Skip to main content

Transport: Automatic Number Plate Recognition

Volume 736: debated on Tuesday 24 April 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to use automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) systems to reduce the number of uninsured drivers and the use of unregistered vehicles.

My Lords, the police use automatic number plate recognition to spot vehicles that are being used without insurance or with no registered keeper. Under the continuous insurance enforcement scheme, the DVLA has powers to issue fixed-penalty notices, clamp a vehicle or prosecute offenders who keep a vehicle with no insurance. Contractors for DVLA are able to wheel-clamp uninsured vehicles, and have access to ANPR. The DVLA also has its own ANPR equipment to detect unlicensed vehicles.

Does the Minister agree that the estimated loss to ordinary insured drivers is £500 million a year in higher premiums? Has he seen the reports about forecourts saying that they will not let you buy petrol if you are unregistered? Has there been any increase in the effectiveness of enforcement where people are uninsured or unregistered?

My Lords, the cost of uninsured drivers is considerable. Uninsured drivers are also vulnerable to legal difficulties. The situation is highly undesirable, which is why we are taking steps to reduce the level of uninsured driving. The idea of using ANPR on petrol forecourts is innovative and being considered, but further work is needed to establish how it will work in practice alongside existing enforcement measures.

Will my noble friend take this fact away? ANPR is cutting-edge technology. It is very capable and can detect uninsured or stolen vehicles, people who are wanted by the police, and myriad other things. However, the legal system, which is in the hands of the Home Office, is not keeping pace. I have been on ANPR checks that have had to be stood down after about an hour because all the available space in a police station to process the prisoners has been quite overwhelmed.

My Lords, my noble friend is right about the advantages of ANPR technology. It detects a considerable number of unlicensed vehicles. I was out with the police last week and we caught an uninsured driver. It is not the only technique available. Under continuous insurance enforcement, the DVLA is able to issue fixed-penalty notices to anyone who operates a vehicle that is not insured and not declared to be off the road. That will also be a very effective deterrent.

My Lords, if we have so many facilities for tracking these people and bringing them to charge, why is the system not operating? What will the Government do to use the facilities properly? Will they not consider employing people who are unemployed to chase these people, which will make the system cost-effective at the same time?

My Lords, I said that I was out with the police very recently using this technology and we detected an uninsured driver. However, we need to be careful that when we interfere with motorists, and possibly seize or clamp their vehicles, the people doing that work are properly trained and qualified to do so.

Will the Minister comment on the number of occasions when ANPR has been used in the detection of serious terrorist offences and serious organised crime, where it is extremely valuable?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right about the use of ANPR. I cannot give examples because I am not briefed on them, but when I went out with the police, I was in an unmarked police car and the police were interested in all types of crime, not just vehicle crime.

My Lords, in my ignorance, and perhaps for the benefit of the House, will my noble friend explain whether ANPR is a mobile device or is fixed?

My Lords, ANPR technology can be fixed or mobile. Both technologies are used where appropriate. However, if you want to use ANPR technology for a prosecution, the equipment has to be Home Office approved, and there are some issues there.

We note that the Minister has been closely involved with the police and has been helping them with any inquiries which they make, and I am very glad to see him back in his place today. Will he address his mind to the fact that the cost of motor insurance, which, after all, encourages those of a less respectable bent to try to avoid it, went up by 14 per cent last year? For young people getting their first car, if it is of a fairly clapped-out variety, insurance could be twice the cost of their vehicle. What are the Government going to do about that?

The noble Lord is absolutely and precisely right, as usual. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is shortly to chair a working group looking at the cost of motor insurance for young people.

Will the noble Earl tell the House that in a case where death or injury is caused by an uninsured driver, the agreement made between the Ministry of Transport and the Motor Insurers’ Bureau in or about 1930 still remains valid and effective?

My Lords, unfortunately I am not aware of what the noble Lord is talking about, but I will be delighted to write to him.