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In introducing this Bill, I wish to make specific acknowledgment of the work of the children and young people’s think tank “Kids Count”, and of the “Drive to Survive” campaign. I also want to recognise the work of Inspector Toby Day of Leicestershire police and of the all-party parliamentary group on child and youth crime. I want to thank all of them for their assistance on the matters that I am bringing before the House this afternoon.

In 2006, the last year for which figures are available, 3,200 drivers, passengers and pedestrians lost their lives as a result of road accidents, but no figures, numbers and statistics can convey the underlying tragedy of each case—the loss of friends, family members and loved ones whose lives have been cut short, and the lifelong impact on those left behind. The headline figures mask some disturbing trends and patterns of behaviour. Although the total number of fatalities has decreased over the past five years, the number of fatalities among young drivers under 25 has gone up from 537 to 606—an increase of 13 per cent. The number of young drivers under the age of 25 convicted of driving while intoxicated due to drink or drugs also increased in that period.

There is also the serious issue of deaths arising from high-speed chases. In 2006-07, some 155 people were killed or seriously injured as a result of road traffic collisions on public roads during emergency responses and police pursuits. Some of the recent headlines say it all. A police officer was injured after his patrol car collided with a stolen caravan during a chase on the M6, a woman was killed and four people taken to hospital when a car collided with a Mercedes that was fleeing police in east London, and friends of a teenager who died in a car that crashed after it was involved in a police pursuit have been paying tribute to him ahead of his funeral. At the end of last year the Independent Police Complaints Commission published its two-year review of road traffic incidents involving police vehicles that resulted in a fatality or serious injury. It made 29 recommendations about how police practice could and should be changed.

More should be done to reduce the number of deaths and injuries arising from accidents involving young drivers and pursuits. That will partly involve prevention through demonstrating, and bringing home very clearly, the reality of being involved in a serious car accident. I was moved by a recent presentation organised by Drive Survive, a multi-agency partnership based in Cheshire. Partners involved in the project and the presentations that Drive Survive offer include the police, the fire brigade, the Highways Agency, the ambulance service and hospital accident and emergency services. By dramatically highlighting the consequences of inappropriate driving and vehicle control, Drive Survive seeks to educate young people aged between 16 and 25 of the risks involved in driving dangerously or recklessly, and to prevent serious injury or worse.

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Having sat through part of the presentation, I can confirm that the content is deliberately graphic and hard-hitting. It shows real-life images of accident scenes and direct testimony from those who do an amazing job in responding to emergency call-outs. Most importantly, it includes personal accounts from families affected by the loss of a relative in a car crash. The project has received very positive feedback from local colleges and other stakeholders, who testify to the impact that it has had. I believe that such education, understanding and recognition of the consequences of dangerous driving could have a wider impact and could start to change attitudes, altering the approach of young, normally male, drivers who think that it is impressive or the right thing to do to try to show off to their mates about the limits of what their cars can do, or indeed of what they can do behind the wheel of a car.

My Bill would amend the Road Traffic Act 1988 by including a specific reference in the driving test to the impact of being involved in an accident involving a motor vehicle, and in relation to the powers of the Secretary of State and local authorities to provide road safety information and training. I believe that that small change to the law would assist, encourage and facilitate a national programme to temper the behaviour of young drivers through hard-hitting education and training programmes focused on the reality of driving dangerously. By providing such a real-life context as part of the theory exam in the current driving test, it will make the test more relevant and emphasise other existing safety aspects of the theory requirements.

This approach is intended to build on the current Arrive Alive road safety programme conducted by the Driving Standards Agency, and to extend the concepts of what happens when an accident occurs—the types of injuries sustained, the likelihood of survival, and so on—so that they form an important part of the preparation for learning to drive.

The second part of my proposals addresses the legal sanctions available in circumstances where there is a pursuit. To date the focus has been on dealing with the effects of pursuits, instead of the cause. Pursuits are inherently dangerous and are difficult to manage and contain operationally. If drivers did not make off from the police, there would be no reason to pursue them.

The instant that drivers decide to accelerate away from police vehicles to avoid capture, for whatever reason, they make the decision to enter an extremely high-risk arena where a number of lives, including their own, are put at risk. Many of them have driven vehicles at horrendous speeds along public roads for up to an hour before they are stopped, and are prepared to take any steps to evade arrest, yet even when they are caught, most walk away with little or no punishment.

A number of pursuits occur when offenders choose to make an escape having committed relatively minor offences. Research has shown that the main reason why offenders flee in a vehicle is that they are not deterred by the low level of punishment that they perceive will result from their actions. Some reports indicate that the prospect of a custodial sentence would cause offenders to abandon their vehicle at an early stage and make off on foot. Although current sentencing guidelines for the offence of dangerous driving allow for evading arrest
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to be taken into account, this approach is not acting as a deterrent, and in my judgment is not working well in practice.

My Bill would therefore create a new offence aimed at someone refusing to stop when requested by a police officer and then engaging in sustained and extreme dangerous driving. It would achieve this by creating an aggravated driving offence punishable by an unlimited fine, mandatory disqualification and up to three years’ imprisonment. A key part of the new offence is that it would require intent; in other words, where someone is asked to stop, knowingly fails to do so and then drives dangerously, an offence would be committed.

This approach has the support of the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Police Federation. Too many lives continue to be lost on our roads. We need to cut the annual death toll. The measures that I have outlined are practical, proportionate and deliverable. They can play an important part in changing the mindset behind the wheel, and in so doing, reduce the number of individual tragedies that so many of us see in our constituency surgeries each week. I commend them to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by James Brokenshire, Mike Penning, Mr. John Leech, Mr. Stewart Jackson, Mr. Lee Scott and David T.C. Davies.

Road Traffic (Safety)

James Brokenshire accordingly presented a Bill to make provision about the content of driving tests; to create offences relating to dangerous driving; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 June, and to be printed [Bill 98].

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Orders of the Day

Pensions Bill

As amended in the Public Bill Committee, to be considered.

New Clause 17

Crown employment

‘(1) This Part has effect in relation to employment by or under the Crown as it has effect in relation to other employment.

(2) For the purposes of the application of the provisions of this Part in accordance with subsection (1)—

(a) references to a worker are to be construed as references to a person employed by or under the Crown;

(b) references to a worker’s contract are to be construed as references to the terms of employment of a person employed by or under the Crown.

(3) This section does not impose criminal liability on the Crown.

(4) But on the application of the Pensions Regulator the High Court or the Court of Session may declare unlawful a failure by the Crown to comply with any of the duties mentioned in section 40(1).’.— [Mr. Mike O'Brien.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.44 pm

The Minister for Pensions Reform (Mr. Mike O'Brien): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new clause 18— Armed forces.

Government new clause 19— Police.

Government amendments Nos. 35 and 36.

Mr. O'Brien: It is a pleasure to join hon. Members to debate the Bill on Report. The Bill has been marked by a considerable degree of consensus not only among parties in the House, but among those outside the House, who have contributed enormously.

This group of new clauses and amendments relates to the application of the employer duties established by this Bill. Three groups require special provision—the Crown, the armed forces and the police. New clause 17 brings the Crown sovereign and executive within the scope of the employer duty. As a result, workers employed by the Crown will have the same opportunities as other workers to save for retirement under the reforms. Of course, I reassure the House that, in accordance with long-established principles of constitutional law, the Crown will not be exposed to criminal sanctions. Instead, this amended provision enables the regulator to apply to the High Court or to the Court of Session for a failure by the Crown to comply with duties set out in clause 40(1) to be declared unlawful. That follows the approach adopted for most modern employment legislation.

As trailed in Committee, new clause 18 excludes the armed forces and the reserve forces from the reforms set out in the Bill. It also excludes cadet force adult volunteers from the scope of the reforms. Members of the armed forces have a special position in law. They are subject to service law rather than general employment law, except
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in specific circumstances relating to discrimination in relation to race and sex, but not to age or disability. For that reason, and in view of the 100 per cent. take-up of pension saving by the regular forces, the Government consider it appropriate to exclude the armed forces from the reforms. Members of the regular armed forces are automatically enrolled in non-contributory pension schemes, and the Ministry of Defence has no record of anyone opting out: there isn’t a problem, so let’s not mess with it. Of course, references to the armed forces in pensionable service include not only regular forces, but those undertaking certain forms of service while mobilised or undertaking full-time reserve service.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that the existing system for members of the armed forces would deliver a pension at least as generous as that envisaged under the personal accounts system?

Mr. O'Brien: Obviously, how much someone gets depends on the length of time for which they contribute and the pot that they build up, so there is not a straight answer to that question. I will ask my officials to consider the balance, because many soldiers will serve for less time than many employees will have to build up a pension pot in regular, non-military employment. I will examine the figures carefully and write to the hon. Gentleman, who has asked a reasonable question.

Reservists may accrue benefit under the reserve forces pension scheme, if they enter full-time reserve service. That is also one of the options available to mobilised reservists. Another option is remaining with their existing pension scheme—their employer scheme—in which case the Ministry of Defence would pay the employer contribution. Separately, cadet force adult volunteers offer their time without receiving a wage or pension contributions. Although they may receive occasional remuneration for training, this clause makes it clear there will be no access to pension saving.

Finally, new clause 19 brings members of the constabulary and police cadet forces of Great Britain within the scope of the reforms. It is necessary, because some police officers are “office holders” and do not therefore routinely fall within the definition of “employee” or “worker”. Accordingly, those members who are not employed under an employment or worker’s contract are included by being treated as workers. We include constables and trainees appointed by the chief officer of police as “police cadets”. Police officers in a Home Office or Scottish force become members of the police pension scheme. The great majority are members of the 1987 scheme, but since April 2006 entrants have become members of the new police pension scheme 2006. Both schemes are defined-benefit pension schemes.

The officers’ contribution rate for each scheme is relatively high. Although we think that it provides good value for money, it can and does cause a very small number of officers to opt out, particularly during early years of service when earnings are lower. The new clause will ensure that any officer who opts out of the police pension scheme will receive the same protection as others in employment—that the employer retains the duty to seek to re-enrol non-participating officers at key
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intervals during their work with the police, to nudge job holders into reconsidering an earlier decision; I was about to say “employment” with the police, but of course the very point is that it is not employment.

Sir John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) (Con): Will the hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that, as far as death-in-service benefits are concerned, there will not be change in any of those categories?

Mr. O'Brien: There is no plan for any change. I hesitate only for this reason: I have been in discussions with the Home Office about a particular change that will result in payments being made to the parents of police officers who die in service. I have had a particular case in my constituency, so I hesitate slightly on the issue. However, there is no intention that the rules and regulations that I have been discussing should change that provision. If it was changed, that would happen through police regulations, not as part of anything in the Bill.

John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con) rose—

Sir John Butterfill rose—

Mr. O'Brien: May I ask the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) to pause a moment? The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill) wants to come back on my point, and I am happy for him to do so.

Sir John Butterfill: I was thinking of each of the categories, including service personnel. Will there be no change?

Mr. O'Brien: There will not be change as part of these provisions in the Bill. Such issues would be dealt with separately by specific regulations or legislation relating to the armed forces or the police.

John Penrose: I have a question on a separate issue, although it is related to the points that the hon. and learned Gentleman has just made. He is describing particular sections of the public sector work force that will be excluded from the Bill’s provisions. Yet further on in the Bill, as the Minister will obviously know, a procedure is laid out for occupational schemes to exempt themselves from applying personal accounts because they already have in place occupational schemes of satisfactory quality. Why have the Government decided to take a different route for these public sector employees by making them specifically exempt in the Bill, rather than just allowing them to follow that exemption procedure, as private sector firms will be required to do?

Mr. O'Brien: I would give a comprehensive answer to the hon. Gentleman, but that would take an awfully long time. I am afraid that there have been lengthy negotiations with the armed forces, for example, about whether they wanted to be included or not. The Ministry of Defence has had various discussions with us at different stages. Our original view was that it would be better for the armed forces to be in, but now we have taken the view that they want to be out. In respect of the long-term impact, I should say that all the armed forces sign up to the pension scheme anyway. That
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scheme works very well and we do not want to mess with it. If the MOD wants this exemption, I am happy to go along with that. Broadly, I try to deal with the issues raised in relation to the Bill by looking at them on their merits. Over a period, we have seen that the views of some of the stakeholders have changed. That is the case with the armed forces, and I am happy with the position that we have now got to.

With the police, there was the issue about the definition and whether they were workers or not, and we have taken the view reflected in the new clause.

John Penrose: I thank the Minister for that reply. I suppose that the underlying concern behind my question is that many private sector firms are worried that the process for opting out is over-complicated, and some would like it to be simplified. I completely applaud the Minister’s reasons for why one would want to exempt the groups that he has just described. However, if an exemption is given to public sector firms through a different mechanism, the private sector people concerned about that extra complexity will be worried that they are not being treated fairly, and that there is not a level playing field.

Mr. O'Brien: Early in the consideration of the Bill I picked up some concerns from employers about the complexity of the provision to exempt them from having to enrol in this form of personal accounts. We kept it very simple. Essentially, they must have a provision that matches personal accounts and makes a minimum 3 per cent. employer contribution, with a 4 per cent. contribution from the employee. The exemption is very straightforward, and they should be able to identify whether they may be exempt. Certainly, the pension providers who provide the pension to employers should be able to say immediately whether their scheme is exempt. It will not apply to some schemes because the contribution levels are too low, and we have been clear that we want to increase those contribution levels where that is the case.

By and large, I have not picked up any recent concerns. The CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses and others have been broadly supportive of the way in which we have undertaken this. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare seems to be flashing some document at me. If it is from an organisation, I have met most of the organisations concerned and we have had broad support for the Bill as a whole, although there are specific concerns. We have tried to keep the issue of exemption as simple and straightforward as possible. We are conscious that the Bill will apply to small-scale employers such as the chippie down the road or the hairdresser round the corner, who may employ just a couple of people, and we wanted to ensure that the provisions were not so complex that they would have to do an awful lot of reading or examination of the issues. Concerns have been expressed to me about one problem that we will no doubt come to later on—how earnings are calculated. That can get quite complicated, but we are looking into technology to try to deal with that for some of the smaller-scale employers.

These specific exemptions are included in the Bill primarily because they deal with public sector employees who have their own particular provisions. On that basis, they are justified and I hope that the House will support them.

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