House of Commons
|Session 2004 - 05|
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Standing Committee Debates
Road Safety Bill
Road Safety Bill
Standing Committee A
Thursday 20 January 2005
[Mr. Peter Pike in the Chair]
Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 6, in clause 2, page 2, line 3, at end insert
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following amendments: No. 7, in clause 2, page 2, line 3, at end insert
No. 8, in clause 2, page 2, line 3, at end insert
No. 9, in clause 2, page 2, line 3, at end insert
No. 10, in clause 2, page 2, line 4, at end insert
No. 11, in clause 2, page 2, line 7, at end insert
No. 16, in clause 3, page 2, line 37, at end insert
No. 17, in clause 3, page 2, line 37, at end insert
No. 18, in clause 3, page 2, line 37, at end insert
No. 19, in clause 3, page 2, line 37, at end insert
No. 20, in clause 3, page 2, line 38, at end insert
No. 21, in clause 3, page 2, line 41, at end insert
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): May I start, Mr. Pike, by saying how delighted I am that you are in the Chair and that you will preside over our proceedings in the firm but fair way you always chair our proceedings? In your absence this morning, Mr. Hughes was extremely good on his first outing and I shall convey that information to him at the earliest opportunity.
You will be surprised to hear, Mr. Pike, that during our debate this morning on clause 1 and grants to local authorities, there was a considerable discussion about speed safety cameras. There was also a discussion about the handbook of rules and guidance on safety cameras. This Government always keep their promises and this Minister always ensures that promises are
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con): As I was the one who suggested that that might happen, it would be unfair if I did not thank the Minister, which gives me the opportunity to ask him about the Government's promise at the last election not to increase taxes.
Mr. Chairman: Order. The Minister should not be tempted to go astray.
Mr. Jamieson: Mr. Pike, I will not be drawn on that, lest we do further damage to the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) and his party.
Just before the Committee adjourned this morning, when I was rudely interrupted, I was saying that clause 2 amends section 53 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 to enable the Secretary of State by order to prescribe graduated penalties. The amount may vary, depending on the circumstances of the offence, which include, in particular, the nature of the offence, its severity, where it took place and whether the offender had committed other prescribed offences during a prescribed period. However, that is not an exclusive list of circumstances.
The measure provides wide scope to take account of key factors such as whether the offence was near a school. The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) referred to collisions, which are covered by new subsection (2)(2)(b). Meteorological conditions and the presence of a particular number of vulnerable road users are harder to codify; in the latter case, I would be disinclined to try to formulate too complex a structure of penalties that took account of factors such as how many pedestrians were on the pavement or the road at a particular time.
Clause 3 amends section 28 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 so as to enable the Secretary of State by order to prescribe appropriate levels of penalty points in the case of a fixed penalty. The number of points may vary, depending on the circumstances of the offence. Amendments Nos. 16 to 21, which we will discuss under clause 2 although they apply to clause 3, would have an effect similar to amendments Nos. 6 to 11, which apply to clause 2. They are subject to the same difficulties and the Government cannot accept them.
I had not covered a couple of points, one of which was raised by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) who, sadly, is not in his place. He asked about amendment No. 21 and any mitigating circumstances. It would be absurd if someone could start arguing about mitigating circumstances at the side of the road and a police officer had to take those circumstances into consideration. The police officer makes a judgment, but he cannot then hold a court at the side of the road. If someone wants to contest a judgment, they can go before the courts to seek redress.
Mr. Wilshire: I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification, which gives me a better understanding of the situation, but it does not put my mind at rest about the circumstances that I raised with him. A court might say, ''We accept the mitigation. It is justified and we therefore reduce the fine to zero'', indicating that it had every sympathy; yet the law does not allow it to say, ''We will not apply points.'' The person would then be disqualified, although the court felt that they should not be penalised. Is the Minister prepared to re-examine that point? Even if this is not the right place or the right Bill for that purpose, I think it should still be considered.
Mr. Jamieson: I was about to come to that point, as the hon. Gentleman had raised the issue.
I am afraid that that has always been the case; the Bill does not change it. The magistrates can choose to operate at another level. I am told that if somebody came before the court with a fixed penalty, the court could, having heard some evidence, in certain circumstances decide to dismiss the casein other words, effectively find the person not guilty. If that were the case, no penalty would be incurred. I am not a lawyer, but, as I understand it, that course of action is at the court's disposal.
Mr. Wilshire: Again, that is helpful, but does the Minister accept that there could be circumstances of the sort I suggested, in which the last thing anybody would consider when this thing tumbled through the letter box was going to see a lawyer about something which, at the time, they would see as a trivial matter? They could easily plead guilty, not knowing that by pleading not guilty there would be an opportunity not to have the points put on their licence. Again, what the Minister said is helpful, but it does not overcome the problem.
Mr. Jamieson: The same would apply to anybody who committed any offence in any shape or form. If one felt aggrieved, one would take advice. Then, if it was appropriate, one would go to the court. However, that applies not just to motoring offences or tickets but to virtually every offence.
I hope that that brings the hon. Gentleman some comfort. There would have to be special circumstances. One could not simply say, ''Oh, I didn't
There is one defence that people have used to have a ticket overturned. The hon. Member for Christchurch gave an example whereby a speed limit had been changed on a road. If somebody could demonstrate to the court that the road had not been sufficiently signed within the law, that would be a strong defence in the court. The case could then be dismissed and the ticket thrown out. However, somebody would have to demonstrate that, and I believe that, on occasions, they have. Certainly in the 30mph zone, people have sometimes shown that the legal designation of the limit had not been met and got their tickets overturned. There are probably not many occasions when that is possible. The risk is that unless one's evidence is very good, one may go to the court and find, as many people do, that the fixed penalty tends to be the lowest penalty that can be given and one leaves the court with a higher penalty, but that is the hazard of going to court.
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