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Road Safety (Financial Penalty Deposit) (Appropriate Amount) (Amendment) Order 2014

Volume 751: debated on Tuesday 28 January 2014

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Road Safety (Financial Penalty Deposit) (Appropriate Amount) (Amendment) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 17th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, the order will allow, along with other secondary legislation, effective enforcement against foreign vehicles that have not paid the new HGV road user levy as required by the HGV Road User Levy Act 2013. The levy is due to start from 1 April this year and is intended to ensure a fairer arrangement for UK hauliers. At the moment, when UK HGV drivers travel to the continent, they face road charges or tolls in most European countries. However, when foreign-registered HGVs come to the UK, they pay nothing to use UK roads. The levy will correct this imbalance and ensure that all HGVs weighing 12 tonnes or more using UK roads make a contribution to the upkeep of those roads. At the same time, the Treasury is reducing vehicle excise duty so that more than nine out of 10 UK vehicles will pay no more when the levy is introduced than they do now. The levy must be paid before using a UK road. Foreign vehicles may pay daily, weekly, monthly or annually. The daily levy ranges from £1.70 to £10 depending on the nature of the vehicle; most foreign vehicles in the UK are sufficiently large to pay £10 a day.

First, I will summarise how the enforcement process will work. It is an offence to use or keep an HGV on a public road in the UK without paying the appropriate levy. Enforcement will be carried out by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency—the new name for the combined Vehicle and Operator Standards Agency and Driving Standards Agency—and the police. We will have information on foreign vehicles in the country sourced from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Since we also know which vehicles have paid the levy, we can combine these two information sources to target those vehicles in the country that have not paid. DVSA can use this information to help determine which vehicles to stop. Non-compliant foreign vehicles that cannot provide a satisfactory UK address may be required to pay a fixed penalty deposit of £300 before they are allowed to continue on their journey. Failure to do so will lead to impounding of the vehicle and fines of up to £5,000.

The advantage of fixed penalty notices over taking forward a prosecution is that they avoid adding to the burden on the courts. Furthermore, a significant benefit from the levy is that the ability to require financial penalty deposits at the roadside enables enforcement against persons using vehicles registered outside the UK, who are difficult to pursue effectively once they have returned to their country of origin.

The order builds on existing legislation. The Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 enables the use of fixed penalty notices by police officers and DVSA officers where a person given a fixed penalty notice is unable to provide a satisfactory address. The monetary amount of such deposits is set out in the Road Safety (Financial Penalty Deposit) (Appropriate Amount) Order 2009. The order before the House today adds a new financial deposit amount to the 2009 order of £300 for the offence in Section 11(1) of the HGV Road User Levy Act 2013.

During the passage of the 2013 Act, my noble friend Lord Attlee informed the House that the amount of the financial penalty deposits would be £200. However, since then, the Department for Transport has conducted a general review of the levels of fixed penalty notices and financial penalty deposits, which resulted in a general increase. As a result of these increases, we have decided on an amount for a fixed penalty notice and its associated financial penalty deposit of £300 for the offence in Section 11(1) of the 2013 Act to ensure that the penalty is broadly consistent with penalty levels for similar offences. I commend the order to the Committee.

I thank the noble Lord for introducing this short debate on the road safety financial deposit order. One of the things that concerns many people about road transport is not the fact that they pay a levy, but rather that there are people who do not pay. They have all sorts of means of avoiding doing so. It is no good just fining them £300 every time they do it; there should be a means of reckoning up if a haulier or a company does the same thing time and again. I would like to know if there is any method that would prevent them coming back here to offend again. People do not like paying charges and will do everything they can to avoid it.

Otherwise, I welcome this charge as perhaps the first step towards having a rational system of road pricing in this country. The calculation has taken into account such things as vehicle weight and other factors. However, it might be the beginning of a way of taking more money from those who use the road, and rather less from those who do not use it very much.

I thank the Minister for his explanation of the purpose and objectives of the order, to which we are not opposed, and which is intended to come into force on 1 April. I am not quite sure that I have necessarily fully understood everything in the order; it may well be that the points I wish to raise will reveal that. Nevertheless, I will ask some points of clarification since the Explanatory Memorandum, which refers to the scheme as a whole, prompts a number of questions.

As the Minister has said, the order provides for financial penalty deposits to be applied where a relevant heavy goods vehicle is on a public road in the UK without the appropriate road user levy having been paid. Paragraph 7.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum states that, for an HGV registered in the UK, the levy can be paid on an annual or six-monthly basis. For an HGV registered outside the UK, the levy will reflect the amount of time it is intended to use or keep the vehicle on a public road in the UK and can be paid on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis. This is hardly an earth-shattering point, but why has it been decided that, for vehicles registered outside the UK, payment cannot be made on a six-monthly basis, as it can for vehicles registered in the UK?

Since, for vehicles registered outside the UK, paragraph 7.2 uses the word “intends”, does this mean —I think it does—that a levy payment will have to be made prior to the vehicles being allowed to enter the UK? Also, are there many vehicles registered outside the UK which in reality are here for most or all of the time? For vehicles registered outside the UK, what will be the daily levy rate as a percentage of the weekly and monthly rate for the same vehicle? That is, do you in effect get a discount if you are paying on a weekly, monthly or annual basis, or is it a straight multiplication of the daily levy rate?

Paragraph 7.3 refers to the police and DVSA officers being able to impose fixed penalty notices and to require deposits where the alleged offender is unable to give a satisfactory UK address. In the case of a fixed penalty notice, I take it that it would be the same irrespective of the length of time the vehicle had been used on a public road without payment of the levy. If that is the case, can the Minister say why that is so? Why does it not take any account of how long the vehicle has been used on a public road in the UK without payment of the levy? To an extent, that develops or continues the point that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, made a moment ago.

Since the maximum fine on summary conviction is up to level 5, and thus well above the proposed fixed penalty or deposit, who will make the decision on whether the matter should be dealt with by a fixed penalty notice or deposit, or instead should be taken to court? What factors will determine that judgment? What guidance will be given, and by whom, to police officers and DVSA officers on this point, or will it be up to each chief constable or police and crime commissioner—in the case of police officers—to make the decision as to whether the matter should be pursued by a fixed penalty notice or deposit, or pursued to court? Is it the intention that police community support officers will be able to issue such fixed penalty notices and deposits?

To come back to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, made, under what circumstances would a driver who was unable to give a satisfactory UK address be taken to court for this offence, as opposed to being asked for a deposit equivalent to the fixed penalty notice? What steps would be taken to ensure that such a driver, or the company concerned, turned up at court when told to do so? Of course, one of the arguments for the deposit is that it is very difficult to find people if they have left this country and gone back to the country from whence they came. There may presumably be circumstances, possibly related to the number of times they have offended, when you would wish to take these people to court as opposed to dealing with it in this particular way. How many fixed penalty notices and how many deposits is it estimated will be imposed per year as a result of this and other orders? How many cases for this offence is it estimated will be pursued through the courts? The Explanatory Memorandum leads one to believe that some cases of this offence will be pursued through the courts and not dealt with by a fixed penalty notice or a deposit.

Paragraph 8.2 refers to the consultation outcome and states that comments were received that,

“the level of the fixed penalty should be higher”.

Which organisations or trade associations sought that? The same paragraph refers to the charge being enforced against the driver. A reference is made in paragraph 8.2 to who was consulted, but it does not specifically refer to the relevant trade unions. Were they consulted—bearing in mind the charge is going to be enforced against the driver—and, if so, what did they have to say? If they were not consulted, why was that the case?

Paragraph 8.2 also refers to the decision, in response to those who thought it should be higher, to keep the level of the fixed penalty in line with the amount for other offences. Which other offences are being referred to in that context? Are they offences where the levy that has not be paid can vary, as this one can, where the vehicles are being used for commercial purposes and where the period over which the offence may have been committed can vary considerably?

As far as the deposits payable where no satisfactory UK address is given are concerned, what will happen if the deposit is not paid, either by the driver or by phone by another party? Will the vehicle be impounded? What will be deemed to be a satisfactory UK address? Will the driver have to give his or her own personal address, or will they be allowed to give the company address if that is different? Finally, what are the financial benefits accruing to the UK road haulage industry as a result of the levy and its enforcement, under this order, on heavy goods vehicles registered outside the UK?

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken for their support. There have been many questions, and I will try to answer as many as I can.

With regard to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, the HGV Road User Levy Act 2013 establishes the levy. There is secondary legislation to allow levies to be administered effectively. This includes SIs to enable enforcement. Enforcement will be applied severely where the levy has not been paid, and may include the impounding of the vehicle.

Is there a way to retrench the offences? The maximum levy fee is £1,000, or £10 per day. Hopefully, the £300 fine each time a driver is caught will prove a sufficient deterrent to not paying the necessary levy. We give the choice of paying on a daily, weekly or annual basis. The annual fee will be £1,000. What if the deposit is not paid? As I mentioned earlier, if the driver is not able to pay the £300 levy or if he has not had permission to drive in the UK, the vehicle will be impounded until the levy is paid. Either the driver pays or his company does. There are several ways of paying, including credit cards and cash, preferably in pounds rather than euros.

Another question was about why the fine is not related to the length of time that a vehicle has been non-compliant. There are technical and legal reasons for this, however we will know a vehicle’s history with respect to whether it has paid, and so can target enforcement on that basis.

Who decides what enforcement approach to use? The DVSA will decide this—it has a lot of experience of enforcing other offences. For example, it is no different from paying £8 to drive in the city of London through the congestion charge, whereby technology picks up a car that has not paid the charge and a fine is immediately issued.

With regard to hauliers who are repeat offenders, the DVSA’s targeted enforcement system will show the heavy goods vehicles that have previously not paid, and it can therefore target enforcement on those vehicles.

The experience, for example in north Wales, is that hauliers from the Republic of Ireland regularly flout the driver’s hours regulations, the maintenance regulations of the vehicle and the overweight regulations. The same hauliers come back again and again. Apparently, under present regulations, the job of enforcing these falls to the country of origin, so we are not able to enforce anything unless we actually catch the person doing it. I am anxious for this to be watertight. Impounding the vehicle is by far the most stringent penalty you can impose, particularly—and I know a lot about this—where the police officer has said to the driver who will not pay or say where he is from, “Leave the vehicle and turn off the refrigeration unit”. That usually leads to the money being forthcoming. Therefore, while there is some intelligent policing, I want to know whether we can enforce the thing properly.

My Lords, under this legislation it is an offence to keep a heavy goods vehicle on the road without having paid. Impounding is one way of enforcing this. The chances are that a very small number of vehicles will be impounded because most drivers carry credit cards, or quite often they will ring the owners of the haulage vehicle to see if they can make a payment over the telephone. Over time, we will know if there are any shortcomings in the system and we will do something to improve it. The noble Lord is quite right that impounding vehicles for a long time is not practical, especially when the police have to look after the vehicles. I can assure the noble Lord that I will certainly write to him on this subject.

I will follow on from that because I am still not clear who decides whether the matter goes to court, as opposed to being dealt with a fixed penalty notice or a deposit. The Minister mentioned the DVSA but I was not sure whether it made the decision of whether to go to court or it decided on the fixed penalty notice or the deposit. I am still not clear how that decision is made. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred earlier to people who were repeat offenders. There may also be a case where you were able to prove that a lorry had been going around without making payment for some considerable time, which is presumably rather more serious than if it has been doing it for only a day or two. Who decides, and on what basis, whether the matter goes to court?

My Lords, it is no different from the existing system in the UK. We issue a fixed penalty notice. If the fixed penalty notice is not paid, then the driver is prosecuted. It will be up to the DVSA and the police to prosecute someone who has not paid their fixed penalty.

I am simply asking what the situation is—I am not trying to make a point. Will there be no instances, even if somebody has had fixed penalty notices before, where somebody says, “No fixed penalty notice this time, we are going straight to court”? Is the only reason you will end up in court that you have not paid the fixed penalty notice?

Is that an appropriate way of dealing with somebody who regularly offends and regularly does not make payments? Is there nothing that can happen before they end up in court and face a fine, potentially?

My Lords, it is no different from the system where drivers who have not paid the fixed penalty notice are prosecuted. If they do this on a regular basis the vehicle will be impounded, so there is a threat to them. Yes, we will have difficulty because some vehicles are not based in the UK; the company is based in mainland Europe. We will go through some teething problems on the issue. I am sure that the DVSA will find a solution to this problem. I will get more information from the department and I will write to the noble Lord.

With regard to the Northern Ireland issue that the noble Lord raised earlier, both the driver and vehicle operator are liable for the levy. This liability is joint and several so it is the responsibility of both the driver and the owners of the vehicle. Non-UK vehicles driving in Northern Ireland will be required to pay the levy. Those visiting often pay an annual levy that can work out significantly less than paying daily. The DVSA will stop vehicles to enforce against non-payment of the levy in the same way it currently enforces other offences. If I am not clear on this subject, I am very happy to write to the noble Lord.

The question was raised about trade unions and other interested parties in this industry. The British haulage industry has long requested that we seek to address the imbalance of the charges that British drivers pay when driving on the continent. It should therefore be pleased that foreign-registered HGVs will, for the first time, from April this year, make a contribution when they drive on UK roads. I hope I have covered most of the points but, where I have not, I will be very happy to drop a line to noble Lords. With noble Lords’ agreement to the order under discussion here, an essential part of the legislative package allowing for enforcement against those who do not pay the levy can be put in place. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.