Dangerous Driving Penalties — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:33 pm on 17th September 2015.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 3:33 pm, 17th September 2015

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I, too, praise my hon. Friend Alok Sharma for securing this important debate. I also praise those who lie behind it, not only for backing the debate, but for their petition.

This important issue has been raised with me by constituents on a number of occasions. I, too, have raised it with the Ministry of Justice, and I will refer to that later. A huge concern is that with the increase in traffic comes an increase in dangerous driving, which can have a big effect on our constituents. Only yesterday I was at a meeting of the joint all-party group on rural issues and policing, where a startling statistic was revealed, that the fear of crime in rural areas was much increased over the reality—although in the case of dangerous driving, the reality is all too visible. More than 63% of people who had responded to the survey had a fear of road traffic crime. It was a huge and sad number, and behind it is the public reaction to lenient sentences in the area. Happily, the Select Committee on Justice, of which I am a member, has picked up on the matter a number of times. Only this week, we had the opportunity to question the Attorney General on lenient sentences.

A letter that I received from the Ministry of Justice in 2013 explained:

“When considering the appropriate charge, it is the driving behaviour that is the deciding factor, that is, whether the driver was careless or dangerous, rather the outcome of the incident however tragic.”

I suspect that at some point that ought to lead us to a review of sentencing guidelines, which are produced independently of government. The Justice Committee is a statutory consultee of the Sentencing Council, which produces the guidelines, and I shall certainly take it upon myself to respond and to try to achieve the things that my hon. Friend set out in this debate, so that is an important contribution that I can make.

We need to do something to take forward work on the subject, which has never been more required. I can illustrate this with a couple of cases from my own postbag. For example, a constituent wrote to tell me that his nephew had been run over and killed by a hit-and-run driver. His nephew was a 22-year-old student who was knocked down on a pedestrian crossing by a driver who went through a red light at twice the legal speed. The killer received a sentence that means he will spend less than two years in prison. That example from my constituency makes the very point that my hon. Friend was making and shows why the law needs to be changed.

Another constituent wrote to me asking for an urgent review of how such criminals are allowed to turn the law on its head. One wrote:

“To make a difference we need larger fines to act as a deterrent”— although I am not sure that larger fines are the only answer. We should submit proposals to the Sentencing Council to review the guidelines.