§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of the Bill is made clear in the first paragraph of the Explanatory Memorandum, that is:… to make it an offence for a person to be in charge of a motor vehicle or to try to drive it when he has a prescribed quantity of alcohol in his blood.1081 In short, just as we have a speed limit for certain roads and certain vehicles irrespective of whether the driver can drive safely in particular circumstances so this Bill would set what I might call a drink limit.
The Bill is intended to prevent the most unnecessary as well as the most unforgivable type of accident on the road, the accident caused by the driver who has been drinking. It is intended as a deterrent to people who might, as a result of drink, drive a vehicle to the danger of themselves and other road users. I do not present it as a Measure primarily intended to catch the drinking driver or as a Measure to make certain that he does not get off when he is caught. Hon. Members may know of many cases in which a driver was a grave danger on the road as a result of drinking but has yet escaped conviction. There is no doubt that, if the Bill becomes law, such public dangers will not so easily escape conviction, but if, as a result of this Bill or another like it becoming an Act, convictions for impairment of driving ability by reason of drink increase, I shall feel that it will have failed in its purpose.
My earnest hope is that the Bill will create the spread of a social habit which is already widely accepted, that of not drinking before driving. I make that remark as one who himself drinks. I make no case in the Bill for total abstinence, and the Bill is not put forward as a "Teetotaller's Charter." Indeed, that could not be supported on facts which have come to light from investigations. The man who drinks and keeps his drinking under control—who has about one-third of the drink limit which I will mention later on—is less accident-prone than the teetotaller. So I do not put the Bill forward as one for total abstinence. It is a Bill for the ordinary man when he is driving his car.
I believe that if Parliament legislates for a specific alcohol limit for those who drive, the vast majority of drivers will respect that limit and the result will be a substantial decrease in the rate of accidents. I will try not to burden the House with statistics, but a couple of figures from the return of offences relating to motor vehicles for 1963 are significant.
The two offences relating to driving or being in charge of a vehicle when under 1082 the influence of drink during that year totalled 9,280. The offence of reckless or dangerous driving came to almost exactly the same figure—9,777. So there are rather more than 9,000 cases a year of reckless and rather more than 9,000 cases of driving or being in charge of a car when under the influence of drink, and most of the latter 9,000 arise out of accidents. It is seldom that a man is prosecuted unless his conduct has come to light through an accident happening. I believe that with a drink limit many of these accidents would be avoided.
I realise that to substantiate that statement I ought to show that the present law is inadequate as a prevention of accidents or as a deterrent to drivers who drink. Perhaps I might dispose of one incidental point right away. It may be said that the drunken pedestrian causes perhaps as many accidents as the drunken driver. In this Bill I am dealing with only one thing at a time. Before now I have presented Bills to this House and Amendments to other Bills in which I have sought to penalise the drunken pedestrian as well. But let us deal with one thing at a time.
I think it true to say now that, with the realisation of the menace of the drinking driver the public are ready to have the law tightened up. The law has been tightened over the years against the drinking driver. Prior to 1925 there was no special provision at all to make him an offender. The Criminal Justice Act, 1925, made it an offence to be drunk while in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle. The Road Traffic Act, 1930, made it an offence to be under the influence of drink to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of a vehicle, and by the Road Traffic Act. 1962, the offence is nowif the driver's ability to drive properly is for the time being impaired by reasons of drink.This phrase in itself might well be sufficient and make the law adequate if it could be adequately applied in practice. I do not think it is necessary for me at this moment in the development of our road traffic law or in the development of our traffic to prove the necessity for impairment of driving ability by reason of drink to be an offence. I am sure that the public fully accept that it should be an offence and fully accept that such impairment causes 1083 accidents on the roads and is so likely to cause accidents that it is the duty of the State to try to prevent the resultant loss of life and limb. After the recent report of the British Medical Association no Government could go back on that. In fact, no Government could, I think, after that report do other than go forward into the sort of reform which I am proposing in the Bill.
I will, very briefly, justify the fact that impairment of driving ability should be an offence by this logical argument. The human factor is the main cause of accidents. Some may be caused by mechanical defects or by road defects, but mainly it is the human factor. The very great majority of accidents are due to errors of judgment or to absence of quick reaction to emergency, and a driver should always be ready to take avoiding action against an unexpected event. By taking even small quantities of alcohol he deprives himself of full judgment and full reaction. Drink makes a driver either slow or slapdash in his reactions to a situation, slow to make a correction and overcorrecting when he does take action, coupled with over-confidence causing speeding and the taking of risks.
Here are all the ingredients of an accident, and, indeed, of a serious accident as a rule. The drink limit proposed is 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. Drivers with that quantity causing accidents cause twice as many fatal or serious accidents as drivers who have had no drink at all. I emphasise that there are twice as many fatal or serious accidents in that category.
As to the effect on the overall accident figures, the investigations, which are by now very thorough, have shown that at the limit of 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood the driver is four times as likely to cause an accident than if he had not been drinking, and if one doubles the quantity—taking it as, say, 150 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood—the driver is 25 times as likely to cause an accident. These are very impressive figures which have come from the very thorough investigations which have been made.
I do not need to labour that point. We have it in the Statute Book that it is an offence if the driver's ability to drive is impaired. But how can we measure that 1084 impairment in the absence of provisions such as I propose in the Bill? At present we do it by the evidence of a policeman, of his observation of the accused at the material time—we know the phrases only too well: "He staggered as he got out of his car. His speech was slurred. His breath smelt." and so on—and by the clinical medical examination of a doctor at the police station. Perhaps, with the consent of the accused or suspect, there is a urine test. Less likely, there is a blood test. But, frequently, it is purely on observation and a clinical examination.
It is abundantly clear from the scientific examinations which have taken place that observation and clinical examination of that kind is unreliable as evidence in detecting such a deterioration in driving performance as to make the driver dangerous on the road. In short, mere observation of conduct is no proof of driving ability. The only sure test is a biochemical one. Let me quote from the B.M.A.'s Report of 1960, "Relation of Alcohol to Road Accidents", in which it came to a number of conclusions, of which I shall read only four. The Report said:Relatively low concentrations of alcohol in the tissues cause a deterioration in driving performance and increase appreciably the likelihood of accidents.The existing legislation does not come into effective operation until a very much higher concentration of alcohol in the tissues has been reached, and is unsuccessful as a measure to prevent accidents caused by alcohol.Clinical examination in the absence of biochemical tests is neither sufficiently sensitive nor reliable enough to detect deterioration in driving performance of this degree.A clinical examination is an essential part of the examination of persons suspected of driving vehicles under the influence of alcohol, since it is the only way of detecting physical illness and the presence and extent of any injury.That was the B.M.A.'s view in 1960 and it has enlarged on that in a recent Report entitled, "The Drinking Driver" in which it shows quite clearly that the clinical medical examination is not sufficient to detect dangerous impairment of driving ability, but says that it is still necessary so as to exclude any other cause for that impairment. Therefore, although one may set a drink limit at a certain quantity of alcohol in the blood. it will still be necessary. so as to ensure that a person's impairment of driving ability is not due to some factor other than 1085 drink or drug, for some other clinical examination to take place.
I come back to the B.M.A.'s 1960 Report in which it expressed the belief that there would be a substantial reduction in accidents if it were an offence to drive with a certain quantity of alcohol in the blood. The Association said:The Committee considers that a concentration of 50 mg. of alcohol in 100 ml. of blood while driving a motor vehicle is the highest that can be accepted as entirely consistent with the safety of other road users. While there may be circumstances in which individual driving ability will not depreciate significantly by the time this level is reached, the Committee is impressed by the rapidity with which deterioration occurs at blood levels in excess of 100 mg./100 ml. This is true even in the case of hardened drinkers and expert drivers. The Committee cannot conceive of any circumstances in which it could be considered safe for a person to drive a motor vehicle on the public roads with an amount of alcohol in the blood greater than 150 mg./100 ml.That was the B.M.A.'s 1960 Report, and in a further examination of those figures in its 1965 Report, "The Drinking Driver", it fixed the drinking limit at milligrammes per 100 millilitres, and said:We believe that analysis of the concentration of alcohol in the body affords the best available scientific evidence of impairment of the ability to drive properly due to alcohol, and we recommend that it should be made an offence for a person with a blood alcohol concentration in excess of 80 mg./l00 ml. to drive a motor vehicle on the public highway.That is the considered conclusion of the B.M.A. and its advice to us in this House in connection with legislation. I think, therefore, that every reasonable and every reasoning person is obliged to admit that that limit which it quotes makes a driver a danger on the road, and that observation and clinical tests are unsatisfactory, and are a hit-or-miss method in what is so frequently a life or death matter.
We still have to face two problems: First, what does 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres mean in quantities of drink? This is what the ordinary man, unfortunately, wants to know—how many whiskies and how many beers does it mean? That is one problem. The second problem is what is the practical test to be made in order to ascertain how much alcohol there is in a person's tissues?
On the first point, as to the conversion of this figure into the amount of 1086 drink, it would be very convenient if we could say that X milligrammes equal Y pints of beer, or tots of whisky, but we cannot do that. I think that we must face this fairly and squarely. It is inherent in this whole business that the offence is the presence of a certain quantity of alcohol in the blood and not the drinking of a certain amount of alcohol. It is not such an alarming proposition to make it an offence to have a certain quantity of alcohol in the blood, rather than to make it an offence to drink a certain amount. Drunkenness itself is not defined, except jokingly, as the drinking of eight or more pints of beer. Drunkenness is a condition which may result from drinking two pints, or from drinking ten. The law at present speaks only in connection with driving in a condition of impaired driving ability. It does not mention quantities consumed to bring that about, so the proposal to make the alcohol content the offence is really making the commission of it much more, not less, predictable for the potential offender.
I say that because we are scientifically assured that although the degree of impairment of driving ability varies between different individuals, and indeed in the same individual at different times, the variable factors responsible for those differences are dominated by alcohol when that alcohol reaches a concentration of 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres. Under ordinary social drinking, one absorbs and eliminates alcohol all the time both during and after the drinking period. The rate of absorption of the alcohol depends on the speed at which one drinks, on the nature of the drink, on the concentration of ethyl alcohol in the drink, and on the aeration of that drink. Whisky and soda is less dangerous than whisky and water. It depends on the drinker's weight, on his, I shall not say fatness, but plumpness, on the food he has taken, or the food he takes with his drink, particularly if he take sugar with it, and whether he is habituated to alcohol.
Although the absorption into the tissues, and the resulting concentration, depends on so many variables, the important fact is that both as between different individuals, and in the same individual at different times, there is a relatively constant relationship between 1087 blood alcohol concentration and impairment of ability to drive properly.
I come now to the problem of the practical test. It is easy to poke fun at the enforcement of the drinking limit law. One can draw the picture of a policeman lurking outside the pub, and then pouncing on a motorist, as he leaves clapping a breathalyser balloon over his face, clipping him a fourpenny one in the tummy to make him breathe into the balloon, and then seeing whether it changes colour. It is a very humorous sort of picture that one can draw, but then one can draw that sort of cartoon of the possible methods of detection of almost any crime. But we shall get nowhere unless we start on the basic assumption that the police are reasonable men—reasonable in enforcing the law.
I know that that assumption breaks down at times, because policemen are only human, but in the enforcement of this test there is no particular temptation for a policeman to do other than carry it out properly. If a certain alcohol content figure is to be a crime, however, we must be careful to ensure, first, that a test can be made—at a suspect cannot refuse all tests in order to prevent the provision of evidence—and, secondly, that the test will give accurate results.
First, as to the requirements that the tests can be made, much play has been made from time to time about the encroachment on the liberty of the subject if the police are authorised to take from a suspect his breath, his blood or his urine, without his consent. We make far greater encroachments upon the liberty of the subject for far less worthy causes, and I cannot think that this is a good argument against an effort to prevent a massive encroachment by the drinking driver on the liberty of the victims of the accidents which he causes, taking from them not a sample of their breath, blood or urine, but, perhaps, a whole life or limb.
As to the accuracy of the tests, when we set the 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres limit we are talking of the blood tests, and it is most desirable that the tests should be direct from a sample of the blood. The medical findings with regard to these tests are that the rate of absorption of alcohol in the urine 1088 is not the same as the rate of absorption in the blood, and, therefore, that the conversion of the results of urine tests into figures of alcohol content in the blood raises some difficulties and uncertainties.
On the other hand, breath samples taken by any of the three methods of testing breath correlate well with the blood analysis. The three methods which have been fully tested are, taking the breath into the breathalyser direct, using the breathalyser plus a plastic bag, and, thirdly, the Kitagawa-Wright instrument—which is another form of breathalyser. We are assured by the British Medical Association that each of these three now give results which correlate accurately with blood tests.
In those circumstances the following procedure would seem to be fairly simple and unobjectionable: if a policeman has reason to suspect that a driver has the offending quantity of alcohol in his blood that police officer should be able to require a roadside test by means of the breathalyser. If that test is positive he should be able to require the driver to attend at a police station in order to go through a more thorough test.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
Will the hon. Gentleman develop that point? The hon. Member is talking of a defined limit beyond which the degree of drunkenness becomes worse. At what stage will an officer who is patrolling the street suddenly decide that a driver, when perhaps only his head is visible, has absorbed into his system 50 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres? Can the hon. Member tell me how an officer can do that? If he does not do it, the next time it happens the driver himself may be dead in an accident. There is no question of saving somebody else's life.
§ Mr. Page
In the Bill I have provided that the police constable may take action if he has reasonable cause to suspect that the offence has been committed—that is, that the man has the requisite quantity of alcohol in his blood. I imagine that a normal policeman going about his duty in a reasonable way might observe faulty driving and might stop the driver in order to see whether it is being caused by the amount of alcohol 1089 his blood. When this becomes a well-known offence—perhaps after 12 months' operation of the Measure—it will be fair for the police to test those who come from a public house and get into their cars in order to drive away. This is a question of administration of the law. I see no difficulty about it, if the law is administered reasonably by the police—and I think they would act reasonably.
I turn next to what happens after the policeman has stopped a driver, has obtained a positive result from the roadside test, and has required the driver to attend at a police station. There, if the suspect refused a blood test a further breath test would be made, and also the clinical medical examination of which I have spoken. We cannot do without that, because we must eliminate every other possible cause of impairment of the ability to drive.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
I am not quite clear about the hon. Member's argument at the moment. He has referred to roadside tests. Is he suggesting that such a roadside test should be a purely voluntary one on the part of the recipient, or is this roadside test to occur after the police officer has arrested without a warrant in accordance with Clause 4—in which case he must already have had reasonable cause for suspicion?
§ Mr. Page
One would have to leave it to the discretion of the police. If the driver were requested to take a roadside test and consented, that would be that, but if he refused it would be within the discretion of the police officer to decide in his own mind whether he had reasonable cause to arrest and to oblige the man to take that roadside test there and then and, if it proved positive, to take him to the station.
§ Mr. Silkin
I am sorry to interrupt again, but I want to get this clear because it is important. If the police officer adopted the latter course of arresting, it presupposes reasonable cause. Is the hon. Member saying that in those circumstances—having at that stage had no more than a refusal by a person coming out of a public house to submit to a voluntary test—the evidence upon which the police constable would arrest would necessarily have to be some impairment—something that could obviously be seen?
§ Mr. Page
Yes. Perhaps I can clear the hon. and learned Member's mind by reminding him that the offence which I hope to create by the Bill is an additional one and not a substitution for the existing offence of impairment, through drink, of the ability to drive, and in respect of that offence the officer has to make up his mind whether he has sufficient evidence to apprehend the person whom he believes to be in that state. This places a difficult duty on the police, but it is a duty which we must ask them to carry if we intend to reduce the number of accidents from this cause.
I do not think that anyone could reasonably object, under the banner of the liberty of the subject, or conscientious objection, or any other banner, to being required to breathe into a breathalyser. If he refuses to do so—certainly if he refuses at the police station—I have provided in Clause 4 that that shall be the offence of obstructing the police in the course of their duty.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
Does not that mean that he will be arrested for a second offence, above that of driving while unfit through drink? If that is also to be an offence, we are building up a whole series of offences with which we can charge the fellow who comes out of a public house and who, in the opinion of a police officer, has absorbed more than 50 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres into his blood. By the time he gets to court he is likely to be sentenced to 12 months, even if he has had no more than a few drinks. Surely this is a question of the liberty of the individual being seriously challenged.
§ Mr. Page
I am putting a man into this position if he refuses a reasonable request to breathe into a breathalyser in order to test whether he has committed an offence. I see no reason why that should not be an offence in itself. There must be some way in which to prevent a man refusing wholly to undergo the test for the offence. We are faced with this difficulty. I appreciate that it is a problem, and one which has always presented itself when considering tests for driving under the influence of drink. It is a problem which I believe we can solve only by some encroachment on the liberty of the subject. It is justified in this case if we are really going to tackle the 1091 9,000 or so accidents a year which occur from this cause.
I return quickly to the provisions of the Bill, although I imagine that the principle of the Bill is quite clear and the provisions are merely the machinery for carrying the principle into effect. Clause 1 creates the offence and the Bill leaves the limit to be prescribed by the Minister. I think I have given a sufficient indication of the limit which I would hope he would prescribe, and, if the Minister would so wish, I think we now have sufficient advice from the British Medical Association to enable a figure to be inserted in the Bill and so let the public know clearly what the drink limit would be and have it fixed by this House rather than by administrative act of the Minister. Clause 2 —
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves Clause 1, I wonder whether he will explain something which rather puzzles me at the moment. Perhaps there is a simple explanation for it which escapes me. The offence is committed, apparently, by a person who is either attempting to drive or who is in charge of a motor vehicle on the road. The Clause omits the case of the person driving. As I understand the rules of construction, the omission of the express word "drive" in that context would persuade the court that it was legal to rule out the person actually driving in favour only of those attempting to drive or being in charge of a motor vehicle, which descriptions have well-known meanings in the law. Was that intentional or is there some other reason which has so far escaped me why driving was omitted?
§ Mr. Silkin rose
§ Mr. Page
I think that I had better get on.
Clause 2 provides a special reason for a defence to a charge under the Bill in the same way as special reasons provide a defence for exceeding the speed limit. This Clause is questionable. It is per- 1092 haps a controversial Clause and might require very full consideration before it is included in the Bill. Clause 3 provides for the obligatory disqualification after a certain number of offences—that is to say, it applies the totting up provision to this offence.
Clause 4 I have already referred to as dealing with the powers of the policeman in requiring a suspect to undergo the test and what happens if he refuses to take the test. That is in Clause 5. Clause 6 provides for the prescribing of the percentage and the prescribed tests by the Minister.
I anticipate from the Minister's previous statements that there will be no doubt about his giving his blessing to the principle of the Bill and I am sure that he will say that he wishes to bring in his own legislation and will, therefore, probably ask me to withdraw the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate my understandable conceit in wanting my Bill to receive a Second Reading. I have pestered the House with the subject for a dozen years—on the Floor of the House, in Bills, in Amendments on Committee stages of other Bills upstairs—but, apart from that personal consideration, may I put this point to the Minister for his consideration, a very practical point, I think?
At this stage of the Session this Bill, even if given a Second Reading today, is unlikely to proceed very far. Therefore, no harm is done to the Government programme if it receives a Second Reading. On the other hand, it might well be misunderstood if the Bill is withdrawn and if the headlines in tomorrow's newspapers are, "Drink limit withdrawn" or "Drink limit fails." I do not think that that would help the cause which both the right hon. Gentleman and I have at heart. I trust, therefore, that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 2.56 p.m.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
I find myself in some difficulty this morning because it appears that every time the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) introduces some business into the House I find myself interested in precisely the same subject but, somehow, seem to get at variance with him in some of the things he says. I hope the hon. 1093 Gentleman understands that while our professional careers may be different our interests seem to meet at several points across the board, and that such comments as I may make on his Bill today are made because of my interest in the subject.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing in the Bill because, clearly, there is grave concern everywhere about road accidents and their causes, of which there is no doubt whatsoever—and I agree with the hon. Gentleman wholeheartedly in this—that drinking while driving contributes. What I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman on is that we should deal with the matter in one fashion only, that there is only one aspect. The hon. Gentleman made the point that he thought it better to proceed one stage at a time.
When dealing with the problem of the liberty of the individual I was rather surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman—who in the past has been very vociferous in defence of the liberty of the individual, and any minor encroachment on that hurt him intensely—say in a rather rash fashion that if the liberty of the individual is interfered with he is sorry but that it cannot be helped. I am a little disturbed about that because if it is argued that in the sense of driving a car drinking is likely to cause such problems that we ought to take the view that the liberty of the individual should take second place, it seems to me that we have then established the case that in this category we must include all who drink when handling equipment which can be lethal to others.
Let us take the case of a man driving, say, a crane which picks up large amounts of timber and transports that timber from point A to point B and that in so doing the load passes over the heads of people. That man goes to lunch and imbibes something in excess of the prescribed limit of alcohol which the hon. Member for Crosby suggested was the safe limit. He then returns to his place of employment, gets into the cab of the crane and prepares to operate it. Can it seriously be suggested that such a man is really in a different position at that moment from the man who is getting into a car? The driver of that crane could, by an error of judgment, cause serious accidents to his colleagues and others.
1094 As that man could damage a vast amount of equipment and cause absolute chaos, it must follow that he should be restrained in the same way as the driver of a car. Somebody may go home, having drunk more than the prescribed limit, with his responsibilities so diminished that he interferes with the electricity or the gas taps and forgets to return the guard to the open fire so that a child falls on the fire and gets burned and is killed. Is it argued that this is any different from the case of a person climbing into his motor car, who might easily arrive home safely?
I do not want to give the impression that I do not believe that people should not drive and drink. Of course they should not drive and drink; I accept that entirely. I am not defending people who drink and drive. I am trying to establish that one cannot conceivably take the actions of the individual out of context and subject him to the process of law purely for that reason. It is worth drawing the House's attention to the comparison between accidents on the road which usually happen before our eyes and the accidents in the home and in industry. It staggers me that people should believe that accidents on the road are the greatest issue in this respect. They are not. They are by far the smallest.
In fact, in 1962 190,158 accidents occurred in industry. In 1963, the figure was 204,269, a tremendous increase in one year. Both figures include fatal accidents. Although the number of fatal accidents dropped from 668 in 1962 to only 610 in 1963, the situation is still serious. There is a substantial difference between this figure and those of people killed at Easter or Whitsun on the roads. When we hear that 60 people have died on the roads, we throw up our hands in horror. My right hon. Friend deplores these deaths, but when one looks at 668 and 610, one realises that the figure of deaths on the road—even three times a year—is only about a third of this figure. This is important so far as industry is concerned.
There are significant figures also for accidents in the home. Deaths from accidents in the home of people aged 75 and over totalled 233 per 100,000 of the population in 1963. This had increased since 1959, when the figure was only 1095 162. That is only one class of person. Many other classes are involved.
I should like to establish whether the hon. Member for Crosby has any right to bring in a Bill providing for substantial penalties, when there are no figures available to substantiate his case. I tried desperately this morning to find any figures showing the proportion of accidents on the road which were due to drunken driving. These statistics are not kept. I hope that the Government will begin to put in hand—if they have not already done so—some means of keeping these statistics. If this sort of Bill is to be introduced it must be based on much firmer grounds than instinct.
I accept all the evidence of laboratory tests and the fact that they have established that 50 milligrammes per 100 millilitres is the level beyond which one's skill and judgment are impaired and that both rapidy deteriorate the further up the scale one goes. I accept the facts which have been produced by the B.M.A., but we have no figures to show what proportion of the 8,000 deaths a year on the roads and in industry are due to that impairment of judgment.
In 1961, which is the year referred to in an article which I found this morning, 8,000 people were killed on the roads and in industry, but the same number—8,000—were killed in the home. If it is alleged that the accidents on the road were influenced to such an extent by drinking that we must produce a Bill with these very substantial penalties, is it not possible that a large number of these deaths in the home are due to precisely the same cause?
Therefore, what does one do? Drinking may have contributed to people's deaths in the home—and not only the deaths of those who have been drinking. They could contribute to other people's deaths. In industry, as I said, a person in charge of a machine can contribute to someone else's death if his judgment, as is alleged, is impaired by his absorption of beer or spirits. Without trying to diminish the seriousness of the problem of people drinking and driving. I am trying to challenge the hon. Member's premise that one deals with these problems one at a time.
1096 I was interested to hear his assessment of what one did about it. There are insufficient statistics available to assess what part drinking plays. One asks why we should wish to deal with it in the way suggested in the Bill. After all, this deals only with the effect. In an interruption, I asked the hon. Member to establish for me how one assesses at what point an excess of absorption of alcohol has been reached. I feel that he did not answer my point very well.
He questions what one should do to stop this drinking. I was surprised that, instead of going for the effect, he did not go for the cause. He set out in his preamble to establish that the Bill is not a teetotal Bill. I appreciate the point, but if he wants to achieve his purpose, he should eliminate the cause of the problem. The cause would be eliminated by means of stopping publicans serving a person if he is driving a vehicle. That is the easiest way to do it. If one said that a publican should not serve a driver—in the same way that he must not serve a minor—that would be the answer. Why not do it in this case? Why not put the onus on the publican, since he is the person who purveys the offending liquor if it is over 50 milligrammes?
The hon. Member for Crosby knows, as I do and as, I am sure, my right hon. Friend the Minister knows, what situation that would create. I do not know about former Governments, but I can only be satisfied that they formed certain judgments. I hope that my right hon. Friend will have the same judgment, or our majority of three might not increase to the 33 which we are looking for. One clearly must take this into account. The hon. Member said earlier that he was taking us through his Bill by logical argument, but the logical argument is to eliminate the cause. He should reflect upon this fact.
I understand that one of the reasons for not eliminating the cause is revenue. I have turned up the figures and I find that in 1963–64 the Chancellor of the Exchequer hoped to obtain £499.4 million in duty by the sale of liquor. We can all reflect upon this, because if he did not get that revenue of approximately £500 million, which is nearly the rate of the trade imbalance which we found in October, he would have to get it in some other way. Therefore, that situation has 1097 to be considered also. I have taken the figures for 1953–54 and 1963–64. In the former, the revenue from duty was £383.3 million, and in 1963–64 it was, as I have said, £499.4 million. The increase is presumably due partly to an increase in consumption.
I have looked into the question of the consumption of drink to find what element of the drink bill has increased, and I find that whilst the revenue from beer has remained substantially the same, the revenue from whisky has increased and, in fact, almost doubled. The hon. Member has made the case that the recommended maximum amount of drink is a pint and a half of beer but only three nips of whisky. A person may desire more than three whiskies to satisfy his palate in comparison with the one and a half pints of beer, which fills one up anyway.
If that is true, the number of whiskies must be cut down. One must look at the situation as a whole. It is no good the hon. Member trying to pretend that he can ignore the cause and trying to play about with some form of effect. All hon. Members wish to control this issue. The hon. Member must, however, understand what he is doing. He is running away from the real answer. If he were able to put his Bill into effect, it would be in his hands to say, "You will not drink", and that would solve his problem.
§ Mr. Graham Page
What the hon. Member is saying is not supported by the facts. The Grand Rapids Survey, the biggest ever carried out, shows that the danger did not increase up to 30 milligrammes per 100 millilitres. That is just a small drink. This is why I did not but the case for preventing drinking and driving altogether. But, obviously, that is the safe thing to do, because one cannot always judge how people will be affected by that small quantity of drink.
§ Mr. Brown
Quite. If one wanted to do it, one could. If one begins to allow some form of drinking because it does not affect people's judgment according to the test, one begins to set up this vast array of control. This control fascinates me. The hon. Member did not develop the theme. I must have a private conversation with him some time so that he can develop it for me.
I really cannot imagine when all this begins. If I had been at home, dined 1098 with friends and taken a certain amount of alcohol, and if I then went out and got into my car, all that a police constable would see of me would be my head and shoulders. I might well have taken more than the specified amount of drink, but at that stage it does not have any effect because I have had a good meal. One of the facts which should be known, but which the hon. Member did not mention, is that the effect of alcohol depends substantially upon whether a person drinks on a full or an empty stomach. The rate of absorption of alcohol into the blood is influenced very much by this.
I would have offended the law by having had more than a specified alcohol content in my blood at that stage, but nobody would be likely to know unless I had an accident. By the time that somebody found out that I had offended the law and that I was responsible for what happened, somebody might well have been killed. The hon. Member's Bill would not, therefore, have achieved the objective which he wants. I would have offended and somebody would have been killed, and the processes of the law would then have been applied. The hon. Member's Bill would not prevent that happening. He does not rely upon Clause 2 to prevent it. He tells us that he is trying to get at the trouble before it happens, but I cannot see how he will achieve this.
It is easy to use a car park at a public house. Here again we encourage people to go in, because when the appropriate Minister gives approval or planning permission when public houses are projected on main roads, he demands that parking facilities are provided. That is a very good invitation to people to use public houses. If I could not find anywhere to park my vehicle, I might be deterred from going into a "pub", but if I am offered free parking I readily use it.
Once I am inside the public house, I have my hospitality and I enjoy myself with my friends. When I come out, I am a "sitting duck"—I must be, because nobody who thinks about the matter reasonably would know whether, after walking into a public house with my friends and spending an hour in their company, the alcohol content of my blood exceeded 50 milligrammes or whether I 1099 had had only a pint and a half of beer or three nips of whisky. Furthermore, the effect of the three nips of whisky depends upon how much soda I have with it. The hon. Member for Crosby established that it is better to take whisky with soda rather than with water, so that it will not be as potent. In my case, however, I do not like either soda or water with it, so I am in trouble before I start. Therefore, by the time that I return from what began as a perfectly innocent entry into a "pub" to enjoy hospitability with my friends, I come out and am a "sitting duck".
§ Mr. Brown
I ought, perhaps, to say something quickly to ensure that my majority does not fall. I do exactly as the hon. Member suggests. I do not drink when I drive, for three reasons. The first is that as Member of Parliament for Shoreditch and Finsbury, I cannot afford to be brought up in court for drinking when driving. Secondly, if that were to happen, one of the effects might be that the image of my party would be worse even than it is today. Thirdly, the fact that I am a magistrate is another reason for preserving one's image. For these three altruistic motives, I do not want to be involved in accidents. I am glad to make it clear that I follow the hon. Member's advice. I do not drink tomato juice, but I certainly do not drink any alcoholic beverage when I drive.
I am stating the case for the ordinary person. I believe that the hon. Member for Crosby is right. If people will do what the hon. Gentleman and I now do everything will be all right, but we do not have that situation.
There are many influencing factors. If we are to consider this matter realistically, we must accept that when people are driving and stop to go into a hostelry of this nature they usually find that they drink an alcoholic beverage. I am not suggesting that we should cease to edu- 1100 cate people in the dangers of driving and drinking or that we should not adopt a social redress of our lives, but merely that we must consider this matter realistically. That educational process has by no means been completed and, therefore, the Bill must be geared to the situation which we are facing.
The hon. Member for Crosby suggests that the police would be reasonable in enforcing the Bill, but is it their choice to be reasonable? Will they have the right to be reasonable when, almost like picking a needle out of a haystack, a constable will see someone sitting in a car in a public house car park and have to try to find out whether he has taken more than the 15 milligrammes prescribed?
It is only because people want something more than orange or tomato juice that they go into this type of hostelry in the first place. I live in an extremely nice village which has an equally nice public house. Of an evening I can hardly drive through it for the cars parked on either side of the main street near the public house. Is it suggested that if a policeman sees cars being parked at 7.30 p.m. and taps someone on the shoulder as he is about to enter his car at 10.30 p.m. or 11 p.m. and says, "I wish to test for your intake of alcohol on this breathalyser", the policeman will not have a 50–50 chance of having found a reasonable subject?
If the police are to be reasonable in achieving the aims adduced by the hon. Member for Crosby, how are they to enforce the provisions of the Bill? Without a warrant, and immediately, the police can take certain steps under the Measure. A police constable will not be able to say, "I know that it is going on here but I will turn a blind eye". Under the Bill he must act, which brings us to the question of whether we have sufficient policemen to undertake this task. I suggest that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would be worried if we said that the police must not only perform the task of preventing crime but must also carry out the provisions of the Bill. At any place where alcoholic beverage is sold and from which people are leaving to get into their cars the police will have to be on duty because, as each person leaves, he or she is a suspect.
1101 We go on from there to consider things like firms' dances, dinner dances, hotels which regularly run dances and clubs. If people park their cars near to any of these places the police will have to be on their guard to ensure that the 50 milligrammes limit is not exceeded. If we are to have justice in this way—that people are to be identified by the place where they have been—it will mean placing an intolerable burden on the police.
What about persons coming from their own homes? Could not they have been taking alcoholic drink before leaving? Are we to have two sorts of justice; the obvious for the person who parks his car near a public house and the not so obvious for other people? Although the word "reasonable" might sound plausible when said quickly, people experienced in local government affairs know how difficult it sometimes is to interpret the word accurately. For example, a district auditor can make it mean almost anything.
"Reasonable" cannot be used in the context of this problem because in certain circumstances it might be contended that the police constable was being unreasonable. The constable may stop my car and ask me to get out to have a breathalyser test. I might refuse for a number of reasons. He might have asked me to take the test because he had seen me leave a hostelry and get into my car, but I might not have been drinking. Perhaps I had gone in to the public house to speak to some people. Perhaps, as a result, I had had an angry showdown and had left in a fit of temper. I might have had about 50 milligrammes of alcoholic beverage or I might not. In such circumstances I am angry, and boiled up inside. As I get into my car the police constable says "Breathe into this breathalyser"; I might get annoyed.
The evidence I have seen so far suggests that even nervous conditions of the type I have described can have an effect on the shown absorption of alcohol in the blood. If such a condition is able to increase the absorption rate—to the extent of indicating that in the circumstances I described I was inebriated—we will be only accentuating the problems of the police. It might be said that if I was in such a nervous state it was 1102 just as well that the policeman stopped me when he did, but without being inebriated I might be in such a temper that I get annoyed and refuse to take the breathalyser test. An argument might ensue and I might become obstreperous.
That is why I intervened earlier to ask the hon. Member for Crosby to establish this point. Although not Inebriated, I am likely to have cast against me a whole series of charges, merely because the Bill allowed the officer—and we must remember that he would only have been doing his job reasonably under the Bill—to stop me as I left the public house and got into my car. It is worth mentioning, incidentally, that the public house in my village may be only about 150 yards from my home. Nevertheless, I might be charged with all sorts of things merely because of the provisions of the Bill.
As a result of the series of events I have described I may lose my job, for the publicity would not do me any good, and be involved in all sorts of other situations—merely because the police constable acted reasonably in accordance with the Bill. Perhaps I had taken my 50 milligrammes of alcohol. Overcome by emotion at the angry scene I had had in the public house, my absorption rate would appear higher in the breathalyser. I am taken to the police station, without a warrant let it be remembered, and it is found that I had not really had 50 milligrammes—that I only looked as though I was inebriated.
Having gone through all this, what redress do I have? Perhaps I have been prevented from keeping an urgent appointment. Perhaps I must explain to my wife where I have been.
§ Mr. Brown
It has all happened simply because the police constable was acting reasonably in accordance with the Bill. "You know, you really did look inebriated", the officer would probably tell me, but I have no redress. Or is the hon. Member for Crosby suggesting that I should take action against the police and obtain redress that way?
§ Mr. Brown
True, but by this Bill the hon. Gentleman is high-lighting and defining only one facet of drunkenness. In our courts today members of the hon. Gentleman's profession go out of their way to create a situation on behalf of their clients in an effort to ridicule any claim that their clients were unable to drive or that their judgment was impaired. They go out of their way to argue the case, because this is what lawyers are employed to do. On other occasions they try to prove that the constable, who has been reasonable, is trying to protect the public, just in the same way as the hon. Gentleman is trying to do in this Bill but because at some stage we have introduced words like "breathalyser" and "biochemical examination" this is claimed to make it all the more reasonable.
I do not believe that if the hon. Member were appearing for his client who was charged with driving in a condition where the alcoholic content was in excess of 50 milligrammes he would say to his client, "You deserve all you get. I accept the allegation." I am sure that the hon. Member and the rest of his profession will find ways and means of challenging every test made to prove that it is invalid, and if they were employed by the police they would equally prove that the test was valid and could not be countered. We therefore arrive at a situation where one would have under this Bill the same argument in court as there is now about the means of proof.
How does one prove the offence? Evidence which I have read this morning suggests that the time factor is important. If, as it were, I am tested now one gets a result, but by the time I have been taken to a police station—and this requirement is specifically mentioned in the Bill—the situation may be quite different, depending on my physical build and other factors which vary from individual to individual. If one gets a police surgeon or a doctor to examine at the police station a person held on suspicion of being drunk there is always the problem that by the time the person arrives at the police station there is no longer any real evidence. He has sobered up. There is police evidence that out of 9,000–10,000 charges made over a certain period only about 5,000 finally succeeded, for a variety of reasons, one being that 1104 by the time the doctors had arrived the suspected person had sobered up.
I am certain from the evidence which I have read that this test will not necessarily overcome that impediment. How long will it take to have a blood sample checked? Will there be a special room set aside for this in every police station with a medical staff and analysers and all the other paraphernalia involved? I should not have thought so. If not, these samples will have to be sent away. Where to, and under what conditions? A man may lose his means of livelihood on being convicted of this offence and he therefore wants to know that the sample taken from him is the same as the sample which is finally sent away for testing. He wants it sent away in a sealed box and he says, "I do not want the blood of the fellow who came in after me mistaken for mine. He was drunk but I was not, I want my sample tested and sealed and sent away under strict security."
I have had an interesting time going through the statistics of prosecutions in various areas. It is interesting to note the statistics for towns where there are clubs. One can pick out London quite clearly, but in the country areas one would assume from the statistics that there were no clubs. One could deduce from the statistics that people in country areas do not consume alcoholic beverage in a manner which brings them to court, but one can equally deduce that there are not enough policemen in those areas to pick them up. I do not know what the true analysis of the situation may be. To say that there is more drunkenness in London than anywhere else because the statistics show it does not necessarily represent the truth. There may be more drunken people elsewhere but they are not caught.
We must try to visualise the Bill in the broad circumstances, and I hope that the hon. Member for Crosby will not argue that the liberty of the individual in the circumstances which he is prepared to select is no longer a serious matter. It is approaching a police State when one does this sort of thing. I am not arguing that something should not be done, but I ask that we should recognise what we are doing. We are approaching a police State when suddenly somebody can place his hand on one's shoulder and say, "I think that you have imbibed something in 1105 excess of 50 milligrammes", and the person concerned then has either to say, "I will come quietly", when he is sure that he is not under the influence, or a situation is created in which he can build up a whole series of charges against himself because he has failed to co-operate.
We are breaking new ground. This problem worries me very much, but I still believe that the liberty of the individual is of primary importance. While we must recognise that there is a severe problem of drunkenness associated with driving, it is in the hearts of men where we must make the change and not necessarily legislation. I have tried to illustrate that this is not necessarily the right way of going about it. I have highlighted for the House that, appalling as the road accident statistics are, the statistics are far more appalling for accidents in the home, and they are far worse in factories. Yet we do not give to those two vital areas a fraction of the publicity that we give to the roads.
I have served in my time as a safety officer in industry. I recall the problems I had in trying to get industry to understand and to spend some money on safety precautions. It was almost as if nobody outside wanted to know. The appalling statistics of industrial accidents are buried away but any hon. Member can obtain them in the Library of the House. There are far more deaths and injuries from accidents in industry than the numbers on the roads that we are talking about, and yet nobody bothers. Nobody suggests that there should be a criminal law to take care of that problem. Nobody bothers about the home.
I have already offered the House some statistics to show the gravamen of the situation and to prove that these people at home desperately need help. It is not they who are necessarily to blame. What are the responsibilities of those who manufacture and provide those articles which cause accidents in the home? Should not we impose a penalty on manufacturers and distributors of these goods so as to ensure that they are safe to be used? Is the situation so bad only in the case of driving on the roads that we should take this ultimate action of creating the beginning of what would be in a general sense a situation where the individual would be substantially losing his rights and his liberty when 1106 there is a far better case to be made for ensuring safety in industry and in the home?
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not accept this Bill. I hope that he will continue to give his support and initiative to bringing home to people that it is thoroughly wrong, in fact criminal, to drink and drive. He may wish to strengthen the penalties. He may perceive that local government could play a greater part through road safety committees, which at present make recommendations which are turned down peremptorily. I have had the frustration of working on a road safety committee on which we knew what we wanted but were told by the Minister of Transport that we could not have it. We had to get the police and road inspectors on our side first. Perhaps my right hon. Friend can use road safety committees more than they are used now to help him in the tremendous problem of trying to make the roads safer.
I feel strongly about this Bill. In its present form it is not what we want. I am sorry if in this brief speech I have sounded as though I disagree with everything the hon. Member for Crosby has said. That is not the case, for I am with him in trying to get more safety on the roads. I apologise to him if he feels that I have torn to pieces what he has suggested, but the points I have made are worth considering before my right hon. Friend accepts a Bill of this kind.
§ 1.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
I speak in support of the Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). He presented his arguments in a lucid and comprehensive way, and this is a cause which he has espoused for many years.
It might be appropriate to refer briefly to the remarkable speech of the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown). He called it a brief speech. It lasted only a little more than three-quarters of an hour. I thought it a display of argumentative gymnastics. He suggested that accidents in factories and in the home were a greater problem. When we look at the mass of factory legislation and the Orders stemming from the recent Act referring to factories, it seems outrageous to suggest that less 1107 notice is taken of that problem. I worked in shipyards for a number of years, and I know that no comparison can be made of the efforts to deal with the problem of road accidents with the efforts to deal with industrial accidents.
The hon. Member suggested that we should compare this problem with that of people over 75 who die in their homes as a result of accidents. He said that it was ridiculous to try to deal with the question of drunken drivers while not doing anything about those who die through accidents in their homes. The problem of road accidents can be dealt with by legislation, but I very much doubt whether the problem of those over 75 who die through accidents in their homes can be dealt with by legislation.
The hon. Member tried to pour scorn on the Bill and spoke about people leaving public houses who could be like sitting duck targets, but he should have listened more carefully to what my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby said. My hon. Friend said that he did not want a limit such as that which is in the present Road Traffic Act. Was the hon. Member suggesting that there is a fundamental right of an individual to drive a car when his ability to drive is impaired by the drink he has taken? Freedom is not a question of licence. I do not think anyone would accept that by liberty we mean the right of an individual to drive when he is not fit to do so.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
I listened very closely to the speech of the hon. Member for Crosby. I wish that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) had listened more closely to my speech. I pointed out that the ability of persons to drive is not impaired to the same degree. Therefore, how can we set a limit?
§ Mr. Taylor
My hon. Friend stated quite clearly what he intends in his Bill. He has not specified any particular number of milligrammes which could constitute the limit, but suggested that with the present medical evidence available a limit should be set above which people should be reasonably considered not able to drive in a proper way. As medical science improves and we get to know more about the subject, it might be possible to reduce that limit. My hon. 1108 Friend presented the point quite fairly and the criticism made of it was not fair or reasonable.
In debates on Bills on Friday it is normal to put our views ahead of public opinion. For that reason very few Bills which come before us on Fridays succeed. I do not think that today a Bill has been presented which is ahead of public opinion, because most people concerned about the appalling slaughter on the roads are demanding that something on these lines should be done. The hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury suggested that more attention should be paid to road safety committees. If he will look at those committees' reports he will see that many of them demand that something on these lines should be done. In a consensus of opinion of road safety committees he would find 100 per cent. support for my hon. Friend's Bill.
The need for the Bill is clearly established. I was appalled to see in one of the first Reports which I read when I came to this House—the Buchanan Report—an indication of the enormous increase we can expect in the number of vehicles on the roads. I was also appalled to learn that the speed of vehicles will be increased if we accept only a part of the Report made on new roads. Taking those factors into account, it seems quite clear that the numbers of accidents will continue to increase. If we are to take account of increased speed, we need to ensure that drivers are as fit to drive as they can be. In a Written Answer to a Question on 3rd March the Minister said that last year no fewer than 377,000 people were injured on the roads and 7,800 were killed. That means 1,000 a day, two people killed or injured every three minutes. When we consider this we must support any Measure which can in any way reduce the appalling total of accidents.
Reference has been made to the problem which will arise through the construction of new roads. On the new Scottish roads, just as on the new roads in England, there are wonderful new hotels and roadhouses. A hotel used to mean something simple; it was a place where a traveller could sleep or eat. The new hotels, perhaps particularly in Scotland, are of a different kind; they have perhaps three bedrooms and five cocktail 1109 bars. If anyone asked to stay for the night, there might be a serious accident through the landlord dropping dead. The existence of new roads and the substantial number of so-called hotels with parking facilities means that this is a special problem which might get worse.
My hon. Friend is trying to establish in the Bill the principle of alcohol content. The principle behind Clause 1 is that it would be right to make it an offence it a motorist has a certain amount of alcohol in his blood. It is also considered right that the police should be given powers to find out what the scientific facts are if they suspect someone of contravening the Clause.
This is a principle which we should accept. The way has been paved in previous legislation. The 1930 Act laid down that it was an offence to be not able to control a vehicle because of alcohol. The 1962 Act contained something far more definite and realistic, because the word "impaired" was used. It is far better to have a definition which refers to someone's driving ability being impaired than to have the more difficult and far more flexible suggestion that someone is unable to drive. In view of this paving of the way, it is clear that there is a need for a Bill along these lines. It is in no way inconsistent with previous legislation.
I believe that the Bill is a good one, but I suggest two small changes. Clause I defines the offence and prescribes the penalties. The first change I suggest is that there should not be the alternative of a fine or imprisonment for someone who is found guilty of such an offence on a second occasion. Fines for this kind of social crime are not appropriate, because a fine is far more serious for some people than it is for others. There should be no alternative punishment to imprisonment for someone who is found guilty on two occasions of a social crime of this sort.
It is clear that my hon. Friend has been very tough in prescribing the penalties. He has suggested that such an offence should carry automatic disqualification from driving. He suggests a very heavy fine for the first offence and a possible heavy prison sentence. Despite these provisions, I believe that there should be no alternative to imprisonment in the 1110 case of a person convicted of a second offence.
As to the prescribed percentage of alcohol in the blood, I hope that if the Minister approves of the Bill and if it is accepted by the House the Minister will in setting a limit err on the side of safety. My hon. Friend was wise not to specify any number of milligrammes. In view of the present scientific knowledge, it is correct that we should take account of the fears of those who, like the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury, are afraid that if a minimum is prescribed it will catch some people who, because of the circumstances or because of the food they have eaten or have not eaten, are safe to drive. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will fix a figure which is reasonably safe and will not involve any such injustice. Then, as medical science advances, the figure will perhaps be reduced.
I hope that the Government will accept the Bill. I hope that it will become law, because some action along these lines is required. It has been encouraging to read some of the Minister of Transport's recent speeches, in which he has made it clear that he is concerned about the toll on the roads and hopes to take some action. This is the time when action should be taken. I hope that the Bill will be approved.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Mr. David Ensor (Bury and Radcliffe)
Those of us who have been concerned with the administration of justice and those of us who drive on the roads today cannot but be seriously concerned and alarmed at both the accident rate and the death rate upon our roads. With great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown), we are not discussing accidents in factories. We are not discussing accidents in the home. We are discussing a Road Safety Bill which is designed to reduce the number of accidents on the roads. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has said that he proposes to introduce legislation on these lines, but the details have not yet been fixed.
I commend to the House the general principles that appear in the Bill. In the realms of the criminal law and generally 1111 throughout the administration of justice, many people are always keen and anxious to supply us with vast quantities of statistics to prove one thing or another. Most people outside the House and most hon. Members know full well that within certain limits statistics can be made to prove anything. I have in the course of my professional life prosecuted thousands of people charged with being drunk in charge or with being under the influence of drink under the 1930 Act.
This is not a new problem. It has been in existence since the Motor Car Act, 1903. Under the Criminal Justice Act, 1925, it became quite obvious that it was impossible to get a conviction under the old definition of what was then called "drunk". That is why in 1930 Parliament in its wisdom thought fit to bring in a new definition of being under the influence of drink to such an extent as not to have proper control of a motor vehicle. The 1962 Act extended that liability by the use of the word "impaired".
The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has said that there are 9,000 accidents a year from this cause. Those of us who, like myself, have prosecuted in cases of this sort, not only in the Provinces but also when I was at Scotland Yard, know full well that for every one conviction at least ten get away with it. I have been in police stations when people were brought in who were clearly drunk. I use the word "drunk" advisedly. They ultimately got away with it either at quarter sessions or at assizes before a jury.
One of the unfortunate circumstances which has arisen over the last few years has been the irresponsibility of the British jury with regard to certain forms of offences. It has been extremely difficult over the past few years to convince the public that to drive a motor vehicle, which, after all, is a lethal weapon, whilst under the influence of drink is a crime. It is a crime and a very serious one. It should be dealt with as such.
I must join issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury, who argued that the liberty of the subject is paramount in this sort of matter. I am as anxious as any other hon. Member for the liberty of the subject, but I am also 1112 considerably concerned about the thousands of people who are killed or involved in accidents every year as a result of persons driving whilst under the influence of drink. One only has to go on a journey, and perhaps not even a very long journey, to see the vast numbers of cars parked outside hotels and public houses and to be perfectly aware that the most dangerous time to drive a car is approximately from 10.30 p.m. to midnight every night.
Why should this be? I suggest that this is part of the irresponsibility of people today who will not realise the facts of life as they exist. People are drinking more than ever, as is shown by—again I have to use the word "statistics." One cannot get away from the fact that there has been a considerable increase in the number of convictions. There has been a considerable increase in the amount of alcohol consumed throughout the country and, what is perhaps more important, there has been a considerable increase in drinking amongst young people today. It is the young people who drive slightly more irresponsibly than people of more mature age, and I am not saying this necessarily against the young for whom I have, generally speaking, the utmost regard. But it is a fact that people are drinking and driving. Otherwise, what possible explanation can there be for the figures that appear at holiday times and notably at such times as Christmas Eve? These are facts that cannot be denied.
During the last two years I have been travelling through Europe making an investigation into various forms of delinquency, one of which included the problems of driving motor cars whilst under the influence of drink. We all know the situation in Scandinavia. We all know that regrettably the consumption of alcohol is considerably higher in Scandinavia and, indeed, in the Soviet Union than it is in this country and in some of the other countries in Western Europe, notably some of the Catholic countries where there is far less consumption of spirits.
What we also have to consider is that in many of the Scandinavian countries the incidence of driving whilst under the influence of drink is extremely high and regrettably Sweden has probably the record of all time. What did they do 1113 there? They have now made it an offence in Sweden to drink at all while driving, and if a person has a certain percentage—the figure escapes me for the moment—of alcohol in his blood he automatically goes inside for 28 days.
Whether this is a good idea or a good principle to adopt I do not think we need discuss at this stage, but in my view it is high time that we should adopt principles by which we will endeavour in every possible way to get rid of this menace of the drunken driver. I use the term "the drunken driver" advisedly because the man who is really drunk is not as great a danger as the man who has had just one or two too many. If he is really drunk and incapable, of course he will not get very far. It is not a question of stopping people from drinking. It is not a question of saying to a landlord, "You shall not serve a man with drink if he is driving a car." It would be an impossible situation, anyway, because how would the landlord know?
The suggestion in this Bill—and I wholeheartedly agree with it in principle—is that we should make the penalties a deterrent. If the penalties are made stiff enough, they obviously become a deterrent because generally speaking, except in the criminal classes, people who are guilty of these offences are car owners in reasonable circumstances and fines quite frequently do not meet the case. What is a deterrent for this sort of offence is undoubtedly the loss of a licence and, secondly, the fear of imprisonment. It is a fact which is mentioned in the Report of the Prison Commissioners that persons who have been sent to gaol on conviction for this sort of offence have invariably improved in health by the time they have come out. Those sorts of facts are important when discussing what to do with regard to the administration of some of the proposals in this Bill.
I do not agree that one should object to the use of a breathalyser or to having a blood or urine test. If a person has nothing to worry about why should he object? The time to object is when he knows he has had too much, which is a very different matter indeed. I do not believe that we should consider the liberty of the subject to such an extent that we should pay regard to any objection from 1114 a person from whom it is suggested we should take a drop of blood or a sample of urine or on whom one wishes to carry out a breathalyser test, when by carrying out such tests we may well be saving a number of lives and preventing a number of serious accidents on the road.
The time has come when we have got to face the facts of these sorts of offences. We have got to face the fact of the number of deaths and accidents and, indeed, the number of people who are driving whilst under the influence of drink today and are getting away with it. I think it is the duty of this House to point out to the population that they must approach these matters with a sense of responsibility and ensure that people who commit these offences are convicted. That is not happening today, as I know only too well from my own experience.
On general principles, this is a Bill which might well be considered by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, certainly so far as the penalties are concerned. Only then can we make some inroads into the ghastly situation on the roads today. If I may repeat myself, we are not discussing accidents in factories or in the home. We are dealing with one specific item—road safety—and I think there is a lot in this Bill which should commend itself to the House.
§ 2.8 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Toni Fraser)
It will probably be for the convenience of the House if I say a few words on the Government's attitude to the Bill. I should like, first, however to congratulate the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) on the persistence with which he has pursued this matter over a number of years, on his having introduced this Bill, and on the lucidity with which he moved its Second Reading. I should like also to thank hon. Members who have contributed to the debate so far for the way in which they have approached this difficult, urgent and important matter.
The loss of life on the roads from road accidents is very high indeed. Many references have been made to the loss of life last year, which totalled 7,820. This must represent a great tragedy for many thousands of homes, and, in as much as the vast majority of these accidents were avoidable and these road deaths were therefore avoidable, those of us with 1115 responsibility in this matter would not be discharging it adequately if we were not to see whether there was more which could be done to make the roads a little safer than they are.
At this point, I should make it clear that alcohol is not the only or even the main cause of road accidents. I want to make that absolutely clear. If we stopped everyone from drinking before going on the roads in charge of a vehicle, we would not thereby stop all accidents, very far from it.
Some questions about the statistics on this subject have been asked, and there have been expressions of regret that more statistics are not available. However, what we have is the result of some work which has been done from time to time by the Road Research Laboratory, and those statistics have told us that throughout the year in about 17 per cent. of road accidents someone had been drinking. That does not always mean the driver, for it could be the pedestrian.
It would be very nice indeed if we could deal with the whole of the problem in one sweep, but we cannot do so. I am not sure that we can deal with even the whole problem of alcohol in one sweep. I do not think that we can go much further than we have with the part played by pedestrians who have been drinking, unless we make it easier for pedestrians to go about their daily business without getting mixed up with vehicular traffic, so that it may be that we have more work to do in our towns and cities in the separation of pedestrians from vehicles.
But, as has been said, the motor vehicle is a lethal weapon in the hands of an irresponsible person and there can be no doubt that alcohol diminishes responsibility. In the circumstances, it seems clear that we should do something, as something has been done in the existing law, to deal with the person who takes or is influenced by alcohol to an unjustifiable or indefensible degree when driving a vehicle on the roads.
It is important to recognise the prevailing social habits, as the hon. Member for Crosby suggested, when we are trying to influence and to improve social habits. Many more young people than ever before are driving motor vehicles. Un- 1116 fortunately, young people under 25 are much more vulnerable motor drivers than their elders. Remembering those basic propositions, which I regard as facts, and remembering that more and more young people are being attracted into places where alcoholic refreshment can be obtained, so that there is the combination of more young people driving and more young people being attracted into places where they can get alcoholic refreshment, and the statistical data which comes in the newspapers from day to day showing that young drivers are more vulnerable than other drivers, there is clearly a problem to be tackled.
§ Mr. Derek Page (Kings Lynn)
We must be careful in our analysis of this type of suggestion. Has my right hon. Friend noted that in the B.M.J. of 26th December, 1964, there is an analysis of drunken drivers which shows that only I per cent. were young?
§ Mr. Fraser
Those figures do not controvert anything I have said. An analysis of road deaths over any of the periods for which a full analysis has been made will show that young drivers are more vulnerable. That was one of my propositions. The other was that more young people were being attracted into places where alcoholic refreshment could be obtained. That is all I said. I did not say that young people were necessarily given to taking over-much alcohol and I started by saying that it would be wrong to think that alcohol was the only or even the main cause of road accidents. The hon. Member for Crosby said that if were seeking to change social habits, it was as well to discern what social habits had been in recent years, so as to see what we were seeking to change.
The main object of the Bill is to make it an offence to drive, or be in charge of, a motor vehicle with more than the prescribed concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream. The Bill would leave it to the Minister of Transport to lay down what that level would be. He would have to do so in regulations, and presumably it would be the wish of the House that those regulations would he subject to discussion and comment in the House itself. The Bill also deals with some of the necessary questions on the administration and enforcement of the law.
1117 As the hon. Member for Crosby knows from the Answer which I gave him on 14th April, the Government accept the principle that it should be made an offence to exceed the prescribed concentration of alcohol in the blood while driving or being in charge of a motor vehicle. Perhaps I may take the opportunity to set out our thinking and our policy in a little more detail, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to do so.
Perhaps I should say early in my speech that there are a number of reasons why we cannot advise the House to give the Bill a Second Reading at this time. I will come to those reasons later. I would like first to give the reasons why we think that it is necessary to amend the law and to provide for a statutory blood alcohol limit. The suggestion that this should be done has been discussed on many occasions in recent years, and I well remember that it was considered when the Road Traffic Act, 1962, was being debated.
Two important changes in the law relating to drink were made in that Act. First, the Act made it clear that a person should he taken to be unfit to drive if hisability to drive properly is for the time being impairedThe previous definition of unfitness had beenbeing under the influence of drink … to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of a motor vehicle.This previous provision had generally been interpreted as a state of drunkenness so great that the driver was incapable of making properly co-ordinated movements and operating the controls of the vehicle. But the generally accepted medical view based on the latest scientific evidence is that relatively moderate amounts of alcohol can increase a driver's risk of having an accident and that perhaps the most important effect of alcohol on driving ability is the effect not on physical reactions and co-ordination but on the driver's ability to assess the traffic situation and make the proper judgments quickly and accurately. Research has shown that alcohol makes a driver more likely to take unwarranted risks and at the same time lessens his ability to deal effectively with the emergency situations he may get himself into 1118 as a result. This effect happens well before the driver shows any of those signs of loss of co-ordination and control with which we are all familiar in the normal "drunk".
The Road Traffic Act, 1962, therefore, introduced the new concept that it was sufficient to convict a driver of being unfit if his ability to drive properly was impaired and, because this can happen before the driver's outward behaviour and deportment is noticeably affected, the Act introduced a second important change in the law whereby the courts were required to have regard in reaching their decision to the results of chemical tests showing the proportion of alcohol in the driver's blood.
Some of us at the time when the 1962 Act was before the House as a Bill thought that it did not go far enough. We felt that we should go about as far as the hon. Gentleman's Bill now proposes that we should go. However, these provisions enacted in 1962 have been in force for two and a half years and we can begin to judge the sort of effect which they have had. One is forced to the conclusion that it has not been very great. Although the law requires the courts to have regard to the results of the chemical test, it does not say what weight should be attached to this part of the evidence, and neither does it give the courts any guidance on the significance of the blood alcohol figures. In practice, therefore, so I am informed by those who are in a position to advise on these matters, the courts still tend to attach considerable importance to evidence of the outward behaviour of the driver at the material time and to the opinion of the doctor who physically examined him. Yet these are a most unreliable guide.
In the recent report of its Alcohol and Traffic Committee, the British Medical Association said,in the absence of a knowledge of the concentration of alcohol in the body"—a medical examination—is neither sufficiently sensitive, nor reliable enough, to detect other than gross impairment of driving ability due to alcohol …We all have to weigh those words wry carefully, and we have to apply our own judgment to the reports of cases which we read in the newspapers and what we can gather by personal attendance in 1119 court to see and hear how these cases are disposed of. As a result of the way in which the present law is being administered, drivers are rarely prosecuted by the police for this offence, except as the result of an accident, unless their observed behaviour has shown clear evidence of impairment through the consumption of alcohol. The general level of alcohol found in the blood of accused persons is very high by comparison with the level of 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres recommended by the B.M.A. as the highest acceptable level.
Here is an example. Roughly 85 per cent. of drivers who pleaded not guilty in the magistrates' courts in the Metropolitan Police District during the last quarter of 1964 had more than 150 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of alcohol in the blood, so that they had, and knew they had, a blood alcohol concentration of about double the limit which the B.M.A. considers to be tolerable, yet, knowing that they had this blood alcohol concentration, they still pleaded not guilty in the hope that by the giving of evidence about their behaviour they would convince the court that their ability to drive had not been impaired. This concentration of alcohol in the blood, on which persons charged pleaded not guilty, may well represent the consumption of, say, 18 small whiskies or, in some persons, as much as 25 small whiskies. Yet, as I say, people with that concentration of alcohol in the blood at the time are nevertheless prepared later on when, presumably, they are stone sober, to plead not guilty under the existing law and go into court with a reasonable chance that they will get away with it. This does not seem to me to be good enough.
The present law, therefore, is so highly unsatisfactory that Her Majesty's Government have decided to amend it and introduce a statutory limit of alcohol in the blood provided that this could he administered fairly. We think that it can. The medical advice which I have seen is unanimously of the opinion that the concentration of alcohol in a driver's blood gives a fair reflection of the degree to which his ability to drive properly has been impaired. Since the 1962 Act was passed, there has been considerably more evidence—this further conclusive evidence has emerged from studies both from 1120 abroad and in this country—that alcohol is a serious factor in road accidents, particularly accidents which cause death or serious injury, and that the average risk of causing an accident is related to the concentration of alcohol in the blood. The higher the concentration, the greater the risk becomes.
When the hon. Member for Crosby was speaking, he was interrupted by one of my hon. Friends and he said a little about the research which had been done in the United States, the Grand Rapids research. It is true that this is among the more important pieces of research supporting this conclusion. It has been carried out in Grand Rapids, Michigan, under Professor Borkenstein of Indiana University. I know that there are some people who have been led to assume from certain figures contained in the study that the chance of having an accident is less when a driver has had a moderate amount of drink. I heard this argued to some extent when, last Christmas, I was pushing through the drink and driving campaign. There are people who will argue that, particularly for the introvert, a little alcohol gives more self-assurance and, therefore, makes a driver better than he would otherwise be. All the professors who were backing me in my campaign last December completely repudiated the proposition.
I would say that even from a study of Professor Borkenstein's findings this conclusion is a misunderstanding. His report showed that some people were inherently so much safer than others to begin with that their accident risk was lower than that of the other group even when they had had a moderate amount of drink. That is to say, he found that some people with a moderate amount of alcohol in their blood were safer drivers than some people who had had no alcohol at all.
But what his study also showed was that these same drivers were a good deal less safe when they had some alcohol than they had been before drinking at all. So there is not much point in comparing the safety of a driver with 50 or 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres in his blood who is normally an excellent driver, a terribly responsible man and carries his liquor well with some man who doubtfully qualifies to be allowed on the road at all. One cannot 1121 compare that otherwise good driver with one who is always an irresponsible driver. One cannot compare him with a rate of 80 or 100 milligrammes of alcohol in his blood with what he would be at any other time.
I most certainly think—I have no doubt—that Professor Borkenstein's research does not support the idea that some people are safer after a few drinks. It is perhaps as well to observe that there is no such animal as a completely safe driver. We are all unsafe in some degree and some measure. There are some people more unsafe than others. If we take alcohol, the more alcohol we take the more unsafe we become in charge of a motor vehicle.
It is sometimes said that a fixed and arbitrary blood/alcohol level would be unfair because of the differences between one driver and another in the amount of alcohol that he can take before his driving is affected. There might be something in this that one would have to consider very carefully indeed if what we were proposing was to make it an offence to drive after drinking so many glasses of beer, so many tots of whisky, or so many glasses of wine. But the hon. Gentleman's Bill does not propose that. Nor do the Government think that we could justify any such proposition. We know full well that the same amount of drink can produce a different concentration of alcohol in the blood of different people, or, indeed, in the same person in different circumstances. This was quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury.
The effect of alcohol or the rate at which alcohol will be absorbed into the blood stream depends very much indeed on the amount of food that the person has had before or during the time that he has had his drink. The variations can also be attributable to the person's physical constitution. There are many factors that would account for the large differences in the personal experiences between one person and another and the difference in the effects that alcohol has in one person at one time compared with what it would have on him at another. There may still be some small variations between individuals at the same blood/alcohol concentration, but in as much as it is not the amount of alcohol consumed that we are dealing with but the blood/ 1122 alcohol concentration, it is well to note that the evidence shows that above a certain level the differences become insignificant compared with the impairment of driving ability brought about by drink.
These, then, are the reasons for a change in the law; the present law is not sufficiently effective; research has proved that the more a driver drinks the more likely he is to have an accident; a large proportion of fatal accidents still involve drivers who have been drinking considerable amounts, including many who kill themselves; there is now ample evidence that the concentration of alcohol in the blood is the best objective measure we have of a driver's impairment; and that a level can be fixed at a point which will not be unfair to anyone.
Her Majesty's Government, therefore, welcome the principle underlying the Bill. However, as I think the hon. Gentleman knows, I am not able to advise the House to give his Bill a Second Reading at this time. The reason for that, very simply, is that there are a number of questions which still need to be studied further before it is possible to draft a law which will be satisfactory both in principle and in practice. The new law will have to be seen to be reasonable. practicable and fair.
There are four matters which need to be examined and which the Government are now actively engaged in examining. First, there is the blood/alcohol level. I take the view that the blood/alcohol level to be prescribed should be contained in the basic law itself and not left to be laid down by the appropriate Minister. The British Medical Association has recommended that this level should be 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, and it tells us that this is equivalent to a range of between five and nine single whiskies or half pints of beer.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I are now engaged in giving proper and due consideration to what the level should be. I am bound to say that last Christmas I thought that it had better be 50 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood if we were to have a level at all. I well remember that in 1962 we were discussing a level of 100 milligrammes. Between 1962 and last year I varied from 100 milligrammes to 50 milligrammes, and now the British Medical 1123 Association is pulling me back up to 80 milligrammes. In any case, I think that the House will recognise that if one is to make it an offence to drive a motor car when one has more than a certain blood/alcohol level one has to be pretty sure that the level that one lays down is a fair, proper and defensible one.
I think, too, that as the House is being invited to enact legislation making it an offence to drive when there is more than a certain level of alcohol in the driver's blood, it is as well that the House should take note of what the Bill is saying My reply is, "Do not give us this Bill which puts on me the responsibility of framing regulations and drafting a Statutory Instrument in which I shall have to insert the level which I think is proper. If I am to be asked to enact this legislation, the Bill should include the level above which the person concerned will be guilty of an offence". That is how I see the matter. I think that the House of Commons should decide the level above which it will become an offence if the person concerned is in charge of a motor car.
I deal next with the method of testing. Three methods are currently available for measuring the concentration of alcohol in the blood. As has been said, it can be done by the direct analysis of blood. This is done in some countries where they have the kind of law that we are discussing today. It can also be done by analysing breath or urine. A law based almost exclusively on evidence of the concentration of alcohol in the blood makes it necessary to have accurate and reliable testing methods.
If we enact this legislation, we will make it effective only if it is based almost exclusively on the evidence of the concentration of alcohol in the blood. If we start with the assumption that it is an offence to drive a vehicle when one has more than a certain concentration of alcohol in the blood and then allow other evidence to be admitted to show that. notwithstanding that there is heavier concentration of alcohol than we consider should be permitted, the ability to drive is not impaired, we shall be back to where we are at the moment.
The defect in the law as it stands is that the prosecution can show that a driver has a very high alcohol concentration in his blood but the defendant can 1124 produce evidence to convince the court that his driving ability is not impaired. He may be able to convince the court of that, but he is not able to convince those whose business it is to conduct research into this matter, not only in this country, but in many others throughout the world.
If we are going to change social habits in this country with a view to reducing road accidents, the least we can do is to pass a law which makes it obvious to the person in charge of a car who goes into a place where he can get alcoholic refreshment, or perhaps partakes of it in his own home while entertaining friends, that he ought not to drink if he is going to drive. It is this change in social habits which is being introduced in the Scandinavian countries as a result of the stringent legislation which they have introduced there. They do not say to a person, "You must not drink", but they do say, "You must not drink and drive". I understand that, as a result, people who go to parties nowadays draw lots to decide who is to drive the car on the homeward journey and that person drinks soft drinks only at the party.
If we can get it across to the people of this country that drinking and driving is a criminal offence and particularly that it is an offence for which they can be sent to prison, I think that it will become the done thing for people to ensure that they do not have more than a certain concentration of alcohol in the blood when driving a motor car. If that happens, I think that the tendency will be more and more for people in charge of cars not to drink at all. They can drink at other times, but not when they are in charge of a motor vehicle. If we can ensure that there is a proper enforcement of the law, it will have the effect of improving social habits. I know that that is not the initial purpose of the Bill, which is aimed at cutting down the number of accidents and reducing the quite unecessary loss of life that we have to endure.
The B.M.A. has made a number of recommendations about the different methods of testing, and its proposals are now being considered. A number of practical problems have emerged, and these are now under consideration. There are difficulties in the way of introducing a breath test. These have been the subject of public discussion for some time, 1125 and, as the House would expect, these criticisms of the equipment for the breath tests are being subjected to careful examination and study. The apparatus itself is also being subjected to the most careful examination. This is being done by a Home Office Working Party, and we hope that before long we shall have its report.
If we are to use some kind of breathalyser, some kind of breath testing equipment, to measure the concentration of alcohol in the blood, and if the intention is that a policeman on patrol duty should carry this equipment with him, it will have to be very reliable indeed. It will have to be such that it is trusted not only by the police, but by the motorist. It will have to be the kind of equipment which the people of this country, in their determination always to see that justice is not only done, but is seen to be done, know is not likely to produce faulty results if it is used by a person who has no scientific or medical qualifications.
Next—and this is not dealt with in the Bill, but it was referred to by the hon. Member for Crosby—I come to the question of penalties for not submitting to a test. If we are going to make it an offence to have more than a certain concentration of alcohol in the blood, clearly the law must also make provision for penalties to be imposed on the driver who refuses to submit himself to such a test. It may well be that those who are most likely to be found guilty of having a higher-than-permitted concentration of alcohol in the blood are those who are most likely to refuse to submit to a test. We must, therefore, deal with that aspect of the matter in the Bill. We must also decide whether the suspect should have a choice between two or more different methods of measuring his blood/alcohol concentration.
Fourthly, there is the question of police powers and procedures. I should think it likely that the law will require to provide what the powers of the police are to be, what procedures they are to follow, in what circumstances they are to be able to require a driver to submit to a test, and the circumstances in which they might have power to arrest a driver for an offence under the new law. These matters of procedure and enforcement are wholly for my right hon. and learned 1126 Friend the Home Secretary, but I put it to the House that they are all questions which must be carefully weighed before we change the law. When we change the law in this respect we shall be adding to the very small number of offences against which there is virtually no defence.
There is no defence against the speeding offence. If a person drives his car at 50 miles an hour in an area where the speed limit is 30 miles an hour he can talk until he is blue in the face and put forward every kind of reason why he drove at that speed; the fact is that by doing so he was committing an offence and must therefore be punished. In this case, if the test shows that a person has more than a certain level of alcohol in his blood, he will be guilty, and that is that—and the court will have to impose a penalty.
This is an introduction into our system of the administration of justice which the British people have not been willing to see taken too far. They like a person to be innocent until he is proved guilty rather than that he should be guilty before he comes to court and that the prosecution should merely have to produce evidence that he has done a certain thing—exceeded the 30 miles an hour limit, or had 50, 80 or 100 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of his blood. Police procedures and methods of enforcement will have to be very carefully weighed before we make this change in the law.
A number of these methods are already being considered in the light of recommendations received. Some others, however, will depend on research and field work which is going on but is not yet complete. We are pressing on with it.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman cannot give any sort of assurance as to when a Bill might be presented. It will have to be fitted in with the rest of the Government's overcrowded list. But can he give some assurance as to when he thinks it might be ready—when he thinks that all this field work and investigation might be completed, so that the Bill can be drafted?
§ Mr. Fraser
I am very hopeful that all this field work will be completed this 1127 year, so that if the Parliamentary time table makes it possible so to do I can introduce a Bill this year. I am going as far as I reasonably can. I want the House to know that the studies that we consider to be essential as a prerequisite to the introduction of a Bill are all under way, and could all be completed this year. I have no reason to believe that there will be any difficulty in drafting legislation during this year. It might be convenient if one or two other matters concerned with road safety which are calling out for further legislative action could be dealt with at the same time. However, I would not hold up legislation on this matter with a view to producing some great new Measure in the more distant future dealing with a wide variety of miscellaneous amendments to the Road Traffic law that may be seen to be required. I regard this as a matter of great importance and of some urgency. We shall introduce the Bill as soon as we can.
But we cannot possibly get the new law in this Session. We are now midway through June. There are not many more weeks of the normal Parliamentary Session to go. It is quite impossible for even this small Bill to become law in any case, it has too many serious gaps in it. In those circumstances it might be better if the hon. Member would agree, at the end of our discussion, to withdraw the Bill. I heard what he said about this. He thinks that if he withdrew the Bill, or if it was lost on a vote, or its Second Reading was negatived by the calling of voices there might be a very unfortunate headline in the newspapers tomorrow. I do not think that he will get an unfortunate headline. I would have thought, bearing in mind the sense of what I have said, that any headline in tomorrow's newspapers which gave any impression that the House of Commons had turned down the idea of new legislation concerning drink and driving would be too obvious a contradiction of the facts. I would have thought that however we dispose of the Bill today the newspapers will know quite well that the Government are anxious to have this new legislation. I believe that we shall have this new legislation quite soon. Together with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary I am working 1128 very hard on clearing up the difficulties in the way of getting a Bill drafted.
I have said that my Bill could be drafted towards the end of this year. In the circumstances, it would be better if we were not to give a Second Reading to this Bill. If we did we would be bound to give the impression to many people, that, somehow or other, we would be able to put the Bill, in its present form, on to the Statute Book. As I have said, this Bill will not do. We must get a different Bill. But it must deal with the same principle as is dealt with by this one. I want the hon. Member for Crosby to feel that his advocacy of this kind of legislation for so many years looks at last like meeting with success. It will not meet with success in the form of a Bill such as his, but when a new Bill is introduced a little later, although it may not bear his name, none the less his name will continue to be associated with legislation on this matter.
It is in these circumstances that I would like the hon. Gentleman at the end of the debate to consider whether it would not be better just to withdraw the Bill and allow us to complete the studies now under way and I, for my part, would keep him informed as to the progress we made so that we might make a clean, honest, sensible, worth-while job of the the matter some time in the not too far distant future.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin McLaren (Bristol, North-West)
I, also, would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) on the public service that he has rendered by bringing forward this Bill and allowing us this afternoon the opportunity to discuss the subject. We know that he has been campaigning on this topic for a prolonged period. There is no doubt at all that alcohol is a factor in some road cases, and we all agree that it is a very wrong thing to drive on the public roads when under the influence of drink.
I agree with what the Minister was telling us, that alcohol is a cause which is often over-emphasised and that, in fact, the statistics show that it is only in about 17 per cent. of cases that it is a relevant factor. I suppose it is over-emphasised because it is rather a sensational matter which is apt to catch 1129 the headlines. But this is a problem which must be kept in perspective and in which we ought not to adopt any panic remedies.
I was interested in the matter when I used to practise at the common law Bar and I used to consider the circumstances of many road traffic cases. I then became convinced that the most common factors leading to road accidents were not concerned with drink. Far the most common of all was purely driving too fast. Speed is a relative matter. One may be able to drive in perfect safety in good conditions at 80 m.p.h. on a motorway whereas, at the other end of the scale, 15 m.p.h. in a crowded, narrow street may be dangerously fast.
The other most common causes were pure carelessness, lack of judgment, points such as failing to see other motor vehicles or bicycles, or pedestrians, overtaking in the face of oncoming traffic, turning to the offside when it was not safe to do so, emerging on to major roads and things of that sort. There is no doubt that when a driver is influenced by strain or fatigue he is more likely to commit these faults.
Perhaps it was a Freudian slip on his part when the Minister used the phrase "the excessive consumption of Parliament". We with our recent memories can well understand what may have been in the right hon. Gentleman's subconscious mind. Other factors may be the use of defective vehicles or unsafe road conditions. I am sure that the Minister would agree that we have a great need, when we can find the money, for more traffic engineering in this country. It is for those reasons that, in an action for damages for injuries in road traffic cases, counsel, when drawing up the statement of claim, would usually start his particulars of negligence with the familiar items, driving too fast and failing to keep any or any adequate look-out. These are usually sufficiently comprehensive to cover the circumstances of a great preponderance of the accidents.
I would not deny for a moment that drink is a factor in some cases. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby does a public service in again drawing attention to it. The Minister indicated some of the practical problems and difficulties which have to be solved 1130 before we can confidently put legislation on the Statute Book. I am inclined to think that the course which he has suggested may, in all the circumstances, be the one which we should be wisest to adopt.
§ 3.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Page (King's Lynn)
I welcome the initiative shown by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) and congratulate him on the persistence of his campaign on a very important problem. An analysis of the real facts of drinking while driving is not very easy. Several times during the debate we have heard that 17 per cent. of drivers in accidents have had too much to drink. This is, of course, slightly different from saying that this necessarily caused the accident. It would, of course, be necessary to weigh up most carefully what proportion of the population in general had had too much to drink. That must mean that less than 17 per cent. of these accident cases were caused by the excess of drinking. We must be very careful in analysing these statistics.
Nevertheless, it is patent that it is a most serious and unforgivable thing to drink excessively and drive. Tremendous personal tragedies which result are beyond calculation. Any driver who culpably drinks and drives deserves all he gets. I think that the main difficulty we face at the moment is covered in the Bill, and that is the need for an objective means of assessing whether or not a driver is intoxicated. An interesting survey published in the British Medical Journal of 26th December, 1964, gives nearly 400 cases and analyses them very objectively. It set out the main criteria by which drunkenness is assessed in drivers—first of all, slurred speech; second, full, bounding pulse; third, impaired memory, fourth, poor co-ordination; fifth, widely dilated pupils; sixth, fine lateral nystagmus.
These criteria are all subjective and depend on the information of doctors and others. It is probably because of this—it must be because of this—that we have seen such reluctance on the part of juries to convict drivers accused of overdrinking. I think that it is most notable, that, of the cases tried before magistrates' courts, 97 per cent. resulted in conviction, but, of those which went before juries, only 1131 49 per cent. resulted in conviction. There is obviously a great reluctance on the part of juries to convict drivers under these circumstances.
The hon. Member for Crosby does a great service in drawing our attention to the need for a really objective test. If one places great reliance on these tests, one must look at them exceedingly carefully and I was pleased to hear the careful way in which my right hon. Friend the Minister approached this subject.
The Bill mentions a percentage basis. This is not adequate. As my right hon. Friend said, it is plainly desirable for us to know precisely what basis we are laying down. Merely to say a percentage basis is not sufficiently accurate. This is rather strange coming from the hon. Member for Crosby, who has such a reputation for being so exact and punctilious in the legal wording of anything with which he is connected.
It is necessary to apply equally strict examination to any technical criteria which we lay down. For instance, the Bill does not say whether the percentage content is based upon weight/weight, weight/volume, volume/volume, or volume/weight. These are all possible interpretations on a technical basis. We must be clear upon these things.
It would appear far better to adopt the wording "concentration" rather than "percentage" in any future legislation. Certainly, the basis adopted by the medical authorities—the content of alcohol calculated as milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood—would appear to be an objective scientific basis. But we are still not clear of the technical tangle.
My right hon. Friend the Minister said that an accused person should be given the option of two or three different types of test. I suggest that this is not sufficient as it stands and that due to the difficulty of being sure that any one test is really accurate and foolproof, it should be mandatory that two or three tests of a different kind should be taken in any one case.
Having worked for years in laboratories, I am well aware how easy it is for a laboratory technician to make a slip. Many bottles used in analysis are deliberately cleaned and dried with alcohol. To 1132 say that it is simple to mix them up is no slur upon the technicians concerned. They would be the first to say that complete objectivity is essential.
I put it to my right hon. Friend that in any legislation which he brings forward, at least two different types of test should be insisted upon as a check one against the other. Not only are we con-concerned with the correct carrying out of the tests, but we must remember that we are laying down a test for alcohol level. This is all very well for laymen. To them, alcohol is alcohol, but there are thousands of types of alcohol. The one with which we are concerned, the most common kind, is ethanol, but we must be clear that the tests test for ethanol and do not respond to any other alcohols which may be present in the blood due to other factors. I suggest, therefore, that careful examination is needed and that there should be more than one test in any one case.
Another point is that when samples are taken, it is imperative that a sample should be divided in two, one half to be taken by the police and the other to be sealed and made available for counsel acting on behalf of the accused. I regard this as essential. It should be written into any legislation in case of mistakes which need to be challenged technically.
Apart from questions of the level of ethanol in the blood, we have to consider also that drunkenness is not always due to ethanol. Hon. Members who are hardened drinkers will appreciate that the same quantity of alcohol, contained in different types of alcoholic beverages, have profoundly different effects of intoxication. This is because alcoholic beverages do not contain only ethanol but other alcohols, including various esters and ethers, which can be extremely intoxicating. I hope that in any future legislation the effects of other products will be taken into account, for they can, be far more intoxicating than ethanol itself.
In this connection, we must not forget that the physiology of one man may be different from that of another. Whereas one man can be fairly resistant to alcoholic drink, another can be made completely intoxicated by a level which would be below anything we might put in legislation. I would not be happy to see the alcoholic level set as the sole criterion.
1133 My hon. Friend indicated that there should be one standard. This worries me because it is possible for, say, a very tired hon. Member to become completely intoxicated and unable to drive his motor car by one sherry. Other hon. Members may suffer from withdrawal symptoms if alcohol is kept from them. We would be wise to maintain the power of the courts to convict on tests other than the level of alcohol. In other words, if the level is above that set down the person would be guilty or, on the other criteria, he could still be found guilty. For that reason I should nit like to see the other criteria dropped.
I do not wish to impose on the House, but I mention another consideration since the Minister of Transport is responsible for many aspects of transport in addition to road vehicles. Is it not important to apply such tests to all drivers, including pilots, captains of ships and others who are in charge of forms of transport? Is it necessary to apply the tests only to drivers of cars and road vehicles? Would we need separate legislation to test, say, air line pilots, remembering that people are increasingly using the various means of transport available, including aero-planes?
I have frequently spoken with members of the National Union of Commercial Travellers about automatic disqualification. I have an interest in that organisation, the members of which are concerned about this. It is easy to say that a man should automatically be disqualified if he is proved to have been drunk, and if that were an equal imposition on all drivers found intoxicated it would be fair. However, it would not be equitable to impose a single penalty which would hit one man lightly and destroy the whole livelihood and the welfare of the family of another.
This is intolerable. It may well be advisable to give the court the power to disqualify, but I express my total opposition to the compulsory disqualification of drivers who are convicted because of a certain alcoholic level in their blood. It might be the one and only occasion on which they are guilty and we surely should take their record into consideration. If we decided to make it obligatory to suspend the licence on the second or third conviction that is all very well, but I regard it as completely inequitable 1134 to make suspension compulsory on the first conviction.
It was pointed out in the B.M.J. survey, to which I have already referred, that 63.5 per cent. of those tested in the sample taken were dependent on driving for a living. Can we really contemplate depriving of their living that percentage of those accused and convicted, quite apart from other penalties? I submit that it is quite unjustifiable. I have suggested that many factors are involved in this matter. The National Union of Commercial Travellers concluded from a sample survey of its members—drivers who averaged 25.6 years' experience—that bad technique in driving was far more important than drinking, that speeding was the second major cause of accidents, and that drink came only third. Nevertheless, the N.U.C.T. does not oppose laying down a blood/alcohol limit. It accepts this as necessary and right. It simply asks most vehemently that there shall not be this automatic disqualification.
The last point is that drinking is a social habit. There are not many people who will drive up to a bar and drink themselves into intoxication. Drinking is overwhelmingly a social act. I wonder whether we could not make it an offence for anybody to encourage a driver to drink. This seems to me every bit as reprehensible as inciting to racial violence. It is every bit as likely to cause violence and death. We should consider this seriously and at the very least we should intensify a campaign aimed at discouraging company directors and buyers who may from time to time encourage commercial travellers to drink with them. This happens. I was in the business for eight years and I know. This should be strongly discouraged.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
I have had similar experience, but very often it is the commercial traveller who encourages the client to drink.
§ Sir D. Glover indicated assent.
§ Mr. Page
We all know what convoluted minds commercial travellers are liable to develop and they always manage 1135 to say something to please the other man almost before he thinks about it. We would be very well advised to aim some heavy propaganda towards buyers and directors, asking them particularly not to encourage travellers who sell to them, and also their own travellers, to drink and drive.
I have pointed out what I believe to be some weaknesses in the Bill. Nevertheless, the main object was to point out the necessity for an objective test. Once more I congratulate the hon. Member for Crosby on his initiative. I trust and believe that his efforts either directly or indirectly will result in legislation before many months have passed.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
There seems to be a majority of pedestrians in the House this afternoon. It is a little disconcerting to hear hon. Member after hon. Member saying how much he supports the proposition of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), then saying, "This is a good idea, but please withdraw it." It might be that the hon. Member would welcome someone who said, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) did, "This is fine. Go ahead with it" and then departed for Scotland. I do not like this Bill at all. I make my position quite clear.
The hon. Member for Crosby is a very formidable proposer of legislation. We have seen his tenacity and ability in recent deliberations on the Finance Bill. There have been many exercises when he has delighted us late at night in debates on Prayers. He is a very astute practitioner of this kind of legislation and today he has been battling on his own ground with a legal Bill and using his legal training and experience. With his past reputation as a Right-wing rebel and President of the Pedestrians Association, he has presented a Bill in which his legal training has helped him, but I wondered whether the wisest possible course for the President of the Pedestrians Association was to present a Bill which, whatever we think of it, will be labelled as an anti-motorist Bill.
I declare my interest in this matter. At times I am a pedestrian and I have been a member of the Association, 1136 although for some strange reason my membership has lapsed. I am also at times a motorist, and I am practically a teetotaller. After only two shandies I feel like bursting into song. Because alcohol has that effect on me I think I should be able to avoid the provisions of the Bill because I could be as "drunk as a lord", if I may use that expression here, and yet have so small a proportion of alcohol in my blood as to be under the limit provided by the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. D. Page) suggested that if one takes ether or methylated spirits one might avoid the penalties of the Bill and yet be as inebriated as anyone.
I have spent some frustrating work in the campaign for road safety. Many hon. Members this morning received a set of figures and statistics from the British Road Federation entitled, "Basic Road Statistics". Possibly through the work which the hon. Member for Crosby has been doing, pedestrians appear to have been doing reasonably well in this matter. I am surprised to find that whereas in 1928 3,255 pedestrians were killed on the roads of Great Britain, in 1964 the total had been reduced to 2,986. Compared with these figures for pedestrians there is a group classed as "others", which presumably includes motorists but not cyclists or pedestrians. The figures there have risen from 2,192 to 4,251. So the Pedestrians Association should not be too despondent about the work it is putting forward.
§ Mr. Ogden
Although the statistics are given in page after page there are no comparative figures concerning the consumption of alcohol and the relevance between consumption of alcohol and road accident figures. It would be interesting to know those figures. It is also important to know how many accidents have been caused by drunken pedestrians. This is something which is never presented. If there are breathalyser tests for motorists, will there be breathalyser tests for pedestrians? I give the hon. Gentleman credit for saying that a motorist about to leave a public house, being then a pedestrian and presumably being a member of his Association, could be asked to submit to a breathalyser test. So he is 1137 suggesting breathalyzer tests for pedestrians.
As the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) is present, may I point out that pedestrians, even when sober, can be a menace. I was foolish enough to motor through Ormskirk on Whit Friday afternoon. Ormskirk is a charming place to go to, but this was a foolish action. For two hours we proceeded very steadily at two miles an hour. We reached the traffic lights. They eventually turned green. A charming lady then proceeded to walk right across the town centre in front of the traffic. If this had been a motorist breaking the law he would have been whipped off that road and put into the local police station—they do not have clinks in Ormskirk—very quickly. There is one law for the motorist and another for the pedestrian. I look forward to the day when a law on jay-walking is presented by a motoring organisation.
It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman did not give a fuller explanation of his proposals. He said that we are merely discussing the principle and that we are all agreed on the principle. He very tact-filly skipped over the details of some of h is proposals, perhaps so that other hon. Members could participate in the debate. If I sought the hon. Gentleman's professional advice and he told me to accept Me principle but not to worry about the little paragraphs in small print, I should he very surprised.
Therefore, although I do not intend to examine the Bill line by line, I intend to examine it Clause by Clause. Clause 1 says that it shall be an offence for a person to be in charge of a motor vehicle if he has a prescribed percentage of alcohol in his blood. If I do nothing else this afternoon, I make a plea for my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to pass on to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport in respect of those poor devils who find that they have taken on board more alcohol than they can carry and who then proceed to sit in their vehicles by the roadside, or even, as happened very recently, say to themselves, "I have had too much. I am not fit to be in charge of a vehicle" and go in all good faith to the local police station. They are then whipped inside. They appear in court on Monday morning and are fined £20 or £50 for doing what they thought was right. However, 1138 they were in charge of a motor vehicle, so they are still fined.
There is a case for amending legislation. A distinction should be drawn between those who are in charge of a vehicle and are driving it along a road and those who are nominally in charge but have no intention of taking the vehicle on the road and who give themselves up freely.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
In one case it was proved that a gentleman had actually gone to bed. Because he had the key of his car with him it was held that he was still in charge of it.
§ Mr. Ogden
You are not safe anywhere these days, but since last October much has been done to put that right. I ask the Minister to consider this point seriously. This is one flaw in the Bill as it stands.
Clause 2 provides that there shall be no conviction iffor special reasons the ability of that person to drive properly was not impaired.We are now getting into realms which some of my medical friends would better understand. I take it that, even if a person has consumed an excess amount of alcohol, if there are certain clinical conditions in his body which operate so that his ability is not impaired Clause 1 is contradicted. Clauses 1 and 2 are exact opposites. Some provision should have been made for those who have had a very small amount of alcohol. Those people with clinical conditions which make them specially susceptible to alcohol should be considered.
Clause 3 provides that the courts must disqualify on conviction. If it is provided that disqualification is mandatory, the tendency of courts—and certainly of juries—will be be to acquit rather than convict. This tendency has become too frequent.
Clause 4 is the kind of Clause which always causes controversy. The hon. Gentleman was very vague about this. The subject of conducting tests outside public houses has been mentioned before. Presumably if a prosecution was not successful on the first part, a man could be charged with conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace. Can we not imagine the logical conclusion of this proposal when a person emerging from a public 1139 house was asked to submit to a breathalyser test even before he had got into his car? There is a certain weakness there.
The same difficulties arise on Clause 5. In neither Clause 4 nor Clause 5 is there any mention of a timetable, and I feel that more explanation is due on this essential point.
Coming to Clause 6, I agree that it would have been better to start with an accepted limit, and this should have been written into the Bill.
There is complete agreement on both sides of the House on Clause 7. It is nice to know that "motor vehicle" in 1965 still has the same meaning as it had in 1960 and that "road" in 1965 has the same meaning as it had in 1962. This might not be progress, but at least it is a change from some of the rows which have been going on in this House.
Clause 8 states:This Act may be cited as the Road Safety Act, 1965",and subsection (2) states that the Act shall not extend to Northern Ireland. Why is this? I admit my ignorance on this point. I have been learning a lot about Northern Ireland since I have been in this House, but I do not know why this Act does not extend to that country.
§ Mr. Graham Page
There is a constitutional point that this House does not legislate for Northern Ireland on this subject. Northern Ireland legislates for itself.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
We might also insert in the Bill a provision that Northern Ireland Members should not vote on the Bill.
§ Mr. Ogden
If we tried to get such a Bill through on a Friday we might have a chance.
It is not for nothing that the sponsor of the Bill is an honorary fellow of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. This has been an excellent exercise in putting forward proposals not only from hon. Members but from people outside. 1140 I should like to add my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on what he has done. However, I think that a much wider Bill is needed than this, with much more rounded proposals before they could really be considered seriously by the House. I therefore hope the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the Bill.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I am grateful to the Minister for what he has said about this Bill and for his expression of intentions. I have seldom, if ever, heard such a firm Ministerial undertaking. In those circumstances, I think I can be confident that the headlines will not be as I feared if I were to take a certain course, but will be "Drink limit Bill this year". I hope the headlines will be of that nature. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill withdrawn.