Police Powers to Suspend Driving Licences Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office

Police Powers to Suspend Driving Licences

Trudy Harrison Excerpts
Monday 10th January 2022

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Trudy Harrison Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Trudy Harrison)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees) for the way in which she opened this debate on e-petitions relating to police powers to suspend driving licences. Those petitions raise specific concerns about allowing drivers who are suspected of committing road traffic offences to continue driving.

I also put on the record my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) for his effective and convincing portrayal of the situation and for his work with Tom’s family. Likewise, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) for noting that although Plymouth has been well covered in the debate, the issue affects the whole country. I thank all Members for the way in which they have contributed to the debate.

I reassure Members that the Government take road safety seriously; it is at the core of the agenda of the Department for Transport. Any death or serious injury is, of course, an absolute tragedy, and our deepest condolences go to Tom’s family, who are here today. My ministerial colleague with responsibility for roads, Minster Baroness Vere of Norbiton, has met the families of victims of similar incidents, and is aware of the devastating effect on the families involved. I am not the roads Minister, but I can confirm that Baroness Vere is willing to meet Tom’s family. I understand the tragic circumstances surrounding Tom’s death, and I extend my sympathy to all.

I recognise the concerns that in some cases the police should be able to issue a suspension notice with effect from the moment an offender is arrested at the roadside until they appear in court. Although we must do all we can to improve the safety of our roads, we must not, in an attempt to resolve perceived problems with the way in which the law operates, make a decision that could ultimately make things worse or have other unforeseen effects.

Let me turn to the current offence of failure to stop and report, and the calls for the suspension of driving licences. Currently, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the police can impose bail conditions for particular purposes, as was mentioned earlier. One of those conditions is that no further offences are committed by the suspect while on bail. I asked the very question that the hon. Member for Neath raised, but I was unable to get the answers that she wants, so I will endeavour to write to her with that information. That might not be possible, because the information may not be collected in the first place, but I understand the need for more information, which it might be possible to seek through the courts. I assure Members that we will work with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.

The criminal courts also have the power to impose an interim driving disqualification before sentencing in a case involving discretionary or obligatory disqualification from driving, or when transferring such a case to another court. I want to make it clear, however, that the Government do not dismiss at all the concerns that have been raised. We are, of course, aware of the traumatic effects of such incidents.

I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members appreciate that this is a complex issue that should fit within the current driving offences framework. Department for Transport officials have been exploring options that could be pursued, and they will consider with interest the points that have been raised in the debate as part of their consideration of road traffic matters. In respect of any potential law changes for road traffic offences, we will consider the triangulation of interests—those of the victim, the suspect and society. A call for evidence will enable issues to be fully explored, so as a next step, the Department will conduct a call for evidence on parts of the Road Traffic Act 1988. While details on its scope are being worked on, I am sure close attention is being paid to the points raised and to the campaign for Tom’s law.

Johnny Mercer Portrait Johnny Mercer
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I appreciate the Minister’s response. She said that her officials will look at this debate and build it into a consultation. Will she ask her officials to write to me, as the constituents’ MP, with a reflection on today’s debate? The points raised are clear. I do not know if she has a reason, but there appears to be no clear reason why, with the technology available today, if someone fails a drink and drive test by the roadside, they should retain their licence. I would be interested to hear the Department’s position on that.

Trudy Harrison Portrait Trudy Harrison
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I will endeavour to do just that. I will ensure that we write to my hon. Friend with that information as far as we can.

Most of all, I would like to thank Christina, Charlotte and Sandra for their bravery and courage campaigning for Tom’s law, and for being present for this debate. I expect the issue of police powers in serious road crime to form part of the call for evidence.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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It is welcome news that the Minister’s Department is looking into this matter. I think she made a commitment for a consultation, and it is welcome that it will be included. Her officials may say that the suspension of a driving licence should be a Home Office matter, but in her Department, would she look at penalty points notices? As it stands, someone who causes death by careless driving with alcohol and drugs above the limit can be subject to three to 11 points on their licence, and over that their licence is removed. The option of suspended penalty points means they can be applied to the licence in the period before conviction, which is another means of achieving what Tom’s law seeks to do. That is not necessarily a licence suspension, but an application, albeit temporary until a court process, of penalty notices or penalty point endorsements.

Trudy Harrison Portrait Trudy Harrison
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I thank hon. Gentleman for making those points. He will understand that I am not the roads Minister, and I am responding on the behalf of the roads Minister, Baroness Vere of Norbiton. Officials in the Department will be listening closely to what he says and will endeavour to take that into account. He is correct to mention a consultation; a call for evidence will be taken forward.

Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees
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I thank the Minister for her magnanimous delivery, which is very measured. However, I have trouble with three things. First, if someone is released under investigation is that under guidance rather than under statute? Secondly, she referred to the data for which I asked—is that because it is not collected nationally, or because separate police forces do not have the IT or the staff to do it? Thirdly, I have a problem with RUI as opposed to police bail. The Minister must be aware of the tragic case of Kay Richardson, who was murdered by her estranged husband after he was released under investigation. He had previous domestic abuse convictions, but bail conditions might have protected her.

Trudy Harrison Portrait Trudy Harrison
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I am afraid I cannot answer the wider questions on RUI. When I asked for the information, I was led to understand that it was not collected, which is why I am seeking further information through the courts system. We will get that information and I will endeavour to respond to the hon. Lady on those specific requests as soon as I can.

I thank hon. Members again for raising this important issue and for the campaign for Tom’s law.