Cycling and road safety at Westminster Hall Debate (17/10/12)

October 18, 2012 in Parliament

Yesterday I attended the Westminster Hall Debate on Criminal Justice, see below my speech and intervention:

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): I would like to pick up on some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). Let us be clear-when people are behind the wheel of a vehicle, they are in charge of a lethal weapon. If somebody is killed or seriously maimed because of careless or dangerous driving, that is no different from killing or seriously injuring someone through any other kind of negligent or dangerous behaviour.

According to figures given to me in parliamentary answers, more than 500 killer drivers have avoided jail in the past five years. While the number of people convicted of causing death by careless or dangerous driving in England and Wales between 2007 and last year rose, there was a dramatic fall in the proportion of those convicted receiving a custodial sentence.

In 2008, there were 271 such convictions; in 2011, there were 383. However, in 2008, 90% of drivers who were convicted went to jail, while in 2011 only 50% of them did. That is totally unacceptable for the families and loved ones of the victims. They feel a deep sense of injustice and unfairness when they see somebody who has killed their loved one get off with little more than a rap on the knuckles. It brings the whole of our criminal justice system into disrepute.

I welcome the relatively new Minister, the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), to her post. I have not had the opportunity to congratulate her personally because I do not see her anymore around our neighbouring offices. I hope this will not damage her career, but I was delighted at her well deserved promotion. I have a number of questions for her; if she cannot answer them now, I would be grateful if she wrote to me.

Has there been any change in the sentencing guidance issued to courts in relation to these offences? If the guidance has not changed, how does she explain the huge drop, which is way beyond the possibility of statistical fluctuation based on the individual circumstances of the cases? Will she agree to the request from CTC and other cycling and road safety groups for a review of how the criminal justice system is working in these cases?

We have a good record in Britain, going back over many years, of improving our road safety and reducing death and injury on the roads. That has not happened by accident; it has happened through joined-up Government policies that have boosted safety and changed our whole culture and attitudes towards road crime. I am sure that the Minister, who is a reasonable woman, would not wish to see the recent worrying reversal of that progress as part of her legacy. To avoid that, she needs to ensure that we can restore the confidence of the victims of road crime in the justice system.

My intervention later in the debate:

Mr Bradshaw: I am sorry that the Minister has not been able to respond to the points made by three hon. Members about road traffic victims. Would she at least agree to meet a delegation led by British Cycling to discuss the issue?

Mrs Grant: I will write to the right hon. Gentleman and I agree to meet a delegation.