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Road Accidents

Volume 447: debated on Tuesday 13 June 2006

6. What progress has been made in reducing the number of people killed and seriously injured in road accidents since 1997. (76579)

Our provisional statistics for 2005 indicate that 32,150 people were killed or seriously injured in accidents reported to the police in Great Britain, which is 33 per cent. less than the baseline average between 1994 and 1998 and 31 per cent. less than the figure in 1997.

I thank my hon. Friend for his response and welcome the reduction in the number of deaths and injuries. However, far too many people still suffer death and injury as a result of drink-driving. Does he agree that now is the time to consider reducing the alcohol limit from 80 mg to 50 mg, which would bring us in line with other European countries?

I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to do more to reduce drink-driving. She will have seen the campaign launched by right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport about drinking during the summer months and the World cup, and other extensive efforts in education are continuing. However, we are still not enforcing the 80 mg limit as strictly as I would like, and we should put our resources into that before we reduce the level to 50 mg. When we have achieved strict enforcement at 80 mg, perhaps we can re-examine the matter.

When will the Minister publish the Department’s new guidelines on speed limits in villages? He will be aware that the parish councils and highways authorities believe that the speed limit should be reduced in many villages, but until his Department produces the guidelines, they cannot reduce speed limits for fear that they will have to reverse their decision when the guidelines are issued.

We will publish the guidance shortly. Over the next year or two, it is important that all highways authorities use the guidance to review all the speed limits on our roads. Speed limits should be set appropriately—they can be reduced for safety purposes or, where engineering or other improvements have happened on a stretch of road, they can be increased. That is an important part of the deal that we need to strike with motorists, and we must be seen to set speed limits fairly and in accordance with objective criteria.

I was a bit disappointed by the Minister’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin). The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland has recently indicated its support for a reduction in the alcohol limit, and there is a growing body of opinion within the road safety community in favour of that. Will the Minister think again and consider the advantages of reducing the limit in terms of saving lives and reducing injuries on the roads?

I hear what my hon. Friend has said and acknowledge his interest in the matter. I have spoken to the Association of Chief Police Officers in England, which has expressed the view that it would like to see the level come down to 50 mg at some point. However, there is no point in discussing harmonisation with the level in Europe, because, although most states in Europe specify lower levels of alcohol in their law, they do not enforce at those levels. In this country, we are at least enforcing hard at 80 mg. I have pointed out to ACPO that the police need to put resources into making sure that nobody breaks the 80 mg limit. When we are confident that we are achieving success at that level, it will be time to think about further reducing the level.

May I begin by congratulating the Secretary of State and the Minister on their appointments? Does the Minister agree that a major problem is the courts’ interpretation and use of laws passed in this House? In my constituency, for example, there is a young man with three convictions: first, he left a boy of five paralysed and was given a two-month driving ban; secondly, he left a 67-year-old woman for dead; thirdly, he stole a car and crashed into a stationary car, which led to a four-month suspended sentence. Working with other Departments, what can the Minister do to ensure that the courts enforce the laws that we pass?

We must work with the courts, the Department for Constitutional Affairs and others on reviewing the sentencing guidelines. The courts need to understand that it is the wish of this House that serious punishments should be issued for such offences. People around the country are fed up with seeing people avoid long sentences, and being given a tap on the wrist for some of the most serious offences that we can envisage. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his party will support us in our approach.