HC Deb 15 January 1964 vol 687 cc214-8
42. Mr. Strauss

asked the Minister of Transport what steps he proposes to take to discover the cause and prevent the repetition of the doubling of road deaths and injuries during the Christmas period.

43 and 44. Mr. G. Thomas

asked the Minister of Transport (1) whether he is aware of public concern at the loss of life due to road accidents at Christmas; and what steps he proposes to take to prohibit motorists driving after drinking alcohol;

(2) whether he will establish a committee to inquire into the relation between the Christmas road accidents and the drinking of alcohol by drivers: and whether he will make a statement.

49. Mr. George Craddock

asked the Minister of Transport what form the inquiry into the large number of fatal road accidents during the Christmas holiday will take.

52. Mr. Gresham Cooke

asked the Minister of Transport what form the special inquiry into road deaths at Christmas will take; by whom it will be carried out; whether it will take into account the questions of drink, road conditions, the wearing of safety belts, and the driving experience of the drivers concerned; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Marples

I have asked the Road Research Laboratory to conduct a full and detailed inquiry into the fatal road accidents during the Christmas holiday period. The investigation will be designed to establish, so far as the evidence is available, all the relevant circumstances of each accident so that a detailed statistical analysis can be made. It will cover the possible effect that drinking may have had. I must wait to see what facts the investigation reveals before considering what action to take.

Mr. Strauss

I welcome such a comprehensive inquiry, but can there really be any doubt that the heavy incidence of road deaths during the Christmas period, which is invariable, is primarily the result of heavier drinking during the festive season? Since the Scandinavian countries, where much more drastic action is taken against drunken driving, had practically no road deaths during the Christmas period, will the right hon. Gentleman now consider adopting legislative measures similar to those operating in those countries, as my hon Friends and I pressed him to do when the 1962 Road Traffic Bill was before the House, which proposals he rejected at that time?

Mr. Marples

That would, of course, necessitate legislation. The new legislation introduced in 1962 altered the definition of drunken driving from "unfit to drive" to …if his ability to drive properly is for the time being impaired". It required the courts to consider chemical tests and it increased the period of disqualification for a second offence within 10 years to a minimum of three years. That has been operative for nearly a year and we should see how it goes. [Hon. Members: "No."] If the report of the Road Research Laboratory shows conclusively that drink was a factor, I would not hesitate to bring proposals before the House.

Mr. Strauss

Did the Minister say that if the report shows drunken driving as a cause of the accidents over the Christmas period he will introduce legislation similar to that in operation in the Scandinavian countries?

Mr. Marples

If the Road Research Laboratory inquiry showed that drink was an important factor, and the power under the 1962 Act was insufficient, I would not hesitate to come forward with some proposal to the House.

Mr. Craddock

I thank the Minister for the coverage he has given this matter, but is he satisfied that the existing regulations are being observed? Is he aware that I can take him to Whitehall at 9.30 on any morning during the week, where he will see vehicles being driven at 55 m.p.h.? I have been a driver now for 30 years. If this kind of thing is allowed to take place on our roads, are we not bound to have many accidents?

Mr. Marples

The enforcement of the regulations is not a question for me, as Minister; it is really a question for the police.

Mr. Lubbock

Does not the Minister agree that this inquiry by the Road Research Laboratory will not be successful in establishing whether drink is an important factor in the cause of accidents over the Christmas period, because the only statistics available are the cases where prosecutions are brought, and the police do not automatically make a record that someone has been drinking when they do not subsequently bring a prosecution?

Secondly, would the right hon. Gentleman agree that public opinion is strongly in favour of strengthening the law against drinking while driving? Has he had a chance to study the figures I sent to him, which show that the overwhelming majority of the people questioned in public opinion polls conducted in my constituency were in favour both of legislation along the Scandinavian lines and of imposing stiffer penalties for drunken driving?

Mr. Marples

As for the first part of the hon. Member's supplementary question, it is not true that the Road Research Laboratory will not have the actual evidence before it. It will have not only the police reports, but the coroners' reports and any medical reports there may be when it goes into the cause of deaths; therefore, it will have a complete report. I have no doubt that the Laboratory's report will be better than the previous one, because the work has been started earlier and the staff there have already had experience of the work. With regard to the "Gallup poll" that the hon. Member conducted in his own constituency, I did not think the sample adequate, nor did I think the questions quite fair.

Mr. John Hall

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that, despite the very stringent control in Sweden of drivers who have taken alcohol in extreme, nevertheless the numbers of deaths per 10,000 of population in Sweden are almost twice as many as those in this country?

Mr. Marples

I think that I will confine my attention to this country, if my hon. Friend will permit me.

Mr. Blackburn

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that another inquiry is necessary? Is he aware that many of us believe that he himself knows a good many of the answers, and that there are 629 hon. Members prepared to tell him any that he does not know?

Mr. Marples

Unfortunately, there are 625 hon. Members, not 629, I think, and all of them have differing views.

Mrs. Slater

Does not the Minister think that, while awaiting this report, he should take the opportunity of consulting the Home Secretary on the great discrepancy there is between the fines imposed in different parts of the country for the same kind of accident? Is he aware that it is not only a question of the deaths of people, but of people who are injured, possibly for life, or who will suffer for a very long time because of road accidents? Would he, therefore, consult the Home Office immediately?

Mr. Marples

I am in constant touch with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and perhaps the hon. Lady will put a Question down to him.

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