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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): There have been motor cycling fatalities in my constituency in recent months. Has my right hon. Friend considered the suggestion of Brake and other organisations that we should re-test born-again bikers, as they are sometimes called, who take up motor bike
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riding after a period of inactivity, to ensure that they have appropriate and up-to-date experience for the bike they ride? Will he also consider the role of protective clothing, which would help to reduce the number of serious injuries?

Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend may be aware that motor cycling organisations have put a number of proposals to the Government, one of which is a further test before someone drives a larger or more powerful motor bike. When I first looked at this matter I was surprised to find that someone such as me, who has held a driving licence for 30 years and has never driven a motor bike, could buy a powerful machine and ride off on it tomorrow morning. The chances are that if I was not used to it I could get into difficulties. We want to consider that. I am bound to say to my hon. Friend, however, that I do not know how we would decide whether someone was a born-again motor cyclist as opposed to another sort of motor cyclist.

We must tread a fine line between allowing people to enjoy what can be the extremely pleasurable activity of using their motor bikes while at the same time protecting them and road users. I again remind the House that motor cyclists account for 1 per cent. of road users but 20 per cent. of deaths and serious injuries. If we are serious about making further inroads into road casualties, we need to consider that. Like everything else, none of these things is without difficulties. However, my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to those suggestions.

There are three strands to the Bill, the first of which addresses the problem of bad or irresponsible driving through better detection, better enforcement and more effective penalties. The second clamps down on motorists who break the law—for example, by driving without insurance or using cars, vans or lorries that are unroadworthy. The third, of course, raises driving standards and improves awareness through better education and training.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham) (Lab): I suspect that, like me, every Member of Parliament has had a constituent who was killed by someone driving dangerously. With great respect to the Secretary of State, it is all right being sympathetic but, frankly, the Government do not take notice of Back Benchers. My hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Murphy) outlined his incident. I can give one exactly the same.

We have debated the subject in the Chamber and Westminster Hall. We have received sympathy all along the line from Home Secretaries. I have met two Home Secretaries in the past four years and still nothing is being done. Week after week, our constituents are murdered by criminals on the road. It is not good enough for the Secretary of State to give us sympathy. We are not after that. We are after justice. It is about time that it was recognised that virtually every Member of Parliament wants something done about people who break the law in their cars and murder our constituents. It is like allowing them to do what they like with a gun.

Mr. Darling: I do not disagree with my hon. Friend. I said earlier that I find it difficult to make an intellectual differentiation between a person who sets out with a gun and shoots someone and a person who drives
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irresponsibly or dangerously and ends up killing someone. I said that the penalties for causing death by dangerous driving have been increased, but I do not agree with my hon. Friend that nothing has been happening. Although deaths have been increased slightly, serious injuries have fallen. We have introduced a range of measures, and there are further measures in the Bill that I hope to discuss in the not too distant future which will help. Three things are necessary—education and awareness; making sure that there is the right range of offences and penalties; and—this is not in the hands of the House and the Government—ensuring that people who administer the judicial system use the available powers so that if someone kills someone else, as my hon. Friend described, an appropriate penalty is visited on them. Road traffic offences should not be regarded as lesser offences. People are often left with the impression that although a death has been caused the perpetrator is dealt with quite differently from someone who sets out with a gun or something else.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Darling: I am mindful of the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), and would like to make progress. I shall try, however, to let everyone who wishes to intervene do so.

The first strand in the Bill tackles bad or reckless standards of driving. Research has shown that driver behaviour is a key factor in about half of all car fatalities. Excessive speeding needs to be addressed, because over 1,000 people are killed and over 38,000 are seriously injured every year as a result of speeding. The use of safety cameras is controversial and has been the subject of a great deal of discussion in the House over the past year. However, I repeat that cameras are one way of addressing speeding and road safety, provided that they are effectively placed. The latest independent research, which I presented to the House last June, shows that there has been a 40 per cent. reduction in deaths and serious injuries at safety camera sites. Cameras are, of course, only one of a number of measures, but we are right to continue a policy introduced by the previous Government—until fairly recently, it received bipartisan support—as all the evidence shows that cameras reduce accidents.

Research suggests that the greatest reduction in road casualties would result from reducing excessive speeding. The Bill allows us to vary the system of penalty points to see what can be done further to discourage people from speeding excessively. That is controversial, so I shall I shall say a word about it. The Bill allows for a graduated structure of fixed penalty points. It does not introduce them, but it allows us, after statutory consultation, to introduce an order that would provide for a variable system of penalty points and fines. I made it clear in the preliminary discussion document that we published last September that there should be a variable system of penalty points and fines to make sure that the punishment fits the nature of the crime.
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Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Darling: I said that there would be interest in the matter, and I am happy to deal with all the points that my hon. Friends wish to make. However, first, I shall make two points. The Bill allows for a system of graduation, and the preliminary discussion document showed that a majority of people thought that a graduated system of penalty points was a good thing. It is fair to say that there is a division about how that graduation should work. The Bill, however, makes it possible to introduce a graduated system, which is essential. Once the Bill has become law, we will have a discussion about the nature of the scheme.

Rob Marris: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his patience. A pedestrian hit at 20 mph has a 95 per cent. chance of survival, one hit at 30 mph has a 50 per cent. chance of survival, but one hit at 40 mph has a 10 per cent. chance of survival. I support the concept of graduated fixed penalties but, under clause 16, the Secretary of State seems to be suggesting a reduction in the penalty for some speeding from three points to two points. I am bemused by that, particularly in the light of what he said this afternoon about the seriousness with which he views speeding and the death that can result. The House might send the wrong message if it dropped the penalty for speeding from three to two points.

Mr. Darling: Last September, I made it clear that I think it important that any penalty regime distinguishes between somebody who is just over the speed limit and somebody who had driven far too fast, especially in built-up areas. The point that I made then, which I repeat today, is that if someone is not caught by a speed camera, but is instead sent to court, the court itself makes that distinction, depending on the circumstances.

It comes down to whether or not we believe that by having a two-point penalty and a £40 fine, as opposed to a three-point penalty and a £60 fine, drivers will say, "Oh, it is all right. I don't care." Most drivers start with the assumption that they do not want any penalty points or any fines. The point of the discussion document, which I introduced to find out people's views, was to see whether support exists for graduation, and the answer is yes.

Outside built-up areas, there is less of an argument, but in built-up areas people ask, "Is it right to impose a two-point penalty and a 30 to 40 mph speed limit?" Having considered that question for some weeks, the matter turns on whether people believe that a two-point penalty, as opposed to a three-point penalty, means that someone will be more likely to speed—in other words, the difference is one point. I take a different view from my hon. Friend's and happen to believe that the proposal that I introduced in September is right.

Today, we are dealing with a Bill that allows graduation. Some people—not, I think, the majority—say "no graduation at all", and their position is straightforward. After the Bill is enacted, we will be obliged to consult by statute. People must be able to see fairness and proportion in all laws, but I do not believe that the one-point difference that we are discussing, will mean that lots of people say, "Well, it is all right to break a 30 mph speed limit." I do not think that I am being inconsistent—I would say that—but I understand my hon. Friend's point.
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