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Lord Lyell of Markyate: My Lords, would the Minister not agree that the difficulty with the example that he has been careful to give is that you would normally expect the Crown Prosecution Service to charge it as causing death by dangerous driving? He said that the example was at the upper end of careless driving, but it is really an example which has been mischarged.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord thinks that the prosecuting authorities would reach that judgment, but that may not be the case. Death can occur through careless driving charges at present where custodial sentences are not permitted. Yet clearly the families of those who have suffered in those incidents are well aware that the driver caused the death of their relative because they were not conducting themselves in the car in accordance with the law. The Government believe that the consequences of carelessness in those terms must be taken into account.
I understand that the noble Lord disputes that as a matter of principle and he takes with him a body of opinion. I merely attest to the fact that, as my noble friend indicated, the families of victims of fatal road accidents find it impossible to understand that an individual charged with careless driving, which is the appropriate charge, nevertheless cannot be imprisoned.
Lord Lyell of Markyate: My Lords, does the Minister not rather astonish himself? He is giving examples of cases where he says that the families "know" in circumstances in which it is pretty plain that the family was not present at the time. They were not witnesses, they just believe something to be the case, just like his noble friend read something in a newspaper and thinks that he knows better than the court. Is the Minister really suggesting that that is a sound basis for this legislation?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, on the question of the red light, the noble and learned Lord said the Crown Prosecution Service would regard driving through a red light as dangerous driving, but it does not. The Crown Prosecution Service identifies it as an illustration of careless driving. I understand that the noble and learned Lord objects in principle to what the Government are proposing
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I remind the House that I am a magistrate who deals with road traffic
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matters. I am worried about the direction that this debate is starting to take. The subsequent actions of this chargethe increasing of the penaltiesseem to be predicated on the, albeit perfectly understandable, base of the emotion of people whose relatives or friends have been killed because of an action.
We are debating the line between careless driving resulting in a death and dangerous driving, as the Minister and my noble and learned friend Lord Lyell have said. Can the Minister give me an example when the Crown Prosecution Service has said that careless driving was the appropriate charge in a case where someone has deliberately driven through a red light and, as a result, has hit another oncoming vehicleeither a bike or a carand killed the occupant?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am no lawyer, but that is exactly the pointthey have not deliberately driven through a red light, which would be dangerous driving; they carelessly drove through a red light. The Crown Prosecution Service identifies that in its list of careless driving offences. It is the very illustration that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, put forward. If careless driving, defined in those terms and subject to a charge of careless driving, results in a death, it is reasonable that we should look at the question of custodial sentences. That is the basis of the principle.
I hear the arguments for different levels with regard to the custodial sentence that should be imposed. The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, asked whether non-custodial sentences were available only in conjunction with custodial ones. When non-custodial sentences, where a custodial penalty is not being imposed, are available the test that the judge would apply is whether the conduct of the convicted was serious enough; he would then make the judgment with regard to the sentence. That particular concept was introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, argued that his objection to the Government's proposals was the possibility of an automatic prison sentence, which would be abhorrent. I stressand this is where I hope I am at one with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyellthat nothing in the Government's proposals says that it is automatic. The appropriate punishment is of course for the court to decide; we are talking about the availability of the range of sentences.
We had a very long debate on Report on this issue; we had conflict on the issue of principle, and met as best as we could in a very constructive spirit to discuss these issues. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, has indicated that he does not accept the Government's position; Ministers at that meeting indicated why we intend to stand by the principles identified in Clause 20; so I hope that it will be recognised that we are quite clear about the concept expressed in the Bill. I accept the chiding from the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, that the Government's amendment was introduced later on in
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the passage of the Bill than we should otherwise have wishedalthough it was introduced for a very full debate on Report. We have had opportunities for further informal discussion since then, and we have had a very good debate today. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, will feel that he has expressed his case with his usual clarity and forcefulness and will agree to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, as the Minister said, we have had a long debatein fact, it has been an hour longbut it is a very important one. It is probably the most important part of this Bill. I am not a legal person in any way, but I have listened to all the arguments on Report and since then, and the considerable debate that we have had during the Christmas Recess and again today.
I am very concerned, as my noble friend Lady Hanham has just said, about the legislation we might be creating. As much as anyone else, we feel for the familiesand I want to express sympathy to the families in Wales. But we cannot contemplate legislation for vengeful reasons. There has to be a real reason for creating legislation.
I am afraid the Minister's answer actually made me more convinced that my amendment is the right one. I want to say straight away that we support the Government in their manifesto commitment of increased penalties for careless driving, but we are concerned about the way the legislation is created. We have had a lot of debate about careless or dangerous driving, but if we are not careful this will be careless and dangerous legislation. There are such strong feelings on this matter that I really must test the opinion of the House.
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