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Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates
Road Safety Bill [Lords]

Road Safety Bill [Lords]

Column Number: 151

Standing Committee A

The Committee consisted of the following Members:


†Janet Anderson, Sir Nicholas Winterton

†Bellingham, Mr. Henry (North-West Norfolk) (Con)
†Carmichael, Mr. Alistair (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
†Hammond, Stephen (Wimbledon) (Con)
Harris, Mr. Tom (Glasgow, South) (Lab)
†Iddon, Dr. Brian (Bolton, South-East) (Lab)
†Keeble, Ms Sally (Northampton, North) (Lab)
†Kidney, Mr. David (Stafford) (Lab)
†Knight, Mr. Greg (East Yorkshire) (Con)
†Ladyman, Dr. Stephen (Minister of State, Department for Transport)
†McFadden, Mr. Pat (Wolverhampton, South-East) (Lab)
†McKenna, Rosemary (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East) (Lab)
†Osborne, Sandra (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab)
†Paterson, Mr. Owen (North Shropshire) (Con)
†Rowen, Paul (Rochdale) (LD)
†Roy, Mr. Frank (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab)
†Scott, Mr. Lee (Ilford, North) (Con)
†Slaughter, Mr. Andrew (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush) (Lab)
John Benger, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Column Number: 153

Tuesday 28 March 2006

[Janet Anderson in the Chair]

Road Safety Bill [Lords]

10.30 am

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mrs. Anderson. I refer back to an amendment that I moved last Thursday under clause 16 on retro-reflective markings. I withdrew that amendment on the grounds that the Minister said that it might not be permissible to fit such markings on heavy goods vehicles in Britain. He said:

    “I remind my hon. Friend that we have the powers to permit the tape, but not to require it. We do not need new powers in order to permit it.”—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 23 March 2006; c. 150.]

Since last Thursday’s sitting, I have received notification that the Commission has allowed the Italians to proceed on a legal basis to fit such marker tape to their HGVs. If I provide the Minister with the Italian legislation, which I have to hand, would he reconsider the matter before Report?

The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have already debated clause 16 and amendment No. 77, but I am sure that the Minister will want to make a note of what the hon. Gentleman said and perhaps we can return to the matter on Report.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mrs. Anderson. The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) is absolutely right: the Italian Government legislated in exactly the same way that we proposed to do through our two amendments. They specified domestic vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, not 7.5 tonnes as we proposed, and to date there has been no objection from the European Commission. As we understand it, such material has been placed on Italian lorries, and the Commission has not said that that is illegal.

During last Thursday’s sitting, the Minister suggested that

    “the amendment and the clause are redundant and perhaps illegal.”—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 23 March 2006; c. 148.]

Would the Minister clarify the status of amendment No. 77, which would have had the effect of allowing this material by 1 January 2007? Are we in a position to debate that amendment at the end of the proceedings, because it comes right at the end of the Bill, or would it be better to refer to the matter on Report? That would give the Minister and his officials time to make a careful study of what has happened in Italy, to establish how the Italians have done it and to find out why there is a difference in legal opinion between the Italian and British Governments.

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The Chairman: I am advised that we have already debated amendment No. 77, and clause 16 no longer stands part of the Bill. We debated it and the Committee reached a decision, but it will be possible to return to the matter on Report, and I am sure that the Minister will want to take account of the points raised.

Clause 20

Causing death by careless, or inconsiderate, driving

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 24, line 36, column 4, leave out ‘the statutory maximum’ and insert

    ‘12 months (in England and Wales) or six months (in Scotland) or the statutory maximum, or both’.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 63, in page 24, line 39, column 4, leave out

    ‘5 years or a fine or both’

and insert ‘a fine’

New clause 8—Causing death by reckless driving—

    ‘(1)   In the Road Traffic Act 1988, after section 1 insert—

    “Causing death by reckless driving

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

    (2)   For the purposes of subsection (1) a person is to be regarded as driving recklessly if—

      (a)   the way he drives falls far below what would be expected of a competent driver and this must have been evident to him, or

      (b)   it must have been evident to him that driving the vehicle he was driving or proposing to drive in its current state was reckless.”.

    (2)   In the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, after section 24 insert—

    “Alternative verdicts (reckless driving)

    (1)   Where—

      (a)   a person charged with an offence under a provision of the Road Safety Act 2006(c.) specified in the first column of the Table below (where the general nature of the offences is also indicated) is found not guilty of that offence, but

      (b)   the allegations in the indictment or information (or in Scotland complaint) amount to or include an allegation of an offence under one or more of the provisions specified in the corresponding entry in the second column,

    he may be convicted of that offence or of one or more of those offences.

Offence ChargedAlternative
Section (causing death bySection 1 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (causing death by dangerous driving).”.

    (3)   In the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, Schedule 2, at end insert—

“Section (causing On indictment14 years imprisonment, disqualification and obligatory endorsement.”.’.

New clause 9—Causing death by dangerous driving—

    ‘(1)   In section 2A(1)(a) of the Road Traffic Act 1988, line 1 leave out “far” and insert “significantly”.

    (2)   In Part 1 of Schedule 2 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (prosecution and punishment of offences) in the entry relating to section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 leave out “14” and insert “7”.’.

Column Number: 155

New clause 24—Dangerous driving after failure to stop—

    ‘(1)   In the Road Traffic Act 1988, after section 2A insert—

    “2B   Dangerous driving after failing to stop a mechanically propelled vehicle or cycle when required by a constable.

    A person who drives a mechanically propelled vehicle or cycle dangerously within the meaning of sections 2 and 2A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 after being required to stop by a constable and having failed to do so within the meaning of section 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, shall be guilty of an offence.”

    (2)   In Schedule 1 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, after the entry relating to section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 insert—

“RTA section 2BDangerous driving after failing to stop a mechanically propelled vehicle or cycle when required by a constableSections 1, 11 and 12(1) of this Act”

    (3)   In Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act, after the entry relating to section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 insert—

“RTA section 2BDangerous driving after failing to stop a mechanically propelled vehicle or cycle when required by a constable(a)   On summary conviction, 2 years imprisonment, a fine on level 5 of the standard scale, obligatory disqualification and endorsement, 3-11

    (b)   On indictment, 5 years imprisonment, a fine, obligatory disqualification and endorsement, 3-11”.’.

    New clause 25—Dangerous driving—

      ‘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), in the entry relating to section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (dangerous driving), in paragraph (b) in column (4) (punishment on conviction on indictment), for “2 years” substitute “5 years”.’.

    Ms Keeble: I am grateful to be able to propose this amendment and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for providing the time to do so. The amendment makes good the damage—some might say sabotage—done by their lordships to the causing death by careless driving provisions introduced by the Government in the other place. The Government originally introduced the measures with the provision of a prison sentence of up to a year for conviction in a magistrates court, and up to five years for conviction in Crown court. Their lordships deleted the prison sentence for the magistrates court, and I note that the Opposition propose to delete it for the Crown court. Government amendment No. 1 will restore the option of a prison sentence for a magistrates court and give full effect to Alexine’s law, as it became known in my constituency after a young girl who was killed in a road traffic accident caused by a careless driver. There is also a new clause in my name that would extend the prison sentence that can be imposed for causing serious injury.

A lot of discussion in Committee has focused on young people, because they are disproportionately the victims of road traffic accidents. I took up the issue because of young people. When I was given a slot in the private Members’ Bills ballot this year, I held a consultation with sixth-formers, who chose the careless driving provision as the measure that they
Column Number: 156
most wanted to see on the statute book. They came to Parliament with Mr. and Mrs. Melnik, the parents of young Alexine who was killed, and lobbied the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who has responsibility for the matter in the Home Office. They wanted to put right the current injustice, which allows a driver who is responsible for the death of a person by virtue of their careless driving to escape with just a slap on the wrist. The Melniks saw their daughter’s killer walk out of court with just a fine.

There has been discussion about whether a person should be convicted of an offence because of carelessness; we all know that we are guilty of carelessness at some stage or another. In a sense, that issue should have been resolved, as their lordships did not seek to delete the entire clause, but the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) opposed the offence on such grounds on Second Reading. I do not want to go too far into the background of the issue of death by careless driving, because we might want to deal with the matter during a stand part debate. However, if you are happy for me to do so, Mrs. Anderson, I shall deal with some of that background now, because it relates to the amendment and the importance of having the option of a prison sentence in the magistrates court.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): There is a lot of debate about whether there will be a sentence of imprisonment in the magistrates court, but is my hon. Friend aware that the House of Lords has also inadvertently taken away the magistrates’ power of a community punishment order?

Ms Keeble: Yes, that is right. I was going to argue that the Lords amendment was a wrecking one, which removed the impact of the extra offence because it removed the measures that people most want—not just a new offence but a proportionate punishment for that offence, which is widely considered to be a prison sentence. With that comes the option of a community order.

We all accept that there are degrees of carelessness and at some stage we have all been careless while we are driving. However, there are differences between the levels of carelessness. There is minor carelessness, which occurs when a person’s attention is deflected by something happening on the road, but there is also substantial and gross carelessness, where the level of care taken falls well below what is expected. In such circumstances, there is clearly a different level of culpability. A separate offence of causing death by careless driving is therefore appropriate so that it is perceived that carelessness is not always blameless.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell also said that the offence of causing death by careless driving should not be judged by its consequences. He felt that it was unfair that an offence be dictated by the fact that someone died. I would argue that that is the case with other offences, and I shall give an actual example, because hypothetical cases can seem a bit far-fetched.
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Although it might appear to stray slightly from the mark, it deals with the idea that it might be possible for an offence to be judged by its consequences.

In my constituency a perfectly normal young man—a student—got drunk in a pub during a happy hour promotion. On the way out, he got into a bit of an altercation with a man who happened to be a bouncer. He was not on duty at the time, but he knew how to fight and was quite heavily built. The young man baited the bouncer and he hit the young man, who then fell over and hit his head on the pavement. It was just a short fight so the police were not called. An ambulance was called, but it was sent away and the young man’s friends took him home. Several days later, he died. It transpired that there was a direct link between his hitting his head and his death, although he died several days later.

Mr. Paterson: I am listening very carefully to the hon. Lady, because we disagree fundamentally on the matter. Does she not agree that the person who laid the blow had an intention to hit someone? That was not carelessness; he was not blinded by sunlight turning round a corner. Will she answer this point? The person in question must have had some intent. A person does not hit another carelessly; they intend to hit someone.

Ms Keeble: Let me continue. The hon. Gentleman will see why I have used that example.

When the young man died, the bouncer went to the police station in floods of tears and pleaded self-defence, at which point the burden of proof shifted and no charges were brought. The Crown Prosecution Service, which explained the matter at some length to me and the family concerned, said that because the young man had died, manslaughter was the only charge that could be brought. There was no possibility of a lesser offence—assault, grievous bodily harm, actual bodily harm, or whatever it could be—because the young man had died, the bouncer had pleaded self-defence and the burden of proof had shifted.

The charges were entirely dictated by the consequences and the bouncer did not even face court, to the great grief of the family, as hon. Members can understand. Clearly, there was an intention to hit the young man, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, and he was knocked over, but although a man died the bouncer walked away scot-free. It is not true to say that the offence is judged only by what the person does or intends to do; it is also determined by the consequences of what happens, even if, in some instances—as in this case—they were not intended.

Mr. Paterson: This is a most important point. The hon. Lady would agree that her story shows that there was no carelessness in that case. There was intent to lay a blow, even in self-defence. However, we are talking about drivers who may just be blinded by bright sunlight on a winter’s afternoon while coming round a corner and do not see what is happening; they are blinded in a moment described as careless, but over which they have no control. They have no intention of being careless. In the case that the hon. Lady mentions,
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the bouncer had a clear intention to defend himself by landing a blow, so there was no carelessness at all, but there was deliberate intent.

Ms Keeble: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not listen carefully to the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell, who did not argue about the intent. Nobody would accept that the action of somebody blinded by sunlight was careless; it is an accident. The point is that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell said that an offence should not be judged by its consequences. It was not that he did not accept that it was death by careless driving; he did not accept that somebody should be judged on the basis of the consequences of what happened. It was the “death” bit that he objected to. That is inaccurate, because for other offences the consequences dictate whether a charge is laid and a decision is made that an offence is committed. The bouncer could not be charged with anything because the consequence of his action was death and the CPS judged that he could be charged only with something involving death.

Of course, the circumstances of each case have to be considered carefully, which is why various penalties are open to the courts. I am saying that there is a different order of magnitude when carelessness results in death, and it is right that there should be. The general public would also perceive that that is an appropriate way to consider a serious accident caused by careless driving, as opposed to a pure chance of fate if, for example, a person is blinded by bright sunlight, or something happens that is clearly outwith somebody’s control.

Mr. Paterson: That is helpful. However, although the hon. Lady implies that there are degrees of carelessness, the problem is that the clause does not deal with that. There is careless driving when someone is blinded by what can be called an act of God and other cases of carelessness when, as the hon. Lady implies, the person might bear some blame because of intent or incompetence. The problem is that under the clause as drafted, a court will not be able to differentiate between the types of carelessness.

10.45 am

Ms Keeble: If someone goes round a corner and is blinded by bright sunlight, it is not carelessness; those are circumstances outwith their control. There must be very careful guidance about levels of carelessness, which my hon. Friend the Minister will come to when it is appropriate.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (: The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) has forgotten that later clauses define what we mean by careless driving.

Ms Keeble: I thank my hon. Friend. Obviously, therefore, the Crown Prosecution Service must carefully consider the issue of bringing charges. As with any other crime, there will be levels and tests that have to be judged in such a case. First, people understand levels of carelessness and, secondly, the arguments for saying that an offence should not be
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determined by the consequences do not hold in other areas. I do not accept the criticism made by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell on Second Reading.

I called their lordships’ amendment a wrecking amendment—

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I am following the hon. Lady’s arguments with great care. She may be right when she says that the consequences should be taken into account, but does not a substantial body of case law state that when determining the sentence in a driving charge it is merely the standard of driving that is taken into consideration and not the consequences? If careless driving results in a collision—if we remove the emotion, the causing death element—a person will be sentenced on the standard of their driving, not the consequences or the damage caused to the other car.

Ms Keeble: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I think that what he is saying is that the decision is made on sentencing and that surely it is then that a range of factors have to be taken into account. We are discussing whether there is an offence in the first place and whether it is a more serious offence because it results in a death. This is not about the sentencing but about the offence, the determination of whether there is an offence and what type of an offence it is. That point was brought up on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell, and I profoundly disagreed with him having seen how, in other cases, whether an offence has been committed and what offence a person is charged with are determined by the consequences of the action. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) is talking about sentencing, which is further down the line.

Mr. Carmichael: What she has described require express provision in the Bill. As it stands, consequences will not be taken into account.

Ms Keeble: This is an offence of causing death by careless driving; that is the nature of the offence and that is what we are arguing about. The Conservative party disagrees with that proposal for a range of reasons, some of which were partly discussed on Second Reading and to which we will return. Conservative Members disagreed, first, with the notion of people being punished for carelessness, when we are all careless sometimes. I have dealt partly with that matter, and the Minister will deal with it at greater length and refer to different types of carelessness. Secondly, they objected to the prison sentence, because they thought it was too serious, and I shall come to that. Thirdly, on Second Reading, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell also said that he disagreed with the proposal because he did not think an offence should be determined by the consequences of what happened. I disagree with that, too. There were three grounds on which the Conservative party disagreed with the proposal, and I think that it is completely wrong.

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What motivated the Melniks and hundreds more like them—my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East has done much more work on this subject than me over a good number of years, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney)—was a profound sense of injustice over the inequity between the crime and the punishment that it receives. Their lordships’ amendment perpetuated that by removing the option of imposing a prison sentence in a magistrates court. That would enable offenders who think that there is a high chance of their being convicted to opt to plead guilty in the magistrates court, knowing that they would leave with a fine and could not even receive, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford said, a community sentence. They would not face a prison sentence, which, in some cases, society would judge to be a reasonable punishment. I would argue that the same applies to the extension of the penalty for causing serious injury.

To give a sense of why people feel such injustice, in Northampton recently a woman who was seven months pregnant was sent to prison for one or two weeks for failing to ensure that one of her sons went to school. Given that it threw a family into chaos, many people might think that that was an unreasonable, even silly, penalty. However, failing to send one’s child to school pales into insignificance when compared with the offence of causing death by grossly careless driving. The public would perceive a credibility gap between sending a pregnant woman to prison for not sending one of her children to school and discharging with a fine someone who has been grossly careless and killed a person through dangerous driving.

In addition, if the option of a prison sentence is not retained for magistrates courts, the credibility gap will not be plugged—there would be no sanctions between that for causing a fatal road traffic accident and that for being guilty of a minor traffic offence. That concept is taken further in Opposition amendment No. 63, to which I am also completely opposed. I am sure that the hon. Member for North Shropshire will correct me if I have misunderstood it. It would remove the option of a prison sentence even in the Crown court. That would lead to a meaningless offence. To have an offence of causing death by careless driving on the statute book, and to say that it ranks no higher than any other minor offence and is worthy only of a fine would be a complete nonsense and would perpetuate the most profound credibility gap in our criminal justice system.

Amendment No. 63 does no justice to some of those who have campaigned on the issue. The former excellent Labour MP for Wellingborough, Paul Stinchcombe, started the campaign with the Melniks, which the present hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) has continued and work hard on. Their lordships’ amendment has ripped the heart out of the offence and left it as a limp tool which confirms that someone is guilty of a gross offence but gives the courts no scope for imposing any penalty that the general public would perceive to have matched the crime.

It worries me that on this and other occasions the Opposition have talked tough on road safety but, once it is time to decide what should be done, have been on
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the side of some unsafe driving practices. They need to understand that if they talk tough on road safety they must match that, by supporting the creation of new offences backed by appropriate measures and sanctions. I urge the hon. Member for North Shropshire and his party to withdraw amendment No. 63 and not divide the Committee on this important provision, which plugs a credibility gap in our criminal justice system, has been campaigned for on both sides of the House, and responds to a profound sense of injustice among many people.

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