Dangerous Driving — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:59 pm on 8th July 2019.

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Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Shadow Minister (Justice) 5:59 pm, 8th July 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I thank all hon. Members across the House who have spoken in this important debate and made some powerful points. My hon. Friend Helen Jones did justice to this debate by setting a substantial tone for what I hope will be a serious but productive conversation.

I pay tribute to the petitioners—the parents, friends and family of Violet-Grace—for the strength and courage that they have shown in what must be the most difficult period. My hon. Friend Ms Rimmer set out those circumstances in her emotional speech, which no one could help but be moved by. Hon. Members from across the House went through some truly horrific and tragic personal cases that they have had to deal with. I look to my hon. Friend Judith Cummins, as we in Bradford are no different—some truly tragic cases have come to us.

I pay tribute to road safety campaigners such as Brake, which my hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick referred to. I pay tribute to the campaign run by the Telegraph and Argus in my district and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South. It has led calls locally not just for much stronger sentences for dangerous drivers and those causing death by dangerous driving, but for increasing resources for the police, to enable them to crack down on dangerous driving—I will substantiate that point a little later.

Those who drive dangerously and sit behind the wheel while under the influence of drink or drugs do so with no thought for the consequences of their actions. They care little for the lifetime of grief and misery that they can end up causing the friends and families of those they kill with their reckless actions. While they never set out with the intention to kill, they conduct themselves behind the wheel in a way that makes it a very real possibility. Despite the life-shattering consequences of death as a result of dangerous driving or careless driving under the influence, the sentence that such an offence attracts, in reality, is far from what the public expect or want. As we have heard, in many cases those who have killed through dangerous driving receive a custodial sentence of just a few years.

The offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs should be treated with the severity that they deserve, to match the consequences of those actions. However, we must be careful not to tie the hands of the judiciary too tightly, as we must respect its independence and ability to view and judge cases based on the evidence and facts that are brought before it. We must give it the power and flexibility that it needs to pass sentences that fit the crime of which the defendants are convicted.

Because of the backlash, referred to by some hon. Members, over short sentences imposed for such serious crimes, in 2014 the Government rightly stated their intention to launch a consultation on the matter. Many hon. Members have gone through the chronology, but I will look at the pertinent points. It took a further two years for the consultation to be published, and a further year for the Government to publish their response to the findings of the consultation, despite the fact that within days it had become one of the consultations most widely responded to that the Ministry of Justice had ever issued.

Despite being four years on from the Government’s statement of their desire to increase the maximum sentence available to judges, we are still no closer to the legislation that would bring such a desire into effect, as many hon. Members have said. Now, we hear that they will bring forward legislation when parliamentary time can be found; they have stated as much to many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker, who is not in this debate.

The Government have used that excuse for the past two years, but the point has been made that time has been abundant for them to bring forward that legislation, and they have refused to do so. Perhaps the Minister will explain why they have left the words and promises they gave to victims’ friends and family to ring hollow. To be fair to the Minister, I am not levelling criticism directly at him since he was not in his role at the time. As I said, this issue is serious enough that we should work together on it. I hope that in his response, the Minister will say what everyone here wants him to say.

The massive cuts to police numbers have not taken up a lot of time in this debate, understandably, but they are important. I am attempting not to use the issue politically but to make a factual point: since 2010, £2.7 billion in real terms has been cut from police budgets across the country, and over 21,000 police officers have been lost for good. In my region of West Yorkshire, there are more than 700 fewer officers. Those cuts have fallen the hardest on specialist forces who are much harder to recruit, train and replace, such as our road traffic police who, according to The Times, dropped 11% between 2016 and 2018.

The loss is keenly felt on our streets, where the reassuring presence of the police no longer deters dangerous drivers. The Police Federation has said that dash camera evidence from drivers is no replacement for patrols; motorists regularly drive in an antisocial, dangerous and aggressive way because they are less fearful of being caught. Evidence shows that increased levels of road policing can reduce traffic violations and road casualties. We all know that prevention is better than the cure; we do not want to be in a position of sentencing those found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving, because by then it is too late—the irreversible damage has been done and another life has been needlessly lost. Instead, we want those who would otherwise drive dangerously to be deterred from ever setting out on the road, because of a near-certain chance of being caught. We want those drivers never to be able to take another life.

In addition to putting police back on our streets and our roads, we need to look at cases of dangerous driving where, thankfully, there is no death or injury, to look at what is driving people to make such foolish decisions behind the wheel. Such offences may rightly warrant a custodial sentence depending on their severity, but they certainly warrant much greater rehabilitative efforts to make sure that the next time a dangerous driver gets behind the wheel, they do not repeat their mistakes, drive dangerously and end up killing someone.

Those killed by dangerous drivers or careless drivers under the influence of drink or drugs deserve real justice. Their friends and family deserve to see punishment for those whose reckless and dangerous behaviour has left huge holes in their lives.