'(1) The Road Traffic Act 1988 (c.52) is amended as follows. After section 2A (Meaning of dangerous driving) insert—
''2B Causing death or injury by negligent driving
(1) A person who causes the death of or serious injury to another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle negligently on a road or other public place is guilty of an offence.
(2) A person is to be regarded as suffering serious injury if he suffers injury that is life changing or life threatening or both.
2C Meaning of negligent driving
(1) A person is to be regarded as driving negligently if he drives without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place.''
(2) The Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (c.53) is amended as follow is.
In Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (c.53) (prosecution and punishment of offences: offences under the Traffic Acts), after the entry relating to section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 insert a new entry—
RTA section 2B
Causing death or serious injury by negligent driving
10 years or a fine or both
Brought up, and read the First time.
Motion made, and Question proposed [this day], That the clause be read a Second time.
Question again proposed.
Before I call Mr. Chope to resume his speech, I note that several people have indicated that they want to speak on the new clause. I accept that it is important—there is no dispute about that whatever. However, looking at the Order Paper, I see that we are likely to be interrupted by Divisions in the House. If there are Divisions, the 5.30 finish time will not be extended; there is no injury time. We will finish at 5.30, and any new clause that we have not reached will automatically fall. There is one Government amendment, which will be moved formally if we reach that point. Of course, having said that, we may move along at a fairly speedy pace, but I indicate that to the Committee so that Members know the exact position right from the start.
That just emphasises the inflexibility of the Government guillotine. We could have had more time to discuss these matters if the scheduling had been dealt with more flexibly. For those members of the Committee who were not present in the Chamber, I put on record the fact that I raised a point of order about the shenanigans of this morning, and, as a result, the Deputy Speaker reprimanded the Government for their behaviour. I have said enough about that.
We know that the Government produced the document for consultation and that they are not proposing to include legislation on it in the Bill. We know that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe), who moved the new clause, will withdraw it. Bearing in mind that there are many other new clauses to be debated and that our time will be eaten into by Divisions, I hope that we will be able to curtail the debate on this new clause. I have said all that I need to say on it.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wellingborough on introducing the new clause and also on his long-running campaign. I confess that I failed to sign his early-day motion. That was a sin of omission on my part, as I had indicated to my colleagues that they should sign it. I most certainly would have signed it if I had not missed it.
I shall confine my remarks simply to saying unequivocally and straightforwardly that the principle of the new clause is right and that the Liberal Democrats will support it. More detail may come out in the consultation, but I am happy to place on the record my support for the principle. There is wide consensus on the issue. It is right that the hon. Gentleman's campaign has succeeded and that the Government have recognised it. There is support from all parts of the House—even the odd Conservative, I believe—and we look forward to the new clause becoming law.
Before I sit down, I would like to make a brief comment about the remarks of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). He may well have a bone to pick with the Home Office. The timing is less than convenient, and it is probably right that the Deputy Speaker issued a reprimand. Perhaps the Government have been clumsy, even ham-fisted—who knows? It would not be the first time that that has happened in government. However, I simply do not buy the conspiracy theory. I would have thought, given the hon. Gentleman's long experience as a Minister, that he would be well aware that the vast majority of such things can be ascribed to the cock-up, rather than the conspiracy, theory. His lack of support for the measure is surprising, and, considering who was present, somewhat distasteful. His remarks about 6 May would be funny if they were not so sadly delusional.
I endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso). This is not a new debate. Indeed, my first debate in Westminster Hall after I was elected was on road safety. Many of these issues were raised as long ago as last September, and it was clear to me then that the matter had been debated for some time and that there was an emerging consensus on it. I, too, was surprised by the comments of the hon. Member for Christchurch, because he had an opportunity to discuss such matters then, yet Hansard shows that he did not do so.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough that the new clause has the support of many people not only in his constituency but in mine. I was proud to sign his early-day motion. The proposal has the support also of readers of the Birmingham Evening Mail and wide support across the city of Birmingham. My introduction to this debate was hard. A month after my election, Josh Berill was hit and killed on Burney lane in Washwood Heath. He was two years old, the same age as my middle boy. He was hit by a car that accelerated when it hit him, and he was dragged 200 yd down the road before the car stopped. It shocked not only the constituency that I represent, but people across Birmingham.
After the shock came the anger, because Josh Berill was not the first child to be killed on Burney lane; he was the second. It was not the first accident but the seventh in five years. It was no longer a quiet residential road; it had become a race track. As I spent more and more time on the case, my admiration, like that of many others in the city, grew for Josh's family, Nona Robinson and Thomas Gordon. They had three simple questions for me. How do we make sure that it never happens again? How do we make sure that justice is done? How do we guarantee that from Josh's death—from that tragedy—some good comes?
It is vital to recognise credit where credit is due. I pay credit to the Minister, who has contributed so much to the cause of road safety not just throughout the country but in Birmingham. The number of deaths and serious injuries each year on the roads in Birmingham has fallen from 775 to 525. That is a full 30 per cent. decrease. The number of children hurt or killed has fallen from 151 to 83. That is already a fall of 45 per cent.—much better than the reduction of one third recorded nationally. That substantial progress is in no small part down to the investment that this Bill will make more possible. The Minister has been instrumental in ensuring that that investment arrives in Hodge Hill. He inaugurated the inner-city road safety demonstration project, which is worth £6 million. It cut road deaths in Gloucester by 38 per cent., and we look forward to similar results in Birmingham.
Although we have closed the investment gap, we have not yet closed the justice gap, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough made clear. It still looms large. When we debated the issue last summer in the House, I was shocked as a new MP to hear example after example of drivers who had killed innocent people walking off with no more severe a penalty than six points on their licence and a £150 to £300 fine. My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), who does not serve on this Committee, said that the burden of proving that driving is dangerous is so heavy that all too often careless driving is the charge that is pressed, and it is pressed not in a Crown court but in a magistrates court. As a community, we are forced to stand by and watch the indignity of those courts handing down completely inadequate sentences.
When the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross spoke in the debate last September, he made a powerful point. He said that the number of deaths and serious injuries was
''equivalent to a Hatfield and Potters Bar''—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, Tuesday 7 September 2004; Vol. 12, c. 3WH.]
rail crash every single day.
The most dangerous drivers are serial potential killers. Some 46 per cent. of those convicted of dangerous driving have been convicted on not one, not two, but three previous occasions. Some 56 per cent. of offenders with three or more offences go on to commit a fourth. It is that justice gap that is greatest of all, and it is a justice gap that is worst in our poorest communities. The fact is that a child from a less privileged community is five times more likely to be hit and hurt by a car. In a city such as Birmingham, that means a child every week. People in my constituency want their neighbourhoods back, and we want that justice gap closed. The truth is that crime hits hardest the young and the old. The seven accidents on Burney lane have involved either toddlers, teenagers or pensioners—often the most valuable and the most vulnerable in society.
Everything that we have achieved as a country has one simple root: the idea that nobody is above the law. Today, justice is not being done; supporting the principle of the new clause is our opportunity to take a step forward. I promised Josh's family that I would do everything in my power to see that justice is done for them, and so I look to the Minister to accept this vital step forward or to give us the assurance that we need that, if not in this Bill, in another soon to arrive, we will end this scandal and give our communities the laws that they deserve.
The new clause was tabled to ensure that loss of life and serious injury on the roads are treated with the same concern that is shown for loss of life and serious injury inflicted by other means. It is a major issue and a human one. It is filled with anguish. As we all know, every day about 10 people die on our roads and about 90 are seriously injured. In the wake of those incidents are left ruined lives as a result of bereavement or serious injury.
As several hon. Members have said, the issues have been long running. The Select Committee on Transport considered the matter in its report ''Traffic Law and its Enforcement'', published on 13 October 2004. The Select Committee took evidence from a number of individuals and organisations, including RoadPeace, which spoke for the bereaved and those affected tragically by death and accidents on the roads. We also spoke to the police, who gave evidence too. We accepted that there were undoubtedly instances in which death and injury were caused by tragic momentary errors. However, there were many other cases where the system let down the bereaved and their families.
The issues that arose and that were drawn to our attention covered a range of matters. The specific sentencing issue that the new clause addresses is related to the question of assessing and gathering evidence at the scene of an accident. Concern was expressed that sometimes there is an overriding wish to get the traffic moving again, rather than to collect the necessary forensic evidence to enable a proper charge to be brought. Concerns were expressed about the inadequacy of the charges brought—about the Crown Prosecution Service's bringing charges of careless driving when more serious charges should be brought in the circumstances.
There are problems relating to the inadequacy of the records kept on what happens to cases in which people have been killed or seriously injured on the roads. We are talking about three sets of statistics: collision statistics, court statistics and information from the CPS. Even now, those figures and that information are not properly collated. There are derisory sentences, to which reference has already been made by my hon. Friends, and sometimes there is a lack of proper concern for bereaved families and inadequate contact with them.
On the question of sentencing, I can do no more than quote the evidence given to the Select Committee, not by members of a bereaved family but by the police, and in particular by Sergeant Pattison of Northumbria police, who stated:
''The obscenity of the present restriction is that if one driver punched the other and caused, say a broken nose (assault occasioning actually bodily harm), the offender could be sentenced to five years imprisonment or, if the driver deliberately or recklessly damaged the other driver's motor vehicle and was charged with criminal damage, a maximum of ten years imprisonment could be imposed, or where life was endangered, life imprisonment. Yet when guilty of dangerous driving and grievous life threatening injuries are concerned, the maximum available to the Judge, is two years imprisonment.''
That statement from the police is just one indication of the grave injustice that has been done for so long.
The Select Committee called for a new offence to be created: that of causing death or serious injury by negligent driving. It also called for the Halliday report to be published. I am delighted that today we have the consultation document arising from the review of the situation. Unlike Opposition Members, I am pleased that it has been published now; it is extremely timely.
I was particularly pleased to see that there are two major measures proposed in the report that go a long way towards meeting the concerns of the Transport Committee, and they are reflected in the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough. The proposal for a maximum custodial penalty of five years for the new offence of causing death by careless driving would clearly not be imposed in every case, or even most cases, but the new clause would make that maximum penalty available. In addition, the consultation document suggested that the court should be required to take account when sentencing of the consequences of bad driving offences, including the inflicting of injuries. Those two proposals address the main concerns of the Committee.
I am pleased that the Government are responding to those concerns. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the timely action that he has taken in pursuing the matter in the way that he has. He has focused the minds of Ministers on an issue that has been of long-term concern. Through his diligence and in trying to bring some kind of justice to the family of Alexine Melnik, he has been able to bring about the publication of the document containing the proposals for a change in sentencing.
I hope that the Minister will assure us that, although the document has come from the Home Office, he will be able to support the general trend of the proposals, so that at long last sentencing recognises the impact of death on the roads and the serious injuries inflicted.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough on bringing the matter before the Committee, and on the consistent and persistent way he has advanced the issues and created debate inside and outside this House in pursuit of the interests of his constituents. It is a model of how a good constituency Member of Parliament can advance such issues on behalf of their constituents.
My hon. Friend referred to the number of casualties on our roads, as have a number of Members. I have said it before but I shall say it again that the record of this country bears good comparison with any other in the world. We have one of the best records in this area. None the less, it is a fact that 270 children—the number of pupils in a medium-sized primary school—and about 3,500 people altogether are killed each year on our roads. The good news is that the number of serious injuries on our roads, particularly of children, is falling very rapidly owing to an accumulation of measures taken over the past 30 years by Governments who have taken such issues very seriously.
Before I come to the substance of an otherwise good and constructive debate, I want to say that it was completely sullied by the speech of the hon. Member for Christchurch. At the beginning of his contribution, he talked about having some consensus on these matters, but he went on to make the most non-consensual speech that I have heard in a long time, complaining about something that does not directly concern the Committee: a Home Office document that came out today.
Last week, the hon. Gentleman asked when the report was coming out, and I told him that I did not know. That was the truth; I did not know. He and other Committee members must know me well enough by now. Had I known, I would have told him. I had no reason to say otherwise. I did not know that the document was coming out until yesterday morning, and I did not see a copy of it until this morning. My Department had been consulted about it, but I had not seen the final document.
There are two things going on here. My Department is responsible for road safety policy; offences are a matter for the Home Office. Over the past four years, since I have been doing my job, my officials and I, along with many others in the House, such as PACTS, which has been very good, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), who has helped, have been putting together a number of issues that we thought would be good candidates for a road safety Bill. That Bill is now in front of us. We have here many measures that I think we agree across the Committee are good measures. We have put the measures together, we have put them in a Bill, we have put them to the House, and I think that we agree on the vast majority of them.
At the same time, because of other campaigning, some people felt that we did not necessarily need new offences, but that we needed to adjust the penalty for the existing ones. So the work in my Department on the Bill was in parallel with a review of the offences. The Home Office employed Mr. Halliday to look at the offences and to collect opinions and views for an internal report, which has today been put into a consultation paper. That process has been going on for two and a half years. Work on this Bill has been going on for four years. Coincidentally, the two things have come together.
The consultation document does not affect anything that we are doing in the Bill. The hon. Member for Christchurch said, ''Well, if we had known this earlier in the week, we would have tabled some amendments.'' How ridiculous. It will be several weeks before we receive people's views on the consultation paper, and then a Bill will come not through my Department but through the Home Office. To say that after 48 hours we should pre-empt responses to the consultation document and table an amendment is quite ludicrous. On mature reflection, the hon. Gentleman will realise that.
The Minister has just put on the record that he did not see the paper until yesterday. Will he clarify whether he means that he did not see a version of the printed copy until yesterday, or whether he had not seen the contents presented in some other form? The approval of his Department is on the back of the document. If the Minister did not agree the contents on behalf of his Department, who did?
I did not see the final version until yesterday. Our Department will have been aware of the contents, as we and the Department for Constitutional Affairs have been working together and talking to each other about the contents. However, I had not seen the paper until yesterday morning.
I was aware of the document, and we wrote internally to the Domestic Affairs Committee to say that we were content with what was in it.
I do not know if we want to pursue this any further. The question asked by the hon. Member for Christchurch was whether I was aware of the date that the document was to be published. No I was not, because it was not in my gift to publish it. That was in the gift of the Home Office. I will give way once more.
By the Secretary of State. The final version of the paper is in front of us, but that is a separate matter. Over coming weeks there will be careful consultation over the paper's contents, but that will not in any way affect the Bill before us. There will be a separate Bill, dealing with entirely different matters. We are dealing almost entirely with the penalties, not with the offences. The consultation paper deals with the offences and not the penalties.
Turning to the serious issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, I am only too aware, from my experience as a constituency Member of Parliament, from the correspondence that the Department receives, and from the representations that we receive from hon. Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and others, how desperately angry many people feel when they have lost a member of their family or a cherished friend in a road accident, or even when such a person has been seriously injured. It is a painful and hurtful experience and it lasts for a long time.
The family's grief is often made worse because they feel that the court has not treated the offence with the seriousness that it should have done, that the penalty that was handed out was not sufficiently serious or, if the person feels guilty and there was no hearing, because they feel angry that the witnesses did not have their chance to say their bit in court to ventilate some of the issues. They feel that there has been no place in which to hear the issues and they feel aggrieved by that. I understand that feeling. That is why the report tackles many of the issues to do with the penalties attracted by certain offences. It is imperative that the criminal law is fully effective in dealing with and addressing all forms of bad driving that have the all too appalling consequences that several Members have mentioned.
However, this is a sensitive area of law that involves difficult issues. Therefore, it is essential—
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Before I call the Minister, I want to make a ruling. Because I have responsibility to see this agenda through, any further reference to the consultation document must be directly relevant to the new clause that we are debating. I am not saying that it is not related, but it must be raised only on issues related directly to what we are debating in the new clause.
Thank you for that, Mr. Pike. As I was saying, this is a sensitive area of the law that involves some difficult issues, so it is essential that the introduction of the offences set out in the document, as proposed, is considered against the full background of a wider framework of offences and penalties in the criminal law. The issues raised in the new clause are adequately covered in the document—which I think Committee members have now seen—as are many other offences. The Home Office is developing new offences, rather than new penalties. It is right and proper for that now to take its course, and for the Home Office to take appropriate action.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Liam Byrne)—who, during his short time in this House, has been proving himself to be a quiet but highly effective and determined Member of Parliament—has already raised a number of constituency issues relating to the penalties imposed on people for these offences. I congratulate him on the work that he has done. He also referred to the inner-city road safety project. I visited his constituents to launch that project before he was a Member of Parliament, and picked up on the concerns from parents there about the level of penalties that people were getting for certain offences. I wish my hon. Friend well in his endeavours in his constituency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) has a long-standing interest in these issues, and I am well aware of the excellent contribution that she has made through the Select Committee on Transport, which, quite rightly, had a lot to say about these issues.
We are deeply sympathetic to the new clause, but the time is not far away when the Government as a whole, through the Home Office, can deal with some of these issues. There is now a serious intent to do that, and I hope the motion will be withdrawn, so that we may come back and tackle the matters with a vengeance sometime in the next few months.
With one notable exception, it has been a very good and positive debate. I wish to put on record my thanks for the support that I have received from Liberal Democrat Members, from Labour Back Benchers and from the Minister. I can also record that we have received yet more public support. The postman arrived while we were here this morning—and I have another 200 positive responses in support of this new clause. I dare say that those 200 people will feel insulted by the comments made by the hon. Member for Christchurch.
Perhaps I am looking too far into the future. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that legislation by reflection is better than legislation by postcard? In the consultation process that is taking place, we need to reflect on the views of the experts and those who are looking at the wider framework of penalties, not just on the views of those who are angry and emotional.
Of course we need to legislate with mature reflection. The issue has been debated on numerous occasions and considered by many people, not least by the Transport Committee. I believe that the Committee's report was unanimously agreed to. At any rate, it was agreed to by Conservative Members.
I thought that the contribution of the hon. Member for Christchurch not only demonstrated a lack of grace, but was a disgrace. He effectively accused my constituent and I, and perhaps my Front-Bench colleagues, of a party political carve-up. Mr. Melnik, who heard the hon. Gentleman's speech, said to me afterwards that he felt that, after six months of grief, he had been given a slap in the face. Mr. Melnik did not spend his Christmas celebrating the festivities, which took place just a few months after his daughter died; he spent it printing out and signing letters to every Member of Parliament, including every Conservative Member.
When I tabled my early-day motion, I did not say that Members could sign it only if they were Labour, Liberal, a nationalist or from Ulster. It was not a Conservative-free zone. There is no room in grief for ideology and there should not have been any room for party politics in the debate. The simple fact is that there is a gaping hole in the law. Mine was a legitimate attempt to try to fill it. A better way forward has been signalled by the Home Office in its timely report.
I am grateful to hear that, and I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support and for his campaigning on the issue in his constituency and in Parliament. The simple truth is that the measure is neither a conspiracy nor a carve-up. Mr. Melnik is not a party member and he is not a conspirator. He is a grieving dad. I suggest that it says something rather deep about Conservative Members that they cannot imagine that sometimes people campaign for the right thing for the right reason.
Since the hon. Gentleman went out of his way to try to insult me, I simply say that it is regrettable that the Halliday review took two and a half years to report. If the report had been dealt with more quickly, the recommendations from that report could have been included in the Bill. That is not now possible because of the timing of the report. It means that the change in the law that the hon. Gentleman wants will not be made until a year or more from now.
The hon. Gentleman has not addressed the point about penalties in the appendix to the report. He knows that the previous Home Secretary was against locking up more motorists; he thought that there were already too many motorists in prison. The proposal was that another 800 a year be put in prison. I do not believe, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has any reason to believe, that his Government are committed to achieving that. This is an exercise in trying to allay concerns without making any firm, unequivocal commitment.