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Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I certainly note the hon. Lady's comments and I will bring them to the attention of the Leader of the House and the House authorities.
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Orders of the Day

Road Safety Bill

[Relevant documents: The Sixteenth Report from the Transport Committee, Session 2003–04, on Traffic Law and its Enforcement (HC 105-I), and the Government reply thereto, Cm 6442]

Order for Second Reading read.

3.20 pm

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill takes forward legislation that will, I hope, help to reduce the number of deaths and injuries that occur every day on the roads and to improve road safety for all road users.

The UK has one of the best road safety records in the world. It is a record that most EU countries, for example, strive to match. We are better than the United States and the Australians, and on a par with Sweden and the Netherlands, yet the fact remains that 10 people are killed on our roads every day. It is against that background that I ask the House to consider the Bill.

Like successive Governments, this Government are committed to reducing the number of people killed and seriously injured. That is why, in March 2000, we set out a strategy to deliver substantial reductions in road casualties. I remind the House of the targets we set: a 40 per cent. reduction in all road casualties by 2010, with a 50 per cent. reduction in the number of children who are killed or seriously injured.

Good progress has been made. For example, in 2003 we saw a 6 per cent. fall in the number of people killed or seriously injured—the biggest annual drop since the road safety strategy was launched four years ago. By 2003, the number of people killed or seriously injured had fallen by 20 per cent., which means we are about halfway towards our 40 per cent. target for 2010, and the number of children killed or seriously injured had fallen to just over 4,100, which is more than three quarters of the way towards achieving the 50 per cent. reduction target for children.

Despite that welcome progress, too many people are killed or seriously injured.

Mr. Denis Murphy (Wansbeck) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be aware of the tragic case in my constituency in which a young child, Rebecca Sawyer, was killed and her family seriously injured by a hit and run driver. The individual responsible had 89 previous convictions, one of which was for causing death by dangerous driving. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the public need to be protected from such individuals, who kill and maim? As the Bill passes through the parliamentary process, will he examine in detail the possibility of introducing a new offence of causing death by aggravated dangerous driving, which could carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment?

Mr. Darling: We all have the greatest sympathy for the family who were affected by that accident, and my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that
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many people are needlessly killed or seriously injured by bad driving. As a result of changes that have been made, the maximum penalty is, I think, 14 years for causing death by dangerous driving. The Home Office is considering whether a series of aggravated offences should be introduced. Such offences are not in the Bill because the issue is still being looked at and further consideration is necessary, but most hon. Members would hope that the courts take incidents that involve death or serious injury on the road very seriously indeed. Someone who kills someone else using a car is just as guilty and just as culpable as someone who uses a weapon to do so. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to what is happening.

Mr. Paul Stinchcombe (Wellingborough) (Lab): My right hon. Friend mentioned the ongoing Home Office review of the various offences where death is caused by bad driving. Will he prevail on the Home Office to look at an offence of causing death by careless driving? He might have already received a letter from my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Melnik, about the tragic death of their 17-year-old daughter, who was killed recently by a careless driver. As no offence of causing death by careless driving is known to English law, the driver could not be charged with any offence that marked the fact of her death at all. He could only be fined—a price paid for the loss of a life caused by criminal negligence of just £500.

Mr. Darling: Again, I have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. The Home Office and my Department are looking at aggravated offences, because it is important that society can show its disapproval when someone causes death in that way. As I said just a few moments ago, killing someone with a car, where someone is culpable, needs to be dealt with. It needs to be treated by the courts with the utmost seriousness and, where necessary, exemplary sentences ought to be imposed. We should be very clear about the fact that someone who drives dangerously or carelessly and causes the death of someone who would otherwise be alive is just as guilty as if they took a weapon to them, resulting in their death.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Darling: I will give way; then I want to make some progress.

Dr. Iddon : I am sorry to delay the Secretary of State. My constituency has a particularly bad accident record, and we are very grateful to the Government for giving the local authority £750,000 as a pilot measure. In 18 months, there have been six very tragic incidents in my constituency of death by dangerous driving, some of which I have raised on other occasions on the Floor of the House. The Home Office is reviewing the sentences for causing death by dangerous driving. I know that that is not my right hon. Friend's Department, but is he able to say when we are likely to know the outcome of the review?

Mr. Darling: I cannot give my hon. Friend a precise date on which the Home Office will conclude its review, but Ministers are well aware, both from their
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constituency experience and from what my hon. Friend and others have said in the House, that people want us to make proposals as quickly as is reasonably possible. It is important that we get such things right. Equally, as I said, despite the fact that our overall record is better than that of many other countries, today, like every other day, nine or 10 people will be killed on our roads, and many of those accidents are avoidable.

There is no single solution to reducing the number of road accidents, and the right approach relies on a number of different measures. That is what we are doing: we are continuing to implement measures—for example, more local safety schemes. We are continuing to roll out the safety camera programme. We are involved in the greater promotion of road safety under the Think! advertising campaign. Indeed, a new phase of the television advertising campaign is starting today in relation to speed.

We are also considering measures that can improve the dreadful statistics on motor cycle accidents. Although motor cyclists account for 1 per cent. of road users, they account for 20 per cent. of deaths and serious injuries on the roads. In particular, there is a need to get across to people who use motor cycles, sometimes infrequently, the fact that, used the wrong way, motor cycles can cause the death of the motor cyclist and, indeed, other road users.

Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): One of the problems in the rural area that I represent is that websites are now challenging motor cyclists to compete at high speed in a circuit. We lost five motor cyclists in fatal crashes in the area last year. We have tried to get the websites shut down, with the help of the Home Secretary, but have failed. Will the Secretary of State please look to see whether we can do something about such things, which are killing people?

Mr. Darling: We are aware of those websites, and many hon. Members will have seen them. The problem is that people are encouraged to use motor cycles—sometimes they are not used to riding powerful machines—in places where they are led to believe that they can go fast, when there is some sort of challenge, and they end up killing themselves and others. As I said, motor cyclists account for 20 per cent. of deaths and serious injuries on the roads. Over the past year or so, the statistics have been going the wrong way and there has been a rise in the number of motor cyclists killed or seriously injured.

The hon. Gentleman knows that stopping people putting things on websites is easier said than done. There is sometimes a fine line between what is acceptable and unacceptable. I am aware that in constituencies such as the hon. Gentleman's and others, especially if people visit them at weekends and so on, there has been an alarming rise in motor cycle deaths. The Government take that seriously, as should society. It is not just about the individuals involved, but about others as well.

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