Clause 4 - Graduated fixed penalty points

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:30 pm ar 21 Mawrth 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Will the Minister clarify where we stand on the system of graduated penalties? This morning, he mentioned the guidelines produced by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which refer to an excess speed of 10 per cent. plus two that we should be reached before an offence kicks in, but we are debating these matters against the background of a spectacular increase in motoring offences. The latest figures that I have are for 2003, in which the number of motoring offences dealt with by the police in which a penalty was charged is 13.2 million, which is up 15 per cent. on the 2002 level and is the highest number ever recorded. I understand that that trend has continued, and that the number of motoring offences dealt with by fixed penalty notices, including those issued by traffic wardens, was 3.6 million, which is up 27 per cent. on 2002. There were 2.3 million court proceedings for motoring offences during 2003, which is up 9 per cent. on 2002.

Speed cameras, our friends of this morning, provide the evidence for 1.9 million offences that were dealt with—93 per cent. of speeding offences. There are now up to 5,000 camera sites and the number is growing. The result is that whereas there was previously some flexibility, there is now the rigidity of the camera system. The Government published what we thought was a consultation document, but we were told that it was a discussion document. In relation to the 30 mph limit, it was proposed that there would be a schedule of lower penalty points: two points plus a £40 fine at 39 mph, a standard penalty of three points from 40 to 44 mph and a higher penalty of six points at 45 mph.

Without rehearsing this morning’s arguments on penalty points, which were similar, I can say that we welcome the flexibility to allow for conditions. I am intrigued, however, by how the system will work if ACPO adheres to an excess of 10 per cent. plus two,   which I believe is sensible. Indeed, some major newspaper reports appeared over the weekend saying that some police monitoring devices are not accurate. It is therefore sensible to have some flexibility about the speed that is being prosecuted, aside from taking into account the circumstances.

We said in previous debates and in the House of Lords that we were not happy that proposed new subsection (3A) to section 28 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 states that all these matters will be decided in a separate debate on a statutory instrument. It would be better for us to have the debate now so that it is on the record and so that all the parties can hear the Government’s thinking.

The Government’s proposals have support outside the House. The RAC Foundation is a respected organisation that has a great deal of knowledge and which has done a great deal of research on the subject. It stated that while it appreciated that all speeding could be dangerous, it supported the graduated penalty system. It believes that the level of punishment needs to fit the crime, and that a range of penalty points may in fact discourage people from excessive speeding. The greatest reduction in road casualties would come from reducing the speeds of faster drivers—a point that we discussed this morning. The foundation states that there is no evidence to suggest that a graduated system would encourage motorists to drive just above the limit, as two penalty points are still a strong deterrent to speeding. So there is support from respectable bodies outside the House.

My party supports graduated penalty points because of the variability and flexibility that they give, but I would like a clear idea from the Minister as to whether he has a schedule in mind that might be debated at a future stage in a Statutory Instrument Committee. Would it not be better for him to debate it now and tell us how the ACPO ruling will affect it?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport) 4:45, 21 Mawrth 2006

As I understand the clause, the existing floor for penalty points—the minimum that is normally imposed—of three is to be removed, and there will be greater variation. I believe that that will apply in all parts of the United Kingdom. Can the Minister tell me what consultation he has had with the Scottish Executive? As the statutory instruments under the proposed new subsection will apply in Scotland, the Executive will be responsible for them. The challenge for the Government, wherever they are, is that the certainty that exists with the three-point minimum will be lost, as it will be possible to have different rates north and south of the border. That is an undesirable development.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

The Government will take this power if the Committee and, ultimately, the House agree. As the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) said, the Bill does not include the detail of how graduation will work. That is a matter for the future. I can understand why he would want to have some sort   of debate on it now, but such a debate would have to be fairly superficial. It will be held in much more detail when the time comes to lay an order.

For the hon. Gentleman’s information, clause 3 penalties—that is, matters to do with money—will be subject to a negative resolution, and orders under clause 4 will be subject to an affirmative resolution. The reason for the difference is that we regard penalty points as more serious than sums of money, as they can ultimately lead to the loss of one’s licence and possibly even one’s livelihood. If someone loses their licence but carries on driving, they can even be imprisoned. As that issue is clearly more serious, there will have to be a debate in this place before an order is made.

What sort of things do we have in mind? On 1 September 2004, we published an outline of what we think might be appropriate, and we opened that up to consultation. We shall review the feedback from that consultation, if the Bill is passed. We will suggest another set of proposals based on that consultation and then move to further consultation and an order. My promise to the hon. Gentleman is that there will be thorough consultation before we make the order.

How will the proposals mesh with the ACPO guidance? First, in England and Wales, enforcement guidance from ACPO is discretionary. The situation is different in Scotland, where I understand the Lord Advocate sets the enforcement guidelines and the police have no discretion. Let us assume for the purposes of debate that the ACPO guidance is in operation in England and Wales and let us take the 30 mph figure that the hon. Gentleman has given us. The proposal that we took out to consultation was that, in a 30 mph zone, there should be a lower penalty of two points and £40 up to 39 mph; a standard penalty of three points and £60 between 40 and 44 mph; and a higher penalty of six points and a £100 fine for 45 mph.

If we overlay the ACPO guidance, I envisage no charge being made between 30 and 35 mph, because that is ACPO’s enforcement guideline. However, should a person exceed the speed limit at more than 50 mph, the opportunity to offer a higher penalty of six points and £100 will lapse and the person will be taken to court, because that is where ACPO guidance sets the higher level of court enforcement. Therefore, I envisage the order that the House ultimately passes will be overlaid by the ACPO guidance.

I can tell the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) that discussions on all aspects of the Bill have taken place with the Scottish Executive. The instruments will be dealt with not in Scotland but in Westminster, as they are for the whole of Great Britain. This is a reserved matter that will be dealt with in that way.

I hope that I have answered the questions put by the hon. Member for North Shropshire and that he will agree that clause 4 should stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.