Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Road Traffic Act 1988 to provide that dangerous and careless, or inconsiderate, driving offences may be committed in places other than roads and other public places; and for connected purposes.
In August 2017, a 22-month-old girl, Pearl Melody Black from my constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, was tragically killed while walking with her father and brother. Pearl was killed by an unoccupied vehicle that rolled from a private drive in Merthyr Tydfil on to a highway and 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 in putting 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 in March 2018 and was worked on by the London office as well as an independent QC hired by the CPS to consult. Everyone was hopeful of a conviction under the death by dangerous driving category, and the CPS also looked into other possible options. In June 2018, however, the CPS 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 to make 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 has meant that prosecution was not possible. The coroner stated that the vehicle was in fact well maintained and it seemed that the issue was very much driver operation. The inquest heard that the handbrake had not been fully applied in the “park” mode.
Over the past two years, I have been meeting Pearl’s parents, Gemma and Paul, who I know will be watching me present this Bill today, to look at what could be done to change the legislation so that other families do not face this kind of injustice in future. The inquest into Pearl’s death was heard in October 2018 and the outcome was “accident”. However, with the support of South Wales police and the CPS, Pearl’s parents sought a change in the law, and are continuing to do so, to stop other families being in a similar situation of not being able to secure justice, due to a legal loophole, following such a tragic and completely preventable incident as this. As Gemma and Paul acknowledge, it will not help to bring justice for Pearl, as legislation is not retrospective, but if this law can be changed to prevent anyone else from suffering this injustice again, that may provide some comfort.
Having spoken to the Public Bill Office and the Private Bill Office and held meetings with Government Ministers, I appreciate that there is no current major transport Bill that could provide a vehicle for this change. I therefore hope to bring in this Bill to at least allow us to start making some progress. I hope that the Government will also look at the Bill carefully to see if it can be included in any future Government legislation.
It is wholly wrong that in such cases, including those as tragic as that which I have outlined, justice cannot be achieved. There is no conviction simply because the land on which it takes place is not classified as public.
Pearl’s case, however, is sadly by no means an isolated one. In 2017, the right hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) raised the case of a tragic accident where a young boy was killed by a tractor, the driver of which was more than twice over the legal limit for driving. What was very likely to have otherwise been a prosecution for death by dangerous driving with a sentence of a number of years’ imprisonment was, in fact, a prison sentence of little over a year and prosecuted only under health and safety legislation. Again, that awful and preventable tragedy saw no real justice because it took place on private, rather than public, land.
In his response to the debate, the Minister at the time, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes), acknowledged that an overarching change in the law to cover driving offences occurring on private land in general would be a very significant and difficult piece of legislation, due to the wide-ranging nature of land that comes under the definition of “private”, and complications around other classifications of private land, such as land being used for military, commercial and other official purposes, and exemptions from legal proceedings for offences committed as a result.
I have discussed the difficulty of legislating broadly for such matters in correspondence and meetings with Ministers over the past two years. While I appreciate that that remains the case, we can at the very least start to look at changing the law with more focused legislation to enable driving offences that occur on private land adjoining public land to be prosecuted. That would apply to cases like the death of my constituents’ daughter, Pearl, and another similar case brought to the House three years ago by another Member to which I have referred.
If the law were changed in relation to driving offences occurring on private land adjoining public land, it would be a very powerful deterrent to road users showing carelessness as well as to those who have no doubt exploited the current loophole in the law to avoid conviction when they have undoubtedly been at fault. People would be likely to take more care and pay more attention when driving or parking on private land close to public land in the knowledge that there could be serious consequences for careless or reckless behaviour.
There will, of course, always be a degree of human error present in such situations, but this Bill and the threat of legal charges resulting from such carelessness or irresponsibility could make a real difference in helping to prevent accidents, as well as bringing to justice anyone who would have used the loophole to escape conviction or any kind of consequence.
There are a huge number of instances where private land adjoining public land is regularly used and potentially dangerous to those around, including residential driveways, schools and nurseries, supermarkets, shopping centres, hospitals and doctors’ surgeries, to name some of the most common. When we consider some of those examples, we can see that driving on that specific category of land can present a very high risk to people in everyday situations, especially children, the elderly and some of the most vulnerable among us.
I am sure that all hon. Members would agree that nobody who has suffered the loss of a loved one or had an accident or injury 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, indeed, any illegal action should be based on what happened, not where something happened. The legislation that I am hoping to take forward through this Bill would give people such as my constituents Gemma and Paul, and many others, the peace of mind that there are consequences for dangerous driving, no matter where it occurs, and help to prevent such needless and avoidable tragedies ever happening in future.
Question put and agreed to.
That Gerald Jones, Judith Cummins, Wayne David, Chris Evans, Carolyn Harris, Ben Lake, Jessica Morden, Alec Shelbrooke, Nick Smith and Jamie Stone present the Bill.
Gerald Jones accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 15 January, and to be printed (Bill 219).
Prisons (Substance Testing) Bill (Money)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Prisons (Substance Testing) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under the Prison Act 1952 out of money so provided.—(Lucy Frazer.)