Mr. Stinchcombe: My hon. Friend mentions the offence of death by dangerous driving. Is she astonished that there is not even an offence known to English law of causing death by careless or negligent driving?
Mrs. Dunwoody: Absolutely astonished. That was one of the things that the Committee looked at very carefullyother members of the Committee will want to make such points strongly laterbut the points that I want to make are about policy direction as much as anything else.
I believe the Secretary of State to be not only highly efficient, but very caring. He has demonstrated, time and again, that his legislative priorities are exactly the right ones. I therefore hope that when I say very strongly that I believe that his colleagues in the Home Office are not behaving in the same responsible manner, he will understand that I expect of him a commitment to chase them very hard about what is happening.
My Committee was told that an overall review of road traffic law is taking place in the Home Office, that a considerable amount of work is being done and that we must wait for the extension of road traffic legislation before the Home Office can produce measured conclusions. I therefore ask the Secretary of State why we are still waiting a year after we were promised the Halliday report. Where is that report? Given the high public profile of the Home Office, which seems to concern itself with every aspect of our lives, why are we still waiting for that report to be published and brought to the House of Commons?
If we are serious about road traffic legislation, that report is one of the things that should have been produced already. If the report has not been published, why not? If the report has been published, has the Department for Transport seen it? Was it allowed to look at the complex legal issues and has its advice been sought in relation to the report's conclusions? It is extraordinary that the Home Office is not working much more closely with the lead Department on road safety because such things will make the difference.
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That brings me to the specific point of enforcement. It is essential that the Home Office realises that the failure to put road traffic among the core responsibilities of chief constables has meant that its importance is unevenly stressed across the United Kingdom. Some chief constables accept that legislation is vital and that the activity has to be regarded as seriously as other forms of criminal activity. Unfortunately, chief constables in some counties do not regard that activity as having the same implications as other activities.
The Select Committee was very concerned with the evidence and the responses we received from not only Home Office Ministers, but those who felt generally that there was no clear line of responsibility and that the pressure to take the matter seriously did not exist. If individual forces do not provide the people to police our roads and do not insist on the subject being taken seriously, we will see the results in terms of accidents. It is clearly a matter of cause and effect.
We have been given a long and, if the Secretary of State will forgive me, somewhat imprecise series of answers to the questions that we posed in our report's conclusion. I am still worried. Co-operation between the two Departments has not been demonstrated and there is no clear evidence of the urgency and targeting that should concern us. It is clear from our responses that most enforcement activity is carried out in 30 mph urban areas. The "Transport Statistics Bulletin" on vehicle speeds shows that the percentage of cars exceeding the speed limit reduced from 69 per cent. to 58 per cent. in 2003. In other words, more than half of all cars in urban areas are speeding. By doing so, they are vastly increasing the risk to pedestrians and other motorists. How can we accept a statistic like that? How can we still, in 2004, be debating the same questions over and over again?
Even today, the Opposition gave us a classic example of the muddle that exists. On the one hand, we appear to be saying that we want law enforcement, but on the other we are saying that we do not want to do anything that upsets the populace or the powerful motoring lobby.
As a nation, we have to clarify what we want in our minds. While television programmes, motoring magazines and individual articles constantly emphasise that speed is clever, macho and directly connected with the male personaonly alpha males know about speedwe are inculcating in our young men, and often in our young people generally, a very dangerous thought. We should be saying, "Yes, cars are important. Yes, you need them. Yes, you can use them. But they are killing machines." The damage done by tonnes of steel and glass hitting a body does not encourage us to believe that the subject should be treated lightly.
Our report will ask for many changes. I hope that the Standing Committee accepts some of them. If the Government are serious about death and destruction, this is the moment to have targeted, tough and explicit legislation.
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD):
I want to pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) about the connection between speed and the male
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persona. An interesting article in Aberdeen's The Press & Journal yesterdaya paper I doubt she would have occasion to readhad the disturbing report that female drivers are starting to outweigh their male counterparts in terms of speeding. The problem, to which she is right to draw attention, is not just relevant to one sex, but runs across the strands of young people, be they male or female.
The United Kingdom has a good road safety record. In fact, it is one of the best in the world. However, as we heard, there are still 10 deaths each day on our roads. In 2002, the last year for which figures are available, 302,605 people were injured on the roads, 3,431 were killed and 35,976 were seriously injured. As has been said, with any other mode of transport there would be a public scandal, and we can certainly do much to reduce the total. A number of measures can and should be introduced, including many in the Bill, although, as I shall explain, there are some serious omissions. My colleagues and I are happy to give the Bill our full support on Second Reading. We will give it our general and broad support in Committee, but I hope that some of my suggestions will be taken on board.
The UK generally has a good road safety record, but, interestingly, it masks areas of poor performance. For example, in 2002, 179 children were killed, 58 per cent. of whom were pedestrians, so the UK's child pedestrian record is one of the worst in western Europe. Two thirds of accidents in which people are killed or seriously injured take place on roads where the speed limit is 40 mph or less. It is worth noting that 60 per cent. of accidents occur on rural roads. There are worrying signs that positive trends that have been moving downwards for a number a years, including drink-driving, are now either static or increasing. The UK's generally good record can be improved through targeted action, so the Government are right to introduce the Bill.
Clause 1 allows Ministers in England and the National Assembly for Wales to fund road safety initiatives. That is a sensible power that will do much to improve the situation, and it is already available in Scotland. A substantial contribution to road safety can be made through road engineering and safety schemes as well as enforcement measures. We therefore support the initiative.
I have considerable concerns about graduated penalties, particularly for speeding. It is a long-established principle in British justice that punishment varies with the severity of the crime, so I do not object to the principle of graduated penalties or punishment. I am, however, concerned that the structure proposed in the consultation paper published last September ignores the outcome of the offence, particularly for speeding in towns and villages. An armed burglar receives a more severe sentence than an unarmed burglar not necessarily because of what they have done but because of what might have happened if they met someone while committing the crime. Two thirds of accidents in which people are killed or seriously injured take place where the speed limit is below 40 mph.
In areas with a 30 mph speed limit, the consultation proposed a lower penalty of two points and £40 for speeds of up to 39 mph. The chances of surviving the impact of a car travelling at 35 mph are half those of
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surviving the impact of a car travelling at 30 mph. I am therefore concerned that if the penalty were accepted for speeds between 30 and 40 mph the House would send the wrong message, suggesting that modest speeding in towns is acceptable. By contrast, the difference in outcomes when cars are travelling at 70 or 80 mph on the motorway is less stark. To a certain extent, the speed limits on motorways and dual carriageways, which are specifically engineered for faster speeds, are a compromise between our desire to travel quickly and our desire to travel safely while having regard to the environmental consequences of higher speeds. However, where there is mixed use of the road by pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders and others, particularly in built-up areas, the balance must shift from the car and the driver and towards pedestrians, who the suffer the effects. Observance of the 30 mph speed limit is critical in reducing injury and death, and I hope that the Government take that point on board.
Almost every week, I travel up the A9 on several occasions. I have followed cars driven at 50 mph by respectable middle-aged peoplepeople such as mewho do not slow down that much when they come to towns. I do 30 mph as they whizz away. Many middle-aged drivers do not understand the difference between impacts at 30 mph, 35 mph and 40 mph. They would think that one were a speeder if one passed them at 60 mph on the open road, but they happily go through towns at 35 mph or 40 mph. That point is extremely important. Although we do not oppose graduation in principle, our support in Committee will depend on the detail of the likely outcome being fleshed outwe have grave difficultly in accepting a two-point penalty for offences up to 39 mph.
I support moves to ban detection and avoidance devices. It is crazy to have a law, yet allow the use of a device to stop detection. I used to know people who fitted such devices to their cars, and they were not people who would inadvertently drive a little bit fast. They actually wanted to drive a great deal faster than the legal limit and knowingly to break the limit. I am sorry to say that they are the most likely people to buy such devices, which I have no qualms in seeing being made illegal.
Clauses 11 to 15 deal with drink-driving. We have come a long way since the introduction of the breathalyser. I obtained my licence at about the time when the first breathalysers were introduced, when, if someone was caught drink-driving, people would say, "Oh dear. You poor fellow. What bad luck."
Most sensible driversthe vast majority of the populationnow accept that drink-driving is a dangerous and serious crime. Together with sound enforcement, that change in attitude has seen a steady decline in drink-driving and drink-related accidents. However, it is worrying that that trend appears to have stopped and even to have reversed, with figures showing a rise in drink-related injuries and deaths over recent years. It has already been said that the rise has been accompanied by a fall in tests undertaken by police and the number of police who are on the road and who are available to conduct tests, although I must state that the percentage of tests failed has risen too. I cannot believe that a relationship does not exist between lower police numbers, fewer tests and higher drink-related accident rates.
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This summer, I discussed drink-driving with the area commander in my constituency, who pointed out that one of the greatest worries is that many drink-drivers are not young people but middle-aged males. Again, the problem is not that those people have one drink too many, but that they consume as much as twice the limit. The trend by which people who should know better commit seriously-over-the-limit offences is very disturbing.