Road Safety Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at 5:19 pm on 22nd November 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Votes in this debate

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Clause 15 [Penalty points]:

[Amendment No. 15 not moved.]

Clause 16 [Speed assessment equipment detection devices]:

[Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 not moved.]

Clause 17 [Exemptions from speed limits]:

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 5:20 pm, 22nd November 2005

moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 22, leave out lines 36 to 39 and insert—

"(2) Subsection (1) above does not apply unless the vehicle is being driven by a person who—

(a) has satisfactorily completed a course of training in the driving of vehicles at high speed provided in accordance with regulations under this section, or

(b) is driving the vehicle as part of such a course.

(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about courses of training in the driving of vehicles at high speed.

(4) The regulations may include—

(a) provision about the nature of courses,

(b) provision for the approval by the Secretary of State of persons providing courses or giving instruction on courses and the withdrawal of approvals (including provision for appeals against refusal and withdrawal of approvals),

(c) provision specifying the maximum fees that a person may be required to pay for a course,

(d) provision for the training or assessment, or the supervision of the training or assessment, of persons providing courses or giving instruction on courses,

(e) provision for the evidencing of the successful completion of courses,

(f) provision authorising the Secretary of State to make available information about persons providing courses or giving instruction on courses, and

(g) provision treating courses of training in the driving of vehicles at high speed which have been completed before the coming into force of the regulations as if they had been provided in accordance with the regulations.

(5) The regulations may include provision for the charging of reasonable fees in respect of any function conferred or imposed on the Secretary of State by the regulations.

(6) The regulations may make different provision—

(a) for different classes of vehicle,

(b) for different descriptions of persons, or

(c) otherwise for different circumstances.""

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this amendment slightly earlier than the House might have imagined. I am therefore superbly well equipped for the amendments of both the noble Earls, Lord Dundee and Lord Attlee, but less well equipped for the amendment of the Lord Davies of Oldham.

The amendment is a minor affair, acknowledging the great difficulties we have had with certain issues in the Bill thus far. Consequently, I am moving it as a formal government amendment because it is merely technical. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

moved Amendment No. 19:

After Clause 17, insert the following new clause—

"CAUSING DEATH BY CARELESS, OR INCONSIDERATE, DRIVING

(1) In the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52), after section 2A insert—

"2B CAUSING DEATH BY CARELESS, OR INCONSIDERATE, DRIVING

A person who causes the death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place, is guilty of an offence."

(2) In section 24(1) of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (c. 53) (alternative verdicts), in the Table—

(a) in the entry relating to section 1 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (causing death by dangerous driving), in the second column, after "Section 2 (dangerous driving)" insert "Section 2B (causing death by careless, or inconsiderate, driving)",

(b) after the entry relating to section 2 of that Act insert—

"Section 2B (causing death by careless, or inconsiderate, driving) Section 3 (careless, and inconsiderate, driving)",

(c) in the entry relating to section 3A of that Act (causing death by careless driving when under influence of drink or drugs), in the second column, before "Section 3 (careless, and inconsiderate, driving)" insert "Section 2B (causing death by careless, or inconsiderate, driving)".

(3) In Schedule 1 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (c. 53) (offences to which certain sections apply), after the entry relating to section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) insert—

"RTA section 2B Causing death by careless, or inconsiderate, driving. Sections 11 and 12(1) of this Act."

(4) In Part 1 of Schedule 2 to that Act (prosecution and punishment of offences: offences under the Traffic Acts), after the entry relating to section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) insert—

"RTA section 2B Causing death by careless, or inconsiderate, driving. (a) Summarilly (a) 12 months(in England and Wales) or 6 months (in Scotland) or the statutory maximum or both. Obligatory. Obligatory. 3–11"
(b) On indictment (b) 5 years or a fine or both.

(5) In sections 16(1)(a)(ii) and 17(1)(b) and (2)(b) of the Coroners Act 1988 (c. 13) (informing coroners)—

(a) after "1" insert ", 2B", and

(b) after "dangerous driving" insert ", careless driving".

(6) In paragraph 3 of Schedule 3 to the Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003 (c. 32) (offences where notice must be given to authority of State in which offender is normally resident), after paragraph (b) insert—

"(ba) section 2B (causing death by careless, or inconsiderate, driving),"."

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I come to an important part of the Bill which concerns speed limits and sentencing policy. The Home Office has, of course, a direct interest in this part of the Bill, and I was therefore looking with unsurpassed joy to the fact that my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton would be moving this amendment, while I would be able to give him the fullest moral support from the Bench. Regrettably, it falls to me to fulfil a rather more significant role on Amendment No. 19, and I take great pleasure in moving it.

The amendment is the first in a series that takes forward some long-awaited measures arising from the review of road traffic offences involving bad driving, a consultation exercise which ran from February to May this year. Of all the issues that we have been concerned about in the Bill, this is probably the one which has exercised the minds of noble Lords most energetically as being of absolutely central significance to the Bill.

The Government believe that it is vital to ensure that criminal law is fully effective in addressing bad driving and its all-too-often appalling consequences. These amendments will ensure that the offences and penalties available in cases of bad driving are sufficient in order to take into account the consequences of bad driving, as well as the offender's culpability. I would be extraordinarily na-ve if I did not recognise that this was a difficult and contentious issue. The Government are firmly of the opinion, however, that we need to address this issue, and particularly the effects of bad driving, in the Bill.

Amendment No. 19 creates a new offence of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving. It sets out the penalties for the offence and to which offences this would be available as an alternative verdict.

Amendment No. 29, which I will turn to in a moment, sets out in statute what is meant by careless or inconsiderate driving.

The offence of causing death by careless driving was originally proposed in the 1999 House of Commons Transport Committee's report Traffic Law and its Enforcement. At present, causing death by dangerous driving is rightly considered a serious crime, and the Government have already increased the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving, or causing death by careless driving while under the influences of alcohol or drugs, to 14 years' imprisonment. However, many people have argued that where the standard of driving is not categorised as dangerous, by that I mean that it is careless, and a death results, the law is inadequate.

What is the difference between "careless" and "dangerous" driving? It might be helpful if I turn to government Amendment No. 29, as it sets out what is meant by careless driving. Careless driving is currently defined in Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, which I shall from now on refer to as the RTA, as driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or another public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other users of the road or place. However, unlike the concept of dangerous driving, which is further defined in the statute as driving that falls "far below" the standard expected of a competent and careful driver, careless driving is not further defined. It is widely regarded, and there is case law to the effect, that careless driving is driving that falls "below" the standard expected of a competent and careful driver, but, for completeness and clarity, the consultation proposes that this needs to be set out in statute. That is done in subsections (2) and (3) of the Section 3ZA offence.

Furthermore, subsection (4) of the amendment defines inconsiderate driving as being driving that inconveniences another person. Government Amendment No. 29 does not alter in any way the definition of careless driving that has been established in case law, or indeed the definition of inconsiderate driving; it merely sets out those definitions in statute.

Amendment No. 29A would change that definition so that careless driving would only cover driving that falls substantially below that expected of a competent and careful driver.

As I have set out, where driving falls far below the expected standard, the offence of dangerous driving would be the appropriate charge.

Photo of Lord Lyell of Markyate Lord Lyell of Markyate Conservative

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, but he has just put in an extra word.

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Liberal Democrat

My Lords, with all due respect to the noble and learned Lord, it would be of help to your Lordships if this were to be put to the House before we start a debate on it.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I apologise to the Deputy Speaker and to the noble and learned Lord. He will have his chance to speak, I have no doubt. I was saying that where driving falls far below the expected standard, the offence of dangerous driving would be the appropriate charge. It is not clear how driving which falls substantially below what would be expected of the careful and competent driver would be distinguishable from driving which falls far below. In that sense, the noble Lord's amendment makes causing death by careless driving virtually identical to causing death by dangerous driving, thus doubling up what is already on the statute book.

I do, however, recognise the sentiment behind the noble Lord's amendment. He is no doubt concerned that minor errors could be covered by the existing definition of careless driving and therefore covered by the new offence contained in Amendment No. 19. It is of course true that minor errors can be careless and therefore would be covered by this offence. However, it is worth bearing in mind that bad driving is a question of degree. Careless driving ranges from minor errors to driving that is on the cusp of being dangerous. It is the latter that would be likely to attract a custodial sentence where a death is caused. I shall return to the sentence for the offence in a moment.

The issue of what driving behaviour should be covered by the offence of careless driving was considered prior to the consultation paper being published. When conducting the review of road traffic offences, the Government considered whether there should be an intermediate offence to cover the more serious types of careless driving, but the review process concluded that that would have been difficult to define and unnecessarily complex. Instead, we decided that it was better to rely on the judgment of the courts in view of the circumstances in each case. The meaning of careless driving is well established and there is no evidence that it is insufficient. Indeed, many respondents to the consultation felt that established case law definitions should be set out in statute, and that is what we have done. For those reasons, we will resist Amendment No. 19A.

So careless driving is driving that falls below, but not far below, the standard of a competent and careful driver. Turning again to government Amendment No. 19, at present, careless driving is punishable by a maximum fine of £2,500. Elsewhere in the Bill, that will be raised to £5,000 and may also be subject to community penalties. At present, a custodial sentence is not available, regardless of the consequences of that offence. That is because careless driving can apply to quite minor errors, although sometimes it may approach dangerous driving. There is no requirement that there be an obvious risk of injury or damage.

Some people argue that the consequences of the driving should not be an element of the offence—that only the standard of the driving should be assessed, not the possible tragic results. To some extent, I accept that. It is certainly true that the standard of driving must be the most important factor in judging culpability. However, the Government are committed to ensuring that we strike a balance between the level of criminal fault on the part of the careless driver and the devastation that can be caused. Drivers have a responsibility to other road users and we need to consider that when we strike that balance. That is why the consultation paper on bad driving offences proposed a new offence of causing death by careless driving with a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment.

There were strongly held views both for and against the principle of that offence and I expect that those views will be aired during our debate. The proposal was strongly supported by the general public and by road safety organisations. However, it will be known that, on the whole, the legal profession was not in favour. We have of course considered that carefully, but have concluded that the offence is necessary. It will, for the first time, allow the fatal consequences of careless driving to be reflected in the charge, even when no alcohol or drugs are involved, and will make available a custodial sentence. It will reflect the fact that a proportion of cases will be on the borderline between careless and dangerous driving. Most importantly, it will mean that the families of those killed by careless drivers feel that the law is adequate to deal with the circumstances and that the justice system is on their side so that, if, in all circumstances, a court feels that custody is appropriate, it will be available.

Of course, there will be instances—probably the majority—where custody is not considered to be the most appropriate penalty. The amendment merely ensures that custody is an option for the courts and allows the fact that the death to be recognised in the offence. That itself is an important acknowledgement of the tragedy that has happened to the families of victims of road accidents. Amendment No. 19C would reduce the maximum penalty available for the offence to three years imprisonment. As I said, the Government, have considered the principle of the offence carefully. We have also considered whether five years is the appropriate maximum penalty for such an offence. Most respondents to the consultation thought that it was. They thought that that penalty balances the offender's culpability, on the one hand, with the need to ensure that the offences and penalties available in cases of bad driving are sufficient to take account of the consequences. As I said, five years will be the maximum penalty available and will be used only where the courts were satisfied that it was necessary.

In response to concerns raised by the Justices Clerks' Society, the Law Society and the Faculty of Advocates in their consultation responses, the Government have decided that the offence should be triable either way. That will help to reassure those who are concerned about the offence that cases that remain suitable for trial in the magistrates' court will continue to be heard there. Where they are, 12 months will be the maximum available penalty in England and Wales; six months in Scotland. The offence is not designed to ensure that anyone committing it receives the five-year maximum penalty. The Government recognise that drivers do not generally set out to be careless and are often devastated to think that they have killed someone through their bad driving. The offence is designed to untie the court's hands, so that if the court thinks that a custodial penalty is warranted, it can impose one.

Amendment No. 19 also provides that the new offence of causing death by careless driving can be an alternative verdict where a prosecution for causing death by dangerous driving or for causing death while under the influence of drink or drugs has failed. That will ensure that bad drivers do not escape justice altogether.

I turn to government Amendment No. 20, which also advances a proposal contained in the consultation paper on bad driving offences. It creates a new offence where the person causes death and is at the same time driving while unlicensed, disqualified or without insurance. Drivers who bring a car onto the road illegally the public at risk. At present, if a disqualified driver causes an incident in which a person is killed, he could be prosecuted only for driving while disqualified, which attracts a low custodial sentence. Unless his driving is careless or dangerous, no more serious charge is available than that. Similarly, where the driver is driving without a licence or without insurance and kills, he can be prosecuted only with the offences of driving without insurance or without a licence, which are punishable only by fines.

We have listened to the families of victims killed by illegal drivers. They are understandably concerned that an offender can walk away with a fine for killing a person when they should not have been on the road in the first place. If a driver does not have a licence, he presents a risk. Where that risk materialises, the offence goes beyond unlicensed driving and the Government strongly believe that deaths should be recognised. So this offence reflects the fact that the driver should not have been on the road in the first place. It is entirely proper that those who deliberately flout the law in that manner should be held culpable for any fatal consequences that arise from their decision to drive.

An example of how that offence might be used would be where a child runs in front of a vehicle and is killed by a driver whose driving is of an acceptable standard. Where that driver is disqualified, unlicensed or uninsured, the Government believe that a more severe punishment should be available than at present. It is true that that is not strictly a case of bad driving, in that disqualified, unlicensed or uninsured drivers may be driving at the required standard, but I believe, as did many respondents to the consultation exercise, that the act of taking a vehicle on the road when disqualified or unlicensed shows a disregard for the safety of others that is not dissimilar to that disregard that may be shown by those who drive below the standard expected of a careful and competent driver.

A two-year maximum penalty for that offence, which is lower than that originally suggested in the consultation exercise, will recognise the fact that the driver has placed other road users at unacceptable risk, and that risk has materialised, but balances that with the fact that the standard of driving need not have been below that of the careful and competent driver.

Both government Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 provide that any person found guilty of those offences will be disqualified and have his licence endorsed as is consistent with other bad driving offences. As a general rule, where a person is convicted of an offence that is subject to obligatory disqualification, the court must impose a disqualification of not less than 12 months, unless there are special reasons to do otherwise. That is the effect of Section 34(1) of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988. However, Section 34(4) of that Act provides that in relation to manslaughter—or culpable homicide in Scotland—causing death by dangerous driving, and causing death by dangerous driving while under the influence, the minimum period of disqualification shall be two years.

Amendment No. 19A makes the new offence of causing death by careless driving subject to a minimum disqualification period of two years. The new offence is not as serious as the three offences that attract a minimum disqualification period of two years. Those three offences are subject to a very high custodial sentence—up to 14 years in the case of causing death by dangerous driving or causing death by careless driving while under the influence, and life imprisonment for manslaughter or culpable homicide. The new offence attracts a maximum custodial sentence of five years. For that reason, it should not be included in the small group of very serious offences for which the minimum period of disqualification is two years rather than 12 months.

If, for special reasons, a court opts not to disqualify an offender, government Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 set out the range of penalty points that may be awarded. It has been set between three and 11, which is consistent with other offences that attract mandatory disqualification; for example, causing death by dangerous driving or causing death while under the influence. Amendments Nos. 19B and 20A would change that range in relation to the new offences proposed here so that the minimum number of penalty points that could be awarded for those offences would be eight.

I have set out how those offences should fit within the bad driving framework of offences. All road traffic offences subject to obligatory disqualification attract a range of three to 11 penalty points to be applied where, for special reasons, the court opts not to disqualify. The proposed amendment, aside from putting the new offence out of step with all the others, would present a real practical difficulty. Where the person already had points on his licence, imposing eight or more further penalty points may well take the total to 12 or more, thus resulting in disqualification. The three to 11 range is designed to enable courts, for special reasons, to add points to a licence rather than to disqualify. The amendment would substantially reduce that possibility, in that it would be an option only where the individual concerned had three points or fewer on his licence. An example of a situation that might be regarded as a special reason for not disqualifying is where a car was driven carelessly in a medical emergency. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, who takes a very keen interest in those issues, would not want the courts to be limited in their power to deal sympathetically with those kinds of situations, but that would be the effect of his amendment. He will recognise, therefore, why I oppose Amendments Nos. 19A and 20B.

Neither of the proposed offences includes injury. That issue was considered in the consultation paper on bad driving offences. The Government have decided not to include injury in the scope of the offences. It was discussed at a previous stage and is raised in Amendment No. 63, to which I shall now speak.

Amendment No. 63 would add injury to the offence under Section 1 of the Road Traffic Act so that it would be an offence to cause death or injury by dangerous driving. That would be punishable by a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment. The question whether injury should be treated in the same way as death in bad driving offences is a longstanding issue on which, I recognise, there are differing views both in this House and in wider society. The case put forward in support of including injury in bad driving offences is that whether death results from a piece of bad driving can be a matter of chance. As all noble Lords are aware, there is an offence of causing grievous injury by dangerous driving in Northern Ireland but there is no such offence in Great Britain. Where injury occurs, that is reflected as appropriate in sentencing. The issue was examined during the review of road traffic offences consultation exercise but was not put forward as a proposal as the Government do not favour making consequences other than death an element of bad driving offences. Instead, we propose that sentencers should be under a statutory duty to take injuries into account when sentencing.

This proposal received a mixed response. Road safety organisations and some members of the public supported the idea. However, the legal profession did not think that it was necessary as injuries are already relevant to sentence. The responses also made clear that death is considered a special case. Indeed, this is reflected in the current road traffic framework, which provides for much higher sentences where a death occurs and a driver is driving dangerously, has stolen a car or kills and is under the influence of drink or drugs. That will be extended by the proposed new offences in government Amendments Nos. 19 and 20.

If we agree that, in relation to dangerous driving, causing injury should be treated as similar to causing death, then logically we should agree to extend that principle to other bad driving offences such as causing death while under the influence or aggravated vehicle taking. Those are serious offences with a maximum penalty of 14 years. We think that that penalty is right where death has occurred because a driver has taken a risk, that risk has materialised and a person has lost their life because of it. We think that it is right that the death is recognised both in the charge and in the sentence available but we do not agree that that should be the case where injury is caused. We agree with the responses to the consultation exercise that death is a special case and that injury should be reflected in the sentence rather than in a specific charge.

The Government propose that it would be better to build on current practice and to work with the Sentencing Guidelines Council in England and Wales and the Sentencing Commission for Scotland to support them in producing guidelines that require sentencers to take appropriate account of those factors in sentencing.

I hope, therefore, that the House will support government Amendments Nos. 19, 20 and 29. I believe that they set the right balance between the culpability of the offender and ensuring that the courts have the powers to sentence appropriately. For the reasons that I have set out, I hope that noble Lords will not press their amendments. I apologise for speaking at such great length but this is a very important part of the Bill. It is our response both to representations from outside this House and to our discussions in Committee. On that basis, I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench 5:30 pm, 22nd November 2005

moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 19, Amendment No. 19A:

Line 8, at end insert—

"2C CAUSING DEATH BY CARELESS, OR INCONSIDERATE, DRIVING: DISQUALIFICATION

Where a person is convicted of an offence under this section, the court must order him to be disqualified for such period not less than two years as the court thinks fit unless the court for special reasons thinks fit to order him to be disqualified for a shorter period or not to order him to be disqualified.""

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

My Lords, this is a very large group of amendments. Apart from one very minor point of detail, I have no quarrel with Amendment No. 20, which deals with deliberate offences, committed in the full knowledge that they are illegal. However, Amendment No. 19 is clearly extremely controversial, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, rightly conceded. If that were not the case, its provisions would have been passed into law decades ago. After all, the problems that it purports to address are not getting worse, like anti-social behaviour or gun crime; on the contrary, they are either static or declining slightly. Fatalities per million vehicle miles are well under one-tenth of what they were 40 or 50 years ago. Although one should never be complacent, it is worth noting that we have almost the lowest road fatality rate in the world.

What has changed is public sentiment. Forty or 50 years ago when a road fatality took place, people would say, "How very sad, how tragic, but accidents will happen". Nowadays, people—at any rate, the younger generation—refuse to accept that accidents will happen. They maintain that almost all accidents are avoidable and that anyone responsible for a fatal one should have the book thrown at them, whether they be a motorist, a hospital doctor, a nurse, a railway signalman, an air traffic controller or anyone else who is deemed to be responsible for a death. Objectively, one can see many philosophical and practical flaws in this attitude. However, subjectively, one cannot help but sympathise enormously with the family and friends of the victim, which is why I have been in favour—certainly, since our very lengthy consideration of the Road Traffic Bill in 1988 in which I took a fairly active part—of some modest change in the law, as I indicated in Committee, with the accent on the word "modest".

Unfortunately, the change that the Government propose is very far from modest. I wonder how many noble Lords realise that the maximum sentence proposed today for causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving is exactly the same as that stipulated in the 1988 Act, which received Royal Assent 17 years ago last week, for causing death by dangerous or reckless driving. Monetary inflation in this country is thankfully down to below 2.5 per cent per annum, but what one might term "maximum sentence" inflation has been running at about 7 per cent per annum compound, certainly where death by dangerous driving is concerned: the maximum sentence has gone up by almost by three times in something like 16 years.

The ostensible reason for what is now proposed is to eliminate careless driving and thereby save lives. By and large, it will not achieve this objective, although, obviously, if even a handful of lives are saved that is to be applauded. It will not achieve this because as long as the human race exists human errors will occur. But the largely unspoken reason for the amendment is to give the public and the tabloid press what they have asked for. In this, the Government may be successful—in the short term at any rate.

However, unless the maximum sentence of five years is reduced, there will be two unintended consequences. If the maximum remains at five years, the public and the tabloid press will understandably expect everyone who is convicted of this new offence to be sent to prison for at least three or four years where careless driving verges on the reckless and for between 12 and 18 months in other cases. There will be outrage in the press if only non-custodial sentences are imposed.

In consequence, not only irresponsible yobs like boy-racers will go to prison—there will be a few of those, of course—but also considerable numbers of students, young mothers with small children, hard-working heads of families, little old ladies and drivers of HGVs whose vehicles "inconsiderately" spray mud and slush over the windscreens of cars causing the latter to crash and kill someone. We know this because an increase in the prison population is anticipated: one of the reasons that this amendment is so late in reaching your Lordships—it is late to bring it in at Report stage—is that the Treasury was apparently unhappy about having to find the funding for extra prison places.

The second unintended consequence is that jurors will very soon become reluctant to convict, realising that "there but for the grace of God go I". However, if the maximum sentence is reduced to two years—or three years as I propose in Amendment No. 19C—it will be tacitly understood that prison will be reserved for those whose careless driving verges on the reckless, with almost all others receiving fines, possibly community service—perhaps in an accident and emergency ward—and of course disqualification.

As the noble Lord, Lord Davies, mentioned, in Amendment No. 19A I have proposed raising the minimum discretionary period from one to two years, as with the assistance of Back-Benchers of all parties and none I was able to do in 1988, for dangerous driving. I firmly believe that if the family and friends of victims are satisfied that the guilty party is to be kept off the road for a period they will not be so vocal in calling for a prison sentence to be imposed.

Reverting to imprisonment, I favour a two-year maximum sentence, but I calculated that I might get more support from various quarters of the House if I made it three years. A three-year maximum is not habitual, but there is certainly plenty of precedent for it. I have discovered at least seven offences that were created between 1959 and 1986 inclusive in which a three-year maximum sentence features.

Amendments Nos. 19B and 20A are essentially probing amendments dealing with the number of penalty points. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, explained these to my satisfaction. I find it hard to believe that the Government would want offences as serious as this to attract potentially a mere three penalty points, but, none the less, in view of the time that we have available, I am prepared to not go any further with them

My Amendment No. 29A is important. I listened very carefully naturally to what the Minister said, but there cannot be a single driver with more than 100,000 miles under his or her belt who has not from time to time found that their normal driving standards have lapsed for one reason or another. This amendment is designed to acknowledge human imperfection. However, again, I am not prepared to go much further on that unless I get support from other parts of the House.

The noble Lord said that the Government have consulted a number of organisations on what they propose and that the legal profession is not very happy about it. I take it that they have consulted the Bar Council, the Law Society, the Lord Chief Justice and the Magistrates' Association, as well as ACPO and the motoring organisations. No doubt the noble Lord will verify that. If such consultations have taken place in the three weeks since the Government's precise intentions became known, were those organisations entirely in favour? Obviously, some of them are not. Did they disagree in whole or in part? Could we have more detail on what they disagreed with? Was it the maximum sentence, for example?

Since, unfortunately, this new offence comes to us via not a Bill but a Report stage amendment no explanatory notes are provided, as would be normal. So, first, we are not told of the financial effects of the amendment; secondly, we are not told of its effects on public service manpower; and, thirdly, we are not told of the regulatory impact assessment stemming from the amendment. All of that would normally be in the Explanatory Notes.

Amendment No. 19C is the really important amendment, which reduces the maximum sentence. I fear that if it is not reduced, things will not go as benignly as the noble Lord, Lord Davies, suggests. Many more people will be sent to prison than the Government anticipate. But convention demands that at this point I move Amendment No. 19A. I beg to move.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport 6:00 pm, 22nd November 2005

My Lords, I apologise for returning to the Chamber late. I strongly oppose Amendments Nos. 19 and 29, but I have no problem with Amendment No. 20 because, as noble Lords have identified, there is a criminal intent when the motorist starts driving without insurance. However, I do not blame the Minister. He is not in control. I do not think that anyone is in control of the Home Office. I am sure that if the Minister had intended these provisions to be in the Bill he would have had them in at Second Reading. Even if it was not his intention, he would have tabled an amendment for Committee stage. The work of the Home Office is clear for all to see.

The problem is that your Lordships have worked on the Bill on the basis that no significant changes would be made to the two most important bad driving offences; namely, careless driving and dangerous driving. I doubt whether many noble Lords have spent much time studying them. I certainly have not. It is clear that the Home Office has responded to pressures from the road safety lobby and the public, but one wonders how members of the public will react when they find that their best friend, an upstanding member of society, has had a ghastly accident and now finds himself being prosecuted for a very serious offence. While on the issue of public opinion, we should remember that public opinion supports hanging, but I suspect that few in your Lordships' House would support its reintroduction.

The difficulty is that many of those involved in these organisations have suffered personal tragedy. First, they want to reduce the chance of tragedy occurring to someone else, which is laudable. Secondly, however, they want to see someone else pay, and pay dearly. In fact, they want to see them go to prison, even for a minor transgression. But I do not want to belittle the efforts of the road safety lobby. If it were not for those efforts, we probably would not have the Bill at all.

While we all understand the mischief that it is very hard to secure a conviction for causing death by dangerous driving, it is quite easy to do so for careless driving—even, or perhaps especially, in the case of a fatality. But I can think of no activity outside of Her Majesty's Armed Forces where ordinary people, through a moment's inattention, can cause a fatal accident. In a factory, a process that results in fatal consequences because of a minor omission or slight error of judgment would simply not be tolerated. The HSE would impose an immediate prohibition on that process.

Noble Lords may not realise what a big change the Minister's amendment will make. To secure a conviction for dangerous driving, whether for a fatal accident or not, under Section 2A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 as amended by the 1991 Act, the prosecution has to show that the person's driving was far below the standard expected of a competent and careful driver and—this is most important—that it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous. That test does not apply to the offence of careless driving. If this test could be applied to the new offence, it might go some way towards alleviating our concerns.

We are going to create a very serious offence which would attract penalties similar to a serious assault; that is, imprisonment for up to five years, an unlimited fine and obligatory disqualification. But the failure would be merely to have driven without due care and attention. There would be no need to prove a guilty or negligent intent. In most criminal law, sentences take into account the consequences of the offence. However, in those cases the offender starts out with a criminal intent. Motorists do not normally do so. The mother taking her children to school does not intend to commit a criminal act. That is rather different from the person driving an uninsured vehicle who then kills someone, a point covered by government Amendment No. 20, to which I think most noble Lords will agree. But the mother may make a simple error by failing to check her mirror at the right moment. In emerging from a side road she looks to the right, but does not see the motorcycle. Perhaps it is dark and the motorcycle headlight is exactly superimposed on to the headlight of an oncoming vehicle, but of course the motorcycle is much closer. I have made precisely that mistake myself on a straight road. Fortunately no accident took place, but I did have an interesting discussion with the police motorcyclist involved. Humble pie tastes delicious. Going back to the mother taking her children to school, perhaps she does unfortunately cause the death of a motorcyclist. Of course she would be devastated. And maybe some 10 months earlier she ran into the back of a police car, so that she has already acquired a conviction for careless driving. For how long is it proposed to send her to prison?

There are other difficulties here which have been identified by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. The jury might be extremely reluctant to convict while the defendant would certainly fight the charge very hard indeed, and not only because of the penalties. Although the Minister said that the sentence might not be that severe in a minor case, the defendant would still be convicted of causing death by careless driving. No one would want to bear that stigma. Perhaps they would be willing to accept that they had caused a fatal accident and therefore would accept the charge of careless driving rather than resist the charge; but causing death by careless driving sounds very serious to me. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, had it right when he used the words, "There but for the grace of God go I". Moreover, in the event of a fatal accident surely it would be inappropriate only to bring a charge of careless driving. If an accident results in a fatality, the charge would have to be that of causing death by careless driving every time.

What of the youngster on benefits who has committed his first offence? He cannot be fined very much because of his low income. There is a limit on how long he can be given to pay and how much he can pay each week, so the fine will be paltry. The only option left to the court may be a custodial sentence, perhaps suspended. What about the case of one accident where the failure in driving is minor but the consequences are fatal, and another accident where the failure is gross but does not result in a conviction for dangerous driving, nor one for causing death by careless driving because the victim has not died, but has been turned into a paraplegic for the rest of his life?

These amendments are extremely unwelcome and I hope that the Minister will withdraw them in order to think again. If not, we will have to come back at Third Reading with some attempt to try to mitigate their worst effects.

Photo of The Earl of Mar and Kellie The Earl of Mar and Kellie Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport, Spokesperson in the Lords (Scottish Home Affairs), Home Affairs, Whip

My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the noble Earl and I always enjoy following him. I believe that greater recognition is necessary both for victims and their families, and I certainly think that a personal appearance is essential in this type of case. But, like the noble Earl, I am concerned about "intent". It is clear that illegal driving, drink driving, drug driving, dangerous driving and reckless driving are all activities in the context of intent. If I were to return to my one-time occupation as a criminal justice social worker, I would be able to sit down and talk those through with someone. But it is very difficult to talk through the idea of doing anything carelessly and tying it in with intention. So I think that people will be keener to argue the point, resulting in more trials as defendants try to establish that, whatever had happened, there had been no intention.

Photo of Lord Lyell of Markyate Lord Lyell of Markyate Conservative

My Lords, I have very grave reservations indeed about this amendment and about making causing death by careless driving an imprisonable offence. But first perhaps I can indicate that in no way am I soft on bad driving. Indeed, I congratulate the Government on their campaign against speed. During their eight years the Government have done a great deal to bring home to us the dangers of excessive speed in driving. I support them in that and it has been brought home to me personally—though fortunately not by too many convictions. None the less, the Government are absolutely right about speed. When I was Attorney-General and Solicitor-General, my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew and I made it our business to see that causing death by dangerous driving was properly dealt with by the courts through bringing a series of Attorney-General's references before the Court of Appeal. The level of sentences went up markedly during those 10 years. It is quite right that the offence of causing death by dangerous driving should receive a condign penalty.

However, to create an offence of causing death by careless driving is fundamentally wrong as a matter of justice. The Minister said that nearly all the lawyers who had referred to this—or at least the ones he named—had grave reservations about it, and they are absolutely right. But that is not because we are lawyers. It is because we believe in the importance of justice, as I am sure the Minister does. The difficulty is that I cannot immediately think of any area in our system of justice in which custodial sentences are imposed unless the wrongdoing has been the result of either intent or recklessness.

We deliberately took the word "recklessness" out of the legislation on bad driving for technical reasons, but as my noble friend Lord Attlee and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, have rightly pointed out, there is at present on the statute book a fundamental distinction between dangerous driving and causing death by dangerous driving and careless driving. In order to be guilty of causing death by dangerous driving—and this bears repetition—Section 2A(1) of the 1988 Act states a person may be guilty of causing death by dangerous driving if:

"(a) the way he drives falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and

(b) it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous".

In other words, you are doing something that you know you ought not to be doing. Whereas with careless driving—and I support Amendment No. 29 because it rightly enacts what is indeed the common law—all that is required is that your driving should fall below that of a normal competent and careful driver. But, by definition, no one sets out to drive carelessly. If they set out to do so, they would be doing something deliberate, whereas it is the very essence of carelessness that it arrives, unfortunately, by accident.

I fully understand the position of the parents and families of victims—indeed, many in this House will be in that position—but when you are dealing with justice, it is the culpability that must govern and not the consequence, which tragically can be fatal. The amendment would deny the opportunity for the court adequately to indicate the culpability. It is an absolute essential of British justice that the prosecution must prove the case and it must state what case it is seeking to prove. If you bring a case of causing death by dangerous driving, you know exactly what the ingredients are. If there is then an alternative verdict of causing death by careless driving—which relates simply to falling below the normal standards of a competent driver—you do not know how much has been proved. As the Minister said, I suppose you might surmise that it is on the cusp of dangerous driving, but what is the defendant to do? Somehow, in a practical way, he has to try to prove his innocence on the lower part of the charge. Yes, he can be sent to prison for up to 14 years, but that is not very likely unless there are serious aggravating circumstances—in which case he would do well to plead guilty as quickly as possible. The amendment seeks to introduce a five-year prison sentence—and the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, seeks a three-year prison sentence—but for the vast majority of citizens any prison sentence at all is a very frightening and worrying consequence. We know that we do not set out to do something criminal—if we do, we get what we deserve—but under the amendment a prison sentence can be imposed through pure accident, pure carelessness, and, sadly, we can all be guilty of that. What issue will be dealt with in a causing death by dangerous driving offence when there is going to be an alternative remedy? Or, indeed, what issue will be dealt with if you bring only a case of causing death by careless driving, which carries a sentence of up to five years?

Let me give the example—and I think that this is one of the matters which worries families—of where you are driving down the kind of road which you find all round London near here, with parked cars down either side. We are now aware—partly as a result of the Government's wise governance in this area—that 30 miles an hour is probably too fast a speed at which to go down that kind of road. But then, by mishap, someone—an elderly person, a young child or just an ordinary person—steps out from between the cars and, because you are going just a little too fast, there is a fatal accident and you have caused death by careless driving. But that brings in the question of causation.

According to the law books, "causation" is fairly irrelevant as far as causing death by dangerous driving is concerned—the course of conduct is there and the driving falls far below the required standard—and it is only in the rarest of cases that causation could even be argued by the defence. But in careless driving cases there is often a multitude of causes for the death and the court will have to decide that issue. But the defendant may not know clearly what is being alleged against him. Will it be down to the prosecutor to indicate the nuances and what he seeks to prove? We expect it to be down to the proper ingredients of the offence. There has to be clarity and certainty.

With great respect to the Government and to the consultation processes, I have serious worries about being told what the public believe. The public may be right, but it is very difficult for them to take into account all these matters in relation to consultation. In my view the amendment is a grave error. I am sorry it has been brought forward on Report because it would have genuinely benefited from being teased out in the kind of debate that we would have had at a full Committee stage. I very much hope that the Government will think again about these proposals and not press them.

Photo of Viscount Tenby Viscount Tenby Crossbench 6:15 pm, 22nd November 2005

My Lords, I rise to oppose Amendment No. 19. In doing so, I declare an interest as a magistrate, now quite obviously on the supplementary list. The Minister was very fair when he said that he had approached various legal organisations and that they had not signified their universal approval. That is quite right. It is certainly true of the Magistrates' Association, although I cannot speak for or represent that body in any way.

I oppose the amendment with a heavy heart because nothing is more heartrending than the grief of those who have been devastated by the death of a loved one as a result of an act of folly on our roads. Heaven forbid that any of us should have to go through that. My concern, however, is that the amendment will only raise the hopes of the relatives of those who have so sadly been killed, probably only to see those hopes dashed at a later stage. As we have heard, most though not all drivers who cause death by driving do so as a result of some momentary aberration—tiredness, bad judgment, lack of attention at a critical moment, you name it—and in the vast majority of cases they will live with that folly for the rest of their lives and will remember it every waking moment of the day. Is it appropriate that they should receive a prison sentence as well? What possible good would that do other than to give fleeting satisfaction—and it would only be fleeting—to some relatives and provide another sacrificial lamb on the altar of a tabloid newspaper, as my noble friend Lord Monson so aptly said?

The existing offence of dangerous driving, which is always said to be notoriously difficult to prove anyway, can and should take care of those few who recklessly and callously gamble with the lives of innocent people, more often than not when they are unlicensed and uninsured. I support Amendment No. 20 and I commend the Government for bringing it forward. It is a step towards recognising the true criminality of some people in this context.

That is the emotional argument, but there are as well the practical considerations which have been set out, among others, by the Magistrates' Association. The new clause would mean that the consequences of the driving would become the main factor in the assessment of an offence rather than the culpability of the driver, as is the case now. As such an offence will become indictable rather than subject to summary jurisdiction, it will be all Lombard Street to a China orange, to quote an old saying. Defendants will opt for a not guilty plea and trial and take their chance in the Crown Court.

Past experience has shown that it is often difficult to get a guilty verdict in such cases because the jury, as we have repeatedly heard today, has taken the view, "My goodness, that could be me". The upshot will be that the hopes—or, rather, the expectations—of relatives are likely to be raised, only to be cruelly dashed later. Under such circumstances, the House may well feel, as I do, that community penalties, from which there are many options and combinations to choose, offer a more humane and constructive alternative. I would like us to go down that road when we come to consider this in greater detail.

Photo of Baroness Seccombe Baroness Seccombe Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers), Spokespersons In the Lords, (Assist the Home Affairs Team)

My Lords, I was not planning to speak in this debate, but because of my concern about Amendment No. 19 I feel I should say how much I support those who have spoken against it. An accident caused this way is not a deliberate action; it is the consequence of the action of driving. In addition, five years' imprisonment is high on the sentencing tariff.

I should like to illustrate this by mentioning a case that came before me when I was sitting as a magistrate. It was a dark November evening, a bit murky, and on a main road, coming out of a well lit area, there was an underpass. The cyclist, aged 18, had come underneath the underpass and a van came round an island to go down on to the main road. The driver said, "I just never saw him at all". That was an error of judgment. He was absolutely mortified, and when he came to court, the effect on him was obvious. The young man's parents were in court, and seeing them and talking to them about what had happened would stay with the driver for the rest of his life. It has certainly stayed with me, and made me wonder what good it would have done to imprison him. I bet he is probably the safest driver on the roads today.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I was going to speak in favour of the amendments when my noble friend introduced them. Having heard comments from other noble Lords, I am afraid that I have to congratulate my noble friend even more. I believe that what he is doing is absolutely right.

We have heard so many stories about momentary errors of judgment that people have to live with for ever. We have heard about poor mothers taking their children to school and youngsters on benefits. We are forgetting the victims, whose relations will suffer and remember this for ever.

It is possible to drive carefully within the law by concentrating and keeping to the speed limit, and we have a duty of care to do that. I get the impression that a number of noble Lords feel, "There but for the grace of God go I". If this proposal gets people to drive more carefully—and it is not noble Lords who are the main cause of the problem, as we all know—it is a very good thing.

One noble Lord mentioned the Health and Safety Executive and what would happen in a factory. None of us works in factories, so we would not know. The Health and Safety Executive does a great deal of good in factories; it has also done a great deal of good on the railways. It may have done too much good and spent too much money, but, in general, it has done a great deal of good. I have suggested for a number of years that it should be involved in road safety. If it was, and it applied the same rules to roads as it did to factories, we would all be driving at 20 miles an hour, which would save an awful lot of lives.

I do not know whether the details of the amendments are right, but the sentiments are right. We must recognise that there is a demand for this, because we are still killing 3,500 people a year and seriously injuring 10 times that number. The amendments are a major contribution to reducing that number, and I shall certainly support them.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, I have serious doubts about Amendment No. 19. In order to help me, will the noble Lord give us the Government's estimate of the additional number of years of custodial sentence which will be applicable if the amendment were to be passed? How many people would be likely to be sent to prison for how long? Our prisons are grossly overcrowded; surely the custodial sentence is not the only solution to the problem. It seems to me that a much longer suspension of driving might be almost an equal deterrent to a custodial sentence.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, I have listened, fascinated, to this debate. I have found myself wondering how it would be if we applied the tests of carelessness set out in Amendment No. 19 to the conduct of Ministers in the Ministry of Defence at times. It would be irrational to do so, and Amendment No. 19 is irrational.

One of the purposes of law—the noble Lord who just spoke almost touched upon it—is to change people's behaviour away from a criminal act towards behaving lawfully. Would the amendment affect whether somebody was distracted momentarily when they were driving? Would they have it in their mind, "If I were careless tonight, I would face imprisonment"? Would it really be a deterrent?

What about the Government's programme to reduce the prison population? Would this contribute to that? The amendment is entirely wrongly conceived. People do not wilfully act carelessly. If it was a wilful act, it could be prosecuted under the dangerous driving provisions, and with that we all agree. But there will always be accidents caused by carelessness, and the person who commits that careless act will not be disincentivised, discouraged or inhibited from committing it by this sort of provision. It is simply wrong and, as my noble and learned friend Lord Lyell indicated, it seems to be fundamentally very poor law.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

My Lords, I shall refer specifically to the question of injuries. The Minister said that it was about injuries that the consultation had taken place with various legal officers, the Bar Council and others, not about death by dangerous driving.

Amendment No. 63 is a probing amendment; we wanted to know where injuries stood in the scale of things. I can accept that there is a very wide variation in degree of injury between people who suffer a cut or a graze and, at the other extreme, somebody who ends up in a vegetative state. I know that the Minister will go away and think about what has been said tonight. I ask him to reconsider whether there is a degree of life-changing injury—if a person ends up minus a limb or in a wheelchair and is permanently injured, for example—that will lead to their case being considered special. I am not talking about trivial injuries.

On the rest of the amendments, it must now be apparent to the Minister that there is great unease about the custodial element of the punishments proposed for careless driving. I do not consider tiredness, where somebody is dropping asleep, as being careless driving. The person should take a rest. We are told to do that often enough. But where the offence is genuinely a momentary lapse, further consideration should certainly be given to the range of community sentences to which the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, referred, because prisons are overcrowded and sending somebody to prison brings in its train all kinds of other problems such as who is to support the prisoner's family and who is to look after his children. It is a devastating situation with which to be confronted. There may be people who go to prison habitually, but the vast majority of us regard it as something with which we would certainly not wish to get involved.

So when the Minister sums up, will he answer these questions? I shall not press Amendment No. 63. It is simply a probing amendment to discover whether there is any degree of injury which the Minister considers should be included in those things which we have discussed.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Spokespersons In the Lords, (Also Shadow Minister for Women & Equality- Not In the Shadow Cabinet) 6:30 pm, 22nd November 2005

My Lords, this has been one of the most interesting debates that I have heard in this House for a very long time. It has been enormously thoughtful. I hope that the Minister will not push ahead with the amendment today, but provide an opportunity to discuss it further. As has already been said, this is a very late stage in the Bill at which to table an amendment which turns out to be of some magnitude. By the sound of it, some pretty hasty consultation has taken place on the matter externally. This House, by and large, was not expecting it until it saw it in on the Marshalled List. There has not been quite enough time to put it together and to allow us to come to sensible conclusions about it.

All the points have been extremely well made. The need for a balance between a court having to consider the absolutely disastrous effect on a family of one of its members being killed and the fact that the person who caused it had no intention of doing so has been well stressed. A balance has to be struck in deciding whether that careless moment is of such a magnitude that it should result in a possibility of a custodial sentence, because it would be the last weapon in the armoury of a court. It is one of the options that a court could consider.

But I am mindful of the fact that a court is required to decide whether its sentence should be a punishment and, in this case, for whom. Should it be punishment on behalf of the victim's family? Should it be punishment for the person who has caused whatever injuries are suffered? Should it be retribution for the common good, to enable people to see that a sentence is a retribution for what has happened and a deterrent? In all those three respects, there are some considerable difficulties with the possibility of a custodial sentence.

I cannot add anything more to this debate. We on this side of the House want to consider further what the Minister is putting forward. If he intends to proceed with the amendment, I can promise that it will be reviewed at Third Reading by way of further amendment. If the Minister is prepared not to proceed with the amendment today, I think that a number of noble Lords will be very happy to discuss it before it reappears. As Amendment No. 19 stands, it seems to be too controversial. Therefore, I cannot offer the Minister my support on it today.

Photo of Viscount Simon Viscount Simon Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I had not intended to speak to this group of amendments. However, Amendment No. 30 is an extension of the offence in Section 3A of the Road Traffic Act 1988. A police accident investigator who is investigating three fatal accidents involving failure to stop has stated in an e-mail to me:

"My concern is that s3A takes no account of Failing to Stop fatalities. If you kill someone as a result of driving without due care whilst over the drink drive limit if you evade police until you sober up you can only be done for Without Due Care and Failing to Stop. If you can evade police for six months you've nothing to worry about as the Statutory Time Limit will have passed for summary offences and you'll go scott free.

"If you had the choice between waiting around for the police to arrest you for an offence carrying 14 years imprisonment and running off with every chance of evading serious punishment, what would you do?

"Why not a S3B?—Causing Death by WDC and failing to stop".

I propose that we add the words "failing to stop" as an amendment to Section 3A.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, we could have predicted an interesting debate on this group of amendments and that has certainly been the case. I shall limit my reply if only because my opening contribution was of an inordinate length and it attempted to cover as many of the arguments that I could anticipate would be put forward both against the Government's amendments and in favour of those that were tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, to which other noble Lords have spoken. The House will recognise that this is a serious debate and that while I want to be clear in my answers, I do not want to rehearse all the issues with which I tried to deal in my opening contribution.

I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, for his comment on the extent of the Government's determination to make our roads safer by making people more aware of appropriate speed limits. I am grateful for his support for the Government in this activity. He will recognise that I quite frankly said in my opening statement that the legal profession largely disagreed with us. He, in his customarily courteous but forceful way, articulated exactly those arguments. I can say only that we have considered them very carefully. Copies of the consultation exercise to which I referred have been placed in the Library of the House and can be examined there, but I made no bones about the fact that anxieties were expressed in many quarters of the law about these proposals during the consultation exercise. But the Government intend to proceed, because, during that exercise, we received very substantial support. This is a road safety Bill and our job is to promote road safety by way of it. The road safety organisations, among others, were very forceful in their support for what we intended to do.

I might add—I shudder to do so in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, because it will not be a satisfactory answer to him—that we included this concept in our manifesto only four to five months ago. I have heard it expressed on all sides that we should not be so crudely populist, but there are certain areas of sentencing policy where we do not automatically take the public's view and translate that into law. I of course recognise the age-long debates about the death penalty. We said in our manifesto that we would introduce much tougher penalties for those who cause death by careless driving or who kill while driving without a licence or while disqualified. We are fulfilling that commitment. We have the right to say that we have received substantial public support for this amendment.

So I concede that I will not persuade the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, with this argument because he articulated an entirely different one about the anxieties of lawyers. We have considered their representations in full and we intend to go ahead because we think that the one argument triumphs over the other.

Photo of Lord Lyell of Markyate Lord Lyell of Markyate Conservative

My Lords, I confess that I did not have those words from the Labour Party manifesto in my mind, but they do not seem to have been as direct as the wording of the manifesto may have been in other areas. If you talk about much tougher penalties rather than custodial sentences, you are avoiding the key issue. The Minister proposes to raise the fine to £5,000, and I support that; that is a much tougher penalty—it is double the present one, but it is not a custodial sentence. The custodial sentence is contrary to principle in all other areas.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I was going to seek to make a concession, and I cannot think of a more appropriate way of doing so than in response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, at this juncture. I am going to press the amendment today, and noble Lords will recognise from the arguments that I presented in the opening speech why we are so convinced of the rightness of our cause, despite the fact that we recognise reservations in significant quarters. But I am prepared, and hope that the House will recognise, that we want to press ahead with the government amendment today, but we shall certainly discuss sentencing before Third Reading, and we shall meet on that point. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, made that point with considerable force, as did other contributors to the debate; I believe that that was also the burden of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit—although I shall not bring any Defence Ministers to that discussion, for the simple reason that they are far too busy and not for any other consideration. We shall meet on that basis; but the noble Lord will recognise that his challenge was a full frontal and properly articulated one to the principle on which I am working with regard to the amendments. I am merely saying that we have right on our side and support from the nation in what we are doing, which will aid road safety. But we will discuss the issue before Third Reading; we shall leave further discussion until then.

On a number of other issues that were raised, there is inevitably a tendency for people to become anecdotal. We should avoid that—and we must avoid the "hard luck story". After all, the hard luck story would inhibit us from passing laws at all on some aspects of road safety. I imagine that there is no noble Lord who has not at some time shuddered behind the wheel of a car, wondering whether they are breaking the law, whether they are fully in control or whether they are where they should be doing what they ought to be doing at that precise moment. All drivers must experience that situation, but we cannot make law on that basis; we must make law to safeguard the safety of our roads for the people who use them. Although the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, made a very strong case, people who are driving more quickly than they should along a row of parked cars and who hit someone who steps out may be guilty of a very serious driving misdemeanour indeed.

On the more general issue, when we talk about sentencing, we are talking about enabling and the range that may be applied. We are not saying that in each and every case the maximum sentence will be applied; that would be absolutely absurd. We are saying that the problem at present is that such penalties are not open at all to those who have been found guilty of careless driving—and that is the Government's case. But of course there will be gradations, and of course there will be very limited numbers of people who will fall foul of the offence to the extent that they receive an extensive custodial sentence.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked directly about custodial sentences and their impact. We estimate that we would need an additional 150 prison places a year as a consequence of the numbers who might be caught by these offences. That is not a marginal number. I cannot recall which noble Lord said that the Treasury might have an interest in this matter; in my experience, the Treasury has an interest in every matter with regard to government, so it will have an interest in this matter. But we are talking about 150 prison places a year—we are not talking about measures that would produce a vast blitz on our fellow citizens or put a very large number of them in prison.

What is the purpose of legislation such as this, apart from punishing the guilty? It is to deter those who might be dangerous or careless. The whole purpose of such legislation is to ensure that we take greater care and that we avoid dangerous driving. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, was kind enough to say, the toughening of our attitude on speeding does condition behaviour; he recognised that as an effect. That is the purpose of the government amendments, and that is why they are included in the Road Safety Bill.

Some noble Lords said that the Government were acting fearfully late on this matter. We are not late; we discussed the issues and were under pressure in Committee to do something on this matter. We were asked, "Why haven't you got your act together?"—and I gave undertakings that we would table amendments at this stage. Of course, in a perfect world, we would have had everything together before the Bill had even started its passage; but this measure will not be the first that noble Lords have known of in this House on which serious issues have to developed during the passage of the Bill. We had a fruitful and useful discussion in Committee, and I believe that I won one or two plaudits, which is rare indeed from noble Lords, for saying that I would consider the matter further. Today is a result of that further consideration—but the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is going to throw me sideways yet again.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative 6:45 pm, 22nd November 2005

My Lords, would the Minister at some stage, although obviously not at this moment, let us all have the basis of the calculation that has led his advisers to tell him that the measure if enacted would lead to 150 extra prison places per year? I should have thought that that was rather a difficult calculation to make.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, it is far too difficult a calculation for me to have made, I must say. The noble Lord will not expect me to produce the formula here and now, but I shall write to him about the issue and ensure that other noble Lords know about it.

(11)I recognise the seriousness of the debate. The points that have been made are substantial ones of principle, and I can only adumbrate the argument that we have considered them very carefully but that we have other principles that triumph over those and which have to take precedence, given our commitments and our need to act in the interest of road safety. I shall certainly fulfil the undertaking that we will consider the issue and discuss it with noble Lords before Third Reading. On that basis, I hope that noble Lords will support the government amendment.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

My Lords, it is up to me to wind up on Amendment No. 19A. My noble friend Lord Tenby spoke of the fleeting satisfaction of victims' families if imprisonment is imposed on those responsible for the victim's death. I believe that he was spot on with the use of the word "fleeting". I urge the Government to reflect on the point that I made about Amendment No. 19A. If the victims' families are aware that those responsible for the victim's death are suffering the extreme inconvenience of being kept off the road for at least two years, they will be less zealous—as my noble friend Lord Northbourne also suggested—in demanding imprisonment. It must surely be better to disqualify careless but otherwise law-abiding drivers rather than add to our enormous prison population.

So I urge the Government to reflect on what I have said before the next stage. Of course, I shall not press the amendment now. I am interested that the Government estimated an increase in the prison population of a mere 150. It has been estimated that 90 per cent of road accidents are caused by human error and only 10 per cent by such things as bad road conditions, weather conditions and so on. That 90 per cent gives us a figure of more than 3,000 deaths caused by careless people. However, the Government have made a most constructive and generous offer to look at the sentencing policy again before Third Reading. In that case, I shall not move any of my other amendments, and I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment No. 19A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 19, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 19B and 19C, as amendments to Amendment No. 19, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 19 agreed to.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

moved Amendment No. 20:

After Clause 17, insert the following new clause—

"CAUSING DEATH BY DRIVING: UNLICENSED, DISQUALIFIED OR UNINSURED DRIVERS

(1) In the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52), after section 3ZA (inserted by section (Meaning of driving without due care and attention)) insert—

"3ZB CAUSING DEATH BY DRIVING: UNLICENSED, DISQUALIFIED OR UNINSURED DRIVERS

A person is guilty of an offence under this section if he causes the death of another person by driving a motor vehicle on a road and, at the time when he is driving, the circumstances are such that he is committing an offence under—

(a) section 87(1) of this Act (driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence),

(b) section 103(1)(b) of this Act (driving while disqualified), or

(c) section 143 of this Act (using motor vehicle while uninsured or unsecured against third party risks)."

(2) In Schedule 1 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (c. 53) (offences to which certain sections apply), after the entry relating to section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) insert—

"RTA section 3ZB Causing death by driving: unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured drivers. Sections 11 and 12(1) of this Act."

(3) In Part 1 of Schedule 2 to that Act (prosecution and punishment of offences: offences under the Traffic Acts), after the entry relating to section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) insert—

"RTA section 3ZB Causing death by driving: unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured drivers. (a) Summarily. (a) 12 months (in England and Wales) or 6 months (in Scotland) or the statutory maximum or both. Obligatory. Obligatory. 3–11"
(b) On indictment. (b) 2 years or a fine or both.

(4) In sections 16(1)(a)(ii) and 17(1)(b) and (2)(b) of the Coroners Act 1988 (c. 13) (informing coroners)—

(a) before "or 3A" insert ", 3ZB", and

(b) before "or careless" insert ", unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured drivers".

(5) In paragraph 3 of Schedule 3 to the Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003 (c. 32) (offences where notice must be given to authority of State in which offender is normally resident), after paragraph (c) insert—

"(ca) section 3ZB (causing death by driving: unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured drivers),"."

[Amendment No. 20A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 20, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 20 agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Spokespersons In the Lords, (Also Shadow Minister for Women & Equality- Not In the Shadow Cabinet)

moved Amendment No. 21:

After Clause 17, insert the following new clause—

"MOTORWAYS: MAXIMUM SPEED

The maximum speed on a motorway shall be 80 miles per hour, and in other circumstances shall be determined by highway controllers and the police with access to the motorway warning signs system."

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Spokespersons In the Lords, (Also Shadow Minister for Women & Equality- Not In the Shadow Cabinet)

My Lords, I want to restate the aim of this amendment, which was moved in Committee. It is designed to introduce the concept of variable speed limits in conjunction with increasing the maximum motorway speed limit to 80 miles per hour. In combination, these two elements establish a simple and straightforward system of speed limits that is both safe and practical.

The efficacy of variable speed limits has already been demonstrated on the M25 orbital motorway in Surrey, where road safety is undoubtedly enhanced by the adjustment of the speed limit in accordance with circumstances such as traffic flow and adverse weather. This point was broadly accepted in Committee by many of your Lordships and the Minister himself.

It was the second part of this amendment, the proposed increase of the motorway speed limit to 80 miles per hour, that prompted a much greater debate in Committee. During that debate many noble Lords, and indeed the Minister, referred to studies conducted in the United States of the road safety impact of the repeal of the federal speed limit law in the US in 1995. I must remind noble Lords that these studies did not produce the unanimous conclusion that speed increase is detrimental to road safety, which was implicit in their citation in Committee. In fact, many of the studies found quite the opposite.

The Cato Institute 1999 policy analysis, Speed Doesn't Kill: The Repeal of the 55mph Speed Limit—that is, in the United States—states that, despite the fact that 33 US states had raised their speed limits since 1995,

"almost all measures of highway safety show improvement, not more deaths and injuries . . . Moreover, the average fatality rate even fell in the states that raised their speed limits".

This conclusion is also supported by a recent 2005 study by another American academic, Robert O Yowell, who concluded in his study, The Evolution and Devolution of Speed Limit Law and the Effect on Fatality Rates, that,

"the assertion that speed kills, and more speed kills more, is . . . unfounded".

Furthermore, I must remind noble Lords that this new clause diverges significantly from the American experience, since raising the speed limit to 80 miles per hour in this instance is reliant upon the use of a variable speed limit motorway warning-sign system, where speed is adjusted in accordance with circumstances.

Increasing the motorway speed limit is a proposal that already has widespread public and expert support. A recent survey conducted in May 2005 by the company Motor Insurance found that 82 per cent of motorists supported an increase in that limit. It is not surprising that the public reject the current motorway speed limit so emphatically when one considers that it is widely considered arbitrary and anachronistic. In short, it has lost its relevance to modern-day motorists, the cars they drive and the roads they drive on.

Since the limit was set in 1964, both cars and motorways have advanced dramatically. Due to advances in technology, people are now able to drive cars safely at higher speeds. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I rise briefly to oppose this amendment. There is a lot of evidence that speed does kill—I could go on at length about it—but I just recall all the arguments put forward in the last grouping of amendments, which said: "A momentary lack of concentration and you will end up with five years in jail". The same could apply here—a momentary lack of concentration and you will kill half a dozen people by jumping off the motorway. I do not believe there is any argument for increasing the speed limit. The first thing to do is enforce the existing speed limit, rather than allowing people to drive up to 90 without any enforcement action being taken at all.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, we have been around this particular motorway course before, in terms of speed limits—three times, I think, in the past 12 months. The arguments still hold. They hold even more strongly in some circumstances. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, referred to the American experience. The reason why American speed limits were so low at one time, she will remember, is that at that time they were, believe it or not, actually quite concerned about emissions and consumption of fuel. I know they have raised them more recently.

I have to say that while she had one set of figures, I have another. In the states where speed limits have been raised to 75 miles per hour—and that is the highest level I know in the United States—there has been a 38 per cent rise in deaths per million vehicle miles. So I do not think her case is proven by the US, useful laboratory though that may be. One thing is clear, though: none of the states has an 80 mile-per-hour speed limit.

As the noble Baroness said, we have introduced some variety to motorway speed limits on a section of the M25. The limit was lowered for safety reasons in adverse circumstances. It was never raised beyond 70. It dropped below 70 when either traffic conditions or weather conditions necessitated some gradation on a particularly difficult part of the M25, in all its wonderful uniqueness.

With regard to the general issues, motorways are the safest roads we have in Britain, and the Government intend to keep them that way.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Spokespersons In the Lords, (Also Shadow Minister for Women & Equality- Not In the Shadow Cabinet)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. This is not a matter we are going to agree upon. We have certainly been around the M25 and the 80 mile-an-hour speed limit a number of times. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 21) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 56; Not-Contents, 163

Division number 4 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Road Safety Bill [HL]

Aye: 54 Members of the House of Lords

No: 161 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport 7:08 pm, 22nd November 2005

moved Amendment No. 22:

After Clause 17, insert the following new clause—

"TRAFFIC SIGNS FOR INDICATING SPEED RESTRICTIONS AT REGULAR INTERVALS

In section 85 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (c. 27) (traffic signs indicating speed restrictions), after subsection (4) insert—

"(4A) Where street lighting is furnished by means of lamps placed not more than 200 yards apart, traffic signs for indicating speed restrictions shall be placed at regular intervals.""

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

My Lords, this is a simple amendment. It is the present practice that, if there is a speed limit on a road and the road is in an unlit place, there are repeater signs. If the speed limit is 20 miles an hour, there are repeater signs; if it is 40 miles an hour, there are repeater signs; if it is 50 miles an hour, there are repeater signs; but if it is 30 miles an hour in a built-up area with streetlights not more than so many metres apart, no repeater signs may be erected by a local authority. That is plain stupid.

I am not saying that this is a major tenet of government policy; it is something that the Government inherited. Over a long stretch of road, we need to occasionally remind people of the speed at which they ought to be travelling. The amendment seeks to do that, and I hope that the Minister will save us time by saying that he will concede the amendment, and send us to dinner at least with me happy. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

My Lords, we on these Benches very much support this amendment. I need add nothing to what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said. It seems an anomaly that the relevant measure does not apply where the speed limit is 30 miles an hour in urban areas.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

My Lords, I added my name to this amendment. I was minded not to run my Committee stage amendment with regard to repeater signs for a 40 miles an hour speed limit. The rule ought to be that a repeater sign should be nearly in view so that you do not have to drive very far before you see a speed limit sign. Of course, the 30 miles an hour speed limit sign is the most important sign because the 30 miles an hour speed limit is designed to avoid pedestrian accidents.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I support the amendment. What happens with regard to 20 miles an hour speed limits? Repeater signs should be in place for 20 miles an hour speed limits as that speed limit is even more important than the 30 miles an hour speed limit. This is an anomaly. I suppose that it goes back to the days of gas lamps when the distance between gas lamps indicated the speed limit. If my noble friend cannot accept the amendment, I hope that he will come back with an appropriate measure at Third Reading.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the measure does not go back to gas lamps but it goes back a very long way indeed. The 30 miles per hour speed limit is the limit which obtains in urban areas. Everyone knows that it is by far the most significant of our speed limits until one gets on to a fast road. Wherever roads have street lighting it is fairly clear that it is an urban area where the 30 miles an hour speed limit obtains. That applies throughout the country. Repeater signs are in place where the 20 miles per hour limit applies because that is a new concept regarding restricted areas and people have to learn about new restrictions to promote safety on particular roads, especially near schools where the 20 miles an hour limit obtains.

On our national roads the 60 miles per hour speed limit applies. On our roads with lighting, which are clearly urban roads, the speed limit is 30 miles per hour. That is printed in the Highway Code. There is no hope of anyone becoming a competent driver unless they know that the speed they must drive at in an urban area is 30 miles an hour and below. I hear what the noble Lord says regarding the need to enforce that with more rigour. We certainly want to enforce it. That is why we are continuing our safety campaign with regard to speed. However, in view of the fact that 30 miles an hour speed limits are so prevalent, we would have to have repeater sign after repeater sign after repeater sign in every urban road and street in Britain. Does it make sense to do that when no driver can come before a court and say, "I exceeded the 30 miles per hour limit because I did not think that I was in a 30 miles per hour area"? Such defences are thrown out. These days, of course, the sanction is imposed automatically and does not go through the court. The noble Lord is asking for an enormous amount of additional street clutter and for more expenditure impositions to be placed on local authorities for the sake of a measure that constitutes almost the first principle of the Highway Code. If drivers do not know the first principle of the Highway Code, they do not obtain their licence. Although I recognise what noble Lords have said about the advantage of repeating things, wherever roads are lit and there is an initial 30 miles per hour speed limit sign, that is the limit which obtains.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I agreed with much of what he said, but does he not understand that part of the problem is that the 40 miles an hour speed limits are quite infrequent? Therefore, it can be difficult to know whether you should be driving at 40 miles an hour or 30 miles an hour. The danger is that you drive at 30 miles an hour and cause a nuisance because you should be driving a little faster. A difficulty is created by the fact that there are no repeater signs at regular intervals for the 40 miles an hour speed limit.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says but I do not agree with him. I could take him to Kidlington by the Thames Valley Police headquarters where there is an urban road, lit on both sides, and furnished with a speed camera. However, the speed limit is 40 miles an hour. A little further on it changes to 30 miles an hour. There are anomalies all over the place. Local authorities want to be able to delineate those areas where 30 miles an hour is the speed limit. I am talking about long stretches of road, much of it outside London, where these conditions apply. The Minister is being somewhat obstinate on this matter. I seek something that many local authorities want. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 22) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 82; Not-Contents, 109

Division number 5 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Road Safety Bill [HL]

Aye: 80 Members of the House of Lords

No: 107 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 7:25 pm, 22nd November 2005

My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion I suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 8.30 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.