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Session 2004 - 05
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Standing Committee Debates
Road Safety Bill

Road Safety Bill

Column Number: 311

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: †Mr. Peter Pike, Mr. Kevin Hughes

†Atkins, Charlotte (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport) (Lab)

†Byrne, Mr. Liam (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab)

†Chope, Mr. Christopher (Christchurch) (Con)

David, Mr. Wayne (Caerphilly) (Lab)

†Ellman, Mrs. Louise (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op)

Fisher, Mr. Mark (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) (Lab)

Flook, Mr. Adrian (Taunton) (Con)

†Heyes, Mr. David (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab)

†Jamieson, Mr. David (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport) (Lab)

†Kidney, Mr. David (Stafford) (Lab)

†Knight, Mr. Greg (East Yorkshire) (Con)
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†Mahmood, Mr. Khalid (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)

†Merron, Gillian (Lincoln) (Lab)

Reed, Mr. Andy (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op)

†Rosindell, Mr. Andrew (Romford) (Con)

†Stinchcombe, Mr. Paul (Wellingborough) (Lab)

†Thurso, John (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)

†Wilshire, Mr. David (Spelthorne) (Con)

†Younger-Ross, Richard (Teignbridge) (LD)

Dr. John Benger, Frank Cranmer, Committee Clerks

†attended the Committee
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Standing Committee A

Thursday 3 February 2005


[Mr. Peter Pike in the Chair]

Road Safety Bill

New clause 4


    '(1) The Road Traffic Act 1988 (c.52) is amended as follows. After section 2A (Meaning of dangerous driving) insert—

    ''2B Causing death or injury by negligent driving

    (1) A person who causes the death of or serious injury to another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle negligently on a road or other public place is guilty of an offence.

    (2) A person is to be regarded as suffering serious injury if he suffers injury that is life changing or life threatening or both.

    2C Meaning of negligent driving

    (1) A person is to be regarded as driving negligently if he drives without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place.''

    (2) The Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (c.53) is amended as follow is.

    In Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (c.53) (prosecution and punishment of offences: offences under the Traffic Acts), after the entry relating to section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 insert a new entry—

    RTA section 2B

    Causing death or serious injury by negligent driving

    On indictment

    10 years or a fine or both




    —[Mr. Stinchcombe.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Motion made, and Question proposed [this day], That the clause be read a Second time.

2.30 pm

Question again proposed.

The Chairman: Before I call Mr. Chope to resume his speech, I note that several people have indicated that they want to speak on the new clause. I accept that it is important—there is no dispute about that whatever. However, looking at the Order Paper, I see that we are likely to be interrupted by Divisions in the House. If there are Divisions, the 5.30 finish time will not be extended; there is no injury time. We will finish at 5.30, and any new clause that we have not reached will automatically fall. There is one Government amendment, which will be moved formally if we reach that point. Of course, having said that, we may move along at a fairly speedy pace, but I indicate that to the Committee so that Members know the exact position right from the start.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): That just emphasises the inflexibility of the Government guillotine. We could have had more time to discuss these matters if the scheduling had been dealt with more flexibly. For those members of the Committee who were not present in the Chamber, I put on record the fact that I raised a point of order about the shenanigans of this morning, and, as a result, the
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Deputy Speaker reprimanded the Government for their behaviour. I have said enough about that.

We know that the Government produced the document for consultation and that they are not proposing to include legislation on it in the Bill. We know that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe), who moved the new clause, will withdraw it. Bearing in mind that there are many other new clauses to be debated and that our time will be eaten into by Divisions, I hope that we will be able to curtail the debate on this new clause. I have said all that I need to say on it.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Wellingborough on introducing the new clause and also on his long-running campaign. I confess that I failed to sign his early-day motion. That was a sin of omission on my part, as I had indicated to my colleagues that they should sign it. I most certainly would have signed it if I had not missed it.

I shall confine my remarks simply to saying unequivocally and straightforwardly that the principle of the new clause is right and that the Liberal Democrats will support it. More detail may come out in the consultation, but I am happy to place on the record my support for the principle. There is wide consensus on the issue. It is right that the hon. Gentleman's campaign has succeeded and that the Government have recognised it. There is support from all parts of the House—even the odd Conservative, I believe—and we look forward to the new clause becoming law.

Before I sit down, I would like to make a brief comment about the remarks of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). He may well have a bone to pick with the Home Office. The timing is less than convenient, and it is probably right that the Deputy Speaker issued a reprimand. Perhaps the Government have been clumsy, even ham-fisted—who knows? It would not be the first time that that has happened in government. However, I simply do not buy the conspiracy theory. I would have thought, given the hon. Gentleman's long experience as a Minister, that he would be well aware that the vast majority of such things can be ascribed to the cock-up, rather than the conspiracy, theory. His lack of support for the measure is surprising, and, considering who was present, somewhat distasteful. His remarks about 6 May would be funny if they were not so sadly delusional.

Mr. Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): I endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso). This is not a new debate. Indeed, my first debate in Westminster Hall after I was elected was on road safety. Many of these issues were raised as long ago as last September, and it was clear to me then that the matter had been debated for some time and that there was an emerging consensus on it. I, too, was surprised by the comments of the hon. Member for Christchurch, because he had an opportunity to discuss such matters then, yet Hansard shows that he did not do so.
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I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough that the new clause has the support of many people not only in his constituency but in mine. I was proud to sign his early-day motion. The proposal has the support also of readers of the Birmingham Evening Mail and wide support across the city of Birmingham. My introduction to this debate was hard. A month after my election, Josh Berill was hit and killed on Burney lane in Washwood Heath. He was two years old, the same age as my middle boy. He was hit by a car that accelerated when it hit him, and he was dragged 200 yd down the road before the car stopped. It shocked not only the constituency that I represent, but people across Birmingham.

After the shock came the anger, because Josh Berill was not the first child to be killed on Burney lane; he was the second. It was not the first accident but the seventh in five years. It was no longer a quiet residential road; it had become a race track. As I spent more and more time on the case, my admiration, like that of many others in the city, grew for Josh's family, Nona Robinson and Thomas Gordon. They had three simple questions for me. How do we make sure that it never happens again? How do we make sure that justice is done? How do we guarantee that from Josh's death—from that tragedy—some good comes?

It is vital to recognise credit where credit is due. I pay credit to the Minister, who has contributed so much to the cause of road safety not just throughout the country but in Birmingham. The number of deaths and serious injuries each year on the roads in Birmingham has fallen from 775 to 525. That is a full 30 per cent. decrease. The number of children hurt or killed has fallen from 151 to 83. That is already a fall of 45 per cent.—much better than the reduction of one third recorded nationally. That substantial progress is in no small part down to the investment that this Bill will make more possible. The Minister has been instrumental in ensuring that that investment arrives in Hodge Hill. He inaugurated the inner-city road safety demonstration project, which is worth £6 million. It cut road deaths in Gloucester by 38 per cent., and we look forward to similar results in Birmingham.

Although we have closed the investment gap, we have not yet closed the justice gap, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough made clear. It still looms large. When we debated the issue last summer in the House, I was shocked as a new MP to hear example after example of drivers who had killed innocent people walking off with no more severe a penalty than six points on their licence and a £150 to £300 fine. My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), who does not serve on this Committee, said that the burden of proving that driving is dangerous is so heavy that all too often careless driving is the charge that is pressed, and it is pressed not in a Crown court but in a magistrates court. As a community, we are forced to stand by and watch the indignity of those courts handing down completely inadequate sentences.
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When the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross spoke in the debate last September, he made a powerful point. He said that the number of deaths and serious injuries was

    ''equivalent to a Hatfield and Potters Bar''—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, Tuesday 7 September 2004; Vol. 12, c. 3WH.]

rail crash every single day.

The most dangerous drivers are serial potential killers. Some 46 per cent. of those convicted of dangerous driving have been convicted on not one, not two, but three previous occasions. Some 56 per cent. of offenders with three or more offences go on to commit a fourth. It is that justice gap that is greatest of all, and it is a justice gap that is worst in our poorest communities. The fact is that a child from a less privileged community is five times more likely to be hit and hurt by a car. In a city such as Birmingham, that means a child every week. People in my constituency want their neighbourhoods back, and we want that justice gap closed. The truth is that crime hits hardest the young and the old. The seven accidents on Burney lane have involved either toddlers, teenagers or pensioners—often the most valuable and the most vulnerable in society.

Everything that we have achieved as a country has one simple root: the idea that nobody is above the law. Today, justice is not being done; supporting the principle of the new clause is our opportunity to take a step forward. I promised Josh's family that I would do everything in my power to see that justice is done for them, and so I look to the Minister to accept this vital step forward or to give us the assurance that we need that, if not in this Bill, in another soon to arrive, we will end this scandal and give our communities the laws that they deserve.

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Prepared 3 February 2005