Dangerous Driving — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:49 pm on 8th July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Conservative, Wells 4:49 pm, 8th July 2019

I congratulate Helen Jones on an excellent speech; she opened the debate brilliantly. She has done great justice to all those who have travelled a long way to hear the debate in Parliament. It is also a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon.

It is unfortunate that I have been called so early in the debate, because I will talk about something that is slightly different, although important to my constituents. My constituents Tom and Jackie Luxon were involved in a car crash with their then two-year-old daughter. The force of the impact was so great that the Isofix that the two year old was travelling in broke, and she sustained life-changing injuries that initially caused paralysis; amazingly, in the two years since, she has recovered to some degree. There is evidence that the person who hit the Luxons that day had been driving dangerously for 16 miles before the collision.

The incident was brought to my attention because Jackie was 26 weeks pregnant at the time and her baby, Grace, was stillborn as a consequence. We are debating whether there should be life sentences when dangerous driving is the cause of death of someone who is alive, but Grace was 26 weeks in gestation at the time of the impact. Obviously, she was killed as a direct consequence of the impact, but the man responsible received three years and seven months in prison. If Grace had been delivered when she was taken to hospital with her mother and had taken just one breath, the situation that we are debating would have applied and we would have been talking about whether that man should have been liable for a life sentence—or, as is the current position, something less satisfactory. Grace did not take a breath, however, so three years and seven months is all that could be served on that man for killing her.

PC Owen Davies, the investigating officer for Avon and Somerset police, wrote to me in despair. I hope he does not get in trouble for that with his chief constable, because he did exactly what a police officer should do—showed how much he cares. He said that he and the Crown Prosecution Service

“looked into charging the driver with death by dangerous driving but we hit a brick wall when we discovered that the Road Traffic Act 1988 does not recognise a healthy 26-week-old unborn baby as a person. Instead we had to charge him with causing serious injury by dangerous driving (x2)”— for the mother and the daughter—

“with nothing able to be charged for the death of the baby.”

A couple of weeks ago, I asked about the issue at Prime Minister’s questions, and the Prime Minister gave a considered answer. The key thrust of her answer related to the danger that any such discussion about the rights of unborn children could have unintended consequences. That is as far as her answer went; she was obviously talking about abortion law. I agree with her that the impact could be challenging, but there is precedent.

It is great to see the Minister in his place. As such a distinguished practitioner of the law, he will see that there is an opportunity to get it right. The Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 says that a foetus is viable at the age of 24 weeks. The Act’s wording explicitly sets out clear exemptions, precisely so there are no unintended consequences of that definition. It is also worth noting that a child who was stillborn as a consequence of the awful Grenfell Tower tragedy was officially recorded as a victim. There is precedent, therefore, and there are examples in law where it is possible to recognise the rights of an unborn child.

I beg the Minister to consider that when he considers the wider merits of the case that is made in this debate, which is hugely important. It should be possible and the norm to give life sentences for dangerous driving, because cars can be weapons in the wrong people’s hands. The Luxons’ child was denied to them at 26 weeks’ gestation and the punishment for the person responsible was just three years and seven months. I urge the Minister to look beyond what we do to punish people who kill the living, and consider what we should do to punish people who cause babies to be stillborn as a consequence of such collisions.