Photo of the scales of justice
The scale of things: Photo flckr cc; Jesse Loughborough

"My Government will" - do nothing about this

Three years since it was first promised, three Justice Secretaries later, nine thousand consultation responses, a two-year legislative programme, but we are still waiting for new legislation on road traffic offences and penalties. As the Queen announces what the Government will do in the next two years, Duncan Dollimore explains that there is silence on the promise to tackle bad driving and improve road safety.

Woeful Wednesday

It took the Queen nine minutes on Wednesday to announce the Government's legislative plans for the next two years, listing a number of Bills which it intends to put before Parliament over the next two years. The Queen's Speech usually sets out the parliamentary agenda for the next year, but the Government has already cancelled next year's speech, so what we heard this week were the priorities for the next two years not just one.

Cycling UK issued a press release commenting on some legislative opportunities, but there's no hiding from it - for those who have campaigned and lobbied for changes in how the criminal justice system deals with driving offences there was a woeful omission in Wednesday's speech: complete silence on motoring offences and penalties.

Nothing to be done

It was back in May 2014 that, following lobbying by Cycling UK and others, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling first announced a full review of all driving offences and penalties. The original promise that this would be undertaken "over the next few months", with a view to changing the law "shortly" and changes "expected to be implemented in early 2015", has sadly been oft-repeated, but never fulfilled.

The review got stuck in first gear under Grayling's watch, and the clutch remained stuck after Michael Gove replaced Grayling at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) the following year. Waiting for progress was like Waiting for Godot, Beckett's play where there is nothing to be done, and nothing happens. 

Answering questions with platitudes

In response to repeated written questions about delay and when the outcome of any review would be published, three different ministers gave the same "in due course" response five times within eight months, seemingly unaware that answering questions with platitudes doesn't wash for ever.    

With the "in due course" mantra wearing thin, Liz Truss took up the Justice Secretary mantle as Gove fell out of favour after last summer's Brexit vote. That led to another promise that a consultation on a review of motoring offences would commence before Christmas, although there were concerns that the remit of the review appeared to be shrinking. 

Whilst Cycling UK was relieved when the consultation was finally launched in December, we were dismayed that the focus was primarily on longer prison sentences for the most serious offences: a cut-price narrow remit review when what was needed was the wider review of all offences and penalties. This is what all too many of the 1,700 people killed on Britain's roads each year deserve, had been promised, and were waiting for.  

9,000 responses - but is anyone listening?

We had of course been told by Theresa May on day one in Government that hers was a Government that would listen, something MoJ Minister Sam Gyimah repeated when encouraging contributions to the consultation on wider concerns. Cycling UK duly accepted that invitation and duly responded to the consultation outlining, amongst other issues, the need for a complete review of the law on 'careless' and 'dangerous' driving, and changes to ensure the greater use of driving disqualification as a sentencing option.

We weren't alone. Over nine thousand people also responded, more than for any previous MoJ consultation. It was anticipated that the Government would publish its proposals by May, but of course a general election was called to strengthen the Prime Minister's mandate, with purdah rules postponing publication until after the election.

The Ministry of Justice merry-go-round

We're still waiting, but no longer for Grayling, Gove or Truss, because the ministerial merry-go-round has now moved David Lidington to the Justice Secretary job: the fourth person to oversee this review since its announcement back in 2014. Cycling UK wrote to him immediately following his appointment, to press the case, unsuccessfully, for a commitment in the Queen's speech for new legislation on motoring offences and penalties. It wasn't mentioned in a speech for a two-year parliamentary session, and we still don't have the MoJ's views on the 9,000 consultation responses they received.

There is no point pretending that this is not a bitter pill to swallow, particularly after three years of promises, prevarication and procrastination. Cycling UK will be exploring ways to try and make sure this issue does not disappear from the agenda, which may include consideration of private member's bills and amendments to other legislation brought before Parliament.

Road safety should not be party political

Whatever we do, however, there must be a very simple message: road safety should not be a party political issue.

The definitions of careless and dangerous driving, and how to reduce the risks posed by dangerous drivers, are not questions of political ideology where the opinions of red, blue and rainbow MPs should be dictated by a party line. Whoever your MP, and whatever their party, you might want to remind them that we're still waiting for a review of motoring offences and penalties which was promised three years ago, supposedly to introduce new laws to make our roads safer, protect the public and make sure those who cause harm face tough penalties. 

What are they going to do to raise this in Parliament?

We won't be giving up on this, and will be speaking to other road safety and campaign organisations to ensure that the pressure to do something is maintained, but if you want something to happen, and you're tired of waiting for successive Justice Secretary's to progress this, tell your MP. You never know, they might need your vote some time soon!   

                 

DuncanDollimore