A Strong Voice for Croydon Central - Gavin Barwell MP
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Speech about Lillian’s Law
16/05/2012 06:46:00

On 14th May I made a speech in the debate on the Queen's Speech about Lillian's Law. If you're interested, here's the video with full text beneath:

I will focus my remarks today on one particular measure in one particular Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech. I have been lobbying for the measure for some months, and I hope the House will forgive me for focusing on this alone.

On 26 June 2010, my constituent Lillian Groves, a 14-year-old girl, was killed outside her home by a driver under the influence of drugs. Subsequently, it transpired that he was driving a car that was not licensed in his name, uninsured, at 43 mph in a 30 mph zone. A half-smoked joint of cannabis was found on the dashboard, but sadly the police did not swiftly perform a drug test. Only after Lillian passed away in hospital, some nine hours later, was the driver’s blood tested. Cannabis was found in his blood and he subsequently admitted to having taken cannabis, but the Crown Prosecution Service concluded that the level was not high enough - the family was never told what the level was - to warrant the more serious charge of causing death while driving under the influence of drugs. The man was charged with causing death by careless driving and causing death while driving uninsured. On 7 July, he was sentenced to just eight months in prison, and was released after serving four months.

The driver who killed Lillian lives locally, so the family has to confront the fact that, now that he has been released from prison, they will from time to time meet this man - who has never apologised to them for causing the death of their daughter - as they go about their business in their local community.

Lillian’s parents, Gary and Natasha, and her aunt and uncle came to see me at one of my surgeries in the autumn after the sentence had been handed down and shortly before the individual was due to be released from prison. A parent myself, I cannot say how high is the regard in which I hold the family. To suffer the tragedy of losing a child and not to be consumed by bitterness, but instead to focus on how to ensure that positive change can come out of such a terrible event, has to be commended by everyone. I also commend the Croydon Advertiser and in particular journalist Gareth Davies, who has worked with the family and designed a campaign for what they call Lillian’s Law.

Lillian’s Law is a package of measures. It has four elements, the first of which is a change in the law. At present, it is an offence to drive under the influence of drugs, but the law is not the same as in relation to drink-driving. There is no set level of drug in a person’s system above which they are held to be incapable of driving, so the prosecution has to prove that the person’s driving was affected by the drugs in their system, which is not easy. The second element is the licensing of equipment similar to the breathalyser alcohol test that can be used either at the roadside or in police stations. The third is a policy of tougher sentencing for those who commit such crimes, and the fourth is a series of random tests, similar to those carried out in the 1980s for drink-driving, to get across the messages, first, that it is unacceptable to drive under the influence of drugs and, secondly, that people who do so are liable to be caught.

After the family came to speak to me, I did a lot of research. To be fair, the previous Government was aware of the problem and had looked for ways to tackle it, but the work had become bogged down and a number of different Government Departments were involved. I therefore decided to go straight to the top and raised the subject in this Chamber during Prime Minister’s questions. The Prime Minister met the Groves family, took up their case and has worked with the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Department for Transport to ensure that the first key element of the package - a change in the law - is included in the Crime and Courts Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech.

At this point, I wish to pay tribute to a couple of other people. Christopher Chope MP has previously pursued the issue via a private Member’s Bill. I also thank my hon. The MP for Eastbourne, Stephen Lloyd, and for Orpington, Jo Johnson, who have among their constituents members of the extended Groves family and have supported the campaign.

In yesterday’s debate on the Queen’s Speech, the Leader of the Opposition, perhaps understandably, quoted remarks by MP for Mid Bedfordshire, Nadine Dorries, who said that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor were “two arrogant posh boys who show no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to understand the lives of others.”

I am very disappointed that she said those words. I can understand why the Leader of the Opposition quoted them, but I hope that he and other Opposition Members do not personally believe them. My experience is that Members on both sides of the House have a passion for understanding the lives of others and changing our country for the better. When we try to pretend that the motives of people who disagree with us about the means of doing so are maligned, we do politics as a whole a disservice.

The experience of the Groves family, when they met the Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing Street, was not of someone who did not have a passion to understand the lives of others, or of someone who, as the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, was standing up “for the wrong people.” They met one of the very few Members of this House who can personally understand the experience that they have been through in losing their child - someone who took a great deal of time to listen to what they had to say and to understand the issue, and who then took up their cause. On a personal level, on their behalf, I thank the Prime Minister for what he has done. I would like to ask the Front Bench detailed questions about where we go from here.

I understand that drugs-testing devices for police stations are already being tested. Perhaps Ministers could give an update on how that testing is going. Will they indicate when they might be in a position to begin testing devices for use at the roadside? I understand that an expert panel is looking at what levels should be set for each drug. That applies to illegal drugs and some prescription drugs that, if taken in significant quantities, make it unsafe to drive a car. I wonder if we could have an update on the progress that that panel is making. I would also be interested to hear what the proposed sentencing policy is for the new offence that will be set out in the Bill.

I should like to end by making a few comments on what the shadow Home Secretary had to say about police cuts, and on some of the questions that she fielded from Government Members. She tried to contend that Government Members do not know or understand the pressures that the police forces are under. In relation to my local borough operational command unit, I spent three days during this House’s ludicrously long holidays shadowing police officers in Croydon. I spent a day with a safer neighbourhoods’ team, a day with a response team, and a day with the robbery squad in Croydon. I saw for myself the enormous pressures that they are under, and I heard officers’ concerns about the combined effect of a pay freeze, pension reform and the Winsor review recommendations.

Government Members are certainly not unsympathetic to the case that police officers make, or ungrateful for the huge amount of work that they have done. I am particularly grateful for the work they did in my constituency in the wake of the riots. However, we find it very difficult when Opposition Members seek to avoid any responsibility for the financial mess in which the country finds itself. The level of deficit that this Government inherited is not solely the fault of the Labour Government - they had to intervene in a recession, and we understand that - but the Labour Government did make a contribution to the scale of that deficit.

The shadow Home Secretary was asked to say in detail where, if the Opposition’s proposal is for a cut of £1 billion in police funding, she would find the other £1 billion that is needed. She tried two arguments. First, she said that the scale of the cuts that the coalition proposes goes beyond what Labour would do, but that is not actually Labour’s policy. Labour’s policy is that the structural deficit should be dealt with over two Parliaments, rather than just one. That implies the same cuts over a longer period.

The second point that the shadow Home Secretary made was that growth was the answer; the problem was that the Government’s policies on growth were failing. We all want growth, but growth does not deal with the structural deficit. By definition, a structural deficit is one that remains however much economic growth there is. The challenge to those on the Opposition Front Bench is still there. There is a structural deficit to be dealt with. The amount is agreed by both parties. If the Opposition does not support a particular cut that the Government proposes, where will they find the money that is needed as an alternative? Until they come up with an answer to that question, they will have no credibility.

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