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Mr. Greg Knight: So far, this debate has been excellent and we have heard a number of diverging views. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) referred to the mood music on the Conservative Benches, which he identified as pro-motorist. I do not take that as an insult, but I do not think that it is particularly accurate either. I would say that we were trying to achieve fairness and balance, because we support lower speed limits where appropriate, as well as supporting higher ones in certain cases, as shown in new clause 12. New clauses 3 and 4 propose higher penalties and new offences, while new clause 19 proposes increased provision for mitigation.
We also support the tightening of the law so that, in appropriate cases, motorists cannot be prosecuted. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) referred to the case of a motorist sitting in a line of traffic using a mobile phone. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) wanted to know where that had happened and how the case had been brought to my hon. Friend's attention. That is not the point. The point is that, under the present law, a prosecution could be brought in those circumstances. We ought to ensure that that could not happen, and that the police prosecute motorists only when their use of a mobile phone is clearly interfering with the standard of their driving.
I warmly support speed awareness courses. I would go further and introduce highway awareness courses for those who are not motorists but who have to cross the highway, namely children and other pedestrians. However, that is perhaps a debate for another day. The arrangements in place for speed awareness courses should never amount to a deterrent to a person who has been given the option to attend one. A case was brought to my attention by a personal friend who lives in Reigate and who was caught speeding by a speed camera. When the papers came throughhe showed me the documentation involvedhe was offered the option to attend a speed awareness course on a particular date and at a certain cost. Because of his diary commitments, however, he decided that he would rather take the penalty points and pay the fine, as that would be less disruptive to the work that he had been contracted to carry out on that day.
There are many other such cases. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross suggested that people might be deterred from attending a course for other reasons, perhaps because they were unwaged or of limited means. I hope that the Minister will explain what guidance exists on requiring motorists to pay for speed awareness courses. If a motorist can ask for, and
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be given, time to pay a fine by weekly instalments, surely a similar provision should apply to the payment of the fee for a speed awareness course. The whole thrust of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is that we do not want the fees and the other arrangements for speed awareness courses to have a deterrent effect. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether a person of limited meanswith no savings and perhaps no income, for examplewould be able to apply for time to pay the fee if they were offered the option of attending a speed awareness course.
I look forward, I hope shortly, to hearing my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) refer to his new clause 7, which I find interesting. In the absence of hearing his argument, however, I cannot support it currently. I am particularly concerned about proposed new subsection (8), which indicates that two speed limits could be set, one by the Secretary of State, who, by the nature of the fact that he must examine the wider picture, would tend to pick the correct speed limit for the stretch of road in question, whereas a local council, under pressure from local lobby groups, might seek to appease a vociferous minority by setting a lower speed limit than appropriate. I therefore have great concerns.
In certain parts of the country, local authorities already seek to undermineI suppose that that is the correct wordexisting speed limits. I am thinking of the erection of speed humps. In many cases, the speed limit on a particular road is 30 mph, but the local authority has erected speed humps such that it is impossible to travel at anything close to 30 mph without wrecking one's vehicle. If there is a case for having traffic travelling at, say, 20 mph or 15 mph, why is that not the speed limit? That sort of incident causes outrage and anger in local communities and among motorists. If there is a compelling case for lowering the speed limit, perhaps near a school, I would support that rather than leaving the speed limit at 30 mph and erecting speed humps.
I shall give the House a particular example, which I am aware does not come from my constituency. Occasionally, I must travel to Derby, and my usual route involves a road called Grampian way. Some years ago, the Labour-controlled city council in Derby decided to construct a plethora of speed humps along Grampian way. Initially, that was done under pressure from local residents who wanted traffic-calming measuresthey did not specify speed humps, but that is what they got. Three of those speed humps regularly fouled the exhaust system on two of the motor vehicles that I own, no matter at what speed one sought to negotiate them. The pleasure of the local community at achieving traffic calming in the area soon turned to dismay and anger, because local residents realised that not only were those speed humps extremely intrusive but they had increased pollutionnot just airborne pollution but, particularly irritatingly, noise pollution during the evening, such that they were regularly kept awake as heavier vehicles in particular negotiated the speed humps. A campaign then developed against those speed humps on Grampian way. In one of the safe
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Labour wards within the Derby city council area, an anti-speed hump candidate stood in the city council elections
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Gentleman is making the speech that he would have made had new clause 9 been selected for debate. He will be aware that it was not selected. I have been fairly generous so far, but perhaps he would bring to a close his remarks on speed humps.
Therefore, there are many other ways of dealing with the problem of inappropriate speed limits, which is the point on which I started. That is why we support flexibility on speed limits. New clause 12 is therefore to be welcomed. I hope that the Minister, having had time to reflect, will be more positive about accepting it today than was indicated in Committee.
I also hope that the Minister will respond positively to new clause 19, as it is an attempt to allow genuine mitigation to be taken into accountin those cases in which points should be put forward on behalf of the motorist for transgressingwhich would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the penalty imposed in such an exceptional case should be lower than would otherwise occur. That would not lead to a free-for-all, as the Minister knows that guidance can be issued saying that, in all but exceptional cases, points should be imposed, and we fully accept that that ought to be the norm. However, hon. Members will know of the sort of cases to which I allude, perhaps from their own experience, in which a more lenient view could and should be taken.
I am not sorry that this debate may be the Government's transport swansong. I am sorry, however, that this debate may be the swansong for the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson). In some respects, he has been an excellent Minister. I hope that he will make today's proceedings an event to remember by accepting new clauses 1, 6 and 19. If he does so, we would happily withdraw the rest.
Rob Marris: I find new clause 16 very interesting. I say that as someone who spent five and a half years as a professional driver, three of those as a bus driver, principally driving trolley buses, and who never had an accident of any descriptionwhether someone having an accident with me or me having an accident with someone. That was because of the superb training that I received in Vancouver, Canada, from what was then called B. C. Hydro, which ran the metropolitan buses within the Greater Vancouver regional district. It is important to encourage people to have training courses. We already have a statutory driver re-education scheme for those who fall foul of the drink-driving laws. New clause 16, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), is very attractive.
I want to focus my brief remarks on new clause 4. Some Members will know, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford knows, that there was
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recently an extremely sad case in Wolverhampton in which a 12-year-old boy, Jamie Mason, was knocked down by a driver who had no driving licence, no insurance, and, I believe, no tax. That boy was killed. That driver was speeding in a suburban area according to the police evidence, and was 50 per cent. over the drink-drive limit, and that boy died. Having pleaded guilty, the driver got a two-month custodial sentence. I, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) in particular, who cannot be here today and who wished this point to be made forcefully, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner), find the sentencing powers and the discretion of the magistrates in relation to that case, in which the death of a 12-year-old boy occurred, extraordinary. We find a gap in the law.
I must say to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), who tabled new clause 4, that I do not think that the wording is quite right, but he has identified a gap in the law. Another way to address that sort of issue might be that if someone is driving a motor vehicle, or to use the words of the amendment,
such an individual should face a presumption if not an absolute legal certainty that he or she, driving without a licence, is driving carelessly. That would then match up with a new offence of causing death by careless driving, which has been a gap in our law. Under the Bill, there can be three offences of careless driving, dangerous driving or causing death by dangerous driving but not the natural fourth offence of causing death by careless driving.
In my view and that of my two Wolverhampton colleagues, that is the situation which, very sadly, faced young Jamie Mason. The individual who was driving had no licence. New clause 4 or what I am suggesting nowthat someone would be presumed to have been driving carelessly if he or she was involved in an accident and had no licencewould not, of course, bring young Jamie back, but it would at least go some way towards dissuading people from engaging in such activity, and preventing the occurrence of another extremely sad incident of that kind.
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