Rory spoke in a Westminster Hall today on ‘Road Safety and the Legal Framework’. Watch it here:

I will do, Mr Betts; it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. It is also a pleasure to take part in the debate. It is extraordinary; some of our most active and fittest colleagues are gathered in the Chamber to debate something that is very close to their hearts, and close to the hearts of millions of people up and down the country.

I will begin by reflecting on the point made by my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston, which was that, fundamentally, there is much more that we can do to protect cyclists, but we also need to reinforce the central message that immobility is much more dangerous for one’s health than walking or getting on a bicycle. In fact, the beginning of all this has to be our understanding of just how powerful and beneficial cycling and walking can be. Cycling is not only—as most of us who cycle know—the quickest way of getting to this place in the morning, it is also a way of moving that is much less damaging to the environment and much better for our health in the most astonishing range of ways. It is better for our weight, our bowels, our hearts, our skin, our sex lives—[Laughter.] Yes, much better for our sex lives; recent studies in the United States have shown that men who cycle regularly have the sex life of somebody five years younger than the average. Cycling is also much better for happiness. It should be greatly encouraged, and the more people we can get cycling and walking, the better.

The corollary is that if we are to encourage people to walk and cycle, we need to make sure that they can do so safely. Far too many people still are injured or killed while cycling. In any given year recently, more than 100 people on bicycles have been killed on the roads. We need to take that seriously, while also putting it in the context that, overall, we are making huge improvements in road safety.

Famously, for example, in 1926 when far fewer people owned motorcars, 5,000 people were killed on the roads. As recently as 1966, 8,000 people were killed in motor accidents in a year. Today, although still far too high, the number is 1,700—despite the fact that far more people own motorcars than in 1966 or, of course, 1926. We therefore should not be entirely gloomy. The second thing to put into context is that, as some right hon. and hon. Members have pointed out, it is not only cyclists whom we need to think about in terms of vulnerable road users.

My hon. Friend Derek Thomas pointed out that 40 people a year on horses are killed on the roads, and far fewer people ride horses than bicycles, so proportionately someone is much more likely to be killed on a horse. About 400 or 450 people are killed walking and, as Mr Sheerman reminded us, a similar number are killed on motorcycles—people are extremely vulnerable on a motorcycle on the road. Finally, of course, the largest number of people are killed in a motor vehicle. We should not suggest that anyone killed in a motor vehicle somehow deserves it because many are innocent victims, including children and families, who just happen to be travelling in that vehicle when it is hit.

Any approach to the subject therefore has to be comprehensive. I want to pay particular tribute to Ruth Cadbury and to my hon. Friend John Lamont, the Member for the borders. They managed to provide a very comprehensive description of the range of things that need to happen if we are to protect cyclists. That begins right at the beginning in the way that we train people who drive motorcars, so with The Highway Code, and thinking about things such as the Dutch reach and how tests are conducted or professional drivers might be retested. It extends to road design and, as my hon. Friend Mr Jones pointed out, questions of enforcement, not only sentencing but how the police conduct themselves, how evidence is gathered and how prosecutions are brought. As my hon. Friend Andrew Selous said, it also extends to thinking about rest periods for drivers, the potholes in the roads or, as Matt Western pointed out, questions of a changing gig economy and the kind of people travelling in our vehicles.

All of that needs to be the context, which is why we argue strongly that any real response must take into account not just us in the Ministry of Justice but the Department for Transport and the Home Office. Nevertheless, I am a Ministerfrom the Ministry of Justice, so I will touch briefly on some of the legal issues raised by right hon. and hon. Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk emphasised the serious issue of failure to stop. In examining it and making progress, we need to take into account the fact that there is a fundamental difference between the expectations of someone to report a driving offence, and of a burglar or murderer to report their offence: the premise, or presupposition, is that the driving offence is an accidental act. We therefore expect an individual of good will to have a duty of care and a responsibility to help the vulnerable victim in a way that the individual involved in other types of crime might not. That fundamental understanding of the difference between this type of crime and others should inform the approach that we take to the question of the failure to stop and the strong arguments made by my hon. Friend from the borders and others that we should increase the penalty.

Jim Fitzpatrick mentioned hardship, again a very serious point. There seems to be a serious discrepancy in the number of people able to claim extreme hardship. A small footnote to that, however, a caveat, is that it is important to remember that not all those claims of extreme hardship relate to the individual driving the motorcar; they often relate to the dependants of that individual—for example, a child with special needs who requires motorcar travel. Extreme hardship can therefore extend beyond the individual to the family. Nevertheless, I recognise that the number of people making such claims seems disproportionately large.

My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes mentioned restorative justice, but at the centre of everything is the question of careless or dangerous driving. That was discussed by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth, Stuart C. McDonald, who reflected on those distinctions, and Yasmin Qureshi, who made some interesting jurisprudential points on culpability and consequence or, as she framed it, the objective test of the damage done compared with the subjective question of intent.

That is not something that should be trivialised or put aside—it is a fundamental principle of English law. On the one hand, we have the incredibly stark and horrifying impact on the victim and the victim’s family—the hon. Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about that eloquently and movingly. That death and its consequences are final, destroying a life and the families that surround it, with eddying ripples that extend into broader society. On the other hand, that has to be balanced, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield pointed out, with seriousness about the nature of what happened at that moment. Some situations are genuinely accidents, and in others some of us might feel, “There but for the grace of God go I.” There is an important distinction between a careless act and a dangerous act. All of that needs to be balanced with the impact on the victim.

We have therefore concluded that we must now extend the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving to a life sentence, and the maximum penalty for causing death by careless driving under the influence of drink—alcohol—to a life sentence as well. That has been a difficult decision because of the question of balancing the impact on the victim with the culpability of the individual. However, in the end, the conclusion must be that someone who commits an extremely dangerous act in a vehicle is driving a weapon and committing an unlawful act. Ultimately, if a death results, that is morally equivalent to unlawful act manslaughter. Individuals under the influence of drink or drugs who get into a vehicle knowingly propel an extremely dangerous weapon, having consciously made a decision to incapacitate themselves. That is in direct contravention of their duty of care towards other road users and is therefore equivalent to gross negligence manslaughter. They should therefore face the penalty of a life sentence as a maximum.

In response to the questions asked by Liz McInnes, therefore, we will be do that. I will not delay people or waste their time with explanations about why, particularly in the middle of Brexit, parliamentary time has been limited, or why we feel that we need to take a comprehensive approach that brings in the Department for Transport and the Home Office, but we are determined to do it. That is because cycling is incredibly important for our health, our environment and our connections with landscape and society. We have a particular duty of care and obligation to vulnerable road users. With that, I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to an extremely stimulating and important debate, which will change the law.

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