred to one case which has received publicity. It was indeed based in Northamptonshire, the home county of the noble Baroness, where the police have been particularly active with their own Operation Andover campaign. The number of vehicles that have enforcement action taken against them has reduced and the situation appears now to be under control.

My Lords, on the subject of enforcement action against foreign vehicles and foreign-registered vehicles—because there are many British people registering their cars abroad—will the Minister please ensure, first, that the drivers of these vehicles are able to read the road signs in this country? There is a lot of evidence of people being totally ignorant of signs that say no left turn or no right turn, or that give bridge heights, although these are supposed to be international signs. Will the Minister also comment on the level of fines being imposed by VOSA on foreign vehicles which are improperly maintained and driven by drivers who have exceeded the driver’s hours? These fines are derisory in respect of the amount of damage to fair competition.

With great respect to the noble Lord, both his questions are rather wide of the original Question. The second question is about road freight vehicles, about which he and I had a lengthy exchange in your Lordships’ Chamber two weeks ago last Friday. Road signs are a matter that falls well wide of the original Question.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is great concern about vehicles that carry foreign plates that are unreadable in this country? People feel that such drivers are getting away with everything because the police cannot read the Arabic or Chinese or whatever it is and, therefore, that the drivers get no penalties of any sort and there is no enforcement. I have raised this before. Has the department looked at it again?

It is precisely that situation which the scheme aims to catch. Once a foreign vehicle with either a recognisable or unrecognisable number plate is spotted, the warning notice is placed on it and the owner or driver knows what he or she is required to do in terms of getting the car taxed and registered in the UK. The problem of unreadable number plates is not however confined to foreign plates. There are a number of plates called cherished plates, which British drivers have, which also fall foul of the law. Action is also being taken about them.

My Lords, are differential tax rates operated in European countries on the basis of car emissions, as they are in this country?

I hate to give the same answer to the noble Baroness as I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, but that question, too, is a long way short of the Question on the Order Paper, which concerns the registration of foreign vehicles. However, I am happy to answer the noble Baroness in writing.

My Lords, would some of the rather ancient vehicles that arrive in this country be eligible for the scrappage fund?

The noble Viscount is correct: once a foreign vehicle comes within the scope of the DVLA and our tax and registration system, it is required to comply with MoT tests and all the other roadworthiness requirements. It is interesting to note that in the last 12 months in which the scheme has been in operation, 18,419 vehicles registered overseas have been sighted, 691 have been clamped, 387 have been impounded, and 132 vehicles registered overseas—which I think are the vehicles he is asking about—have been authorised for disposal, mainly by what I am advised is called shredding.

The notices are not in Welsh because Welsh vehicles are not subject to this regime. In the early days of the scheme, notices in Polish and Lithuanian were put on cars, but as the European Union expanded further that was felt to be unnecessary and it has been replaced with a programme of education aimed at those local communities to ensure that their nationals are aware of the rules.