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(Delegation of power to make level crossing orders),.
Section 10(3) and Schedule 4, section 15 and section (Delegation of power to make level crossing orders)(2). [ Mr. Heppell.]
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Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 (c. 57)
Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 (c. 34)
In section 1(1)(a), in the definition of private hire vehicle, the words to the public..
hackney carriages and private hire vehicles, and trunk road picnic areas. [Mr. Heppell.]
It has been a long journey. When the Bill first entered Parliament in 2004, statistics showed 3,508 deaths on the road every year. The figure has dropped by 8.5 per cent., or 300 lives a year, since then.
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab):
My hon. Friend will know of Isabel Brydie, a formidable lady in my constituency. She is the Scottish driver of SCID, the Scottish campaign against irresponsible drivers. She spoke to me over the weekend, and asked me to pass on
her congratulations, and those of her members and supporters. They welcome this Government initiative. I am sure my hon. Friend will join me in congratulating not only Isabel but the campaign.
Dr. Ladyman: I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating Isabel and SCID. I also congratulate all the road safety groups and lobby organisations that have taken such an interest in the Bill and given us their advice. I have not always accepted it or agreed with it, but it has always been constructive and useful to us all in our debates.
Since 2004, the total number of deaths and serious injuries has fallen by 13.5 per cent., and by 33 per cent. compared with the 1994-98 baseline. That is well on the way to our target of a 40 per cent. reduction by 2010. The number of children killed or seriously injured has fallen by 49 per cent. compared with the baseline. I am proud to say that this country has one of the safest road networks in the world, at or near the very top of any European league of road safety. We are making progress, with the number of road casualties falling every year. However, if we want to ensure that the number continues to fall, we cannot be complacent. Nine people a day are still dying on our roads.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): We have indeed seen notable successes on British roads in recent years, but will my hon. Friend comment on an article in the British Medical Journal that fails to find much of a correlation between the number of serious injuries caused by road accidents as recorded in hospital admission statistics and as recorded by the police? There seems to be a discrepancy that needs to be bridged.
Dr. Ladyman: I can comment on that. The fact is that there has always been a known under-reporting of accidents. There is, of course, no under-reporting of fatalities. Everyone agrees that fatalities are reported to the police as well as appearing in hospital statistics. The figures that I have just given include the fatality figures, and they are still falling. There has always been under-reporting of other accidents, but as it has always been there, there is no reason to believe that it is becoming more serious now than it ever was. Whether we take the police or the hospital figures, the trends are falling. However, the Department has acknowledged that further work is needed, and we are continuing to conduct research on the matter. Indeed, I would argue that we identified it as an issue needing research even before the appearance of the article in the British Medical Journal.
As I was saying, if we want to continue to drive down the number of accidents and fatalities, we cannot be complacent. We need further measures to raise the standard of driving and to make irresponsible driving a thing of the past, and that is exactly what the Bill seeks to do.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Does the Minister agree that dual carriageways are much safer than ordinary single carriageways, but that they need proper crash barriers? Is he aware that some stretches of dual carriageway do not have such crash barriers? Is he concerned about that and will he give any priority to the matter?
Dr. Ladyman: I am always anxious to see measures put in place that are based on evidence. Not all roads need crash barriers. A risk assessment has to be performed and if we use resources unnecessarily in one place, they cannot be used more effectively in another place. As a matter of principle, I would expect most dual carriageways to have crash barriers and, ultimately, they will all have them. On the trunk road system, however, where we have decided that crash barriers are unnecessary, the decision has to be based on a risk assessment of a particular stretch of road. I cannot provide the hon. Gentleman with a definitive statement about any specific road, but I can tell him that a mile of motorway in this country now costs an average of about £25 million, while four-lane dual carriageways cost about £16 million a mile. No one can accuse us of under-engineering the new road infrastructure. It is partly that engineering that has led to the decrease in the number of accidents and it helps to explain the fact that we have among the safest roads in the world. That is not to say that they cannot be made more safe or that we should not attempt to do more.
The Bill is designed to address irresponsible driving and to deal with non-UK residents who break the law. By seeking deposits from the drivers of heavy goods vehicles, we will deal with foreign drivers who break the law in the belief that they can get away without penalty. It even allows us to impound their vehicles if they do not have the cash to pay the deposit. It allows us better to enforce insurance legislation by moving towards a system of continuous insurance. The bane of honest drivers lives are people who are driving around this country without paying their insurance, costing us all an extra £30 a year on our premiums. I hope that that will be dealt with by the continuous insurance provisions.
The Bill also deals with many other important issues, such as speeding, recklessness and people who cause death by careless drivinga major new provision. Currently, someone may face a long custodial sentence if found guilty of dangerous driving, but because it is a difficult case to prove, he may be found guilty only of careless driving. He may then be given what appears to many victims and their families as only a slap on the wrist. The Bill fills that gap very well.
Mr. Bone: Will the Minister accept the thanks of many of my constituents for introducing this new law? A young girl, Alexine Melnik, was killed by a careless driver, who received a wholly inappropriate penalty. Labour and independents as well as Conservatives in Wellingborough have long campaigned for a change in the law. The father, Mr. Peter Melnik, is delighted to see this law passed.
Dr. Ladyman: I am delighted that he and other Wellingborough constituents are happy. I can understand their pain. A constituent of mine was killed by someone driving dangerously at a set of traffic lights, but because of the vagaries of the current law the driver was fined just £100 for causing a young mans death and leaving a widow. That is unacceptable; the new legislation fills the gap in the law and fulfils our manifesto commitment at the last election. I am proud that we have been able to agree on the new measure. I very much hope that the House of Lords will accept the view of the Commons and will not attempt to change this provision.
I do not want to go through a long list of thanks to various people, because I know that hon. Members will want to contribute to our Third Reading debate. I would, however, like to pay tribute to both Front-Bench spokesmen for the constructive way in which they have participated. We have not agreed on everything, but we have had good fun debating the matter. Their arguments have been constructive, if occasionally wrong-headed. We have had a good debate and I commend all members of both Front Benches for that.
I wish to mention some of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), whose private Members Bill introduced the careless driving provisions that we have made part of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) has been a long-term campaigner on road safety and is a former chairman of PACTS. He has been constructive throughout the debate. He and I have different opinions on how we enforce the measures on the level of alcohol in the bloodstream, but there are very few things on which we disagree.
A Member who cannot be here tonighthe has apologisedhas been with this Bill since 2004 but finally had to give in and go off with a Select Committee: my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon). Had he been here, he would have been rebelling with my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) on retro-reflective tape.
Other hon. Members have contributed to this enjoyable debate and I would particularly like to mention the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), a doughty defender of the owners of heritage Bentleys. I am sorry that he cannot be here for the final stage of the Bill.
I wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter), my Parliamentary Private Secretary, who has looked after me throughout the Bill. Most of all, I wish to thank my officials for the wonderful work they have done. We cannot acknowledge anything that happens outside this Chamber, but were they listening. I hope that they would feel proud of their contribution to making our roads safer. I commend the Bill to the House.
Mr. Paterson: It has been a long ride; I feel positively arriviste, as my participation goes back only to the new year. However, the Bill began in 2004 and the Minister quite rightly said that its main objective is to reduce the number of those killed on our roads. In 2005, 3,201 people were killed on our roads; there were 271,017 casualties, of whom 141 were children who were killed. We have no intention of opposing the Bill, because there are certain measures that we think will help to reduce that figure. The Minister said it had come down, but it is still an unacceptable figure and we have a nasty feeling that it may have plateaued.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con):
In my constituency last year, the rate of fatalities was, sadly, four times the national average. I hope that my hon.
Friend will join me in recognising that road safety grants provide an opportunity for groups such as Time and Place in my constituency to get extra funding to continue the good work that they have done, particularly with younger drivers, to help bring down the rate of fatalities.
We are in favour of the financial penalty deposits and the immobilisation and removal of vehicles. That would certainly help our haulage industry, which is up against fearsome competition following the huge increase in the number of foreign trucks on our roadsup from 671,000 a year in 1997 to 1,595,000 in 2004. We hope that those sensible measures will work. We approve of medical inquiries for high-risk offenders following disqualification and of some of the measures to try to prevent deaths caused by uninsured drivers, although we feel they do not go far enough. Similarly, we approve of the measures to keep vehicles that do not meet insurance requirements, although we would want to go further. We like the tightening up on registration plates and the regulation of vehicles modified to run on fuels stored under pressure.
Overall, however, we felt that the Bill was a missed opportunity. As the Minister acknowledged, we did not take a partisan approach. We tried to table constructive amendments and new clauses that would help to save lives, but we are ultimately disappointed with the Bill. We will not oppose its Third Reading tonight, but it could have been so much better.
Some of the measures were petty, such as the ban on detection devices which effectively give drivers an extra pair of eyes and ears. We were also disappointed by the Governments continuing pigheadedness and pusillanimity about taking on the European Commission on safety issues on which other countries have already gone ahead. Those issues included retro-reflective tape, mirrors and alarms.
We were disappointed on the issue of the inclusion of a rudimentary first aid element in driving tests. There is good evidence that if one can clear the airwaves of someone in an accident within four minutes they will live, but if not, they will die. We thought that such a provision would help to save lives, but we were turned down.
The nearest we got to changing the Governments mind was on motorbikes in bus lanes. We all but got the Minister to accept that there should be a presumption that motorbikes should be allowed in all bus lanes unless specifically excluded, perhaps outside schools, hospitals or fire stations, but the Minister did not even give in on that.
We could not persuade the Government on other issues, including some of regulation. We proposed a regime for licensing limousines, the number of which has increased spectacularly from 3,000 in 2003 to more than 11,000 now. Those large vehicles are not properly regulated, but many people travel in them and we fear that there may be a horrible accident. We also proposed regulation of pedicabs. We tabled amendments, having consulted the businesses involved, but time and again we were rebuffed.
The first big issue is the problem of rogue drivers. Some 750,000 cars are not properly registered on the database. Some 2 million drivers drive without tax or insurance, and some 500,000 may be unlicensed. The Department for Transport told us in September that as many as three in 10 vehicles may operate outside the laws on registration, vehicle testing and insurance. Research shows that drivers of such vehicles are 10 times more likely to have been convicted of drink- driving, six times more likely to have been convicted of driving an unsafe vehicle, and three times more likely to have been convicted of driving without due care and attention.
Our amendments would have borne down on hit-and- run drivers, for whom we wished to introduce a maximum penalty of 14 years so that there was no incentive to leave the scene of a serious accident if one had had a drink. We were disappointed that the Government did not accept the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), which would have caught those who constantly flout the law by giving a false address. We fear that instead of targeting the small number who cause disproportionate damage and mayhem, we risk alienating the 34 million drivers who just want to get from A to B safely and in comfort.
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning new clause 17, which we did not reach tonight. The Minister mentioned the fulfilment of manifesto commitments, but I wonder whether he remembers that the previous Secretary of State said:
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