§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mrs. Barbara Castle)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill is substantially the same Measure as that which I brought before the House earlier this year. I am happy to say that most of the provisions of the Bill were welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I think that we all saw the new principles introduced by the Bill as an important step forward in the continuing battle to reduce the intolerable number of casualties on our roads. This is a cause to which Members of all parties are dedicated. A cynic once said that road accidents are a measure of a nation's prosperity—the more accidents, the more affluence. If that is so, then Britain is rich indeed.
It is only nine months since I introduced the original version of the Bill, and in that short time at least 5,500 people have been killed on our roads and another 73,000 seriously injured. These deaths and injuries are self-inflicted, in the sense that society inflicts this appalling damage on itself. We believe that it is primarily through a greater social awareness of the evil, a greater willingness to accept discipline, restraint—and penalties—that society will cure itself of the disease.
The Bill makes a number of specific and, I believe, absolutely essential proposals for improving the situation, but its underlying purpose is to help in creating this greater consciousness of the problem and determination to deal with it.
The Bill, like the previous one, falls naturally into two parts, the first part dealing with drink and driving and the second with the safety of goods vehicles. In each part there is one major change from what was put before the House last February, and I shall devote most of my time to explaining the reasons for these changes.
The aim of Part I of the Bill is to make the sanctions against drinking and driving far more effective than they are 982 under present legislation. To do this we propose a far-reaching change in the law, as the House knows. We are creating a new offence, namely, the offence of driving with more than a certain proportion of alcohol in the blood. By this means we shall be taking the guesswork out of the law on drink and driving.
Once the Bill has been brought into force, it will be an offence to drive with a blood alcohol level of more than 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. All the old arguments about what constitutes impairment and all the old devices for trying to decide whether or not a driver is impaired will go. Instead there will be a clear-cut level, and this 80 milligramme level which we have fixed has been arrived at on the recommendation of the B.M.A. and bearing in mind the views put forward by the Medical Research Council.
I would not like to suggest that this level is fixed for all time. I said it was a scientific standard, and, as such, the House might think it was subject to the eternal verity which the laws of science are supposed to possess. Certainly the medical authorities agree that, with a concentration of alcohol in the blood beyond this level, the ability to drive of the great majority of people is impaired.
Just how important it is to have this new standard hon. Members will realise from the fact that at present prosecutions in this country are rarely brought against drivers having a concentration of less than 150 milligrammes, and even then a very high proportion are acquitted. With this new standard in force, we estimate that the saving in casualties each year will be between 18,000 and 32,000. None the less, there is a dispute about what the level should be, some people holding that it is too high and others holding that it is too low.
§ Clause 6 therefore gives me power to vary this limit by Order, subject to the affirmative Resolution of both Houses. This means that, in the light of our experience of the working of the new procedure, we shall be able to make such changes as appear to be necessary.
§ Clause 1, which I take not to be a matter of controversy, describes and defines the new offence which we are creating and the punishments provided for 983 committing that offence. The Clause is identical with Clause 1 of the original Bill.
§ Clause 2 deals with the powers of the police to carry out roadside breath tests. Here we have an important change, which I shall deal with later.
§ Clause 3 lays down the procedure for obtaining specimens of blood or urine from a suspected driver and also prescribes penalties for unreasonably failing to provide those specimens. In both these Clauses there are relatively minor changes.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
Before the Minister leaves Clause 3, will she explain whether it is intended that a doctor shall be present when the test is made?
§ Clauses 4, 5 and 6, which I do not propose to discuss further today, deal with periods of disqualification, applications of the Bill to the Armed Forces, and the interpretation and fixing of the blood alcohol limit. These Clauses are the same as in the previous Bill.
§ I come now to the changes we have made in Part I, and I will deal with the relatively lesser ones first. Clause 2 provides, as in the previous Bill, that any person can be required to take a roadside breath test if the police have reasonable grounds to suspect that he was driving a vehicle involved in an accident. But, obviously, some of these drivers will have suffered injury and it will be necessary to take them straight to hospital. This does not mean that a breath test cannot be administered. Provided the hospital doctor does not object on the grounds that it would be prejudicial to the proper care and treatment of the patient, it ought to be possible for the breath test to be administered in hospital. Indeed, it is essential that wherever possible this should be done.
§ It is not unheard of for drivers involved in accidents to exaggerate or even to feign injury so as to be taken to hospital where, they hope, they will gain sanctuary from police inquiries. This practice is as much a nuisance to hospital accident departments 984 as it is an interference with the course of justice. We have therefore amended Clause 2 to make it possible to conduct breath tests in hospital, but—and this is a vital safeguard for drivers—only if the doctor in charge of the case has no objection, and the doctor must be notified by the police that they wish to make the test. The doctor is free to object if he thinks that provision of a breath specimen, or even knowledge of the fact that the police want to make the test, would, in any way prejudice the patient's health or treatment.
§ There is a parallel change in Clause 3. If the preliminary breath test shows that a further test, by blood or urine specimen, is desirable, then it should be possible for this type of test to be made in hospital. Normally, this second test will happen in a police station, but, as I have said, in the case of an injured driver this may not be possible. Clause 3 now makes this possible in hospital, subject to exactly the same safeguards as are provided in the case of breath tests in Clause 2.
§ Let me add here that hospital staff will not be involved in any way in taking these specimens. This will always be done by a policeman or, in the case of blood tests, by a police doctor. Hon. Members will agree that these changes are for the better. They tighten up the scope of the Bill's operations and at the same time they ensure that the driver's rights are properly safeguarded.
§ In Clause 3 we have made a further change, arising from a suggestion made when we were considering the original Bill in Committee. Court proceedings will be based on the analysis of a specimen of blood or urine and not on the results of the breath test. Analysis of a blood specimen gives the most accurate results. If the suspected driver refuses to provide a specimen of blood, he will be asked to provide a specimen of urine instead. In fact, it is necessary for maximum accuracy in analysis to provide two specimens of urine. The original Bill left it to administrative practice to see that these two specimens were obtained. The new Bill tightens up this looseness and lays it down, as a matter of Statute, that two specimens shall be taken.
§ I turn now to the major change in the Bill, which centres around the only 985 part of the original Bill which aroused any serious measure of disagreement. This was the proposal to introduce random roadside breath tests. It aroused more than just disagreement. It aroused in some quarters almost hysterical and irrational opposition. Our original proposal was that the police should be able to stop any driver completely at random and require him to take a breath test.
§ I argued when I introduced the Bill that this was the most effective deterrent we could provide, namely, to make everybody in charge of a vehicle liable to a check at any time. I still hold to the view that we must have a random element in our provisions. It is not because of any change of heart about this fundamental principle that there are changes in the Bill we are considering today.
§ As I said earlier, one of the objectives of the Bill—a very important one—is to alter the attitude of ordinary people to drink and driving. We must get the man or the woman who drinks to an extent which impairs driving ability and then drives recognised as dangerous and anti-social. We shall not do this by means of legal procedures which are widely regarded as unfair to those affected by them.
§ I myself do not accept that there is anything unfair about an entirely random test. I do not believe that the mere fact of being required to take such a test would count, as has been widely alleged, as a social stigma. But we must be realistic about this. Though the opposition to this proposal totally failed to convince me that our plans were wrong, it did convince me that enough people thought that we would in some sense unjustly persecute completely innocent motorists to make me think again. It is on the basis of this analysis of public opinion, as well as on other reasons on which I will touch, that the Bill has been changed.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
I am most interested in this part of the argument about why the Government have changed their mind. I understand that it is because some area of public opinion voiced itself strongly against the proposal. What kind of sampling did the Government make to find out what public opinion felt about it? Where is the evidence, apart from the attitude of the A.A. and the R.A.C., that the community at 986 large did not approve of random spot checks?
§ Mrs. Castle
We are not acting merely on the evidence of the A.A. or any other motoring organisation. We are acting on the evidence that came in to Members of Parliament and to the Department of a strength of feeling which was genuinely held in some quarters, quite apart from the motoring organisations, that an issue of individual liberty was involved. I never held that view.
I tell the House frankly that I am anxious to make an important start in this field which will command widespread public co-operation. This is essential if we are to change social attitudes. If my hon. Friend will allow me to con tinue to explain the Bill, I think that it will be seen that we have attempted to retain some element of the random test system whilst concentrating the effectiveness of the deterrent. I hope and believe that this will have a very dramatic effect on public behaviour and gradually and increasingly on public attitudes.
What change have we in fact made? I want to emphasise that we have by no means completely abandoned the random principle. What we have done is to concentrate the operation of the random principle so that those who can now be required to take a roadside test are more likely to include offenders than would be the case if any driver could be stopped at any time. One of the arguments that arose during our earlier discussions and which, as a result of the representations which were made, impressed me as having some substance, was that the completely random test might, by using scarce enforcement resources on a wide range of completely innocent people, actually lessen the deterrent effect instead of increasing it.
What will happen now is that under Clause 2 the police will be able to carry out roadside breath tests on any motorist whom they have reason to suspect of either committing a moving traffic offence or of being involved in an accident. Also under Clause 2 the police will be able, having already stopped a motorist for any reason, to require him to take a breath test if they have grounds to suspect him of having taken alcohol, regardless of the quantity.
It will be apparent to hon. Members that these tests will still be random in 987 a very important sense. Accidents can happen to all of us. The police frequently stop drivers in the course of their duty—for example, when checking for stolen goods. At the same time, there is this element of concentration. The category of moving traffic offences includes speeding, dangerous driving and careless driving, all of which are particularly likely to be committed by drivers who have drunk more than they should.
I stress that we are not giving the police power to stop motorists solely in order to see whether they merit a breath test. There can, therefore, be no question of the police setting up traps just round the corner from a public house and waiting to pounce.
One of the most important features of the original Bill was that it made it an offence to drink and drive, even though the driver had not yet reached a point when he was visibly and obviously drunk. This element is retained in this Bill. I lay great stress on this, because we must get drivers to realise that they can be seriously impaired by drink long before they are visibly impaired. Therefore, it is just as wrong for a driver to drive in the first case as when he is clearly and visibly drunk. In fact, it may be even more dangerous to do so, because, if it is seen that a man is drunk, steps can often be taken to prevent him from driving.
I understand that the Bill as now modified meets the objections which the motoring organisations raised to its original form. I have always been glad that from the outset they supported the creation of the new offence which appeared in the original Bill and which is retained in this one. I am glad to know that we shall now have their full cooperation in getting the public to accept the proposed method of enforcement.
The publicity and controversy attracted by the Bill in its original form centred on Part I, with which I have just been dealing. This should not hide the fact that Part II is an extremely important piece of legislation.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
Will the Minister explain to the House in simpler language the definition in Clause 6 of "the prescribed limit"? What does 98880 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of bloodmean in language perhaps better known in the House and outside it?
§ Mrs. Castle
I do not know what other type of language the hon. and learned Gentleman means. I certainly do not intend to try to interpret it in terms of the number of drinks taken. That could lead one into very dangerous waters by encouraging people to believe that there is a safe limit up to which they can drink. All I can say to the hon. and learned Gentleman is that it is a level which can be ascertained objectively and which we have fixed on the basis of medical advice.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
In order that people might know what to avoid doing, could not the right hon. Lady express it in Imperial measure?
§ Mrs. Castle
I have no intention of doing so. I repeat that it would be most unwise for us to give any impression that there is a certain number of drinks which can safely be taken. The principle which we must bring home to people is that there is no safe level in driving and that the only safe rule is not to drink and drive. Further than that I am not prepared to go.
§ Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)
Does that mean that the right hon. Lady has shifted from her position when in her last speech on this Bill she mentioned six pints of beer or six large whiskies?
§ Mrs. Castle
Yes. I freely admit that, although that was what one might call a popular interpretation of the medical limit which was given to me by reputable sources, I found, and I realised afterwards, that this was an unwise thing for me to have said. Therefore, I am retracting it. I give no figures of drink equivalent, partly because individuals vary and because the effect of drink on them varies. Therefore, I shall stick firmly to the medical interpretation.
§ Mr. Ian Lloyd (Portsmouth, Langstone)
Before the right hon. Lady leaves Part I, could she clarify something in Clause 2(1,6) in which we find the words:to suspect him of having committed a traffic offence while the vehicle was in motion"?989 Are we to take it that any driver in the country who now commits what the House will understand is a technical speeding offence will automatically have a breath test taken?
§ Mrs. Castle
It can be taken. A moving traffic offence could certainly include the violation of the speed limit. I do not like the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that this is a technical error into which people can slip. It is a very serious error in driving. But the test would not necessarily be automatic. There is a power to apply the test, and it will be applied at the discretion of the police, on which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who is to wind up the debate, will be glad to dilate.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
The right hon. Lady has said that it is impossible to slip into an offence such as speeding, presumably because one has a speedometer. How does one avoid slipping into the offence of drinking too much if one has not got a do-it-yourself breathalyser? How is one to know at what stage one commits an offence if one is not able to ascertain whether one has 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood?
§ Mrs. Castle
As I said earlier, there is no safe prevention from slipping into the offence except by not drinking when driving.
§ Mr. Doughty
I am obliged to the right hon. Lady for giving way again. This is important. It is no good bringing the Bill before the House unless the public can understand. There are tables. What do the B.M.A. tables show is the equivalent of alcohol representing 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood?
§ Mrs. Castle
The reason why I have refused to repeat what I said in my previous speech about quantities is that the B.M.A. has stopped giving conversion tables. The House must stop thinking in terms of conversion tables, and we must start talking to the public in terms of the fact that the socially responsible person will not drink and drive. That is as simple a way as I can put it.
I want now to turn to Part II of the Bill. I repeat that this is an extremely important piece of legislation which establishes 990 a number of new principles essential to the safety of traffic and of people on our roads. Here, when the original Bill was introduced, there was no controversy. The House was united in welcoming the proposals in the Bill which already had the approval of the users' organisations concerned and which are repeated in this Bill. Therefore, I hope I need not detain the House for long in enumerating in detail those parts which are not controversial and which are repeated in this Bill.
Briefly, Part II gives us the powers that we need to end the menace of the ill-maintained and over-loaded lorry. Not only is such a lorry dangerous in itself, but so is the frustration which it causes to other road users when they have to crawl behind an over-burdened heavy lorry as it struggles uphill. I am sure we all agree that irritation and impatience are two of the most dangerous sensations that a driver can experience while at the wheel.
If anybody should doubt the value of what we are doing in Part II, I refer him to the latest statistics issued by the Ministry of the results of spot checks on goods vehicles. In the year ending 30th September last, 120,000 vehicles were inspected at such checks. There were 13,500 vehicles found to be dangerous; that is to say, 11 per cent. of those spot tested were found to be dangerous, while 36,500, or 30 per cent., were found to be defective but not dangerous. These figures indicate the existence of a minority of operators whose standards are anti-socially low, who are willing to risk the lives of their employees and the public at large for the sake of quick profits.
The Bill attacks these problems on a wide front. We shall introduce annual testing of goods vehicles weighing more than 30 cwt. unladen. At present only those below this weight fall under the testing regulations. The aim is to give the heavier vehicles a first test in 1968 and 1969 and to have annual testing in operation by 1970. Clauses 8 and 21 of the Bill give us the necessary powers to do this.
The same Clauses give us the power to "plate" vehicles to show their maximum safe weight. Under this system vehicles reporting for test will be assigned weights which they must not exceed, and they will have to carry plates showing what 991 that weight is. All this will be done through a chain of Government testing centres. We have already selected the sites for virtually all of these, and despite the delay to the legislation which was imposed by the General Election, we have every hope that the scheme will start punctually.
Also by 1970 we hope to have a "type approval" scheme in force. Clauses 9 to 12 of the Bill give us the necessary powers. This system will strengthen and simplify our control of the construction of new vehicles. By approving the design of vehicles before they go on the roads, we shall avoid having to rely on picking up the bad ones afterwards. Let me emphasise that we do not intend to interfere with the manufacturers' design and production process. We shall approve a maker's type if it satisfies the construction and performance requirements laid down. So long as we are satisfied that the production line will turn out models to the same standard as the type, we shall not interfere in any way with the organisation of production.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
Will the right hon. Lady's safety regulations and design requirements include measures to stop the emission of dangerous exhaust fumes?
§ Mrs. Castle
There is no doubt that if we get a proper weighting of vehicles we shall immediately help to correct a number of other evils, of which this is one. However, this is a matter with which we are dealing on other fronts.
§ Clauses 15 and 16 strengthen our spot-check provisions. Clause 17 enables us to make regulations to compel operators to make maintenance checks of their vehicles and to keep records of these checks. In particular, we are going to extend our spot checks so as to be able to prohibit the driving of unladen as well as laden vehicles. We are also taking powers to order the unloading of dangerously overloaded vehicles.
§ Finally, we shall reintroduce, I hope in 1968, the scheme for heavy goods vehicles drivers' licences. The 1960 Road Traffic Act gives us power to revive the scheme, but there are some improvements to be made which are provided 992 for in Clauses 18 and 19. The scheme will be operated through the Government testing stations.
§ I do not think I need detain the House with discussion here of the subsequent Clauses of the Bill which are concerned with the regulatory powers needed to bring into force the intentions which I have outlined, nor with the financial effects of the Bill.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
Before the right hon. Lady leaves the question of testing vehicles, may I ask whether she has considered the problem of farmers' lorries which do not normally go on the road? Would she agree that they could be tested by Ministry of Agriculture inspectors when they come to inspect farm vehicles, rather than having to go to testing stations?
§ Mrs. Castle
It depends on whether the vehicle is on the road. If it is used for internal farm purposes, then presumably a different situation would apply. But any vehicle that goes on our roads must comply with the laws that affect vehicles on the road.
Before I sit down, I must draw the attention of the House to the one important change which we have made in Part II since the Bill came before the House in February. Hon. Members will recall that in the original Bill we increased the penalty for overloading a vehicle from £50 to £200. We have now extended that increased penalty to cover contraventions of the Construction and Use Regulations involving brakes, tyres and steering, and for other dangerous breaches of those regulations. This change is in line with our determination that those who put the lives of others at risk shall be subject to appropriately severe penalties.
I remind the House that the credit for this extension of the increased penalty goes chiefly to the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow), who told us in the Second Reading debate on the original Bill of a lorry which was involved in an accident, causing the death of two adults and four children. The lorry was one of three defective vehicles in the firm's garage, and its brakes were practically worthless. Under the existing law, as my hon. Friend pointed out, the firm responsible for this shocking neglect could not be fined more than £50. In 993 winding up the debate on that occasion, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary undertook to consider carefully what had been said about penalties in such cases, and the result of that consideration is the change in the Bill to which I have just referred I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I say how grateful we are to the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth.
This completes all that I wish to say at this stage about the individual provisions of the Bill. But I wish to add this about the Bill so far as it concerns the safety of lorries: I am convinced that the great majority of operators of goods vehicles in this country are responsible and public-spirited men. They do not wittingly send their employees out in vehicles which should not be on the roads. It is a minority who need to tighten up their maintenance and inspection, and it is a very small minority, I am glad to say, who offend so seriously that they are likely to run foul of the tougher penalties we now propose. Throughout the preparation of this legislation, my Ministry has received the closest co-operation from the various organisations representing manufacturers, operators and drivers of goods vehicles. Consultation will continue as we come to introduce the various regulations which the Bill enables us to bring in.
The Bill as a whole marks the increasing readiness of people in this country to take road safety seriously. But taking road safety seriously unfortunately means that all of us on the roads, private motorists and commercial operators alike, must accept more rules and regulations and restraints than in the past. The Government will not create more of these than are necessary, but neither shall we hesitate to legislate toughly in the interests of saving lives. It is in this spirit that I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead)
We have heard a rather different speech from the right hon. Lady today compared with her speech when she first presented the Bill to the House. Whatever 994 has happened in the meantime to make the right hon. Lady change her mind—whether the reasons are rational or not—one thing is clear, and that is that she has learned that while one can lead people in a democracy one cannot drive them. That is a very valuable lesson for a Government who believe too often that the gentlemen—and the ladies—in Whitehall know best.
Doubtless, some of my hon. Friends—if they are fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker—may feel inclined to twit the right hon. Lady because she has changed her mind, but I urge them to resist the temptation. After all, the return of the prodigal is a time for rejoicing and killing the fatted calf, not for rubbing salt into the wound. I am particularly anxious that the right hon. Lady should have an easy passage after her conversion, because I am afraid that the road to Damascus is one she will have to tread many times in the future if we are to take at their face value all her utterances on transport. For this reason, we want her to have no fears of unkind recrimination from us when the blinding light of the obvious strikes through to her.
On transport matters, the right hon. Lady talks a lot, and it is perhaps not always very good sense. But we forgive her this very feminine trait of loquacity because she has displayed today another very feminine trait, the right of every woman to change her mind. We welcome this change, not in a cock-a-hoop I-told-you-so manner, but because we realise that by making the change the Minister has removed the main barrier to the Bill's success. Now that she realises how easy it is, I hope that the House and the nation will have many more occasions when they can be grateful to the right hon. Lady for having the good sense to be a real woman and to do the opposite of what she formerly said.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Healey)
As I understood my right hon. Friend, she said that she had not changed her mind but had bowed to opinion which she regarded as misguided.
§ Mr. Galbraith
That is really the chief reason why I am so pleased, because it shows that once in a while, although the gentlemen in Whitehall think they know best, they give way to public opinion. 995 Because there has been this change over random checks, it does not mean that we are at all tolerant towards people who drink excessively and then drive. Certainly, we on this side of the House are not. Drink is dangerous on the road, whether it is consumed by drivers or pedestrians. If coroners are now to have powers to test the blood of motorists who die as a result of accidents, would it not be wise to have the full picture by also including figures for pedestrians?
There are those who seek to minimise the effect of drink on road accidents by referring to the relatively small percentages of accidents caused through drink. But they forget that percentages do not always tell the full story, and that when these percentages are quantified and turned into actual people the numbers involved, to say nothing of the economic loss caused by these accidents, are enough to show that further action is necessary.
Because we on this side of the House realise this, we accept now as we always have done—and I stress that—the need to have an objective standard for testing impairment, not based on clinical observation but determined merely by the amount of alcohol in the blood. As the right hon. Lady said, this is indeed a great change in the law. It creates an automatic offence which does not depend on observable signs of impaired driving. Nevertheless, we accept this test because we accept the advice of the B.M.A. that at 80 milligrammes the driving of the vast majority of people will be dangerously impaired.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
The B.M.A. said that the level at which driving was impaired was 50 milligrammes, not 80 milligrammes, per 100 millilitres, as provided in the Bill.
§ Mr. Galbraith
So far as I recall, while it certainly mentioned that other figure, the B.M.A. recommended 80.
I understand that the motoring organisations, too, accept the test. The right hon. Lady said so, I think. This is a very important factor in the situation because, without their support and their crusading zeal for safety, the Government are never likely to have the co-operation of motorists, and, thanks to Conservative 996 affluence, the motorists are now, in effect, the bulk of the people in this country. It is only by getting the co-operation of the bulk of the people that the Government have the least chance of carrying through the revolution in social behaviour which will be necessary before people stop having one more for the road.
I realise that a great many people, having thought carefully on the matter, regard the abandonment of random checks as making the Bill a dead letter, but I do not believe this to be so at all. From a practical point of view, I doubt that random checks could ever work. The sheer logistics alone would create tremendous problems—setting up the check posts, arranging for offending cars to be properly parked, waiting for the balance of the 25 minutes if necessary, driving the suspect to the police station and then back again if he is not guilty, and so on.
§ Mr. Tony Gardner (Rushcliffe)
Have not some other European countries managed to sort out the logistics and overcome these problems?
§ Mr. Galbraith
I am dealing with this in our own country. Whatever some hon. Members opposite may think about it, my mind boggles at what would be required of the police if random checks were to be carried out an a scale sufficiently large to be effective. If they were not carried out on such a scale, the scheme would achieve little, as the relative failure of the spot checks of lorries shows only too clearly. I am sure that the right hon. Lady will agree that it is precisely because of the limitation on spot checking as a method of enforcing safety standard that she is now providing, in Part II of the Bill, to supplement spot checks by annual testing. But, quite apart from the practical limitations of random checks, a much more serious objection was that people have never really thought them fair. Whatever gloss one may put upon it, to give an official the right to check at random without suspicion an apparently law-abiding citizen is an infringement of one of the basic human liberties in this country.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
The hon. Gentleman's party when in office always supported the power contained in Section 223 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, enabling any police officer in uniform to stop 997 a motor car at any time, without excuse, the motorist being required to stop in those circumstances. What is the hon. Gentleman's difficulty, if there is no increase on that power suggested in a random check system?
§ Mr. Galbraith
The hon. Gentleman, who has already intervened more than once in the debate, may be forfeiting his right to catch the eye of the Chair if he wishes to speak later. I wish to proceed with my argument.
I was saying that, whatever gloss is put upon it, it is an infringement of one of the basic human liberties in this country. Even if the hon. Gentleman does not think so, he will find that most of his constituents do.
Furthermore, a law which does not strike a response in people's hearts is a very dangerous law, because the cohesion of society ultimately depends upon the majority of people feeling that the law and their sense of moral right go together. The right hon. Lady must be particularly careful here. Repressive legislation such as her party indulges in, of which random checks is a good example and of which she threatened us with more towards the end of her speech today, if it is unbacked by public consent often leads to social evils far worse than originally contemplated. Prohibition in America is a very good example.
The trouble with right hon. and hon. Members opposite is that they have not realised that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. The black market which flourished the last time the party opposite was in power is another example. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am quite ready to believe that hon. Members opposite do not like to hear a few home truths, but I propose to give them a few. Today, as a result of the freeze, excessive taxation and the dictatorship inherent in the Land Commission Bill, we have the beginning of the same seeds of social disruption, with people trying to "get away with it", not caring whether they break the law. This is a state of affairs which always flourishes when the ordinary plain man feels that the law is not reasonable or fair or in accordance with his sense of natural justice.
However, by abandoning random checks, the Minister has at least seen the 998 red light, and we are glad of that. She has thereby given the objective test a real chance of working successfully. Nevertheless, we remain somewhat suspicious. The Government are, after all, a Socialist Government. They believe in the State rather than the individual. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is no good groaning. That is true. The recent incredible attempt by the Attorney-General, apparently backed by the Prime Minister, to gag comment on the Aberfan disaster——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Broad as is the debate on Second Reading, it does not cover all the Government's policies.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. What I was trying to point out, with examples, is the danger which occurs when freedom is not given its proper place. We remain suspicious, and I was giving reasons why we are suspicious, but I shall give no more of them now. Because of our suspicion, we have to query some of the proposals in the Bill which we might otherwise accept. For example, what precisely does the provision in Clause 2(1, a) mean? The right hon. Lady dealt with this partly but not entirely clearly. As I read it—I shall be delighted to know that I am wrong—it means that someone coming out of a public house could be subjected to a test even if he was stone-cold sober, or even if he looked stone-cold sober. The righ hon. Lady said that this was not so. If it is not so, would it not be wise to draft the Bill so that the police should first have reasonable ground for suspecting that alcohol beyond the prescribed limits had been drunk before they required anyone to carry out the test?
§ Mr. Galbraith
I heard the hon. Gentleman perfectly clearly on the first occasion when he intervened, but I do not allow him now. He is one too many in the House.
§ Mr. Lubbock
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman suggested that I had had one too many. Is that in order?
§ Mr. Galbraith
I began to think that perhaps the hon. Gentleman had. However, as he has cracked that good joke, I shall give way.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Would it satisfy the hon. Gentleman if it were provided that inspection or testing by the police should not be carried out within half a mile or a mile of a public house?
§ Mr. Galbraith
No, that is not really the point. The police ought to have reasonable ground for suspecting not just that alcohol has been drunk but that alcohol beyond the prescribed limit has been drunk. Then there would be no fear either of personal victimisation or of the structure of a Gestapo State being evolved here almost unperceived.
§ Mrs. Castle
How on earth does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the constable should make his estimate? He is asking the police officer to have some basis for making an estimate that there has been more alcohol drunk than the prescribed limit allows, but the only way to ascertain that is by an objective measure such as the breath test.
§ Mr. Galbraith
But the Bill, as I read it, provides that a policeman has to have grounds for suspecting a person of having alcohol in his blood. I wish to go one stage further. I do not know how the policeman will do that. The right hon. Lady's objection applies just as much to her test as it does to mine, but my test is a refinement of her test.
§ Mr. Galbraith
However, this is a Committee point. I am merely putting it forward now.
It is perhaps appropriate to say at this stage that my hon. Friend who will wind up will be dealing with the legal implications of the Bill more fully. At this stage I would just say that we have some doubt about the fairness of treating offenders under this Act in the same way as the man who is, in addition, clinically impaired in a visible manner. The court should have some discretion to treat these cases on their merits with regard to the period of disqualification. To treat them as if they were the same is an example of the sort of unreasonableness which is an affront to people's sense of fairness and which ends up by alienating public support, which the right hon. Lady realises she must have.
1000 It is important at this moment, when the Government are showing such an extraordinary degree of tenderness towards criminals of the grosser sort that they are even able to escape from prison, for the Government to be particularly careful when laying down penalties which may affect the ordinary, law abiding citizen, to do so in a reasonable way that will command instant understanding and respect.
From these somewhat turgid waters, I turn to what I am sure the Minister feels will be the calmer atmosphere of Part II of the Bill. Before I discuss its merits, I must put the right hon. Lady right as to the Bill's parentage. Undoubtedly she has delivered it, but its father is not, as she suggested in February, the right hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser). Although I do not like suggesting what may be an embarrassing liaison to the right hon. Lady, the Bill's father is none other than my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples), whose energetic and non-partisan approach did so much to improve transport during the five years that he was Minister.
§ Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)
The last remarks of the hon. Gentleman test my patience. Am I not right in thinking that the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) was in 1960 unable to carry his party with him on what is now Part I of the Bill? It is tragic that the Opposition should introduce such sour remarks as we have been having today on a Bill which should be generally non-political.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I thought we had left Part I of the Bill and had got on to Part II. I was saying that my right hon. Friend, unlike the right hon. Lady with her Socialist prejudices, approached transport with an open mind. If I had said "pragmatically" it might have evoked a response from the right hon. Lady. My right hon. Friend approached it as a technical subject which required technical answers to the technical problems that it posed, and not a battleground for party dogma. It was, therefore, rather unfair of the right hon. Lady to say, as she did in February, that no firm plans were ever announced by the late Government. It was not only unfair 1001 but also untrue. Speaking on 25th September, 1964, at the opening of the Commercial Motor Show, my right hon. Friend said:So I now announce that I have approved positive plans for the establishment of an annual testing scheme for heavy goods vehicles on a nationwide basis.Did the right hon. Lady really not know of this announcement when she made her first speech, or is it just another of her little slips, like her failure to provide a Minister in Committee the other day, that indicate a general weakening in her administrative competence?
In fact, the whole framework of Part II is in accordance with Tory principles of reform, and it was largely devised by my right hon. Friend, who was extremely energetic in this field. He was also most outspoken in what he had to say to the leaders of an industry which is still largely owned by private enterprise. If the right hon. Lady showed the same courage in castigating her friends in the unions who are holding the nation up to ransom by refusing to work the liner trains, we might have some faith in her ability to rise to the occasion, but so far I am sorry to say, there have been no signs of that.
§ Mrs. Castle
If the hon. Gentleman is widening the debate in this way—and apparently is permitted to do so—will he tell me what the views of the right hon. Gentleman for Wallasey were about road pricing?
§ Mr. Galbraith
I am dealing with the Bill, and everything that I have said so far has been connected with it. I have given examples of what happens when one does not have proper regard for freedom.
As it is, with all the talk of "cowboys" on the roads—that is not actually what the right hon. Lady has said, but we have heard it plenty of times before—following her recent trip to America, I believe that she rather fancies herself in the rôle of a female sheriff, armed with the six shooter provisions of the Bill, rounding up what Socialists too often regard as the private enterprise law-breakers.
But the interesting thing about these spot checks—I do not know whether the right hon. Lady has ever taken part in one—is that publicly-owned concerns 1002 are often just as guilty of bad maintenance as the wildest of the cowboys. Indeed, one of the worst vehicles at a spot check that I attended was owned by a local authority which had had a Socialist council for more than 30 years, which only goes to show that public ownership is no guarantee whatsoever of responsible action.
The fact of the matter is that maintenance is not nearly as good as it should be, and though the accident record of lorries is relatively good—and let us pay tribute to them for it—the fact still remains that when accidents to lorries occur, the damage is usually extremely heavy because of the size of the vehicle involved. Therefore, in general we support the provisions in Part II of the Bill, and hope that when they are fully implemented they will lead to a reduction in lorry accidents.
Another advantage which the Minister may be unaware of is that Part II completely undermines the suggestion which is often made by Socialists, that in order to secure safety on the roads it is necessary to abolish competition. I understand that this was one of the reasons for not adopting the greater "free for all" advocated in the Geddes Report. But once the provisions in Part II are in force, all lorries, whether they belong to nationalised industries, large private concerns or single operators, will be equally safe, so the argument for public ownership as a safety precaution, which the spot checks certainly never bore out—the right hon. Lady did not say which lorries were defective, whether they were owned by public or private enterprises—will cease to have any validity, and I hope that the right hon. Lady will remember that when she comes to produce her Transport Bill. This does not mean that we should abolish the licensing procedure altogether. I am not sure that it could not be used to strengthen the provisions of the Bill.
At present I do not think that the penalties quite bite fairly or effectively enough. For example, the Bill creates an absolute liability to observe the various regulations. But is this really fair? Sometimes it is fate rather than negligence which is to blame. It should be a good defence to say that there was no negligence and that every possible precaution was taken.
1003 Another unfair feature in the penalties—I realise that this is a partial criticism of our own 1962 legislation—is that a private operator can be doubly penalised, not only by having to pay fines but also by having his personal licence endorsed, whereas a public company does not suffer in this double way. It seems to me that punishment should not only fit the offence but should be the same for everyone and should not be less for the operator who, like the right hon. Lady, may not happen to have a licence to endorse. This makes me wonder why last year, when the spot checks produced over 13,000 immediate prohibitions—and this indicates that the vehicles were in a thoroughly dangerous state—only 175 licences were either revoked, suspended or curtailed. In an interesting article in in the Sunday Times on 18th September, one of the licensing authorities was reported as saying,We could go a long way to cleaning up the industry.I ask the right hon. Lady to consider, therefore, whether, as a complement to making the penalties fairer in the way I have suggested, there may not also be good grounds at the same time for stiffening the revocation procedure through licensing authorities. I dare say that the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) would agree with me and, I hope, the right hon. Lady herself.
Most of the provisions in Part II are enabling and we shall want to know more of what is in the Minister's mind when we get into Committee. But there is a further matter that I wish to raise now. It concerns the provision of Government testing stations. Under Clause 17, regular inspection and maintenance by users will be required. Presumably this means that, if the job is done properly, adequate testing equipment must exist privately. If that is the case—and I do not see how the provisions of Clause 17 can be carried out unless there is adequate private equipment—I wonder whether it is necessary for the Government to duplicate this equipment at considerable cost by setting up a chain of State garages when part of the testing could be carried out in private garages and part in public garages.
I would be grateful to the right hon. Lady if she would consider this idea as 1004 a method of doing the job possibly just as satisfactorily and saving public money. Again, where is the Minister to get the additional staff for testing? During the debate on the Bill in the last Parliament, she referred to the work of the industrial training boards in this respect. Will they be producing sufficient people?
When I was at the Ministry—although not occupying the same high office as the right hon. Lady does—there was a shortage of the sort of people required and for whom there is now to be a double demand from the operator as well as from the Ministry. Of course, in my day, the country had full employment. There was no unemployment then disguised slickly as a "shake-out". But if the effect of the Selective Employment Tax is indeed to shake out skilled men from the service industries, how does the right hon. Lady think that firms will be able to comply with her maintenance requirements?
This is another instance of inadequate planning. The Government's financial measures are aimed at reducing the service industries whereas their safety measures require a growth of the service industries. This is just a typical example of the sort of Government muddle the country is suffering from. The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.
That brings me to the end of the Bill—but should it? This is a road safety Bill, yet it really has only two provisions. The first is to reduce accidents caused by drink and the other is to reduce accidents caused by faulty maintenance of lorries. These are important matters which are certainly worthy of attention, but they cover only a small part of the field and, however successful, they will not make a great deal of difference to the statistics.
Why, then, has the right hon. Lady not filled the gap caused by dropping random checks with other useful provisions? She has missed a great opportunity. She need not think that, because she once used to "romp" on these benches with the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Leader of the House, all she has to do today is to snap her fingers and she will get Parliamentary time whenever she wants it. She has missed her opportunity here.
It may be, of course, that she has no ideas on road safety, but she should have. In her first speech on the Bill in the last Parliament, she excused the absence of 1005 measures to deal with the safety of private cars on the grounds that it would need fresh legislation. That was ten months ago and apparently nothing has been done to prepare it and to fill thereby the gap caused by dropping random checks. In the meantime, the Americans have devised safety regulations which seem likely, so our manufacturers say, to exclude British cars from the American market. All our manufacturers have to guide them are a few preliminary standards laid down three years ago by a far-sighted Conservative Government which at least had the sense to anticipate the future.
If the right hon. Lady is to achieve anything in road safety, she must be more energetic, more imaginative and more forward-looking. Above all, she must not just think, as she did today, in a restrictive sense. She must wield a broad brush, not the thin eyebrow pencil she has used in the Bill. What about the £14 million she cut from the road programme? Can she guarantee that these cuts will not perpetuate conditions causing as many accidents as we hope the Bill will save? It is not only drink or bad maintenance which cause accidents. Just as potent causes are frustration because of inadequate roads and traffic conflict because of insufficient one-way streets.
The advice which the right hon. Lady got from America was to think less about her black box and do more with her paint box. But then the right hon. Lady seems to have gone "swanning" to America not so much to learn anything as to give a preview of what her White Paper will look like when clothed in legislative form, and from reports reaching us here it seems to have been the flop that we expected it to be.
The right hon. Lady should think of more constructive ways to help. Why should not there be "courtesy cops" supervising lane discipline instead of ordinary policemen, who are in short supply, enforcing speed limits many of which are unrelated to modern traffic conditions? If the right hon. Lady really is looking for a revolution in social habits, what is she doing about education? [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but this is a serious matter. Raising the motor cyclists' age will do precious little good. It will merely retard the accident rate by a year. The right hon. 1006 Lady should turn her mind to more effective means of training.
If the young and the old tend to be involved in more accidents, is it really right in a motorised society to consider putting them off the road altogether? Children and old people are not prevented from walking the streets because, in their different ways, they are a little unpredictable. The trouble is that when they are in a car they cannot be recognised, and I suggest that young drivers might display a large "P" for provisional and aged drivers a large "V" for veteran. In this way, other motorists would be able to recognise them on the road and treat them with the same consideration shown in everyday affairs.
If we want to get the full potential out of the motor car, coupled with a high degree of safety, it will come from ideas like these, designed to make the existing system work better and improve it. To place too much faith in restrictions is futile. It leads, appropriately enough, to the red flag mentality which we thought, until the right hon. Lady arrived on the scene, had been abandoned at the beginning of the century.
Because of the opportunities the right hon. Lady has missed, this is a very disappointing Bill. We will not, however, vote against the Second Reading because the little it does contain is worthwhile. Where we can we will try to expand it and, for the rest, I hope the right hon. Lady will not complain if we give the details of her rather meagre Measure a critical and irreverent scrutiny.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
I am sure that most hon. Members must deplore some of the offensive remarks directed by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) to my right hon. Friend. The fact that we did not interrupt him does not indicate that we were not offended by what he was saying. I would have thought that this was a Bill which we could all welcome. I was hoping that it would cut right across party politics and party barriers. There cannot be any responsible person inside or outside the House who does not want the Government to do all in their power to try to restrain reckless people who are in charge of lethal weapons on the road.
1007 I give the Bill a very warm welcome, and I hope that it will have a very speedy passage through Committee and that it will not be long before it becomes law, so that the police, those whom we charge with the responsibility for dealing with these matters, will have all the powers they need to curb reckless individuals.
The Bill is long overdue, although it is true that a similar Measure was introduced in the House in the early part of the year and overtaken by the General Election. I notice that one hour and ten minutes of the time of the House has already been disposed of and in this very short debate my contribution will be brief and based on one or two facts which I believe to be worth putting on the record.
It is interesting to see from the statistics available to us just how the incidence of drunkenness and drunk driving have varied, rising slightly in the one case and alarmingly in the other. Since the war, we had the peak of convictions for drunkenness in 1962 and 1963, and it is a matter of some pleasure to be able to say that those figures have declined. The figure for 1965, the latest available, is 72,980. However, side by side with that decline there has been an alarming increase in drunkenness among younger people.
This has a lot to do with the reasons for the Bill. Some of us who have been driving motor cars for a very long time know of the "ton-up" gentlemen, as they call themselves, on the M-roads, those who go to public houses and afterwards pride themselves on "hopping" down an M-road at 100 miles an hour. The increase in the number of convictions for driving or being in charge of a vehicle while unfit through drink or drugs increased from 3,252 in 1957 to 9,116 in 1965, a most alarming increase. While the figures for convictions for drunkenness have declined during the last two or three years, the number of convictions for drunkenness among people under 21 has increased substantially.
I am a little critical of one thing which my right hon. Friend said. She seemed to be rather apologetic about the possibility of the police taking breath tests within the vicinity of public houses. She thought that that was an infringement 1008 of the liberty of the subject. I know that this is delicate ground, but this is a subject on which I feel extremely keenly. I do no want there to be any undue infringement of the liberty of the subject, but I want drunken driving to be curbed. The dilemma is how to do that without unduly affecting the liberty of the subject.
It might be justifiable for the police to be entitled to take breath tests within a reasonable distance of a public house. I do not know what hon. Members feel about this. I have now been driving for about 30 years and I confess that the two hours in the 24 when I try to avoid driving my motor car are the hours between 10 and 12 midnight. That is the time of the greatest danger—when the public houses are emptying.
I am not nearly so frightened of the man who is drunk and who gets into his car and tries to drive it away and more often than not fails because he does not have command of it and runs into a lamp post or something else on the way. I am afraid of those who have had just enough drink to exhilarate them, to make them think that they can do something which they cannot do, just sufficient to impair their judgment when about to overtake. Those are the people about whom we have to worry and who are, mostly, the people who would be picked up if the police had authority to make these tests within the vicinity of public houses.
I am not pig-headed about this business. I do not object to anyone having a drink. Why should I? I do not think that there is any inherent sin in a man or a woman having a drink within the bounds of reason, and I do not want to impinge upon their liberties. On the other hand, we have a responsibility to the community and, if I may say so in the presence of a representative from the Home Office, I would like the Bill to contain penalties for the drunken pedestrian.
§ Mr. John Hall
The hon. Gentleman referred to the right of the police to apply tests within the vicinity of pubs. Would he not also apply that to people leaving clubs? In South Wales villages, for example, there are far more clubs than pubs, and in some villages there is a pub or a club every few yards.
§ Mr. Wilkins
I will leave my hon. Friend to say that for himself. I make no distinctions whatever. If premises are licensed to sell intoxicating liquor, these provisions should apply to them.
We can become somewhat emotional about these subjects and talk about them for a very long time, but I promised to be brief. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has resisted invitations to bring down into what are called understandable terms what she means about the quantity of liquor which may be consumed.
Anyone who has made any observations on this subject will know that different people are affected differently by the quantities of drink which they take. I sometimes wonder whether the limit that the Minister has put into the Bill is not rather higher than I would like; but there it is, and it will apply to everyone. It will not be a question of how much a person can consume, it will be according to medical advice offered to the Minister.
I wish this Bill well, and I hope that it will not be unduly delayed in Committee. I hope that the House will ignore almost entirely the remarks which we have heard from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead, who did himself very little justice today. Most of us were pretty shocked at the manner of his attack. I hope that this Bill will proceed as rapidly as possible and soon become the law of the land.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Daniel Awdry (Chippenham)
I hope that the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) will forgive me if I do not follow him too closely in his argument. I do not like the idea of setting up police traps outside public houses or clubs, or even the House of Commons. This is likely to lead to more difficulties, but I hope that this point will be dealt with more fully in the winding-up. It is almost nine months since the Road Safety Bill received its Second Reading in the last Parliament. This has given all of us ample time to 1010 reflect. The Government have, in my view quite rightly, completely changed their mind on the question of the random checks, and I would like to thank the Minister very much for her change of heart.
I am sorry to see that there are now no Ministers representing the Ministry of Transport on the Front Bench. It is a pity, in view of the importance of this debate. My hon. Friends and I certainly do not seek to "twit" the Minister in any way, but I know that she will not mind my saying how much we have appreciated her change of heart, because she does not appear to enjoy taking advice from this side of the House. I am sure that she is right in her decision about random checks, because fundamentally, this Bill will depend for its success upon the co-operation of the motoring public. May I express the hope that, having taken our advice on this occasion, she will do so on other occasions, because I can assure her that we shall have a great deal of advice to offer.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
I hope the hon. Member will appreciate that such advice was not given only from that side of the House. It was also given from this side.
§ Mr. Awdry
It was widespread advice, given by many organisations and many people, and I am merely glad that the Minister took it.
The Standing Committee on this Bill had only one effective sitting in the last Parliament. It very soon became clear during that sitting that a totally new point emerged, which had not come up during the Second Reading.
The point concerns the relationship between the new offence created by the Bill and the existing offence of driving when one's ability is impaired through drink. This raised an important point of principle, and it is my concern that the Government should be clear about this and about their intentions in this respect. Under this Bill we are creating a completely new offence and a test which is experimental in its nature. No one can claim that the test is 100 per cent. scientifically accurate, and no one can say with 1011 certainty that the figure of 80 milligrammes is necessarily a fair figure. On page 10 of the White Paper, one reads:The Medical Research Council have considered the evidence about the association between the consumption of alcohol and impairment of driving ability and the recommendation of the B.M.A. They have concluded that the consumption of alcohol in amounts sufficient to cause a blood alcohol concentration of 50 mg./100 ml."—that is the point raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). I am sorry that he is not here—or more would impair driving ability in an appreciable proportion of drivers, and that when the amount of alcohol consumed results in a concentration in the blood of 80 mg./100 ml. or more, driving ability would be impaired in the great majority of drivers.That statement implies that there must be a small minority of drivers whose driving ability would not be impaired; yet those drivers will automatically be convicted under this Bill. We all know that the amount of alcohol that a person has to drink to produce a given concentration in the blood varies enormously, according to many factors, including his health, weight, whether he has drunk before or after a meal, and how quickly the drink has been taken.
I know that the Minister is very cagey about giving any examples, and I appreciate her reluctance, but the prescribed limit of 80 milligrammes can represent as little as two or two and a half pints of beer drunk in a short period, or three double whiskies. None of us, on either side of the House, wants to encourage people to drink and then to drive, but all of us know many people who can drink two or two and a half pints of beer fairly rapidly and drive perfectly safely.
It is only fair and commonsense to say that the new offence created by the Bill should be regarded as a separate offence to the existing offence of driving when one's ability to do so is impaired through drink, and that the new offence should attract different penalties, particularly with regard to disqualification.
In the only Standing Committee sitting on the last Bill, it was quite clear that the Government did not share our view. They contended that the new offence should attract exactly the same 1012 penalty as the existing one. The Government have had second thoughts about random checks, and I hope that they will also agree to change their approach to this point, which I believe to be an even more important one, and, moreover, one of principle.
I have had a certain amount of experience in representing defendants on driving charges in magistrates' courts and of instructing counsel before quarter sessions, in relation to serious driving offences. All of my experience teaches me that it is wrong to try in any way to fetter the discretion of the courts when it comes to fixing penalties. No two cases are alike, and it is better to give flexibility to the courts rather than to tie their hands on the matter of punishment.
This is particularly so in the case of disqualification, because a disqualification for 12 months upon a person using his car in the course of his work is a very great punishment. It is rightly so because it is used to deal with a serious offence, but no one can doubt that this new offence is going to catch a great many drivers who would never have been charged under the law as it stands.
As the Minister said on Second Reading in February, in the last quarter of 1964, in the Metropolitan Police district, one-third of the drivers committed for trial who were shown to have a blood content of over 200 milligrammes were found not guilty and nearly half of those with a blood concentration of over 150 milligrammes were acquitted. Under this Bill all people with a concentration of 80 milligrammes will not only be prosecuted but will automatically be guilty. This is going to cause a great deal of injustice, because many people will not know that they are comitting an offence.
§ The Under-Secretary of State to the Home Department (Mr. Dick Taverne)
So that I may be quite clear about what the hon. Member has in mind, is he suggesting that it is right that those with a blood concentration of 150 or 200 milligrammes should be acquitted?
§ Mr. Awdry
No. What I am saying is that the new offence will bring into the net many people who would not only not have been found guilty, but who would not even have been charged. It is absolutely right that there should be 1013 mandatory disqualification for those who drive when it is plain that their driving is impaired because of drink. But this new offence will catch some people—perhaps only a few—whose driving is not impaired but who do have 80 milligrammes of alcohol in their system.
It is, therefore, right to regard this offence separately, and it would be wrong to make disqualification a mandatory and automatic penalty in every case. In some cases, the magistrates could still disqualify but under the Bill everyone would automatically lose his licence for 12 calendar months if he committed the new offence. Some people will not know that they have committed an offence, and their driving might not be impaired.
I hope than hon. Gentlemen will not think that, in trying to draw this distinction between the new offence and the old one, I am in any way condoning driving under the influence of drink. Of course, I am not. I want the Bill—which will become an Act as we are not opposing it -to be respected. I want the Bill to have good publicity. Naturally, all of us deplore the suffering and the tragedy behind the appalling road casualty figures. It is in that spirit that I suggest modifications to the Bill which would be an improvement to a much-needed Measure. I therefore wish it well.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry). Although I do not agree with much of what he said, like my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins), I can say that it was certainly a better speech than the one we had from the hon. member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith). It is a pity that he made that obviously political speech on this Bill. All of us—myself more than any other, perhaps—love to "have a go" at making political capital whenever the opportunity presents itself, but there are occasions when one does not do so. I suggest, with respect, that this is one of those occasions. There will be plenty of opportunities for hon. Members opposite to "have a go" at the Minister—and all the hon. Members in the Ministry of Transport. No doubt she would welcome it, and so would we all. But this is not the time or the occasion.
1014 The Bill is a very good one. In supporting it, I would say that it does not go far enough. I was surprised that the hon. Member for Chippenham should put forward the theory that because a road user or driver has driven—like my hon. Friend and myself—perhaps for 30 years or more and does not understand what the penalty is, he should not suffer a severe penalty if he is caught. First, he should not be caught, and, secondly, if he did not drink he could not be caught. I can honestly say that I have been driving 30 years and have never yet been caught speeding. But that does not mean that if I were caught once in 33 years I could plead that I should not be summonsed nor have my licence taken away or endorsed. The hon. Member for Chippenham, who is a solicitor, will agree that if he put that case to the court he would not get very far. His client would still be fined and his licence endorsed——
§ Mr. Lewis
The hon. Member is underwriting what I am saying. I can drive 40 or 50 miles an hour in a 30-mile-an-hour speed limit, and I probably could have done it—I hope that this will not be held against me—on numerous occasions. I could say that my driving has never been impaired because I have never had an accident while doing it. But if I were caught on one occasion, it would be no defence to say that I had been doing this for 34 years almost every day of the week and that because my driving had never been impaired and I had not had an accident I should be treated leniently on this one occasion and the penalty should not be imposed. It is a very good argument, but I cannot subscribe to it, and I am sure that the courts would not agree with it.
This Bill is not onerous, either in the first part or in the second part. I do not think that it is strict or severe enough. As it is at the moment, if I committed a traffic offence and the police pulled me 1015 up, they could tell me that I was committing that offence and warn me, but they would have no power to arrest me or to stop me carrying on that offence.
§ Clause 2 now gives authority to a uniformed constable who has reason to believe that a person is inebriated to arrest that person without warrant if he refuses to take a test or if the test proves the constable's suspicions. I could not disagree with that, but I go further. I would say that if the uniformed policeman has reason to believe that a driver is committing an offence, he should not only warn him and stop him but should take away that man's right to carry on that offence, and if necessary, arrest him.
§ What happens now? If a policeman sees someone driving without a licence or insurance, he can tell him that it is an offence and that he will be prosecuted, but no attempt is made to stop him and he could carry on doing so for the next two or three years. That is wrong. If the man suspected by a policeman were a burglar and the policeman saw him attempting to break into a house, I am sure that the policeman would not allow the burglar to carry on with the offence.
§ However, with the exception of this proposal, it will be possible for a driver to break the law, receive a warning and to carry on breaking the law for as long as he wishes. Even after having been charged or summonsed and having paid his fine, he may still carry on breaking the law.
§ What will happen in future? I agree that there are many good proposals in the Bill, including those that trade vehicles will be liable to be stopped and will have to have labels on them specifying their safe loading limit, that there are to be spot checks and annual testing stations. This is all very well, but how will it be enforced? We now have a four-year road test but no check is made at the moment on that test.
§ If a vehicle has not been tested—and there are many such vehicles on the road today—for the last five, six or seven years, neither the Ministry of Transport nor the Home Office have any record of that fact. The only way such people are found out is when they happen to break another law—kill someone, have a smash-up, or something like that. Then the 1016 police, in taking particulars, and probably intending to prosecute him for that offence, will ask, "When did you last have a road fund licence?" The man may say, "Two years ago". He may give the same answer when asked when he last insured the vehicle and when it was last tested for roadworthiness. Even though we have the four-year road test—following the five-year test—the Ministry have no record of details of that sort. What will be the position under the Bill.
§ We are told that we are to have these vehicle testing stations, and that all trade vehicles will have their laden weight exhibited and will carry a roadworthiness test certificate. Who is to enforce that provision? How will it operate? I believe that two-thirds of vehicles are at present more than four or five years old, and have no road test certificate. The only time the matter is checked is when, and if, the person seeks a renewal of his road fund licence. He then has to produce with his certificate of insurance his—as it is now—four-year test certificate. But if he wants to save £17 10s. by not getting a road fund licence, as many now do, he can get away with having no insurance and no road test certificate.
§ My right hon. Friend, or any of the Ministers should take a Sunday morning off from their duties and go to any parking square. Let them go to the world-famous Petticoat Lane, or to Club Row, any Sunday morning at about 10 o'clock and they will see dozens and dozens of commercial and private vehicles that have neither road fund licence, test certificate nor insurance. One may say to a policeman, "Officer, I know that this vehicle has not been licensed for the last three years—will you take some action? He will probably answer," We have so much of it we cannot bother about it. It is going on all the time. We do not have the time. If we did this, we would be doing nothing else."
§ A few weeks ago I went into Tottenham Police Station. A narrow road, used by buses, adjoins the police station and I saw double banking on both sides—hundreds of vehicles belonging to people who had gone to the Royal Dance Hall. I saw vehicles by the hundred parked on both sides of the road—this way, that way, backwards, forwards, all ways.1017
§ Many of them, if not most of them, did not have a road fund licence or test certificate. Most of them had their lights out although the road is a bus route. The police could not have cared less. When I revealed my identity, the sergeant said, "We will take particulars." We did that, and then filled in a form. The sergeant asked me, "Would you be prepared to give evidence?" I replied, "Certainly". That was in the early part of the year—and I am still waiting.
§ I agree with all these proposed measures, but if we are to have them, let us see that they are enforced. It is wrong for the Minister and the Ministry to say, as they do, that only a few thousand such vehicles are on the road. I am told today that 30,000 vehicles have been reported in the last quarter in London alone for not having proper registration. Let us have these regulations, but let them be enforced. Otherwise we are being unfair to the loyal, good driver who pays his road fund money, sees that his car has the four-year test, goes through all the various procedures and keeps his car in good order. Incidentally, that man also puts his parking fee in the meter—if he can get at one, because invariably the meter spaces are occupied by vehicles that, according to the law, should not be on the road at all. The Minister tells us about these testing stations, and I am all in favour of testing, but he should also tell us where he is to get the enforcement staff. If he can satisfy us on that point, I shall be very happy, because then we shall be improving the vehicles now on the road—and, believe me, there is room for improvement.
§ Many vehicles on the road are being driven dangerously, but the Minister should also bear in mind the growing, illegal practice of leaving unlicensed derelict vehicles on the highway. They are supposed to be licensed even if they are not in use, but they can be found in almost any road. If a policeman's attention is drawn to such a car he will say, "That has been there for about 12 or 18 months. It is not in use." If one points out to him that it should not stand there unlicensed, he will reply, "Well, we cannot do anything about that."
§ What happens as a result? In my constituency, I have had three cases of kiddies having their faces blown to smithereens. Children see derelict cars 1018 standing and play about with them. We know they should not but, kiddies being what they are, they probably start playing with the gear lever and end by dropping matches down the petrol tank. We know they should not do it, but it is done, for example, on Guy Fawkes Night. In any case, these are just kiddies. As I say, on three occasions in my constituency children have had their faces blown in.
§ If the Minister is making fresh regulations, and I agree with those proposed, let us be assured that he will also see to it that the existing regulations are carried out. They are not being carried out at the moment. If I am put on the Standing Committee I will seek to strengthen this Bill by Amendments to these regulations, and will seek to have others inserted.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Sir Clive Bossom (Leominster)
The hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) has got away with many things for the past 33 years or so, and I congratulate him on his own excellent record. He has asked some very pertinent questions which the Minister will find difficult to answer. I, too, welcome this second edition of the Bill, but had hoped that during the interim period since 10th February it could have been greatly enlarged and improved. No matter how one looks at the Bill it is still a little Bill, yet it seeks to deal with one of the major problems of our society—road safety and the saving of human lives.
In her closing remarks, the right hon. Lady said something which was quite right. We shall not create better safety by more and more legislation. However, there are several pieces of legislation which would would have strengthened and greatly improved the Bill if they had been added to it.
In road accidents, there are three major factors, one or more of which can be the main cause of every accident. It is either the driver, the vehicle or the road.
Let us take the driver first. He has been partly dealt with in the Bill now that the random checks proposed in the Road Traffic Bill have been removed. The Bill is a much more effective one, as it will carry public opinion with it. 1019 In addition, it is more fair to the police. No one can object to being tested if his behaviour gives reasonable cause to the police to suspect that he has alcohol in his body. However, the words "reasonable cause to suspect" must be watched very carefully. It must not be abused by the police. That is a matter which I feel can be cleared up in Committee, but it is something about which the general public is still worried.
The nation is becoming conscious at last of the danger of taking alcohol or drugs. No one has said enough about drugs. Today, unfortunately, many of our young people take drugs, and alcohol added on top of drugs makes it far worse. I really believe the message has got home at last about drink and driving.
One has only to go into any country pub and, on a shelf behind the bar, one will see a do-it-yourself testing kit for sale. I have two excellent examples by my side which can be bought in most pubs in the country. However, I want to say a word of warning about breathalysers, because they are still not foolproof or 100 per cent. accurate. At least 15 minutes should elapse after taking a drink before you take the test, otherwise the reading given will be much higher than actually present.
I hope, too, that we do not become a nation of hypochondriacs. I understand that such things as "alcohol pills" have been produced in Austria and Hungary in the form of a capsule containing a pink powder. The idea is to take it before drinking. I know a man who consumed four large glasses of cognac and, on a blood sample, found an alcohol reduction of about 45 per cent. I think that the police are aware of such pills. They are not on sale here, but it is something that we have to watch carefully, because people will always try to find ways and means of getting round the law.
It is a great pity that the Minister stated a prescribed limit on 10th February, and I was delighted to hear her say this afternoon that she has withdrawn that limit of six pints of beer or six large whiskies. I agree with her that it is an extremely bad yardstick, because alcohol affects different people in different ways. Unfortunately, though, 1020 the damage has already been done. Talking to sensible motorists and other people in pubs, I find that many people think that they can drink six large whiskies and then drive. That is a great pity, and I hope that publicity will be given to the fact that there is not a limit, as was said on 10th February.
It was announced the other day that tests for alcohol will be made on motorists and motor cyclists killed in accidents. I think that pedestrians killed in accidents should also be tested, because it is not always the motorist or motor cyclist who is at fault. One could get some very false figures, especially at Christmas time, of who is to blame for an accident. I hope that the Minister will look into this. It is a sensible thing to have tests on motorists and motor cyclists, but also let us have the pedestrians.
As this is a Road Safety Bill, I should have liked to see a Clause included dealing with jay-walking pedestrians. In most other countries, pedestrians are trained to obey the rules of the road, but they are not in this country. Granted the Minister has made a start in the right direction, but we need some really tough legislation, because pedestrians in our towns and cities have got away with murder for years. They still take hardly any notice of signs, lights or even paint on the roads. A Clause dealing with them could have been added to this type of Bill.
Having dealt with drivers, I turn next to vehicles. Part II deals with goods vehicles, the limit of weight allowed to be carried and checks for maintenance. I should have liked to see laid down a three-year test for all vehicles, because brakes, lighting and tyres on most vehicles are not 100 per cent. and usually, I am afraid, they are badly maintained. Such a piece of legislation could not start to operate until the Government have recruited and trained many more testers, but it is something at which the Ministry should aim, so that in the long run vehicles are tested every 3 years.
I should have liked to see legislation against the repaired written-off cars which are becoming a real menace to safety on our roads. I should have liked to see, too, some legislation dealing with exhaust fumes. Fumes cause accidents because, due to sheer desperation, motorists 1021 take reckless risks to overtake vehicles belching out black fumes. Another piece of legislation which I should have liked to see is something dealing with dipped headlights. I am convinced that most side lights today are only suitable as parking lights.
As we are considering a Road Safety Bill, and safety is at last becoming a number one selling point, with price and speed no longer being the only things that count when buying a car, the Bill would have been an ideal opportunity to lay down stringent new safety standards. Our Road Research Laboratory is greatly envied in America and other European countries. Surely it could have laid down standards for British manufacturers. The Government have gone halfway already by fitting safety belts in new cars. I should have liked to see it made compulsory for all front seat occupants to wear them. Safety belts can reduce serious accidents by 70 per cent., if they are worn.
There are several more built-in safety measures which the Minister could have written into her Bill. T should have liked to see laid down a minimum standard for the force which can be absorbed by a car in a collision without buckling the passenger compartment. Then there are safety standards which could be laid down for the insides of vehicles. There are too many sharp edges, and hard surfaces, jutting out mirrors and steering columns which do not swing forward on impact. We need better standards in our cars, and these could have been written into the Bill. If we could claim to build the safest cars in the world, that would be a wonderful selling point in any export market. It must not be forgotten that the Americans are now insisting on built-in safety devices on new cars. Any car without them cannot be sold in the United States, and that is something which will affect us in a few months' time if we hope to continue selling our cars there.
I was disappointed not to see any mention of safety for motor cycles. There are four casualties for every million miles travelled by cars, seven for every million miles travelled by bicycles, and 19 for every million miles travelled by motor cycles, yet there is no legislation for motor cycles in the Bill. I believe that the time has come when we should make 1022 the wearing of crash helmets compulsory, and the Bill would have been a good opportunity for doing it. All new motor cycles should be fitted with non-lock braking systems, because so many accidents are due to bad braking and poor tyres.
I have dealt with drivers and vehicles. So far, I have said nothing about roads. They are still a major factor in many accidents, unfortunately they cannot feature in this Bill. So I ask the Minister whether she will continue to press on with new roads, bypasses and flyovers, and get the Government to try to recruit more mobile traffic police and traffic engineers. The Government ought also to provide more driving instructors and instruction in all our schools. We must teach them young. We must get at people at school and teach them about road safety.
I welcome most of the Bill. But as I have tried to point out it does not begin to go far enough. Last year nearly 8,000 people were killed, and 400,000 injured on our roads. We must, therefore, do something about this problem.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom). I agree with the principle that he mentioned, namely, that in this Bill we ought to ensure that if there is an accident involving a motorist and a pedestrian there is equality of legislative treatment between the two. I do not think that we shall be acting fairly if we concentrate exclusively on the driver. It may be that, on balance, I am a more foolish man when I am behind the wheel of a car than I am when I am walking, but if we want to see this through to the end we must be fair, and in Committee we must make sure that the Bill is seen to be fair.
If, during the hours of darkness, on a wet dirty night, a somewhat inebriated pedestrian suddenly lunges off the pavement into the middle of the road and is hit by a car, it will be a grave error if his breath is not the subject of an inquiry, just as will happen in respect of the unfortunate driver who, although he, too, may have been drinking, still has reasonable control of his vehicle.
In another frame of mind, I could well move the rejection of the Bill. I think 1023 that the House must consider the major premise involved. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) gave us a number of figures which forced us to conclude that enforcement of the law in general, and in particular the law with regard to driving, is by no means what it should be. I think that we are all guilty of the same moral offence in that. We are loading the Statute Book still further with a number of obligations which, quite frankly, the police will not be able to meet. Let us be quite frank about it. I am delighted that my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is here. He ought to protest about the situation when the facts brought to the notice of the House warrant it.
We have a police force which is involved primarily in looking for what I might perhaps call serious criminal offenders. How can we expect its officers to spend as much time as they are expected to do on coping with traffic and other comparatively minor problems? The time is long overdue for the Home Secretary to come to a decision about whether we are to have separate traffic police. This problem has arisen under both Governments, and we continue to overload our police forces without recognising that a separate traffic corps is necessary. Such a corps could consist of older policemen, among whom nimble-ness would not be the first requisite, and who would not have to be at the height of their athletic ability.
Anyone who has knowledge as a magistrate, or who has acquired similar knowledge from going to the courts, realises that since 1959 there has been a schism between the Ministry of Transport and the Home Department. This problem has been with us under both Tory and Labour Governments, and it is high time that it was resolved. Until it is, we shall continue to be faced with legislation based on good intentions.
The intentions behind this Measure are good. In fact, they are what I had hoped for, and what the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) hoped for in 1962 when we discussed similar matters in Committee upstairs. The only irritant speech that we have 1024 heard this afternoon was made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith). I hope that the hon. Member will not again try to throw such an irritant into this debate. I am glad that our discussion has taken the form that it has, and has not become a political issue in the narrow context.
I have always taken the view that spot checks are basically wrong. I do not want to be stopped by the police, but I recognise the right of the policeman to stop me if he thinks that he has good reason for doing so. My objection to spot checks is that I cannot for the life of me think why we should think of instituting them among, say, 10 million motorists in this country when we do not have enough policemen to carry out the jobs that they are required to do now. How can we possibly ask them to take on the duty of carrying out spot checks on people leaving clubs, or pubs, or other drinking places, or even on people leaving this Palace? I am glad that spot checks are now a non-starter and that the police will be able to do in future what they do now.
If there is a small larceny in my district, or for that matter a major one, the police do not come and ask me what I was doing at about the time the offence occurred. They go to the person whom they have reason to suspect might have been involved, and question him, and that is the sort of thing that we should be doing in the Bill.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
I do not think that that is a fair analogy. A burglar would not thank a policeman for preventing him from breaking into somebody's house, but a reasonable man, when sober, would thank a policeman for not having allowed him to drive his car.
§ Mr. Mapp
It is a question of the enforcement of the law. In my early youth, I used to walk home from Manchester at about midnight because I was engaged on late night duty. On occasions, quite rightly, I was stopped by the police, because that is the hour at which they can normally expect a potential criminal to be abroad. I have no objection to that kind of thing, nor should we as citizens object to it. My point is that it is a sheer waste of time to talk about spot checks, because the plain fact is 1025 that the police will not be able to carry them out.
I propose now to say something about goods vehicles. Before coming to the House I was engaged in the maintenance and operation of a fairly large vehicle fleet. Some parts of the Bill have teeth, and some do not. Public service garages must allow Ministry inspectors access to them to carry out any inquiries which they consider necessary. So far as I can see, the Bill does not give Ministry inspectors the right to enter commercial garages where there may be fleets of vehicles. If we say that Manchester Corporation, or the London Transport Board, must allow its vehicles to be examined by inspectors, we should ensure that such inspectors are entitled to enter commercial garages and inspect the vehicles housed there.
I want to make a special plea in this regard. I want the inspectorate to be independent, and adequately staffed. I represent a town on the west side of the Pennines, but my experience must be common to that of many other Members whose constituencies are either on hills or at the foot of hills. Time and time again vehicles have come down from the Pennines, their brakes having failed, with disastrous consequences. I hope that the Minister will bear in mind the necessity for some of these garages to be placed in areas where difficulties and disasters of this kind may occur.
There is one omission in the Bill. It may be that in a few months' time I shall see, on the back of heavy goods vehicles, plates stating whether they are six-tonners, twelve-tonners or whatever it may be. It should like to know why the Bill contains no provision for a similar plate denoting the maximum permissible speed for these vehicles. The average driver is very interested and helped with such information.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Clause 7(1,b) provides for the marking on vehicles not only of weights but of other particulars. Surely that would include particulars of the maximum speed.
§ Mr. Mapp
I have noticed those words. I should like to have the optimism of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), but I doubt whether the Minister will be able to assure the House today that this is part of her intentions. 1026 I doubt whether such a powerful provision could come in on a side-wind. If it is to, I shall be very pleased. I certainly think that this and similar improvements should be made to the Bill.
§ Clause 21 enables the Minister to provide testing stations. I do not want to get into an argument for or against private testing stations, but I hope that the Government will take note of the system which operates in Western Germany, There the whole system of teaching L-drivers and the drivers of public service vehicles, as well as of certifying the roadworthiness of vehicles, is carried out by a Government-sponsored body, broadly free of Government control. This allows a reasonable degree of discipline in the training of drivers and their continuing certification afterwards, besides ensuring the effectiveness of the components of a vehicle on the road. Such a system might remedy the existing situation in this country under which some of our garages fail in their duties, and I hope that the Minister will study the West German practice in order to see to what extent it can be applied here.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)
I was glad to see the Minister move the Second Reading of the Bill and to hear the sincerity with which she spoke, which showed that she was very alive to the need to improve safety on the roads. When I initiated a debate on 4th February she was unfortunately unable to be present. I know that the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) always speaks with great sincerity on road safety matters, and I found myself in a great deal of agreement with what was said by the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis). This is not a subject on which there should be any party disagreement. It seems that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) has been won over to the need to investigate different ways to increase road safety. I only wish that when he was a Minister he had not been so obstructive to a Bill which would have licensed driving schools, and which I tried to get through the House.
It seems to me that, bringing this Measure in after nine months, the Government have missed an opportunity of adding one or two more provisions to it. The Minister gave an estimate of the 1027 number of accidents that might be prevented. The provisions of the Bill will make some indentation into this appalling figure but I hope that she will never be complacent. As a nation, we are far too callous and indifferent to road deaths and to the vast amount of suffering that is involved in relation to those who are seriously injured, besides the enormous amount of time which nurses, doctors and ambulance drivers have to spend to deal with the situation and the enormous financial loss involved to this country, now running at over £250 million a year.
The country was shaken to its core by the disaster at Aberfan a few weeks ago, perhaps all the more so because it was felt that that disaster should not have occurred. But is not that the case with most accidents? I do not need to remind the House of all the publicity which was given, quite rightly, to that disaster, but the number of people killed in it was only a few more than the number killed on the roads in one week. We always think that accidents will happen to other people and not to ourselves. They have hap-pended to past and present Members of this House. The possibilities have been vividly brought home to me. I have a son aged 30, and three of his friends, of his age, have recently been killed in road accidents—one merely standing on the road outside his house. These were men at the beginning of their commercial lives—representative of some of our most competent and useful citizens.
Many societies give advice to the Minister. Some of them come forward with good ideas. But there are certain vested interests which try to hold back legislative reform, for one reason or another. I now turn to the Bill. The vast majority of good drivers—and that is over 75 per cent.—besides the public generally will welcome powers to deter people who are under the influence of drink from driving their cars. Some people have been upset about infringing individual liberty but I, as a Conservative, have always agreed with my party's principle that the greater good of the majority overrides that of the individual citizen. Nevertheless, we must see that every individual has freedom, fairness and justice.
In this connection I want to refer to a case that occurred in Ottawa, concerning 1028 a man who was found to have alcohol in his blood to an extent just beyond the limit. He was involved in no accident, but the police had their suspicions. He was fined £60. I mention this case as an illustration of the way in which other countries deal with the situation.
§ Clause 5 deals with public service vehicles and adapts certain provisions to cover armed forces overseas. I should like to know whether it covers personnel of foreign Powers whose Service men or civilians are in this country. I have a particular interest in asking this, since there is a large American Air Force base at Brentwaters, in my constituency. Many of its personnel drive as civilians. I do not say that they are better or worse drivers than the ordinary citizens of this country, but I feel that they should be equally subject to our laws.
§ Although drink is a cause of many accidents it is far from being the sole cause of making people bad drivers. Statistics show that sometimes too much blame is placed upon people who drive under the influence of alcohol. Other characteristics make people bad drivers. Some people are aggressive and inconsiderate in their ordinary lives, and they make bad drivers. A man, by nature, may be very weak and timid, but when he gets behind the wheel of a car he feels himself to be of some importance, and the realisation that he has a lethal weapon in his hands brings out all his latent characteristics of aggression. Each of us drives better on one day than on another. Sometimes we may be in a temper; something may have happened to upset us. But the worst class of driver is the aggressive thug criminal, who seems to delight in violence and who is constantly taking other people's cars and driving them away. I would really have liked to have seen legislation automatically suspending the licence of a person convicted of thuggery.
§ The basis behind all this is better instruction. Referring to Part II of the Bill, anything which is done to make goods vehicles safer on our roads must have the approval of the House.
§ A number of points—some suitable for the Committee stage—occur to me. I should like to ask the Minister, when winding up the debate, to tell us whether 1029 attention has been paid to loads extending over the ends of lorries, to such vehicles being illuminated at night and to having reflectors attached down their sides as standard equipment. This is very important when vehicles come out of side turnings on to a main road. I am particularly pleased to see power to stop overloaded vehicles from proceeding further along a road.
§ The Bill follows the common or modern practice of giving the Minister powers to make Regulations under many Clauses rather than stating them all in the Bill. I welcome the very good description in Clause 19 of the many circumstances set out in the Bill where these will be necessary. I should like to know rather more about Clauses 18 and 19 concerning the testing of drivers of heavy goods vehicles and the training facilities for drivers before they take the test. The Minister has reassured me that the test will be carried out by the Ministry's own examiners. How will these examiners be trained? Will they have had personal experience of driving lorries with heavy loads?
I am pleased that the Minister said there will be various centres, although I do not think she said how many there would be throughout the country. I should like, without being pedantic, to ask the Minister about Clause 18. Why has the licensing authority suddenly become male? Is it because the Minister is female, or are we following the French in making authorities male or female? Clause 18(2) says:
… the licensing authority…unless he is satisfied that the applicant for the licence …
§ Is it due to the link up with the French and the future Channel Tunnel that we now have this "male" tribute to a licensing authority?
§ Under Clause 19(1, c) the Minister recognises that the heavy duty vehicle driver should be examined on the type of vehicle, unloaded or loaded, that he is likely to drive. This is a wise provision. We all know of cases of the ordinary young person who passes his test in an 8 h.p. car and he is immediately qualified to drive a Jaguar or a speedy sports car. I should like the Minister to say a little more about the amount of fee for the licence that the man will have to pay. Once a licence has been obtained for a particular type of vehicle, will a 1030 man on leaving one firm and going to another—and this happens with many lorry drivers—still be able to drive heavy duty vehicles? If so, would it be in the same category as the vehicle the man was tested on? Will there be a compulsory retiring age of 65, or will a man have to undergo a re-test on reaching that age if he wishes to continue working as a long-distance driver?
§ I should like to reassure the Minister that this testing, properly carried out, can lead only to good results. However, it is raising many new points and as I have identified myself very much in debates in this House with driving instruction generally, I feel that we should not let this go through unquestioned.
§ The Minister must recognise that there is a case—long-term, perhaps—if we can improve the status of driving instructors and their schools, that the whole testing of drivers might well be carried out by such a body, just as the examinations of barristers-at-law, solicitors, accountants and doctors, are carried out, not by the State, but by their own individual professional bodies. This might take a heavy load off the Ministry.
§ I therefore give a qualified blessing to the Bill as far as it goes. I am sure that most of the points will be discussed in Committee. As the Bill is linked with better driving, by both private individuals and lorry drivers, I should like to ask the Minister why it was not found possible to include compulsory registration of driving schools, of which I have spoken so often, and of making the test for driving instructors, which is now voluntary—having started only in 1964 after the 1962 Act—compulsory.
§ I know there has been much discussion at the Ministry with the various bodies concerned and I believe that much headway has been made. I am disappointed that sufficient headway has not been made to enable it to be included in the Bill. We know that any other legislation, before it becomes law, will be at least 18 months off. From my researches I am certain that until we get the very best qualified instruction and extra tuition as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom)—and the public are demanding this—we shall continue to have on our roads accidents which are not really necessary and which result in loss of life and limb.1031
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
I understand that the debate has to be somewhat restricted. It is a great shame, because it is an extraordinarily important debate. Therefore, I will restrict the few things that I have to say and will be as swift as I can. Fortunately, many of the points I should have liked to make were made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison). I am bound to say that I have always been able to go along with him in many of the recommendations which he has made. I hope we can form an alliance in getting the Minister and the Government to carry out many of the things which we should like carried out.
In the various debates on driving instruction and road safety generally, there has always been extraordinary good humour and very keen interest in what was said. The debates have been notable because of the lack of animosity. On a number of occasions I have had to cross swords with the hon. Members for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) and Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker), but it was about an issue under discussion and about nothing else.
Therefore, I thought that a most incredible speech was made this afternoon by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith). I have been interested in these debates for the past few years. I have participated in some of them and listened to nearly all of them, and I found the hon. Member's approach this afternoon both repugnant and reprehensible. All through his mouldy speech he was trying to pepper it with cheap political points, nasty personal jibes, to make up the fact, I suppose, that the remainder of it was inane, inept, and inapposite. His execrable behaviour only damaged the good name the House will need when it seeks to come to grips with the problems of human content which we are discussing this afternoon.
We are discussing what we can do to try to prevent a most unnecessary, as well as a most unforgivable, type of accident, namely, that caused by the drunken driver. We have heard the evidence which has been submitted, and we have probably read, from the B.M.A. as to the certain level of alcohol within the body which can be acceptable. But 1032 I hope we will never give up saying that, irrespective of how much alcohol it might be permissible to drink, the first drink is the wrong one to have taken in the first place. If we do not accept that, we are contributing to the fact that we do not really mean it when we say, "If you are going to drive, don't drink". This must be the golden rule, and I believe we must not depart from it. The House and the country should feel ashamed at having to acknowledge so many terrible accidents. More civilians have been killed by road accidents since the war than were killed by the agencies of Adolf Hitler during the war. We have inflicted this slaughter upon ourselves. We have slain more of our own civilians since the war than the bombs of the Axis movement killed in Britain during the war. This is a sobering thought. It should make us gasp.
Cognisance must certainly be paid to arguments about curtailing the freedom of the individual. We must ensure that nothing is done which endangers this freedom. However, there is a danger of going the other way. There will always be the "nut-case" who will seek to drive on the righthand side of the road, claiming that he is merely exercising his freedom as a citizen. One would not mind his doing this and exercising 100 per cent. freedom if he were the only one to suffer, but the agony often is that the person who suffers from such action is an innocent person who is willing to concede a certain amount of personal freedom and yet maintain the law himself.
Therefore, I hope Ministers will not be too mealy-mouthed about this. If there is to be a choice between this constant slaughter on the roads and a certain diminuation in the freedom of drivers or pedestrians, I hope that the decision is taken that any impingement that there may be on personal freedom is necessary in the interests of everyone involved.
The study carried out at Grand Rapids by Professor Borkenstein of Indiana University has been referred to. There has been a great deal of misunderstanding about this. It has been argued that the Professor has shown that a drink will sometimes make a driver a little more alert, that it has little impairing effect. What in fact Professor Borkenstein argued from his researches was that the effect of 1033 drink on some drivers is greater than it is on others and that an excellent driver might be less affected than a bad driver.
The Professor went on to put out the very interesting fact that a bad driver who has taken some drink may nevertheless not be such a terribly dangerous driver as an excellent driver who has taken a few drinks; because an excellent driver might be used to driving fast with safety and being able to have control of his vehicle always. Therefore, anything that lowers the excellent driver's performance can be more dangerous than a lowering in the performance of a bad driver who already might have a particularly low performance. Therefore, the argument that a few drinks are not particularly dangerous to some drivers is fallacious.
Both inside and outside the House we must concentrate on putting it over that the golden rule is that it is much better for a person to drink when he does not intend to drive and that he should be absolutely sure never to drink when he knows that he has to drive. People's behaviour after having taken drink is remarkable in any circumstances. We have all seen the change which occurs in shy and retiring people when they have had a couple of drinks. The danger is that the shy person who has taken a drink or two at a party may become not only the practical joker, but also the practical slayer if he gets behind the wheel of a car.
I want now to draw the attention of the House to this aspect. Quite a number of people who take a few drinks drive carefully through built-up areas; their behaviour there is exemplary. However, the moment they get on to a dual carriageway or a motorway, all hell is let loose. They ignore the 40 miles-an-hour speed limit. They rip along to make up the time lost when they were behaving properly. My constituents have suffered from this sort of behaviour. We have a very high death rate on Western Avenue. We have a very high accident and death rate on Whitton Avenue. The figures are almost as bad in Greenford Road. These three roads are primary highways crossing London and each of them goes through my constituency. I draw the attention of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to this fact. It is time something was done to enforce to a much greater extent the already existing regulations in regard to speed and 1034 manner of driving on our more important highways, and particularly on the three I have mentioned.
I want to make a few comments on Part II. The Bill sets out to deal with overloaded vehicles. However, the cause of an accident is not necessarily an overloaded vehicle but a badly loaded one. A badly or an incorrectly loaded vehicle may not be overweight, but it can be a much greater danger than an overloaded vehicle. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider this point in Committee.
We are approaching the festive season. Appeals are made every year for people not to drink and drive. I ask tonight for the full support of the Press, television and wireless over the next few weeks. I ask them to join a campaign. Let newspapers give the public full-page advertisements free pointing out the dangers of drinking and driving. Let us have hardhitting advertisements on Independent Television acknowledging the dangers of drinking and driving. Let the B.B.C. help as well.
This is such an appalling problem that, unless we are prepared to gather up all our resources to try to reduce this evil, it will go on and in the end we may well require measures which today we may regard as abominable and restrictive.
Unless this slaughter on the roads is reduced, such action may well have to be taken in the end. I therefore hope that all the agencies for propaganda and the dissemination on information will make a concentrated effort to drive home to the public the absolute menace of drinking and driving and of driving carelessly and irresponsibly. The result of this appalling downfall in the standard of human behaviour is that we are slaying one another at a disgusting rate.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
In the one minute left to me to speak I wish to tell the House that I and my party entirely welcome the Bill and endorse its objects. There are only a few criticisms that I would have liked to have made if there had been time. As there is only one minute, I shall confine myself to a point which I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will deal with in reply.
I am not satisfied that the limit should have been set as high as 80 milligrammes 1035 of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. The hon. and learned Gentleman will know from the study which has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) and which is summarised in the White Paper, Road Safety Legislation 1965–6, that, even at a blood alcohol concentration of 50–59 milligrammes the dangers are already 20 per cent. greater than they are as compared with someone who has not taken any drink. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that public opinion in this country would not be in favour of these smaller limits, I would only say that I found that constituents of whom I made inquiries in 1964–265 men and 242 women—by a majority of 79 per cent. said that they would accept a limit as low as three pints or its equivalent. That is a lot less than the 80 milligrammes provided in the Bill.
I wanted to make that one point, although there are many other criticisms which I should like to raise in Committee if possible. In general, my hon. Friends and I entirely support the Bill.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)
As has been said by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy), this has been a short debate, and perhaps a regrettably short debate. Equally, it is an understandably short debate since the basic principle with which we are concerned in the Bill—the creation of the new criminal offence of driving with over a specific quantity of alcohol in one's body—has already been debated in the House in February of this year.
As has been said by the Minister, it is a principle which is acceptable to the motoring organisations. Also it is acceptable to and recommended by the medical profession. It is a principle which is acceptable to both sides of the House and, as has already been said, we on this side of the House have no intention of voting against the Second Reading of the Bill.
However, we realise that we are today making a major change in our criminal law. The proposals in the Bill are wholly different from the present law whereby the offence has always depended upon the proof of the effect that the alcohol has had on the driver concerned. Therefore, when we are making a major change of 1036 this kind it is right that we should study with care the implications of the change and we should realise that we are making a change which is far greater than the majority of people outside the House appreciate. I believe that we are creating an offence which is likely to affect many people who would never normally think of themselves as criminals in the ordinary sense of the word. For that reason, I hope that we shall have an opportunity to study the Bill's proposals with great care in Committee.
I propose to outline the general line which I believe our criticism of the Bill should take. However, before I turn to that, I would say that I do not believe that road safety as such or the criminal law are matters for party politics. All of us in our deliberations on the Bill should be concerned to see that the Bill in its final shape is as good as it can be and will at one stroke reduce the menace of the drunken driver while at the same time protecting the rights of the individual citizen.
In view of the time, I propose to turn to Part I of the Bill. I had intended to say a few words on Part II. I shall limit my remarks to stating that we accept it in principle but that there are certain matters we shall want to raise in Committee. Undoubtedly people outside the House will regard Part I as the most important Part. As has already been said. Part I has changed considerably since its predecessor had a Second Reading in February of this year. Random checks have gone, and I believe rightly so. I accept, as the hon. Member for Ealing, North said, that it is always a difficult problem to decide where the line should be drawn between individual freedom and the safety of others. I believe that those random checks were an unacceptable interference with the liberty of the individual. They would have done considerable damage to the relationship between the police and the public and, like the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), I believe they would have put a quite unnecessary and unworkable strain on the police forces.
I hope the Minister will not suggest that this is not a substantial change. It is certainly a substantial change of mind which has obviously been brought about by the widespread criticism which was 1037 levelled at the proposals both inside the House and by responsible bodies outside. Whereas we on this side of the House may in the past have had reason to criticise members of the present Government for changing their minds, might I say that this is one change of mind which I think will be generally welcomed.
I do not find it possible to express equal pleasure about the new proposals in Section 2. Having heard the Minister this afternoon, my criticisms of Section 2, if her interpretation of the law be right, rapidly diminish but I must ask her whether she is sure that her interpretation of Section 2 is correct.
§ Sir H. Harrison
Does my hon. Friend refer to a Section of the Act or is he referring to a Clause in the Bill?
§ Mr. Carlisle
I am sorry. I meant Clause 2 of the Bill. Under Clause 2 as it stands, a police constable will be entitled to take a preliminary test when hehas reasonable cause to suspecta personof having alcohol in his body.I hope we shall have an opportunity in Committee to hear exactly what this means. As I understand it, the interpretation which the Minister put on those words was that the police could have this power only if they stopped a man for some other reason. As I understand the law, and as the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) said, under the 1960 Act the police already have power to stop a person at any time without reason, and I must say that from my first reading of this Measure I got the impression that, provided the police had reason to suspect that a person had alcohol in his body, they could stop him purely for that reason and make a test.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
That is the point that I have been trying to make throughout the debate. In reality there is no change between the Bill as it stood before and the Bill as it is now. The change has come in making it appear as if there were a change. This will have a profound psychological effect on the public.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I cannot accept that there is no change. I believe there is a substantial change. All I am saying is that 1038 I hope the Minister's interpretation of the new words is the one which she intends the police to enforce. If that is the correct interpretation, I believe the Bill will require further amendment.
I believe that the alternative that has been raised by one or two hon. Members—the possibility of the police being able to stop people as they leave a public house or club—will lead to very real practical difficulties for the reasons raised by Lord Redmayne, as he now is, in the House at the time of the Second Reading of the original Bill, that apparently any test is unreliable if it is taken within a quarter of an hour of the consumption of alcohol. I should like to know from the Minister whether this is so. If it is so, does it not mean that it is impossible to check people as they come out of a public house? One is surely faced with two difficulties. Either a person has to be left for a quarter of an hour at the side of the road before he can be tested, or he has to be tested at once, with the possibility that a false reading will be obtained followed by all the consequences of further tests, and the anxiety of waiting for two or three days before the results of the tests are announced.
§ Mr. Lubbock
If the person has as much as 80 milligrammes of alcohol in his blood stream per 100 millilitres of blood, the presumption is that he must also have been in the public house for a considerable time.
§ Mr. Carlisle
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, the police will not know whether he has been there for two minutes to get a packet of cigarettes or has been there for some time.
I leave that point to turn to our most serious objection to the Bill and to take up the point made so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) about the penalties to be imposed under the Bill. The problem is that referred to by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), that where one chooses to have a quantitative test one is faced with a dilemma. Either the amount is set too high, and people get the impression that it is safe to drive with up to that amount in one's blood stream, and juries and courts are loath to convict at a lower level, or it is set too low and one risks causing injustice to many individuals who are caught under the Bill.
1039 On Second Reading in February, the Minister described the limit in the Bill as generous. I am not sure whether that description is correct. The hon. Member for Orpington seems to think that it is too high. But in some countries in Europe which have similar legislation to that which we shall have in the Bill—in Austria, Belgium and West Germany—the limit is very nearly double. It is 150 milligrammes.
§ Mr. Taverne
I believe that the hon. Gentleman is wrong about Austria. It is the same there as it will be in Britain.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I apologise if I was wrong about Austria. I believe that I am right about Belgium and West Germany, and that in Denmark, France and Switzerland it is 100 milligrammes, whereas in Sweden it is as low as 50 and in Czechoslovakia as low as 30. We on this side of the House do not say that the limit chosen by the Minister is not correct; it is the limit that has been recommended by the British Medical Association. But where a limit is chosen which is perhaps comparatively low, one must look carefully at the effect on people who may be charged and convicted under the Bill. The White Paper and the Minister have made the point that prosecutions are seldom brought at present below 150 milligrammes. I am sure that she will agree that part of the reason for this is that below that figure clinical evidence of impairment is seldom present.
It is wrong that in introducing an automatic offence of this kind we should also be bringing in automatic statutory minimum penalties. I do not like the idea of statutory minimum penalties. It is not the job of Parliament to lay down statutory minimum penalties. Parliament's job is to see that the courts have sufficient means of punishment available and appropriate for the offence. The punishment in any particular case is not a matter for Parliament; it is a matter for the court, having weighed up all the circumstances. It is particularly dangerous, as in this case, when we are introducing an automatic offence—drinking a particular amount of alcohol—and we are wholly unable to tell anybody with certainty what he or she can safely drink.
The Minister did not fall into the trap she fell into in February of giving an 1040 example of the amount that this meant, but on that occasion she said that it could be as much as six pints of beer or six large whiskies. The hon. Member for Orpington says that this is too high and that most people would accept a rule of three pints. I understand that that is likely to be far nearer the amount that will raise the blood reading to 80 milligrammes than the possible maximum previously referred to by the Minister. If she will not think that my analogy is too unflattering, and knowing that the amount one can drink varies a great deal with weight, the state of one's health and things like that, she would probably agree that for a woman of seven to seven and a half stones the amount needed to achieve this reading can be as little as just over one large whisky. The result is that people may find themselves committing an offence under the Bill without realising it.
My second criticism is that they may also be found to be committing an offence under the Bill when in fact their driving ability is not impaired and they are perfectly fit and safe to drive. My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham has already said that the White Paper says first that the ability of almost all drivers to drive properly is impaired at 80 milligrammes, and later that there are very few people whose ability to drive properly would not be impaired. We are not legislating in the House for almost all people. We are legislating for all people, and the use of those words presupposes that there are certain people whose ability to drive will not be impaired by consuming this amount of alcohol. If that is so, we may face the difficulty that somebody is stopped, checked, found to have over 80 milligrammes of alcohol in his blood stream. rightly convicted and disqualified automatically for 12 months, when his ability to drive has never been impaired, when he has been perfectly safe and no danger to other road users, and his only offence is that he has drunk more than the minimum amount laid down by the Bill. The answer is quite simple. I am going on the figures given by the B.M.A. that some people will not be impaired.
The point I want to make is that whereas a car may be merely a social pleasure to many people and to many 1041 others an important convenience, the ability to drive a car is to some people their livelihood. The loss of a driving licence for 12 months may well affect their ability to hold their jobs.
§ Mr. Molloy
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that that is an additional reason why they should be good and decent drivers?
§ Mr. Carlisle
Of course they should, but my point is that some people may be caught whose ability to drive will in no way be impaired, and they will in no way be dangerous on the road.
I shall leave this question, because time is running on, and put to the Minister that the answer is simple. It is by the use of the existing offence under the Road Traffic Acts, with its existing automatic disqualification for a period of 12 months. Where there is evidence of impairment, prosecute for impairment, with the automatic disqualification that follows. But where there is no evidence of impairment, prosecute under the Bill and leave disqualification to the discretion of the magistrates, who will probably disqualify in the vast majority of cases; but leave it in their discretion whether or not to disqualify. I believe that if she accepts this the Minister, who has shown herself willing to consider changes in the Bill, will see that the Bill achieves its twin objects of creating the proposed offence without at the same time creating injustice or hardship.
I turn finally to what is not in the Bill. For the first time a measure of this kind is described as a Road Safety Bill. Other Bills of this nature have always been Road Traffic Bills. If the change of name is intended to mean anything, I do not think that it shows that the Bill is in any way a comprehensive Measure. Drink is one cause of accidents, but it is by no means the only cause. Whereas the hon. Member for Ealing, North may salutarily remind us of the accidents that occur at Christmas, I remind him of the perhaps more salutary fact that the accidents which occur over Christmas are less than the daily average for the whole of the rest of the year. The Minister cannot avoid some of the causes of accidents. Human error creeps in, and there is sheer carelessness. On the other hand, I believe 1042 that she can and should attempt to avoid some causes. I shall not go into them tonight. Points have been made by my hon. Friends the Members for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) and for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom) about possible provisions which ought to be in the Bill and which we propose to put into it in Committee.
A major cause of road accidents is still the state of our roads, the delays which they lead to, the frustration and irritation which they cause, which eventually lead to pure bad driving. I bitterly regret that the amount of work on new roads and on major construction now being carried out not only fails to meet the promises of expansion in the targets which were made but, in terms of actual cash, represent for the year 1965 less money spent than in the previous year. Less was spent on new roads and on major construction in 1965 than in 1964, and this is the first time this has happened since 1951.
In so far as the Bill will reduce the number of accidents, it is to be welcomed. It will have some effect, but not a great effect on the overall figures. We shall hope to improve it by Amendment. We shall hope to ensure that, in these difficult matters, we reconcile the rights of individuals with the safety of society, and we hope that the Minister will bring in another Bill which will have even greater impact on road safety than this one can have.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Dick Taverne)
Most of the speeches in the debate have been very constructive. As has been said, this is not normally a subject on which party points are made. I am extremely sorry that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) made such a petty and partisan speech in opening for the Opposition. Many of his attacks related to what was not in the Bill. When the White Paper on further road safety measures is issued, the House will find there a large number of constructive measures which do not require legislation. At this stage, we are concerned with restrictive measures which do require legislation. If every point mentioned in the debate were put in this Bill, we should have an extremely long Measure and the chance of putting something of importance on the Statute Book 1043 in the near future would have disappeared.
§ Mr. Taverne
My right hon. Friend will deal with that. It is her responsibility. I understand that it will be published this Session.
There was a wealth of comment about Part II, and I think that the points made can be dealt with in Committee. On general matters of principle, I can tell the House that the number of staff engaged by the Government for testing purposes has increased every year, and my right hon. Friend is satisfied that there should be suitable recruitment in order to man the testing stations, and she undertakes that the testers or examiners will be suitably qualified.
A number of minor points were made on Part I. J can tell the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) straight away that Clause 5 will cover visiting forces. I was asked why pedestrians were not covered by the Bill. Pedestrians raise a somewhat different problem. First, there is the different level at which a pedestrian becomes a hazard. Second, in normal circumstances being a pedestrian calls for rather less skill than driving a motor car, and it might be less reasonable in certain circumstances to put restrictions on pedestrians which one is perfectly entitled to impose on drivers. It would be rather difficult to say exactly what form pedestrian legislation would take. It has been tried but not always found acceptable by the House.
The hon. Member for Hillhead asked why the circular to coroners did not deal with pedestrians. We are not giving coroners any new powers or asking them to carry out their post-mortems in a different way. They have a duty to carry out post-mortems, and they are judicial officers. All we are asking them to do, as has been done several times in the past, is to make returns about blood tests which will be relevant to road traffic legislation. Since this road traffic legislation does not deal with pedestrians, the returns will not cover pedestrians.
Several points were made on Clause 2 and the enforcement provisions. The hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) 1044 was quite right in some of his observations about the difficulties of enforcement if the police were to hang around outside public houses. It is extremely unlikely that police officers will hang about outside public houses in order to carry out tests there. In the first place, it is rather doubtful that they would wish to do so because it might give rise to a certain amount of resentment, and the police are very conscious of the need to promote good relations with the public to the fullest possible extent. That would not, perhaps, be the best way to make friends.
More important, perhaps, there is the point which the hon. Gentleman made that the time when someone emerges from a public house is not the time at which the preliminary testing device will show a very accurate reading. There is the mouth alcohol effect which produces the phenomenon to which the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) referred on the last occasion when this legislation was considered.
The hon. Member for Hillhead suggested that the test should not be exacted unless the constable had reasonable ground to suppose that someone had drunk beyond the prescribed limit. If this test were accepted and substituted for the present proposed power under which a constable may exact the test if he has reason to suppose that there is alcohol in the body, the whole enforcement of the new provisions would be negatived. The hon. Gentleman suggested that the constable should have power to demand the taking of the preliminary test only if there were outward and visible signs of impairment of ability to drive. But the whole purpose of this legislation is to create an offence which does not deal with outward and visible signs of impairment. We should be back to the situation in which only those people were to be prosecuted who, in fact, had more than 150 milligrammes per 100 millilitres in the bloodstream. We should be back to the old argument about whether or not someone showed visible signs—whether he was walking unsteadily, whether his speech was slurred, whether his eyes were glazed, and so on. One wants to avoid that.
It is quite reasonable to say, "Let the constable ask for this test if he has reasonable ground to suppose that a person has been drinking". It may be because his 1045 breath smells, it may be because he is loud in his behaviour, it may be because of the manner in which the car is being driven.
Further, it does not seem to me that there is here any infringement of personal liberties. It seems to be accepted that the constable may exact the test if someone is involved in an accident or if there has been a moving vehicle offence. If it is reasonable in those two cases, it seems reasonable also if the constable has some reason to suppose that someone has consumed some alcohol.
§ Mr. Carlisle
Will the hon. Gentleman clear up one matter which I raised? Does he agree that this test is to be carried out only when the police have stopped a vehicle for some other reason, as the Minister appeared to imply?
§ Mr. Taverne
If for some reason a vehicle is stopped, that is a reason apart from an accident and apart from a moving vehicle offence; if for some other reason a vehicle is stopped, and the constable comes across the driver of the vehicle and he notices that someone's breath smells of alcohol, then he would be entitled to exact the test; but, as I understand it, in practice, he would not be expected to stop the person merely for that purpose. He would not be stopping vehicles in order to see whether people had been drinking.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
But would it not be a good thing for the police to approach a person under the influence of drink in a car parked adjacent to a public house? Does my hon. and learned Friend want to get the man into the vehicle and on to the public highway?
§ Mr. Taverne
I am not saying that it is in all circumstances undesirable. All I am saying is that it will not be part of police practice, as we understand it at the moment, that the police will be there in force outside public houses in order to test the breath of all those who come out.
§ Several Hon. Members rose——
§ Mr. Taverne
I must move on; I have a number of important points to deal with.
If the motoring organisations accept the enforcement powers under Clause 2 as 1046 it stands at present, I suggest that the House should be satisfied that the interests of motorists at least are sufficiently looked after. Therefore, the suggestion that the powers are too wide is not, I think, one which the House can entertain.
I come to the point made by the hon. Members for Chippenham, Glasgow, Hillhead and Runcorn about the penalties. If we did what they said and lowered the penalties for this offence and made them different from the provision in the 1962 Act, it would mean a relaxation of the law. There is no doubt that in practice most cases of impairment, almost all cases, will be prosecuted under the new Act. Most of the difficulties about convictions with juries will go. Let us face it: juries acquit far too many people whose driving is impaired. I remember that a jury before the 1962 Act returned a verdict that the accused was drunk but not unfit to drive. Many of these difficulties will disappear. The trial will be far easier for doctors. There will not be elaborate cross-examination about the outward visible condition of the defendant. One must realise that in almost all cases prosecutions will be brought under the new offence provisions. If there were lesser penalties, as hon. Members are suggesting, there would be a relaxation. But if the offence were treated less seriously there is no doubt that many of the drivers who at the moment are disqualified would not be disqualified. It seems to me that one must treat this offence with the seriousness it deserves.
A further point is that there is some misconception about what was done in the 1962 Act. It changed the law from the former situation where someone was guilty if he was unfit to drive. I remember the arguments on that Act when the question was not to be whether the driver was unfit but whether he was worse as a driver because of drinking and his ability was impaired. But the snag was that juries did not accept that there had been any important change in the law. It did not work because the argument was all on the old basis.
The new law means that some kind of objective criterion is laid down for somebody's ability being impaired. Although some people may still drive well with more than 80 milligrammes 1047 of alcohol per 100 millilitres of heir blood, their ability to drive will still be the worse for having taken drink and they will be prepared to take greater risks than otherwise. The medical evidence on this is extremely strong.
What hon. Members opposite are really saying is that the big difference is that far more people will now be caught, and that because they are more liable to be caught, the penalties should be lighter. I do not think that this is something that we can accept. I feel that this is a point on which we are right to maintain a very heavy penalty, as it may be in certain cases, but a penalty which will be the maximum deterrent for those who too often in the past have regarded drinking as something which can well be combined with driving.
Some other approaches were shown in the debate when one or two hon. Members—my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) tried to put some questions on this—suggested mat we had gone too far in making concessions. It must be remembered how important these provisions are. We now have the new concept of impairment, an objective criterion. We now have new methods of enforcement. As the number of moving vehicle offences that occur is nearly 1 million a year, one appreciates the large number of occasions on which the police will be in a position to apply the new tests.
What is perhaps most important is the effect that this is likely to have on the figures. It was suggested by one or two hon. Members opposite that there was nothing much in the Bill, that it was only a little Bill and would not have much effect. Yet we can learn from the experience of Austria. There the same figure of 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood was specified as the criterion for the offence, and roughly similar powers were given to the police to enforce the law, though perhaps their powers do not in some respects go as far as ours. Nevertheless, the police can stop someone and apply the preliminary test if he is suspected of having some alcohol in his body. It has been found that there has been a decrease of one-third in the accidents attributable to drink in Austria. If we can achieve the same 1048 thing as a result of the Bill, then, as my right hon. Friend said at the beginning of the debate, it will mean that the number of casualties prevented each year may be between 18,000 and 32,000, and if that is not a matter of significance in road safety, I do not know what is.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).