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I wonder why the Squeeze singer, Chris Difford, escaped a driving ban after pleading that it would cause exceptional hardship as he would no longer be able to travel the country playing gigs. The 57-year-old, who earns up to £100,000 a year performing around the country, was caught doing 88 mph on a 70 mph road. The son of Tony Christie, famous for his song “Amarillo”, claimed exceptional hardship because he would not be able to drive his dad to gigs after he had totted up 25 points. The jockey Kieren Fallon escaped a driving ban after he claimed that it would cause exceptional hardship because the state of the racing industry was such that he could not afford a full-time driver. Premiership footballer Zak Whitbread who admitted speeding at 97 mph with 17 points escaped a ban after saying that he would not be able to find another football job if he could not drive. There are many other cases of people who have escaped bans. Not all those 8,000 people are famous, but often they are rich enough to pay a good barrister to get them off.

Drivers cannot use the same exceptional hardship plea each time they are taken to court, but there is no central record of which plea has been used. There is also no record of whether drivers are involved in later accidents. If a driver can clock up 47 points, 27 points, or even just 15 points, it seems to me that they have a disregard for the law and therefore pose a risk to other road users.

We need to tackle not only the sentencing of people convicted of causing death or serious injury by dangerous driving, but the whole issue of driving offences and our attitude to the way cars can be used as weapons. We need drivers to realise at every level of offence that bad behaviour will be punished in order to make our roads safer. Some 83% of the people who took The Bolton News survey believe that 12 points should mean that people are banned. We know that young people aged between 15 and 24 are more likely to die in road traffic accidents than as a result of any other single cause.

We also need to do a great deal more to educate people about the consequences of driving badly. I was visited in my surgery on Friday by the brother of a man who was involved in a road traffic accident 30 years ago. A 14-year-old girl was killed in the accident and the man’s brother—I will call him Peter—suffered devastating injuries. He is now unable to walk properly and cannot go out without assistance. More crucially, he has an acquired brain injury that leaves him dependent on care 24 hours a day. Yes, he got compensation to help pay for the carers, but the money is now running out. His life has been ruined by the accident, and the lives of his parents and siblings have been drastically affected. Of course, a young life was also lost in the accident. What makes it worse is the fact that he was partly to blame, because he was speeding—a Jack the lad who thought that he was invincible. Still, a life was ruined and a life was lost.

For me, this is not just about increasing penalties but about enforcing the law and educating young people about the consequences of road accidents. We need to look at graduated licences for young people. We need to ensure that action is taken rapidly on dangerous roads. I have one such road in my constituency where there have been a number of fatalities, but we have been very slow to alter the road to make it safer.

Of course we need justice for those who have lost loved ones. Yes, we need deterrents, but we know that the number of deaths is sadly increasing. We have to

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take road safety and driving behaviour seriously and do everything in our power across the whole spectrum, from the point at which people start offending behaviour in a car to the final catastrophic effects of a terrible accident. I urge the Minister to do everything possible to see how we could strengthen legislation to try to stop these terrible accidents happening in our communities.

7.32 pm

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): I am delighted to take part in the debate, principally because I have been asked to by a constituent, Mrs Jacqui Watson, who had the terrible plight of seeing her husband, Andrew Watson, killed when his motorbike collided with a tractor that was being driven by a 16-year-old boy. I find it incredible that such huge vehicles can be driven on our roads by 16-year-olds.

It was a fine, sunny evening when Andrew, who was 50 years old and had 34 years of motorcycling experience, was driving along the A515 in Newborough, near Burton, along with his son Thomas, who is 21, and their friend Jason Hudson. They were all experienced motorcyclists. They came over the brow of the hill and collided with a tractor being driven by the 16-year-old boy, who had his 17-year-old girlfriend in the cab.

The police later found that the tractor was wider than the legal limit for a vehicle driven under a category F licence by a 16-year-old, but the Crown Prosecution Service, in its wisdom, decided that because it was only marginally bigger, because the other tractor that the boy usually drove had broken down, and because he was apparently of good character, it was unable to prosecute him for any offence.

I find it incredible that in this country we do not trust 16-year-olds to drive anything larger than a 50 cc motorbike. We do not trust them to drive a Ford Fiesta or a Mini, yet we allow them, under category F licences, to drive vehicles that can be 2.4 metres wide; to put that into context, a Ford Fiesta is less than 2 metres wide. Those tractors are huge vehicles that can go at well over 50 mph, yet we are putting them in the hands of 16-year-olds. That cannot make sense.

We heard earlier about how a vehicle can be a weapon in the wrong hands. If that is true, how can we allow 16-year-olds to drive such large vehicles? The law allows them not only to drive such a tractor, but to tow a trailer behind it, so long as it is no wider than 2.45 metres. In the wrong hands, they are death traps on the roads, yet the law allows them to be driven in that way. Of course, much of our licensing in the UK is determined by EU directives that dictate that we must have a common approach across the whole European Union in relation to licensing, but category F is specifically a national competence. It is specifically something that the UK Government can take action on.

It will not surprise the Minister to learn that the lives of Jacqui and her son Thomas were devastated by the loss of a beloved husband and father. The accident was of such severity that two air ambulances were needed at the scene, along with two traditional ambulances. No family should have to go through the plight and turmoil of being told that they have lost a husband or a father as a result of a road traffic accident. Accidents will always happen, and vehicles will always fall into the wrong hands, but it is up to the Government and to us as parliamentarians to do all we can to mitigate that

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and ensure that drivers on our roads are proportionately trained, that they are driving within parameters that we have agreed and that they are as safe as possible.

I do not believe that it can be argued that it is safe to allow a 16-year-old to drive a tractor that is 2.4 metres wide and can travel at 50 or 60 mph on our roads. I urge the Minister to look at those laws, ensure that he is satisfied that they are safe and help ensure that no more families have to go through what the Watsons have gone through.

7.38 pm

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) has made some moving points. I recall being 16 and offering to help with the harvest. I was not used to the hard work and ripped my hands to shreds within a few hours. I was completely useless at baling hay and so was given the job of driving the tractor. I had no training, as I had not even started learning to drive a car. I think that 16-year-olds, like me at the time, need that greater degree of protection.

I also remember in 2004 offering to buy someone who was campaigning for me a beer. He expressed surprise, because I had absolutely no idea that he was 16. I bought him a diet Coke and said, “Not only can I not buy you a beer, but you cannot even drive.” He replied, “No, but I can fly.” He had a private licence and flew out of Southend airport. My point is that there should perhaps be a review of consistency and risk, as well as about what should be done.

This has been a great debate. It has not been difficult for you to keep order, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it has been difficult in other ways. I know that I shy away from some debates in the House of Commons that I would find too emotional. It is very brave of you to be here today, so thank you for that.

The hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) mentioned that this has been a very unpartisan debate. The very moving comments made about Burton or Bolton might have been made about anywhere by Members on both sides of the House.

I was particularly perturbed by the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), who talked not about individual but corporate actions in relation to the responsibility of schools. That made me reflect on schools in Rochford and Southend East. State schools in Southend have very good protections for passengers from errant vehicles, but that cannot be said about private schools. We should perhaps look not only at private schools, to make sure that they are treated in a similar way to public ones, but at nurseries. As the boundary between the definitions of public and private schools merges in the form of free schools, such protections may become even more important.

I want to speak in today’s debate because of a tragic incident that happened in 2009 at 9.45 at night only a few hundred yards away from where I live. With my young children, it had been a particularly difficult day and—unimaginably, once I had found out what had happened so close to my house—I slept through the entire incident, and was unable to provide any support at the time. Subsequently, I hope that I have been able to do a few things.

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The hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) struggled to find the right words about this being a “good” debate, but we should not shy away from using such a word. Clearly, we all have horrific examples to bring to the House, but perhaps some good can come from those examples. That is why I am speaking about what happened at 9.45 pm on Friday 6 March 2009.

A 17-year-old pupil from Southend grammar school was driving a Citroen C1. That evening, there had been a birthday in the area. He had only recently passed his driving test, and he was showing off. He was attempting a handbrake turn to impress a group of about 14 of his friends. The police now estimate that he was travelling at about 47 mph in a residential road. He simply did not have the skills to control the vehicle, and he hit all the teenagers. Teenagers who gather and go from place to place for a birthday celebration tend to chat; getting from A to B is as much a part of the birthday celebrations as the actual outing to a location. Some of the individuals were knocked through a garden fence, and others were thrown as high as 15 feet into the air. The noise was evidently enormous, despite its not rousing me from my sleep.

Thankfully, the accident happened opposite a doctors’ surgery, and several of the doctors lived in the surrounding area. The fact that they were able to get to the scene within minutes lessened the final impact on those people. Fortuitously, some of the students or individuals who could get up off the ground and help had recently been through first aid training. Again, that may very well have saved a few people.

Ten youngsters were defined by the hospital as seriously injured, of whom eight had head injuries and broken limbs, and two had significant physical injuries. Eleanor McGrath, who was 14—she is the individual to whom I particularly wish to draw attention—was fatally injured and, sadly, her life support machine was switched off after the accident. Another individual, a young man of 16, has been profoundly physically and mentally impacted. A whole generation of people from Southend have been affected.

Although no one would wish such an event on anyone, the accident has had a profound and positive impact on a generation of people in Southend. Trying to find some rhyme or reason behind the event, Eleanor’s friends decided that they wanted to do something. They launched an awareness campaign called Driving with Grace—Eleanor’s middle name was Grace—and they sent a DVD to all schools in the United Kingdom. The campaign received support from our local Essex police and the Safer Roads Foundation. Indeed, many secondary schools still use the DVD now, and Eleanor’s friends received an award for their work from the police in 2010. Road crashes are the most common form of death and serious injury for young people. The Driving with Grace campaign seeks to highlight the importance, for someone driving, of thinking about what they are doing before they act.

Under-25s make up only a tenth of the population, but a quarter of the number of drivers killed on the roads, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, so they are clearly a massive danger. Far too many people, when they pop out to drive, do not feel that they are in a powerful weapon that they risk killing with: they have no idea of such possibilities. As young men, they feel invincible.

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I think that I can say that; I am sure young women also feel invincible behind the wheel. In my experience of observing drivers in my part of the country, Southend, I am certainly aware that there is a particular problem with young drivers.

Eleanor’s parents have engaged in extensive research over several years. They did not leap to react immediately, but have thought deliberatively about what needs to be done and have tried to be as constructive as possible. When people suffer such tragedies, they sometimes react by expecting absolutely everything to be done, including by encroaching on people’s liberties and incurring costs, but Eleanor’s parents have been very responsible. Specifically, they believe in the graduated driving licence, which was mentioned earlier—that a compulsory P plate should be displayed for three years after someone passes their test, signalling a probation period for new drivers.

People who have just passed their driving test can feel on top of the world—invincible—and it is a little less macho to have a big “P” on the back of their 1-litre banger or on a new car. I hope that that might change attitudes. I am sure that when hon. Members see a learner, they give them a little extra space. If they cut us up by accident, stall or are a little over-cautious, we think, “Well, I was there once.” The moment people pass their driving test and the L plate is removed, however, we expect them to be equally competent as a driver who has perhaps driven for 20, 30 or 40 years and passed an advanced driving test. The probationary plates not only allow other people to exercise a little more care around such drivers, but demonstrate to their peer group that they are still young adults and are still learning.

Graduated driving licence systems are in place in several states in the US, and in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France and Northern Ireland. We do not need to make up a new system to find a proven one that works. I call on the Government to introduce, initially, a simple three-year system, but there are several other options. In different areas, features of systems include compulsory logging of the initial 120 hours of driving experience, a minimum period of driving on certain types of roads or a two-stage probationary period, which in some places is recognised by the use of P1 and P2 plates. In some places, there are peer passenger restrictions, so that only a certain number of people of a certain age are allowed in the car after dark or late at night. I urge caution in considering that option, because it would have other implications such as young people being left on the streets. There are certainly many options for the Government to consider if they do not want a simple three-year probationary period.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), has been very good on this issue. I visited him with Eleanor’s parents at the beginning of the month and left him with a probationary plate to put on his desk as a reminder of Eleanor and of what I expect of him, which is to bring forward a solution. I am reassured to see the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), who is a very able Minister, on the Front Bench. I know that he will take these matters just as seriously. I ask him to speak to my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby, to ensure that these issues are joined up.

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Being a wise Minister, I am sure that my hon. Friend will not have a knee-jerk reaction, leap to the Dispatch Box and announce 10 of the excellent ideas that we have heard today as Government policy, however tempting that may be. All too often with this type of debate, changes drip out subsequently. I ask him not to write to Members who have contributed to the debate straight afterwards, but to write to us six months to the day and say, “After calm reflection, this is what has happened over the past six months as a result of the debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) and the contributions that were made by Members across the House.” That would be a worthwhile initiative and I hope that the Minister will consider taking part in it.

7.51 pm

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak at the end of this debate on the law on dangerous driving. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) on securing the debate and thank the Backbench Business Committee for selecting such a good example of a non-party political debate on an issue that, literally in this case, affects life and death.

The debate began with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood telling us the desperately sad story of Ross and Clare Simons, which he pieced together with the precision of the professional historian that he is. He rightly left it to us to imagine, all too vividly, the emotions involved for the family and friends.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) described the death of the mother-in-law of the Deputy Speaker who was in the Chair before you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as well as that of William Avery-Wright. We have also heard from the hon. Members for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), for Dudley North (Ian Austin) and for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) and my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths). Lastly, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) told us the ghastly story of Eleanor. All those contributions will have moved everybody in the House. We must not forget all the other Members who are not here, but who have similar horror stories to tell from their constituencies.

In 2012, 377 motorists were found guilty of an offence that resulted in a fatality and 116 were found guilty of causing death through dangerous driving. That is almost 500 unnecessary deaths a year or almost three every two days. One of those deaths, which occurred almost exactly two years ago in March 2012, was that of my constituent, Paul Stock, who was affectionately known as Gloucester’s best welder. He was killed while crossing a road in Tredworth with his wife, Mandy, by a man called Graham Godwin. Mr Godwin was riding the scooter that caused the death while disqualified, uninsured and speeding, and there was a female riding pillion on the one-seat scooter. He had multiple previous driving convictions and said in court that the law did not apply to him. The judge described him as

“an absolute menace on the road”

and gave him what he explained was the maximum possible sentence—just two years in prison.

Paul’s widow, Mandy, later wrote to me saying that the law needed to be changed to reflect the devastating consequences of such a crime, whether it causes death

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or serious injury, when the sentences for careless or dangerous driving can be up to 14 years, as other Members have mentioned. By extraordinary coincidence, I had the opportunity to raise the matter at Prime Minister’s questions almost immediately afterwards. In responding to my question, the Prime Minister said:

“It is important that we give our courts a sense that when there are appalling, extraordinary crimes, they can take exemplary action. That is important in a justice system.”—[Official Report, 30 January 2013; Vol. 557, c. 904.]

I was fortunate that Mandy’s sister, Sue, was a constituent of the Prime Minister. They were therefore both able to meet him at one of his surgeries not long after that. I was also grateful that the Secretary of State for Justice allowed Mandy, Sue and me to see him shortly afterwards.

There is no doubt that everyone in the House agrees that the current sentencing guidelines are inadequate. The question is what should be done and when. Although one or two Members, notably the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), have made some interesting points about wider issues relating to driving offences, I want to focus on the sentencing guidelines for cases in which people die as a direct result of behaviour that comes under the general heading of dangerous driving. In particular, I want to speak about situations in which drivers have caused death while uninsured and disqualified. I believe that we should let judges decide what sentence is merited when Mr Godwin lifts two fingers not just to Paul’s widow, Mandy, but to our whole system of justice by saying that the law of the land does not apply to him. I believe that we need consistency in seeing that justice is done and that maximum flexibility should be left to the judge to interpret how severe the sentence should be for individuals who have caused death.

I am in no doubt that all Members agree on that simple proposition. I am in no doubt that the Minister and the Secretary of State for Justice agree. I am in little doubt that they intend to bring legislation forward. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East suggested that Ministers should mull this matter over for the next six months. I do not believe that further consideration is needed. Ministers are well aware of the issue and of what needs to be done. Therefore, I urge them not to linger. I know that the Secretary of State had hoped to bring new legislation before Parliament this spring. I hope that the Minister will confirm today that that is what they intend to do. The time has come for all those who have been mentioned in this debate and all the constituents of Members who are not here to feel that the law is on their side and that judges will be able, where appropriate, to sentence people much more severely than they can at present.

7.59 pm

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): It is a privilege to respond for the Opposition to this debate on a serious and tragic subject. Dangerous driving is a difficult issue that the law has wrestled with for a long time. It has legal, practical and, above all, human consequences, and it is about certain people’s relationship with the motor car, which we do not seem to be able to get right even after more than a century.

Today’s debate has illustrated that Members of all parties can rise to the occasion and meet the challenge. The issue brings together our role as lawmakers, our

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duty to our constituents and our ability to campaign for change. The nine speeches that we have heard have shown exactly how Members can bring those elements together. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) for securing the debate and the Backbench Business Committee for permitting it. He began with the case of Ross and Clare Simons, which set the tone for the debate about how horrific the consequences of deaths and serious injuries caused by dangerous driving can be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) spoke about individual cases in his constituency, as all Members did, but he also mentioned cycling, to which I will return in a moment. I know that he has championed in the House not just cycling but the issue of the particular risks faced by cyclists.

The hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) spoke bravely about his 13-year-old constituent William Avery-Wright, and without fear or favour spoke about what he described as the negligence and poor treatment that that young man and his family had received. My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) talked about her constituent Robert Gaunt. Only about two weeks ago, she tabled a private Member’s Bill that would deal with many of the issues that we have discussed today.

We heard a detailed speech by the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland). He was particularly moving when he talked about the case of Jamie Still and others that, with his usual assiduousness, he has made himself the champion of. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) talked about people who have been driving when they should have been disqualified, and who should never have been behind the wheel in the first place. She also talked about how we can deal with driving standards, which I shall come to in a moment, and particularly about the graduated driving licence.

The hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) surprised some of us with his description of the tragic death of Andrew Watson at the hands of a 16-year-old driver who was driving a vehicle that he was clearly unable to cope with, whether or not he should have been permitted to have it. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) described a particularly tragic case, which showed how a single incidence of dangerous driving can traumatise not just a family or an individual but an entire community. Finally, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) described his constituent’s tragic case and then brought us back to the issue of sentencing policy, to which I will now turn.

Each case is unique and creates a lasting wound for the friends, family and community of the victim, but this is not a new issue. We have been dealing with it for decades. The North report, 25 years ago, was a full, clear and serious report that pointed out that the courts were not dealing with serious driving cases with the appropriate severity, particularly when there were aggravating factors such as the driver being under the influence of drink or drugs. In criminal practice at that time—I think the Minister is old enough to remember this, and I certainly am—the issue of consequence was often discussed. The culpability of the driver was not properly balanced with the consequences. We have moved on substantially from that. For example, we now have the offences of dangerous driving, with a maximum

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two-year sentence, causing serious injury by dangerous driving, with a maximum five-year sentence, and causing death by dangerous driving, with a maximum 14-year sentence. Parliament has given the courts the ability to deal appropriately with the degree of consequence as well as the degree of culpability. Both are relevant factors, but we have moved away from the era in which the primary consideration was simply the quality of the driving.

Greg Mulholland: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for his helpful comments. On that point, may I bring to his and the House’s attention the problem of the difference between the charges of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving? The latter is when the driving fell below the standard expected of a careful and competent driver, and the former is when it fell far below that standard. As we have heard today, there are some cases—I believe that there are many, and I have asked the Minister for a review—in which the driving has clearly fallen below that standard, yet people are charged with causing death by careless driving, not by dangerous driving.

Mr Slaughter: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The definitions of careless and dangerous driving are relatively new, having been introduced to try to correct defects in the reckless driving law. I will say a bit more about maximum sentences and sentencing policy, but I was coming first to the point that he has just made.

Many problems arise not necessarily from sentencing policy from Crown Prosecution Service guidelines and charging policy. CPS guidelines have moved on again, because as with every type of case, the CPS has to consider the realistic prospect of conviction as well as the public interest. In the past, it perhaps did not examine driving cases with the same assiduousness as other criminal cases. I believe that that has begun to change. The consequence was that charges were either not brought at all or brought at a lower level, because the CPS did not believe that there was a realistic prospect of success. In part, that may have been due to the influence of public opinion about standards and quality of driving, which has changed a great deal over the years, as it has in relation to driving under the influence.

Richard Graham: Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the general public’s reaction, which he has described, may have been exacerbated by the fact that in 2011, the latest year for which we have complete data, of the 20 cases of those found guilty of causing death while uninsured or disqualified, the average custodial sentence actually served was only 8.4 months?

Mr Slaughter: I will come back to the issue of sentencing—the offence that the hon. Gentleman mentions carries a much lower maximum sentence than the ones that I have mentioned—but first I wish to explain my point about charging policy, which still leaves something to be desired. It is not a straightforward matter. First, there is the question of the degree to which the driving has fallen below the standard of competent driving, as the hon. Member for Leeds North West mentioned. That judgment needs to be made by the CPS.

In addition, having decided what level of offence to charge, there is the issue of seriousness regarding the quality of driving, and that of aggravating or mitigating

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factors, particularly if they pertain to the individual accused. Such matters are not straightforward, and again, on occasion, prosecutors err on the side of caution when deciding what to charge and what are their prospects of success. In the most serious driving cases it is open to the CPS to charge someone with manslaughter, but that happens very rarely.

Hon. Members from across the House have reviewed the nature of offences—again, in response to pressure from parliamentarians and the general public over time—and a number of changes were made by the previous Labour Government. In particular, under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving was increased from 10 to 14 years, as it was for causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs. The Road Safety Act 2006 introduced new offences of causing death by careless driving or by driving illegally. Those offences attract lower sentences—five years, I think, in the first case, and two years in the second—but they are new offences that came into effect in 2008.

Although it concerns a more recent offence, perhaps for completeness I should mention the offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, which again attracts a maximum five-year sentence. That was introduced through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, and both the Minister and I had the pleasure of serving on the Bill Committee. That offence was contained in one of the few clauses of the Bill that attracted unanimous support in Committee, and it arose out of a private Member’s Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner). That is significant not because he is also a doughty campaigner on these issues, but because many individual advancements in legislation have come about through private Member’s Bills or the actions of individual Members on behalf of their constituents, and indeed through debates such as this.

There have been substantial changes and increases in maximum sentences. That allows for new sentencing guidelines, and for longer—and indeed more careful—sentences to be given, since all the factors I have described must be taken into account by the sentencer. New offences were created where lacunae in the law were identified, which is right. The changes in law under the previous Labour Government led to the substantial revision of sentencing guidelines in 2008. I will not go through those in detail, but they substantially increased some of the guideline sentences and gave clear instructions to the courts about how aggravating or mitigating factors should be dealt with.

Although the sentence of just a few years for taking a life will always seem inadequate to the family of the victim, I suspect that what often causes most concern to families are the sentences handed out for some of the “lesser” offences such as causing death by careless driving or while driving illegally. Those sentences can be measured in months, or perhaps just one or two years, and that will never seem an adequate punishment for the taking of a life.

As I have said, steps were taken a decade ago, and more recently, and the ball is now firmly in the court of this Government. Sentencing guidelines are being looked at again, and I look forward to the Minister’s response. I know that—as always—he will give a careful and thoughtful response about when and where he believes

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the sentencing guidelines are going, and say what is in the Government’s mind regarding improvements in the law.

Before I conclude, I wish to pick up on a point made by the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East. Although we have focused narrowly—quite properly, as this is the subject of the debate—on the issue of dangerous driving and on lenient sentencing in particular, one cannot look at death on the road in isolation because it must be considered in the round. One must also look at prevention.

Safety on the UK’s roads has improved immeasurably over the past 40 years, and we have gone from having almost 8,000 deaths a year in the 1970s to around 1,700 a year—a phenomenal improvement. That is against a background around the world of 1.3 million deaths due to road traffic accidents—I saw those statistics today in The Economist—the vast majority in developing countries. There are now more deaths from road traffic accidents around the world than from tuberculosis or malaria. While we can congratulate ourselves a little on the improvements in this country, there is still more to do.

Numbers of driving offences and the use of the motor car as a weapon of destruction are increasing elsewhere, and there are particular problems in this country that we have not fully addressed. One is the issue of young drivers, who account for only 5%—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Is the hon. Gentleman coming towards the end of his remarks, because he has been speaking for quite a long time? Normally there are 10 minutes, maximum 15, for the shadow Minister in a Backbench Business Committee debate, but he has gone over that. Perhaps he will conclude briefly.

Mr Slaughter: I was given 15 minutes, I think, by the Backbench Business Committee, but having taken 18, another minute is the most I will stretch to.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should not chance his luck. He is over his time and we need to hear the Minister as well. I would be grateful if he could conclude his remarks.

Mr Slaughter: I am most grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Yes, we have a better record and a long way to go, particularly on young drivers—I mentioned the graduated driving licence. We could do a lot more on road safety, particularly for cyclists. The Minister will have seen the horrific figure of six cyclist deaths on the roads in London in a two-week period just before Christmas.

I hope that, in responding, the Minister addresses the matter in the round—clearly, he will deal with it primarily from a Ministry of Justice perspective. I hope that he can give us some comfort on the central point that all hon. Members have raised: how can we deter and punish those who take lives on our roads, and how can we in some way mitigate the consequences for the sad and tragic victims and their families about whom we have heard in the debate?

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8.18 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Jeremy Wright): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) on securing the debate and thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us to discuss this matter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) has said, it is hard to take pleasure in such a debate, but it is right that we take pride in it. It has been an excellent debate. All hon. Members who have spoken have approached the matter in exactly the right spirit—they have spoken with both passion and a great deal of justified emotion.

As hon. Members have made clear, road traffic offences often have extraordinarily serious consequences—poor driving behaviour can result in injuries and fatalities. In these cases, the effect is felt not simply by the individual, but by their families. We have heard a great number of examples. We have heard about Ross and Clare Simons, Rob Jeffries, William Avery-Wright, Robert Gaunt, Jamie Still, David and Dorothy Metcalf, Andrew Watson, Eleanor McGrath and Paul Stock. Many others have been mentioned, but many have not. Some were old, some were young, and they were from up and down the country. It is important that we recognise that their sacrifices need to be discussed in the context of the criminal justice system and the system beyond it.

Hon. Members will understand that I cannot comment on the specific details of any sentencing case, because specific sentences are decided independently of the Government by the courts. In deciding what sentence to impose, the courts must take account of all the details of the offence and the offender, including both aggravating and mitigating factors, and give consideration to the culpability of the offender and the harm caused. As the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) has made clear, the cases are difficult, and it is not easy to draw rules and regulations from individual examples. He is right. The courts have recourse to sentencing guidelines, which have been mentioned a number of times in the debate. I will come back to them in a moment.

Road traffic offences are particularly difficult because the harm caused often outweighs the offender’s culpability. However, the law seeks to punish those who cause death or injury on our roads proportionately to the blameworthiness of the driver. A variety of different agencies and organisations must play their part in such cases. We expect them to do so properly and with sensitivity. Those agencies are both within and without the criminal justice system, including, of course, schools, in some cases. My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) spoke movingly of deaths occurring on or near school premises. Knowing him as I do, I know that he will almost certainly have raised those matters with colleagues at the Department for Education, but just in case, I will ensure that those colleagues are fully aware of the points he has made.

Similarly, there are matters of licensing to consider. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), is in the Chamber. I know he will take close account of what has been said on a variety of licensing issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) made serious points on the vehicles that people of different ages are permitted to drive, which I know will

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be considered further. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) made points on the need for a compulsory probationary period for drivers, which will be considered very carefully.

The Crown Prosecution Service and its involvement in bringing the right charges were mentioned. The charges considered by courts are dependent on the charges that the CPS chooses to bring. That will be based on its assessment of the quality of a defendant’s driving both preceding and at the time of impact. The CPS must give careful consideration when making charging decisions in cases involving driving that has led to a death. In deciding whether to charge death by dangerous driving or death by careless driving, it is the standard of driving to which prosecutors must have careful regard. As other hon. Members have explained, to amount to dangerous driving, the driving in question must be deemed to be far below what would have been obvious to a competent and careful driver. For careless driving, the driving needs to have fallen below the standards of a competent and prudent driver. Of course, each case should be looked at individually and decided on its own facts. Many things will play a part in those considerations.

The hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) mentioned cycling. He was right to do so; cyclists are particularly vulnerable. I will look carefully, as he urges me to do, at British Cycling’s recommendations on the matter, as will colleagues in the Department for Transport.

It is right that we consider what happens after a charge has been brought but before a case comes to trial. A number of right hon. and hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), made points on the need for interim driving bans between conviction and sentence, and for bail conditions to be considered. Hon. Members will know that the courts have those options. I would hope that they are carefully considered in all appropriate cases.

A great deal of debate was concentrated on sentencing. Successive Parliaments—indeed, successive Governments, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith said—have worked to ensure that we have a substantial framework of driving offences and penalties on the statute book. This Government, too, are committed to ensuring that the framework continues to provide the courts with the range of offences and penalties that they need to deal with the whole range of unacceptable driving behaviour on our roads.

At the most serious end of the framework, fatalities hold a special place in criminal law, as they should, and robust penalties are available where a death is caused by bad driving. The most culpable offenders—those who have caused death by dangerous driving, or by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs—face penalties of up to 14 years in prison. They are also disqualified from driving for a minimum of two years—often for much longer—and have to sit an extended retest before regaining a licence.

A number of hon. Members—my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), the hon. Member for Dudley North and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West—made points relating to the length of driving bans, and in particular what happens when a defendant serves a custodial sentence. It is the case that the courts should consider and take into account the length of any custodial sentence when fixing the appropriate

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length of driving ban. That is for precisely the reason mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West and others: it clearly would not be right, in appropriate cases, for all of the ban to be served in custody.

Where death is caused and there is sufficient evidence of gross negligence, drivers can be charged with the offence of manslaughter, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Following the 2005 review of road traffic offences, two new offences, to which the hon. Member for Hammersmith rightly referred, were created. Since 2008, they have been available to prosecutors to deal with drivers who cause death by careless driving, or who cause death by driving while unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured. The maximum penalties for these offences are, respectively, five years’ and two years’ imprisonment, and they have a minimum disqualification period of a year. Again, the court has the discretion to order a retest.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West urges us to abolish the offence of causing death by careless driving. I understand his argument, but he will appreciate that there are, of course, risks. The offence was created because in many cases the choices available to a prosecutor were either to bring a charge of causing death by dangerous driving, or a simple charge of careless driving where a death had resulted. If prosecutors felt unable to prove dangerous driving under the definitions we have discussed, they were left with what many would consider the inadequate remedy of a simple charge of careless driving. That was the reason why the offence was brought in, and we have to think through very carefully the consequences of removing it from the statute book.

Greg Mulholland: I thank the Minister for giving way and for his useful round-up of the debate. Does he not accept that the greater ease of getting a potential conviction for death by careless driving is being misused, because there are cases—I would like to discuss some with him—where people’s driving clearly fell far below the standard and was clearly wilful and grossly dangerous? I believe it is being misused. That is why Brake believes it would be more sensible to categorise them all as dangerous driving, and then have appropriate guidelines and appropriate sentencing from less to maximum.

Jeremy Wright: As I said at the outset, it is difficult for me to comment on particular cases, and it is for Crown prosecutors to decide what the appropriate charge should be. We would all expect, however, that where they feel they are able to prove that driving fell far below the required standard, dangerous driving would be the appropriate charge; or, indeed, as others have said, in cases of gross negligence manslaughter would be the appropriate charge. The difficulty is that where prosecutors believe that in their judgment it is not possible to prove that driving fell far below the required standard, were we to remove this offence from the statute book they would simply be left with the charge of careless driving, which, of course, has considerably lower penalties.

Mr Buckland: I wonder whether my hon. Friend could widen the issue. Prior to the change in the law in 1991, the old offence of reckless driving used to apply—the subjective test. There were a lot of problems with that

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test, which is why we went to an objective test, but does he think that there is any merit in looking again, 20 years on, at whether there are some merits in either what my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West says, or looking again at a subjective test?

Jeremy Wright: There is merit in listening carefully to all that has been said in this excellent and thoughtful debate, and it is right that I consider many of the ideas and thoughts expressed in it, so I hear exactly what my hon. Friend says.

On ensuring that the law is effective, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith said, we have introduced a variety of new offences over the years to fill perceived gaps. We have created a new offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, ensuring that dangerous drivers are punished appropriately when their actions have serious consequences short of death. The new offence fills the previous gap by specifically targeting cases in which dangerous driving results in serious injury. In addition, the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which received Royal Assent on 25 April, introduced the new offence of driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of certain controlled drugs in excess of set limits. The new drug-driving offence will improve the law available for tackling the problem of drug-driving, which presents a significant road safety risk. That resulted from the campaigning of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) and the death of one of his constituents. As the hon. Member for Hammersmith said, many of these changes come from such sources.

The Sentencing Council, which has been mentioned several times, has developed guidelines for the courts when dealing with these offences. It is important to recognise the distinction between the Sentencing Council’s guidelines and maximum sentences, the latter being for the Government and Parliament to set. The Sentencing Council sets guidelines for how courts ought to approach sentencing within those maximums, and has developed guidelines for the courts when dealing with this type of offence. Summary offences, including dangerous driving and careless driving, are dealt with within the magistrates courts sentencing guidelines—most recently updated in 2012—and the sentencing guidelines on causing death by driving were published by the then Sentencing Guidelines Council in 2008. The latter covers the offences of causing death by dangerous or careless driving as well as causing death by dangerous driving while under the influence of drink or drugs and causing death by driving unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured.

Several Members have referred to those sentencing guidelines, so it might be worth my drawing their attention to one or two specifics within them. First, on the comments from my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West, it is an additional aggravating factor—in fact, the first in the list—if a person has previous convictions for motoring offences, particularly offences that involve bad driving or the excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs before driving. Causing death by dangerous driving while disqualified, which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood mentioned, is also on the list. On that list are offences committed at the same time such as driving other than in accordance with the terms of a valid licence, driving while disqualified,

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driving without insurance, taking a vehicle without consent and driving a stolen vehicle. These matters are in the existing guidelines.

Greg Mulholland: I am grateful to the Minister for his thoroughness and his generosity in giving way, but he has slightly missed my point, which was not about previous convictions, but cases where someone is breathalysed, given a blood test and shown to be over the drink-driving limit and therefore to have broken that law. In such cases, people are not always also drug-tested, even if drugs are suspected, and that is quite wrong. If someone is over the limit and also under the influence of drugs, those two things make the act more reckless and more criminal, and they should have a higher sentence.

Jeremy Wright: Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend, who will recognise that the addition in the statute book of the drug-driving offence makes it more likely that that will be considered. My point about the guidelines is that consideration is also given to other offences committed at the same time as the offence of causing death by dangerous driving.

Richard Graham: The Minister is correct about the provisions, but if someone has caused death by driving when uninsured, disqualified and under the influence of alcohol, the maximum is still two years.

Jeremy Wright: Yes, indeed, but that of course is a separate point. As I hope I indicated, I have listened carefully to what has been said, specifically about sentencing for the offence of causing death while disqualified from driving. We will take away everything that has been said, but I have paid particular attention to his point. The Justice Secretary wrote to the Sentencing Council—as it now is—asking it to review the death by driving guideline, and it has agreed to include that in its programme of work.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I apologise for not being present earlier. Is there a reciprocal agreement between this country and the Northern Ireland Assembly that if someone is disqualified from driving in Northern Ireland, that disqualification will apply in England, and vice versa?

Jeremy Wright: We have striven to ensure that disqualifications, wherever they take place, are reflected in the knowledge of the courts here. I am sure that I will be able to give the hon. Gentleman more specific reassurance in writing, but I am confident that what he says is correct. I am sure that those of us on this side of the water would want to know about disqualifications on the other side.

Susan Elan Jones: When does the Minister expect the review to be completed? Given what he said earlier, may I ask whether there would be room in the legislative timetable if we needed to reconsider the maximum penalties?

Jeremy Wright: As I said earlier, the review of sentencing guidelines that the Sentencing Council has been asked to conduct is not a review of maximum penalties, which it would be for the Government to consider. The

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Government will certainly consider all that has been said today, including what has been said by Members on both sides of the House about maximum penalties. We would need to ensure that any work done by the Sentencing Council was co-ordinated with what the Government were doing.

We will, of course, make every effort to make legislative time available for measures that we believe are urgent. Having emerged blinking into the daylight from the usual channels into my current job, I know better than to commit parliamentary time for any purpose, but I will make every effort to ensure that when we believe that there is a good case for change, space will be found.

Even in the context of this very worthwhile debate, we should take account of figures released by the Department for Transport. According to those figures, between 2011 and 2012 the number of people killed in road accidents reported to the police fell by 7.7%, to 1,754. That is the lowest figure on record. The number of casualties fell by 4%, and there was also a fall in the number of people who were seriously injured. That does not, of course, mean that there is any room for complacency. Every death and every serious injury is a tragedy, and it remains vital for us to reduce the number of people who are killed and seriously injured on our roads. I agree with the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) that we must think about education as well as enforcement. There is a great deal more to be said about that, but it will not fit neatly within the confines of this debate.

As I have said, we are continuing to look closely at the legislative framework relating to serious driving offences, and we are considering whether the current maximum penalties reflect the seriousness of offending behaviour. I have listened carefully to what has been said this evening, and I will consider it all further. I entirely understand the calls for urgency that we heard from, for example, my hon. Friends the Members for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and for Leeds North West, but I am also conscious of what I consider to be the wise advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East. It is important for us to consider these matters in the round, and to do so in a way that does not create discrepancies in the sentencing system. We must ensure that we understand fully how we can adapt our sentencing practice to deal with cases such as the many terrible ones that have been raised this evening, and to deal fairly and sensibly with driving offences such as those that we have discussed.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate, and even more grateful for the excellent way in which Members have approached the subject. I will consider carefully what they have said.

8.39 pm

Chris Skidmore: I would like to sum up this Back-Bench debate by first thanking the Minister and the shadow Minister for their positive, constructive comments. I particularly want to thank the Minister for agreeing to look closely at what has been said today. Eight hon. Members have spoken, and a further eight have made positive interventions, and I hope that the transcript of the debate will be sent to the Sentencing Council.

We have heard some horrendous stories of lives, often young ones, being tragically cut short, often by cowards driving dangerously under the influence of

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drugs or drink. Some of those drivers were already disqualified, some were speeding, some fled the scene of the accident. We have also heard about the paltry sentences that are handed down to those cowards. I was shocked to discover from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) that a sentence of only 12 months had been handed down in her constituency only today. If only one question emerges from today’s debate, it is this: why should we as parliamentarians tolerate such short sentences for such devastating crimes?

At the same time, however, we have all seen the glimmer of human spirit that has shone through in the form of the bravery of those families who, though they are living with unspeakable pain and tragedy, are determined to campaign for justice for their loved ones. I mentioned that today was the first anniversary of the deaths of Ross and Clare Simons. Their families are at this moment watching our debate on a wide-screen television in the Cherry Tree pub in Oldland Common. They are determined to ensure that they get justice for Ross and Clare. Indeed, that is the title of their campaign. They know that nothing will bring Ross and Clare back, just as nothing will bring back Jamie, William, Eleanor, Paul, Robert, Andrew, Rob, David and Dorothy, all of whom have been mentioned in the debate today. So what will justice involve? What are the families of Ross and Clare, and of all the others who have been killed in tragic incidents, fighting for? Justice must mean that we, at the highest level in the House, must ensure that those people did not die in vain.

This debate has helped to give those families a voice here in Parliament, but justice is not merely about words. I have heard extremely wise, intelligent arguments and policies being put forward today, and the Government have kindly agreed to consider them, but justice is not only words; justice is action, and action is change. We need to change the law to ensure that we have tougher penalties for those who drive dangerously, for those who kill and maim and, above all, for those who will not take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. We as Members of Parliament must take responsibility for ensuring that those consequences are fully addressed.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the law on dangerous driving.

Business without Debate

human rights (Joint committee)


That Simon Hughes be discharged from the Joint Committee on Human Rights and Sarah Teather be added.—(Greg Hands.)



That Helen Goodman be discharged from the Procedure Committee and Yvonne Fovargue be added.—(Greg Hands.)

Work and pensions


That Stephen Lloyd be discharged from the Work and Pensions Committee and Mr Michael Thornton be added.—(Greg Hands.)

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Nottingham to Lincoln Railway Line

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Anne Milton.)

8.43 pm

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Ind): May I thank your office, Madam Deputy Speaker, for making it possible for me to have this debate today? I should also like to thank the right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who have supported the project. I will certainly allow them time to speak later, if they so wish. I thank East Midlands Trains for being helpful and supportive. I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), who has already given a lot of his valuable time to listening to what I and others have said about this matter. Most notably, I have received support from the hon. Member for Lincoln (Karl McCartney), who came with me to see the Minister. I also thank the Minister for being present tonight, when I am sure he has other things that he would like to be doing—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): Dinner in 10 minutes, please.

Patrick Mercer: As the Minister said, his dinner is in 10 minutes, so I will be as brief as possible.

Newark has many, many assets, probably the best of which, as has been known since at least Roman times, is the ability to communicate quickly and effectively, particularly north to south, and south to north. During my time as a Member of Parliament, one of the things that I have noticed is that it is easy for me to get to London and back, but extraordinarily difficult to get to Nottingham in the west, and less difficult to get to Lincoln in the east. My rail communications inside the area are very good in one direction, but poor in the other.

It is interesting to note that on this 100th anniversary of the start of the first world war, I notice that soldiers from my old regiment, the Sherwood Foresters, were able to move by train more quickly in 1914, from Nottingham to Lincoln, than they are today. That cannot make sense. I would love to see the Minister in Newark; I do not know whether he is familiar with the area. I would like him to see the huge potential in the region, which was recognised by the decision to dual the A46 from Newark to Lincoln. However, we continue to be let down by rail services going from east to west and from west to east.

Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate and on the campaign to improve links between Nottingham, Newark and Lincoln. Does he recognise that throughout Nottinghamshire rail links are not particularly good, and that villages such as Edwinstowe and Ollerton could benefit a great deal should rail links be introduced?

Patrick Mercer: I am grateful for that intervention. My hon. Friend has stood firmly by me throughout this campaign and indeed with Newark business club, which I really should have mentioned earlier on. I am grateful to him for his support. I hope that I have made it clear that I am not just talking about Newark constituents.

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My hon. Friend mentioned Ollerton and Edwinstowe, and they are crucial. They are inside his patch, but I completely recognise the point that he makes. The key outcome that we are seeking from this debate is a commitment to funding the enhanced train service, which we call stage 1 of the development of the Nottingham to Newark and the Lincoln railway. I would be awfully grateful if we could make some headway on that with the Minister tonight.

The services between Lincoln and Newark to Nottingham are far from the normal standard of service. Given that we are talking about an area of considerable economic development, it is interesting that the frequency of the trains has reduced since 2000, despite the fact that we have relentlessly growing passenger numbers and that the population of the area is due to increase considerably, not least with the Newark growth point bid, which is coming through in the next couple of years.

I have already mentioned the economic importance of the area. That has been recognised by the east midlands councils, the Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire local enterprise partnership and the all-party parliamentary group. They have all identified the need for the railway line to be upgraded. As the Minister knows, a strategy has been developed between stakeholders and East Midlands Trains progressively to upgrade the line at a modest cost. A train service has been identified that gives increased frequency and faster journey times by extending the hourly Matlock to Nottingham trains to Newark Castle, with the hourly Leicester to Lincoln trains running non-stop between Nottingham and Newark. I will return to that point in a moment.

The first stage of the upgrade, which I have discussed extensively with the hon. Members for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), would produce immediate benefits right across the line. For instance, for Lincoln, there would be a reduction in journey times. For Hykeham and Newark, there would be a doubling in frequency and a reduction in journey times. For Carlton, Burton Joyce and Fiskerton, there would be a doubling of frequency, and for Bleasby, Thurgarton and Rolleston an increase in frequency. I have no doubt that the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) will also be reflected in that.

Subsequent stages would see additional significant benefits—notably, an express service from Lincoln and Newark every hour throughout the day; a doubling of frequency for Lincoln with a train every half hour, as is standard elsewhere; a direct service from both Lincoln and Newark to Birmingham; improved frequency of connections from Lincoln to London via Newark North Gate; and a reduced journey time from Lincoln to London. That would all strengthen the business case for a direct Lincoln to London service.

The cost of stage 1 is extremely modest, at £700,000 per annum for an initial three years.

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making a compelling case for this important project to which I hope the Minister is listening. He has come to the important point, which is that we are talking about an extremely small amount of money that would benefit enormously economic growth

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in places such as North Hykeham in my constituency. Given that fact, it would be a false economy, as I am sure he would agree, for the project not to go ahead.

Patrick Mercer: I am grateful to the gallant, hon. and learned Member, who makes an extremely good point. I hope that he appreciates that I am trying to address the area—that is, not just Newark but the financial penumbra thrown by the railways throughout the area, regardless of party political divide. We all want the scheme to succeed outside our constituencies and into the area as far west as Nottingham and as far east as Lincoln.

We think that the initial three years, which would eventually cost £2.1 million in total, could easily be paid for through the franchise extension and/or the forthcoming round of local sustainable transport funding. The cost is just half the cost of a brand-new service to Westbury, for instance, which is far smaller than Lincoln and for which the Department for Transport is paying £4.2 million from the local sustainable transport fund. Using DFT standard assessment rules, the business case for the stage 1 improvements is strong, with a benefit-to-cost ratio of 2.16. Planned development of housing and employment strengthens the argument for the need for improvement and the business case.

The benefits of stage 1, and the extra passengers and revenue it would generate, would greatly strengthen the case for funding the subsequent three stages from moneys that have already been made available to Network Rail. During a visit to Derby, a city that many of us hold dear to our hearts, on 2 November 2012, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated:

“I am really willing to work with the East Midlands to improve the quality of bids, make sure that they get the money and funding that they deserve”.

This scheme provides the perfect opportunity to do just that, at, I underline for the Minister, a terribly modest cost.

In addition, the statement by the Transport Secretary on 26 March last year made it clear that the Department for Transport

“will look to negotiate further passenger benefits”

during discussions to extend the East Midlands Trains franchise to April 2017. Funding the extra trains on the Lincoln line would deliver real benefits for passengers at a reasonable cost to taxpayers, especially if combined with a successful local sustainable transport fund contribution.

The earliest that the improved service can be introduced is May 2015. That would, happily, coincide with the opening of both the civil war museum in Newark and the exhibition at Lincoln castle to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, which is terribly important and on which the hon. Member for Lincoln might want me to give way. He does not, but I know that he feels strongly about these points.

The last date that East Midlands Trains can apply for the required train paths is 8 August 2014. However, before then the company needs to reach agreement with other operators over the additional access rights it needs and to hold public consultation on the service changes. Realistically, that process must start by 30 April.

I promised the Minister I would be brief and I am extremely grateful to those who have supported me.

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Mr Spencer: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; he is being generous with his time. He makes a strong economic case, but does he also recognise the social and well-being benefits that extra travel and ability to travel will bring to many constituencies and constituents?

Patrick Mercer: My hon. Friend recognises a fact that I was about to point out. Of course we are talking money, and unfortunately, matters of government almost always revert to money, but there are real social benefits. I know, for instance, that the hon. Member for Nottingham South, who is present, uses the train extensively to travel between my constituency, where she is happy enough to live, and hers. The social benefits of being able to move more easily from west to east, and from east to west, across our various patches, are desperately important.

The key outcome that we seek from the Minister is a commitment to funding the enhanced train service that we identify as stage 1 of the upgrade of the Nottingham to Newark and the Lincoln railway. Madam Deputy Speaker, I am most grateful to you and the House for indulging me.

8.55 pm

Karl McCartney (Lincoln) (Con): I thank my colleague, the hon. and gallant Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), for letting me speak in this debate. I will not take up too much time, because I am conscious that we would like to hear from the Minister and give him as much time to reply as possible.

I want to add a few details from a Lincoln perspective, as we are discussing the Lincoln-Nottingham corridor. The economic importance of that corridor was recognised when, pre-1997, under a Conservative Government, a dual carriageway was built between Newark and Lincoln, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. That has been extended all the way to Nottingham in more recent years. It is of crucial economic importance. We have road transport infrastructure but we would like the rail infrastructure, all the way from Nottingham to Lincoln, to match it.

When I was lucky enough to have the honour and privilege of being elected Member of Parliament for Lincoln, I inherited the only city in the country that was unfortunate enough not to have a quick, fast, direct route to London. That has been improved, but we have only one service to London a day, and none at weekends. Unfortunately, we also had one of the least frequent and slowest cross-country services, and that is what we are tonight seeking to ensure that the Department for Transport addresses.

The Lincoln-Newark-Nottingham service is well below the normal standard of all comparable routes in all key respects—frequency, speed, capacity and onward connections. Lincoln has only one train per hour to its core city, Nottingham, whereas most similar places have two, three or even four to theirs; I cite core cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds as examples. Moreover, the Lincoln-Nottingham service ran every half-hour until 2002, when half the trains were withdrawn because of operational difficulties elsewhere on the rail network, following the Hatfield crash. Those difficulties have long since been overcome, but Lincoln-Nottingham is the only service reduced in 2002 not to have been restored to former standards.

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The trains that were withdrawn ran every hour directly between Lincoln and Birmingham. When they were withdrawn in 2002, Lincoln and Newark not only suffered a reduction in frequency, but lost their direct service to Derby and Birmingham—a double whammy. The line is characterised by out-of-date service levels on Sundays, when there are no services from Nottingham to Lincoln before 4.30 pm, despite the significant increase in leisure and commercial activity on Sundays in recent years—a point alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer). That highlights just how far services on the line have fallen below people’s expectations today.

In 1912, fast Lincoln-Nottingham trains took 45 minutes; now they take around 50 minutes because of speed limits, and many trains take more than an hour because of extra stops. For the avoidance of any doubt, it should be noted that the things that make the service substandard are not the responsibility or fault of East Midlands Trains. The service frequency is specified by the Department for Transport, as is the stopping pattern that results in so few non-stop trains. The speed limits are imposed by Network Rail because of the characteristics of the infrastructure, and East Midlands Trains is obliged to obey those speed limits. In fact, it is consistently one of the most punctual train operators in England, with around 94% of trains complying with required standards, but even an excellent operator such as EMT cannot run a fast service on a line with very low speed limits, especially if it is instructed by DFT that most trains must stop at stations every few miles.

There are issues such as the at-grade crossing at Newark between the east coast line and the cross-country line, and railway electrification, which Lincoln, Newark and Nottingham would benefit from, if that was forthcoming in future years. Lincoln and Nottingham are designated housing growth points––an additional 60,000 houses are planned over the next 20 years, 18,800 of them in Lincoln. Lincoln university is one of the UK’s fastest-growing universities, with a 40% increase in students planned for the next 10 years. A science park of around 1 million square feet is being developed for spin-off and related industries. Those are all reasons why we would like an increased, better train service from Lincoln, Newark and Nottingham.

8.59 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) on securing this debate, which provides a further chance for him and other hon. Members to put the case on their constituents’ behalf, as they did in a long meeting with me last week.

The issues that my hon. Friend raised have to be seen in the context of the wider challenges for British railways and the way in which the Government are tackling them. It is undoubtedly true that we face the challenges of success. To support a growing economy and more jobs, we need to meet increasing demand. Since privatisation, passenger numbers have doubled and freight traffic has risen by 60%. In the next five years alone, we expect a further 14% rise in passenger numbers and at least 4%, possibly more, in freight. There is understandable frustration among rail travellers, and we need to tackle the issues of congestion and crowding.

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At the same time, we need to tackle the wider challenge of deficit reduction, and the rail industry, along with everyone else, has to play its part. We need to deliver better value for money for the taxpayer and the fare payer, and underlying costs must fall across the industry. To address these and other challenges we are seeing the most significant rail modernisation package for generations. Between 2014 and 2019, Network Rail will invest over £16 billion in improving our railways, having spent over £8 billion in the previous control period.

That includes a number of projects that will directly benefit Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. The £150 million Nottingham hub resignalling and station redevelopment programme, which is nearing completion, will improve reliability, reduce delays and create the capacity to cope with increasing numbers of passengers. Electrification of the midland main line, only guaranteed and delivered by this Government, is currently limited to the route between London St Pancras and Bedford, through to Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield, but it will transform the rail route between London, the east midlands and Yorkshire, offering reduced journey times, improved reliability and new trains.

The region will also benefit from the new “electric spine”—a high-capacity electric rail freight route connecting the east midlands with Southampton, making it much more attractive for firms to locate in the east midlands and getting more freight off the road. There have been renewals on the Doncaster-Lincoln-Peterborough line to improve safety, capacity, journey times and performance, and there is a £240 million fund for increases in capacity on the east coast main line, which will bring benefits. That is all before the introduction of new intercity express programme trains on that line, which will transform the journey experience. In addition, from 2018, completion of the Thameslink and Crossrail projects will significantly improve connections from this region to Heathrow. The Government’s rail investment strategy from 2014 to 2019 rightly focuses on strategic priorities for the network, but it will benefit the east midlands as well.

Mr Spencer: The Minister is making a powerful case for the amount of money that the Government are spending in the east midlands, but I hope he accepts that most of the projects that he mentioned are on north-south routes—it is on east-west routes that we face the challenge.

Stephen Hammond: East-west is often a challenge across the country, and I am about to address that point.

I said that the Government’s rail investment strategy rightly focuses on the strategic priorities for the network but, in line with our localism agenda, it is right that local and sub-regional bodies, which are best placed to prioritise and fund investment for the needs of their areas and to support local economies, should come forward with their priorities. The rail industry did not identify the Lincoln-Nottingham route as one on which investment is a strategic priority for 2014 to 2019, so it was not included as requiring enhancements in the strategy. The strategy does however include funding for line speed improvements across the network and for improvements to level crossings. There is £300 million for journey time and performance improvements and £65 million to reduce the risk of accidents at level

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crossings. Network Rail will spend that in locations where best value for money can be attained. Decisions on the allocation of those funds could be influenced by a local capital contribution and a local assessment of need, which is usually headed up by local authorities and local enterprise partnerships. That is my point: localism and local authorities being able to influence and enhance the value of Network Rail’s investment programme.

Therefore, it is for Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire county councils and the LEPs—D2N2 and Greater Lincolnshire—to determine whether investment and enhancement to services on this route to improve connectivity and support local economies is a priority for their strategic economic plans and should be included in a bid for funding to the local growth fund. The Government have committed to putting £2 billion per annum into the local growth fund from 2015-16 to 2020. Moreover, any subsidy requirement for the proposed additional service on the line would also need to be funded by the promoter, usually the local authorities, which would have to be in place for three years, after which the Department would consider taking on funding responsibility.

As I said last week in the meeting with my hon. Friends the Members for Lincoln (Karl McCartney) and for Newark, the Government have set out this position very clearly, both to campaigners and to the local authorities concerned on a number of occasions. I reiterate, as I did to both of them last week, that so far the Department has received no comment from either Nottinghamshire county council or Lincolnshire county council. We have not seen a business case for the proposed investments and improvements. However, we have made it clear to both Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire and the LEPs that we are willing to provide guidance and strategic advice. Neither of the two strategic enterprise partnerships has indicated that the scheme is a priority, and without support from those bodies, I regret to say that it is unlikely that much progress can be made in achieving the objective of improved services that Members have talked about this evening.

Stephen Phillips: It seems to follow from that that if this is merely an oversight on the part of the two county councils and the relevant LEPs and that is rectified, this is a project that the DFT will treat as a priority and that this funding will be forthcoming. Is that right?

Stephen Hammond: My hon. and learned Friend, in true legal style, poses an argument that has a number of assumptions within it that we might unpick. He will obviously want to go to the very first part, which is that he has heard me say several times in my remarks that we have encouraged the county councils, the LEPs and the strategic economic partnerships on a number of occasions to make the case. The Department has offered advice and guidance on how they might formulate that case, but it has not been forthcoming. Therefore, to say that this is an oversight might be quite a big presumption. However, were it to be an oversight, or even at this late stage, if those authorities chose to decide that this is now a strategic priority for them—my hon. Friend the Member for Newark nods; I made exactly this point to him last week—even at this late stage, the Department will consider their applications.

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Patrick Mercer: I thank the Minister and I thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) for his intervention. This is clear and proper guidance. This is exactly the point of this style of debate. Not only was his meeting very helpful, but now it is on the record and all our constituents will be hearing exactly what we the elected Members have to do to try to force this through and to get a fair hearing. I am grateful.

Stephen Hammond: My hon. Friend knows that it would have been easy for me to say some soft words. What I am saying now is probably not terribly good news for him. But he and all the elected Members here have often made the case, and I urge them all again to go to their local bodies, as I have previously tried to indicate. It is incredibly important that the county councils and the economic bodies in the region declare this a strategic priority. That will underline the importance of reconsidering whether the improvements to the line are a high priority for those bodies and, therefore, for the allocation of local funding, which is available. That could then be reflected in the local growth fund.

I say to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) that there is still a chance for that to happen, because the bids for the local growth fund are due by 31 March this year. It is still perfectly possible for local bodies to engage with Network Rail and its partners in developing a business case for the proposed enhancements and to put it forward for the local growth fund. Equally, it is still possible for those local bodies to develop a business case and put it forward as a priority for investment for the 2019 to 2024 control period. I recognise my hon. Friend’s ambition to have it earlier, but none the less that would still be possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln reviewed his hopes, and I suspect those of Lincoln, for an increased through service between London and Lincoln. I certainly recognise the appetite for more frequent direct services between that city and London. I welcome the work on a business case undertaken by Lincolnshire county council in 2012. As he will know, I cannot commit at this stage to any additional services, mainly because the Department is currently evaluating the business case and the network impacts of running services to the locations not currently served by the east coast main line. However, I can confirm that a number of regions—Yorkshire, the north-east, the midlands and the east of England, including Lincolnshire—are in that evaluation and assessment process. Depending on the outcome of the work, the invitation to tender for the east coast main line franchise might include a requirement or an option for bidders to run services to a specific number of locations.

Karl McCartney: It is obviously of the utmost importance that any invitation to tender includes a specification for the eventual winner of the franchise, which is what we in Lincoln want to see. On that point, with regard to cross-country services, might not a franchise extension that brings an improvement that we are seeking between the line from Lincoln and Newark to Nottingham see an improvement in the specification of services?

Stephen Hammond: I hear what my hon. Friend says about specification. The Department is keen to give options to bidders for initiative and innovation in the

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franchise. He may wish to pursue that, because he might find that it is the way to secure what he desires, rather than the Department directly specifying things.

The train service requirement will be set out in the invitation to tender, which will be published by the end of February, so it would be imprudent of me to comment on that any further. However, as I have said to my hon. Friend the Member for Newark and other hon. Members, I will be happy to brief any hon. Members on the proposals for the ITT at that stage.

I welcome the opportunity to set out the Government’s position on how enhancements to that line could still be progressed, even at this late stage, were the local authorities to get themselves in line. I welcome the opportunity to

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see that the line could build on the massive programme of investment that we are already seeing across the rail network. The Government remain committed to working with local authorities and local enterprise partnerships to see improvements to the line and others, should that be a priority for them. But I say to hon. Members again—I know that they will have heard me say this—that the ball is in the court for them to hit heavily at their local authorities. I hope that the local authorities will then decide to demonstrate that commitment to the investment that they are asking me to provide this evening.

Question put and agreed to.

9.14 pm

House adjourned.