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Mr. Chope: Many people involved in safety camera partnerships believe that the courses should be made available to those who cannot afford to attend them. From the discussions we held in Committee, I thought that the hon. Gentleman and I were on the same side on that issue. Certainly, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety supports the new clause. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is trying to argue himself into a position whereby he will not have to support it in the Division Lobby, but he will have to do better than raising that spurious objection. As far as I am concerned, the more people who go on speed awareness and safety improvement courses the better. That is why, as I have told the House before, I am a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and encourage other people to take the advanced driving test and improve their driving standard.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): As one of those who, because of the unsatisfactory nature of their driving, are not eligible to be members of the institute, may I ask my hon. Friend to give us his view on some information brought to my attention by a constituent the other day? In some parts of the country, when one is issued with a speeding fine one has the alternative of taking an advanced motoring or similar course, but that option is not available in other areas. What would my hon. Friend say to my constituent about the fact that there are different penalties for the same offence within the United Kingdom jurisdiction?
Mr. Chope: I would tell my hon. Friend's constituent that I hope that new clause 2 will be drawn to his attention. My hon. Friend's point conveniently enables me to commend the virtues of that proposal, which says:
"If a person who has at least seven and no more than eleven penalty points endorsed on his driving licence subsequently successfully completes a driver improvement course or speed awareness course authorised by the Secretary of State, he shall be entitled to have the number of penalty points endorsed on his licence reduced by three."
Our reason for proposing the new clause was the discussion in Committee, from which it emerged that access to a driver improvement or speed awareness course that led to a reduction in the number of penalty points was controlled by the magistrates court. Thus, for example, if someone had been issued with three fixed penalty notices and nine points they would be unable to attend such a course, with a consequent reduction in their penalty points, unless the matter was referred to the magistrates court. We thought that an unnecessarily bureaucratic way of addressing the issue. Surely we should encourage as many people as possible who have got into bad habits and who would benefit from a driver improvement or speed awareness course to take such a course. That is the reason for new clause 2, whose provisions would address the concerns of my hon. Friend's constituent about injustice and inequity.
As for my hon. Friend's aspiration to be as good a driver as the best, I suggest that one way of doing that would be to go in for one of the courses run by the Institute of Advanced Motorists. He would not have to go the whole way, so to speak, but he could join one of the institute's local groups, which would identify any bad habits that he may have got into. He would be a superhuman driver if he did not have some bad habits. As we are approaching the 50th anniversary of the institute, this is an appropriate time for Members to commend it and promote its virtues.
Mr. Miller: On that point I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. He might also advise his hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) that if he were a tad embarrassed about taking a driving course in his constituency, he could take an IAM course in London.
Mr. Chope: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The course could be undertaken on a wholly confidential basiswithout commitment, as they say. Indeed, such a course could include people such as Mr. Speaker if they wanted to join it. I know that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) is as enthusiastic a supporter of the IAM as I am.
I hope that when the Minister responds to the debate, he will make warm and welcoming noises about new clause 2. It addresses a lacuna that we identified in Committee. What could possibly be wrong with encouraging people to improve their own driving and thereby benefit from a reduction in penalty points in the circumstances set out in the provision?
New clause 3 is on a slightly different topic. It would raise the maximum penalty for dangerous driving from two years to five years. I hope that the Government will accept it almost without demur, because I understand that such an increase in the maximum penalty for dangerous driving has been Government policy for some time. However, they have rather kicked into touch their review of road traffic offences involving bad driving. The Government commissioned the Halliday report in May 2003, yet it was produced for public gaze only on the last day that we considered the Bill in Committeeso it was hardly on the fast track. The result is that the Government have been able to avoid legislating on, and changing the penalties for, road traffic offences involving bad driving.
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New clause 3, and one or two of the other new clauses to which I shall address my remarks shortly, is meant to ensure that the Bill deals with issues on which consultation has effectively taken place. The Government have said publicly that they support an increase in the maximum penalty for dangerous driving, which is currently two years' imprisonment, but under my proposal it would be five years instead, thus mirroring the increase from 10 to 14 years that has taken place in the maximum period of imprisonment for causing death by dangerous driving.
I may be unduly cynical, but I suspect that the Government's inhibition relates to the fact that such a proposal could result in a lot more people going to prison. Hon. Members who believe that bad driving is dangerousindeed, it can be lethaldo not wish the number of available prison places to dictate policy. We believe that the policy should be established by Parliamentthat we should establish what we think are the appropriate penalties and offences, and that the appropriate number of prison places should be made available.
Mr. Greg Knight: My hon. Friend's assumption is correct. The Government admit on page 30 of their document "Review of Road Traffic Offences involving Bad Driving" that the proposals that he is talking about
"The great bulk of these would result from increasing the maximum penalty for dangerous driving from 2 to 5 years' imprisonment, to which the Government is already committed, when resources are available."
Does he not think that if the Government are already committed to that, they should get on with it? They can find enough resources to advertise Government programmes. Why cannot they find the necessary resources for this proposal?
Mr. Chope: Indeed, I have that document open on page 30, and was about to quote from it. It is encouraging to know that my right hon. Friend and I are very much on the same wavelength, and he is absolutely right, because this an other issue on which the Government talk a good talk. They go along to the road safety lobbies and lobbies including the relatives of victims of serious and fatal road accidents, and they say, "We're on your side." However, as is clear from what has been said, we have a policy to which the Government are already committedraising the maximum penalty for dangerous driving from two to five yearsbut they are not prepared to sign up to it because of the resource implications. What a perverse arrangement.
We have tabled new clause 3 to give the Government the opportunity to endorse today a proposal that is already their policy, rather than to play the delaying game, as they have been doing until now. How else can one explain a period of 21 months between the launching of an inquiry into road traffic offences involving bad driving and the publication of that inquiry's report, which extends only to some 31 pages? That does not give the impression of a Government who are seriously committed to taking tough, deterrent action against the worst driversthe dangerous driversbut they could address that today by accepting new clause 3.
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New clause 4 is also a reflection of what the Government say is their policy. Again, they are talking about such a policy, but they are not yet prepared to sign up to it. By tabling new clause 4, we created the opportunity to invite the Government to sign up today to what they say is their own policy:
"If a person causes the death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place otherwise than in accordance with a licence authorising him to drive a motor vehicle of that class he is guilty of an offence."
That sounds like a lot of common sense. If people deliberately drive a vehicle for which they do not hold a licencein other words, they are not qualified and have not passed the appropriate testthey should not be on the road. Surely, if while driving such a vehicle on the road they are involved in an accident from which a death results, that conduct should constitute a specific offence. New clause 4 would create a new offence of causing the death of another person in the circumstances that I describe.
"If a person causes the death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place while disqualified from driving by order of a court he is guilty of an offence."
Again, that is canvassed in the document, "Review of Road Traffic Offences involving Bad Driving", and the debate will give the Minister the opportunity to explain why the Government have not already taken such action, as they have joined the campaign that we have waged to try to get disqualified drivers off the road and deter them from returning to it. New clause 6 would emphasise to those people who are thinking of driving while disqualified that, if they are involved in an accident that results in death while they are doing so, they could spend a lot of time locked up in prison irrespective of whether they are wholly to blame for the consequences that flow from that accident. The argument is that they would have brought the guilt upon themselves by their own conduct in driving on the road while disqualified.
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