Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill
Mr. Heath: This is a good deal more sensible than applying fixed penalty notices to 10-year-olds.
Ms Blears: The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed these issues previously, and I understand that he is reluctant to take measures to tackle antisocial behaviour and to protect people in the community. We think that it is absolutely right to tackle people who commit antisocial behaviour, and 11, 12, 13 or 14-year-olds are often responsible for a lot of that behaviour in our communities. In this case, however, I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is happy to support our new clause.
Mr. Mitchell: To avoid having to speak at length on the new clause, perhaps I can say that Her Majesty's Opposition strongly support it. Parents should be made responsible for the actions of their children, and we welcome the fact that the Government have introduced the proposal, even at this late stage.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
Column Number: 448
New Clause 26
Economic damage to companies
Brought up, and read the First time.
Motion made, and Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:
The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 9.
Division No. 13]
Question accordingly negatived.
New Clause 27
Causing death or serious injury by negligent driving
Column Number: 449
Brought up, and read the First time.
Vera Baird: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) and for South Dorset (Jim Knight), who have worked so hard on this massive issue. In a nutshell, the law on bad driving, which causes death and serious injury, needs to be rewritten. The new clause is an attempt to do so, or at least to ask the Government what they will do.
I can put the argument briefly, as it is well known: the charge of dangerous driving carries a maximum sentence of two years; the charge of causing death by dangerous driving carries a maximum sentence of 14 years. That is clearly because the law accepts that the sentence must be higher because of the gravity of a life being lost. If somebody is killed by driving that is careless but not dangerous, what is the situation? Careless driving on its own results in a fine and penalty points; causing death by careless driving on its own not being an offence known to the law, means that there can only be a prosecution for careless driving, and consequently, even though a death has been caused, the penalty is a fine and points in exactly the same way.
It is obvious from the first offence of dangerous driving and causing death that there is a principle that the law relates the consequence of death to the sentence, even when it is caused by the same level of fault that may cause no injury to anyone; yet that does not happen if someone causes death by careless driving. There is clearly a policy reason to change that and it is obvious from the work done by my hon. Friends, whom I have just praised, that there is a huge public demand for that to be done. My hon. Friends circulated petitions in their constituencies, and each had an overwhelming response. Everyone can cite a terrible case. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough raised the case of a young girl, Alexine Melnik, who was killed in a road accident. The driver of the car involved could be prosecuted only for careless driving, and he was fined £500. One can imagine how little satisfaction the Melnik family derived from that.
Careless driving may sometimes be nothing more than a momentary loss of concentration, but cars are dangerous items. The message must be sent out that they are dangerous items and that if a car driver has a loss of concentration that causes death, it will be dealt with gravely. This is not an anti-motoring campaign. It is a campaign for justice. I invite the Minister to respond.
Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): I also congratulate our two colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough and for South Dorset, on their work on the issue and thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar for raising it. It is a serious anomaly in the law that I hope the Government will address.
Vera Baird: I thank the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Grieve: I am aware that there is only a brief period in which to discuss the issue, so I will be extremely brief. I understand the upset of those who have lost relatives or loved ones in a road accident. Of course there may be circumstances in which the road accident that occurred was due to what, in the old days, we would have called a person's ''recklessness'' or the person driving dangerously, which implies that there was an element of serious culpability in their conduct because they should have been aware that what they were doing was dangerous. In those circumstances, I have always been of the view that the courts should, if necessary, punish people severely for their actions.
However, I was slightly shocked to hear the words of the hon. and learned Lady. She desires not only to criminalise negligence but to criminalise it with sanctions that are potentially extremely severe. She explained that negligence could amount to nothing more than momentary inadvertence. It is for good reason that the law has made no distinction between the penalty that it imposes on a driver for momentary inadvertence if there is no injury to somebody else and the penalty it imposes if there is death or even multiple death. The culpability lies in the behaviour and, as the culpability is a negligent culpability, without any intention, it is wrongin my view, profoundly wrongto impose a further sanction to mark public disapproval because of the consequence.
If we go down that road, there is no reason why we should confine ourselves to motoring. We could apply the principle to every area of human activity in which negligence by an individual, often deeply regretted, leads to injury to another. On the whole, we have historically left that matter to civil law. Where we have allowed it to stray into criminal law, it has always been characteristic that the sanctions imposed have not been more than a fine and certainly not a sentence of imprisonment. Take, as an example, the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. I cannot support the new clause, which strikes me as being contrary to the entire tenor of how the law should operate.
Caroline Flint: I will be quick, though that is not because we do not take the situation seriously. We have great sympathy with what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar said. I commend my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough and for South Dorset for their campaigning work, even though it arose out of the tragedies in their constituencies that affected the families that my hon. and learned Friend mentioned.
It is important that we see the introduction of such offences against the full background of the other offences and penalties that exist. To that end, we conducted a comprehensive review of road traffic offences involving bad driving. It is wide-ranging. We are considering all the issues concerning bad driving, particularly where death or injury occurs. The review makes a series of proposals. For example, it will consider a possible offence of death by careless driving. The review will be followed by the publication for public consultation of a paper setting out our proposals. We are treating that publication as a top priority and hope to publish it in the near future. I hope that that gives my hon. and learned Friend and the Members on whose behalf she is speaking some reassurance. I therefore urge her to withdraw her new clause.
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