HC Deb 01 April 1981 vol 2 cc290-1 3.33 pm
Mr. Gerry Neale (Cornwall, North)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to give powers for the police to detain short-term visitors to Great Britain whom they suspect of having committed serious traffic offences. The Bill would extend police powers to arrest foreign drivers of vehicles involved in road accidents and to impound vehicles not registered in the United Kingdom involved in road accidents, and to introduce bail bonds for drivers of foreign-registered vehicles entering the United Kingdom. The bond would be in the maximum sum of £5,000 for vehicle damage and £5,000 for each person injured in the accident, and could be required pending the release of the driver and/or vehicle.

The Bill would prevent the evasion of criminal and civil proceedings to the cost of United Kingdom residents involved in accidents by the hurried and uninhibited return by foreigners to their countries of residence.

I give two examples. Two constituents of mine were involved in an accident with a German-registered car driven by a German. The driver was charged but never appeared before the court, so my constituents were unable to establish liability without expensive international court action, and thus suffered substantial loss.

Secondly, a lorry owned and driven by a French onion grower, who came here regularly on business, was involved in a serious accident. The driver was charged, but the summons was not served because he stopped coming here, in order to avoid court proceedings. It could be facetiously said that he knew his onions, and one or two of my hon. Friends may say that it is a good thing if it stops the French selling onions to us, but fair-minded people will join me in maintaining that there is an unfair inadequacy in our law.

I do not argue the merits or demerits of the harmonisation of law in Community member States on the punishment of road traffic offences, but there has been no harmonisation in this area. Driving convictions cannot be enforced and cases cannot be tried in other member States. Despite the European convention on the punishment of road traffic offences, which has been ratified and signed by several nations, the United Kingdom has steadfastly remained non-committal.

Our police have the right of arrest in certain instances, but their powers are insufficient. Drivers of overloaded foreign vehicles entering the country can be arrested only if, having been served with a prohibition order to change the load, they disobey. Foreign drivers can be arrested for drink-driving offences or if they have been disqualified from driving under our road traffic laws. They can also be arrested if they are found to be driving a stolen vehicle. However, it is astonishing that our police have no power to arrest drivers causing death by dangerous driving. They can arrest a driver only if they witness the reckless or careless driving and if the driver then gives false information.

Although there are not many such incidents, United Kingdom citizens involved as third parties suffer consideraable losses. About 1.3 million overseas visitors a year come here by car, which involves about 400,000 vehicles. We are all aware of the foreign trucks and juggernauts that come here.

In this country we are obliged to comply with the criminal and civil laws relating to the use of vehicles on our roads and to insure for third party risk. It is made as difficult as possible for United Kingdom citizens to avoid their legal liabilities arising out of road accidents. I believe that my Bill would make it more difficult for foreign drivers to avoid their liability. I seek leave to present my Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Gerry Neale.