Ceisteanna–Questions. Priority Questions. - National Car Test.

Alan M. Dukes

Question:

1 Mr. Dukes asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if he will provide for motor dealers to have second-hand cars which they purchase as trade-ins undergo the national car test in advance of the due date in order that they can sell fully conforming second-hand cars to their customers, thereby supporting the road safety programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8708/00]

Arrangements for the timing of car tests under the new national car test were notified in regulations and announcements made by my Department in December 1998. These involve both the establishment of a two-yearly testing cycle for cars over four years old and the spreading of the test dates among vehicles designated for testing in a particular year. The latter requirement is being achieved by approximating the test due date to the anniversary of the first registration of a vehicle. Car owners have also, however, been given the flexi bility of arranging for a test date up to 60 days prior to the due date.

The Society for the Irish Motor Industry – SIMI – made representations to my Department in February 2000 that testing should be permitted even in advance of these arrangements so as to facilitate trading of second-hand cars. My Department met the SIMI to hear its case following which a written proposal was received from the SIMI on 25 February. The SIMI proposal would have considerable implications for the organisation and management of the national car test, including possible additional costs for the contractor and the public. My Department is, therefore, consulting with the National Car Testing Service Ltd.

In completing its assessment, my Department will have to consider whether the changes proposed, which would have to be made available on an unrestricted basis, would in overall terms produce benefits outweighing costs. The potential for innovative commercial responses by the motor industry to present arrangements, such as vehicle test guarantees already provided in some countries, must also be borne in mind. My Department expects to be in a position shortly to revert to the SIMI on this matter.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Is the Minister considering this matter in a positive light? Does he agree with the principle that it is worthwhile creating a situation where purchasers of second-hand cars that have not yet reached the required anniversary date of their first registration should be entitled to the assurance they could be given if they were able to buy fully tested and conforming cars?

In fairness to the Deputy, I will not go any further than stating that I am giving the SIMI the courtesy of carefully considering its proposals. I would not go as far as saying that my position is positive or negative at this stage. However, I accept the Deputy's point about the assurance that could be given to people buying second-hand cars which face being tested. I am inclined to take the view that the SIMI and its members should consider this matter on a broader front. It has more to gain from offering guarantees than the NCTS.

Taking the route suggested by the SIMI would have cost and contract implications. I must be honest with the Deputy and state that I would be reluctant to move in a direction which would lead to an increased cost for motorists for testing. Taking such a route would mean a change in the contract.

Will the Minister be rigorous in the way in which he deals with this matter? NCTS may claim that there would be increased costs, but they would be short-term. Does the Minister agree that once the first hump involved in the initial testing is overcome, NCTS will have a much more predictable volume of business? Does he also agree it would be possible for it to plan for the extra business that would be involved without getting into a situation where there would be an extra cost per unit?

Will the Minister consider whether there might be some advantages for the test operators in economies of scale? Although I appreciate his sentiments, I ask him to worry less about being fair to me and to give greater consideration to being fair to the people who buy second-hand cars. Will he put the emphasis on that area? Will he also consider that in making it possible to give this type of guarantee to the buyers of second-hand cars, he would be acting in a way that reinforces the Government's real concern about road safety? He would be acting in a way which responds to the feeling we all share that any measures that can be reasonably taken to improve road safety would be worth taking.

The Deputy will appreciate that one of the major reasons for the introduction of the test was to increase the safety of vehicles on the road. I share that aspiration with the Deputy. I am keen to be fair to people buying second hand cars and I presume the members of the SIMI would also like to keep this to the forefront.

That is why they made the proposal.

It is a nice, non-costly way for the SIMI to get the national agency to do it. There are schemes in the UK where guarantees in relation to the national test are offered. They are offered by the industry, not the car test agency.

They would be willing to do that and to pay the test fees as well.

Please allow the Minister to conclude.

I accept the Deputy's point that when matters become more predictable, it could be considered. However, another aspect which needs careful consideration is that the NCTS would do it on a commercial basis. It could lead to claims of a conflict of interest.

The Minister should not pay too much attention to the bureaucracy.

I never do.

He should look at the realities.

I always look at both sides of the story.