Clause 16 — Higher fixed penalty for repeated road traffic offences

New Clause 10 — Victims of persons subject to hospital order with restriction order: representations – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 27 October 2004.

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Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 11, in page 10, line 29, leave out from 'driving' to end of line 31.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office) 3:45, 27 October 2004

On 14 June, the House gave the Bill a Second Reading. All hon. Members who were present witnessed an amazing act of magic performed by Home Secretary. He had come under much fire for his proposals to surcharge speeding motorists and was under some pressure when he rose in the Chamber. He sought to deflect anger by making specific statements in his opening speech on Second Reading, when he said:

"we accept that it would be wrong for low-level first-time offences to be subject to a surcharge. Helpfully, the Department for Transport will shortly consult on changes in the points system for fixed penalty notices. The new system will be introduced in 2006, which is when we will consider introducing a levy of £10 on fixed penalty notices for serious repeat offenders, as opposed to general fixed penalty notices."—[Hansard, 14 June 2004; Vol. 422, c. 540.]

That allayed the many fears of those inside and outside Parliament.

Indeed, so well did the Home Secretary camouflage his intentions and succeed in creating a smoke screen, that the trick that he performed on us led even Mr. Heath to praise him for ensuring that "muggers, not motorists" would pay for the support of victims.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I wish to confess that I made a grave error of judgment. I took the Home Secretary at his word and believed him when he said that he would deal with serious, persistent offenders, not people who go through two speed cameras at 33 mph.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

I am afraid that we all fell for the trick. Even outside organisations genuinely believed that the Home Secretary had almost dropped his proposals to prey on the motorist.

When the measure reached Committee, however, we discovered the Government's genuine proposals and their definition of a serious and persistent offender. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome is right: a serious and persistent offender turned out to be someone who was caught by a speed camera not once, but twice; not three or four times, but twice. Such a person constitutes a persistent and serious offender. It became obvious, despite the Under-Secretary's charm, that the attempt to impose yet another stealth tax on the motorist was alive, well and progressing. That is because the Government intend that every motorist who gets caught speeding more than once—that is, twice or more—

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

Well, I need to spell this out. Twice constitutes persistence. Every such motorist will have to pay a surcharge of £5. So a persistent and serious offender is someone who is snapped by a speed camera doing a couple of miles per hour over the speed limit twice. Well, in my book, twice does not mean persistence. We need to be very careful before we label this type of offender "serious", when the issue is put into a wider context. Driving at 100 mph in a 40 mph zone is serious, but the word should not be used to describe the driver who slips over the limit unintentionally.

Indeed, one of the problems that this issue raises was thrown up in the Home Office's own consultation, from which I would like to quote, as it is a matter of public record.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

I think that the hon. Lady has just said that she wants to introduce a new test of intentionality into this issue—in other words, that she wants to test whether someone has unintentionally gone over the speed limit. How would she adjudicate such matters?

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

That is absolutely not what I said. I have no intention of introducing a test. I am asking the Minister to wipe this proposal out of the Bill and to stop preying on the motorist. The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong in his assumption.

Let me turn to Mr. Holdsworth, who wrote to the Minister:

"My 80-year-old mother who had an excellent driving record with no convictions in over 50 years of motoring now has three points on her licence for going over the limit on a main road at 11 o'clock at night nowhere near a school by 5 mph. Does that make her a criminal who should contribute to criminal convictions? After the stress on her of dealing with this fine (for example, having her in tears for several hours) I think that it is the Government that should be paying into a victims fund to contribute to the criminal extraction of money from her."

He happens to add:

"After voting Labour all my life . . . I'm finally going to vote Conservative next time."

Hypothetically, if that lady did that again, she would be branded a persistent and serious offender by the Government.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I concede at once that I do not have the hinterland in this matter that my hon. Friend has. Would she be good enough to say where in the Bill we can find any statement on the level of the charge? She will also be aware that it will be raised by the negative procedure, which means that the House will never actually vote on the impost to be levied.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. There is some doubt as to whether the charge will be £10, as referred to by the Home Secretary on Second Reading, or £5, as referred to by the Minister in Committee. I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify this, otherwise the House will have no knowledge of this matter and no say on it at this stage, which would be very serious.

The Home Secretary has referred to a consultation being carried out by the Department for Transport later in the year. We have had to wait a long time for that consultation to emerge. In fact, it emerged on 1 September this year, when the Transport Secretary announced that he was going to consult on a fairer system of penalties for motorists caught speeding. The implication of that is that the existing system is unfair and needs to be put right.

In that consultation, there is reference to a lower penalty of two points and a £40 fine. That is not applicable if someone exceeds the 20 mph speed limit but drives at under 31 mph, but it is applicable in relation to other speed limits. For example, someone who is caught driving at 39 mph in a 30 mph zone will attract a penalty of two points and a £40 fine. Someone travelling at between 40 and 44 mph in such a zone would get three points and a £60 fine, and if they were doing 45 mph, they would get six points and £100 fine. Ironically, they would get only two points if they were travelling at 72 mph in a 60 mph zone. That has to be looked at very carefully. It is obvious from the consultation that someone who had had four points put on their licence twice, at the lower end of the limit, could attract the surcharge—the stealth tax—that the Government are intent on putting on motorists. So I hope that the Minister will tell us that he was consulted before the matter was put out for consultation, that there has been joined-up thinking between the Home Office and the Department for Transport, and that there is no intention to lower the fines on speeding offenders to hide the surcharge, in order to pretend that the Government are not being so hard on the motorist.

In Committee, we tried hard to dissuade the Minister from pursuing this measure, but absolutely to no avail. My hon. Friends and other members of the Committee deployed some very good arguments, but at the time we did not have the advantage of seeing the papers that were sent in to the Department during the consultation. I did challenge the Minister in Committee to produce the results of the consultation, and he did so. They have been extremely enlightening and I thank him for them. If he will not listen to Members of the House on this proposal, will he first listen to the AA Motoring Trust?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

Will my hon. Friend also make the point that the Minister should only listen to relevant Members of the House? She will observe that this clause applies to England and Wales only. Would it not be inappropriate to listen to Members who represent Scottish constituencies?

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

My right hon. and learned Friend is tempting me down the road, and I will follow him down it.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

I will take it at my own steady pace, thank you very much, and I will not take it at speed, but I agree entirely with my right hon. and learned Friend. The Minister should only be consulting England and Wales Members, as they represent the people to whom the legislation will apply.

I return to the AA Motoring Trust. It wrote to the consultation co-ordinator of the performance and delivery unit at the Home Office—if that is not a contradiction in terms—to say:

"However, there is one area which we would strongly oppose—the proposal to impose a £5 surcharge on the fixed penalty system for motoring offences. The AA Trust considers the proposal to impose this surcharge to be ill conceived and bordering on the inept."

I am not sure which part of

"ill conceived and bordering on the inept" the Minister would not understand. I think that the AA Motoring Trust, although I admit that it may be seen to have a vested interest, has made a very strong point.

Let us consider other consultees who do not necessarily have a vested interest. The Association of British Insurers wrote:

"ABI does not support the use of a surcharge.

Funding for improved support for victims of crime should be provided by the perpetrators of those crimes. More stringent and efficient collection of fines already imposed by the criminal justice system, along with the money collected from orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, could raise significant funding for improved victim support and compensation, without the need to impose a surcharge.

Motorists already contribute to victims of crime by way of the Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB). The MIB was set up by insurers in 1946 to compensate the victims of uninsured and 'hit and run' motorists. The increased policy costs to cover the provision of compensation to victims of uninsured drivers is estimated to be up to an additional £30 on each policy. Adding a surcharge to fines for offences such as speeding would be a further burden on those motorists who meet their statutory insurance obligations, representing a double charge".

Perhaps the Minister will say to me that the Association of British Insurers has a vested interest, but let us look at what the Devon and Cornwall police said to the Minister.

"A surcharge on FPNs— fixed penalty notices—

"for excess speed offences will only serve to cause even greater alienation of the motoring public from the police. The present system under netting off has created unexpected levels of media interest and huge volumes of correspondence from the public."

So the Devon and Cornwall police are not exactly keen on the proposal of the Minister and the Home Secretary.

Another police force, the Greater Manchester police, also came up with some valid points. It said to the Minister:

"The idea of using fixed penalty tickets to raise funds is severely flawed, especially where the use of the Road Traffic Act, GATSO and other camera detection methods are used".

It continued:

"At the moment only 60 per cent. of the tickets issued by these means are paid. The 40 per cent. of the tickets that are not paid, and the moneys that are not recovered from those tickets, are from vehicles that are not registered to anyone, stolen cars, cars on false number plates, cars that are used by the criminal element in society.

The 60 per cent. that are paid are therefore paid by the more responsible and 'law-abiding' persons in society. This means therefore that the offenders in society will not be contributing to the fund, but it is another form of taxation on the motorist".

I remind you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that those are the comments of the Greater Manchester police. It continued:

"The popularity of these 'Speed Cameras and GATSO cameras' is low, and they are already seen as a money spinner for central government. To impose an extra £5 penalty to fund victims would not be a popular move. What happens to the funds that are raised from these cameras at present, and why cannot a proportion of the existing fine be diverted to the Victim Fund? This would provide funds without further alienating the motorist".

I could not have put it better myself. I hope that the Minister will answer Greater Manchester police and explain why a proportion of the existing fine cannot be diverted, if that is the way that he wants to go. As the Greater Manchester police says, it is mostly the law-abiding public and responsible members of society who will face that charge.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 4:00, 27 October 2004

I agree with what the hon. Lady says. There is a strange kind of logic about penalising a repeat offender the second time for the same offence, and in this instance, an unthinking logic, if I may put it that way. The person who is convicted twice has six points, three times, nine points, and so on. Therefore, such a person will be under pressure, and should realise that they are getting nearer disqualification each time. I speak as one who has a point-laden licence, I confess, so I speak from some experience. Therefore, the extra £5 is not needed—it is, as Arthur Daley would say, a nice little earner and nothing else.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I agree entirely that there is a strange kind of logic to the proposal, and I commiserate with him.

There are two other responses to the consultation that the House should hear about and that the Minister should address. The first of those is from the Police Federation, which started off quite generously, as I think that the Minister will agree:

"We wholeheartedly endorse the proposals to add a surcharge on those who have been convicted of criminal offences or those who receive a penalty notice, fine or imprisonment for disorder".

So far so good. It then said:

"We cannot however support in any way surcharges on fixed penalty notices for Road Traffic Offences. We are aware of the research into other similar schemes in other countries across the world, and the apparent success of those schemes in raising revenue for victim assistance. However, we are firmly of the opinion that surcharges on fixed penalties for traffic offences would cause an unwelcome backlash from the general public that would considerably damage the relationship between the police service and the communities they serve".

There we have it. That is the Police Federation speaking on behalf of all the police throughout this country. It thinks that the Government's proposals to surcharge the motorist will damage the relationship between the police and the public. The Minister ought to take that seriously.

The last response to the consultation that I want to read out is from the Magistrates Association, which represents the people who sit on the bench, who are at the sharp end and who must deal with these offenders. It said:

"A surcharge on fixed penalty notices for motoring offences would be seen by many motorists as a further hidden tax on motorists and added to the argument on the use of more speed cameras as tax collection. This would draw the courts into the argument with the real potential of a loss of credibility and liable to the charge of courts being used as tax collectors. This should be avoided".

Any reasonable person can see from all those submissions to the consultation that we should drop this part of the Bill. Therefore, I hope to be allowed to press amendment No. 11 to the vote at the appropriate time.

I turn to another aspect of the proposal, because I did not receive a satisfactory answer in Committee. I may be doing the Minister a disservice, but I have not come across the letter that fully explains to me how he will deal with the issue. I refer to the possibility that people being surcharged can exchange their fine and surcharge for work. I will not delay the House by hunting for the appropriate passage in the Committee proceedings, but he said that he was not sure how the proposals would work but that it would be possible to exchange the fine and the surcharge for work. It will be interesting to find out exactly what he has done in the meantime to clarify those proposals.

I also hope that the Minister will clarify the financial side to the operation. The figures that we were working on at Second Reading and in Committee were those for 2002, which seemed to be the latest date for which he had the information. He told us that 1.7 million fixed penalty notices were issued, but then said that the estimated administrative cost of collecting this stealth tax would be approximately £1.6 million. For every £5 that is surcharged, approximately £1 will go in administration costs. Only £4 will ever go into a victims fund.

We are seeing £1 disappear in bureaucracy but that is coupled with the fact that the collection of fines is now running at anything between 50 and 75 per cent. I acknowledge that there has been an improvement recently, but let us not get carried away. It could be a temporary blip; one swallow does not make a summer. As the figure was running at 50 per cent. before the drive to improve the collection rate of fines, we could, on the figure of 1.7 million, expect to obtain £8.5 million. If a quarter of those fines and surcharges are lost in non-payment and if we add in the administrative costs, £3.8 million will disappear straight away. That is not very good value for money, is it? I do not think it is good value for money, because if the Minister was expecting £8.5 million for the victims fund, he will find that he gets nowhere there that. However, he will create and build up an enormous bureaucracy and the enormous resentment and problems that were evidenced in those very honest submissions to the consultation.

The bottom line is that the criminals will be laughing all the way to the bank. Once again, they will get away without paying for their crimes but the inadvertent, middle-class motorist whom Vera Baird mentioned in Committee and who is a responsible member of society will end up bearing the cost. For all those reasons, I seriously ask the Minister to think again and remove this unpopular, unnecessary and costly attack on the motorist from the Bill.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

This Government have a peculiar and almost unique genius for taking a good idea and making a complete pig's ear of it, and this is another instance of exactly that. When the proposal for a victims support fund was announced, the general view in the House and among the public was that it was a sensible idea to make the criminal pay something back to the victim of crime. I certainly welcomed it, as did members of other parties.

Most of us saw the measure as—I think I used this term in Committee—a crude form of restorative justice. It provided a degree of proper recompense. A person who had been properly convicted would pay the surcharge, and life would be made a little more bearable for victims of crime. So far so good; then the Home Secretary took it into his head to include in the category of criminals those convicted of motoring offences.

Some who are convicted of motoring offences are indeed criminals; they have committed a serious crime through the reckless or heedless operation of a motor vehicle. They are a menace to society and should be dealt with accordingly. But we all know, because we live in the real world, that many people do not fall into that category but find themselves in receipt of fixed-penalty tickets.

I confess, as I confessed earlier in an intervention on Mrs. Gillan, that I was enormously relieved when I heard the Home Secretary say in terms on Second Reading that he had listened to representations by my party and others, and that a victims fund, properly constituted, would be paid for by the mugger and not the motorist. I believed him when he told us that he had taken the message on board, and would amend his proposals accordingly.

I was frankly astonished when, at a late stage in Committee, we were faced with a huge panoply of amendments, including the Government's proposal to define a serious and persistent offender as someone who at some stage has been caught twice by a speed camera. If we continue to see such inflation of terms, we shall have to rewrite the entire language of jurisprudence. It is a nonsense, and the Minister knows it.

I am not one who takes lightly the problem of dangerous or speeding motorists. I always try hard to obey speed controls, and—unlike Mr. Llwyd, it appears— I have a clean licence at the moment, touch wood; I am very happy about that. I entirely understand the position of the hon. Members for Chesham and Amersham and for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), but whatever their own views, I do not side with some of their colleagues who appear to think that every speed camera represents an imposition on civil liberties and an affront to the freedoms of the motorist. That is simply not the case.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

I would never want to give the impression that there is not a perfectly proper role for speed cameras. Indeed, I have requested them on certain roads in my constituency. I abhor people who break the speed limit, and would not want to diminish the offence.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

We are at one on that. I am merely saying that some members of the hon. Lady's party have given the impression that they are leading some sort of crusade against speed cameras. That is unfortunate and regrettable, and against the interests of road safety.

There is, however, a big difference between recognising the requirements of road safety and believing that it is fair to impose this measure on top of what is already a stringent penalty; it has still to be reviewed, we understand from the Department for Transport. At present the motorist incurs both a fine and an endorsement, which is often the greatest deterrent in terms of future misdemeanours because of the totting-up process that leads to the loss of a licence. However, if we want a way to define a serious and persistent offender in motoring terms, we have one; the points process and disqualification. I would have no difficulty with those who were disqualified or convicted of a serious driving offence—using the term "serious" in its proper sense—being brought into that definition. If they have committed the same offence several times, clearly they are persistent offenders.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda 4:15, 27 October 2004

The hon. Gentleman seems to be allowing himself a little wriggle room. What counts as "persistent"? Two, three or several offences? At what point does he set the limit?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

There is no wriggle room at all. I have made it perfectly clear that disqualification is the definition.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

So three counts as persistent?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Well, there is a different points tariff, as the hon. Gentleman may understand, for certain motoring offences, so three would not necessarily be the figure. Disqualification suggests that the person in question is a serious or persistent offender in road traffic law terms, so we have a definition. So where is the problem? Why does the definition have to be set at the level of the second offence? The answer, the Minister hopes, is that enormous revenue will result. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham has already pointed out some of the difficulties attached even to that proposition, but that is undoubtedly the motivating force.

The Minister wants a victims support fund sufficient to make a real difference, and the best way to do that is to tax the motorist to provide it. He told us in Committee that, in 2002, 1,505,504 endorsable speeding offences were committed, so we are dealing with a significant part of the population. They are being treated as though they were criminals who should contribute to a fund for the victims of crime. That is wrong in principle, and I am particularly aggrieved by what I think was a blatant deceit—if that is a parliamentary term—on the Home Secretary's part.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

It does not sound very parliamentary.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

If it is not parliamentary, I of course withdraw—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman should withdraw the rather direct accusation that he made. If he wishes to suggest that there was a discrepancy, it should be done in another way.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Absolutely, Mr. Deputy Speaker; immediately before you stood up, I did indicate that I should be very happy to withdraw that remark. But I must say that the Home Secretary is clearly not a man from whom I should like to buy a used car. I am very concerned; on comparing carefully the impression that he gave to the House and the reality of what is proposed in the Bill, I find very little correlation between the two.

I hope that the House will look very carefully at my amendment No. 11, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham and her colleagues for putting their names to it. They have said that they would prefer to divide on it and so would I; not because it is my amendment, but simply because it deals with the specific issue of the second offence, rather than the generality of traffic offences. If we do not take a stand on this, the result will be not only an injustice to very many motorists, but—more importantly, from my point of view—the undoing of all the good work that the Government have done in recent months in arguing for the useful function performed by speed cameras, traffic restrictions and traffic-calming measures. Their provision will cement in the public mind the view that all that is simply a front for what is a revenue-raising measure.

The point that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham made in quoting Devon and Cornwall police will be echoed by police forces throughout the country. They have a difficult enough job as it is enforcing traffic law without it being made more difficult by the Minister's applying an arbitrary surcharge on their endeavours. That is wrong, and I hope that this House will reject it. If not, I hope that the other House will.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I want to support the arguments that were advanced very clearly by my hon. Friend Mrs. Gillan and, indeed, by Mr. Heath. In doing so, I want to make three points. First, as regards the principle, I find it difficult to justify the proposition that a victims fund should be funded in part by people whose criminal culpability is at the very low end of the spectrum. It seems to me that if we were to fund a victims fund by raising money from criminals, there should be some relationship between the quality of the criminal act relied upon and the nature of the injury suffered by the victim. With speeding offences that do not result in personal injury, there is no such relationship of any kind. Drivers who are disqualified under the totting-up procedure may not themselves be guilty of criminal offences of any high degree of gravity. I find it very difficult to justify in principle why individuals whose criminal culpability is, or may be, at a very low level should be required to contribute to the victims fund in the way that we are debating now. It is an objection on principle.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham made some points about repeated offences and other matters with which I entirely agree. I associate myself with what she said, but my fundamental objection is on principle; there is no relationship between the quality of the offence and the injury in respect of which the fund is intended to address.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

I think the point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is making—he will correct me if I have misunderstood him—is that if someone is speeding and hits someone else, thereby causing personal injury, it is a grave crime; whereas if someone is speeding and does not hit anyone else, it is nowhere near as grave.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

Indeed, but the point is that we have to reduce everyone's speeding. Otherwise, when people are hit, it will cause further damage to individuals.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I think that one has to go back to first principles and ask oneself in respect of people who have committed a criminal offence, what is the nature and level of culpability? That, of course, clearly goes to the nature of the penalty. If we are in the process of doing something different, such as requiring a person judged to be a criminal to compensate someone who has suffered an injury as a result of an alleged crime, there has to be some relationship—not a direct one, but some relationship—between the quality of the act adjudged to be criminal and the quality of the injury in respect of which compensation is to be paid.

We all know that those who drive too fast may do so to only a small extent. The idea that they are somehow obliged to make a contribution to a fund to compensate someone who has been the victim of a serious mugging is, I find, impossible to justify. There is no sort of relationship that applies in those circumstances. It will be perceived to be inequitable and wrong. Chris Bryant may not agree with me, but at least he knows where I am coming from.

I have a range of other objections, which I shall make fairly briefly; partly because I have been heard on these particular hobby-horses before. Nevertheless, I will get on a number of those hobby-horses again. The first pertains to the negative procedure. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham has characterised the surcharge as a tax. She makes rather a good point, as it is close to a tax; if it is to be levied at all, it will be levied under the negative procedure.

Let us be plain about what the negative procedure means. It means that a tax will be levied, if it is levied, without the House voting on it. This House will not be called on to vote for it. The House will remember the old dictum of no taxation without representation; lo and behold, that is precisely what the clause proposes. If we go down the road of imposing a tax, surely it should be by way of the affirmative procedure. I very much dislike the affirmative procedure because, as the House knows, affirmative orders cannot be amended, but at least they require the consent of both Houses. Here we are talking about an order that will impose a tax but will never be voted on.

We are entitled to ask what tax will be levied. I can find nothing in the Bill that makes it plain what sum will be the subject of the surcharge. The Bill gives the Secretary of State powers, which are not properly constrained, to impose a tax without representation.

A further defect is that the Bill does not oblige the Secretary of State to impose a surcharge, but merely empowers him to do so if he chooses. If the House thinks that a surcharge should be imposed, we should make the duty mandatory and not merely permissive. I see no merit in creating a permissive power in circumstances of this kind.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there is no incentive for the Government to improve their success in collecting fines or fixed penalty notices? If the form of taxation that is the proposed surcharge does not yield the amount of money expected for the victims fund, the Bill contains no brake on the Secretary of State increasing it proportionately. There is no safeguard to ensure that motorists will not find that they have to pay £50 on top of the fine in, say, two years' time.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

That may well be right. What is more, as I said earlier, the amount will be raised without parliamentary authority, as there will be no vote on the matter.

The last of my specific points is another of my hobby-horses; I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will forgive me when I note that the clause applies only to England and Wales and not to Northern Ireland or Scotland. I hasten to say that I do not object to that, but I do object to the fact that the clause could be voted on tonight—as could the negative orders, if they were brought before the House—by hon. Members who do not represent constituencies in England and Wales. A very bizarre proposition follows from that. It is that imposts that, in essence, are taxation will be voted on by Members of Parliament who do not represent the areas subject to that taxation. That strikes me as very offensive, as it amounts to taxation without accountability.

I know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you want me to be brief and that you have heard me speak about these matters many times. I am against the proposals in the Bill, for the reasons that I have advanced. I think that the proposal is wrong in principle, and I do not like the use of the negative procedure. I am very much against imposing taxes without representation, and I think that it is quite wrong for hon. Members who do not represent constituencies in England and Wales to have any part in this business.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs. Gillan on introducing this amendment, and on highlighting the duplicitous and underhand way in which the Government introduced this measure. It is another stealth tax on motorists, and the timing of its introduction is extraordinary. Last week, a Minister said that a Bill on road safety would appear in the Queen's Speech. That would be the appropriate vehicle for legislation on this matter, if indeed legislation were needed.

As my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg said, the proposal purports to raise money for a victims fund, but most speeding offences are, fortunately, victimless. We penalise speeding because of the potential danger that it poses to others, so penalties are imposed for reasons of deterrence. However, fixed penalty notices are imposed only when the excess speeds involved are modest rather than severe. If a motorist is detected driving at very great speeds, he does not have the option of going for the fixed penalty notice, as the prosecuting authorities will require the matter to be referred to the magistrates court. As a result, the Bill surcharges fixed penalty notices even though, by definition, they apply to the lesser offences in any particular category.

Speed cameras are also used to raise revenue, and that is one reason why they have fallen into disrepute. The best way to help victims of speeding drivers is through education. That is why Conservative Members argue that the so-called camera safety partnership funds into which the fixed penalties for speeding offences are paid should be available for use in road safety education, generally, and driver improvement programmes in particular. Surely if the Government are serious about helping the victims of speeding motorists, the first thing that they could do, without having to amend the Bill or introduce such a proposal, is allow the funds to which I refer to be allocated for road safety education and driver improvement programmes.

Sadly, the more the Government impose stealth taxes on motorists and penalise them to a greater extent than is reasonable for minor infringements, the more the burden of fatalities on the roads increases. In the past five years, the number of fatalities on our roads has increased under the Government. A Government who were more contrite would wonder why and say, "Perhaps we got the psychology of penalising motorists with fixed penalty notices wrong, and this is just compounding the felony."

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office 4:30, 27 October 2004

I shall remind hon. Members what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said on Second Reading. I reminded hon. Members of this in Committee, and I do so again today in view of the comments that have been made. He said:

"Following the consultation, we accept that it would be wrong for low-level first-time offences to be subject to a surcharge."—[Hansard, 14 June 2004; Vol. 422, c. 540.]

He listened to the consultation and was quite clear about that. Under the Bill, therefore, any offender who commits a road traffic offence for the first time and receives penalty points on their licence will not have to pay the surcharge.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

The Minister is quite right—I quoted the record in exactly the same way—but that is where the Home Secretary sought to pull the wool over our eyes. In no response to the consultation was it assumed that first-time offenders would be involved. It was always assumed that more than one offence would be needed; it was never assumed that the number would be as few as two. That was how the Home Secretary managed to pull the wool over all our eyes.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The hon. Lady talks about assumptions, and she previously gave us a number of quotes, which I shall come to shortly, in relation to the consultation.

Only when someone commits a second endorsable road traffic offence within three years will they become liable to pay the surcharge, and the regulations will make it clear that the further road traffic offence must be endorsable. Let us be clear what we mean when we talk about endorsable motoring offences. We are not talking about people who have a brake light out, people who park on the hard shoulder or those who do not have a working car horn. Those offences are not endorsable.

We are talking about people who, for example, travel at 50 mph in a 30 mph zone; people who go through red traffic lights, endangering people's lives; and people who overtake on pedestrian crossings. Those are endorsable offences, and they are very serious matters indeed. That is why introducing the surcharge after the second endorsable offence is a fair method. Drivers will receive a warning. If they offend again, they will be required to pay the surcharge. Whatever the outcome of the Department for Transport's review of penalty points, it will be clear that the second endorsable offence, not the value of the penalty points, will attract the surcharge. The number of occasions on which an offence is committed will be considered.

Amendment No. 65 would completely remove those who commit serious and persistent road traffic offences from liability for the surcharge. Under amendment No. 11, the surcharge could be applied only to someone who had been disqualified from driving. Both those amendments would smash into the provisions as currently drafted.

Sometimes in debates in the House and in conversations outside it is suggested that, somehow, people who commit an endorsable motoring offence are not really offenders. They are offenders, and many people commit such serious offences. Mrs. Gillan cited several responses to the consultation and I read a comment in this morning's newspapers by a spokesman for the motoring lobby describing speeding as a "victimless crime". In some senses, Mr. Chope echoed that sentiment. How can it be argued that a speeding motorist commits a victimless crime? Speeding contributes to 36,000 serious injuries a year, and people who speed cause 3,400 fatalities on our roads every year. Some 85 per cent. of people who are hit by motor vehicles travelling at 40 mph are killed. The impact on a pedestrian is a third greater if the speed of a vehicle increases from 30 to 35 mph. These are serious matters.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Will the Minister explain what the Home Secretary meant when he said on Second Reading that he would consider introducing

"a levy of £10 on fixed penalty notices for serious repeat offenders, as opposed to general fixed penalty notices"?

That does not seem to be what the Minister is saying. The Home Secretary went on to say:

"We will link the levy to the higher number of points added to people's licences, so the system will be fair to everybody."—[Hansard, 14 June 2004; Vol. 422, c. 540.]

The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I did not think that higher points were applied to fixed penalty notices by definition—that is complete nonsense.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The important part of my right hon. Friend's comments is the word "repeat". He was rightly making the point that the scheme would apply if a person committed an endorsable offence a further time. The provision sends the important message that we want to reduce the incidence of speeding and road traffic offences, and the impact that such offences have on victims.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

I am beginning to get really worried. I understood that the surcharge would go into a victims fund to be spent on victims generally. The Minister now says that the surcharge is supposed to hit motorists hard to stop them speeding. He cannot have it both ways. Is the surcharge a revenue-raising measure for the victims fund, or another attack on motorists using a heavy-handed tool to try to bring them in line?

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

It is possible to achieve both things. The surcharge will help victims, and if motorists pay attention to the message that goes out and fewer of them are caught speeding, there will be fewer victims of speeding. The hon. Lady suggests that there is a contradiction, but both benefits are possible, so that is not the case. If the accusation is that we are surcharging offenders to provide additional support to victims, I am happy to plead guilty. It is important for people who commit such serious offences to support victims in the way we suggest.

We are responding to organisations such as Greater Manchester police, who do a good job policing my constituency and many others. I do not think that the scheme will be a nice little earner, as it has been described today. The money raised will go to the victims fund. That will be welcomed by the victims of not only motoring offences but sexual offences and domestic violence, about whom we talked earlier.

The Bill allows us to convert fines and surcharges into work; the enabling powers are included in the Courts Act 2003, although they are still being piloting. We intend to convert fines to work only if there is absolutely no other way of extracting the money from an offender.

The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham was right to cite £1.6 million as the cost of administering the fund, but that will be the cost of administering the whole fund, not just the bit relating to motoring offences, so the money will pay for a larger administrative task than she might have thought. Of course we will bear down on the cost of administration when we can, but we think that the administrative costs are worth bearing in pursuit of our objective.

I do not think that I will persuade the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham to change his mind. Some parts of the Bill apply to England and Wales and others apply to Northern Ireland. There are varying powers in various parts of the Bill. On the negative procedure, the powers in section 53 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 are not used in secret, even if they are employed by negative resolution. There is a responsibility under section 88 of the 1988 Act to consult representative organisations when secondary legislation is made. That consultation will take place.

There has been considerable debate about how we define the word "persistent" and what we mean by the word "repeat". Frankly, twice is once too many. The issue is deeply serious. If someone who travels at 50 mph in a 30 mph zone twice in three years or who goes through a red light and then overtakes on a pedestrian crossing twice in three years merely faces a modest surcharge on their fixed penalty notice, and not the consequences that could have arisen had they knocked down a child or severely injured someone, that is a price worth paying.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

The Minister knows that if the police consider that the facts surrounding a speeding offence are such that the person should be brought before the court rather than receive a fixed penalty notice, they have the power to do that. By the very action of issuing and agreeing to a fixed penalty notice, the police signify that they consider the offence to be at the bottom end of seriousness; otherwise, the fixed penalty notice would not operate.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The hon. Gentleman knows the arguments on fixed penalty notices. Part of the reason for them is to deliver fast and efficient justice, but of course people can be prosecuted and taken to court if the circumstances demand it.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Minister, Home Affairs, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Constitutional Affairs)

Will the Minister consider the situation, which is not untypical, although I cannot claim to have been involved in it myself, of someone who commits two offences or is given two tickets on the same day and on the same stretch of road because he has triggered a camera twice, as opposed to the scenario that he describes? How can that be called a persistent offence?

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

Because he has done it twice. We have discussed whether persistent means twice or more often, but twice is once too often, whether it is on the same day or over a period of three years. If all someone has at the end of committing those serious offences is a small surcharge, and not the consequence of knocking down and killing a child, he has got off lightly. Having said that, I ask for the amendment to be withdrawn.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

I feel a bit sorry for the Minister because he put up a bit of a fight, but his position is indefensible, and he knows it. Mr. Heath was right in what he said in support of the amendments and I invite him to join us in the Lobby—or perhaps he will invite us to join him in the Lobby if I withdraw amendment No. 65 and allow amendment No. 11 to stand as our test.

My right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg made his usual valuable contribution to the passage of legislation. Frankly, the Minister is trying to get at the lower end of the scale because that is where the volume and numbers are and where the money can be raked in. The points about no relationship between the quality of the offence and the fund were valid.

The Minister ignored our concerns about the negative resolution. The proposal imposes taxation without limit and representation.

There is no safeguard on the level at which the Government could set the fine. The Minister failed to address my point that the Home Secretary said that the surcharge would be £10, whereas he himself said that it would be £5. There is already confusion about the proposal before we have even reached square one.

A Government who ignore the views of the Police Federation, the Magistrates Association, various police forces and motorists' organisations should think twice. Speeding fines are widely viewed as stealth taxes and are not always a means of improving road safety. Indeed, the revenue generated from motorists is not put towards road safety. Very little of the income generated by fines for motoring offences or duties on vehicle excise, fuel and insurance is spent on road safety or even on the general upkeep of roads. The motorist is therefore already getting poor value for money from the Government, even before this new stealth tax is introduced. The majority of people who will pay into the victims fund are otherwise law-abiding individuals. With the possible exception of the driver who went down the road and triggered a camera twice, they are tax and insurance-paying motorists. They have been caught in the headlights of the Minister and the Home Secretary, who think that they have a captive audience. Ministers are leading the fatted lamb to the slaughter, and once again they believe that the motorist can pay for other people's crimes. The criminals are laughing, but the motorists have been caught, so I urge my hon. Friends and other Members to join us in the Lobby and vote against this preposterous measure.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 11, in page 10, line 29, leave out from 'driving' to end of line 31.—[Mr. Heath.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 175, Noes 290.

Division number 288 New Clause 10 — Victims of persons subject to hospital order with restriction order: representations — Clause 16 — Higher fixed penalty for repeated road traffic offences

Aye: 175 MPs

No: 290 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Question accordingly negatived.