Courses offered as alternative to prosecution: fees etc

Part of Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 21 March 2017.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport) 3:45, 21 March 2017

It will come as no surprise to the Committee to hear that I have always believed that what we imagine is more important than what we know, for it is in our dreams that we create. For those reasons, I am inclined to a largely emotional view of the world, but there are matters that require an evidential approach of the kind the hon. Gentleman recommends, and this is one of them. It is important that we evaluate the effectiveness of these courses. The case was made by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough on Second Reading, and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield has repeated that case today. I have exciting news for them both and for the whole Committee. I will refer to my notes in a moment, but I do not want to be constrained by them too much.

The Department, in conjunction with the Road Safety Trust, has commissioned an evaluation of national speed awareness courses. As the hon. Gentleman will know, this is only one of several courses offered, but it covers about 85% of those that offend. The evaluation methodology will be suitable for the future evaluation of other schemes. Because the hon. Gentleman will ask me, I will tell him in advance that the research is examining course impact, including reoffending and reconviction rates and collisions. That will therefore provide analysis of the data requested in new subsection (6A) of the amendment. In fact, the amendment suggests a one-off basis, but I want to do this on a continuing basis. I expect the final report to be presented to the project board no later than the end of this year.

The project board overseeing the work includes representatives from the Department for Transport, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Road Safety Trust, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and the RAC Foundation. The project team has worked hard to ensure that appropriate and rigorous data processing arrangements are in place to enable data transfer between the police, the DVLA and Ipsos MORI, which is the organisation we have commissioned to do the work with those organisations.

So the data reflect the proper enquiries of members of the Committee, including Opposition Members, about how we test the effectiveness of these approaches, and, as a result, negate the need for proposed subsection (6B). On proposed subsection (6A), I agree with the underlying premise that we should be as open as possible in publishing statistics about public sector activity. There is always a balance to be struck between the publication of such material and the administrative and bureaucratic burden placed on agencies, including the police and associated bodies, because the task of recording the issue of a fixed penalty notice to someone who has previously attended a diversionary course will fall to the police.

Although figures on fixed penalty notices are already collected and published by the Home Office, data on diversionary course attendance are not. Precisely because forces divert people away from the criminal justice system, data on course attendance are compiled and published by UKROEd Ltd, the organisation that approves and co-ordinates course delivery. It is thus not clear how we will be able to satisfy the requirements of the proposed amendment without increasing the burden of data collection.

We have also at the present time not considered whether the police’s current IT systems will be able to capture and record the information being requested. Further work will need to be done to determine whether that can be done and how much it would cost. I further note that the Home Office currently publishes police powers and procedures statistics that include data on fixed penalty notices annually. Proposed subsection (6A) calls for quarterly statistics, which would place us in the odd position of publishing quarterly details on a subset of offenders who had previously taken a course and only publishing annually the overarching group of those issued with a fixed penalty notice. I know that is not the intention of the amendment, but that would be its effect.

So the addition of subsection (6A) would, as explained, have an unspecified and so far uncalculated cost effect on the police. It would require recording a great deal more information, and its publication in the form proposed in the amendment would create—I accept that this is not its intent—an anomaly. Therefore, given that we have committed to evaluating the effectiveness of courses, and that we are concerned about the detail of subsection (6A), I do not think that it would be unreasonable to ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

I want to go further than that, however, because I have some doubt anyway about the business of maintaining in perpetuity a database of people who have been on the courses. Many people who receive a fixed penalty notice go on a course, and there would be questions to be asked about whether those data should then remain on record in perpetuity. That would be a very significant step to take and not one that I think would be universally welcomed. There are some data protection issues that we would need to explore at some length were we to go down that road.

I understand why the amendment has been tabled, and I am not unsympathetic to its intent, but it has consequences that might be unhelpful rather than helpful. I am determined to make sure that the courses work, and to ensure that we have the evidential base—notwithstanding my commitment to emotion at all times—that allows us to evaluate and move forward accordingly. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.