A message was brought from the Commons, That they do not insist on one of their amendments to the Road Safety Bill but have made amendments in lieu thereof; they insist on certain of their amendments and disagree to certain amendments made by your Lordships for which they assign reasons.
My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons message be considered forthwith.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
[The page and line references are to Bill 113 as first printed for the Commons.]
1: Leave out Clause 2
The Lords disagree with Commons Amendment No. 1 for the following reason-
1A: Because it is appropriate for local transport authorities to be able to use revenue from speed cameras to fund local transport facilities or related environmental improvements
The Commons do not insist on their Amendment No. 1 but propose the following amendments in lieu-
1B: Page 1, line 15, leave out “In”
1C: Page 1, line 16, leave out from ‘etc.)’ to end of line 2 on page 2 and insert “is amended as follows.
(2) In subsections (3) and (4), for “this section” substitute “subsection (1)”.
(3) After subsection (4) insert-
“(4A)The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for making to public authorities for road safety purposes payments calculated by reference to any amount by which-
(a)the amount of the sums paid into the Consolidated Fund in consequence of the commission of offences to which subsection (2) applies and which are detected by cameras, exceeds (b)the amount of any payments made undersubsection (1).”.”
My Lords, I beg to move Motion A, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 1B and 1C.
As I explained to the House when last we considered the Bill, Clause 2 is defective in a number of respects. For example, it refers to income from the enforcement of offences under subsection (2). This is inaccurate and could extend to income from offences detected by police officers as well as cameras. It also refers to several undefined terms such as “safety camera scheme”.
Our obligation is to save this vital Road Safety Bill. Given that the House is keen that the Government should have a power to make such regulations, we have tabled Amendment No. 1C, which delivers the intended aims of Clause 2 but which is not technically defective and would be workable. As I have previously explained, new arrangements are being introduced for the integration and funding of safety cameras from 1 April 2007 which will see the end of the netting-off funding arrangement and local authorities receiving additional money for road safety through the local transport process—some £440 million over four years. This is a significant and sustained level of funding at a time when future fine incomes are not guaranteed. The House will recognise that there are already signs of improved compliance with speed limits, which, of course, has the inevitable effect of reducing the level of fine income.
The Association of Chief Police Officers national rollout of speed awareness courses from 1 April will enable more offenders to opt for re-education rather than penalty points and fine. If anything, therefore, it is likely that the amount of fine income from speeding offences will reduce over time. This, of course, is very good news as it shows that the public are increasingly recognising the dangers associated with excessive speed. The whole purpose of speed cameras is to reduce the amount of speeding. We therefore hope and expect that the level of fine income will go down over time.
In the event that use was made of the powers set out in Amendment No. 1C, this would be contingent on having a mechanism to ensure that the regulations did not create incentives for partnerships to drive up the level of fine income in order to secure additional income and to ensure that those partnerships which succeed in improving compliance with speed limits, thereby reducing the income from speed cameras, are not penalised by receiving less money for other road safety purposes.
I reiterate that our obligation is to save this vitally important Road Safety Bill. I hope the House will recognise that the Government have responded to the defeat we sustained last time on this issue and that we have acted accordingly.
Moved, That this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 1B and 1C.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comments and the Government for their rethink on this issue. As everyone knows, I am very much a localist. One of the reasons I was very keen to promote this provision is that money raised locally from speed cameras should be spent locally and not go into other pots and be distributed in other ways. I agree totally that there must not be anything in the clause or the regulations which encourages speed cameras merely to raise money, which is what many people claim they are there for.
We have agreed during our debates on the Bill that speed cameras have been a very effective way of saving lives and reducing speed. We want to see more money reinvested in road safety, sometimes through fairly minor measures. The highway engineers to whom I have spoken will be very pleased to see this part of the legislation come into operation. It will provide transparency and in many parts of the country they will be able to see money raised locally spent on measures that will save lives.
I thank the Government again; I am pleased they have had a rethink. Although there are still some defective parts of the Bill, which we shall talk about later, this is a good addition and I thank the Government for bringing it forward. We shall obviously support it as it was our amendment initially.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
5 Clause 16, leave out Clause 16
The Lords disagree with Commons Amendment 5, and propose Amendments 5A and 5B in lieu-
5A Page 21, line 18, at end insert-
“(2)The Secretary of State must make regulations under this section no later than 31st December 2007.””
5B Page 59, line 6, after “1,” insert-
“(aa) section 16,”
The Commons insist on Amendment No. 5 and disagree to Amendments 5A and 5B for the following Reason -
5C Because it is undesirable to make regulations about retro-reflective tape when European and international legislation about it is being prepared
My Lords, I beg to move Motion B, That the House do not insist on its disagreement to Commons Amendment No. 5 and do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 5A and 5B in lieu.
Use of retro-reflective tape is already permitted and many heavy vehicle operators have already opted to fit it voluntarily. We are committed to making it mandatory and believe the best mechanism for achieving this is through amendment to both EC and UNECE legislation. This route has been agreed internationally and proceedings are under way that will mandate it in European and international law. We do not believe it would make good sense to try to introduce domestic regulations covering only UK-registered vehicles while European and international legislation is being prepared to introduce a “universal” requirement to fit the tape.
In addition, the legal basis for making such UK-specific regulations before tape fitment is mandated by EC and UNECE law is at best uncertain. If we were to introduce regulations by the end of 2007, I cannot be sure that we would not be open to challenge and possibly to infraction proceedings.
Unilateral Italian requirements on this subject have been mentioned, and there has been some confusion over this. Let me clarify the position. I have a copy of a letter from the Secretary-General of the Commission for the Italians advising them, among other things, of their obligation to include a mutual recognition clause relating to other member states or EFTA countries signatory to the EEA agreement, and suggesting they reconsider their legislation.
In addition, I can confirm that the Enterprise Directorate-General website lists the Commission, Germany, France and the UK as all having commented on the draft Italian ministerial decree on retro-reflective materials for heavy vehicles and trailers. The UK view is that, because UNECE Regulation 48 specifically mentions Regulation 104 tape as “optional”, that reference establishes competence on this subject, taking it away from individual member states.
Let me make it clear that the UK is not pressing for infraction proceedings against the Italians, nor do we in any way oppose amending UNECE and EC legislation to mandate the use of retro-reflective tape on heavy vehicles and trailers. But we maintain that the Italian measure is unlawful under existing legislation, and that it would be unlawful for us to follow the Italians in doing this. It would also be impractical, for reasons I shall explain.
Structural requirements for vehicles are not a matter of individual member state competence. As a result, there can be no possibility of introducing national regulations intended to apply to foreign-registered as well as UK-registered vehicles. I think that that is obvious to everyone. The question of regulations covering only UK-registered vehicles is not so clear cut. We could make regulations, under existing powers, to require the fitment of retro-reflective tape to newlyregistered UK heavy vehicles. However, we would not be able to enforce that on all UK-registered vehicles, as I shall explain in a moment.
If we did try to make such regulations, we would need to notify them to the European Commission under the technical standards directive. I suspect that if we did so, the regulations would be held up, possibly on the grounds that the EC is in the process of legislating on the same subject. If we tried to get round that by failing to notify the EC, our requirement would be unenforceable.
If, by some chance, the regulations did go through, we would none the less be obliged to register vehicles which were presented for registration correctly approved to UNECE Regulation 48 and/or the lighting installation directive, but not fitted with the tape. Those approvals do not require the tape, but we are duty bound to accept vehicles which are in line with them. It would be embarrassing were we thereafter to claim that such vehicles, even though correctly registered for use in the UK, were not in fact lawful for use on the public road because they lacked the tape. I can imagine only that the Italians may be avoiding such difficulties by applying their regulations only to Italian-registered vehicles, which do not have Regulation 48 or lighting installation directive approval. Otherwise, I feel sure that aggrieved owners and operators in Italy would have appealed on the grounds that the law was being breached.
As I understand it, such regulations could be challenged on several fronts. For example, they would discriminate under general Community law principles, or possibly even on a human rights basis, against UK vehicles. They would be outwith the lighting installation directive and UNECE obligations and would prejudice the single market, which is the point of harmonisation.
Clause 16 is also deeply flawed in that, unlike the existing powers which it reflects, it does not contain provisions specifying offences and penalties. Therefore, even if the Secretary of State made regulations under the power to require the fitment of retro-reflective tape to heavy trucks and trailers, owners and operators who failed to comply would commit no offence and face no penalties.
In view of these factors, and because it makes no sense to make regulations requiring the tape for UK vehicles alone when work is already in hand to require it universally, we remain opposed to the making of early, unilateral regulations on this subject. We should do far better to rely on the powers which we already have, which already cover reflective tape and include provision for enforcement and penalties. We have undertaken to use these powers as soon as permitted to do so by European and UNECE regulations. Additionally, we have undertaken to discuss with industry how it might best prepare for the introduction of this mandate, to which we are committed, including the possibility of early introduction on a voluntary basis.
Some people have argued that it would be worth trying to introduce an early, UK-only, mandatory requirement because it would save lives. While we recognise that the tape is useful, we are not convinced that it will achieve highly significant accident savings in this country. While the tape is helpful in improving conspicuity during the hours of darkness and in conditions of poor visibility, UK trucks are already equipped with various aids, such as side marker lights and rear retro-reflective plates. The tape's road safety effects will therefore not be as great as they may be in some other countries.
I have heard some people quote overall UK heavy vehicle accident statistics, assuming that the introduction of the tape would have an immediate and beneficial effect. It must be remembered, however, that the tape will have no effect on daytime, good-visibility incidents. It will have an effect only on incidents taking place in the dark or in conditions of poor visibility, and only in those cases where lack of conspicuity is a contributory cause. There are other causes of accidents, such as speed, drink-driving, ice, oil or obstructions on the road, mechanical failure and reckless driving.
In 2005, Loughborough University carried out a study on retro-reflective tape—copies of which are in the Library of the House—for the Department for Transport. The report noted:
“Accident reduction figures … from … American data involved comparison of the accident involvement of vehicles with [retro-reflective] contour marking … and … those with no retro-reflective markings. Whereas in the UK reflectors and lighting on the rear and sides of HGV[s] … are already required … to improve … conspicuity”.
Therefore, the addition of retro-reflective tape may not result in reduction rates in the UK similar to those which have been observed in America. The estimate of gains from fitting the tape is therefore likely to be optimistic.
Nevertheless, I reiterate that we intend to introduce the mandatory requirement as soon as we can, consistent with its applying to the whole of Europe. For the reasons I have outlined, it is not right that we should do it unilaterally. Accordingly, I beg to move.
Moved, That the House do not insist on its disagreement to Commons Amendment No. 5 and do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 5A and 5B in lieu.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very full answer, but I am still very disappointed that we have not been able to find our way through what is rather a muddle. The noble Lord did not mention the United Nations, but I have seen some correspondence in which even that body seemed to be involved. It has been said that these retro-reflective strips are not all they are cracked up to be, but all the evidence is that they save lives. We have spent a year discussing this Bill and various ways in which we might make our roads safer and save lives. This measure was one of the daring ones which would have been fairly cheap—it would cost about £100 a vehicle; it could have happened relatively quickly; and, whatever the debate about how much it might save, it would certainly have added to the safety of our roads.
I am very disappointed, because there is no difference in our policy on this. We all want eventually to have these strips, and to have a degree of safety and the saving of lives that is as high as possible. So I am disappointed that the Government have not been able to find a way—or to persuade our European neighbours to find a way—through this quagmire of Euro-legislation. I know that the Minister had good intentions on this matter, because I have discussed it with him several times, and I do not think that we can take the matter any further today. The Minister did not say this in his introduction—or at least I did not hear him say it—but the manufacturers should start preparing so that the strips can be rolled off quickly on new vehicles when the legislation or regulation comes into force.
We are disappointed. We shall not push the matter again today, but it is a pity that we have not been able to find a way through.
My Lords, I, too, am disappointed, as bureaucracy seems to have got in the way of common sense. I am sure that some accidents would be avoided if these proposals were implemented. The results are usually very bad for the person who hits a heavy lorry, rather than the other way round. The Government have made their case—but I cannot help reflecting that if we were discussing railway safety much quicker action would be forthcoming even if only a few lives were likely to be saved.
My Lords, the Minister gave a masterful defence. Because the Government do not want to do something, he and his officials have done a wonderful trawl of 150 reasons why it should not happen. I am sure that those reasons are all true, and I commend him for the detail that he went into, but I think it is very sad. But there we are—he may be right. I hope that out of this will come more pressure to stick this tape on vehicles on a voluntary basis.
The Minister omitted one of the offences that could occur—death by careless driving, which we shall discuss shortly. Finally, I congratulate him on pronouncing the word “conspicuity” three times without fluffing it, which is a real challenge.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his last point about that word, which I do not intend to repeat. But I accept his point. He says that there should be pressure for voluntary compliance. Some vehicles are fitted with that tape—and it is permitted for people to do so. We have made it clear throughout the passage of this Bill—and we have been aided by the opposition parties, which have stressed their commitment to the concept—that we see reflective tape as an aid to road safety. It is not quite the outstanding aid that it may have been in the United States, when it proved in many cases to be the only way in which to make vehicles conspicuous on American roads. Of course, British vehicles are differently and better equipped than those in the United States.
Nevertheless, the strip will be an aid, and we intend to make it mandatory, as soon as we have agreement throughout Europe, which is bound to be an incentive to manufacturers of vehicles to start considering whether they should put it on immediately. It does not add a huge amount to the cost of a new truck, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said last time we debated this matter. We would expect manufacturers to recognise that in due course it will be a requirement. We do not think the issue is sufficient to collide with our European partners in quite the dramatic way that might have been the result of us acting unilaterally.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
6: Clause 20, page 24, line 36, column 4, leave out “the statutory maximum” and insert “12 months (in England and Wales) or six months (in Scotland) or the statutory maximum, or both”
The Lords disagree with Commons Amendment No. 6 for the following reason-
6A: Because it is not appropriate to provide for a custodial sentence for causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving
The Commons insist on Amendment No.6 for the following reason -
6B: Because it is undesirable for a custodial sentence not to be available on summary conviction of the offence of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its disagreement to Commons Amendment No. 6, on which the Commons have insisted for their reason 6B.
We return once again to the offence of causing death by careless driving. The question before us today is whether a custodial penalty should be available on summary conviction for the offence, and I shall concentrate on that. A number of issues need to be addressed before I can move on to discussing why the Government are insisting on this amendment, and I recognise the strength of feeling in several parts of the House on this matter. I am therefore obliged to repeat, but not at great length, some of the points I made on the previous occasion when we debated this.
This legislation has been considered carefully and was the subject of extensive consultation. The consultation itself was preceded by a review in which a wide range of stakeholders was consulted, including judges, the police and road safety campaigners. The policy is not being rushed. I realise that there is some concern that these offences were not included in the Bill from its introduction, but that was because they were still the subject of the consultation exercise we were carrying out and we did not want to pre-empt the outcome of that process. We made changes as a result of that consultation, and included the offences in the Bill as soon as we were able to do so.
The maximum penalties provided for this offence will be 12 months on summary conviction or five years on conviction on indictment. I emphasise that those penalties are the maximum that would be available to the court. If the court did not consider a custodial penalty to be appropriate, it would use other methods of disposal; for example, by imposing a fine or a community penalty. I did not respond directly last time when the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, asked what would happen if a mother reversed out of her driveway and caused an accident to her child. I cannot conceive of any court prosecuting and passing a sentence against a mother in such circumstances, but in any case that would be for the court to make its judgment. Here we are merely seeking to establish maximum penalties where careless driving has clearly resulted in death, and is therefore serious.
Some noble Lords may be concerned that sentencing will be inconsistent or unfair, but we are seeking to ensure that guidance from the Sentencing Guidelines Council will be available to inform sentencing decisions. The only obligatory elements of the penalty would be disqualification and endorsement, as is the case with other bad driving offences where death is caused.
This issue is not one to which we can return, as both Houses have now agreed. I realise that certain noble Lords are concerned about it, however, and I believe a mistake was made at Third Reading. I cannot say whether a mistake was made, only which amendment was voted upon. That is the only judgment I can make. We voted on whether this offence should have a custodial penalty attached to it on summary conviction. The Government lost that vote at Third Reading in this House by the very narrow majority of 159 to 153. I cannot assume that everyone who voted on that amendment did so in the mistaken belief that they were voting on the penalty for the offence as a whole. I wish to concentrate on the effect that our vote would have on the operation of this offence. On the previous occasion that we debated this matter, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, stressed that in his view a mistake had been made in the way the amendments had been dealt with, although he recognised that it was not a mistake on the Government’s part. I reiterate what I said to the noble and learned Lord on that occasion. The Government can deal only with the Bill as it is before us. If a mistake has been made, we are not in a position to correct it, nor dare we presume the basis on which noble Lords voted.
The other place has insisted on its amendment that a custodial penalty should be available on summary conviction to avoid what I think the House will recognise as the perverse consequences of providing that a Crown Court only can impose a custodial penalty for this offence. It is those perverse consequences which I urge noble Lords to concentrate on and recognise today. The failure to provide for a custodial penalty on summary conviction would mean that any case that might conceivably warrant a custodial sentence would be referred to the Crown Court for trial. This would increase costs and anxiety for the defendant. This runs contrary to views expressed during the consultation exercise. The Magistrates’ Association is clear that in its view if it is to have the power to try this offence, it should have a full range of penalties at its disposal.
In addition, under changes made to magistrates’ powers under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which are awaiting implementation, if a magistrates’ court accepts jurisdiction in a contested case but finds,on trying it, that a custodial sentence was after all justified, it will cease to be able to commit it to the Crown Court for sentence, even if it considers its sentencing powers to be insufficient.
I assure the House that the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which is charged with publishing definitive sentencing guidelines for all criminal offences in England and Wales, has asked the Sentencing Advisory Panel for advice on sentencing for the new bad driving offences that would be created by this Bill. It will also review the existing guidelines for the offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs. This will ensure that courts are aware of how these offences work together and what factors to consider in relation to sentencing. It will also ensure that sentencing for this new offence is consistent and fair. The factors to be taken into consideration would be subject to consultation, to which noble Lords will have the opportunity to contribute. I encourage the House to do so. I believe that this is the most appropriate way forward.
I noted the letter of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, in today’s Times. I am forced to recognise that throughout these long debates I have fallen short of persuading him of the Government’s case. That is not for want of trying; we have expressed our opinions clearly on several occasions. I pay great tribute to the way in which the noble and learned Lord presented his case. He and the Government fundamentally disagree on this matter. Nevertheless, the Government have gone as far as they can to implement a manifesto commitment and to see through that commitment by votes in the other place—votes which fully considered the careful scrutiny which this House gave to the issues, including not just scrutiny on the detail but the principled case which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, made supported by his Front Bench. Therefore, I hope that noble Lords will recognise that the Government have reached this position after the fullest possible consideration of the matter. The Government have a majority in another place. That majority has spoken. Therefore, I hope that the noble and learned Lord recognises that even if he again expresses his reservations about our position, it would not be appropriate for a further vote to be taken on the matter.
Moved, That the House do not insist on its disagreement to Commons Amendment No. 6, on which the Commons have insisted for their reason 6B.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)
My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships for any longer than I strictly have to. Suffice to say, we know the arguments well. Sadly, we have been unable to reach any sort of agreement on the merits or suitability of this provision. It is of some concern given, as I said previously, that this is very much the most contentious part of the legislation, which we generally all support because we all support road safety.
As my noble and learned friend Lord Lyell of Markyate said so well in his letter today in the Times, to which the Minister referred, we run the risk of criminalising individuals for a momentary lapse of concentration. With your Lordships’ permission, I thank my noble friend for all the help and legal expertise that he has given me over the past months.
Of course, we have the utmost sympathy and respect for victims’ families, who have lost loved ones. We all know and understand the emotion that causes, and we had some debate on that in this House. That is not the issue. The issue in this House is that Parliament should not be in the business of passing bad legislation. It pains me to say that we are on the verge of doing so, and we genuinely believe that. Your Lordships’ House has rejected this legislation twice. The Minister said that it was not a very big majority the first time, but it certainly was quite a large majority the second time. Indeed, it is the overwhelming view of this House and of the wider legal profession that this legislation simply will not work.
When one has a collective legal expertise such as we are fortunate to have in this House, one tends to listen to and respect those views, yet the Government have chosen not to listen. We have cautioned against this clause time and again, yet the Government have chosen not to take any note. This is our right in this House. The Minister has given his arguments, and we still do not accept them. We will not be voting on this today, but we will watch this legislation as it moves on to the statute book and becomes operational. If we feel that it has unfortunate consequences, we shall look for some future opportunity to reverse it and create more suitable legislation.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for what he has said. The Bill has been closely examined by this House, and the other place has had the opportunity to reconsider it. It has chosen not to do so. I take fairly seriously the Minister’s remark that it is for the courts to decide what penalty to impose. We shall see in due course how that works out. In the mean time, I do not intend to pursue the matter any further.
My Lords, clearly, my noble friend Lord Hanningfield is right that we should not pursue this any further and we should agree to the Motion. If the Opposition make a mistake in voting or in procedure, we have to live with it; the Minister isright on that point. However, I am convinced that Clause 20 is misconceived.
Although the amendment does not concern the automatic disqualification of drivers convicted of this offence, we have touched on it. In my view, automatic disqualification for what might have been the most minor of errors, admittedly with very tragic consequences, is the fatal flaw. In those circumstances, a minor driving flaw will not result in a custodial sentence, but the six-month ban will mean that motorists prosecuted for this offence will fight like hell in the Crown Court. The way in which this provision was introduced is not the Minister’s fault, but equally I am quite sure that some Minister will have to come to this House and propose amendments to the provisions in Clause 20. You only have to think of the unintended consequences of a conviction in the Crown Court because a jury is reluctant to convict for a minor error of driving. The consequences will be loss of licence, which will inevitably lead to loss of employment for those who have to drive for their living. So I am disappointed in the way that this whole business was introduced at a late stage in the Bill. I am sorry that we have been unable to debate this matter as thoroughly as your Lordships would have liked, but, at the end of the day, we shall have to leave this one.
My Lords, we are in a sad position, as this is bad legislation that will do injustice. None the less, I thank the Minister because, although we have disagreed strongly on all these matters, he has been unfailingly courteous and his ministerial colleagues have given me a good deal of time to try to explain the position and to tease out what I believe are great flaws in this legislation.
I am sorry, but I cannot resile from the fact thatthis legislation has been rushed. A mistake was made on 10 January. I was certainly part of the mistake, which was made by everyone, including, I say with great respect, the House authorities, and I do not believe that the Government realised at that time that there had been a mistake. Let me just remind noble Lords what happened. After we voted on Amendment No. 4, which kicked out prison sentences from the magistrates’ courts, the words from the chair were, “Amendments 5 to 8 not moved? Not moved”—and the crucial Amendment No. 5 disappeared into the ether.
That is the difficulty of being rushed. Because the matter was not brought before your Lordships' House until Report stage, instead of there being three opportunities to consider and vote on it—in Committee, on Report and, if necessary, at Third Reading—there was an opportunity to vote on it only at Third Reading. If we had known about the matter at the beginning, at Second Reading, I am sure that it would have been corrected either in Committee or on Report. Therefore, I warn the House and, with great respect, the Government against bringing forward very important measures at this stage.
The Minister said that the matter had been carefully considered beforehand. I beg to disagree. There was a short consultation period, which lasted two and a half months. The Minister may tell me that that is normal, but it seemed to me to be very short. I find it very surprising that, despite being warned against the serious potential injustice of this matter by the Lord Chief Justice, the Council of Circuit Judges and the Justices’ Clerks’ Society, who all know exactly what they are talking about in this area, the Government should charge ahead.
Why is this going to cause injustice? The Minister said that it would somehow all be put right by the Sentencing Guidelines Council. I shall look with the greatest interest to see what the poor Sentencing Guidelines Council will say about this measure, which has filleted out the very well understood distinction between dangerous driving and careless driving. Dangerous driving falls far below the standards to be expected from a reasonable and prudent driver and applies to circumstances where the driver knew or should have known that what he was doing was dangerous and was likely to hurt or kill someone. Careless driving is simply that other area of driving that, sadly, is all too common, but which simply falls below the ordinary standard.
Dangerous driving is massively more likely to cause death than careless driving is. Although statistics in this area are not extensive, they clearly show that dangerous driving is at least 20 times more likely to cause a death than careless driving is, yet 31,000 people are currently convicted of careless driving. It will be tragic for the victims and for the driver, but some of those incidents will lead to death. How is a court now to tease out in which of those cases of careless driving that cause death it would be just to impose a prison sentence?
Nowhere in all our law, in any field of life, do we impose prison sentences for ordinary negligence. I was astonished to see Alistair Darling seeming to propound the principle that sounded like an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. He said that a life is a life however it comes to be lost—I may not be quoting exactly, but that was the nub of it. Will that principle be carried to teachers who take children on outings or to doctors and nurses who have to administer drugs? Will it apply to industry and commerce? If people are to be sent to prison for ordinary negligence, we are in an uncertain and potentially unjust world.
I come back to careless driving—I will not go on for too long. When it is between dangerous and careless driving, whether it be in the Crown Court or the magistrates’ court, the prosecution must set out clearly what those dangerous ingredients are that justify a conviction for dangerous driving. In the right case, a sentence—possibly a severe sentence—would be justified for causing death or, indeed, for the dangerous driving itself. What are the ingredients of careless driving that will justify the prison sentence? Prosecutors in our world do not ask for sentences. It is contrary to our tradition.
My Lords, I will wind up in a minute, but the Minister repeated these arguments and said that the matter had been carefully considered. It is probably one of the most important matters that has come before the House in this Session. The Government have made one of the most radical changes to our criminal law since I have been in this House. While I defer to the noble Countess, who has no doubt been here a great deal longer than I have, let me wind up quickly.
This is a very difficult matter for the Sentencing Guidelines Council, and it is very difficult for the defendant to know what case he has to meet and where the issue that might lead to his or her imprisonment will arise. I am sorry to say that this matter has not been properly considered. It is in a mess, which I very much regret. I very much hope that in due course a future Government will think better of it and put the situation right by repealing this measure.
My Lords, I shall be very brief. Yesterday I received a DVD from a police officer serving in Leicestershire Constabulary showing three very short interviews for the local television about careless driving and various other matters. The final one, without prompting or priming beforehand, was an interview with two people who were involved to a large extent in car crime. They both said that, if they had known that a prison sentence was likely for any of the things that they had done, they would never have done them. That was the view from the sharp end.
My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to this short debate. It was inevitable that I would be obliged to reiterate the fundamental argument of principle that we have had on previous occasions. My prediction of the response of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, proved all too accurate, and I congratulate him again on saying it with such clarity.
I dispute one point with the noble and learned Lord. He suggested that the Government had rather rushed this legislation. First, our intent to consider it preceded the previous general election. Our consultation period lasted for more than three months, which is the Cabinet Office guidance on the process of consultation. I was able to cite those who supported the legislation, and the noble and learned Lord expressed the view of those who had reservations about it.
If I can coin the phrase again, we are where we are. There is no doubt that our positions of principle are irreconcilable. That is not because the Government have not listened carefully or had the advantage of representations from this House at successive stages of the Bill. Those representations have been all too clearly expressed, and the other place is well aware of the arguments of principle against the Government’s proposals. The Government’s proposals, however, also rest on principle: a commitment made in the last manifesto. The other place, having considered the representations and amendments from this House, insists on its position. I give way to the noble and learned Lord, but briefly.
My Lords, that is so. We have introduced an increased sentence, which is what we were committed to.
The position is quite clear. We have had the benefit of extensive debates from which we have all learnt a lot. The Government listened carefully. The other place listened to and saw our debates, took them into account and has reached its position of insisting on the position that it adopted.
On Question, Motion agreed to.