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Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe), who made a strong case in respect of the circumstances affecting one family in his area. I was also pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his opening remarks that he accepted that driving a car in such a way as to cause a death was very similar to killing a person with any weapon. He is the first person in his position to say that.
Some years ago, I gave evidence to the Law Commission and argued that there should be an offence of causing death by driving. It is absurd that cases can be brought to court yet the question of the death caused is never exposed because of technicalities such as those that we have heard about. It is absurd that the structure of our law does not consider death to be at the centre of such cases. Although such a provision may not be appropriate for this Bill, I think that the House should look for an appropriate mechanism to adapt the law so that the principle that I have outlined can be addressed.
There are exact parallels between manslaughter and causing death by driving. Investigating officers, the Crown Prosecution Service and, most importantly, the courts should be able to determine where a person's death fits in the spectrum of culpability. Courts would then be in an appropriate position to mete out an appropriate sentence. That is the way forward.
The hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) made an important point about drawing parallels between deaths on the road and deaths in other circumstances, and referred to examples of deaths caused in accidents involving aeroplanes and trains. Societyand in particular the mediaseems to adopt a different psychological attitude to rail or air tragedies from that which it takes to individual deaths on the road. It is important that the House should be seen to take a lead in the matter, and to say that the total number of deaths on our roads is far too high. The fact that those deaths
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are scattered around the country should not deter us from the sort of bold decisions that the public would expect us to take in response to a major incidentsuch as a plane falling from the skythat causes hundreds of deaths. We need to address both sets of circumstances in the same way.
Various hon. Members have said that we need to raise public awareness about the scale of the carnage facing our society. The British record is good compared with that of some other countries, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that we must do better. The same sentiment was expressed by the spokesmen for the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.
We need to find practical solutions, and the Bill contains some ways to make progress in that respect. Training is important. We should consider whether drivers should be more actively encouraged to raise their skill levelsfor example, by taking advantage of the help offered by the Institute of Advanced Motorists. That does not apply only to middle-age people, as the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) implied. It also applies to young people, and it is encouraging that in my own area there is a sprinkling of very young driversthe number is growing all the timewho want to take advantage of the high-quality extra tuition that the IAM provides. Perhaps we can take the opportunity, not necessarily by writing it into the Bill, but by engaging in dialogue with insurance companies, for example, to create massive benefits for drivers who undergo such extra training. People who do that are made aware of the risks that they face on the road.
Because so many hon. Members want to speak, I shall keep the length of my remarks tight. A number of colleagues have spoken of overlaps with other Government Departments. I should like the Department for Transport to take a strong initiative that engages directly and openly all the other key Departments that can influence the debate. The Home Office, the Department for Education and Skills, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the successor to the Lord Chancellor's Department, and the Department of Health are all important players. We need a joined-up approach to the problems facing us.
There are some aspects of the Bill that cause me concern. I have serious reservations not about the principle, but about the way in which the Bill deals with variable graduated points. I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, and I find it difficult to see why we should harmonise downwards. I can see the merits of graduation, but I believe that we should start at a higher base point. I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), who called for a reduction in the drink-drive limit. Real benefits would accrue from that. However, I do not disagree with the analysis of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is the extreme cases that cause problems, but we must set standards and enforce them rigidly.
Finally, I shall deal with technology issues. I am a great fan of technology, from such simple devices as speed cameras to enormously powerful technology such as the new advanced number plate recognition tools. Under no circumstances should we allow a driver to use more sophisticated technology to get round such technology. Clearly, that should be an offence. I hope
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that when we deal with that part of the Bill in Committee, we will look at the technical issues and set standards. We should not try to be technology-specific, as that would be dangerous, but we should set standards that embody the principle that driver aids should not include devices that enable a driver to do ridiculous things on the road that increase the risk of death and serious injury.
The Bill is a very good one, although there are some weaknesses. I hope that in Committee we can achieve unanimity to show the public that we take such matters seriously. The deaths of 3,500 people, such as the constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe), every year are largely avoidable if we get the structure right.
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): I, too, welcome the Bill's provisions but, like other speakers, I want to tell the Minister that the Government should not have the mindset that the measure is set in stone. They should listen to the members of the Standing Committee. As we have already heard, there are some good ideas in the Bill, but there are also some gaps and I hope that the Government genuinely use the opportunities offered in Committee and on Report further to improve it.
I want to talk briefly about two families who were affected by fatalities. David Burrows, the son of my constituent Keith Burrows, was killed tragically only a couple of hundred yards from my home, before I became a Member of Parliament. Ever since, Mr. Burrows has worked tirelessly for road safety, and became a local councillor so that he could put road safety at the heart of local civic life. There is still a problem with that stretch of road, however. Sadly, there have been more accidents and last year there was another fatality.
One of the problems is that we seem to move so slowly when dealing with these things. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) mentioned repeater signs. There is a 30 mph limit on the stretch of road where the accidents took place, but as it is a dual carriageway no one really keeps to the limit. Over the past seven years, since I have been a Member, I have raised the problem periodically and although I can understand the Government's response, there must be some way of telling people clearly that there is a speed limit on that road and that it must be adhered to. There is a strong case for speed cameras in the area. All the local people, even those who complain when they are caught by speed cameras, would have no hesitation in saying that cameras would prevent fatalities.
The second family are the constituents of the Minister for School Standards, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg), but I have met them due to the problems they share with my constituents. George and Julietta Galli-Atkinson's daughter, Olivia, was killed tragically when a car mounted the pavement where she was standing. They have instituted annual Olivia awards to recognise all aspects of the work of traffic police officersfrom those who counsel the bereaved to those who are out on the streets. I pay tribute to all the parents and families who have suffered traumatic loss and to those who work so hard for them.
A common theme, to which the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) referred, is the feeling that there is a lack of appropriate offences and
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that sentences sometimes do not reflect the gravity of the offence. I am not saying that we should impose minimum sentences; we cannot legislate for every eventuality, but the courts must be able to recognise the gravity of offences and if that needs a change in the law, the Bill offers the opportunity to introduce it and to bring in a new offence.
As the Secretary of State said, the answer is not just legislation; it is very much about education, and in that regard I want to mention a couple of the things that really irritate me when I am driving. I am sure that lots of the things I do irritate other people, but I want to get these off my chest. I do not know whether we can legislate; indeed, some things are already covered by legislation. It is one thing to introduce laws, but we should also ensure that existing laws are observedto echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) and others. No matter what technology is introduced, there is no substitute for police officers.
I abhor tail-gating, especially by the cabs of heavy-goods vehicles that have released their loads. The drivers are on their way home and travel at high speeds along motorways close behind other vehicles. That is incredibly dangerous and it seems to be a common practice.
Without upsetting cyclists too much, I would echo the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson). Increasingly, I see cyclistsyoung childrenout at night without lights switched on, and we must imagine what it would be like for people if they hit those cyclists and the trauma that it would cause them and, obviously, the victims themselves.
I am sure that other hon. Members must see children sitting in the front seats of carsthey should not even be therewithout wearing seat belts. I see lots of people not wearing seat belts, despite the fact that the legislation has existed for goodness knows how long. I see children climbing over from the front to the back while the cars are moving. Every day, I see people not only using mobile phones while driving, but drinking coffee and reading maps or even newspapers while doing so. All I would say is that although such legislation is welcomeI hope that improvements can be madewe must do everything to continue to educate people about the real problems of motoring.
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