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Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Order 2019

Volume 795: debated on Tuesday 12 February 2019

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Order laid before the House on 19 December 2018 be approved.

Relevant documents: 14th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (Sub-Committee A)

My Lords, this draft order will be made under the powers conferred by the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Act 1952 and is needed in all EU exit scenarios—thus differing from many of the SIs we have discussed—as the UK has ratified the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. The order amends the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Order 1975, which sets out the powers of the Government to issue international driving permits—IDPs—to ensure that UK motorists can exercise their international legal right to drive overseas.

As I have said before, the best outcome for the UK is to leave the EU with a deal, and delivering a deal is the Government’s top priority. In the event of no deal, the Department for Transport is working to achieve an agreement on mutual recognition of driving licences with EU member states. If we do not have a deal that will be by far the preferred scenario but, as a responsible Government, we must make all reasonable plans to prepare for a no-deal scenario and prepare in case we do not achieve mutual recognition.

While UK nationals will not be required to purchase an IDP if we achieve those agreements, this amendment is still necessary as the Vienna conventions come into force on 28 March 2019, irrespective of whether a deal is reached. Therefore, the 1968-format IDP is still required to guarantee licences when driving in over 75 countries outside the EU.

The EU is a popular destination for UK licence holders. Millions of UK motorists drive to Europe every year using ferries or Eurotunnel, whether for business or leisure, and many UK holidaymakers want the option to hire cars while abroad. Although we are still in the process of negotiating with the EU, we are committed to minimising disruption to UK motorists following exit and the department has taken the appropriate measures to achieve this goal.

The 1968 Vienna convention facilitates international road traffic and increases road safety through consistent traffic rules. In preparation for exit day, the UK ratified the 1968 Vienna convention on 28 March 2018. This international agreement will come into force on 28 March 2019 regardless. Following exit day, this convention will guarantee the recognition of UK vehicles and driving licences in 23 EU member states, plus Norway and Switzerland, and over 70 other countries globally. The earlier 1926 and 1949 conventions also remain in place, guaranteeing UK licences in four EU member states—different member states have helpfully ratified different conventions—plus Iceland and over 40 countries globally, including Japan and the USA, if the motorist presents the supporting IDP with their driving licence.

The draft instrument we are considering is necessary so that the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Order 1975 continues to function correctly after exit day. This is needed to provide certainty for UK motorists driving in the EU following exit day in case of a no-deal scenario if mutual recognition of licences is not agreed.

This SI will amend provisions of the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Order 1975 to implement provisions of the 1968 convention. These amendments will extend the 1975 order to the 1968-format IDP, and the power to charge a fee for the issuing of IDPs will extend to IDPs issued under the 1968 convention, in addition to those issued under the earlier 1926 and 1949 conventions. The 1968-format IDP will cost £5.50 and will be valid for three years. This amendment therefore ensures that UK motorists can exercise their international legal rights to drive in the countries party to the 1968 convention. If passed, this statutory instrument will become the main legislation on IDP issuing.

The existing SI on IDP issuing is the International Driving Permit (Fees) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. This temporary measure has been in place since 1 February 2019—it came as a negative SI—and was required to allow charging for the issuing of IDPs under the 1968 convention from 1 February. We brought that in so that people were able to apply before exit day for these IDPs, should they be needed. Once the international circulation amendment comes into force, a separate negative SI will be required to revoke the 2019 IDP fees regulations.

These amendments also provide for the recognition of a 1968 IDP issued to non-UK residents who are temporarily visiting the UK by another country which is party to the convention. While the UK has announced that we will continue to recognise both EU and non-EU driving licences for non-residents driving for up to 12 months in the UK, IDPs may help provide legitimacy if the licence is not printed in the Roman alphabet or is in a different language.

It is also important to stress that even though Ireland is a party to the 1949 convention, UK driving licence holders should not need an IDP to drive in Ireland from 28 March 2019. Ireland, like us, does not currently require IDPs from holders of driving licences from non-EU countries. This means that IDPs will not be required when driving between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

While we are still seeking agreements with member states on licence recognition and exchange, this SI will ensure that we can issue IDPs to provide certainty for UK motorists if they want to travel in the EU following exit day. IDPs have been issued for many years under previous international conventions, so while the concept may not be new, this SI will expand the number of countries that an IDP can be used in and will enable us to issue and charge for this document. The 1968-format IDP actually has a longer validity period and therefore reduces the frequency of reissuing. I beg to move.

My Lords, can my noble friend comment on a few points? First, the European Union general safety regulations are expected shortly, before the end of March. Can she reassure noble Lords that post Brexit these standards will be observed and matched by the United Kingdom? Secondly, regarding reciprocal arrangements affecting uninsured drivers after EU withdrawal—and not least if there should be no deal—what protection would there be for a driver insured in the United Kingdom who has a collision in France with an uninsured vehicle, for example? Thirdly, post Brexit the desired aim is to make it as simple as possible to get hold of and use an international driving licence. In response to questions in another place the Government have already undertaken to reduce unnecessary complications, in particular by seeing whether there can be an international driving permit app for mobile phones, thereby avoiding the inconvenience of paper copies. What progress has been made on this?

My Lords, it is important to start by mentioning that a special report by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee drew attention to deficiencies in the Explanatory Memorandum and to the fact that this is an important policy issue. There are many controversial aspects to it, so I am very disappointed that there was no proper consultation. This could seriously inconvenience members of the public. In fact, if they are not familiar with what is now required of them, or could well be required of them in the event of a no-deal Brexit, they could end up with a conviction abroad that could have serious consequences—even for their careers.

As the Minister has explained, there are two sorts of IDP: one based on the 1968 Vienna convention, which the UK Government have only recently ratified and which will come into force on 28 March; and one relating to the 1949 convention. I draw attention to paragraphs 7.2 and 7.6 of the Explanatory Memorandum. If you read them without full attention—even five times—they are extremely complex and confusing. If that is the sum of the Government’s efforts at explaining the arrangements, the average casual observer is unlikely to understand what is going on.

As a result of reading the Explanatory Memorandum several times, I believe that there are two types of international driving permit. Twenty-three EU states plus Norway and Switzerland abide by the 1968 convention IDP, and Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and Spain abide by the 1949 convention IDP. Of course, you could easily need both to go on holiday. If you want to go on holiday to Spain and plan to drive down through France, you will need both.

Until now, international driving permits have been provided by the AA and the RAC. For no clear reason the Government have decided to abandon that arrangement and to use post offices instead. I am very keen on using the Post Office but I wonder whether now is the time to abandon a well-worn system and to start all over again with a new one. I would feel better about using just post offices if we were going to use all post offices—but the Government will be using only 2,500 of them, and I was not terribly reassured by the point made by the Explanatory Memorandum that most people will be within 10 miles of an issuing post office. Ten miles is an awfully long way to go to get a document.

According to the report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, under the new arrangements Northern Ireland will have only two post offices issuing permits. I would like the Minister to clarify that the Government have had second thoughts about that and that it is no longer the case. My concern is that there is no online system and that the Government have abandoned the previous mail order system operated by the AA and the RAC. Saying that you can get a permit only by going into a post office and queueing up is a really 19th-century approach.

Another point that really concerns me is that there are no arrangements for issuing IDPs abroad. I declare an interest: my son lives and works abroad with his family. What about people like him who are already there? Will he have to come home to collect an IDP from the Post Office in order to continue to be able to drive legally in Europe in the event of a no-deal Brexit?

The Minister clarified one of my other questions, which was the legal basis for the Government taking over the issuing of IDPs on 1 February through a negative instrument.

My other concern is about the lack of publicity. There is something on the government website, but that is for those who spend their leisure time looking through GOV.UK for fun. Publicity is needed that tells people to go to that website to find out which sort of IDP they need. It is no good relying on just putting something on the website. That is where you get clarity once you know that there is a problem. Therefore, what are the Government’s plans for publicity to build up public understanding, knowledge and awareness of this issue? It is not simple; it is complex. It appears that one form of IDP lasts for three years—unless your driving licence does not last that long, in which case it might last for less time—and the other lasts for only a year. Supposing that you go regularly to Spain on holiday, you might be able to plan ahead for three years with one of your IDPs but you will need to apply every year for the other one. This is not a simple situation.

A huge issue is the resources being devoted to this matter. I remember the National Audit Office estimating that it could involve up to 7 million permits. The Government dispute that and I accept what they say, but it could easily be the case that millions of IDPs will need to be issued. The Government do not seem to have put in the resources to provide enough post offices to issue the permits, to set up an online system or to provide the necessary publicity. I remember the time, prior to EU membership, when we needed IDPs to travel abroad. That was an age when an annual week’s holiday abroad was exotic, and it was confined to relatively few people. It was an age when the idea of hiring your own car was very adventurous. Nowadays, people pop over to Europe for a weekend for a city break or whatever. They make up their mind at the last minute, and they book their hotel and car hire online.

Thanks to this Government, it seems that we are being taken back to those days in the early 1970s before it was easy to drive abroad and before we had the internet to help us book our holiday. The Government have to come up with something better. They have to dig themselves out of the 1970s and develop a modern system, and they have to provide the resources that are needed for the public to understand this. I can understand why the Government regard it all as a bit of an embarrassing secret, but they have to tell people about it in order to prepare them.

Well, once again we have in front of us an SI that brilliantly illustrates why we should not leave the EU without a deal. I gather that it rests on two treaties. I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for the depth of her research on this issue. Mine was a little more superficial. I quite like the 1968 treaty, which we agreed to ratify 50 years later. I know that it is 50 years because I got married in 1968, and I can tell noble Lords that 50 years is a long time.

The SI creates a messy situation around IDP availability. This will be necessary for UK motorists, so, despite all the caveats, it is sensible that it is being brought forward. It recognises overseas motorists’ IDPs, which, again, is a good thing, and the arrangement is reciprocal.

Good. I share the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about the resources that have been devoted to this. I shall be very happy to be told that I have misinterpreted this, but it seems to me that the day after this treaty becomes active—that is, 29 March 2019—we will have a cliff-edge situation. If we crash out without a deal, motorists will arrive in overseas countries illegally. The estimate of 7 million might be too high but, as I read the situation, technically an awful lot of people will need an IDP on the very first day. Can the Minister try to convince us that the processes necessary to meet such a sudden demand, and the plans for publicity so that the motoring public know, can be put in place so that we do not see many British motorists arriving overseas and finding themselves prosecuted?

My Lords, I thank noble Lords again for their consideration of the draft regulations—the last of ours today. In the event of no deal, we remain confident that we will achieve mutual recognition and exchange agreements for driving licences with the EU and member states. As I said, we recognise EU and non-EU driving licences and very much hope that EU member states will also do so, which will remove the complexity of the system. But, obviously, until we have that agreement we must be prepared for all scenarios, so it is important to ensure that we can issue IDPs under the 1968 Vienna convention to provide that certainty for UK motorists driving in the EU.

I will respond to some of the questions raised. My noble friend asked about uninsured drivers. We intend that the UK should remain part of the green card-free circulation zone, and we are working towards that. We are seeking reciprocal arrangements to ensure that UK drivers who are hit by an uninsured driver, for example in France, can obtain compensation from the French national insurers’ bureau. On safety regulations, we have one of the best road safety records in the world; I am not familiar with the specific document which my noble friend referred to, but I assure him that we will work to continue and maintain that good safety record.

On the IDP format and the idea of an app—a new one on me, but I like the sound of it; you could perhaps called the IDP look “traditional”—the format is specified in the UN conventions, and at the moment an app or electronic document is not applicable. However, I agree with my noble friend that we should consider that in order to modernise and to enable permits to be applied for more easily.

On consultation, obviously this affects a huge number of people. We did a lot of consultation around the 1968 Vienna convention, which brought this in, we have held many discussions with motoring organisations such as the AA, the RAC and the RAC Foundation, and we have also had separate engagements with consumer associations, which are helping us to provide guidance to people.

On the communications point, I agree that the Government’s duty is to ensure that UK licence holders are provided with the correct and sufficient information to make sure that they are ready for the changes. As I say, we hope that they will not be needed. We have published guidance on GOV.UK, which covers everything, such as the type of IDP you will need in each member state—the noble Baroness was right to point out that you will need different IDPs if you are driving from France to Spain, which, just to add to the confusion, are valid for different amounts of time. The Post Office website also provides information on your nearest IDP-issuing branch, and which countries you will need which IDP for, and it will continue to update this guidance as we progress, I hope, with achieving bilateral agreements.

We have a public information campaign that ensures that UK nationals have all the information and advice they need to continue to plan and book their travel to Europe. It includes radio adverts, Spotify adverts and social media. As I say, we are in no way complacent that we will achieve this deal and IDPs will not be needed—that is why we are bringing forward these SIs. However, if we do not get a deal—I agree with the noble Lord that this is a very good example of why we need a deal—there is still the option of the mutual recognition of driving licences, which we are moving towards, especially as we are 45 days out. If we are closer to exit without this agreement and it looks less likely that we get it, I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness that we need to do all we can to ensure that we communicate that.

Can the noble Baroness specifically address the issue of people living abroad—there are millions of Britons live abroad—and how they would obtain an IDP, and whether specific publicity will be aimed at them?

The noble Baroness was right to point out that, sadly, we are not able to issue these abroad, in the same way that we are not able to issue driving licences abroad, which obviously gives expats in particular specific problems. We are working actively with the Foreign Office to communicate with UK nationals who live overseas, using the normal consular routes to provide information on that. We are encouraging UK licence holders already resident in EU or EEA countries to exchange their licences ahead of exit day, which will avoid the potential for them to have to retake tests. IDPs are designed for visitors, not people who are resident in another state, so we are providing clear advice to people who are resident in another state that they should exchange their licences ahead of exit day.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way again. The concept of “resident in another state” is in itself quite old-fashioned. People go to work for six months, three months, even a year. They will not want to change their driving licence to make life even easier for them in that period of time; they will want an IDP for a short time. Of course, they have not had to bother about all this up to now.

I agree with the noble Baroness. This is why we recognise EU and non-EU driving licences for a period of up to 12 months, for people to drive if they are not resident, because of the changing nature of how people live and work. That is why we very much want to achieve mutual recognition. However, if that is not possible, we will be in a situation where people will have to apply for IDPs before 1 March.

On resourcing, which both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord brought up, as did the SLSC, we have expanded the turn-up-and-go service for issuing IDPs from 89 originally to 2,500 post offices, which means that 90% of the UK population live within 10 miles of an issuing branch. We have also optimised that branch network to ensure that there is a good level of availability at locations that are points of departure for UK motorists, such as ferry ports and airports. The noble Baroness is quite right to point out that there were not enough post offices in Northern Ireland that could issue IDPs; that has significantly increased from two to around 100. We have had confirmation that all the staff have been trained on how to issue all three different formats, and, while this will be demand led, should demand increase, we have the facility to expand the services to an additional 2,000 post offices, which will mean that 90% of the population will live within three miles of an issuing branch.

It is difficult to quantify how many of these we will need, given that we do not have clear data on individual journeys and what licences people who undertake those journeys have. So far, we have issued an average of 2,500 IDPs a day since 1 February—about one per relevant post office per day. The DVLA has printed 2 million IDPs across all three formats to prepare for the increase in demand. However, as I say, if we see an increase in demand, we have the possibility to expand it. On staffing levels, we do not believe that we will need further staff for the Post Office. It takes around five minutes to apply for an IDP and get it issued. I very much hoped to be able to be a mystery shopper and get down to a post office myself, but, sadly, I ran out of time before this debate. We remain confident that the Post Office will be able to deal adequately with this request. Back in the day when tax discs were issued over the counter, it delivered 30 million transactions across 4,000 branches for the DVLA, so we think it has the capacity.

The noble Baroness asked about the change to the issuing of IDPs, as they are now issued by the Post Office and not online. At the end of 2017, we looked at four different options: to continue and extend the existing arrangements, which you could do by post—that was with the AA and the RAC; to give responsibility to the DVLA to issue IDPs, via the Post Office or another supplier; the possibility of an online system but with the physical document provided by someone else; and we looked at a DVLA online direct supplying system. We decided to reject the option to continue and extend the existing arrangements, as it would not have been possible to continue that under the current government procurement rules. There was also considerable uncertainty about the volume which was needed, which continues, and we thought that would be difficult for potential suppliers to be able to quote accurately. We did consider the possibility of an online system, but ultimately that was rejected. We thought that there would be a significant risk of a wasted investment on that. Moreover, such a system would not have been available to the 5 million licence holders who are without a photo card licence—although, obviously, the vast majority have one.

I return to the point that we are hopeful of achieving mutual recognition on this if we do not get a deal, but I agree with the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that this is a complex system—a messy one, as the noble Lord called it. We do not want to be in a situation where IDPs are necessary, and that is why we are trying to achieve a deal with the European Union; I very much hope that we will reach agreement on a deal soon, but the issuing of IDPs is a sensible contingency approach in the event of a no-deal scenario. It is the only way to absolutely ensure and guarantee that our licences will still be recognised after exit in the event of no deal. It relies on the international arrangements that are outside the control of the EU, but we hope to agree a deal or mutual recognition, which is obviously in the control of the EU and we will continue to press ahead with that.

This SI is essential to ensuring that UK motorists will be able to drive in the EU following exit day. The option of purchasing an IDP provides drivers with that certainty for driving in the EU under all potential scenarios.

Motion agreed.