Amendments made: No. 1, page 133, line 31, at end insert—
'(15A) Hackney carriages and private hire vehicles
|Short title and chapter||Extent of repeal|
|Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 (c. 57)||Section 75(1)(b).|
|Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 (c. 34)||In section 1(1)(a), in the definition of "private hire vehicle", the words "to the public".'.|
No. 2, page 134 , leave out lines 8 to 11. —[Mr. Heppell.]
No. 3, line 2, leave out 'trunk road picnic areas and private hire vehicles' and insert
'hackney carriages and private hire vehicles, and trunk road picnic areas'.— [Mr. Heppell.]
Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, and Prince of Wales's consent, on behalf of the Duchy of Cornwall, signified.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
It has been a long journey. When the Bill first entered Parliament in 2004, statistics showed 3,508 deaths on the road every year. The figure has dropped by 8.5 per cent., or 300 lives a year, since then.
My hon. Friend will know of Isabel Brydie, a formidable lady in my constituency. She is the Scottish "driver" of SCID, the Scottish campaign against irresponsible drivers. She spoke to me over the weekend, and asked me to pass on her congratulations, and those of her members and supporters. They welcome this Government initiative. I am sure my hon. Friend will join me in congratulating not only Isabel but the campaign.
I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating Isabel and SCID. I also congratulate all the road safety groups and lobby organisations that have taken such an interest in the Bill and given us their advice. I have not always accepted it or agreed with it, but it has always been constructive and useful to us all in our debates.
Since 2004, the total number of deaths and serious injuries has fallen by 13.5 per cent., and by 33 per cent. compared with the 1994-98 baseline. That is well on the way to our target of a 40 per cent. reduction by 2010. The number of children killed or seriously injured has fallen by 49 per cent. compared with the baseline. I am proud to say that this country has one of the safest road networks in the world, at or near the very top of any European league of road safety. We are making progress, with the number of road casualties falling every year. However, if we want to ensure that the number continues to fall, we cannot be complacent. Nine people a day are still dying on our roads.
We have indeed seen notable successes on British roads in recent years, but will my hon. Friend comment on an article in the British Medical Journal that fails to find much of a correlation between the number of serious injuries caused by road accidents as recorded in hospital admission statistics and as recorded by the police? There seems to be a discrepancy that needs to be bridged.
I can comment on that. The fact is that there has always been a known under-reporting of accidents. There is, of course, no under-reporting of fatalities. Everyone agrees that fatalities are reported to the police as well as appearing in hospital statistics. The figures that I have just given include the fatality figures, and they are still falling. There has always been under-reporting of other accidents, but as it has always been there, there is no reason to believe that it is becoming more serious now than it ever was. Whether we take the police or the hospital figures, the trends are falling. However, the Department has acknowledged that further work is needed, and we are continuing to conduct research on the matter. Indeed, I would argue that we identified it as an issue needing research even before the appearance of the article in the British Medical Journal.
As I was saying, if we want to continue to drive down the number of accidents and fatalities, we cannot be complacent. We need further measures to raise the standard of driving and to make irresponsible driving a thing of the past, and that is exactly what the Bill seeks to do.
Does the Minister agree that dual carriageways are much safer than ordinary single carriageways, but that they need proper crash barriers? Is he aware that some stretches of dual carriageway do not have such crash barriers? Is he concerned about that and will he give any priority to the matter?
I am always anxious to see measures put in place that are based on evidence. Not all roads need crash barriers. A risk assessment has to be performed and if we use resources unnecessarily in one place, they cannot be used more effectively in another place. As a matter of principle, I would expect most dual carriageways to have crash barriers and, ultimately, they will all have them. On the trunk road system, however, where we have decided that crash barriers are unnecessary, the decision has to be based on a risk assessment of a particular stretch of road. I cannot provide the hon. Gentleman with a definitive statement about any specific road, but I can tell him that a mile of motorway in this country now costs an average of about £25 million, while four-lane dual carriageways cost about £16 million a mile. No one can accuse us of under-engineering the new road infrastructure. It is partly that engineering that has led to the decrease in the number of accidents and it helps to explain the fact that we have among the safest roads in the world. That is not to say that they cannot be made more safe or that we should not attempt to do more.
The Bill is designed to address irresponsible driving and to deal with non-UK residents who break the law. By seeking deposits from the drivers of heavy goods vehicles, we will deal with foreign drivers who break the law in the belief that they can get away without penalty. It even allows us to impound their vehicles if they do not have the cash to pay the deposit. It allows us better to enforce insurance legislation by moving towards a system of continuous insurance. The bane of honest drivers' lives are people who are driving around this country without paying their insurance, costing us all an extra £30 a year on our premiums. I hope that that will be dealt with by the continuous insurance provisions.
The Bill also deals with many other important issues, such as speeding, recklessness and people who cause death by careless driving—a major new provision. Currently, someone may face a long custodial sentence if found guilty of dangerous driving, but because it is a difficult case to prove, he may be found guilty only of careless driving. He may then be given what appears to many victims and their families as only a slap on the wrist. The Bill fills that gap very well.
Will the Minister accept the thanks of many of my constituents for introducing this new law? A young girl, Alexine Melnik, was killed by a careless driver, who received a wholly inappropriate penalty. Labour and independents as well as Conservatives in Wellingborough have long campaigned for a change in the law. The father, Mr. Peter Melnik, is delighted to see this law passed.
I am delighted that he and other Wellingborough constituents are happy. I can understand their pain. A constituent of mine was killed by someone driving dangerously at a set of traffic lights, but because of the vagaries of the current law the driver was fined just £100 for causing a young man's death and leaving a widow. That is unacceptable; the new legislation fills the gap in the law and fulfils our manifesto commitment at the last election. I am proud that we have been able to agree on the new measure. I very much hope that the House of Lords will accept the view of the Commons and will not attempt to change this provision.
I do not want to go through a long list of thanks to various people, because I know that hon. Members will want to contribute to our Third Reading debate. I would, however, like to pay tribute to both Front-Bench spokesmen for the constructive way in which they have participated. We have not agreed on everything, but we have had good fun debating the matter. Their arguments have been constructive, if occasionally wrong-headed. We have had a good debate and I commend all members of both Front Benches for that.
I wish to mention some of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend Ms Keeble, whose private Member's Bill introduced the careless driving provisions that we have made part of the Bill. My hon. Friend Mr. Kidney has been a long-term campaigner on road safety and is a former chairman of PACTS. He has been constructive throughout the debate. He and I have different opinions on how we enforce the measures on the level of alcohol in the bloodstream, but there are very few things on which we disagree.
A Member who cannot be here tonight—he has apologised—has been with this Bill since 2004 but finally had to give in and go off with a Select Committee: my hon. Friend Dr. Iddon. Had he been here, he would have been rebelling with my hon. Friend Mr. Drew on retro-reflective tape.
Other hon. Members have contributed to this enjoyable debate and I would particularly like to mention Mr. Knight, a doughty defender of the owners of heritage Bentleys. I am sorry that he cannot be here for the final stage of the Bill.
I wish to thank my hon. Friend Mr. Slaughter, my Parliamentary Private Secretary, who has looked after me throughout the Bill. Most of all, I wish to thank my officials for the wonderful work they have done. We cannot acknowledge anything that happens outside this Chamber, but were they listening. I hope that they would feel proud of their contribution to making our roads safer. I commend the Bill to the House.
It has been a long ride; I feel positively arriviste, as my participation goes back only to the new year. However, the Bill began in 2004 and the Minister quite rightly said that its main objective is to reduce the number of those killed on our roads. In 2005, 3,201 people were killed on our roads; there were 271,017 casualties, of whom 141 were children who were killed. We have no intention of opposing the Bill, because there are certain measures that we think will help to reduce that figure. The Minister said it had come down, but it is still an unacceptable figure and we have a nasty feeling that it may have plateaued.
We are pleased about some elements of the Bill, such as road safety grants.
In my constituency last year, the rate of fatalities was, sadly, four times the national average. I hope that my hon. Friend will join me in recognising that road safety grants provide an opportunity for groups such as Time and Place in my constituency to get extra funding to continue the good work that they have done, particularly with younger drivers, to help bring down the rate of fatalities.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am not aware of the details of the organisation, but it is probably the sort of educational project of which we approve.
We are in favour of the financial penalty deposits and the immobilisation and removal of vehicles. That would certainly help our haulage industry, which is up against fearsome competition following the huge increase in the number of foreign trucks on our roads—up from 671,000 a year in 1997 to 1,595,000 in 2004. We hope that those sensible measures will work. We approve of medical inquiries for high-risk offenders following disqualification and of some of the measures to try to prevent deaths caused by uninsured drivers, although we feel they do not go far enough. Similarly, we approve of the measures to keep vehicles that do not meet insurance requirements, although we would want to go further. We like the tightening up on registration plates and the regulation of vehicles modified to run on fuels stored under pressure.
Overall, however, we felt that the Bill was a missed opportunity. As the Minister acknowledged, we did not take a partisan approach. We tried to table constructive amendments and new clauses that would help to save lives, but we are ultimately disappointed with the Bill. We will not oppose its Third Reading tonight, but it could have been so much better.
Some of the measures were petty, such as the ban on detection devices which effectively give drivers an extra pair of eyes and ears. We were also disappointed by the Government's continuing pigheadedness and pusillanimity about taking on the European Commission on safety issues on which other countries have already gone ahead. Those issues included retro-reflective tape, mirrors and alarms.
We were disappointed on the issue of the inclusion of a rudimentary first aid element in driving tests. There is good evidence that if one can clear the airwaves of someone in an accident within four minutes they will live, but if not, they will die. We thought that such a provision would help to save lives, but we were turned down.
The nearest we got to changing the Government's mind was on motorbikes in bus lanes. We all but got the Minister to accept that there should be a presumption that motorbikes should be allowed in all bus lanes unless specifically excluded, perhaps outside schools, hospitals or fire stations, but the Minister did not even give in on that.
We could not persuade the Government on other issues, including some of regulation. We proposed a regime for licensing limousines, the number of which has increased spectacularly from 3,000 in 2003 to more than 11,000 now. Those large vehicles are not properly regulated, but many people travel in them and we fear that there may be a horrible accident. We also proposed regulation of pedicabs. We tabled amendments, having consulted the businesses involved, but time and again we were rebuffed.
The Bill failed to address two big areas. We consistently tabled amendments that would have toughened up—
The first big issue is the problem of rogue drivers. Some 750,000 cars are not properly registered on the database. Some 2 million drivers drive without tax or insurance, and some 500,000 may be unlicensed. The Department for Transport told us in September that as many as three in 10 vehicles may operate outside the laws on registration, vehicle testing and insurance. Research shows that drivers of such vehicles are 10 times more likely to have been convicted of drink- driving, six times more likely to have been convicted of driving an unsafe vehicle, and three times more likely to have been convicted of driving without due care and attention.
Our amendments would have borne down on hit-and- run drivers, for whom we wished to introduce a maximum penalty of 14 years so that there was no incentive to leave the scene of a serious accident if one had had a drink. We were disappointed that the Government did not accept the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend Andrew Selous, which would have caught those who constantly flout the law by giving a false address. We fear that instead of targeting the small number who cause disproportionate damage and mayhem, we risk alienating the 34 million drivers who just want to get from A to B safely and in comfort.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning new clause 17, which we did not reach tonight. The Minister mentioned the fulfilment of manifesto commitments, but I wonder whether he remembers that the previous Secretary of State said:
"If people are using a false address or fiddling the system and the police cannot get to them, we need to sort that out, and we will do so."—[ Hansard, 8 March 2006; Vol. 443, c. 834.]
We are still waiting to find out how that pledge will be fulfilled.
My hon. Friend has spoken with real passion on the subject, and he is absolutely right. It was disappointing that we did not manage to discuss the matter on Report or Third Reading. I urge the Minister to find out whether something could be done in the Lords, when the Bill goes back there, because there is a serious problem.
I remind hon. Members that the reason why we did not pursue the matter is that the head of roads policing for the Association of Chief Police Officers assured us that the police do not believe that any new powers are necessary. He is convinced that the police can enforce in this matter without any change in the law.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire would confirm that Bedfordshire police feel strongly about the issue. I suggest that the Minister invite my hon. Friend for a serious chat about the problem, to find out whether it could be resolved.
Looking at the clock, I see that I must make progress. I fear that we have not concentrated enough on rogue drivers. The danger, as I have said, is that we risk alienating the huge number of law-abiding drivers who want to get from A to B. There were 200,000 speeding fines 10 years ago, but that has rocketed to 2 million today. There are 1 million drivers on six or more penalty points, but the number of traffic policemen has fallen from 9,201 in 1997 to 7,103 in 2005. We are worried that there is too much dependence on mechanical, fixed forms of enforcement, and not enough on human beings—policemen—who can take account of varying conditions. We are concerned about that serious failing in the Government's strategy.
We are concerned about young drivers. Drivers under the age of 29 cause a third of such accidents, and drivers between 17 and 20 are six times more likely to be involved in a collision causing injury than a driver over 40. We would like more emphasis on education, and on the need to show drivers that passing their test and no longer needing a provisional licence is only the beginning. It should be the start of a lifelong process of engaging with people who know more about driving, so that they can secure more skills and build them up. A massive opportunity has been missed in the Bill: I would like the Secretary of State and the Minister of State to take that on board, because young people cannot end the learning process at 17 or 18, as soon as they have passed their test. There should be a progression throughout their lives, and all of us should be involved.
The hon. Gentleman refers to education, but would he include in the categories of drivers to be sent back to the classroom the drivers of Chelsea tractors—the 4x4 vehicles that are the environmental polluters? In the British Medical Journal, to which I referred a moment ago, they have been shown to be much more likely not to be wearing seatbelts, and much more likely to be using mobile phones in a dangerous manner. Does not that category of driver require more attention?
That may be one category, but a wide range of people cease to concentrate on their driving skills. There should be a carrot among the measures; my last point is that the Bill is all stick. The Government's strategy is dependent on stick, but it should concentrate on the rogue drivers, and there should be a carrot for the vast majority of drivers who, as I said, want to get from A to B in safety. We do not have that incentive system, which might possibly work for the people mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.
Other hon. Members wish to speak, but I should briefly like to thank my team. My right hon. Friend Mr. Knight, who is sadly not in his seat, was a fund of information and knowledge, both as a former Minister and as an owner of 15 cars. I thank our Whip, my hon. Friend Mr. Bellingham, who kept us in line on procedure and chipped in with some helpful contributions in debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend Stephen Hammond, who has been in the House for only a year, and who led with me on the Front Bench in a most competent and professional manner. That is a sure sign that he is going places, as, I am sure, is my hon. Friend Mr. Scott—he is not present—who made some sterling contributions.
We should congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mr. Harris. It is remarkable what happens when a west midlands MP goes north to a little birthday party, but we give the new Under-Secretary our congratulations.. He emerged today on the Front Bench, but when we last saw him in Committee, he was a Back-Bench Member. It would be wrong of me not to mention the Committee Clerk, Dr. John Benger, who was a fund of advice to us and extremely helpful. I should be most grateful, Mr. Speaker, if you would pass our thanks on to him. With that, I wish the Bill well on its passage through the Lords.
I congratulate the team and the Minister on the Bill. Among other jobs, I spent several years as a professional driver of cars, trucks and buses before I entered this place, so I know how hard it is to legislate fairly in that area.
I seek assurance from the Minister on two issues. As he knows, I tabled two amendments that we were unable to discuss today. The first was to make the penalty for using a hand-held mobile phone obligatory disqualification, as it is for drink-driving. Research shows that using a hand-held mobile phone is as distracting for a driver as being at the blood alcohol limit for driving. Furthermore, the individual driving a car with a mobile phone in their hand will have impaired physical ability to control the vehicle. The Bill toughens up the provisions by making disqualification and points on the person's licence a possibility, but I urge the Minister for an assurance that the Government will keep the matter under review, because the penalty is not high enough.
My second amendment related to the fitting of vehicle data recording devices—often called black boxes. Manufacturers are already doing that, but we do not have a regime for using the information from those devices, which are a major safety aid. In my area, the West Midlands police are retro-fitting black boxes in all their vehicles. They believe that the boxes will pay for themselves. In one case, information from the black box fitted in a police vehicle was used to exonerate a police officer accused of driving carelessly and injuring a pedestrian. The data from the electronic box showed that that was not the case. I seek the Minister's assurance that the Government will continue to press that issue in the European Union so that we can have a regime across the EU whereby all new cars are fitted with vehicle data recording devices, which are a major aid to safety.
I, too, associate myself with the remarks made by the Minister and Mr. Paterson about all those who have contributed in so many ways to the passage of the Bill. As the Minister indicated, the proceedings in Committee were, by and large, constructive and good humoured. As someone who came to my present job after being part of the Home Affairs team, I found that a pleasant change.
I place on record my appreciation of the efforts of my colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) and for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech), and my predecessor in this job, my hon. Friend Tom Brake, who led for us on Second Reading, which was some time ago. I echo the congratulations of the hon. Member for North Shropshire to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mr. Harris, on his well deserved appointment to the ministerial team. The hon. Gentleman has been uncharacteristically mute this evening, but I know from the experience of many years locked with him in small studios at 4 Millbank, broadcasting to a tiny number of people in Scotland, that he is a doughty defender of Government interests. I have no doubt that when he is released from his silence his contributions will be characteristically well informed and of assistance to the House.
At times, I wondered whether we would ever reach Third Reading. It seems so long since we finished even the Committee stage. As has been reflected in other contributions, much in the Bill is good. However, so much more could be better. I feel sincere regret that on the big issues—the real opportunities in the Bill—there has been a certain timidity at the heart of the proposals and measures that the Government have introduced.
A reduction in drink-driving limits would have been a real opportunity for the House to make a significant difference in the number of lives lost and injuries caused, and to reinforce the message about the social unacceptability of drinking and driving. Likewise, there could have been an opportunity to reduce default speed limits in built-up areas, which we see already in many different communities throughout the country—Newcastle, Aberdeen and other places are making real progress in that regard. What a chance there was to offer those opportunities to every community, but unfortunately, owing to timidity and lack of conviction, the opportunity was missed.
Then of course there is that issue of massive geopolitical significance—the fitting of retro-reflective markings to heavy goods vehicles—which ultimately, it seems, will have to be resolved by the United Nations Security Council. It beggars belief that so many excuses can be produced for not doing something that is so sensible. It really was like finding oneself in the middle of a "Yes, Minister" sketch listening to the Minister tonight trying to defend the Government's position.
Of perhaps less central importance but significant none the less is the question of pedicab regulation. I am concerned that we have missed an opportunity for proper, effective and responsible regulation of the pedicab industry. That is of particular importance to the capital, and for pedicabs to be squeezed off the streets by Westminster city council and taxi operators is neither fair nor sensible. I do not know how we will now resolve that issue. I fear that it will ultimately be dealt with by the courts, and it was something that we could have dealt with in this Bill.
I fear that we have not yet seen the last of the Bill. There are still a number of issues outstanding with the other place. I refer of course to the provisions relating to level crossings and to bridge strikes. We finish with the Bill tonight, allowing the Minister and his colleagues time for reflection. I hope that he will use it well and that, on mature consideration, he will see that there is worth in what the other place has done. I hope that he will not continue to resist Members in that place.
Those points aside, we wish the Bill well. We think that it will make a significant contribution to the safety of our streets and roads, and for that we are very grateful.
I shall speak for only a minute. We remain disappointed about the issue of retro-reflective tape, but I am sure that we will live to fight another day. Overall, this is a very good Bill, and I hope that it will become law as a matter of urgency, because many of these measures are required.
I add one thought, which is that we are not talking just about car users. We should also be talking about cyclists and pedestrians. Sometimes we spend an awful lot of time talking about one aspect of casualties on our roads—those who drive cars or who are in cars. Of course, cars have collisions with bikes and people. I hope that in due course we will also see further regulation to protect those who are not in cars or heavy goods vehicles, because they matter too—perhaps more.
It has been a long road to get to this point in improving road safety. Certainly I can commend much in the Bill, and my constituents will do likewise. It has been a particularly long road for those in my constituency who have been campaigning on a wide range of road safety issues, not least the Galli-Atkinson family, who lost Livia when, in 1997, she was the victim of a tragic crash caused by a dangerous driver who received a lenient sentence. They have been campaigning since then, not only on the need to increase penalties for dangerous driving but on a wide range of issues of education and other aspects of safety. They will no doubt commend much of the Bill.
The family helped to set up the Livia award. Its panel met last month with my predecessor and others to commend those police officers who have been most meritorious in their investigation of road crash incidents and who have shown outstanding service to road crash victims. During that meeting one example exposed a gap that the Minister is too ambitious in saying has been plugged. Last year, a driver high on drugs and drink sped away from a police patrol car, overtook a car on a pedestrian crossing by travelling on the wrong side of the road and struck a married couple on the crossing. The husband died and the wife survived but in a brain-damaged condition, and she now requires 24-hour nursing care. The eight-year sentence for causing death by dangerous driving was relatively appropriate, but there was no sentence at all for the injuries to the wife. I suggest that no sentence is provided by the Bill.
Another example is that of Rachel Jones, aged 13. She was crossing a road when she was hit by a car driven dangerously by Carl Smith at 98 mph. We all have concerns about dangerous drivers speeding and driving unlicensed and drunk. Rachel was left severely brain damaged and in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. She has no movement in the right side of her body. Her mum, Sheri Ozdemir, described Smith's two-year jail sentence as "a joke". She said:
"He 'killed' the Rachel we had for 13 years and yet he can get away with doing just two years. Rachel's future as a bright and active young teenager was cruelly taken from her by a man who did not even have a licence to drive a car."
The driver received a two-year sentence. The victim and her family have effectively lost a life. Although she is living, she is brain damaged.
The concern that I and others have, which we should like to have debated further on my new clause 26, is the gap between those convicted of dangerous driving and those convicted of causing death by dangerous driving. The gap in sentencing is too large, considering the serious injuries that often result from such incidents. In response to a consultation paper in February, the Government said they would take account of non-fatal injuries by way of a sentence for bad driving. They intended to increase the penalty for dangerous driving from two years to five years. They should reflect whether we need further legislation or an increased penalty for dangerous driving to plug the gap that still exists for those who have suffered serious injuries but not death.
Although the penalties for dangerous driving have increased, those who are almost at the point of death, who are seriously injured to the point of brain damage, do not receive the justice that they deserve. One cannot see the qualitative difference between the husband and wife who were both injured. One died and the other was left brain damaged. What is the qualitative difference between them as victims? That gap needs to be filled. It is not adequate for the Government to say that they will deal with the matter by introducing an aggravating factor for causing death by dangerous driving or for dangerous driving. We need a specific offence or, at the very least, increased penalties for dangerous driving.
Northern Ireland has an offence of causing death or grievous bodily harm by dangerous driving, but we do not. Why is that good for Northern Ireland but not for the rest of the United Kingdom? The Bill raises questions that victims in my constituency and elsewhere would ask. How can Parliament justify a penalty for causing death by dangerous driving but not for causing grievous bodily harm by dangerous driving? How can the Government and Parliament justify a penalty for causing death by dangerous driving but not for brain death by dangerous driving?
I am disappointed at not having secured debates on the amendments in my name on seat belt wearing and court presentation officers, but despite those minor disappointments, this is a good Bill. I am disappointed that my hon. Friend the Minister and I cannot see eye to eye about the legal limit for drinking and driving, but let there be no doubt that my opinion of him is that he is a very good Minister indeed for road safety in the United Kingdom. No one could doubt his personal commitment to high standards of road safety and driving down still further the casualties that occur day in, day out on our roads.
My hon. Friend was able to publish some good news recently, with the 2005 statistics for casualties on our roads, with reductions in deaths, serious injuries and total injuries. That is a good picture which he can feel some pride in. However, there was one worrying blip in those statistics—the number of cyclists killed in the last 12 months of the period covered by the statistics. I am sure my hon. Friend and his excellent team will want to evaluate what has gone wrong over the past 12 months and what we can do through further measures of education, enforcement of the existing laws and engineering measures to bring down the number of deaths of some of the most vulnerable road users.
Generally, the trend has been downward over a number of years. My hon. Friend can say that the Government are well on target to meet their casualty reductions for 2010. Some measures in the Bill will help towards those aims. In addition to the list that my hon. Friend provided, I draw attention to the promotion of a greater use of rehabilitation and driver improvement courses. They will prove to be significant over time.
Quite properly, the House is taking seriously the matter of death on our roads. There are in the Bill a number of measures to do with death, such as causing death by careless driving and causing death when driving illegally. Equally significant will be the alternative verdict permitted in a manslaughter case, which I hope will encourage prosecutors to be a little braver in charging people with manslaughter in appropriate cases—the most serious ones.
So all in all, this is a good Bill, which I hope will continue to promote the Government's ambition, and the House's wish, that the number of casualties on our roads will continue to decrease. I wish it well in the other place.
Like every Member who has spoken today, I welcome the Bill and wish it good passage on its way to the statute book, although we will have to see what the Lords do to it.
However, I have a huge disappointment that the Minister will be well aware of. For more than 18 months, I and Bedfordshire police—and, indeed, many other police forces throughout the country—have been trying to convince the Government that there is a very real problem with drivers who register their vehicles to addresses where the police cannot contact them. In response to my intervention on a Front-Bench colleague a few moments ago, the Minister said that the Association of Chief Police Officers told him that that was not a problem. Merely asserting that to be the case does not make it so. Officers from Thames Valley police and from the forces of Suffolk, Greater Manchester, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Essex, Nottinghamshire, Humberside, Derbyshire, Wiltshire, Warwickshire, Norfolk and Kent, to name but a few—those who actually have to do the job—have told Bedfordshire police that there is a very real problem. They have tried to feed that message up through ACPO. Perhaps there is a blockage in ACPO and its senior people are not listening to the officers on the ground who have to enforce the law, but there is a very real problem here.
I do not know why the Government have not moved on this matter; they have had plenty of warning. There have been two meetings at the Home Office and two at the Department for Transport, and we have had 18 months to look into this issue. In my constituency, there are horrendous examples of people driving unbelievably dangerously—speeding past cameras and jumping red lights time and again—whom the police can do nothing about. Bedfordshire police recently gave me a list of five fatalities, including that of an 18-month-old child, all of which could have been prevented if the Government had taken this issue seriously.
The Government say that the current law works properly. They did not like the amendments that I tried to put before them—we would have had before us a new clause 17 tonight—but at no time have they come forward with their own proposals, or any others, to deal with this matter.
I did not say that the current system is acceptable. What I said was that ACPO has given me a categorical assurance that it believes that this matter can be dealt with through policing techniques. Chief constable Med Hughes, who is the ACPO officer responsible for road policing, has told me that in his view—he believes that this is also the view of ACPO—this issue can be dealt with by different forms of policing. That is where he wants to put his efforts to start with, before we consider any further changes to legislation.
With the greatest of respect to the Minister and to the ACPO head of road policing, everything that I have been told by the officers on the ground who actually have to enforce the current law suggests that it does not work and that they simply have no options. The result is thousands of offences for which the fines are not collected, and the offences are repeated again and again; indeed, a whole morass of crime underpins this situation. Why would someone commit a crime in a vehicle other than one whose use means that they cannot be contacted? So I am afraid that I am not satisfied with the Minister's answer.
I just want to say a few words in strong support of Andrew Selous, who is my next-door neighbour, politically speaking. He is right to take a stronger line with errant drivers of the kind that he mentioned. I have always felt very strongly that we are too soft on this minority of drivers, who behave very badly and give a bad name to the millions of people who drive perfectly well and never cause an accident or an injury.
I very much hope that the other place will bring back amendments on reducing the alcohol level for drink-driving. In the past—unusually, I suppose—I have supported the Liberal Democrats on this issue in a previous Bill. We should fall into line with other European countries and take a much more serious view of the effects of alcohol on driving. We have all no doubt had a glass of wine or beer and driven afterwards, and we all know that it does make a difference to the way that we drive, however slight. The proposed half-limits that the Europeans have will make a difference, compared with those that we currently have. The change will be incremental, but there is no question but that lives will be saved. It might be 50 or 30 lives, but they will still be lives, so it is important that we take this step. It will also help to educate us all about the necessity of being responsible when we drive. Such strict laws reinforce—
It being Ten o'clock, Mr. Speaker put the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [
Question agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.