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Mr. Gray: I apologise to the hon. Lady and to the House for my discourtesy in having to leave to make an urgent telephone call. I look forward to hearing her questions in Committee. However, after nearly an hour of her speech--which I have greatly enjoyed, as she has said some very useful and important things--I hope that we do not reach the point where she would not have the opportunity to serve on the Standing Committee because we were unable to give the Bill a Second Reading this morning.
Maria Eagle: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He need not worry too much; I had not realised that I had been talking for quite so long. I am enjoying talking about his Bill so much that I have not got through my speech quite as quickly as I had originally intended. However, I am speaking about the final subject that I wish to discuss. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt be grateful that I will not be discussing all the clauses, otherwise my speech might be closer to two hours.
The use of a mobile phone, when held in a hand that should be on the wheel, is an indication of a lack of care. There is no doubt about that. I do not advocate the use of mobile phones in cars. There is an issue about whether mobile phones that are not hand-held but are plugged into an earpiece, or car phones, are equally distracting. I wondered why the hon. Member for North Wiltshire wanted to ban the use of mobile phones, given that the police think that they already have sufficient powers to deal with the issue. The hon. Gentleman's explanatory notes were most helpful. I am trying to find the relevant part.
Mr. Gray: Perhaps I may give the hon. Lady a moment to check the note to which she was referring. It is true that all sorts of things, including speaking into a hands-free mobile phone, divert the driver's attention. Eating, drinking and smacking the kids are other examples of precisely the same thing. [Interruption.] I am proud of the fact that I smacked my kids when they were smaller. I am not politically correct in these matters. I am content to admit that, but the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) is horrified.
To return to the point, if we could ban all those activities, it would be useful to do so, but no law could do so. The use of a hand-held mobile phone could usefully be banned, although that would not achieve quite as much as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) might have wished.
If the hon. Member for North Wiltshire rereads his clause and considers the statutory interpretation of it, he will see that he may be outlawing the use of a mobile phone held in the hand, not the use of a mobile phone that is not held in the hand. He needs to be careful about that.
I shall not provide further examples because of the strictures of "Erskine May", which Madam Deputy Speaker cited earlier. We can discuss the matter further in Committee. I see the hon. Gentleman's point, but I want to see the clause tightened up.
The Association of Chief Police Officers says that the police have sufficient powers now to deal with the use of mobile phones in cars. They charge people with driving without due care and attention. They charge drivers whom they see using mobile phones with not being in proper control of the vehicle.
It is incumbent on Members of Parliament to be careful that when we legislate, we are doing something that is necessary, that will improve the law, and that will make things better--and that we are not just putting declaratory statements, wishes and hopes on to the statute book. I know that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) would be nodding vigorously if he were in his place. I happen to agree with him about that. Laws that we put on to the statute book should make a real difference, otherwise there is no point in our doing so.
Has the hon. Member for North Wiltshire had any discussions with ACPO, or even with his local constabulary, about whether the police believe that the additional power would be useful? The problem is that, at present, the police believe that they have the powers to deal with the matter. They do not believe that the law needs to be changed. How would a change in the law affect enforcement? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has held consultations with his local police force or with ACPO that have shown him that the change would make a real difference. If there is no real difference, we should be giving the police extra powers--in principle, I am certainly not opposed to that--that they cannot use for various reasons, or will not need to use because their existing powers are sufficient. That will not solve the problem.
If driving while using a mobile phone were to be made unlawful and the penalties in the schedule were accepted, what difference would that make in dealing with those who committed such offences and are punished for doing so? The police say that they already have a way to deal with those offences. The hon. Gentleman may think that his measure is the answer and that it will make a big difference.
By and large, the police and ACPO tend not to welcome new laws; their resources are so stretched under the Labour Government that they do not want to enforce many new laws. I understand that point. However, that in itself would not be a good reason for failing to bring in a beneficial law. The measure would be a benefit because, at present, the police have to prove dangerous or negligent driving in order to pick up someone for using a mobile phone while driving. Furthermore, it would send out a message to the public and to drivers: "Don't do it; it's against the law". There is an element of public relations.
Maria Eagle: The hon. Gentleman makes the interesting point that his Bill would put on to the statute book a declaratory wish that people should not drive with mobile phones in their cars. Although that might be helpful, I am not sure that legislation should be about declaratory wishes--therein lie problems.
I agree that the measure might make the law easier to enforce, but only if the police were to say that the current law is inadequate. They do not say that, however; they say that the law is adequate for the three types of offence on which they can currently prosecute. The hon. Gentleman may remember the widely reported case of a constituent who was given a ticket for eating while she was at traffic lights in her car; she was accused of not
The hon. Member for Ryedale is a former police officer. Does he have views on that matter? We must consider carefully before we put on to the statute book laws that are merely wishes for better behaviour; there should be laws that the police can enforce. If the police say clearly that current legislation affords them adequate powers of enforcement, it would be better to omit the provision.
I remain to be convinced, however. During Committee, the hon. Member for North Wiltshire may be able to persuade me. I am not against the idea per se; unlike some of his right hon. and hon. Friends, I do not believe that banning in itself is necessarily bad. If he can convince me and some of my hon. Friends that the measure would make a real contribution to the prevention of the scourge and would ensure that drivers do not use mobile phones, I shall be happy to support the clause.
Is the hon. Gentleman opposed to the use of mobile phones that can be held in the hand, but that also have an earpiece or are car phones? That needs to be clarified. If he is saying that mobile phones should not be used in cars at all, that is certainly clear. However, I have used a mobile phone with an earpiece in my car; I do not consider that is any worse than listening to the radio or to a music tape. The hon. Gentleman may disagree. If the use of a mobile phone in a car is to be made unlawful, the way in which it is used should be made much clearer so that we do not inadvertently break the law. We certainly do not want to do that.
I have probably detained the House for long enough on the few points that I wanted to make--[Hon. Members: "No.!"] I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be glad to hear that I do not intend to deal with any more clauses, but perhaps we can discuss them in the Standing Committee--on which I should be happy to serve if the Bill gets that far.
I reiterate my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on his luck in winning second place in the ballot this year. Perhaps the only difference between us is that I chose a better year in which to be lucky.