I begin by paying tribute to the family of Violet-Grace, who, tragically, was killed by a dangerous driver in March 2017 aged just four. Her mother and father, Rebecca and Glenn, started this petition when the driver, who mounted the pavement in a stolen car before fleeing the scene and subsequently the country, was sentenced to a derisory nine years and four months in prison.
Violet-Grace’s killer was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving. I, along with many other hon. Members and campaigners, have long campaigned for reform of the sentencing guidelines for that offence. As it stands, the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving—driving that falls far below the expected standard—is just 14 years. As we have seen in this and many other cases, killer drivers too often are given considerably less than 14 years.
It is not right that people who drive recklessly, with no regard for human life, and cause death and serious injury get away with lenient sentences because our sentencing guidelines are not tough enough. That is why I warmly welcomed the Government’s announcement in October 2017 that they would bring in tougher sentences for drivers who kill someone by dangerous or careless driving, as well as a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving.
My simple question to the Minister is this: it is nearly two years on, so where are those tougher sentences? The Government have said repeatedly that they will bring forward legislative proposals “as soon as parliamentary time allows”. I sincerely hope that we do not hear that phrase from the Minister today. As we all know, there has been ample parliamentary time in recent months for these changes to be discussed, debated and implemented. One could fairly conclude that the Government, having announced they intended to introduce those tougher penalties, have now changed their mind. That is an appalling way to treat families affected by this terrible crime.
I have used this quote before, but I will read it again. It is from a family member of an 81-year-old man who was killed by a speeding driver in 2017. He said,
“The Government’s delay in implementing tougher penalties has denied my family the justice that we need...The Government has a duty to families like mine to ensure that justice is delivered by bringing in these new laws now, not several months or years down the line. There can be no excuse.”
That is exactly right: there can be no more excuses. Many in the Chamber will know the lasting pain and loss of losing a loved one so brutally. I struggle to explain to bereaved relatives in my constituency why the Government are choosing to delay. The Minister should either announce today when he intends to bring forward proposals for tougher sentences for Parliament to consider, or else be honest, say that the Government no longer intend to do so and explain why.
Judges recognise the inadequacy of the current sentencing guidelines and want to be able to hand down tougher sentences so that the law of the land reflects the severity of the crime. As it stands, families are being let down and denied justice, and the Government’s inaction is making their suffering worse. The Government may be in their last weeks, but they still have time to right this wrong and get these changes on to the statute book. I ask the Minister today to leave a legacy for this Prime Minister’s Government and introduce tougher sentences without delay.