Driving Offences: Private Land

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:55 pm on 13th July 2017.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport) 4:55 pm, 13th July 2017

I thank my hon. Friend Alec Shelbrooke, who secured this Adjournment debate; he will have moved everyone who heard it today. As he knows, I am the father of two young sons, and I respond to the debate not only as a Minister of the Crown, but in that capacity. We have just been debating Passchendaele; how unfortunate that we should come to the Adjournment only to turn to another tragedy. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing the tale of Harry Whitlam to this Chamber. I offer my heartfelt condolences to the Whitlam family.

Regrettably, motor vehicles are responsible for too many deaths on our roads. Although this country has an enviable road safety record, in 2015 there were 1,750 reported road deaths in Great Britain, with many times that figure seriously injured. Motor vehicles were also responsible for a number of deaths away from the highway. In 2016-17, being struck by a moving vehicle was the cause of 31 deaths of workers, according to statistics compiled under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013. This makes it the leading cause of worker fatality.

Harry Whitlam was a child; he was not a worker in a formal sense, of course, but he was entitled to the same attention from those about him that any worker would have expected, or been entitled to. Our traffic law recognises that the highway can be a dangerous place, and it is based on the premise that motor vehicles will be moving at speed in close proximity to each other and other road users. The offences of careless or dangerous driving have been framed in that context, as my hon. Friend says.

Once we look away from the highway, the range of activities using a vehicle that take place on private land multiply in unimaginable profusion. An activity such as motor racing is designed to demonstrate the skills of motor racing drivers and mechanical engineers in ways that would not be appropriate on an open highway. Workers on a construction site may be controlling vehicles in spaces that they know do not have firm foundations or walls. Drivers who are airside at an airport share the ground with aircraft, with all the concomitant dangers that might bring.

All those drivers of course owe a duty of care to those about them, and that duty comes not from being employees or drivers, but quite straightforwardly from being human beings with a responsibility to their fellows. That can never be greater than when one thinks of young people and children. Our responsibility to take care of those around us must surely be exaggerated in our hearts—must be even greater—when we are speaking about vulnerable people: the very young, the very old, the frail, the disabled and the infirm, and so on. I understand my hon. Friend’s frustration that more is not done.

For more than 40 years, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 has provided a framework for ensuring that workplaces are safe. There is a reporting regime that allows the Health and Safety Executive to monitor shortcomings. Of course, not all private land is a workplace. Indeed, places often serve as both workplace and home. Farms are a prime example.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Rebecca Harris.)