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Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green): I congratulate the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) on winning his place in the ballot and all those hon. Members who have supported the Bill, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), who spoke so well today, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport--
Mrs. Roche: I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey), who is a sponsor of the Bill. I shall deal with the excellent contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) in a little while. Another sponsor of the Bill is the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe). I have to mention him because he is my parliamentary pair, and therefore an extremely important person in my parliamentary life.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Exeter, not only on his success in the ballot, but on the eloquent way in which he presented the Bill which, as the Minister of State said, is a technical Bill. I firmly believe that the Bill, which is long overdue, will make a tremendous contribution to our criminal justice system--to the courts and the police--in combating crime.
There have been a number of excellent contributions to the debate. The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) made an important point about the nature of organised crime. The theme of organised crime was touched on in the interesting and wide-ranging speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and in the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham.
Until recently, I had the great honour to be a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. That Select Committee is undertaking an investigation into organised crime, which is no easy subject as it is involved and complicated. A great deal of evidence has been submitted to the Committee. There is no doubt that all hon. Members must take organised crime seriously. Some aspects of it
Column 1336have great ramifications--it is sophisticated, it is organised internationally and it has an effect on the everyday lives of men and women.
Crime is an extremely debilitating feature of our society. It is right that burglars, robbers, fraudsters and other criminals should not profit from their crimes any more than those who traffic in drugs. In London and in my constituency, the levels of home burglary are significantly higher than elsewhere in England and Wales. Victims have to pay three times: through the loss of their property; through the size of their insurance premiums-- they are proportionately worse off because of last October's new 3 per cent. tax on home and car insurance--and through their taxes, which are used to fund the huge cost of the criminal justice system.
Businesses are also hard hit by crime. The latest quarterly report of the Forum of Private Business reported that more than 43 per cent. of the businesses that it surveyed in London described crime as a significant burden, leading to serious implications for the numbers of people employed by small businesses.
There is no reason why burglars, those who rob and commit fraud should be treated differently from those who engage in the dreadful traffic in drugs. There is no reason why they should be able to serve short prison terms-- costing the taxpayer more than £400 a week, according to the answer to a parliamentary question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) last November--then come out of prison and live on the proceeds of their ill-gotten gains. Some of them even use the proceeds to fund future criminal activities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge made a pertinent point when she said that the public were very shocked at the thought of people serving relatively short prison sentences, coming out of prison and leading luxurious life styles. There is a sense of revulsion at that, and my hon. Friend spoke for the whole House. There is no reason why a burglar should be able to avoid confiscation if the proceeds of his night's criminal activities amount to £9,999. That is why I so welcome the relevant provision in the Bill.
Various big criminal cases have been discussed this morning. We all know the sort of criminals that we are talking about. The popular television series "Birds of a Feather" almost celebrates the life style of the criminal with a luxurious home. Of course, I make no reference to the constituency of the Minister for Transport in London, the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris), who is sitting on the Treasury Bench. I am sure that the inhabitants of Chigwell in his lovely constituency in the fine county of Essex are law-abiding. That is certainly a part of the world in which the Labour party expects to do extremely well in the next general election, following the results of the last local government elections.
On a serious note, it is correct that the legislation is aimed at those criminals who are popularly depicted. Knowing that Parliament takes the issue seriously will have great resonance for members of the public.
Part VI of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 is not working as well as it should. The answers which were given yesterday to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) show that only 13 confiscation orders were made under part VI in 1993-94, realising a mere £265,000. Orders made in the same period under the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1983 realised more than £5
Column 1337million. There is a clear discrepancy between the two figures and Parliament must rectify that anomaly. That is why I welcome the Bill on behalf of the Opposition Front Bench.
I hope that the Minister will intervene again to explain why the Government have taken so long to come to their conclusions and why the provisions in the legislation did not form part of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
Reference has already been made to the fact that the Bill will be warmly welcomed by the police, who have said that the lack of investigative powers in the 1988 Act has resulted in that Act having little effect in preventing criminals from benefiting from the proceeds of their crimes. In November 1992, the Home Office working group on confiscation pointed out that the number of confiscation orders made under the Criminal Justice Act was "disappointingly low". It advised:
"the practical advantages of harmonising the provisions [of the Criminal Justice and Drug Trafficking Offences Act] are clear . . . legislation should be strengthened and clarified".
It is hard to believe that consultation on the working group's proposals has taken more than two years. Perhaps the Minister can explain why the proposals have taken so long to reach this stage. I would be grateful if the Minister could also assure the House that the proceeds of confiscation will be recycled to fund crime prevention. My hon. Friends referred to the Labour party's policy of being tough on crime and on the causes of crime. This legislation is tough on crime, but we also need to be tough on its causes. Crime prevention is at the heart of that debate. Britain spends a miserly 0.2 per cent. of its criminal justice budget on crime prevention. That is nowhere near the United Nations short-term target of 1 per cent. or its long-term target of 10 per cent. It would constitute some progress if the Minister could assure us that recycling the proceeds of crime might improve our dismal record in some small way. I welcome the Bill on behalf of the Labour party, because it goes to the root of the problems in our criminal justice system. I know that many police officers feel frustrated that, after long and painstaking investigations, criminal sentences are often inadequate. They also feel that, owing to the nature of the criminal justice process, they have not managed to halt the careers of life-style criminals and stop their activities once and for all.
If the Government are serious about empowering the police and dealing with the proceeds of crime, I urge the Minister to recall the amendment that I tabled to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill--which has now been enacted--which would have allowed the police to apply to the courts to use in their fight against crime the high-tech and expensive computer equipment seized from computer pornographers. The amendment was backed by the police and by the all-party Home Affairs Select Committee, of which I was then a member. It recommended last February that the Government should introduce
"appropriate amendments to the law to allow the police to redirect confiscated equipment against the pornographers".
In a letter to me dated 21 February 1994, the Minister stated that he had "a degree of sympathy" with the new clause and that, if the power were "deemed necessary", it could be enforced by statutory instrument. However, that has not happened. Perhaps the Minister will explain why
Column 1338that measure--which Detective Inspector Bob McLachlan of Scotland Yard's obscene publications branch said would "greatly help in our fight against these appalling crimes"--has not been implemented. The Home Affairs Select Committee has published its evidence on organised crime and it makes extremely interesting, if worrying, reading. It presents a picture of organised crime in this country and its international links. The national criminal intelligence service, the police unit which is responsible for gathering intelligence information on organised crime, presented a great deal of evidence to the Committee. In examining the background to the Bill, we must look at organised crime.
Ben Jonson once said:
"As crimes do grow, justice should rouse itself".
This Bill is about justice; it is about depriving offenders of what is not rightfully theirs and, for that reason, it has the Labour party's whole- hearted support.
It is in everyone's interest that so-called "life-style criminals" be forced to pay back any money which they have gained illegally. If the measures in the Bill act as a deterrent it may make a small difference to the huge amount of criminal activity, which has more than doubled since 1979 and which blights the lives of too many of our citizens.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East): I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the House for not being present for the whole of the debate. Nowadays, television monitors relay the proceedings of the House live to Members' rooms and, while doing other work, I have attempted to follow the debate very closely. I congratulate the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) on his luck in the draw and on introducing the Bill. Initially, I was somewhat disappointed that, in view of his background as joint chair of the all-party disablement group, he did not decide to pick up the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill which he sponsored last year. However, I realise that he now has a different view about tactics in connection with that measure, so I have picked it up, and we shall consider it next week.
This proposal enjoys the support of both the Government and the Opposition. Parliament does not meet very frequently and it is not overrun with business at the moment, so I think that the Government could have taken the opportunity to introduce their own measure. However, that does not detract from the significance and importance of the proposal or from the fact that the hon. Gentleman has picked it up and run with it.
The deterrent theory espoused by the Bill--which is one that I would not normally adhere to closely--seems to have some relevance in this matter. If criminals believe that, in the end, they will not benefit from the proceeds of their crimes--if there is a change in criminal culture--the Bill will add a deterrent factor. Generally, I advocate--as does my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche)--prevention and higher capture rates as the best forms of deterrent. I acknowledge that there is much ill will in society towards easy sentences. That view is justifiable and not a matter of retribution. Criminals should suffer for their activities, not benefit from the proceeds.
Sometimes, the true value of stolen property is not easy to determine. There may be cases when the figure is exaggerated by the victims for insurance purposes. In such
Column 1339instances, there may be an injustice done, because the proceeds of a crime were said to be greater than they were. The fact that a criminal is the victim of such an injustice is not a ground for ignoring it. The law must be seen to be reasonable and fair. Perhaps the Bill's promoter will clarify that matter.
Sir John Hannam: I am grateful to all hon. Members who spoke in support of the Bill--particularly my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche). I listened with care to the points made, and I am left in no doubt that my Bill is of considerable importance to the House. In Committee, we will have ample opportunity to explore the various questions that hon. Members raised--including that of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), which is well covered by the Bill's provisions for re-examination of any assumption made by the court when it decides confiscation amounts. I again thank hon. Members for their support, and I look forward to discussing my Bill further in Committee. Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).
Order for Second Reading read.
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam), who has presented three Bills during his time in the House, this is my first in nearly 12 years. Whereas my hon. Friend hoped that he would be third time lucky, I hope to be first time lucky. The subject of my Bill is of importance and concern--the behaviour of newly qualified drivers, most of whom are young. At the stage in their driving careers when they are inexperienced, it is all important that they drive safely and pay attention to traffic regulations and the Highway Code. Even young drivers whose behaviour is blameless will be more at risk of accidents than the experienced driver, simply because situations develop that they have not anticipated or do not know how to handle.
That risk increases greatly if young drivers overestimate their skills, try to impress their passengers or flout the law. My Bill is primarily aimed at that irresponsible element. They are a minority, but the trouble that they cause is disproportionate to their numbers. The Bill is targeted. It does not propose new laws and regulations for all drivers but for a small group of new, principally young drivers who cause a disproportionate number of accidents. That problem causes concern in my constituency and elsewhere in Essex. My hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London represents an Essex constituency, and I am delighted that he is in his place to contribute to the debate. Two years ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) introduced a ten-minute Bill on newly qualified drivers. Although it was different from mine in detail, it also would have made progress towards improving the driving performance of newly qualified young drivers. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend's Bill did not make progress, but I hope that mine will enjoy better luck. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford for being present to support my Bill.
The problem that I described exists throughout Britain, not just in Essex. Essex man may reign in Essex, but some of his mentality reigns elsewhere in the country. We are increasingly a nation of car drivers and owners. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency issues about 1 million new provisional driving licences every year, which means that that number of new learner drivers or motor cyclists start using our roads. Most of them will eventually pass a driving test and become qualified. About half begin learning at 17, and a quarter of those who pass the driving test do so before their 18th birthday. Many more do so by the age of 21.
Those can be dangerous years for other road users as well as for the young driver. Ten per cent. of all driving licences are held by people under 21, yet they are involved in 25 per cent. of fatal accidents producing 1,000 deaths each year. The figures might be even worse if they drove long distances, as older drivers do. Even driving short distances, young drivers have a disproportionate effect on road accidents and fatalities. Mile for mile, a young man of 17 is seven times more likely to have an accident than a middle-aged man.
Column 1341In most cases, that is not because young drivers have not learnt basic driving skills. After all, they passed the driving test. However, too often they choose not to apply those skills, thinking that they have become expert drivers overnight. They want the world to know how well they can drive, and to prove to themselves and to their friends how fast they can accelerate, how ably they can corner and how suddenly they can brake--and they may cut up other motorists to prove that to themselves. However, they lack the ability to read the road ahead, anticipate hazards and know when to react--in other words, experience. They may also lack tolerance towards and consideration for other road users whose reactions are slower--so in that sense they lack maturity.
Even among young inexperienced motorists, there is a difference between the accident risk of a responsible driver and a tearaway. The Transport Research Laboratory made a detailed examination of new drivers and found that those who commit offences in the first year after passing their test are more than twice as likely to be involved in accidents as drivers who do not. They remain twice as likely to have accidents even in their second and third years. So there is a clear link between offences and the risk of an accident.
That is why it makes sense to target the offenders and make them pay for extra lessons, take another test, and perhaps come in for a great deal of humiliation as they have to put on their L-plates once more. It is better to do that--to aim the Bill at these drivers--than to make the driving test harder and more lengthy and expensive for everyone.
This Bill is not aimed just at young drivers: it is aimed at all new drivers. All young drivers are new drivers, but not all new drivers are young drivers. So why should we include the older new drivers at all? At any age, inexperienced drivers are at greater risk than experienced ones. Both youth and inexperience are associated with greater risk.
What is more, people can do something about their lack of experience--they can take advanced training, for instance--but there is nothing they can do about their age apart from wait. If the Bill applied only to young drivers, where would the cut-off point be--21, 25 or older? There seems no consensus about that, so it is better to make the Bill comprehensive and apply it to new drivers in general, not young drivers in particular.
My Bill will therefore apply to every new driver for the first two years after he or she passes the test for the first time; but only those who commit offences will be any the worse off. On the whole, they will be younger drivers, and predominantly male.
Clause 1 defines the scope of the Bill. Anyone learning to drive or ride a motor cycle or moped starts with a provisional licence and L-plates. As soon as these drivers pass their tests, in a car or on a two-wheeler, they are entitled to the full licence for that class of vehicle. From that point on they are deemed to be qualified drivers. The two-year probationary period mentioned in the Bill starts from the moment people become qualified drivers. They may go on to pass a test in some other class of vehicle, but that does not make them probationers all over again. It is only on the first occasion that this clause will bite.
The Bill applies to holders of British licences who pass their tests in Great Britain, or who got their Great Britain licences as a result of tests passed in certain other places outside the GB mainland--countries with which we have
Column 1342reciprocal arrangements. When the date of passing the test outside Britain is known, as it usually will be in such cases, it is recorded on the British licence and thus defines the starting point of the probationary period.
Clause 2 contains the meat of the Bill. Its effect is that when a driver in the probationary period gets six or more penalty points on his licence, either by a court conviction or by paying a fixed penalty, the licence must be surrendered and sent to the Secretary of State--in practice, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency--to be revoked. The first two subsections cover convictions by a court and the rest cover fixed penalties.
Clause 3 follows on logically. When the Secretary of State receives a licence, he must serve notice on the holder that it is revoked. The person can no longer drive as a fully fledged driver but may apply for a provisional licence and start again as a learner. So the offending person does not lose all ability to drive and does not have his licence completely revoked. He has to revert to being a provisional licence holder and can continue to drive, with L-plates, being accompanied. He must then in due course take the test once more.
Clause 4 goes on to the next stage. Now that a person is a learner again, he or she is not eligible for a full licence until the test has been passed. But to avoid unnecessary harshness, this clause does not require people who had passed more than one class of test before the revocation to pass them all again. Passing just one of them will get back all the lost entitlements. The clause also does not prevent such people from learning to drive a new type of vehicle and passing the test in that--but doing the latter will not win back the old entitlements as well.
Clause 5 deals with special cases when the person affected by the revocation appeals against the conviction that caused it. Provided that the Secretary of State is notified of this, he must issue a temporary licence while the appeal is pending. If the appeal is successful enough to remove the penalty points or to reduce them to fewer than six, the Secretary of State must grant a permanent licence replacing the one that was taken away. Some of the procedural details are to be in regulations.
Clause 6 and schedule 1 cover essentially the same ground as clauses 2 to 5, but apply to the special case of a person who has passed the test but not yet handed in the pass certificate and provisional licence to get a full licence. Current legislation allows a two-year period in which pass certificates and provisional licences can be exchanged for a full licence. Most people exchange them straight away, but there are a few who choose not to or who forget to. The schedule is necessary to close a loophole which might allow the retesting procedure to be evaded.
Clause 7 has two purposes. First, paragraph (a) prevents a person from being doubly penalised if a court uses its powers to order a retest. The court order takes precedence over anything in this Bill, and once it has been made the person is no longer regarded as being in the probationary period. Often, the re-test ordered by the court will be a double-length test, whereas the test required by the Bill is always of the usual length.
Secondly, paragraphs (b) and (c) prevent a person from being caught in a continual round of retesting, which would be too harsh. Once the person has passed a test, he is no longer subject to the provisions of the Bill. It must be remembered, however, that passing the test and getting back the full licence do not wipe off the six penalty points
Column 1343that caused the retesting in the first place. Those six points are still there, and if the driver gets another six before they are spent, making 12 in all, the court will disqualify him for six months under the existing totting-up procedures and laws.
The other clauses and schedule 2 are supplementary, and I shall not go into detail about them.
I hope that the House will agree that these are tough but fair provisions. They will not make it any harder to qualify as a driver in the first place, but they will make it harder for people to keep their licences if they misbehave. They will therefore act as a powerful deterrent for drivers who are tempted to break the law or who drive without consideration for others.
Research suggests that drivers are more deterred by the threat of losing their licences than they are by fines. At the moment, they need not worry too much until they get close to 12 penalty points, which can mean up to four speeding offences. But this scheme will bite at six points. It will not stop them driving altogether, but it will force them back into the classroom, to the world of L-plates and an experienced driver by their side. There will also be considerable humiliation.
The scheme will also provide an incentive to take further lessons and will give drivers the opportunity to reconsider what it really means to be a responsible adult driver.
I am pleased to have been able to obtain backers for the Bill both from my party and from the Opposition. I am also pleased to have the unstinting support of the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club. I am pleased, too, to have the support of the former roads Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key). I know that he played a major part in putting the subject on the political agenda, and I am grateful for his backing and support. I hope that I can count on support from all parties to bring this worthy measure to the statute book.
Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North): First, I declare my interest as a parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation. There is considerable concern among police officers about their difficult encounters with young drivers, who often drive fast cars at high speed. It is a problem that needs to be dealt with, and the Bill seeks to do so. Therefore, I give a warm welcome to the Bill. It is necessary and it will do considerable good in resolving many difficulties.
We know that 1,000 people die each year in accidents involving young drivers. They hold only 10 per cent. of driving licences, but they are involved in 20 per cent. of all accidents. New drivers who are convicted of motoring offences are twice as likely to be involved in accidents as drivers who do not break motoring laws.
Over the past two decades there has been a change in public attitudes towards drink-driving. Young men in particular used to regard it as a way of proving their masculinity. They were willing to drive after having consumed far too much alcohol. Fortunately, social attitudes have changed, especially among young people.
Column 1344Before I came to this place I was a lawyer at the criminal Bar. It is my experience that many of those who have been convicted of drink-driving in recent years have been older people. When they were young it was perhaps acceptable to drink and drive. I found that young people were less and less involved in that behaviour as a result of changed social attitudes and pressures.
The Bill will start the process of changing the social attitudes--perhaps not of the present generation--of the generation to come towards driving cars, especially fast cars. There have been problems on several housing estates in my constituency, where young people drive at high speed. Some young people tend to drive their cars--on occasion, stolen cars--at high speed across traffic-calming road humps. This often happens at night. The humps normally serve a good purpose and it is regrettable that the driving that I have described is exactly the opposite of the objective of the humps. Such driving needs to be clamped down upon with vigour.
Apart from dealing with those who are committing motoring offences by way of penalties and penalty points, we need to bring about a change in social attitudes. The law must take the lead. The hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) has introduced a Bill that shows that we in this place take road traffic matters extremely seriously and that we are prepared to support the police in recognising the importance of taking action and dealing with the problem. The Bill shows that we are ready to start the process of changing attitudes. Young drivers are often less safe than others, especially if they are inexperienced. They should know that if they start to accumulate penalty points by speeding, for example, and arrive at six, they will not have the facility of their "wheels" and all the advantage that they provide, especially at a young age. They should know that they may have to face a second test.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East): My hon. Friend is talking about young drivers. I accept that the Bill will apply mainly to those drivers, but it applies also to newly qualified drivers, who are not always young people. I accept, of course, that many of the problems with which the Bill seeks to deal involve all people and the accumulation of penalty points. There is a need for these measures.
Mr. O'Brien: That is entirely right. I agree with my hon. Friend that the Bill does not apply only to young people. When enacted, it will be much broader in its application. That can only be right. As I have said, there has been a change in social attitudes in recent years towards drink- driving. I have no doubt that behind the Bill is a wish to change social attitudes towards fast or erratic driving. It may still be thought among the older generation that drivers can get away with breaking the law by occasional speeding. That is regrettable. The Bill is an attempt to deal with the problem. I suspect that it would be extremely difficult to frame clauses to deal only with young drivers. There are advantages in having a Bill that is drafted to deal with all new and inexperienced drivers, and I support it. I offer a warm welcome to the Bill. I hope that it will be given a Second Reading with support from hon. Members on both sides of the House.
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Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): I, too, welcome the Bill. It is an important step forward in improving driver safety. That being said, I would like measures to come before us which go further towards improving road safety. The Bill is important, but it is only one step in that direction.
We must consider and try to deal with the behavioural characteristics of the young male driver if we are to achieve general improvements in driver safety. I accept, of course, that the Bill covers all new drivers of both sexes, whether they are young, in their middle years, or elderly. I shall concentrate, however, on the young male driver, who often poses a problem by engaging in hazardous driving.
It is worth reflecting that most criminal offences are committed by young males. When they reach 25 years of age, most of those young offenders cease to offend. It is important to realise that many of the offences that are committed by males in that age group are motoring offences. Young male offenders are prepared to drive recklessly without insurance and without a licence. That being so, we must question whether the effectiveness of the Bill will be sufficient to curb the committing of motoring offences by such people. Will young male drivers who are prepared to drive while uninsured and without a full licence be sufficiently deterred by the proposal to reduce the number of penalty points leading to disqualification to six?
Recent studies have shown that about 15 per cent. of all male drivers have driven illegally before they have gained even a provisional licence. It is interesting that that is twice the percentage of women who have done that.
I welcome the Bill's proposals, especially the two-year probation period for new drivers and the revocation of licences if six or more penalty points are accumulated during the probationary period. I welcome also the requirement that there must be a further test before a licence is reinstated. These and other measures are steps in the right direction but are only a start towards improving driver safety. They must be considered as only part of a more general package to improve driver safety, especially among young males. If we are to deal with that specific problem, we need to look more closely at the life style factors of that group, as the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) suggested.
We must examine why some 35 per cent. of young male drivers were categorised as unsafe in a study undertaken in 1991 by the university of Southampton near Eastleigh. The work undertaken by the department of psychology is significant in this regard. Its earlier studies found that there were differences in driver behaviour and performance within the 17 to 25-year-old age group. As the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) will know, its more recent work explored the relevance of life-style factors to the differences in driving behaviour.
We must realise that there are indeed different attitudes among male drivers and we cannot assume that all young male drivers should all be labelled as inherently unsafe. Driving behaviour characteristics are far more complex than that. On average, the young male drivers studied by Southampton university rated their driving skills and driving safety as considerably above the average for their own age group. Unsafe drivers rated their driving as more skilled than safe, whereas safe drivers rated their driving
Column 1346as more safe than skilled. The important point is that unsafe drivers tend to test their ability and their car's capacity to a much greater extent than safe drivers, but their so-called skill is of course illusory, as unsafe drivers have a high accident involvement. Many young drivers fail to recognise how close they have been to having an accident. Furthermore, they seldom recognise that a near miss is feedback to the effect that they are driving badly--it is much easier for drivers to blame their surroundings and other drivers for a near miss. The most obvious feedback in respect of poor driving is involvement in an accident, but, even after an accident, it is easy to find causes other than poor driving.
Young male drivers seem to suffer from the delusion that accidents are chance events and occur at random, but that is not so; poor driving is a significant characteristic of and contributor to accidents. Driving should not be viewed as merely a physical skill. It is all too clear that unsafe drivers are unaware of the risks that they take and, even if they are aware of the risks that they take, because they believe that they are highly skilled they assume that they will not have an accident.
The proposals to improve the skills of young drivers and to impose stiffer penalties on those found guilty of poor or illegal driving are not in themselves sufficient to tackle what I regard as the root of the problem. Pre-licence training in road safety must incorporate things other than the learning of driving skills. The Minister will be aware that the response to the Government's new driver safety consultation paper, which was issued just over a year ago, showed that there was wide support for the retesting of offenders as proposed in the Bill, but the consultation also revealed overwhelming support for a separate mandatory theory test to fulfil the second EC driving licence directive.
I am sure that we are all familiar with the parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety which welcomed the Bill but said that it should be seen alongside other measures to improve the skills of young drivers. In addition to a stick--the removal of a driving licence--we need a carrot, or better training to increase awareness of the difficulties of driving. Like the advisory council, I look forward to hearing proposals from the Department of Transport for the compulsory test involving an element of hazard perception. We could thus ensure that young and new drivers were able to drive competently and less dangerously.
Post-test driver training has been the subject of strong interest by the insurance industry, and the development of road safety and education programmes for the 16-year-olds and above has been supported by colleges and other establishments.
At the time of the consultation exercise the Minister said that a mandatory theory test would be in place by 1 July 1996 and that the Department was working with the private and voluntary sectors to establish post-test driver training schemes and road safety education programmes. I would welcome confirmation that the Bill is but one part of a comprehensive package to be introduced within the time scale previously set out.
The Liberal Democrats welcome and enthusiastically support the Bill, but we should like an assurance that it is a first step in a package of measures to improve driver safety.
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Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham): I am sure that nothing could be more harrowing than the anguish of a young mother who has lost her child through the foolishness of an inexperienced driver. The driver will be haunted for the rest of his life by the memory that he was responsible for the death of a child and that it could have been avoided. In some instances, the driver does not have the opportunity to look back on the incident, because he too has been killed by his actions. Therefore, anything that we can do to make the roads safer must be worth while. For that reason, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) on promoting this excellent Bill, the provisions of which I strongly support.
It is often observed that if the number of people killed on the roads were killed in any other way there would be a national scandal. What if a series of jumbo jets crashed every year, leading to the equivalent number of deaths, or a catastrophe occurred regularly in industry? If rail accident deaths reached anything near the number of road deaths, there would be an outcry. Nevertheless, we must take satisfaction from the fact that the number of deaths on the roads is falling, and markedly so. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London and his team on their road safety work, which has helped to achieve that fall.
The number of people killed on the roads has declined steadily, from around 5,000 in 1990 to 3,814 in 1993. The control of drinking and driving has clearly been a major contributory factor and I support any measure that strengthens the law in that respect. Of those road accidents, about 1,000 deaths--20 per cent.--are the responsibility of young drivers. Statistics show that youth and inexperience are major factors in accidents, so it is excellent that the Bill is targeted specifically at that group.
In my borough of Bromley, 205 drivers in the 17-to-24 age group were injured in 1994, bearing out statistics showing that group to be especially vulnerable, usually because of their own inexperience. New drivers are twice as likely to break the law but it is not only the statistics but our personal experience that illustrate the risk attached to young and inexperienced drivers, especially young and inexperienced male drivers.
I remember when I first started driving people in my age group were immediately enthused with their new-found freedom and it was only a matter days after taking off the L-plates that they began to drive fast and tried to acquire more powerful cars. There will probably always be a macho image attached to driving but it must be restrained by the law. I can think of no better way in which to restrain that macho urge than the deterrent of the Bill. The most effective means of deterring that 17-to-24 age group from transgressing is to threaten to remove what they regard as most precious: the new-found right to drive without having to display L-plates. Having to display L-plates and to pass another test would be quite humiliating for that age group.
The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) is right to suggest that the Bill should be part of an overall package of policy. I support what he said about "Pass Plus", an excellent post-test driving training scheme that will shortly come into force. To go with the stick in the Bill, that scheme will introduce a carrot. The introduction and development of theoretical driving tests would add to the beneficial pressure on the target age group.
Column 1348The teaching of driving skills at school plays an important part in encouraging and developing the right approach and attitude before would-be drivers get behind the wheel. Indeed, my borough of Bromley, which may be the only London borough that is taking such major strides in this area, runs an innovative pre-driver programme in secondary schools, which has involved more than 800 pupils so far. It is free and it runs for 11 weeks.
It is co-run by the Intercounty driving school, which provides free cars, and pupils have up to three 20-minute sessions behind the wheel as well as supportive work in the classroom aimed at preparing young drivers, influencing their attitudes, calming them down and getting them used to the control and safety needed on roads, rather than allowing the development of the idea that driving is simply a matter of getting behind the wheel.
The programme has already produced excellent results and I hope that it is developed further not only in Bromley but across the country. I know that Scott Pickering, the road safety export in the borough, who has played a leading role in pioneering the project, would support a Bill aimed at people whom he knows are vulnerable and need protecting from themselves. For all those reasons, I strongly support the Bill and I am glad that it is before the House. For the sake of not only the target group but all potential victims on the roads who we may prevent from becoming victims, I wish the Bill speedy progress to the statute book.