Victims of Road Traffic Offences: Criminal Justice System — [Caroline Nokes in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at on 30 January 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

[Relevant documents: e-petition 623592, Lifetime driving ban if you are convicted of causing death by dangerous driving; e-petition 617180, Make disregard for learners’ safety an aggravating factor in driving offences; e-petition 590271, Shakeel’s Law—Reform laws on hit and run drivers; e-petition 575620, Ryan’s Law: Widen definition of ‘death by dangerous driving’; e-petition 323926, Tougher sentences for hit and run drivers who cause death.]

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee 9:30, 30 January 2024

Before I call Selaine Saxby to move the motion, can I ask for the co-operation of all Members taking part in this debate in ensuring that they abide by the House’s sub judice resolution? That means that there must be no reference in debate to cases that are active in the UK courts, including inquests and any cases that have not reached the sentencing stage. I ask Members to take all reasonable steps to assure themselves before mentioning specific incidents that there are no active court proceedings at this time, and to avoid saying anything that appears to prejudge the outcome of a future case. I will intervene if it appears that a case being discussed is indeed active.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered victims of road traffic offences and the criminal justice system.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Ms Nokes.

I am speaking not just as a representative of my North Devon constituency, but primarily as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cycling and walking. I am also here as a voice for the countless people across our country whose lives have been or could be tragically impacted by road crashes. I am careful to use the word “crashes” or “collisions” rather than “accidents” because RoadPeace, the charity supporting those who are bereaved or seriously injured after road traffic collisions, highlights that accidents are seen as “just one of those things”. In many cases, as we will hear today, there are a series of actions leading up to avoidable tragedies.

This debate has been secured following the APPG’s report on “Road Justice”, published late last year, which is a profound testament to the urgent need for reform. It is not an exaggeration to say that this is a matter not just of policy, but of life and death. This inquiry was a follow-up to the first in 2017, when my right hon. and learned Friend Alex Chalk, who is now the Justice Secretary, held my position on the APPG. I spoke to him yesterday evening, and he is taking a keen interest in today’s debate; he will be facilitating a meeting for me with the relevant Minister following it.

The Government’s vision, as articulated in “Gear Change”, is ambitious and commendable. It is to see half of all journeys in towns and cities made accessible by walking or cycling by 2030. However, this vision is currently jeopardised by a prevailing climate of fear among vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists. It also does not consider the complexities of active travel on rural roads, the encouragement of which requires a vastly different approach compared to the encouragement of active travel in more urban environments. The Department for Transport has made fantastic efforts to include rurality in its funding, but I ask that it extends rural thinking across the whole portfolio, so we can have a joined-up approach to road safety.

As many of us will know from the volume of correspondence from constituents, road safety is an issue that affects pretty much all of us, and pedestrians and cyclists are most at risk. To tackle road safety and improve the experience in the justice system, everybody needs to work together, and that includes Government Departments. Many of the responsibilities in this area fall between the Department for Transport, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, and I am sure that collaboration can be improved.

The inquiry conducted by the APPG included 10 recommendations categorised into two groups: group A, requiring ambitious reform; and group B, rapid and more uncontroversial proposals that could be implemented quickly. They would all require support from the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Transport and the Home Office.

The first recommendation in group A—aiming for ambitious reforms—is that the Government introduce escalating penalties for repeat road traffic offences. Analysis of police data from 2014 to 2017 has revealed that 47% of those convicted for driving while disqualified had at least one previous conviction for the offence. However, there is not currently a means for penalties to increase in steps. Instead, the magistrate or judge is limited to the same maximum penalty that applies to a first offence. I raised this point in the Chamber with the Minister for prisons, parole and probation—the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend Edward Argar—last year, and asked about his Department’s plans to escalate traffic offences, especially as repeat offenders are given the same penalty as a first-time offender. This would be an important step towards making road justice a reality for those walking, wheeling and cycling.

The APPG also asked for compulsory retesting of offenders. Any driver who has been disqualified should be required to undergo retesting. This currently happens only for the most serious of offences, such as causing death by dangerous driving. This is not punitive, but a necessary measure to ensure that drivers possess the skills and awareness needed for safe driving. The report proposed increasing the maximum sentence for dangerous driving to four years, reflecting the severity of such offences and their potential for causing harm. We need to deter and tackle dangerous drivers before they kill, so dangerous driving needs to be treated more seriously.

The concept of exceptional hardship in the totting-up process for driving disqualifications must also be revisited. We advocate a stricter interpretation to ensure that it is not misused as a loophole. Approximately 23% of those who amass 12 penalty points successfully argue against disqualification on the grounds of exceptional hardship. We should prioritise the hardship felt by families and victims of road crashes rather than prioritising the convenience of offenders.

The second part of the report calls for

“thorough investigation of serious collisions”.

Standardised best practice-based guidelines for investigating serious road traffic collisions must be adopted across all police forces. This uniformity will ensure justice and proper accountability. There is also a need to implement a standardisation system for third-party reporting of traffic incidents via dashcams. Currently, this can be a postcode lottery, and the change would facilitate a more consistent and efficient handling of such reports.

The report recommends establishing a UK commissioner for road danger reduction. The role would involve measuring road danger, setting reduction targets and ensuring effective collaboration among various stakeholders. This campaign is championed by crash victim Sarah Hope, who I know hoped to be in the Public Gallery today. We need to recognise that crash victims should be treated as victims of crime, barring clear evidence to the contrary. This recognition is vital in addressing their trauma and loss.

As we look at extending understanding of the highway code, we need a better communication campaign to enhance that understanding and compliance with the revised highway code, which would also contribute significantly to improving road safety.

In addition to the report, I feel it important to mention some of the additional issues that road safety campaigners have highlighted to us. One is the lengthy delay in the publishing of various calls for evidence by the Department for Transport, and the delay in publishing its road safety strategy. The call for evidence for the Department for Transport’s roads policing review began on 13 July 2020, with recommendations due in spring 2021. To date, no update has been published. In May 2014, the coalition Government at the time committed to undertake a full review of offences and penalties. Although this is no longer the same Government, for 10 years various Ministers in both the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Justice have promised that this is coming in “due course”. I hope that today the Minister will be able to provide a significant update on that timeline.

The Department for Transport has said that it intends to publish a new road safety strategy. There is currently a document in place for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not England. It is essential that we know when such an important document will be published and put into practice. I again ask the Minister whether he can give any indication of a timeframe for the publication of that road safety strategy.

Unfortunately, most Members will have seen awful cases of road violence in their constituencies and struggle to understand the reasoning behind the charge and sentencing. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend Fay Jones, asked me to represent the case of Harry Webb on behalf of Harry’s parents in Powys. Harry was cycling in Hackney when he was killed by a driver. Harry was killed in a 20 mph limit area; if the driver had been driving at the speed limit, Harry would probably have got away with broken limbs at worst. However, that was not the case and if someone is charged—and there is no indication that they have been—it is regrettable that the case will not come to court until 2025. If someone is charged and found guilty, a criminally reckless driver will have been allowed behind the wheel until then. Harry’s parents have emphasised that perpetrators of road violence who have caused death or life-changing injuries often receive shockingly low sentences; their case is not the only one.

Not far from North Devon, my hon. Friend Scott Mann has worked for some time on an upsetting case from his constituency—one in which the Saltern family were deprived of a much-loved son, and a wife was robbed of a life together with him. The family have since campaigned for a change in the law—Ryan’s law—to try to widen the definition of death by dangerous driving. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall was unable to attend today’s debate as he is in a Bill Committee, but I know that he, too, has met Ministers to discuss whether it is possible to introduce a new offence or new sentencing guidelines relating to failing to stop. In my constituency of North Devon, 451 residents have signed the Ryan’s law petition calling for the Government to widen the definition of death by dangerous driving to include:

“failure to stop, call 999 and render aid on scene until further help arrives.”

The distinction between careless and dangerous driving is blurred, leading to inconsistency in charging and prosecution. In my local policing area of Devon and Cornwall, the ratio of careless driving prosecutions to dangerous driving prosecutions is 21:1. Across England, the ratio differs greatly between 1.8:1 in Cleveland and 41:1 in Essex. That inconsistency cannot be attributed solely to variations in local driving behaviours or to different environments; it points to a systemic issue in our enforcement and understanding of these offences.

Photo of Sarah Dyke Sarah Dyke Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

I thank Selaine Saxby for securing this important debate. Sentences do not reflect the impact and nature of the crime in all circumstances. Family and friends should be able to have faith in the criminal justice system. Does the hon. Member agree that family and friends should be able to have faith that the punishment will fit the crime and that justice will be done?

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention and highly recommend that she digest a copy of the “Road Justice” report, which covers that point. I entirely agree that there is a real need to ensure that families feel that confidence.

I want to highlight an important campaign, by RoadPeace West Midlands and Action Vision Zero, on the inadequacy of the law around hit-and-run collisions. Also unable to join us today is my hon. Friend Rachel Maclean, who wanted to highlight the work of local councillor Lucy Harrison, who unfortunately lost her brother in a road crash and is running the Remain and Report campaign with RoadPeace.

The rise in hit-and-run collisions, particularly involving pedestrians and cyclists, is alarming. The current laws, which allow up to 24 hours to report a collision, might be appropriate for a supermarket prang, but are woefully inadequate for serious or fatal collisions, especially as offenders potentially wait for alcohol or drugs to leave their system. The existing summary charge of “fail to stop”, which carries a maximum custodial sentence of six months, currently applies to all collision severities, including damage only; it is not appropriate for serious collisions. Two new criminal charges—failing to remain at the scene of a fatal collision and failing to remain at the scene of a serious injury collision—should be considered.

I want to draw attention to the Vision Zero South West scheme. Vision Zero’s ambition is to cut road deaths and serious injuries to zero by 2040 and to reduce current numbers by 50% by 2030. In 2022, however, there were 47 fatal injuries and 743 serious injuries in Devon and Cornwall, according to the road casualties summary. That number must come down. Although it is one of the safest regions when it comes to road safety, any death or serious injury is one too many.

Throughout the evidence gathering for the report, it became clear to me that the system has an issue with driving disqualifications. It is important to state and remind us all that driving is a privilege and not a right. When done correctly, driving can be an enormous tool for good, but we should remember that it is a dangerous activity—dangerous enough to need to be licensed.

Another flaw in the system that needs to be looked at is the fact that killer drivers can continue to drive while they await trial; sometimes that can be years, because of the delays in the courts. RoadPeace advocates for immediate licence suspensions for offenders. Of course we need to ensure that people are innocent until proven guilty but, as I have mentioned, driving is a privilege. A fork-lift truck operator involved in a fatal accident in the workplace would not be invited to carry on operating that machinery while they were under investigation. This change would not require new legislation, as guidance could encourage bail conditions to more regularly include restrictions on driving after being charged.

Finally, on the subject of disqualification, if a person kills someone through careless or dangerous driving, why should they ever be able to drive again? The mandatory driving ban for causing death by dangerous driving is five years. Why is it not a lifetime disqualification? Again, lifetime bans would not necessarily require new legislation. They happen now, although are exceptionally rare; guidance could change that.

The APPG’s recommendations are essential calls to action. We must act decisively and without further delay to reform our road justice system, protect the vulnerable and ensure that our streets are safe for all. We must foster an environment wherein every road user, regardless of their mode of transport, feels safe and is protected by a just and effective legal system.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

As you can all see, many Members wish to contribute. I will not impose a formal time limit yet, but I ask Members to consider limiting their comments to five minutes or so.

Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Labour, Leeds North East 9:45, 30 January 2024

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Nokes. I thank my co-chair of the APPG for cycling and walking, Selaine Saxby, who gave a tremendous speech outlining the content of the “Road Justice” report that the group published in September 2023. I will add a little to what she said, but she was pretty comprehensive, and I am grateful to her. I took over from my hon. Friend Ruth Cadbury as co-chair late last year; I thank her for her years of dedication and the huge contribution she made to the APPG in the years that she chaired it with the hon. Member for North Devon.

On 21 December 2017, just over six years ago, I secured an Adjournment debate in the Commons Chamber on the case of my constituent Ian Winterburn, a cyclist who was killed at the junction of Whitkirk Lane and the A6120 ring road in Leeds on the morning of 12 December 2016. He was wearing a cyclist’s high-visibility jacket and his helmet, and his lights were on. In spite of that, a car turning right in front of Ian drove straight into him, the driver claiming that she did not see him on the road. He died in a coma 10 days later as a result of his injuries. On 4 October 2017, the driver of the Skoda that killed Mr Winterburn was convicted by Leeds magistrates court of causing death by careless driving. She was handed down a four-month prison sentence suspended for two years, a £200 fine, 200 hours of community service and a two-year driving ban—not even the five-year ban that is now mandatory. As I described to the House at the time, the way in which the West Yorkshire police and the Crown Prosecution Service dealt with the case and treated the family was utterly appalling, as was the family’s treatment by the court service and the coroner. I detailed the case then, so I will not repeat what I said, but I sincerely hope that the treatment of victims of cycling fatalities and their families has improved over the past seven years.

In summer 2022, I received a distressing email from the daughter of a constituent who had been killed by a taxi driver on his way to work, early in the morning. My constituent was an experienced cyclist who had been travelling by bike regularly for over 40 years. He was hit and killed instantly by a car that had seemingly gone through a red light at a junction. As the case is still sub judice, I cannot give further details except to express my anger and that of the family that West Yorkshire police told the victim’s wife and daughter that the case could take up to two years to bring evidence or a prosecution for what appeared to them to be a clear-cut case. The anguish that they suffered and still suffer is unimaginable. It truly is a case of justice delayed, as the saying goes, being justice denied.

In 2023, as the hon. Member for North Devon said, the APPG for cycling and walking launched an inquiry into road justice that reported in September and made 10 recommendations. I will briefly repeat them at the end of my speech. However, a few years ago, while on my routine ride from Parliament to King’s Cross station on my way back to Leeds, I was stopping at the traffic lights at the junction of Holborn and Kingsway, a notoriously dangerous area for cyclists, when another cyclist cut across my path, causing me to brake so sharply that I fell off my bike on to a stationary taxi. The other cyclist, realising what he had done, stopped and returned to help me—the lights were red and the traffic was at a halt. At the same time, however, the cab driver wound down his window and started shouting abuse at me—while I was lying injured on the ground—for possibly damaging his vehicle. The other cyclist made it plain that the accident was his fault, not mine, but the cab driver would not have it and demanded that I pay for the damage to his taxi cab. When he finally got out of the cab he realised, after inspecting it, that no damage had been done, but instead of helping me up off the road, he simply told both of us that we were a menace to all cars on the road and should not be allowed to cycle on any main road. Thankfully, cycling infrastructure in London has improved so much since then that I do not have to use the Aldwych/Kingsway route any more, which is a big relief. I am sure there have been far fewer casualties at that junction since London’s cycle routes were created, but the same cannot be said for the rest of the country.

It is my experience as a cyclist, and I am sure that of many other Members, that drivers—most of us are drivers too—do not recognise the right of cyclists to be on the road with them. As the hon. Member for North Devon said, they do not want to share the road with road users who are not in motorised vehicles. Driving a motorised vehicle is a privilege, as it is a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands if not used properly. We cyclists have every right to use the road and should not be treated with the contempt that most motorists show us. How many of us have suffered abuse from people winding down the windows as they overtake us because we are slowing them down to tell us that we should pay tax as a cyclist—which we do anyway—or should not be on the road at all? Sometimes, in rare cases, they take action they think is appropriate and try to run us off the road. Many of us have experienced that horror.

Justice for cyclists involved in these collisions is really important, especially when a motor vehicle is involved. We want the points we made in our report to be implemented as quickly as possible to help more people cycle on roads, walk and get involved in active travel.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

I repeat my request for Members not to sail too close to the wind when it comes to the sub judice regulations.

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills 9:51, 30 January 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I thank my hon. Friend Selaine Saxby for securing this important debate on victims of road traffic offences and the criminal justice system. According to Brake, someone is killed or seriously injured on UK roads every 16 minutes or so. Although my hon. Friend focused on the work and recommendations of the APPG for cycling and walking, which she and others work hard to passionately support, we all recognise that victims of road traffic offences extend beyond that group. They include pedestrians, passers-by and other vehicle users right across the country. I therefore believe that the improvements that should be made in line with the report’s recommendations have the potential to have a much broader impact.

Like other right hon. Member and hon. Members, I have had tragic incidents of road violence in my constituency, and constituents who have been victims of road traffic offences outside the constituency. That is one of the reasons I am here today. Sadly, the victim’s family is too often left seeking the justice that has not been provided and campaigning to improve the system.

My constituent Lola Chapman’s beloved brother, Harry, was tragically killed by a speeding drink-driver on Aldridge Road. She is campaigning determinedly for changes to improve road safety, and has launched a petition seeking measures to reduce driver speed.

In a tragic case in 2021, an uninsured car mounted the pavement in Brownhills in broad daylight, killing an 18-day-old baby in his pram; the community was left in shock and the family was absolutely devastated. Some 18 months later, following a successful campaign, the Court of Appeal increased the driver’s sentence, but why must victims and families go through that?

Many other victims join support groups such as RoadPeace West Midlands, which my hon. Friend mentioned. It is an incredible volunteer group that provides support to others to raise awareness of the impact of road death and campaign for change. Whether it is Aldridge Road, Brownhills High Street, Pelsall Lane, Bosty Lane or other areas of my constituency, I come back to the fact that behind every number is a victim, a family and loved ones. That is why we must continue to improve the system. Sentencing should be tough, and crash victims should be treated as victims of crime. There is so much that the APPG seeks to change. We should create a UK commissioner for road danger reduction and revise the 2020 guidance and the totting-up disqualification. However, I believe that education and awareness matter too in ensuring that there is increasing knowledge of the highway code and driver awareness— I will touch on that briefly, because I am conscious of the time and the fact that many others want to contribute. Last week was Neighbourhood Policing Week, as I am sure you will be aware, Ms Nokes. I was fortunate to spend Saturday afternoon out with my excellent local Brownhills team, which conducted a speed awareness operation encouraging better driver behaviour to comply with speed limits as an important part of the work going ahead. There is so much to do. The issue and the work continue, and I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say to update us on actions and the timeline.

Photo of Paulette Hamilton Paulette Hamilton Labour, Birmingham, Erdington 9:55, 30 January 2024

I first thank Selaine Saxby for securing this important and timely debate. I also pay tribute to Better Streets for Birmingham, which campaigns tirelessly in my community to improve the safety of our roads.

Road traffic collisions, certainly fatal ones, are some of the most tragic incidents that we see across the UK, especially as many of them are preventable. In reported road collisions in the year ending June 2023, there were more than 1,500 fatalities and more than 130,000 casualties in Britain. In 2022 in my constituency, there were 338 road collisions, with casualties rising by more than 100 since 2021. On 29 May last year, a four-year-old boy was tragically killed after being hit by a car in my constituency. Two days before, on 27 May, a 13-year-old girl was reported to be fighting for her life after she was struck by a hit-and-run driver. Just 15 minutes’ drive away, on 31 May a cyclist was killed in a hit and run. In the space of five days, three families in my constituency had their world turned upside down.

In October last year, I backed Birmingham City Council’s campaign to reduce the speed limit on one of the roads in my constituency from 40 mph to 30 mph, and the council is doing some important work throughout this year to make our streets safer, such as average speed enforcement, giving priority to pedestrians and refreshing its road harm reduction strategy. However, we can and should do more. There have already been two serious incidents on Birmingham Road this year. One of the biggest barriers to active travel as a replacement for driving is safety, and in the three weeks when the three cyclists were killed on Birmingham Road in June last year, the impact was felt right across our city.

It is also vital that people feel safe and secure when walking at night, so we must tackle the issues of crime and antisocial behaviour, which are soaring under this Government. We need to rebuild neighbourhood policing to increase the number of police and police community support officers in community teams so that people can be confident that someone will always be there to help them to remain safe. Government, both local and national, must do what they can to improve routes and roads so that people can feel safe walking and cycling, instead of driving. They must also ensure that penalties for breaking the law when driving are strong deterrents. Failure to stop after an accident and give details and failure to report an accident are an offence, which carries a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and/or six months’ imprisonment.

It is clear that we are not doing enough to prevent that kind of driving. A maximum of six months in prison for a hit and run is absolutely not enough, and clearly it does not deter as it should. Sentencing outcomes for summary motoring offences generally have not changed over the past 10 years, and most offenders each year are only fined. For some offences, a fine is adequate; for others, it is absolutely not—I am sure that those families in my constituency would say the same. We should feel safe walking to school, cycling to work and strolling to the shops, but the reality is that in my city, between 2019 and 2021, more than 200 collisions were caused by careless and reckless driving. More than 120 were caused by drivers speeding; more than 100 were caused by aggressive driving; more than 70 were caused by drivers impaired by alcohol. Currently, deterrents are not working. We need to see a dedicated road safety strategy from the Government, with a plan to fund active travel, deter dangerous drivers, and make our streets safer for everyone. We can do more to ensure we all feel a little safer on our streets—and we should.

Photo of James Wild James Wild Conservative, North West Norfolk 10:00, 30 January 2024

I congratulate my hon. Friend Selaine Saxby on securing this debate, which is of great importance to my North West Norfolk constituents and to Members across the House. I want to focus particularly on the sentence for causing death by dangerous driving. In the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, Parliament legislated to increase the maximum sentence for this crime from 14 years to life imprisonment, which we did to reflect the devastation that such crimes inflict. The sentencing guidelines issued for that change have a range for the category A offence—the most serious offence —from eight to 18 years.

Are those guidelines effective, and are judges following them? In the case of my constituent, Summer Mace, I do not think so. I confirm that it is not an active case. Three members of Summer’s family—her mother, sister and stepfather—were killed by a dangerous driver. Having had an Adjournment debate on this case, I return to it to highlight the devastating impact on Summer, her family and her friends, and the inadequate sentence imposed. The judge rightly classed this as a category A offence, owing to a prolonged, persistent and deliberate course of very bad driving. There were six aggravating factors in the case: three people were killed; greatly excessive speed was used; the driver knew he was deprived of sufficient sleep; he had consumed drugs above the legal limit; he had previous convictions for motoring offences; and he was on police bail for a driving offence at the time, breaking the curfew to commit the crime. The only mitigating factor was a letter he sent to the court—not even to the family.

It is unacceptable that after a guilty plea was taken into account, he was sentenced to only 10 and a half years for three separate counts of causing death by dangerous driving. He could be out in seven years. The question that the family and I want to ask is what is required for a large sentence to be imposed? Those sentencing guidelines took effect in June last year. When more data is available, I hope the Minister and the Lord Chancellor will consider very carefully the impact on sentencing that those guidelines have had, and whether judges are actually imposing the sentences that this House and the House of Lords legislated for. I hope that the Lord Chancellor uses his power to formally request that the sentencing guidelines are reviewed.

The other point I want to raise is around disqualification, as touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon. In my constituent’s case, a ban for a period of only eight years was considered appropriate, extended to 15 years to take account of the time the offender will be in prison. Again, that strikes me as far too lenient. Courts can impose lifetime bans, and RoadPeace is campaigning for them to be applied. The House of Commons Library reports that disqualification for life only happened in four cases in the year ending June 2023, out of more than 116,000 who were disqualified. The Government should consider whether it should become a mandatory element in some cases because, as my hon. Friend said, driving is a privilege and not a right. The Sentencing Council will shortly consult on new overarching guidelines for driving disqualification, and I encourage everyone with an interest in this topic to respond to that consultation.

I end by noting the frequency of driving offence cases. I was struck by the statistics that, in the case of driving under the influence of drink or drugs, 79% of cases result in a fine, with only 1% resulting in a custodial sentence, and 99% of people disqualified for a year to less than two years for that offence. Does that reflect the seriousness of the crime? Does it create a deterrent effect? I do not think so. We need to apply a robust approach, including prison sentences and lengthy bans, to send a message that these are serious crimes with serious consequences.

Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Wales), Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Scotland) 10:04, 30 January 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship this morning, Ms Nokes. I too would like to congratulate Selaine Saxby on securing the debate and opening it powerfully. I would like to raise a specific case I have been working on for some time. In August 2017, 22-month-old Pearl Melody Black from Merthyr Tydfil was tragically killed while walking with her father and brother. Pearl was killed when an occupied vehicle rolled from a private drive in Merthyr Tydfil on to the highway, down a hill, crashing into a wall that subsequently crushed her and injured her father and brother.

In the months after the incident, officers from the serious collision unit of South Wales police worked tirelessly to put a case together to provide justice for the family. In short, all tests concluded that the car was mechanically sound, and that it had rolled because the handbrake was not fully engaged, and the automatic transmission was not fully placed into park mode.

The case was sent to the Crown Prosecution Service locally and in London, and an independent QC was hired by the CPS to consult. Everyone was hopeful of a conviction under the death by dangerous driving category. The CPS looked into other possible options. After a number of months, however, it stated that it was unable to send the case to court, as a glitch in the law states that the vehicle must have started its journey on a public road for a prosecution under the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Even though Pearl was killed on a public road, the fact that the vehicle started its descent from a private drive meant that the prosecution was not possible. The coroner stated that the vehicle was well maintained. It seemed the issue was very much driver operation. The inquest heard that the handbrake had not been fully applied in the park mode. The inquest in October 2018 resulted in an outcome of accident.

With the support of South Wales police and the CPS, Pearl’s parents seek a change in the law to prevent other families from finding themselves in a similar situation, unable to secure justice due to a legal loophole, following such a tragic and completely preventable incident. As Gemma and Paul acknowledge, it will not help to bring justice for Pearl, as legislation is not retrospective, but if the law can be changed to prevent anyone else from suffering such injustice again, that might provide some comfort.

I have had meetings with Government Ministers in the past few years. Although they were helpful and sympathetic, there has been no major transport Bill to provide a way of introducing this change. I pursued a ten-minute rule Bill, but it failed as it ran out of time. I am hoping that an amendment to another related Bill may be a way forward, in the absence of a wider overhaul of the road traffic offences legal framework.

There are a huge number of incidences where private land adjoining public land is regularly used, and is potentially dangerous, including residential driveways, as I mentioned, as well as verges and land for schools and nurseries, to mention some of the most common. When we consider those examples, we can see that driving on that specific category of land can present a high risk to people in everyday situations, especially children, the elderly and the more vulnerable among us.

Many hon. Members would agree that nobody who has suffered the loss of a loved one, or who has had an accident or been injured as a result of a driving offence, should have to endure the injustice of seeing those responsible go free, simply because of a loophole in the law. Prosecutions for driving offences, and any illegal action, should be based on what happened, not where something happened.

The campaign to amend, update and overhaul current legislation would give people such as Gemma and Paul Black, as well as many others, the peace of mind that there are consequences for dangerous driving, no matter where it occurs. It would send a powerful message to help prevent such needless and avoidable tragedies happening in future. I thank the hon. Member for North Devon and wish her success. I congratulate her and the all-party parliamentary group on their work. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Photo of Jane Stevenson Jane Stevenson Conservative, Wolverhampton North East 10:08, 30 January 2024

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I congratulate my hon. Friend Selaine Saxby on introducing such an important debate, on an issue many colleagues are concerned about.

Urban speeding in Wolverhampton is, to my mind, getting worse. That could be just my personal experience driving round local roads, but I am regularly overtaken by other drivers on residential roads with a speed limit of 30 miles per hour. I have taken taxi journeys from the station to my home, but I cannot remember an occasion when I did not have to say to the driver that it was a 30 mph zone.

I strongly feel that we need to do more than intervene to prevent urban speeding only when there is a fatality. In many cases, people will slow down only if they fear they may be caught and fined. StreetWatch teams have been going out with speed guns, and I have urged West Midlands police to look at having more mobile speed cameras in vans. We need measures that create the perception that drivers may be caught and fined, because that can reduce urban speeding. Taxi drivers have trackers in their cars, and licensing committees could clearly be doing spot checks on taxi drivers to ensure that their journey time correlates with the speed limit. All those measures could help reduce urban speeding, which is a huge issue.

Moving on to serious accidents, City of Wolverhampton Council will look at traffic calming and speed reduction measures only where there has been a serious injury or fatality. Because time is brief, I will focus my remarks on one tragic case we had in Wolverhampton. In 2018, Mandy Gayle’s father, Hopton Gayle, was run over and killed on the Stafford Road, which is one of the main arterial routes into Wolverhampton. It has a 40 mph limit, but it is estimated that the man who hit Hopton was travelling at well over 60 mph. He had slowed down to avoid getting caught by a traffic camera, and he was speeding up again when he hit Mandy’s father and killed him. The case is made more horrific by several factors, including the fact that the driver only stopped to push the bonnet of his car back down before driving away, leaving Hopton Gale lying on the Stafford Road.

Mandy lives on that road, and when she left her home, she saw her father under a blanket on the road. These accidents have effects. Mandy has now moved house, and she is campaigning with RoadPeace West Midlands. I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon, because what happened to Mandy’s father is a case study in the report from the APPG for cycling and walking. In the report, Mandy comments that she does not go a day without thinking of her father, and the consequence for her is a lifelong sentence. The driver, who left the scene, did hand himself in many hours later, and he was sentenced to three years and nine months and banned from driving for only four years. When someone has driven so recklessly and killed a much loved great-grandfather, that does not seem a sufficient sentence.

Most constituents send us to this place to try to pass laws and to ensure that common sense shines through when people receive sentences. When life goes wrong, constituents want our support and they want justice for their families and loved ones. The work of RoadPeace and its “Remain & Report” campaign are therefore important, and I am interested to hear the Minister’s comments on making leaving the scene of an accident a significant factor in the length of sentences—sorry, collisions, not accidents; I will remember to use the new terminology. For the sake of all our constituents, we need to reduce urban speeding, and it would be appreciated if we could hear what the Government’s plan is to help with that and to punish those drivers who endanger us all every day.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central 10:13, 30 January 2024

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Nokes. I thank Selaine Saxby for securing today’s debate, and my hon. Friend Fabian Hamilton for the incredible work he does on the APPG for cycling and walking. We have heard so powerfully today about why we need greater justice for vulnerable road users—for cyclists and pedestrians and for those who wheel and scoot.

The APPG report articulates where those changes need to be focused, and I trust that, in his response, the Minister will refer to the report’s 10 recommendations and to the opportunity to put in place a system of justice that addresses the huge inequality that vulnerable road users experience. In particular, the right to continue to drive needs to be examined in greater detail, because we know that disqualification is a major intervention that will change behaviours. That, together with sentencing, re-testing and an escalation of penalty, is long overdue.

I want to focus on speed limits, which other hon. Members have talked about today. I thank the York Cycle Campaign for its work on abiding by speed limits. In the entry and exit points of York, in particular, people accelerate beyond the speed limit. It cannot be beyond the mind of technology today to better audit, monitor and provide penalty for those who exceed the speed limit. However, across all urban areas, we need to consider whether 30 mph and 40 mph are appropriate speed limits. The Minister will be very familiar with the 20’s Plenty for Us campaign, and we do need to look at this issue, particularly where there are blind corners and steep hills, which can occlude a driver’s vision.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

The hon. Lady is making a very important point about speed limits. In my constituency, on Swinston Hill Road in Dinnington, we have an issue with speeding. The council conducted a speed watch to work out how fast drivers were going. Drivers were speeding, but the council’s response was that maybe the speed limit was too low and that it should be raised because there were no accidents. Does the hon. Lady understand the concerns of residents who report speeding, when the council says that, if there are no accidents, there is no problem? Speeding is always a problem.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

I agree, and we must ensure that we put safety first at every juncture.

I want to address the issue of creating zones around schools, nurseries and other areas where young people play, as well as around heavily pedestrianised areas, to ensure that there is a safety strategy in such locations. There are many schools across York where young people have to navigate dangerous roads, and 30 mph is not a safe speed for children. I urge the Minister to consider an integrated schools strategy, so we can deploy proper measures to keep children and young people safe when they walk, wheel, scoot or cycle to school. The work done in Manchester, which states that the infrastructure should be there for a 12-year-old to navigate, is really important, but we need to ensure that it is applied across the country, because it is clear that there is inequality at the moment.

Where we see repetition in a locality, or indeed even a single incident, there should be a duty on local authorities to ensure that proper signage and speed mitigation are put in place to highlight areas of risk and to ensure that junctions and other areas are safe for walkers and cyclists. I urge the Minister to look at that.

I draw Members’ attention to the work of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety on speed limits and the opportunities for technology in this area. Its recommendations, too, are important, and I thank it for its work.

I also want to raise with the Minister the work undertaken by the Institute for Safe Autonomy at the University of York, in the light of the on-board technology that is available for vehicles, which can act as evidence in court cases. That could secure more convictions and ensure a chilling effect on poor driving.

The licensing of taxis is long overdue, and the Government have had a long time to implement the Law Commission’s report on it. We often see some of the worst driving behaviours in our city when licences have been granted in authorities other than our own. I really urge movement on that issue to ensure that licensing relates to the authority in which somebody is licensed to drive, and to bring greater safety for road users.

Finally, I want to draw attention to the work City of York Council is doing with its transport consultation. If we are serious about seeing an escalation of active travel and proper safety measures put in place, it is really important that every local authority has a proper integrated transport plan. That would benefit not only the environment and the economy, with all that that brings, but cyclists, walkers, wheelers and scooters, ensuring that their safety in the road space is acknowledged and made a priority.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North 10:20, 30 January 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I congratulate my hon. Friend Selaine Saxby on securing this important debate.

I concur with a lot of what my hon. Friend James Wild said about sentencing guidelines in relation to the case he mentioned. He and I have exchanged messages on that issue, due to tragic cases that have occurred in both our constituencies. That is why I would like to focus specifically on the case of Sharlotte-Sky Naglis, which has now been dealt with, and the individual involved has been sentenced.

The case relates specifically to section 7A of the Road Traffic Act 1988. John Owen had put himself behind the wheel of a vehicle, having been drinking and taking class A drugs all day, and was using his mobile phone when he hit and killed six-year-old Sharlotte-Sky Naglis, who was walking along the pavement in Norton Green to buy some sweets from a local shop with her father. The impact that that had on the local community still scars me to this day. Jim Shannon was at my Adjournment debate on this issue, and he kindly intervened to allow me to gather myself, because Claire—Sharlotte’s mother—was in the Public Gallery listening to what was being said.

Claire had to spend weeks—actually, months—not knowing what had caused the death of her six-year-old daughter. That was because John Owen was in a coma, and even though his blood had been taken without his consent, as is allowed under the provisions in legislation, the blood itself could not be tested unless he awoke from his coma and gave his consent. What seems bizarre is that we can forcibly take blood from someone, which is the most intrusive thing we can do, but we cannot then immediately allow it to be tested to give answers as quickly as possible to the police and, more importantly, to the victims of the offence.

For me, this is also a perversion in the law. If someone chooses to withhold their blood sample to stop it being tested, they may receive a maximum of two years added on to their sentence. But if it came out that they had taken class A drugs, their fear would be that they would receive an even greater sentence. So where is the incentive for them to be honest and to admit to what they have done, when they know that two years is far better than the four, five, six or whatever it is that they will receive because drug abuse, particularly involving class A drugs, is such an aggravating factor?

I have been campaigning with Claire since that awful event in 2021 to get Sharlotte’s law introduced. I am looking to secure a ten-minute rule Bill opportunity to bring this issue to the Floor of the House so that we can tidy up this area of law and say that, when blood has been taken, it will be tested, regardless of whether consent has been given, so that victims get answers to their questions. Why should we allow the police to store blood when, God forbid—by accident, I am sure—it could be contaminated and that evidence could be lost, or when it might not be stored correctly, meaning that that sample would no longer be fit for use? Why even risk allowing the perpetrator of a crime the opportunity to escape the justice he should face?

Sadly, in John Owen’s case, because the incident took place before the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, he was sentenced under the old guidance. He received only a pathetic six years of prison, and within two years he has already had the opportunity to be considered for transfer to an open prison. I would like to put on record my thanks to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, who has intervened to ensure that John Owen remains in a full custodial prison—I believe it is a category B—to make sure that, at the very least, he understands, albeit very briefly, the consequences of his heinous crimes.

The campaign I mentioned has the backing of 5,500 petitioners, many of whom are Claire’s colleagues, and I thank them and her boss for sharing it with other employees and with clients to get them to sign up. I have also secured the backing of charities such as Brake, SCARD and the Campaign Against Drink Driving and of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, which in September 2023 voted unanimously across the political divide to fully endorse and support the campaign. When this issue comes to the Floor of the House, I hope the Government can, as they have with other legislation I have worked on, put their full weight behind it and ensure that we get it on to the statute book, so that we can tidy up this perversion in the law and ensure that victims get answers to questions and people get sentenced for the crimes they commit.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:25, 30 January 2024

First, I congratulate Selaine Saxby on highlighting this issue and giving us all the chance to be part of this debate. It is always a pleasure to follow Jonathan Gullis—he knows he is a dear friend, and I am looking forward to him coming to my constituency in the first week of March and renewing that friendship on the ground.

Although the UK legislation does not extend to Northern Ireland, we have a very similar legislative system in place. Consequently, issues faced by people here on the mainland are replicated in Northern Ireland, and so, too, must the solutions be replicated. My contribution to this debate will be from a Northern Ireland perspective. The Minister will not be able to automatically respond, and nor does he have any duty to, but I just want to add to the debate and to support all those who have contributed.

In Northern Ireland, we have had an awful year for road deaths, with 71 people losing their lives on the roads in 2023—that is the highest number for eight years, and the annual death toll had not risen above 70 since 2015. In addition to those families losing their loved ones, figures from the Police Service of Northern Ireland show that some 679 people were seriously injured on the roads between 1 January and 31 October 2023. The data also shows that there were 13 motorcyclists and 19 pedestrians among the deaths in 2023. Provisional figures also show that single-vehicle collisions accounted for almost one fifth of all road deaths in the first months of 2023. That clearly shows that there is a need to enhance safety. So the question for me, and probably for others as well, is: with all the new safety features in cars, including anti-lock braking systems and greater non-slide technology improvements, should those numbers not be declining rather than increasing? The facts, of course, disprove that, and that is why this debate is so important.

While I have seen indicators that as many as nine in 10 accidents are avoidable, I also believe that road infrastructure has a major role to play in these statistics. We see people crossing dividing lines to avoid potholes or being pulled into the verges and ending up—as we would call it—in the sheugh in the dark, due to no fault of their own. I am sure the hon. Member for North Devon would agree that part of improving safety has to be the improvement of road structures and surfaces, and the Minister must take that aspect back to Cabinet colleagues and bid for enhanced funding. I think it was two weeks ago that I met one of the companies from the mainland, and it had a brand-new idea for solving pothole problems that looks really good. It is financially viable, quicker and more efficient, and maybe there is an onus on the Government to try to put these things in place.

In my time as an elected representative, I have seen too many deaths on our roads and the impact that that has on families. I have also seen the impact of seeing the perpetrator receive what seems to be an unfair sentence, which is nothing short of devastating. One case that springs to mind is drink-driving case where the driver was substantially over the limit, and the accident resulted in death, yet the judge handed out a suspended sentence. I was heartened by a recent case, in November last year, which resulted in a nine-and-a-half year sentence for the drunk driver. I believe that the message is starting to make its way through: driving over the limit will not be treated as a mistake but as a decision, and that decision has consequences.

I support the hon. Member for North Devon in her view that sentences should not simply reflect the damage of the crime but send a message to others. I was shocked to read that PSNI officers conducted 7,250 preliminary breath tests during the Christmas drink-driving campaign between 1 December 2023 and 1 January 2024. Of those 7,250 tests, 4.9%, or 355, resulted in a fail or fail to provide. Males accounted for the majority of those arrested for drink or drug-driving offences in the 2023-24 campaign, and half of those arrested were between 30 and 49 years of age.

However, the most shocking statistic is that the youngest person arrested for drink-driving offences during the 2023-24 campaign was 14. My goodness—how on earth could that happen? The oldest person, and they are not guiltless either, was 82. It is clear that the message is still not getting to the people who need to hear it. I believe that a means of lowering the prevalence of drink-driving would be to enhance the penalties and to remove the ability for mitigating circumstances to affect any form of punishment or rehabilitation.

I will conclude now, Ms Nokes, so as to adhere to your five-minute rule. The issue should be considered UK-wide. I support the hon. Member for North Devon and all the hon. Members who have called for action, and I have absolutely no doubt that the Minister will respond positively and give us some of the assurances that we wish to hear.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:30, 30 January 2024

It is a pleasure, Ms Nokes, to have you here in the Chair today.

I congratulate Selaine Saxby on securing the debate as well as everyone who has taken part in it. The strength of feeling from everyone who has spoken has come across extremely well, including in the personal stories and those told on behalf of constituents who have been victims of road accidents. I completely agree that referring to “road accidents” is exactly right, considering what happens on our roads. There has been a sense that driving offences are not viewed as as serious as they are in reality; that has come across loud and clear. I also congratulate the APPG on its work, as well as Roadpeace and the other charities mentioned today.

I want to mention some personal stories of my own. A friend of mine decided to return to cycling recently. On his first outing on his bike, he hit a pothole and was badly injured, and he has not been able to go back to work. I mention that incident because one of the issues that has not come up today is the need for decently repaired roads. Before I move on to what others have said, let me briefly say that road safety, in its widest sense of ensuring that we can all travel safely on our roads, means investing in proper repairs. I am glad that we are going to see some more money for repairs after the cuts—indeed, the halving of the budget.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

May I gently remind the shadow Minister that the title of the debate is “Victims of Road Traffic Offences: Criminal Justice System”?

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport)

Indeed, and I will say why road repairs are relevant. In October 2023, the AA had the highest level of call-outs in any October ever, and accidents are sometimes caused by or related to poor road conditions. We still need justice, whatever the cause of an accident is.

I hope that we will see a proper level of investment in our road repairs, including—I say this gently to the Minister —the specification of a higher quality of sustainable repair. The technology exists, although it is not always applied. That is all I have to say on the matter of road repairs, but I wanted to refer to it because I think it is relevant to the debate.

The other personal story I have is about a motorcyclist, who is the friend of a friend. A driver pulled in front of him and he crashed, and is now in a coma. The prognosis is that he will never recover, because he is paralysed. I was reminded of his story while I listened to some of the others. I have no idea whether there will be a prosecution in that case. I will make no further reference to it, to where it happened or to who was involved, but it is a reminder that accidents cause life-changing injuries and even deaths.

In her excellent speech, my hon. Friend Mrs Hamilton mentioned the very high level of deaths on our roads—1,500 fatal injuries, as well as 130,000 casualties in Britain. We all have a duty to reduce that level of accidents, and I have mentioned repairs.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon

Just to clarify, given that every person in the Chamber today has asked for these events not to be referred to as “accidents”—we are talking about “crashes” or “collisions”—is it the Opposition’s policy to persist in calling them “accidents”?

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention, but she heard me say at the start of my remarks that it was entirely appropriate that we spoke about “collisions”—

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon

If the hon. Member refers back to Hansard, I think he will see that that is not what he actually said at the start of his remarks.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport)

Well, I was referring to what the hon. Lady said in her speech, but I think we are talking at cross purposes. I completely accept that it is correct to talk about “collisions”, and all I would say in response to her intervention is that this shows just how easy it is to slip back into calling them “accidents”. I accept her point, and I am happy to correct the record.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington told us how many deaths and how many casualties there are from collisions, and we all have a duty to reduce the number and to prevent them from happening. What we have so often heard today is that that is not happening. The way that drivers are allowed to continue is a real problem. My right hon. Friend Mr Bradshaw spoke in a previous debate about a driver who had been banned something like nine times, and went on to be involved in a collision in which somebody died. This is about the short nature of such bans, and that point has been well made. I welcome the Government increasing the length of bans, and we supported the amendment to do that in legislation that went through a few years ago. The question is: what more can be done? I very much welcome the recommendations made by the all-party group, and I am very keen to hear what the Minister has to say in response to them.

I will say a few things about what Labour wants to see. We have published our approach to government, with our mission to raise confidence in the police and the criminal justice system to their highest levels. We want to see 13,000 extra police on our streets, and to address the cuts in the police and in support staff. I know that the Minister will say that police numbers, having declined first, have increased again, but there has not been a return to the previous numbers of support staff.

As Her Majesty’s—now His Majesty’s—inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services said in 2020:

“The number of dedicated roads policing officers has declined”.

It also said that they have been moved to addressing

“responsibilities for supporting general policing”.

That has to change if we are to support victims, investigate the incidents—collisions—that happen on our roads and deliver justice in a timely fashion. We heard about how long it is taking to bring one case to court; I think it was my hon. Friend Fabian Hamilton who made that point about a constituent. The challenge for us is to support victims and to ensure that justice is seen to be delivered, and that it is not delayed. There were 83,581 cases in a nine-year period where drivers were not disqualified due to mitigating circumstances. I think we should address the recommendation in the all-party group’s excellent report on mitigating circumstances.

I will quickly reiterate those questions for the Minister, because I am keen to learn whether he accepts the recommendations. Whoever is in government has a duty to seriously consider the requests.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport)

Indeed. We have 20 minutes left, but I do not intend to use many more of them.

Does the Minister support the all-party group’s 10 recommendations? Does he want escalating penalties? Does he agree that we should require retesting for those wanting to drive again following disqualification? What is his view on increasing the maximum sentence for dangerous driving to four years? What is his view on issuing guidance to police officers and increasing their use of bail powers so they can remove the right to drive from people arrested for dangerous driving? Does he agree that we should revisit sentencing guidelines so that exceptional hardship should be granted only in truly exceptional circumstances? What is his view on removing tolerances in speed enforcement, creating consistent guidelines for forces to investigate serious collisions, implementing a standardised system for third parties to report actual or suspected road offences, creating a UK commissioner for road danger reduction, and implementing guidelines so that victims of crashes are considered victims of crime unless there is clear evidence to the contrary?

The debate is about justice for victims. I am very keen to hear whether the Minister agrees that we really need to consider victims of road traffic collisions as victims, and that they should be covered by the victims code and other aspects of criminal law. Far too often, drivers who commit serious offences are not regarded by society as guilty of a serious crime. Everybody in this debate is calling for that to change, and I am very interested to hear whether the Minister agrees.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

I am sure the Minister will want to leave a couple of minutes for the hon. Member for North Devon at the end.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 10:42, 30 January 2024

Thank you very much indeed for your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I congratulate my hon. Friend Selaine Saxby on securing this very important debate. Sometimes Parliament is knocked or decried for its lack of impact, but nobody could have listened to the debate and not realised that what is being raised is of real importance to individual Members of Parliament, on a cross-party basis, and the families who have been so affected.

Road safety matters to all of us. As we are all aware, the solutions are complex, but that does not mean that we should not try to grasp them or engage with them, or that we do not take debates of this nature very seriously indeed.

We are on a journey. I am a veteran of a 20-year legal career, having prosecuted many of these types of cases and defended some, and there was no victim impact statement when I started out. It just did not exist; the victim was never consulted in any way whatever. I have been a cyclist for the past 40 years, and there were no such thing as cycle lanes in days gone by. Fabian Hamilton is entirely right that things are getting better, albeit we have a way to go.

Having just been with the fantastic people who work at Active Travel England, which is based in the constituency of Rachael Maskell, and having cycled around the Roman and medieval streets of York with all their complexities, I fully understand that putting cycle infrastructure in such a town is very difficult. Active travel did not exist before, and it clearly has a way to go before it is as good as all Members would like it to be. We are all on this journey, and solutions will not be ticked by this Government or the next one straightaway, but there is an acknowledgement that we are all, on a cross-party basis, trying to improve the situation, and that is something we should get behind.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the debate, I put on record that colleagues are entirely right to state the impact that this issue has had on individual families, including that of Harry Webb, represented by my hon. Friend Fay Jones; the Saltern family, represented by my hon. Friend Scott Mann; the Winterburn family, represented by Fabian Hamilton; and the Chapman family, represented by my right hon. Friend Wendy Morton. There is also the tragic case raised by my hon. Friend James Wild; the case specifically raised by Gerald Jones—I will come to new clause 49 of the Criminal Justice Bill in a second—as well as the case of Sharlotte, raised by my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis; and the Gayle family case, raised by my hon. Friend Jane Stevenson. Those families all have tragic and terrible stories to tell, and it is right that their representatives make the case for a better system. I take all the points on board. There is much being worked on by various Departments, which I will try to address in the limited time I have.

I represent the Department for Transport and have supported the all-party group; in fact, many years ago, I sat in this room while our colleague Lord Austin led a debate on these issues in this Chamber. This is clearly a cross-departmental matter, and we need to stress that the solution is cross-departmental. I give apologies from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Laura Farris, and the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, my right hon. Friend Chris Philp, who are debating the Criminal Justice Bill as we speak and addressing, for example, new clause 49, tabled by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, on the use of private roads and the impact of particular cases that arise. That is something to be discussed in the House, in the Public Bill Committee.

I should also point out that I bear scars myself. On 23 June 2019, I was the victim of a pretty serious road traffic accident. I broke my ankle and ruptured my knee ligaments when I was knocked off my bicycle by a car on a London street, also not in a designated lane. I still bear the scars, and my running days are definitely over as a result.

We want to foster an environment of safety. Great work is being done to pursue that. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon that the word “accident” should no longer be used; indeed, the Department for Transport no longer uses it. The appropriate terms are “crashes” or “collisions”, and we encourage others to use them. My hon. Friend will understand that “accident” is the correct word in certain pieces of legislation, but the prevailing approach of various Departments is a difference and a change in words. I hope it is of benefit that my brief includes not just roads but road safety and active travel, as we try to bring those things together. I have certainly been fighting to address them.

In the time allowed, I will try to address the particular points raised. I will start with the issue of escalating penalties. Section 65 of the Sentencing Act 2020 provides a statutory aggravating factor, stating that:

“The court must treat as an aggravating factor each relevant previous conviction that it considers can be reasonably be so treated”.

Judges must therefore consider the appropriate level of any sentence uplift justified by that factor as part of considering the full circumstances of the case. I will come to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk, but the point is fairly made that these are relatively young pieces of legislation. The changes that the Government brought in to make sentencing take account of aggravating factors are still being worked through the criminal justice system.

Although I cannot speak specifically for the Lord Chancellor and the MOJ, it is unquestionable that, as cases take place, one can review guidance, take a second look at each situation, and see to what extent and how sufficiently the aggravating factors are being taken into account. That is not something that one can do straight away, but one can step back, take a proper review and look at that in a bit more detail. I will come to the increases in sentencing in a second, but first let me turn to the issue of compulsory retesting. I take the point that has been raised. Clearly, it is a cross-departmental issue, but there is, none the less, a mandatory retesting requirement on causing death by dangerous driving, dangerous driving and causing serious injury by dangerous driving. I accept, however, that the last update in the guidance was 2015, so it is something that the Department for Transport is considering. That is an ongoing process and, as Members will see when I come on to mention particular cases, there are many factors at play, ranging from insurance to consequential impacts on sentencing.

Let me turn now to increasing the maximum sentence for dangerous driving. As was outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk, the sentence has been increased: the maximum penalty for dangerous driving while under the influence of drink or drugs went from 14 years to life. I accept that that was of little comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North and his constituents, but, at the very least, the Government have listened and taken action. I take on board the criticisms of the sentences. It is a dangerous thing for Ministers to start criticising individual judges for the way in which they reach their decisions, so I will not get into that without being fully party to all the circumstances. None the less, as I think the Ministry of Justice will do, there is a legitimate case for reviewing the sentences and the totality that followed those particular cases and establishing proper guidance. That is what is done with other offences. That is what will be done in this case and I hope the affected families will feel assured to know that that process is in hand.

In respect of the exceptional hardship point, having prosecuted and defended a similar case, I know that it is up to the individual defendant to raise exceptional hardship; the presumption is not that one can bring that forward. The Sentencing Council’s explanatory guidance makes it absolutely clear that it is for the offender to prove that these circumstances exist and that they are, and must be, exceptional. If it is genuinely the case that the argument has been made that the exceptionality is not being implemented in the appropriate way, that is something for us to review. I take the assertions on board, but it is ultimately up to the sentencing court to genuinely take that into account. I stress very strongly that it cannot be that it is an inconvenience; it cannot be anything other than truly exceptional hardship. The loss of one’s driving licence does not constitute exceptional hardship in any way.

Let me turn now to the extraordinarily vexed issue of speeding. Any Welsh MP will know of the issues relating to the 20 mph situation and the complexities that that has brought, but at the same time, as I said in this Chamber barely a month ago, there is, in my respectful view, a consensus that 20 mph zones outside school are utterly accepted. There is no question of any of us going back on that—in fact there is massive encouragement. Frankly, those schools that do not have 20 mph zones need to take a long hard look at that, which might involve local councils and parish councils as well. Exceptional circumstances may apply in relation to the location, but, as a broad presumptive, this House is utterly committed to that in those circumstances. The blanket application of that, in my respectful opinion, is much more difficult to achieve, but, at the same time, just because a policy may be difficult to achieve does not mean that we cannot attempt to address it. The point is fairly made in the report and it needs to be made again here: the impact evaluation of the national speed awareness course, which was published in 2018, found that participation in that course was more effective at preventing speed reoffending than fines and penalty points. That is proper evidential data that we should take on board. I think that there is a widespread and strongly held view across the House that greater use of such courses is the way ahead and a much better approach than the simple approach that has been put forward.

I will briefly touch on new clause 49, proposed by Gerald Jones. I met him yesterday, having met him previously when he raised his constituent’s case at PMQs.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

No, I will not. Sorry, I have only three minutes, and I have loads of points to address.

New clause 49 is a cross-departmental matter. Clearly, it will be debated, but complexities are involved in doing what the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney proposes for private land. Those range from military vehicles and the extent, to issues with insurance and the like, but I very much take on board the point that the hon. Member raised.

I entirely accept that police forces have differing approaches when it comes to the thorough investigation of serious collisions. Effort is being made by the chief constables to change that, and I would urge the Home Office to drive that forward. Without a shadow of a doubt, some police forces are better than others in relation to the issue of recognising crash victims as crime victims. It is clear that the victims code permits and, frankly, encourages victims of road traffic offences to seek the support that they require. The Ministry of Justice, which provides police and crime commissioners with annual grant funding to commission local, practical and therapeutic support for victims of all types, should apply that to individual crime victims who have suffered crashes or collisions.

I respectfully suggest that the Department for Transport is very keen on the expansion and understanding of the highway code. It has spent millions of pounds on that, whether through its Think! campaign, social media campaigns, factual awareness campaigns or other particular ongoing campaigns on radio, digital, video-on-demand and social media. We genuinely wish to push those campaigns.

I totally accept that this is a work in progress, and on a cross-departmental basis. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon and this House that we will meet the three key Departments to try to drive forward an integrated Government policy on all these matters. It is not for one Department to fix this; it should be done on a cross-departmental basis. I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate and all my colleagues for bringing this matter forward.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon 10:57, 30 January 2024

It has been a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Nokes. I thank the Minister for his response and all right hon. and hon. Members for participating in the debate. I pass on my thanks and heartfelt sympathy to the families that we are representing today.

I fully accept that this is a journey, and while it has been great to reiterate some of the legal points and things that we have done to move these things forward, we all might like to see this journey speeded up a little—without wishing to break any speed limits—to enable us to get better justice for the victims that we have come to speak about today.

I put on the record my commitment to continue this journey with the APPG, through meeting with the Departments. We all recognise that when things fall between Departments they are often harder to keep on the road, but we really need to progress this.

I will take one more opportunity to thank everyone for who has taken the time to join this debate and to thank the APPG and all those who helped contribute to the report who are with us in the Gallery.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered victims of road traffic offences and the criminal justice system.