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Viscount Simon: My Lords, I had not intended to speak to this group of amendments. However, Amendment No. 30 is an extension of the offence in Section 3A of the Road Traffic Act 1988. A police accident investigator who is investigating three fatal accidents involving failure to stop has stated in an e-mail to me:
"My concern is that s3A takes no account of Failing to Stop fatalities. If you kill someone as a result of driving without due care whilst over the drink drive limit if you evade police until you sober up you can only be done for Without Due Care and Failing to Stop. If you can evade police for six months you've nothing to worry about as the Statutory Time Limit will have passed for summary offences and you'll go scott free.
"If you had the choice between waiting around for the police to arrest you for an offence carrying 14 years imprisonment and running off with every chance of evading serious punishment, what would you do?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we could have predicted an interesting debate on this group of amendments and that has certainly been the case. I shall limit my reply if only because my opening contribution was of an inordinate length and it attempted to cover as many of the arguments that I could anticipate would be put forward both against the Government's amendments and in favour of those that were tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, to which other noble Lords have spoken. The House will recognise that this is a serious debate and that while I want to be clear in my answers, I do not want to rehearse all the issues with which I tried to deal in my opening contribution.
I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, for his comment on the extent of the Government's determination to make our roads safer by making people more aware of appropriate speed limits. I am grateful for his support for the Government in this activity. He will recognise that I quite frankly said in my opening statement that the legal profession largely disagreed with us. He, in his customarily courteous but forceful way, articulated exactly those arguments. I
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can say only that we have considered them very carefully. Copies of the consultation exercise to which I referred have been placed in the Library of the House and can be examined there, but I made no bones about the fact that anxieties were expressed in many quarters of the law about these proposals during the consultation exercise. But the Government intend to proceed, because, during that exercise, we received very substantial support. This is a road safety Bill and our job is to promote road safety by way of it. The road safety organisations, among others, were very forceful in their support for what we intended to do.
I might addI shudder to do so in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, because it will not be a satisfactory answer to himthat we included this concept in our manifesto only four to five months ago. I have heard it expressed on all sides that we should not be so crudely populist, but there are certain areas of sentencing policy where we do not automatically take the public's view and translate that into law. I of course recognise the age-long debates about the death penalty. We said in our manifesto that we would introduce much tougher penalties for those who cause death by careless driving or who kill while driving without a licence or while disqualified. We are fulfilling that commitment. We have the right to say that we have received substantial public support for this amendment.
So I concede that I will not persuade the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, with this argument because he articulated an entirely different one about the anxieties of lawyers. We have considered their representations in full and we intend to go ahead because we think that the one argument triumphs over the other.
Lord Lyell of Markyate: My Lords, I confess that I did not have those words from the Labour Party manifesto in my mind, but they do not seem to have been as direct as the wording of the manifesto may have been in other areas. If you talk about much tougher penalties rather than custodial sentences, you are avoiding the key issue. The Minister proposes to raise the fine to £5,000, and I support that; that is a much tougher penaltyit is double the present one, but it is not a custodial sentence. The custodial sentence is contrary to principle in all other areas.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I was going to seek to make a concession, and I cannot think of a more appropriate way of doing so than in response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, at this juncture. I am going to press the amendment today, and noble Lords will recognise from the arguments that I presented in the opening speech why we are so convinced of the rightness of our cause, despite the fact that we recognise reservations in significant quarters. But I am prepared, and hope that the House will recognise, that we want to press ahead with the
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government amendment today, but we shall certainly discuss sentencing before Third Reading, and we shall meet on that point. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, made that point with considerable force, as did other contributors to the debate; I believe that that was also the burden of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbitalthough I shall not bring any Defence Ministers to that discussion, for the simple reason that they are far too busy and not for any other consideration. We shall meet on that basis; but the noble Lord will recognise that his challenge was a full frontal and properly articulated one to the principle on which I am working with regard to the amendments. I am merely saying that we have right on our side and support from the nation in what we are doing, which will aid road safety. But we will discuss the issue before Third Reading; we shall leave further discussion until then.
On a number of other issues that were raised, there is inevitably a tendency for people to become anecdotal. We should avoid thatand we must avoid the "hard luck story". After all, the hard luck story would inhibit us from passing laws at all on some aspects of road safety. I imagine that there is no noble Lord who has not at some time shuddered behind the wheel of a car, wondering whether they are breaking the law, whether they are fully in control or whether they are where they should be doing what they ought to be doing at that precise moment. All drivers must experience that situation, but we cannot make law on that basis; we must make law to safeguard the safety of our roads for the people who use them. Although the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, made a very strong case, people who are driving more quickly than they should along a row of parked cars and who hit someone who steps out may be guilty of a very serious driving misdemeanour indeed.
On the more general issue, when we talk about sentencing, we are talking about enabling and the range that may be applied. We are not saying that in each and every case the maximum sentence will be applied; that would be absolutely absurd. We are saying that the problem at present is that such penalties are not open at all to those who have been found guilty of careless drivingand that is the Government's case. But of course there will be gradations, and of course there will be very limited numbers of people who will fall foul of the offence to the extent that they receive an extensive custodial sentence.
The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked directly about custodial sentences and their impact. We estimate that we would need an additional 150 prison places a year as a consequence of the numbers who might be caught by these offences. That is not a marginal number. I cannot recall which noble Lord said that the Treasury
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might have an interest in this matter; in my experience, the Treasury has an interest in every matter with regard to government, so it will have an interest in this matter. But we are talking about 150 prison places a yearwe are not talking about measures that would produce a vast blitz on our fellow citizens or put a very large number of them in prison.
What is the purpose of legislation such as this, apart from punishing the guilty? It is to deter those who might be dangerous or careless. The whole purpose of such legislation is to ensure that we take greater care and that we avoid dangerous driving. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, was kind enough to say, the toughening of our attitude on speeding does condition behaviour; he recognised that as an effect. That is the purpose of the government amendments, and that is why they are included in the Road Safety Bill.
Some noble Lords said that the Government were acting fearfully late on this matter. We are not late; we discussed the issues and were under pressure in Committee to do something on this matter. We were asked, "Why haven't you got your act together?"and I gave undertakings that we would table amendments at this stage. Of course, in a perfect world, we would have had everything together before the Bill had even started its passage; but this measure will not be the first that noble Lords have known of in this House on which serious issues have to developed during the passage of the Bill. We had a fruitful and useful discussion in Committee, and I believe that I won one or two plaudits, which is rare indeed from noble Lords, for saying that I would consider the matter further. Today is a result of that further considerationbut the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is going to throw me sideways yet again.
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