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If people are using a false address or fiddling the system and the police cannot get to them, we need to sort that out, and we will do so.[ Official Report, 8 March 2006; Vol. 443, c. 834.]
Mr. Paterson: My hon. Friend has spoken with real passion on the subject, and he is absolutely right. It was disappointing that we did not manage to discuss the matter on Report or Third Reading. I urge the Minister to find out whether something could be done in the Lords, when the Bill goes back there, because there is a serious problem.
Dr. Ladyman: I remind hon. Members that the reason why we did not pursue the matter is that the head of roads policing for the Association of Chief Police Officers assured us that the police do not believe that any new powers are necessary. He is convinced that the police can enforce in this matter without any change in the law.
Mr. Paterson: I think that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire would confirm that Bedfordshire police feel strongly about the issue. I suggest that the Minister invite my hon. Friend for a serious chat about the problem, to find out whether it could be resolved.
Looking at the clock, I see that I must make progress. I fear that we have not concentrated enough on rogue drivers. The danger, as I have said, is that we risk alienating the huge number of law-abiding drivers who want to get from A to B. There were 200,000 speeding fines 10 years ago, but that has rocketed to 2 million today. There are 1 million drivers on six or more penalty points, but the number of traffic policemen has fallen from 9,201 in 1997 to 7,103 in 2005. We are worried that there is too much dependence on mechanical, fixed forms of enforcement, and not enough on human beingspolicemenwho can take account of varying conditions. We are concerned about that serious failing in the Governments strategy.
We are concerned about young drivers. Drivers under the age of 29 cause a third of such accidents, and drivers between 17 and 20 are six times more likely to be involved in a collision causing injury than a driver over 40. We would like more emphasis on education, and on the need to show drivers that passing their test and no longer needing a provisional licence is only the beginning. It should be the start of a lifelong process of engaging with people who know more about driving, so that they can secure more skills and build them up. A massive opportunity has been missed in the Bill: I would like the Secretary of State and the Minister of State to take that on board, because young people cannot end the learning process at 17 or 18, as soon as they have passed their test. There should be a progression throughout their lives, and all of us should be involved.
David Taylor: The hon. Gentleman refers to education, but would he include in the categories of drivers to be sent back to the classroom the drivers of Chelsea tractorsthe 4x4 vehicles that are the environmental polluters? In the British Medical Journal, to which I referred a moment ago, they have been shown to be much more likely not to be wearing seatbelts, and much more likely to be using mobile phones in a dangerous manner. Does not that category of driver require more attention?
Mr. Paterson: That may be one category, but a wide range of people cease to concentrate on their driving skills. There should be a carrot among the measures; my last point is that the Bill is all stick. The Governments strategy is dependent on stick, but it should concentrate on the rogue drivers, and there should be a carrot for the vast majority of drivers who, as I said, want to get from A to B in safety. We do not have that incentive system, which might possibly work for the people mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.
Other hon. Members wish to speak, but I should briefly like to thank my team. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), who is sadly not in his seat, was a fund of information and knowledge, both as a former Minister and as an owner of 15 cars. I thank our Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), who kept us in line on procedure and chipped in with
some helpful contributions in debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), who has been in the House for only a year, and who led with me on the Front Bench in a most competent and professional manner. That is a sure sign that he is going places, as, I am sure, is my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott)he is not presentwho made some sterling contributions.
We should congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris). It is remarkable what happens when a west midlands MP goes north to a little birthday party, but we give the new Under-Secretary our congratulations.. He emerged today on the Front Bench, but when we last saw him in Committee, he was a Back-Bench Member. It would be wrong of me not to mention the Committee Clerk, Dr. John Benger, who was a fund of advice to us and extremely helpful. I should be most grateful, Mr. Speaker, if you would pass our thanks on to him. With that, I wish the Bill well on its passage through the Lords.
Rob Marris: I congratulate the team and the Minister on the Bill. Among other jobs, I spent several years as a professional driver of cars, trucks and buses before I entered this place, so I know how hard it is to legislate fairly in that area.
I seek assurance from the Minister on two issues. As he knows, I tabled two amendments that we were unable to discuss today. The first was to make the penalty for using a hand-held mobile phone obligatory disqualification, as it is for drink-driving. Research shows that using a hand-held mobile phone is as distracting for a driver as being at the blood alcohol limit for driving. Furthermore, the individual driving a car with a mobile phone in their hand will have impaired physical ability to control the vehicle. The Bill toughens up the provisions by making disqualification and points on the persons licence a possibility, but I urge the Minister for an assurance that the Government will keep the matter under review, because the penalty is not high enough.
My second amendment related to the fitting of vehicle data recording devicesoften called black boxes. Manufacturers are already doing that, but we do not have a regime for using the information from those devices, which are a major safety aid. In my area, the West Midlands police are retro-fitting black boxes in all their vehicles. They believe that the boxes will pay for themselves. In one case, information from the black box fitted in a police vehicle was used to exonerate a police officer accused of driving carelessly and injuring a pedestrian. The data from the electronic box showed that that was not the case. I seek the Ministers assurance that the Government will continue to press that issue in the European Union so that we can have a regime across the EU whereby all new cars are fitted with vehicle data recording devices, which are a major aid to safety.
I, too, associate myself with the remarks made by the Minister and the hon. Member
for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) about all those who have contributed in so many ways to the passage of the Bill. As the Minister indicated, the proceedings in Committee were, by and large, constructive and good humoured. As someone who came to my present job after being part of the Home Affairs team, I found that a pleasant change.
I place on record my appreciation of the efforts of my colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) and for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech), and my predecessor in this job, my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who led for us on Second Reading, which was some time ago. I echo the congratulations of the hon. Member for North Shropshire to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), on his well deserved appointment to the ministerial team. The hon. Gentleman has been uncharacteristically mute this evening, but I know from the experience of many years locked with him in small studios at 4 Millbank, broadcasting to a tiny number of people in Scotland, that he is a doughty defender of Government interests. I have no doubt that when he is released from his silence his contributions will be characteristically well informed and of assistance to the House.
At times, I wondered whether we would ever reach Third Reading. It seems so long since we finished even the Committee stage. As has been reflected in other contributions, much in the Bill is good. However, so much more could be better. I feel sincere regret that on the big issuesthe real opportunities in the Billthere has been a certain timidity at the heart of the proposals and measures that the Government have introduced.
A reduction in drink-driving limits would have been a real opportunity for the House to make a significant difference in the number of lives lost and injuries caused, and to reinforce the message about the social unacceptability of drinking and driving. Likewise, there could have been an opportunity to reduce default speed limits in built-up areas, which we see already in many different communities throughout the countryNewcastle, Aberdeen and other places are making real progress in that regard. What a chance there was to offer those opportunities to every community, but unfortunately, owing to timidity and lack of conviction, the opportunity was missed.
Then of course there is that issue of massive geopolitical significancethe fitting of retro-reflective markings to heavy goods vehicleswhich ultimately, it seems, will have to be resolved by the United Nations Security Council. It beggars belief that so many excuses can be produced for not doing something that is so sensible. It really was like finding oneself in the middle of a Yes, Minister sketch listening to the Minister tonight trying to defend the Governments position.
Of perhaps less central importance but significant none the less is the question of pedicab regulation. I am concerned that we have missed an opportunity for proper, effective and responsible regulation of the pedicab industry. That is of particular importance to the capital, and for pedicabs to be squeezed off the streets by Westminster city council and taxi operators is neither fair nor sensible. I do not know how we will
now resolve that issue. I fear that it will ultimately be dealt with by the courts, and it was something that we could have dealt with in this Bill.
I fear that we have not yet seen the last of the Bill. There are still a number of issues outstanding with the other place. I refer of course to the provisions relating to level crossings and to bridge strikes. We finish with the Bill tonight, allowing the Minister and his colleagues time for reflection. I hope that he will use it well and that, on mature consideration, he will see that there is worth in what the other place has done. I hope that he will not continue to resist Members in that place.
Mr. Drew: I shall speak for only a minute. We remain disappointed about the issue of retro-reflective tape, but I am sure that we will live to fight another day. Overall, this is a very good Bill, and I hope that it will become law as a matter of urgency, because many of these measures are required.
I add one thought, which is that we are not talking just about car users. We should also be talking about cyclists and pedestrians. Sometimes we spend an awful lot of time talking about one aspect of casualties on our roadsthose who drive cars or who are in cars. Of course, cars have collisions with bikes and people. I hope that in due course we will also see further regulation to protect those who are not in cars or heavy goods vehicles, because they matter tooperhaps more.
Mr. Burrowes: It has been a long road to get to this point in improving road safety. Certainly I can commend much in the Bill, and my constituents will do likewise. It has been a particularly long road for those in my constituency who have been campaigning on a wide range of road safety issues, not least the Galli-Atkinson family, who lost Livia when, in 1997, she was the victim of a tragic crash caused by a dangerous driver who received a lenient sentence. They have been campaigning since then, not only on the need to increase penalties for dangerous driving but on a wide range of issues of education and other aspects of safety. They will no doubt commend much of the Bill.
The family helped to set up the Livia award. Its panel met last month with my predecessor and others to commend those police officers who have been most meritorious in their investigation of road crash incidents and who have shown outstanding service to road crash victims. During that meeting one example exposed a gap that the Minister is too ambitious in saying has been plugged. Last year, a driver high on drugs and drink sped away from a police patrol car, overtook a car on a pedestrian crossing by travelling on the wrong side of the road and struck a married couple on the crossing. The husband died and the wife survived but in a brain-damaged condition, and she now requires 24-hour nursing care. The eight-year sentence for causing death by dangerous driving was
relatively appropriate, but there was no sentence at all for the injuries to the wife. I suggest that no sentence is provided by the Bill.
Another example is that of Rachel Jones, aged 13. She was crossing a road when she was hit by a car driven dangerously by Carl Smith at 98 mph. We all have concerns about dangerous drivers speeding and driving unlicensed and drunk. Rachel was left severely brain damaged and in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. She has no movement in the right side of her body. Her mum, Sheri Ozdemir, described Smiths two-year jail sentence as a joke. She said:
He killed the Rachel we had for 13 years and yet he can get away with doing just two years. Rachels future as a bright and active young teenager was cruelly taken from her by a man who did not even have a licence to drive a car.
The concern that I and others have, which we should like to have debated further on my new clause 26, is the gap between those convicted of dangerous driving and those convicted of causing death by dangerous driving. The gap in sentencing is too large, considering the serious injuries that often result from such incidents. In response to a consultation paper in February, the Government said they would take account of non-fatal injuries by way of a sentence for bad driving. They intended to increase the penalty for dangerous driving from two years to five years. They should reflect whether we need further legislation or an increased penalty for dangerous driving to plug the gap that still exists for those who have suffered serious injuries but not death.
Although the penalties for dangerous driving have increased, those who are almost at the point of death, who are seriously injured to the point of brain damage, do not receive the justice that they deserve. One cannot see the qualitative difference between the husband and wife who were both injured. One died and the other was left brain damaged. What is the qualitative difference between them as victims? That gap needs to be filled. It is not adequate for the Government to say that they will deal with the matter by introducing an aggravating factor for causing death by dangerous driving or for dangerous driving. We need a specific offence or, at the very least, increased penalties for dangerous driving.
Northern Ireland has an offence of causing death or grievous bodily harm by dangerous driving, but we do not. Why is that good for Northern Ireland but not for the rest of the United Kingdom? The Bill raises questions that victims in my constituency and elsewhere would ask. How can Parliament justify a penalty for causing death by dangerous driving but not for causing grievous bodily harm by dangerous driving? How can the Government and Parliament justify a penalty for causing death by dangerous driving but not for brain death by dangerous driving?
I am disappointed at not having secured debates on the amendments in my name on seat belt wearing and court presentation officers, but despite those minor disappointments, this is a good Bill. I am
disappointed that my hon. Friend the Minister and I cannot see eye to eye about the legal limit for drinking and driving, but let there be no doubt that my opinion of him is that he is a very good Minister indeed for road safety in the United Kingdom. No one could doubt his personal commitment to high standards of road safety and driving down still further the casualties that occur day in, day out on our roads.
My hon. Friend was able to publish some good news recently, with the 2005 statistics for casualties on our roads, with reductions in deaths, serious injuries and total injuries. That is a good picture which he can feel some pride in. However, there was one worrying blip in those statisticsthe number of cyclists killed in the last 12 months of the period covered by the statistics. I am sure my hon. Friend and his excellent team will want to evaluate what has gone wrong over the past 12 months and what we can do through further measures of education, enforcement of the existing laws and engineering measures to bring down the number of deaths of some of the most vulnerable road users.
Generally, the trend has been downward over a number of years. My hon. Friend can say that the Government are well on target to meet their casualty reductions for 2010. Some measures in the Bill will help towards those aims. In addition to the list that my hon. Friend provided, I draw attention to the promotion of a greater use of rehabilitation and driver improvement courses. They will prove to be significant over time.
Quite properly, the House is taking seriously the matter of death on our roads. There are in the Bill a number of measures to do with death, such as causing death by careless driving and causing death when driving illegally. Equally significant will be the alternative verdict permitted in a manslaughter case, which I hope will encourage prosecutors to be a little braver in charging people with manslaughter in appropriate casesthe most serious ones.
So all in all, this is a good Bill, which I hope will continue to promote the Governments ambition, and the Houses wish, that the number of casualties on our roads will continue to decrease. I wish it well in the other place.
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