‘(1) After section 3ZB of the Road Traffic Act 1988 insert—
“3ZC Causing death by driving: disqualified drivers
A person is guilty of an offence under this section if he or she—
(a) causes the death of another person by driving a motor vehicle on a road, and
(b) at that time, is committing an offence under section 103(1)(b) of this Act (driving while disqualified).
3ZD Causing serious injury by driving: disqualified drivers
‘(1) A person is guilty of an offence under this section if he or she—
(a) causes serious injury to another person by driving a motor vehicle on a road, and
(b) at that time, is committing an offence under section 103(1)(b) of this Act (driving while disqualified).
(2) In this section “serious injury” means—
(a) in England and Wales, physical harm which amounts to grievous bodily harm for the purposes of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, and
(b) in Scotland, severe physical injury.”
(2) In Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (prosecution and punishment of offences under the Traffic Acts) at the appropriate place insert—
|“RTA section 3ZC||Causing death by driving: disqualified drivers||On indictment||10 years or a fine or both||Obligatory||Obligatory||3-11|
|RTA section 3ZD||Causing serious injury by driving: disqualified drivers||(a) Summarily||(a) On conviction in England and Wales: 12 months or a fine or both. On conviction in Scotland: 12 months or the statutory maximum or both.||Obligatory||Obligatory||3-11”.|
|(b) On indictment||(b) 4 years or a fine or both|
(3) In the entries in Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 relating to an offence under section 3ZD of the Road Traffic Act 1988—
(a) in relation to an offence committed before section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 comes into force, the reference in column 4 to 12 months on summary conviction in England and Wales is to be read as a reference to 6 months, and
(b) in relation to an offence committed before section 85 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 comes into force, the reference in column 4 to a fine on summary conviction in England and Wales is to be read as a reference to the statutory maximum.
(4) Schedule(Offences committed by disqualified drivers: further amendments)contains further amendments relating to the offences under sections 3ZC and 3ZD of the Road Traffic Act 1988.
(5) The amendments made by this section and Schedule(Offences committed by disqualified drivers: further amendments)have effect only in relation to driving which occurs after they come into force.’..—(Jeremy Wright.)
This amendment makes the offence of causing death by driving while disqualified an indictable only offence and increases the maximum penalty for such conduct to 10 years’ imprisonment. It also creates an offence of causing serious injury by driving while disqualified - an either way offence with a maximum penalty of 4 years’ imprisonment
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 22—Penalty for driving while disqualified—
‘(1) In Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (prosecution and punishment of offences under the Traffic Acts) in the entry relating to the offence of obtaining licence, or driving, while disqualified, section 103(1)(b) of the Road Traffic Act 1988—
(a) in column 3 leave out “6 months” and insert “12 months”;
(b) in column 2 below “(c) On indictment, in Scotland”, insert “(d) On indictment, in England and Wales”; and
(c) in column 3 below “(c) 12 months or a fine or both” insert “(d) 2 years or a fine or both”.
(2) In relation to an offence committed before section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 comes into force, the reference to 12 months is to be read as reference to six months.
(3) The amendment made by this section applies only in relation to an offence committed on or after the day on which it comes into force.’.
Makes the offence of driving while disqualified triable either way, with a maximum penalty of 2 years’ imprisonment for conviction on indictment.
Government new schedule 2—‘Offences committed by disqualified drivers: further amendments.
Amendment 9, in clause 28, page 26, line 31, at end insert—
‘(c) a submission from the DVLA to inform the court of any penalty points endorsed on the driver’s record.’.
Amendment 8, page 26, line 35, at end insert—
‘(3A) For cases involving driving offences, where the accused has 12 or more penalty points currently on their drivers’ record, any exceptional hardship plea previously made by the accused must be disclosed to the court.’.
Government amendment 7.
Government new clause 10—Term of imprisonment for murder of a police or prison officer.
Government new clause 11—Committal for sentence of young offenders convicted of certain serious offences.
Over a period of months, we have listened to concerns raised by the families of victims and hon. Members acting on their behalf about disqualified
drivers. They have said that the current maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment for causing death by driving when disqualified does not adequately reflect the tragic consequences of the offending. I am particularly grateful to, among others, my hon. Friends the Members for Gloucester (Richard Graham), for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), and for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) for keeping the issue firmly on the agenda. In our view, disqualified drivers who flout court bans, continue to drive badly and cause death should be treated far more seriously by the courts than they are at present, and I am pleased to say that new clause 14 and new schedule 2 will effect that change.
We should also concern ourselves with disqualified drivers who cause serious injury. It is, after all, often a matter of chance whether the victim lives or dies. If there is no evidence that the offender was driving dangerously, the most with which he or she can be charged under the current law is driving while disqualified, which incurs a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment. That is plainly inadequate. It does not reflect some of the horrific and life-changing injuries that can be suffered by road traffic victims, or the terrible toll that this can take on their families. That is why we are also introducing a new offence of causing serious injury by disqualified driving, which will incur a maximum penalty of four years’ imprisonment.
We thought carefully about whether these changes should apply to unlicensed and uninsured drivers as well. We decided to limit the changes to disqualified drivers, because we think that they have a higher level of culpability than other illegal drivers. A driving ban would only be imposed on an offender following the commission of a series of motoring offences or a single serious offence. If such an offender flouts a ban imposed by the court, continues to drive badly and causes a death or serious injury, it is right that he should feel the full force of our proposed new provisions.
One of the areas that cause me concern is to do with drivers from other EU countries who may have been banned or disqualified in those countries but who come here and are allowed to drive in the United Kingdom. Is there anything in the Government proposals to stop them doing that?
I entirely understand the right hon. Gentleman’s concern and I will come on to talk about the proposal we have for a wider review of sentencing in driving cases. He may well wish to make further submissions on the points he has made for inclusion in that review. A number of issues have already been raised which we think can sensibly be discussed in the course of that review, and I am sure there are some yet to be raised.
I appreciate that this is a matter of judgment in all cases, but the distinction we have made is between those who have been disqualified by a court—in other words, they are subject to a court order—and have none the less gone on to drive, and those who are
driving unlicensed, and, as the hon. Lady says, doing so knowingly, but not as a consequence of a court’s decision. That is the distinction we make, but I know she takes a considerable interest in driving offences and their consequences, and I am sure she will wish to engage with the review we will begin.
We hope to conduct the review over the next few months and I hope that will give my hon. Friend and others the opportunity to contribute to it, but let me just finish what I am saying in relation to the specific proposals in new clause 14. I hope the House will agree that there is a need for these proposals. First and foremost the measures should give families of victims a greater sense that justice has been done. More generally, tougher sentences for convicted offenders should improve public confidence in the justice system. Amendment 7 changes the long title of the Bill to include driving. I commend these provisions to the House.
I know that Members might like to see reform of other aspects of the road offence framework. Some have already been mentioned in the course of this debate. Indeed, new clause 22 seeks to make the offence of driving while disqualified an either-way offence and increase its maximum penalty; and we have, as I have indicated, been giving serious consideration to all representations made on this subject, not least from my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham, who has a ten-minute rule Bill on repeat offences of driving while disqualified. He and others rightly hold strong views and we are committed to ensuring that maximum penalties reflect the seriousness and culpability of offending behaviour. That is why, as we have already mentioned today and as the Justice Secretary made clear in his announcement on
Unless the hon. Gentleman is going to contradict me and vote accordingly, there is broad support for what we have set out in new clause 14, which is a self-contained measure that we do not think will have ramifications across the rest of the sentencing system. That is not true of some of the other changes that Members on both sides of the House may wish to make. As I have said, we have reached no pre-conclusions as to what should or should not be included in a review. However, we think it sensible to make sure that if we are to have a wholesale look at driving offences—which, unless Mr Slaughter
is going to contradict me, there is considerable support for across the House—we should do it in a considered way. We are not talking about years for that to happen, but months.
I thank my hon. Friend and his Department for listening to the victims of crime on the question of increasing sentences for those who commit the offence of killing people on our roads by driving while disqualified. On repeat offenders and the Bill that I introduced, I thank my hon. Friend for including such a provision in the review. However, does he agree that there is no one way of dealing with repeat offenders? Whether they are dealt with through a magistrates court, through an increased sentence in a criminal court, as I have suggested, or by making the offence an either-way offence, as the Opposition have suggested, the right approach is to carry out a comprehensive review, because there is no one way of dealing with the issue.
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important to review all the options. He has already made a powerful case for his preferred option in dealing with repeat offences of driving while disqualified, and I know he will continue to do so. I hope the review will give him and others the opportunity to make the case they wish to make. In view of that, I hope the hon. Member for Hammersmith will consider whether it is necessary to press his new clause to a vote.
Amendment 8 relates to cases where a defendant being tried under the single justice procedure has 12 or more penalty points on their record. Subsection (3) of proposed new section 16A of the Magistrates’ Court Act 1980, introduced by clause 28 of the Bill, specifies that a decision under the new single justice procedure must be made “in reliance only” on the documents sent to the accused, along with “any written submission” provided that aims to mitigate the sentence imposed. Under amendment 8, a defendant would additionally have to include in any written submission details of previous exceptional hardship pleas they had made to the court. I know Julie Hilling will make her case for the amendment in due course, but I presume that the intention is that the single justice procedure should be able to take that into account when considering any further submissions from the defendant requesting mitigation of their sentence.
The Government share Members’ concerns about drivers who continue to drive when accumulating penalty points that would normally result in disqualification. As I have said, we will conduct a review of the wider sentencing framework for driving offences, and as I said to the hon. Lady during Justice questions last week, it may well be that there is a strong case for the inclusion of such a measure.
My hon. Friend knows that I am very much in favour of making newly qualified drivers carry a probationary plate on their cars for two years to indicate that they might be a greater risk. Will he consider requiring disqualified drivers who re-qualify to have that probationary plate, partly as a punishment but partly to highlight the potential risk to others?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. He has a good record of campaigning on these issues, in which he takes considerable interest and has significant expertise, and we will certainly consider what he said. The review will allow new ideas such as his to be considered in the context of the sentencing framework.
I agree with my hon. Friend that the development of the arguments we have heard in respect of other clauses reinforces the need for a more comprehensive look at the issue. In the light of the reassurance he has given to my hon. Friend James Duddridge, will he also ensure that the review looks not only at the basic sentencing powers but at the operation of the penalty points system, which we know is complex and sometimes itself creates incongruities?
I think I am in danger of conducting the review this afternoon, but I agree with my hon. Friend, and all these things are worth considering for inclusion in the review. I simply sound this note of caution: if we review everything, we will exceed the proposed time scale and perhaps not deal with the concerns raised earlier by my hon. Friend Dr Huppert. None the less, I am sure that there is a great deal that can sensibly be considered.
I return to amendment 8 and point out that proposed new section 16C of our provisions already provides for cases in which the single justice proposes to disqualify a driver. The single justice must give the accused an opportunity to make representations about the proposed disqualification. If the offender fails to take up the opportunity to make representations, they may be disqualified in their absence. That is, of course, no different from what may occur under the magistrates court process. At present, offenders are disqualified in their absence when, having been warned about the purpose of the hearing, they do not attend court. When the defendant wishes to make representations, however, and that would include representations about exceptional hardship, the single justice must issue a summons to the defendant requiring them to appear at a traditional magistrates court. Any exceptional hardship plea may therefore be dealt with in open court, and the court would have the opportunity to investigate the defendant’s driving history. The Bill therefore already makes appropriate provision for the situation that the hon. Member for Bolton West is concerned about.
The hon. Lady has just made a wider point than would apply simply to the single justice procedure. The point we are addressing in relation to her amendment is that there should be no significant disadvantage for those who are dealt with under the single justice procedure; nor should there be any disadvantage to the court under that procedure in ascertaining the facts of the case. If someone were wanting to assert particular hardship, which might exclude
the possibility of disqualification, they would need to come to court and do it themselves. The court should then do the necessary investigations. However, I take her point and will consider carefully whether there are improvements that we can make to more general procedures.
Amendment 9 is also related to the single justice procedure. It would introduce a new requirement that the documents sent to the defendant with the single justice procedure notice should include a submission from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to the court informing the court of any penalty points on the defendant’s driver record. I agree that up-to-date DVLA information is important when deciding the sentence for such offences. The House is aware that that very issue was raised in Committee, and as the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Mr Vara, made clear, our intention then was to consider the point further.
Under the existing procedure, when dealing with an offender in their absence, courts are able to check the DVLA position when sentencing for certain road traffic offences—we have discussed that point and, as I said, I accept that it is important that they are able to do the same under the new procedure. We need to ensure that the legislation allows for that in cases dealt with under the new single justice procedure as well. As I said, we have undertaken to look at the matter, and it is still under consideration. We will ensure the necessary consideration. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Member for Bolton West and her colleague Mike Kane, whom I do not see here, will be satisfied.
New clause 10 makes an amendment to schedule 21 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which provides guidance to the courts in assessing the seriousness of all cases of murder in order to determine the appropriate minimum term to be imposed under the mandatory life sentence. The amendment would raise the starting point for offenders aged 21 and over from 30 years to a whole life order for the murder of a police or prison officer in the course of his or her duty.
I do not need to remind the House of the vital role that those officers play every day in keeping our communities safe and in managing difficult and dangerous offenders. Tragically, some officers have paid the ultimate price while carrying out these duties on our behalf. The Government consider it essential that those officers feel the full weight of the state behind them in the execution of their duties. Changing the starting point to a whole life order for those who murder police and prison officers will send a powerful message of support for the work that those vital public servants do. It will show that we place the highest value on their safety and that we recognise the dangerous job they perform on a daily basis.
Those officers can be distinguished from other public servants by the role they perform in terms of routine contact with dangerous offenders. Their daily duties and risks mean that they stand apart from others. That unique and important status should be recognised, and those who murder police or prison officers on duty should know that they face the most severe sentence possible under the law. I should make it clear that the change in the law does not necessarily mean that a whole life order will be imposed in every case involving the murder of a police or prison officer in the course of
duty. The court must always have the discretion to impose the appropriate sentence based on all the facts of each case, but offenders should be in no doubt that they face the severest consequences for such murders. I therefore hope that the House will support the new clause.
Finally, new clause 11 is designed to close a gap in the sentencing power of criminal courts that could prevent an adequate sentence being imposed where it turns out that the offending is more serious than it appeared when the case was initially accepted by the youth court. We believe the gap might tend to undermine efforts to encourage youth courts to try grave crimes in suitable cases and might restrict sentencing powers unduly. The category of offences that includes cases such as those that involve allegations of serious sexual offending against under-18s, for example—also known as grave crimes—are serious enough to be capable of being sent to the Crown court for trial, but not all of them necessarily require the highest sentencing powers of the Crown court. It might be possible to deal with some of them satisfactorily using sentencing options available in the youth court, and if so there is an advantage in retaining them in the youth court. The youth court is particularly attuned to inquiries into the alleged activities of children, and serious sexual offences can be tried there by authorised district judges who have been specially trained to deal with them.
A defendant under 18 charged with such an offence is invited to indicate a plea, and when a guilty plea is indicated the youth court may commit him or her to the Crown court for sentence where appropriate. On the other hand, if the indication is not guilty and the youth court decides to retain the case and tries and convicts the defendant, there is no general power to commit the offender to the Crown court for sentence. That means that if information emerges during the trial that suggests that a more severe sentence is appropriate, the youth court will simply have to make do with its own sentencing powers. The only exception is when the conditions for imposing an extended determinate sentence are met, but they are stringent. That is at odds with the position for adults, where there is a general power to commit cases to the Crown court for sentence, not merely after a guilty plea.
It is possible that the absence of a safety net allowing for committal for sentence leads youth courts to be unnecessarily cautious in deciding whether to retain grave sexual crimes. A provision permitting committal to the Crown court for sentence whenever a defendant is convicted of a grave crime in the youth court, as is already possible after a guilty plea indication, might encourage the youth court to retain more cases and ensure adequate sentencing powers are available in every case. I hope that the House will therefore support new clause 11.
We are grateful to the Government for accommodating the topics we want to discuss today and for the overall allocation of time on Report. We do not hear that very often, but it is in part a result of Report running over two days—or at least a day and a half—as a consequence of this being a carry-over Bill.
We anticipate that there will be about 10 hours of debate, including Third Reading, and curiously only half the time will be spent on the Bill as it left Committee. Today, we have three hours on parts 1 to 3 and on day
two we will have two hours on the important and controversial part 4, which attacks the legal and financial basis of judicial review claims. The rest of the time is for new projects proposed by the Lord Chancellor or by his Back Benchers with his support. He has a common but unwelcome habit of shoehorning new laws into Bills at every stage of their progress through both Houses. A cynic would say that he does so simply to provide another hit with the tabloids or to introduce a stick to beat his coalition partners with. It is certainly a poor way to legislate, and he has surpassed himself by tabling new clauses on driving offences that require him to amend the long title of the Bill through Government amendment 7—I do not think the Minister mentioned that amendment, but I apologise if he did.
Neither the new clauses on driving in the first group for discussion today nor those on offences of possessing offensive weapons have taken the Government by surprise. There was a full debate in the Chamber on the subject of dangerous driving in Back-Bench time on
The hon. Gentleman knows that I hold him in high regard and affection, but he has accused me of rushing into new clause 14. Now he is telling me that it did not catch me by surprise and I should have done it earlier.
If the Minister waits, all will become clear.
We do not quarrel with the seriousness of any of the matters under discussion on Report. My hon. Friend Dan Jarvis will raise our concerns about offences against armed forces personnel—matters that we, unlike the Government, flagged up in Committee. This is a sloppy way of making law and nowhere was that more clear than with last week’s announcement that new offences and new sentences for existing offences on some driving matters would be tabled today. At the same time, as the Minister has conceded, the Secretary of State announced that a full review of all driving offences and penalties would be carried out over the next few months.
Let us pause there for a moment. If the Government are reviewing all offences over the next few months, why do they need to change the law for one offence and introduce a brand-new offence in the Bill? I suspect that my curiosity is shared by the Minister, who replied to the debate on
“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”.
He added sagely:
“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.”—[Hansard, 27 January 2014; Vol. 574, c. 731.]
Four months later, time has been found to do exactly what the Minister warned against.
The Minister might ask whether that matters if we are moving in the right direction. The groundswell of opinion expressed in that debate and outside the House is that the two-year maximum sentence for causing death by disqualified driving is inadequate, as it leads to an average sentence of about nine months in custody. We agree and we will not oppose the new clause, but is 10 years the correct figure? It is double the maximum for causing death by careless driving, arguably a more serious offence as the quality of driving is an issue. Equally, it seems anomalous to create an offence of causing serious injury by disqualified driving when no equivalent is proposed of causing serious injury by careless driving or even causing serious injury by careless driving while under the influence of drink and drugs—an offence with a maximum sentence of 14 years when it causes death.
Why has causing death by disqualified driving been singled out? As the Minister said, the current offence brackets causing disqualified driving with driving without insurance and driving without a licence. Will causing death by driving in those two circumstances remain punishable with a two-year maximum sentence? I am afraid that this bears all the hallmarks of the Secretary of State’s penchant for plucking new offences out of the air and pushing them forward to show what a tough guy he is. There were only 13 convictions in the last year for which figures are available for all offences of causing death while disqualified, uninsured or without a licence. How many cases will the change in the law affect?
Perhaps the Secretary of State will say that the change is intended as a deterrent to others, but how many disqualified drivers will be put off by the thought that they might kill or cause serious injury? There is no evidence of careless or dangerous driving in their cases, because they would then be charged with those offences. That brings me to new clause 22, tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central, which we believe is a more effective way of tackling the problem that the Secretary of State and the Minister have rightly identified.
More than 7,000 people were convicted of driving while disqualified in 2012, a substantial reduction since 10 years previously but still a great number of people who wilfully defied an order of the court and carried on driving while banned. Our answer is to make the offence of driving while disqualified triable either way, with a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment for conviction on indictment, which the Magistrates Association has been calling for for some time. Currently, the maximum penalty for driving while disqualified is six months and it is a summary only offence. Although that might be sufficient for a first or even second-time offender, it does not address the minority of recidivist offenders who have multiple disqualifications on their record and carry on driving oblivious to the courts.
I understand the point the hon. Gentleman is making, although I do not totally agree with it. Limiting the penalty to two years might reflect some aggravation that arises in instances of disqualified driving which give rise to injury. Does he not concede, however, that even if we allow for aggravation in respect of sentencing, a two-year sentence probably would not be
enough to reflect justice for an injury that might be life-changing but which stops short of involving the offence of causing death by dangerous driving? The person’s life would be ruined for keeps, which would not be captured adequately by a two-year sentence, as under his proposal—four years might be nearer the mark.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but he is misunderstanding me slightly. We do not oppose new clause 14. I would wish to have seen it remain part of the review, because of the arguments I have put forward about the substantial overlap with a number of other offences, most of which were introduced by the previous Labour Government in previous review—I think we are all agreed that that was necessary. We do not disagree that a review is needed now, but our new offence is of a different type and serves a different and, we say, a more effective purpose in discouraging drivers who are tempted to drive while disqualified. What the Government are doing—it may be right, but let us see it “in the round”, as the Minister would say—is looking at the more serious offences, where there has to be a balance between the nature of the offence and the maximum penalty.
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that the six-month sentence for repeat offenders who drive while disqualified is completely wrong, and I put that view forward in a private Member’s Bill in December. There was a reason why driving while disqualified was moved away from being an “either way” offence to being a summary offence: these cases may have taken up a lot of court time. Does he agree that a way to overcome that is to have the matter tried and dealt with at the magistrates court, and for the magistrate to have the discretion to refer repeat offences to the Crown court for a sentence of up to two years? That would deal with the problem. If those repeat offenders are not dealt with at an early stage, we should not then say, “Tough sentence at the end”; they can be dealt with at the lower end.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman needs to make a speech now. I do not disagree with him—there is a strong measure of agreement here—but he is proposing a complicated resolution whereas we are proposing something more straightforward. It will certainly be a help if the Government get their act together and implement the part of the 2003 Act which will allow magistrates to sentence for 12 months for a single offence, although we still think that that is insufficient for this offence. If repeat offenders plead guilty and are released at the halfway point of sentence, they are likely to serve no more than eight weeks, however many times they have previously been disqualified. Tougher sentences for this offence will act as a deterrent, warning others that driving while disqualified is unacceptable; stamping out driving while disqualified before death or serious injury is caused is Labour’s priority.
A two-year maximum sentence for those serial offenders means that they can expect to spend up to four times longer in prison than is the case now—and of course they would be off the road for all that time. There should not be much difference between the parties on these issues. As I say, we do not oppose the Secretary of
State’s new clause 14, despite our reservations, but we would like the Government to support our new clause 22. If they do not, we will put it to a vote of the House; unless the Secretary of State can give me some assurance that they will either support that or at least push those views forward in the review he is doing, we would wish to vote on that matter.
I am listening to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He said that what I put forward in a private Member’s Bill is complicated. How is it complicated, given that we both agree about repeat offenders? In 2012, 42% of the 7,000 who were sentenced were repeat offenders, with 23% having offended more than three times. It is repeat offenders who pose the risk and who are likely to get two years. Why can we not trust the magistrates to deal with this and then send it to the Crown court? That would stop the Crown court being clogged up. Let us trust the magistrates.
With respect, I do not think the Crown court is going to be clogged up. We are talking about different ways of skinning the same cat, so if we do go to a vote, I look forward to the hon. Gentleman joining us in the Lobby.
Let me briefly deal with the other matters in this group. I commend the amendments standing in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) and for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane). They were discussed in Committee—the Opposition are very disciplined about these matters—and I remain hopeful that the Government will see fit to accept them at some stage. They deal with the egregious issue of multiple offenders escaping “totting up” bans because the courts either do not have the requisite information from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in front of them or are, unknown to them, being told the same sob story for the fourth of fifth time. As a result, there are still people driving with two or three times the 12 points that should have seen them banned. There is no connection between those matters and new clauses 10 and 11. Both deal with serious matters, but it is puzzling that, once again, they have been shoehorned into the Bill at this stage. However, let me deal with them briefly.
The murder of a police officer is a heinous crime, and 13 police officers have been killed in the line of duty since 2000. The courts already take their sentencing powers very seriously, and the starting point for this is 30 years. The killers of Sharon Beshenivsky received 35 years each, the murderer of PC Ian Broadhurst received 37 years and the murderer of PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes received a whole life sentence. The courts are already effectively exerting these powers, but we have no objection to the clarification, if I may put it that way, that the Government wish to introduce, particularly, as the Minister has said, as judicial discretion will remain in these cases. Thankfully, this proposal is not going to affect many cases, but it deals with the most serious crimes that are committed.
Finally, new clause 11 is a sensible tidying measure. As the Minister says, it already applies to adult offences, so, although I am always puzzled to read the headlines in The Daily Telegraph, I was particularly puzzled to see a headline where the Secretary of State was saying, “We will toughen sentences for youth crime”. The new clause
is sensible and we support it, but it is about giving more discretion to magistrates. It is about empowering magistrates courts to try cases where they might previously have felt that they had to second-guess the decision and commit the case to the Crown court; it is not about inflicting additional burdens on the Crown court, and I just wish the Government would not spin at every opportunity.
We have a good degree of consensus on this part of the debate and it would perhaps be complete consensus if the Government see reason and adopt our new clause 22. I know that Rehman Chishti will agree with us, because his private Member’s Bill proposes much the same thing, but so would the Secretary of State, were he to grace us with his presence, because he has said:
“I want to make our roads safer and ensure people who cause harm face tough penalties. Disqualified drivers should not be on our roads for good reason. Those who chose to defy a ban imposed by a court and go on to destroy innocent lives must face serious consequences for the terrible impact of their actions.”
Let us take action against disqualified drivers at an early stage. I urge the Government to support new clause 22.
You would not be the first person to make that genuine mistake, Madam Deputy Speaker. I entirely forgive you for it, and thank you ever so much for calling me.
I rise to speak in support of new clause 14, and I thank the Minister and the Department for including it in the Bill. It seems like only yesterday when, on
After that fateful day on
out in court that this person had not only taken away these innocent young lives but done so while he was disqualified. For more than a decade and a half, he had shown a complete disregard for the law.
Our petition gathered 15,000 signatures, and we took it to No.10 Downing street. As part of the campaign, I led the Backbench Business debate on
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the work that he has done in relation to this matter. Does he agree that what we should be doing is punishing people who drive while disqualified per se? The higher-end penalty should be for driving while disqualified. The maximum two years, as I think it is now, should be increased, so that we might avoid at a later stage the terrible incident of death while driving disqualified.
The important thing to recognise in new clause 14 is that it sends out a message and hope for future legislation. When I first began the campaign, many families were fairly sceptical that there would be any change, particularly this side of the general election. There was a concern that politicians would sit on their hands and not do anything. By passing this new clause we would be opening up future debate. I have great sympathy with new clause 22, but I have not had the time to study the implications of it in detail. If that could be part of the overall review that is taking place, I would absolutely welcome that.
When considering this review, I want to make a pitch for the families of Ross and Clare Simons that we look again at causing death by dangerous driving while disqualified. At the moment, the crime is just death by driving. Nicholas Lovell, who killed Ross and Clare Simons, was given the maximum sentence of 14 years—it is one of the only times that such a sentence has been delivered by the judge. As Lovell pleaded guilty, he was given 10 years and six months. The judge at the time said that had he the legal power, he would have given out a far tougher sentence. He gave the maximum, but he recognised that, because Lovell had been disqualified, there should have been an additional aggravating factor, or that an additional maximum tariff should have been added to the sentence. I would therefore welcome the review looking at death by dangerous driving while disqualified and upping that sentence.
We need to look again at the maximum tariff for causing death by dangerous driving while disqualified. The judge at the time wished for that power. I do not know the precise implications, which is why we need a review in the round. We need uniformity
across the piece. One thing I realised from the Backbench Business debate was that I was not alone; the families were not alone. We heard about some of the awfully brief sentences that had been handed out, and the unequal nature of those sentences. It is very hard for a grieving family to find out that, in what seems to be an almost identical case, the sentence handed out in one area is entirely different from that handed out in another area. I would like to ensure that we put in place a rigid framework. Obviously, judges should have discretion as well, but victims need to understand—I am not a lawyer and I struggle at times to follow the complicated processes of the law—that if someone is disqualified, they should not be in a car in the first place; that is common sense. Nicholas Lovell should never have been in that car when he ploughed into Ross and Clare Simons’s tandem. It is for those families that new clause 14 has been introduced. For me and for the local families, it is Ross and Clare’s law.
I would love it if we could get things on the statute book before the general election. I understand that the processes of law are very slow, but I hope that we can have cross-party consensus for this part of the review. Knowing that all three parties are signed up to change will be a great comfort for the families.
I wish to talk specifically to amendments 8 and 9 that are in my name and that of my hon. Friend Mike Kane. There is something very strange happening with driving penalties. The law says that a driver should be banned if they receive 12 points on their licence, unless they would face exceptional hardship. It also says that the same plea for exceptional hardship should be used only once. I would not be surprised if there were a few people driving legally with 15 points, but I would not expect there to be 8,000 people frequently driving with many more points. I would not expect a person in Liverpool to be driving with 47 points on their licence, or a woman in Bolton to be driving with 27 points on her licence. I wonder how many pleas of exceptional hardship they have made. I am not sure I could even think up that many pleas to put before the courts.
Exceptional hardship is not about losing one’s job, but it could be about losing one’s home or about other people losing their job. The terms of exceptional hardship are very narrow, so why did the Squeeze singer Chris Difford escape 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 47-year-old earns up to £100,000 a year performing around the country and was caught doing 88 mph on a 70 mph road.
The son of Tony Christie, famous for his song “Is this the way to Amarillo” claimed exceptional hardship because he would not be able to drive his dad to gigs after he 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 already on his licence, 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 of those 8,000 people are famous, but often they are rich enough to pay a good barrister to get them off. Alex Williams, the Tory candidate for Stretford and Urmston at the last general election, got off because he said that he would not be able to afford to pay his £2,000 a month mortgage if he could not drive. I do not understand why those people could not pay somebody to drive them around. They could have taken a taxi, train or bus like the rest of us.
As I have already said, 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 these drivers are involved in later accidents. If a driver can clock up 47, 27 or even just 15 points, they must have a disregard for the law and therefore pose a risk to other road users.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her campaign in her constituency. When the points system was established, it was never intended that so many people would get away with so many sob stories, and that we would have so many thousands of people driving on our roads. Magistrates do not know, because the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency has not informed them, that sob stories are repeated and used time and again.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I remember the days of endorsements. We introduced the points system to give us more flexibility, but 12 points was regarded as the threshold for losing one’s licence. If more people are driving around with more than 12 points on their licence, it lessens the effect of the deterrent. It may lead people to think, “Perhaps I can get away with driving around with more than 12 points on my licence.” The whole threat of people losing their licence after 12 points, so therefore driving within the law, has been weakened.
Of course we need to tackle the sentencing of people convicted of causing death or serious injury by dangerous driving or driving while banned, but the whole issue of driving offences—and the way that cars can be used as weapons—needs to be addressed. We need drivers to realise, at every level of offence, that bad behaviour will be punished in order to make our roads safer. TheBolton News, my local daily paper, has been campaigning on this issue for some time. It ran a survey a while ago in which 83% of people agreed that 12 points should mean that drivers are banned. There is real support for that proposition.
We know that young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to die in road accidents than as a result of any other single cause and, sadly, the number of deaths is increasing. Of course we need justice for those who have lost loved ones, but we also need deterrence. We have to take road safety and driver behaviour seriously, and do everything we can across the spectrum, from the point at which people start offending behaviour in a car to the final catastrophic effect of a terrible accident.
I have been trying to raise the issue of 12 points in various ways for several years, often with the support of Brake. Transport Ministers told me to speak to Justice Ministers, who told me to talk to the Sentencing Council, which told me to go back and speak to Transport
Ministers. I am therefore relieved to have a place in which to raise this issue, although I accept—given what the Minister said—that the issue will not be solved in its entirety. I have spoken to magistrates and the Institute of Advanced Motorists about this very issue, and they are very concerned about it. The magistrates raised the issue of the difficulty of getting accurate information from the DVLA about the number of points that a driver has. Secondly, magistrates are concerned that there is no record of the pleas used. Although a driver cannot officially use the same plea of exceptional hardship, the magistrates have no way of knowing whether it has been used before. Thirdly, the magistrates worry about a lack of consistency. Different magistrates accept different pleas of exceptional hardship, so some drivers are allowed to keep their licence in some courts whereas others in other courts are not.
I am listening with great interest to the hon. Lady’s excellent speech, and I am very sympathetic to the important points that she makes. One other area she might want to consider is whether the police national computer, which records the previous convictions of everybody in England and Wales, should be enhanced so that exceptional circumstance pleas could be set out briefly in a document which would then be put before any court considering a fresh application.
The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting and important point. However we capture such information, it needs to be made available to magistrates, and that is an excellent suggestion.
I accept that the amendments would not solve all of the problems that I want to address of people driving with more than 12 points on their licences, of consistency of sentencing and of magistrates having the correct information. If the Minister will specifically commit to looking at the issue of 12 points and sentencing, I will not press my amendment to a vote.
It is a great pleasure to follow Julie Hilling who spoke so clearly on this issue. I agreed with much of what she said about this huge problem. It is astonishing how many people get off time after time. Some law firms even advertise their incredible success rates in achieving that, which we do not want to see.
There may be extenuating circumstances or special cases occasionally, but once someone has said they know they should be banned, and then makes a desperate plea, they should be more careful afterwards. It is not impossible to drive for quite a long time without breaking any rules or getting any points on your licence—some people have clean driving licences. Certainly if I had nine points, or even 12 points, I would try very hard indeed not to speed or drive dangerously. I hope that the Minister will listen carefully to the review.
I have a couple of pedantic points about the hon. Lady’s amendment, as I do not think it covers everything that it needs to. However, that is not the point for today. I hope that we can get the right changes that most of the House would want to see. I welcome the Government’s announcement of a review, and I hope that it will be
a substantial review. I also hope that the Minister is successful in obtaining parliamentary time to ensure that the results of the review become law. A review will not solve the problem on its own.
I pay tribute to the work done by the CTC’s road justice campaign, which produced an excellent report called “Road Justice: the role of the police”—I know that the Minister has had some discussions with that organisation—which looked not only at the legal aspects, but at the role of the police and the prosecution. The law is not the only issue. Too often, especially when pedestrians or cyclists are the victims of collisions, the police do not investigate sufficiently to allow charges to be brought. In several cases, people have come to my surgery having been involved in a collision in which someone else behaved very dangerously and the police simply were not interested in doing the basic groundwork, such as taking photographs of the scene at the time. There is very little point us getting the law right if the police do not investigate and prosecutors do not take action. I know that the Minister is not responsible for the police, but I hope the review will look more broadly at the issue to ensure that its proposals will make a difference.
The campaign has had some 12,000 signatures, so we need some action in response. Some of the cases are astonishing. In one case, a gentleman had been drinking and smoking cannabis and then was speeding, with his girlfriend riding pillion, and crashed and killed a pedestrian. He had 45 previous traffic offences but apparently there was not enough evidence to charge him with causing death by dangerous driving, even though there was a clear cause of death—dangerous driving—and he had a long track record. He did get 18 months in jail, but the fact that prosecutors did not even feel able to bring a charge of death by dangerous driving is a problem.
Prosecutions are made on whether there is enough evidence to bring the charge and, secondly, whether it is in the public interest. I do not mean to criticise the hon. Gentleman, but it may be a little unfair to say that a prosecution for dangerous driving should have been brought in that particular case. Perhaps there was good reason why it was not.
The hon. Gentleman right: I have not been through all the court transcripts in that case. But it is not an isolated case. It is a similar story in literally hundreds of cases—we have heard some today and many others have been collected in various places. I am sure he is not trying to suggest that he would agree with the action taken in every one of those cases.
One problem—and having spoken with many people about this, I cannot see an easy resolution to it—is that juries are often not prepared to convict on offences that perhaps they should be. Prosecutors can have a tendency to low-ball the charge to ensure a conviction. I hope that the review will address that issue, because none of us want to see charges being brought that juries feel are simply too serious to convict.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we are also looking for a cultural change here? In the same way that the present generation does not talk about “having a drink for the road” as might have
happened 30 or 40 years ago, we seek a cultural change in attitudes to the offences for which people should serve prison terms.
I think we have seen a cultural change. The sentencing aspect is a very small part of that, as I am sure the hon. Lady would agree. The success of the drink-driving law is not the number of people prosecuted: it is the number of people who do not drink and drive. We need a cultural change that suggests that dangerous behaviour, whether it is driving too fast or cutting people up, is simply not acceptable.
We are seeing other changes that are making driving safer, such as the introduction of 20 mph speed limits. That is happening very successfully in my constituency in Cambridge, where we are seeing some driver behaviour changes, but it is still early days. The changes will start to get across the idea that driving or travelling in any form of transport carries a risk of doing incredibly serious harm to other people.
I am sure that for many Members, the most dangerous activity that we do—the thing that has the most chance of killing another person—is driving. The vast majority of us will never kill anyone, but it is still a risk. So sensible speed limits and the enforcement of them, as well as the sanctions available in the extreme cases, are helpful. What we want to avoid is sanctioning people when there is a death or serious injury; we want to change behaviour. Drink-driving is not acceptable, regardless of whether or not it ends up killing somebody. The risk is simply too large. There is largely agreement about that and considerable expectation from the House that the Ministers’ review will make a large difference. That will help drivers to be safer on the roads. It will reduce collisions and make pedestrians and cyclists a lot safer, which I welcome.
I turn briefly to new clause 10 about the term of imprisonment for the murder of a police or prison officer. When the Minister winds up, I would be grateful if he could clarify the role of judicial discretion in this area. It is always helpful for us to set out what the base should be, but I would like to hear confirmation from him that he believes in the principle of judicial discretion and that judges will be able to look at the details of almost any offence.
With the leave of the House, I shall try to respond to some of the points made in the debate which, as we came to expect in the course of Committee, was instructive and well balanced. I start with the remarks of Mr Slaughter, who made his case for new clause 22. He kindly indicated that he has no objection to new clause 14, which I welcome, and he made it clear that he has little objection to some of the other measures in this group, and I am grateful for that.
As I said in my earlier remarks, we intend to consider a number of aspects of the criminal law in connection with driving offences in the course of the review that I described. I can certainly undertake to the hon. Gentleman that the issue of driving while disqualified, particularly where it involves repeat offending, which is the type of offending highly likely to lead to sentencing at the top end of the scale, whatever that scale may look like in the
future, is something that we are highly likely to want to consider as part of the review. I am sure he will maintain his case for the inclusion of that.
The difference between the circumstances we are considering in relation to new clause 14 and the circumstances we are considering in relation to new clause 22 was conveyed very movingly, as we have heard before, by my hon. Friend Chris Skidmore. New clause 14 is designed to address what we perceive to be some egregious cases in which sentencing powers were not adequate. It was clear to us from those cases that we should plug that gap in the sentencing regime. There are other questions that we have to ask about driving offences and how those offences are punished, which are about whether we have pitched properly the sentencing powers of the judiciary. But we have not yet had the opportunity to consider in detail the implications of the change set out in new clause 22, and I doubt very much that the hon. Gentleman has, either.
With all due respect to the Minister and to Chris Skidmore, the tragic case of Clare and Ross Simons that he described was a very serious case of causing death by dangerous driving. Even though the driver was disqualified, it was not a case of disqualified driving. It would not in any way be affected by new clause 14. The Minister has made the case against himself. It is clear why new clause 22 has been canvassed over a long period by practitioners, the Magistrates Association and others. There is an overwhelming case for increasing that nugatory summary only sentence. The position is far more complicated, as shown by some of the tensions that have come out in the debate, which is why new clause 14 is a little precipitate, even if it is going in the right direction. Will the Minister give a clear undertaking that there will be an increase in the sentence for driving while disqualified? If not, we will press the new clause to the vote this evening.
I will come back to the point about how much we know about the implications of new clause 22. To deal with the case of specific examples, the point that I am making in relation to what my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood said is that where it is brought to our attention that there are particular gaps in the sentencing regime, it is appropriate that we look very carefully of those. The case that precipitated the decision to table new clause 14 was the case of Mr Stock, who was killed in precisely the circumstances that new clause 14 would address.
It is important that when such cases are brought to our attention, we look carefully at whether there is a gap in the law, and we then look at how that gap might best be remedied and what the consequences of doing so might be. The reason that we did not respond immediately to such cases, and the reason that I did not respond to the Back-Bench debate to which the hon. Gentleman referred by saying straight away, “Yes, of course, we will change the law immediately and we will do so in the following way,” is that it is important to consider all the ramifications of making changes.
We have had the opportunity to do that in relation to what we now propose as new clause 14. We have a good idea, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, of how many cases might be affected, and what effect that would have
on the work load of the Crown court and of the Prison Service. I wonder whether he has any idea what the ramifications for the Court Service or for the Prison Service would be of the change that would be made by new clause 22. That does not mean to say that after we have considered those ramifications properly and carefully, we would not come to the conclusion that it is the right thing to do, but we are not going to do so today, for the reasons that I have set out.
If the hon. Gentleman reflects, and given that he hopes to be in government himself in less than a year—[Interruption.] I am not saying that he will, just that he hopes to. If that eventuality ever came to pass, I do not think he would wish to make policy any differently from the way I am suggesting we should do so. If that is right, I cannot, as he would understand, accept new clause 22 today. I have gone as far as I think I sensibly can, which is to say that it will certainly form part of the review that we intend to undertake, and if we conclude as a result of the review that it is the right thing to do, we shall do it.
I think the Minister is playing with me a little. I have used the best evidence I can and as I said, I have spoken to practitioners and to the Magistrates Association about the matter. I am advised that the clause is likely to affect only a small minority of cases, which are the recidivist cases. The Minister has access to that degree of detail and that information. Perhaps he could tell us how many cases he thinks would be affected.
As I have tried to indicate to the hon. Gentleman, I would want to look at all those things. He is right—I do not know. We have to look at the matter carefully and I am sure he would want us to do that. Between the point at which he decided to table new clause 22 and this debate taking place, there has not been an opportunity to do that work, which we would want to do. He is welcome to continue looking a gift horse in the mouth if he so wishes, but what I am saying to him, I hope very clearly, is that we are certainly not shutting the door on what he is proposing, but neither are we going to accept it today without doing the proper work. No responsible Government could do otherwise. He may or may not want to be part of a responsible Government, and if it is not a responsible Government, he may want to do things differently, but that is the way we do things for as long as we are in government.
Let me move on to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood. Again, he spoke movingly, as he has before, of justice for Ross and Clare Simons. He also made the case for including in the review the issues of death by dangerous driving by those who are disqualified, and we will certainly consider that matter also.
Julie Hilling made, as she has done before, a good case in relation to those who have multiple points on their licence and are somehow not yet disqualified. She is right to be concerned about that, as are we. We would want to consider that matter, too, at greater length. There is, as she knows and as I have said to her before, an issue in relation to how much we can sensibly trespass on judicial discretion. In
each and every case a bench of magistrates would have to have concluded that the exceptional hardship case was made out, such that they thought it appropriate not to disqualify in those cases. There will always be exceptional cases, but her argument is that those cases should, indeed, be exceptional; they should not be regular, and I have a good deal of sympathy for that view. The specific point around exceptional hardship claims—
I would be wary of doing that, but we can look at how we ensure that magistrates are doing all necessary due diligence on the nature of past exceptional hardship claims, perhaps before other benches. That was the hon. Lady’s second point that I was just coming on to. There is something in that. We need to consider how to ensure that benches take the opportunity to look carefully at what has been said to their brethren in other cases involving the same defendant, who may be running the same argument on exceptional hardship multiple times and continually avoiding disqualification. We will need to look carefully at that.
That does not mean that running the same argument cannot necessarily amount to exceptional hardship more than once—again, that is a matter for each bench to determine—but they should do so, as she says, with their eyes open and in possession of all the relevant facts. We will look at whether there are ways in which we can ensure that they do more to get those facts. However, it is not the case that they do not have access to those facts now. The DVLA already retains the information on whether an exceptional hardship claim has been made by the same defendant in a previous case. It is there to be looked at, but further inquiries may then be necessary to find out exactly what was said in the making of that exceptional hardship claim. We will take that away and look at it. As I have already said, there is a good case for including in the review the hon. Lady’s point about multiple points on a licence and the totting-up offences.
My hon. Friend Dr Huppert made a number of points around the vulnerability of cyclists, with which, of course, I agree. We must always be conscious of that, not just in the Ministry of Justice but in other Departments too, as I know colleagues in the Department for Transport in particular are. He is right to say that this is not simply about sanctions, but also about changing behaviour. He will recognise that in the Ministry of Justice we are pretty much all about sanctions, so there is a limited amount that can be done by this Department, but certainly in conjunction with other Departments there may be a great deal more that can be done. He will understand, too, that the review will be into the penalties available to the judiciary under the criminal law. It will not, of course, sensibly be able to reach wider than that, although he will wish to take advantage of his opportunities to make submissions to it none the less.
My hon. Friend will recognise that new clause 10 deals with the starting point for decisions on the appropriate tariff for a life sentence. We think it appropriate for the reasons that I set out earlier that the starting point for murders of police officers and prison officers should be
a whole life tariff, but sentencing judges can move up or down from that starting point as they think fit, and that applies in both directions. If one starts with the murder of a police officer and believes for particular reasons that it is appropriate to go below a whole life tariff, the sentencing judge can do that, and will want to set out why they choose to do that. I anticipate, following this change, that that will be very much the exception, and that as a matter of course, those who are sentenced for murder of a police or prison officer in the performance of their duties should expect to receive a whole life tariff. That is the purpose of this change. But the reason I say that it operates in both directions is that if somebody were to be convicted of murder, not necessarily of a police or prison officer attracting a whole life tariff starting point but a lower starting point, that may still result in a whole life tariff if the judge thought it appropriate to revise that sentence upwards from the starting point. I hope that is helpful to my hon. Friend. With those remarks, again I invite the House to support the Government new clauses, and not the Opposition’s new clause.
Question put and agreed to.
New clause 14 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.