Clause 2

Part of Road Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 20th January 2005.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 2:45 pm, 20th January 2005

It is many years since I looked at ''Wilkinson's Road Traffic Offences'', the bible on such matters. It is true that special reasons can be dealt with in some circumstances, but that does not cover the situation described by the hon. Member for Wellingborough or by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne. I should have thought that, with the legal expertise of hon. Members and of those who are following our proceedings, it might be possible to address the problem.

It may not be as strong a case as that of someone taking their child to hospital in an emergency, but I heard of a case the other day in which a temporary traffic sign indicating that the speed limit had been reduced from the standard 50 mph in an urban area to 30 mph because of road words had been knocked down.

The gentleman concerned said that although it was at night and the works were not in progress, the temporary speed limit sign had been knocked over. He wrote to the police saying that the sign had been knocked over and sending a photograph of it that he had taken the following morning when he went back to check. Notwithstanding that, he was told that there was no discretion because he had no defence. It was an   absolute offence. He was driving at a speed in excess of the prevailing 30 mph limit. The fact that the sign was knocked down was no defence.

That is another example of what I would describe as special circumstances, although I accept that they may not be special reasons; but common sense dictates that the authorities should have exercised discretion. The authorities failed to use discretion in that case. The gentleman is now faced with two options—paying up, under protest, or taking his case to court in the knowledge that he has no defence but only mitigation, and the prospect that if he goes to court the fine may be larger than if he had settled for a fixed penalty. That is one issue that has been highlighted in our debate.

I am grateful to the Minister for explaining in a little more detail how the criteria set out in clause 2 will be applied. I am still not clear how the clause will work in practice; perhaps we can briefly touch on that aspect during the clause stand part debate. It is far from clear how people are to find out what the graduated fixed penalties will be, and what time scale is set for their introduction.

I have given notice to the Minister of those questions that will arise on clause stand part. In the meantime, I invite everyone who reads the report of our debate, and those who have participated in it, to put on their thinking caps to see whether a way can be found—we could bring it forward later in the proceedings—to mitigate the full penalties in the special circumstances that we have outlined. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.