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That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the immediate suspension from the Register of Approved Driving Instructors of driving instructors convicted of sexual offences; and for connected purposes.
I am standing here today because of a brave young woman called Lesley Anne. Learning to drive can be a stressful experience; people have to learn all the signs and how to do three-point turns and hill starts. They should not also be thinking that their driving instructor could be a sexual predator. Lesley Anne Steeles was, and almost three years ago she suffered a humiliating and degrading sexual assault. Thankfully, her instructor, James Bennett from west Fife, was convicted. Yet even after that conviction, he continued to be a threat to young women, as he was permitted to continue as a driving instructor.
However, picking Lesley Anne as one of his victims was the biggest mistake that Bennett made. She is not to be messed with at all, and has a steely resolveSteele by name, steel by nature. She was determined that what happened to her would never be allowed to happen again and waived her right to anonymity so that she could tell her story. That is when she got me involved.
On the day of the trial, Mr Bennett was found guilty of assaulting me and with immediate effect was placed on the sex offenders register. I was relieved that this was finally over and thought that Mr Bennett wouldnt be allowed to continue to teach. The following day I received a call from a friend who had just seen Mr Bennett out teaching. Then my partner spotted Mr Bennett on the Monday, picking up a pupil close to our house.
Together, Lesley and I have discovered massive failings in the Driving Standards Agency and loopholes in the law. Lesley Anne received an apology from the predecessor of the Minister here today, and the DSA and the then Minister made commitments to make substantial changes. Many of those changes were made, but the law remains the same. All of that happened two years ago. I am frustrated that such urgent legislative changes have still not been made.
There are more than 40,000 approved driving instructors in the UK in whom we entrust our safety on the roads. The overwhelming majority of them are upstanding members of society. My issue is not with them, but with those who seek to tarnish their reputationthose who are a threat to our learner drivers. The nub of the issue is that the Driving Standards Agency does not have the right to suspend an instructor from the register of approved driving instructors. It does have the power to remove, but only after the full procedure is followed, including an individuals right to appeal. If the offence committed is serious, but not serious enough to warrant a custodial sentence, the instructor could operate for a further 42 days after conviction. I have no objection to the individuals right to dispute the proposal to remove, but I do not see why that cannot be undertaken under
suspension. The Government agree with me, and I want to give them some credit for the progress that they have made.
First, the Minister at the time admitted that there was a loophole, and admitted the mistakes that had been made and the flaws in the system. He made a personal apology to Lesley Anne, and I thank him for that. Secondly, the DSA and the Government introduced enhanced criminal record checks for all current and future instructors. That process, conducted during the past year, weeded out eight offenders who can no longer pose a threat to learner drivers. If it were not for Lesley Anne, those people would still be on the road. Thirdly, they changed the complaints procedures and customer care, so that complaints, such as those made by Lesley Anne, will be dealt with in a more sympathetic and effective manner. However, it should not require the involvement of an MP to get such a complaint dealt with seriously. The profession of driving instructor is now a notifiable profession for the Home Office and the Scottish Executive. If an instructor is convicted of an offence, the DSA is automatically notified, which was not the case before.
However, despite that progress, it is regrettable that two years on, the loophole of a lack of power to suspend remains in place. Some have suggested that instructors should be suspended immediately on being charged, not just when they are successfully prosecuted. However, the requirement to prove guilt, rather than simply allege, is a right that must be protected. Malicious allegations should not be permitted to have more effect that they already do. During a debate in Westminster Hall in November 2006, the then Minister, the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), told me:
Current legislation is clearly deficient, and we need to change the law through primary legislation as soon as we can to ensure that we have the power to suspend people immediately on conviction for such offences.[ Official Report, Westminster Hall, 28 November 2006; Vol. 453, c. 54WH.]
In the past two years there has been at least one case of a driving instructor being successfully prosecuted but not jailed for that offence. David Austin from Suffolk was convicted of sexual assault. I understand that he has been removed from the register, but I do not know whether he was teaching after conviction and before he was removed. If he did not teach, it was his choice, because it is not within the DSAs power to remove him. That must change. We must remove the power from those individuals to continue teaching.
Doing research for the debate, I discovered that the problem was identified before I raised it today. In 2005, in the Rochdale Observer, there was a story on a driving instructor who was convicted of sexual assaults on female pupils but who continued to teach. The article read:
Despite being found guilty of nine offences last month, Peter Knowles, aged 67, has a legal right to keep giving lessons according to the Driving Standards Agency.
If my Bill does not make progress today, I hope that my contribution in the Chamber will spur on the Governmentperhaps by some other mechanismto introduce the legislation that is required. If the power to
suspend is not introduced immediately, we will not be performing our duty to do everything that we can to protect learner drivers.
Lesley Anne has now passed her driving test and is a very proficient driver, no thanks to her instructor. She also recently married and is enjoying life. Let us pass the legislation and get the situation sorted, for her sake and for the thousands of young women who learn to drive every year. I commend the Bill to the House.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Willie Rennie, Mr. Mark Lancaster, Ms Katy Clark, Nick Harvey, Mr. Adam Holloway, Gordon Banks, Jo Swinson, Linda Gilroy, Mr. Alan Reid, Danny Alexander, John Barrett and Mr. David Hamilton.
Willie Rennie accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for the immediate suspension from the Register of Approved Driving Instructors of driving instructors convicted of sexual offences; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 27 October, and to be printed [Bill 154].
That this House notes that the Governments immigration policy has resulted in a quadrupling of net immigration since 1997; further notes that the European Commission predicts that the UK population will reach 77 million by 2060; further notes that the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government said in July that the pressure on resources as a result of this level of immigration increases the risk of community tensions escalating; further notes that the Chairman of the House of Lords Committee on Economic Affairs said in April that the argument put forward by the Government that large-scale immigration brings significant economic benefits for the UK is unconvincing; and calls on the Government to introduce a limit on economic migration from outside the EU, to ensure that immigration remains a real benefit to the countrys economy and its public services and to reform the marriage visa system to encourage better integration into British society.
My first task is to welcome the new immigration Minister to his job, and it is a real pleasure to do so. He has made an impact already; indeed, he has made such an impact on the Home Secretary that she has decided that it might be wiser not to let him open the debate for the Government. It would be useful for the House to discover what he has said that she disagrees with.
The immigration Minister gave an interview on Saturday in which he said that he wanted a limit on the numbers coming to Britain. That sounds sensible. In fact, it sounds like every interview that I have given on the subject for the past two years. Sadly, he gave another interview on Sunday, in which he said the opposite, describing talk of a limit as nonsense.
I can only assume that the second U-turn came after a talk with the Home Secretary, because she has spent the past two years energetically criticising the policies that on Saturday the Minister said he would introduce. She spent two years saying that any limit on immigration would be arbitrary and unworkable. Her immigration Minister now wants a limit. She spent two years saying that there are huge economic benefits to immigration at any level. He says that it has been too easy to get into this country.
I do not want to be unfair on the Minister and accuse him of disagreeing only with the Home Secretary. He also disagrees with himself. There are so many contradictions in what he has said that I will ask her to comment only on the main one. In his now notorious interview with The Times on Saturday, he said:
We have to have a population policy and that means at some point we will be able to set a limit on migration.
dont you want to go further and put a cap on the total population?,
Well I think frankly Jon, theres a lot of nonsense talked about the cap.
hang on, so there will be a cap or there wont be a cap?,
Well you tell me what you mean by a cap Jon and Ill tell you the answer.
I am happy to say that there has been more clarity in the Ministers subsequent interviews. He is completely clear in The Guardian today, where he is quoted in the headline as saying, We have lost peoples trust on immigration. He is right about that, but the Home Secretary might care to explain why her junior Ministers are going around admitting that her policies are a disaster. Is she a little worried by this? If not, she should be.
implemented policies that had damaged both those moving to the country and the existing population.
untold human misery and division.
We are about 10 years behind.
I think that we can now leave the Home Office team to sort out their differences[Hon. Members: More!] I should love to give my hon. Friends more, but it is important to hear what the Home Secretary has to say about her junior Minister. It is also important to establish whether his candid admissions of failure have any substantial policy changes behind them. Even if we take the words in his Saturday interview at face value, there is a serious problem. Sometimes, he seems to be arguing that unlimited immigration was okay during the economic boom, but that it will not work for the economic bust that we are now experiencing. At other times, however, he argues that we need to treat this as a demographic problem. When he says that, he makes a lot more sense.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) made it clear a year ago that the Conservatives believe that population growth has been too fast and that it must be put on a more sustainable course. To achieve that, however, we need properly controlled immigration numbers at all times, not just in a recession. Without a limit, we cannot plan our public services properly, we would have little incentive to improve the training of unemployed people, and, most of all, we would make it more difficult for new arrivals to integrate easily and quickly into British life. I want an immigration policy that will help to make Britain a less tense, more cohesive society. One big charge that the Government must answer is that, over the past 10 years, they have achieved exactly the opposite.
Damian Green: I shall give way just once or twice, because I am aware that many people want to speak in the debate. I shall give the co-chairman of the all-party group on balanced migration the first go.
Ive been brought in to be tougher...If people are being made unemployed, the question of immigration becomes very thorny,
he is getting alarmingly close to blaming immigrants for rising unemployment. It is the duty of every moderate politician to exercise great restraint when addressing this subject. For the past decade, Labour has been the incompetent party on immigration. The Minister is in danger of making it the nasty party on immigration as well.
The chaos inside the Home Office is frustrating, because there is a chance for a new political consensus on immigrationperhaps symbolised by the formation of an all-party group. I think that we all agree that immigration can produce economic and social benefits, but it will do so only if it meets five criteria. First, it should be under control. Secondly, people need to know that there is a limit, and that there will be no sudden surges. Thirdly, people need to have confidence that the authorities are competent to deal with illegal immigration. Fourthly, our essential public services need to be able to cope with the number of people arriving. Fifthly, immigration policy must aim to attract people who will be of considerable benefit to our economy and our wider society.
Mr. MacShane: Will the hon. Gentleman define an immigrant for the purposes of this debate? Are Irish non-British citizens immigrants? Are the Europeans who are allowed to live and work hereas we can in any European countryimmigrants? They all require housing, schooling and health services. Before we get much further into the debate, will he tell us what the Tory definition of an immigrant is?
What the right hon. Gentleman characterises as a Tory definition of an immigrant is exactly the same as his own Governments definition, which is someone who comes here for more than 12 months. I am glad that he intervened, as it reminds me
that he made a thoughtful point in The Observer on Sunday [Interruption.] I am full of generosity of spirit today. The right hon. Gentleman said that the new immigration Ministers comments
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