Draft Driving Licences (Disqualification Until Test Passed) (Prescribed Offence) Order 2001

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Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I support the order, but I have a couple of specific questions, some of which the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) mentioned.

The Minister said that people would be required to re-sit the theory test, as well as the practical test. That presumably means that motor cyclists—particularly those who drive larger bikes—will be required to re-sit all the different components before they can get back on a bike.

My second question is whether the Minister has evidence—perhaps from abroad—about the effectiveness of mandatory retesting. Is there any evidence that, as with punishment, reoffending rates will be reduced in years to come?

4.49 pm

Mr. Spellar: First, I thank the hon. Member for Cotswold for drawing attention to the drink-drive campaign launched today by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. He properly highlighted some of the misconceptions that still prevail, particularly, as the evidence shows, among young drivers, and the need therefore to maintain a campaign of continual education on the matter.

The hon. Gentleman also asked specific questions. The first concerned the retaking of the driving test, in particular, retaking it in various categories. I am advised that, in the event of being disqualified, one has to start from scratch with a provisional licence and requalify for all categories. The theory test must also be retaken.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: If the Minister is correct in his assertion that all stages of all categories must be reapplied for, it seems an especially severe penalty for commercial HGV drivers, particularly if the offence is committed while the driver is not driving a HGV but driving, for example, a motor bike or car. It will take him many months—perhaps up to a year—to regain his HGV licence. Meanwhile, if that is his livelihood, he faces not only the initial period of suspension but the period in which is trying to regain his licence. That seems an extremely harsh sentence for certain categories of people in our society.

Mr. Spellar: I put it to the hon. Gentleman that this is not particularly about punishment; it is about requalifying. The evidence suggests that people may already have got into bad driving habits. Equally important, as I stressed earlier, after a lay-off of what is likely to be a considerable period, driving skills will have become rusty. That is significant in terms of someone driving an ordinary car. It is even more significant in the case of someone driving a heavy goods vehicle. HGV drivers often drive hundreds or thousands of miles a week. It is a question of maintaining skills: having had a gap of more than two years, it would not be unreasonable to expect people to

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requalify and to demonstrate that they have regained their skills. All of us who have been away from driving for even a week or so realise that we need to get back into it and take particular care when we get back behind the wheel. To be away for two years or more is far more significant.

The hon. Gentleman should see the requirement to requalify not as an additional punishment but as a way of ensuring that those who return to driving are fit to do so. That also deals with comments of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) who asked whether there were improvements in behaviour. The purpose of the legislation is to ensure that people get back to an acceptable driving standard, not only in practice but on the theory side.

In a sense, I have answered the question about the timing of the retest because I have said that drivers have to start from scratch with a provisional licence. As the hon. Member for Cotswold rightly says, we should consider other categories, but we need some separation between the degree of culpability of individuals and the consequences of their actions. Driving under the influence of drink or drugs, linked with the causing of death, is a clear causal connection. In some cases, the cause is inadvertence or careless actions, in which the degree of negligence or culpability is less although the consequences are still horrific. We need to look at the balance. Therefore, I would not want to commit myself to an answer on this point. By implementing this measure we leave open the possibility of taking further action on other categories in the future.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: To push the Minister further on his future thinking, I draw his attention to the fact that for too long we have regarded people killed by motor cars as being somehow in a different category from those killed by other means. The maximum term for causing death by dangerous driving is 10 years, while the maximum for burglary is 14 years. We know that often, because of uncertainty about the chances of obtaining a conviction, the authorities reduce the charge to one of careless driving when someone is killed. I want to press strongly the view that we should consider extending retesting to cases in which someone is killed and there is an element of bad judgment by the driver who is convicted of careless driving.

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Mr. Spellar: We can certainly consider that, but even in ordinary manslaughter and homicide cases—or certainly in manslaughter cases—questions of intent and culpability feature. In the case of the fight on a Saturday night in which someone falls and cracks their head inadvertently, the intent of the assailant, or even, sometimes, of the person who was originally the victim, is taken into consideration. That can be compared with the case of someone who kicks the head of a person on the ground. Intent is important in those cases, as it is in driving.

However, I take the point that the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman need to be examined. In particular, if people are banned for a time, the question arises whether their driving skills need to be retested and whether they need to get them up to standard. I offer to consider the issue again, but I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an assurance about the outcome of that process.

Like the hon. Member for Cotswold, I do not want to detain the Committee for too long. The order does not stand alone but is part of a broader campaign to make the roads safer and to reduce the number of tragedies to an irreducible minimum.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: A point that deserves consideration and, I hope, an answer, concerns whether, on providing notification of a disqualification, the DVLA should, under the new offence, automatically give notification of the necessity for a new driving test.

Mr. Spellar: That seems reasonable on the face of it. If for any reason it is not practicable, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman.

Compared with various other road offences, the number of cases brought under section 3A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 each year is quite small. In 1999 there were 49 convictions for that offence in England and Wales. That may seem relatively insignificant, but it is important and of course it represents some 49 lives lost that might otherwise have been saved. We need to take the action in question and I ask the Committee to approve the order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Driving Licences (Disqualification until Test Passed) (Prescribed Offence) Order 2001.

Committee rose at two minutes to Five o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Brien, Mr. Bill (Chairman)
Brake, Tom
Clifton-Brown, Mr.
Drown, Ms
Ellman, Mrs.
Francis, Dr.
Kidney, Mr.

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Rosindell, Mr.
Selous, Andrew
Smith, Geraldine
Spellar, Mr.
Strang, Dr.
Watts, Mr.
Woolas, Mr.

 
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