Police Powers to Suspend Driving Licences — [Stewart Hosie in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 10 January 2022.

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Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution) 4:30, 10 January 2022

Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when they are not speaking in the debate. This is in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I remind Members that they are advised by the House to have a covid lateral flow test before coming on to the estate. Could Members please give each other and staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room?

Photo of Christina Rees Christina Rees Labour/Co-operative, Neath

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered e-petition 548682, relating to police powers to suspend driving licences.

It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship Mr Hosie. As a member of the Petitions Committee, it is an honour to open the debate. The e-petition is about Tom’s law and was created by Christina Worsfold, Tom McConnachie’s partner. The petition closed on 25 March 2021 with 104,868 signatures. It states:

“We want police officers to be able to provide a suspension notice from the moment an offender is caught drink, drug or dangerous driving until they appear in court. It would then be for the Judge to decide whether a ban continues or they are able to continue to drive again… With Tom's Law we want police officers to be able to issue a suspension notice to an offender when arrested at the Road side to stop them from driving until they attend court to protect other road users.”

I met Christina and Charlotte McConnachie, Tom’s mother, who told me of the absolutely tragic circumstances of Tom’s death., Charlotte, Christina and Christina’s mother, Sandra, are in the Public Gallery this evening. Christina and Charlotte told me that at 3 am on 24 February 2019, Tom, aged 34, was killed in a hit-and-run incident on Budshead Road in Plymouth, Devon, by a drink driver who left Tom fatally injured in the road. The driver continued his journey to Okehampton, approximately 53 miles away, where he set fire to the vehicle to destroy the evidence.

Tom was returning from a night out with friends to celebrate the forthcoming wedding in August 2019 of one of the friends, at which Tom was to be a groomsman. Tom had taken a taxi home in the early hours of the morning and was hit by Lewis Seamen, who was driving a black Kia Rio car, which he had borrowed from a friend in order to pick up this friend’s partner. The taxi driver said that he helped Tom—who he described as “happy drunk”—out of his taxi and shook hands with him. When he got back in his car, he saw Tom walking along the nearby pavement. He then saw Tom standing in the middle of the road with his arms raised high. That is when he saw a black car hit Tom. The taxi driver got out of his car to help Tom and called 999.

A witness who was out running along Budshead Road said that he saw a man talking to a taxi driver before the taxi started to pull away. Then, a car travelling at around 30 mph with high revs came from behind the runner and hit the man, who was knocked 10 or 12 feet down the road. The runner stopped to help the injured man. The police officer who gave evidence at the inquest into Tom’s death, which was held on 11 February 2021, said that the police reconstruction of the fatal collision showed that the car that hit Tom was travelling at at least 29 mph and that the driver, Mr Seaman, may have been using a mobile phone, although the police officer could not confirm or validate this.

Tom was taken to Derriford Hospital, where tragically he died from serious head injuries shortly after being admitted. Tom was much loved in his community. He was an accomplished footballer and a Liverpool football club supporter. Everyone who had the privilege to meet Tom soon became friends with him.

On 6 January 2020, Mr Seaman pleaded guilty to drink-driving, failing to stop, driving without insurance and perverting the course of justice after a collision, but not guilty to failing to report, because he attended a police station at about 11 am on 24 February 2019, approximately seven hours after Tom had been hit. Mr Seaman was not charged with causing death by dangerous driving or careless driving. In his defence, Mr Seaman said that he had drunk three cans of lager and two single whiskies at about 9 pm on 23 February. He thought he was fit to drive in the early hours of 24 February. Mr Seaman claimed that his view of the road was hampered by fog, but other witnesses at the scene who provided statements that were read out at Tom’s inquest said that the view was clear.

On 31 January 2020, in Plymouth Crown court, Mr Seaman was sentenced by Judge Paul Darlow to 10 months’ imprisonment and a driving ban of three years and five months, with an extended retest condition. The court heard that a doctor had concluded that the level of alcohol in Seaman’s system

“would have been such that it would have impaired his ability to safely drive”, but added:

“It cannot be said that it (the level of alcohol) contributed to Mr McConnachie’s death.”

Judge Darlow said:

“I can tell you straight off that if there was a suggestion on any sensible and fair basis upon which it could be said the amount of alcohol had contributed in any way, the outcome would have been entirely different.”

He said to Mr Seaman:

“The surest thing about this case is that you will have to live with the consequences of your actions and that is something that will not go away when you have served your prison sentence.”

Mr Seaman should have served half the sentence. In fact, however, he only served three months and three weeks. Tom’s family believe that Tom’s life was worth so much more than 10 months, so much more than five months. and so much more than three months and three weeks. Tom’s family appealed against the 10-month sentence under the Government’s unduly lenient sentence scheme, but a single judge sitting in chambers decided that there were no new grounds to put the case forward to the Court of Appeal to reconsider the sentence.

Tom’s family found it extremely distressing and concerning that the offender was allowed to continue to drive from 24 February 2019 until he was eventually banned by a judge at the Crown court hearing 11 months later. They are asking for police to be given powers to suspend a driver’s licence when the suspect provides a positive drink or drugs test over the legal limit until that suspect attends court, when the judge can decide whether the driving ban will continue.

Tom’s family told me that it was disclosed at the Crown court hearing that Mr Seaman had previous drink-driving offences. He had been banned for 18 months, which was subsequently reduced to 10 months after he completed a driver awareness course. Tom’s family believe that Mr Seaman had not learned from his previous driving ban and that being able to drive is not a human right, but a privilege. If someone abuses that privilege, it should be taken away from day one.

Tom’s family told me that many families in the same situation, where an offender has been allowed to drive while an investigation is ongoing, have pledged their support. They have also been contacted by police officers from across the UK who support Tom’s law because of the need to protect the public and save lives. Tom’s family want laws regarding driving offences to be toughened, and they want zero tolerance. They have worked closely with the Saltern family, who are campaigning for Ryan’s law. I had the privilege to open the debate on Ryan’s law, on behalf of the Petitions Committee, in this Chamber on 15 November 2021.

Tom’s family want to thank all the people who tried to help Tom: the taxi driver, the runner who gave Tom CPR at the scene, the police, the paramedics, and the staff at Derriford Hospital. They extend their sincere gratitude to SCARD, the Support and Care After Road Death and Injury charity.

The Department for Transport produced a UK Government response to the petition on 11 February 2021. It stated that,

“Turning to the suggestion that in certain circumstances a driving ban should be imposed pending investigation and trial, under the Bail Act 1976, the police can impose bail conditions for particular purposes, one of which is to ensure there is no further offence committed while on bail. A driving ban as a condition of police bail may be appropriate for some cases. Decisions on when to use these powers are operational matters for the police, and the rights of a defendant, not yet convicted, and the potential benefits to public safety from reducing the risk of further offences have to be balanced.”

I will be grateful if the Minister answers some questions about the current law, and about statistics concerning pre-charge bail and released under investigation—known as RUI. How many alleged suspects have been released on pre-charge bail from all police forces since 2017 for the following periods: up to 28 days; 29 days to three months; three months to six months; six months to 12 months; and over 12 months? How many alleged suspects, released on pre-charge bail for the periods I referred to, have had a driving ban imposed as a condition of that bail? How many alleged suspects have been released on RUI for the periods I referred to? Has RUI been successful in its aim of reducing the number of alleged suspects being released repeatedly on bail? Has RUI been overused by overstretched police forces so that complex cases are shelved because simpler cases have a better prospect of conviction, with the unintended consequence that alleged victims and suspects do not receive regular case updates, and so are left in limbo for months or years?

I hope the Minister has listened this evening to the requests of the petitioner. Will she consider introducing the power for police to immediately suspend a suspect’s driving licence in the circumstances set out in Tom’s law? Finally, will she meet Christina and Tom’s family to discuss the matter further? Tom’s family are still seeking justice.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View 4:44, 10 January 2022

It is a privilege to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I pay tribute to Christina Rees for her clear précis of the case and her clear, direct questions to the Minister, which I want to add to. I will not speak for long, but I want to pick at a couple of key issues in this case that the family want to understand, as would I and any ordinary citizen who sees such a tragedy and the response from law enforcement, the law of the land or, indeed, Parliament to that loss.

We have heard about Tom and what a lovely man he was. I pay tribute to Christina, his partner, and Charlotte, his mother, who have campaigned long and hard in the two years since Tom’s death. I also pay tribute to the police and emergency workers involved that night and particularly to Jason Mullard, a police liaison officer for the family who has done an exceptional job.

There are a couple of key points that I want the Minister to explain. Although she might not be able to answer our questions this afternoon—I accept this broaches issues for different Departments, such as the Home Office, Justice and so on—I want to get these answers from Government. If you commit an offence with a firearm—unfortunately we had one of those in Plymouth this year as well—or are involved in a domestic abuse incident, orders can be put in place to preclude contact between the protagonists in the case. If you drive without insurance, your car can be seized, but it seems that if you commit an offence such as the one that we are talking about today, you can be taken in for the night, sober up and get everything come out of your system, then pick up your keys and just carry on driving.

In situations involving domestic violence, which are complicated, terrible events, it is often hard to understand what is really going on, but with the technology we have available now, drink-driving or drug-driving are binary. They are black and white: people either fail a test or they do not. So it is hard to understand how the scenario can present itself wherein police officers operationally decide—we have heard it is an operational decision—that an individual who has abused their privilege of driving can just crack on the following day as though nothing has happened. I have concerns that the family of the individual who has lost their life—in this case Tom—wherever it may be in this country, will see those individuals carrying on as though nothing has happened, waiting for a court appearance. They are not being served by the law, and I totally understand their pain and frustration. Where that is the case, we have a duty, as Government, Ministers and MPs, to represent them and address the problem.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just death caused by driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs that we are talking about here? Careless driving, rather than dangerous driving, with all the subtleties around that, can cause massive injuries. I had a constituent, Thomas Gill, who suffered massive injuries due to a drug-driver, but the nuances in that case were such that the driver ended up with a pathetically light sentence. This issue is important in more cases than those involving death.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, because there is a serious point here. I have heard it anecdotally, speaking to prison officers and others who spend their time in prison, that if is often said, “If you want to kill someone, run them over,” because the sentences are such as joke. We have known about that for such a long time in this country that it is hard to understand why it still exists.

Even police officers who have seen Christina’s campaigning in this case have said that they need this power. We have been working with the family and Government, with the to-ing and fro-ing that happens in this space, and the Government have said in response that the police have those powers. They may well have them, but when the figures requested by the hon. Member for Neath come out of the Government, we will see that they are hardly ever used, so there is clearly a problem. Either the police do not know about it, or the problem is with their training and understanding that seeing a perpetrator driving round for the next 12 months without any sanction whatever, having seriously injured or killed one of our constituents, is clearly not acceptable, and not only for us as MPs who represent these cases. Imagine being a family member seeing that. We clearly have to address something there.

I reiterate my request that the Minister meets the family. It is so important that these voices are heard. As MPs, we see a lot of injustices and so on, but this one appears particularly egregious. Think about your son or partner losing his life in the way Tom did, with the perpetrator leaving the scene of the accident, admitting perverting the course of justice, drink-driving and so on and going to prison for three and a half months for killing your son or fiancée. That is not right. We all know it is not right, but no one has quite been bold enough to grasp the nettle on this. I commend the Government for increasing sentences from 14 years to life for some crimes, but that needs to be broader. At the moment, there does not seem to be a clear delineation between the damage someone can cause by, for example, knocking off a wing mirror and failing to report it and actually killing a human being. It is pretty basic stuff, but we do not often see it until it is clearly painted by seeing one of the families, as we have here today.

What do I want on behalf of the family? I want the Government to take this issue seriously and really address that core point. Leaving the scene of an accident is not a normal reaction. In other instances, such as an athlete failing to take a drugs test, it will be pretty obvious why they have done that. We need to make the sanction for leaving the scene of an accident as bad as being done for the crime, so that people are actually honest and victims can actually get some sort of justice.

Ultimately, we are all accountable, and police officers are public servants too, and I am a huge fan of them, but where operational decisions cause this much pain and injustices of this scale, we have to intervene and ask what is going on with these sentencing provisions. A person can essentially kill someone, using a car as a weapon, leave the scene drunk or high on drugs, go and hide and then hand themselves in the next day and get away with three and a half months in prison. That is extraordinary. It reflects really poorly on all of us. Crucially, think about if that happened to your son, partner or fiancé. You would be absolutely livid if that was the price that we, as legislators, or the House of Commons or the police put on your son’s or fiancé’s life.

I urge the Minister to think about those things in her response. I reiterate the request that she meet the family. We will continue with this campaign. If someone fails a binary drugs or drink test at a roadside with calibrated equipment and is therefore clearly not fit to drive, they have not taken their privilege of driving responsibly enough, and I can honestly see no clear reason why they should not therefore lose their licence. If the judge decides afterwards to give it back, fine, but there should be some sort of mandate whereby someone loses that privilege—it is a privilege, not a right—to drive if they are caught over the limit for drink or drugs. That is a very low bar for a Government that is committed to victims and to upholding the rule of law to achieve.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Labour/Co-operative, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport 4:53, 10 January 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I thank my hon. Friend Christina Rees for the way she introduced the debate and so clearly put the case, on behalf of the petitioners, that change here is necessary. It is also good to follow my constituency neighbour, Johnny Mercer. Due to our various appointments over the past few years, we have not been in many debates together. I hope this will be the start of our coming together on Plymouth issues, which this indeed is.

We remember Tom in this debate. He is remembered not only by the family but by the 100,000 people who signed the petition, including the 1,162 people who signed the petition from Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport. I also pay tribute to Christina, Tom’s fiancée, and Charlotte, Tom’s mum, for the way they have run this campaign. They have spoken with dignity, compassion and clarity about what changes they would like to see.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield

I understand how important this particular issue is for Plymouth, which is the focus today. In my constituency, well over 200 people supported this petition, and it is more than just a Plymouth issue. It is so important, and I thank people who have brought this petition for debate today.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Labour/Co-operative, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. He underlines the fact that, when a petition reaches 100,000 signatures, that does not happen by accident. It happens because there is an issue of concern. It normally happens because there is a campaign and passionate people behind it. The fact that we have signatures from all over the United Kingdom speaks volumes for the case that the family are making.

I do not intend to repeat everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Neath and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View have said, but I will raise a number of aspects to highlight my concerns to the Minister. The rather brilliant Library brief that was put together for this debate put a stress on bail conditions. It is true that if someone is arrested for drink or drug-driving, bail conditions can be applied to the individual to ensure that they cannot drive. The difficulty in this case and many other cases is that bail conditions are not being applied to those individuals, because those individuals are released under investigation.

I have significant concerns about RUI and the effect that it has, not only in parking many crimes, but in not giving victims and their families justice or updates. It elongates the process. We know that there is a crisis in our courts, and our police are stretched, so RUI does give them with the ability to provide longer periods for investigation. That is certainly true, but justice delayed is justice denied. My fear about the increased use of released under investigation, especially in cases of drug and drink-driving, is that it is not giving the police and the authorities the pressure to deliver swifter prosecutions, nor is it delivering the important justice for the families to see someone charged for their crime and that crime brought forward to a court.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

I think the police would say that they have a certain period of time in which they can hold people, pre-charge, on bail, and that is why they use RUI. When it comes to the issue of drink and drug-driving, the technology is now so good that someone will have a test on the roadside and it will be clear whether they have failed. It is not like investigating an assault or something where there are two sides to the story. It is black and white, and there is no real reason why a bail condition cannot be imposed that someone is not allowed to drive, having abused that privilege by being caught drink-driving.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Labour/Co-operative, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport

The hon. Member raises a good point. One of the difficulties the Minister has in replying to this debate is that, as a Transport Minister, she will only be able to speak on behalf of the Department for Transport. However, this issue stretches across the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. The 11 months that Tom’s family had to wait for justice is far too long. That is because of pressures on the court service and the police. As much as I would love to put the responsibility on the Minister herself, it is the responsibility of other Departments. We need to see a joined-up approach to make this work.

Release under investigation is a particular problem that is delaying justice. It is delaying justice in cases like this and in many others. That is why the police and the authorities can attach those bail conditions to individuals. If someone is released under investigation for something that happens many times in the future, there are no such bail conditions attached to a release under investigation status. Therefore, the provisions that exist in law, quite correctly, to limit the behaviour of an individual—in this case, probably to ensure that another crime is not committed in that way—do not apply.

From my interpretation, that is effectively why Tom’s law is seeking to backfill and repair some of the legal fabric that has been changed by release under investigation. If the suspect in this case were bailed, I suspect those bail conditions would have been attached. That is one of the difficulties we have in this case. I hope that the Minister will agree to meet the family to discuss this, but I would also be grateful if she would put in a good case for a meeting with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. I think there is a cross-Government approach that needs to be adopted here.

I mentioned the short sentence. I, too, welcome the increase in the tariff in the sentencing for those people who kill via drink-driving from 14 years to life. However, that did not apply in this case, and I think it is entirely legitimate for any family who have been robbed of the life of their loved one to look at the sentence that has been afforded and say, “Three months and three weeks is not justice.” I have sympathy with the family for the way in which they seek to pursue that aim through the courts, and now through politics as well. My hon. Friend the Member for Neath mentioned one of the remarks of the judge in this case: that “the surest thing” was that the offender would have to live with the consequences. No, the surest thing is that the family will have to live with the consequences for much longer, and with a much deeper sense of pain and loss, than the offender. That is why there is a real difficulty in relation to this issue.

My hon. Friend echoed the words of the family: driving is a privilege, not a right. One of the questions that we must ask ourselves in this place is, “To what extent does that privilege apply where a vehicle has been used to either kill or maim someone and the driver has been under the influence of drugs or alcohol?” At that point, it is reasonable for us as Parliament to take a view as to whether there should be a legal ability to prevent that person from driving. Indeed, to a certain extent, we have already taken that view: long before I or my neighbour, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View, was in this place, Parliament passed legislation that put bail conditions on those individuals. There is precedent here, but that view has not been applied to release under investigation in the same way, so there is a sound argument for looking at whether RUI has changed the social contract—the deal—between the state and victims as to what applies in the event of someone being maimed or seriously hurt when a driver has been under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It is important to look at that issue.

The challenge in this debate is not only how we can remember Tom, and give the family who have campaigned so thoroughly, professionally and compassionately in his memory the justice that the courts, through the low-bar sentencing, did not deliver. The challenge is also how we can we prevent this from happening in future. The responsibility and obligation that falls on parliamentarians is to ensure that no other family goes through what Tom’s family have gone through. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View has been pursuing that aim with the family for some time, and I act as his assistant in this respect to support the measures he has taken.

I would, however, like to add some words of caution. I am concerned that if we give extra responsibilities to the police or the courts system without adequately resourcing them, justice could be further delayed. If steps are to be taken, I would like them to be accompanied by the proper resources, to ensure that doing so does not elongate the process in relation to any cases and that we continue to reinforce the primacy of the courts in this matter. The ability of the police themselves to deliver restrictions on the kerbside or from the point of charge should always be tempered by the ability of a court to judge the person involved. Drink and drug-driving is one of those offences that is peculiar among cases in the criminal justice system, in that the courts see people from every single walk of life. It is important that when applications are put in, everyone can have justice when their cases are heard, but most importantly, that the victims and their families in those cases can have justice at the same time.

I would be grateful if the Minister could look at some of those aspects of this issue. I appreciate that, as a Minister in the Department for Transport, many of the aspects I have raised are not her responsibility. However, there is a need to join up with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to ensure that the right questions are being asked of the competent Departments in relation to this issue, so that Tom’s family can truly have justice and the likelihood of something like this happening again can be reduced.

Photo of Sam Tarry Sam Tarry Shadow Minister (Transport) 5:04, 10 January 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Hosie. I thank my hon. Friend Christina Rees for having secured this debate on behalf of over 100,000 petitioners, and for the time she has spent with Tom McConnachie’s family, working with them to get to this point. I also thank Johnny Mercer for his very logical and clear demand that action be taken, showing how simple it could be to make a huge difference. I thank my hon. Friend Luke Pollard, who spoke so passionately and raised a number of serious questions that need to be answered, and Paul Howell for making sure we all realise that this debate affects every corner of the British Isles.

Following the touching and heartfelt contributions from Members across the House, no one can doubt how loved and admired Tom McConnachie was by his family and friends. I am glad that they are able to be here today to hear legislators in the House of Commons take this issue seriously, as he and his legacy deserve. The manner of his death is a tragedy beyond words: a young man, happily returning from a night out—a groomsman’s fitting ahead of a friend’s wedding—struck and killed by a drunk driver. I have read what his mother, Charlotte, has so powerfully said about the immense pain caused by his loss, and how she, along with Tom’s partner, Christina, is now living her own life sentence.

Drink, drug and dangerous driving destroys lives—it is as simple as that. Last year, 230 people shockingly lost their lives in drink-driving accidents, destroying the lives of hundreds of families forever. For many, the sentences handed down to offenders seem not to reflect the devastation caused by these crimes. The families’ grief in these cases is immeasurable, and seeing their relatives’ killers escape with limited sentences simply adds to that anger and grief.

We need a justice system that recognises the life sentences given to families who lose loved ones. That is why Labour—in particular my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) and for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), who could not be here today—and other Members in the House, such as Mrs May, have fought a long campaign to extend the maximum sentence to reflect properly the seriousness of the crime.

The urgent need for this change is illustrated by the fact that, in 2019, more than 150 people were sentenced for causing death by dangerous driving. Some 95% of those offenders received an immediate custodial sentence, of whom more than 15 received a sentence in excess of 10 years—that is only 10% of offenders already being sentenced near the maximum threshold. It would appear that the time is ripe to provide the courts with increased sentencing powers for these offences, so that offenders are dealt with consistently and fairly.

It is right that the courts are given a wider range of penalties to ensure that sentences are proportionate and reflect the seriousness of the offence. It is clearly time for action. No more families should have to come to the House of Commons to hear legislators not taking action when, as we have heard, there are so many logical things that can be done to make people’s lives safer, such as simply removing an offender’s licence, which should be taken away after the crime.

Turning to the suggestion that, in certain circumstances, a driving ban would be imposed pending investigation and trial, I commend the campaign for Tom’s law and all those who signed the petition that we are debating. The excellent House of Commons Library briefing notes that at present

“the police can impose bail conditions for particular purposes, one of which is to ensure there is no further offence committed while on bail. A driving ban as a condition of police bail may be appropriate for some cases.”

However, due to the lack of available statistics, we simply do not know in how many instances that has been used to suspend a licence while someone is awaiting a trial, or whether police forces are making use of these powers, or even regularly considering them. We only know from an answer to a parliamentary question from 2015 that the power is rarely used.

However, there are clear potential benefits to public safety from reducing the risk of further offences. We know that drink-drinking tests have a high degree of accuracy, so there is a compelling case to be made for the precautionary powers made available to the police to be much clearer.

Last year, a former Transport Minister said that the Department was closely exploring options that could be pursued in this area. Can the Minister update us on those conclusions? Will the Department consider a broader power for police to revoke licences, as happens when a driver fails an eyesight test at the side of a road, as has been said by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View? Given that bail conditions are rarely used, is the Department working with the Home Office to ensure that police forces are made better aware of their ability to revoke a licence as part of the bail conditions for someone awaiting trial? If police forces are more aware, perhaps that option could be used more often and more effectively.

It seems sensible that, by working with the National Police Chiefs Council, a new, thorough review could swiftly establish how often these powers are being used and whether guidance for police bail could be updated. Is that also something that the Transport Minister would be willing to consider? The tragic case of Tom McConnachie and the evidence that powers to revoke licences are poorly understood and rarely used demonstrate that the status quo is continually failing to protect the public. I urge the Minister to consider the calls across the House to act swiftly to protect the public from the scourge of drink driving, drug driving and dangerous driving.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 5:10, 10 January 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I am particularly grateful to Christina Rees for the way in which she opened this debate on e-petitions relating to police powers to suspend driving licences. Those petitions raise specific concerns about allowing drivers who are suspected of committing road traffic offences to continue driving.

I also put on the record my gratitude to my hon. Friend Johnny Mercer for his effective and convincing portrayal of the situation and for his work with Tom’s family. Likewise, I thank my hon. Friend Paul Howell for noting that although Plymouth has been well covered in the debate, the issue affects the whole country. I thank all Members for the way in which they have contributed to the debate.

I reassure Members that the Government take road safety seriously; it is at the core of the agenda of the Department for Transport. Any death or serious injury is, of course, an absolute tragedy, and our deepest condolences go to Tom’s family, who are here today. My ministerial colleague with responsibility for roads, Minster Baroness Vere of Norbiton, has met the families of victims of similar incidents, and is aware of the devastating effect on the families involved. I am not the roads Minister, but I can confirm that Baroness Vere is willing to meet Tom’s family. I understand the tragic circumstances surrounding Tom’s death, and I extend my sympathy to all.

I recognise the concerns that in some cases the police should be able to issue a suspension notice with effect from the moment an offender is arrested at the roadside until they appear in court. Although we must do all we can to improve the safety of our roads, we must not, in an attempt to resolve perceived problems with the way in which the law operates, make a decision that could ultimately make things worse or have other unforeseen effects.

Let me turn to the current offence of failure to stop and report, and the calls for the suspension of driving licences. Currently, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the police can impose bail conditions for particular purposes, as was mentioned earlier. One of those conditions is that no further offences are committed by the suspect while on bail. I asked the very question that the hon. Member for Neath raised, but I was unable to get the answers that she wants, so I will endeavour to write to her with that information. That might not be possible, because the information may not be collected in the first place, but I understand the need for more information, which it might be possible to seek through the courts. I assure Members that we will work with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.

The criminal courts also have the power to impose an interim driving disqualification before sentencing in a case involving discretionary or obligatory disqualification from driving, or when transferring such a case to another court. I want to make it clear, however, that the Government do not dismiss at all the concerns that have been raised. We are, of course, aware of the traumatic effects of such incidents.

I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members appreciate that this is a complex issue that should fit within the current driving offences framework. Department for Transport officials have been exploring options that could be pursued, and they will consider with interest the points that have been raised in the debate as part of their consideration of road traffic matters. In respect of any potential law changes for road traffic offences, we will consider the triangulation of interests—those of the victim, the suspect and society. A call for evidence will enable issues to be fully explored, so as a next step, the Department will conduct a call for evidence on parts of the Road Traffic Act 1988. While details on its scope are being worked on, I am sure close attention is being paid to the points raised and to the campaign for Tom’s law.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

I appreciate the Minister’s response. She said that her officials will look at this debate and build it into a consultation. Will she ask her officials to write to me, as the constituents’ MP, with a reflection on today’s debate? The points raised are clear. I do not know if she has a reason, but there appears to be no clear reason why, with the technology available today, if someone fails a drink and drive test by the roadside, they should retain their licence. I would be interested to hear the Department’s position on that.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I will endeavour to do just that. I will ensure that we write to my hon. Friend with that information as far as we can.

Most of all, I would like to thank Christina, Charlotte and Sandra for their bravery and courage campaigning for Tom’s law, and for being present for this debate. I expect the issue of police powers in serious road crime to form part of the call for evidence.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Labour/Co-operative, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport

It is welcome news that the Minister’s Department is looking into this matter. I think she made a commitment for a consultation, and it is welcome that it will be included. Her officials may say that the suspension of a driving licence should be a Home Office matter, but in her Department, would she look at penalty points notices? As it stands, someone who causes death by careless driving with alcohol and drugs above the limit can be subject to three to 11 points on their licence, and over that their licence is removed. The option of suspended penalty points means they can be applied to the licence in the period before conviction, which is another means of achieving what Tom’s law seeks to do. That is not necessarily a licence suspension, but an application, albeit temporary until a court process, of penalty notices or penalty point endorsements.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank hon. Gentleman for making those points. He will understand that I am not the roads Minister, and I am responding on the behalf of the roads Minister, Baroness Vere of Norbiton. Officials in the Department will be listening closely to what he says and will endeavour to take that into account. He is correct to mention a consultation; a call for evidence will be taken forward.

Photo of Christina Rees Christina Rees Labour/Co-operative, Neath

I thank the Minister for her magnanimous delivery, which is very measured. However, I have trouble with three things. First, if someone is released under investigation is that under guidance rather than under statute? Secondly, she referred to the data for which I asked—is that because it is not collected nationally, or because separate police forces do not have the IT or the staff to do it? Thirdly, I have a problem with RUI as opposed to police bail. The Minister must be aware of the tragic case of Kay Richardson, who was murdered by her estranged husband after he was released under investigation. He had previous domestic abuse convictions, but bail conditions might have protected her.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am afraid I cannot answer the wider questions on RUI. When I asked for the information, I was led to understand that it was not collected, which is why I am seeking further information through the courts system. We will get that information and I will endeavour to respond to the hon. Lady on those specific requests as soon as I can.

I thank hon. Members again for raising this important issue and for the campaign for Tom’s law.

Photo of Christina Rees Christina Rees Labour/Co-operative, Neath 5:19, 10 January 2022

I thank Members for their contributions, and give special thanks to the two Plymouth MPs who represent Christina and Tom’s families and have served them well in this debate: my hon. Friend Luke Pollard and Johnny Mercer. Most of all, I thank Christina and Tom’s family for campaigning for Tom’s law, so that other families will not have to suffer the grief and injustice that they have gone through for nearly three years.

When I met Christina, Charlotte and Sandra this afternoon, Christina reminded me that on 24 February this year it will be the third anniversary of Tom’s tragic death. They are still suffering. On behalf of Christina, Charlotte and Sandra, I thank the Minister for confirming that Baroness Vere will meet with them. I look forward to receiving in writing the statistics that I asked for. Thank you.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered e-petition 548682, relating to police powers to suspend driving licences.

Sitting adjourned.